Navigating through the competences maze

Relativity - M C Escher

Around 35 delegates struggled through Wednesday’s sweltering heat and the baffling mysteries of Manchester Metropolitan University Business School’s internal layout to discuss a range of issues around competences for learning, assessment and portfolio.  Delegates represented a wide range of knowledge and expertise, from novices looking to find out ‘what it’s all about’ to experienced practitioners and developers.

It was an impressively international turn out, with delegates from Norway, Greece, Austria, Spain and Belgium joining the UK contingent, mainly representing the iCoper project which is exploring the linking of assessment with competences.  Assessment interests were also represented by the University of Southampton, who are working on the automatic construction of statements of competency from QTI XML, exploring the underlying modelling of competencies for machine processing.  The majority of delegates came from a strong (e)portfolio background, with interests in the movement of information into and out of eportfolios.  JISC and CETIS participants also highlighted the relevance of this work to JISC’s Curriculum Design projects.

The morning session featured a number of short presentations (all presentations from the day can be found here) on competences requirements in the field of medical education, an area which is relatively advanced in the use of competence frameworks.  Claire Hampshire (MMU), Julie Laxton (ALPS CETL), Karen Beggs (NHS Education for Scotland) and Jad Nijjar (iCoper and Synergetics) covered a range of topics, including the desire for non-hierarchic representations, the management of massive amounts of data, and addressing the various points in a student’s career at which  information can move between one system and another.  The ownership of data in portfolios, including competency information, is an ongoing issue that still is not clear, with at least three actors involved: the data subject, data controller and data processor.  Three main points of interoperability were identified: across time (for example, undergraduate to postgraduate), across specialities (for example, from psychiatry to gynecology), and from elearning experiences to portfolios.

After coffee, Paul Horner (Newcastle University), Shane Sutherland (PebblePad), Dave Waller (MyKnowledgeMap) and Tim Brown (NHS Education for Scotland) delivered short presentations on various tools for handling competence information.  One key issue that emerged from this session was the strong need for a specification to enable the sharing of profiles between systems: while evidence can be exported as HTML, entire profiles cannot be moved between systems except in unwieldy formats such as .pdfs.  Interoperability is needed for both import and export.  There is a noticeable move away by customers from monolithic approaches towards using a variety of (Web 2.0) tools, and developers are working on building open APIs to support this. 

What struck me most from both sessions was the way in which developments around eportfolios and competence recording are very firmly rooted in actual teaching and learning practice, with requirements emerging directly from real-world practice and tool developments directly benefiting teachers and learners.

In the afternoon the meeting split into four groups, ostensibly to work on identifying and representing information structures for a purported competences specification.  In practice, my group spent most of our time discussing widely around the whole area of competences, eportfolios and assessment, but as a newbie in this field I found this hugely helpful.  Overall conclusions from the groups identified the following requirements and issues:

  • ability to transfer information between different tools and systems
  • transition
  • curriculum progression pathways
  • relationship between competences and evidence versus qualifications
  • repeatable pattern of description at the core
  • fairly simple structure
  • identifiers for defining authority
  • a definable core structure enables extension for extra semantics
  • able to express the relationship between a learning object and skills, competences and knowledge
  • collection of outcomes
  • architectural issues: data is created and needed in many locations instead of at a central point
  • competences are highly context dependent

The meeting concluded with asking delegates what they want CETIS to focus on in taking forward work on competences.  Suggestions included:

  • development of a data model
  • business case for interoperability
  • look beyond HE/FE to workplace standards, particularly in the HR domain
  • look for connections to the HIRA progress reports due out by November
  • look at what has failed so far in order to learn from past experiences
  • look at defining competences in such a way that a specification can be combined with XCRI
  • have loosely defined competences that can be moved between systems
  • need a high level map of the competency domain in comparison with curriculum description and learning objects.

CETIS will be looking at how best we can take this work forward and, as always, we very much welcome input and suggestions from our community – please feel free to leave comments here, follow up via the wiki or contact Simon or me!