This seminar explored the key issues for the learner and the institution arising from the synthesis work. The discussions are summarised below under each issue.
Institutional frameworks for validation and accreditation
Learners and institutions need a process for enabling collation and assuring coherence in awards based on credit gained from various courses. Participants thought standardisation across the institution, or standardised sectorally and/or regionally according to particular needs, was desirable, although it was recognised that there should be an aspiration towards national standards.
Accreditation of prior and/or experiential learning
Participants agreed that learners and institutions should be able to rely on evidence other than in portfolios (e.g. using interviews, observations, publications, etc) to guarantee quality assurance processes in a cost effective manner. Managing complexity and diversity in the sector becomes an issue with regard to this evidence: different quality processes for different disciplines will dictate what constitutes evidence.
Several projects have been successfully using evidence methods other than building an APEL claim: cf Plymouth (PINEAPPLE) and UCLAN (TELSTAR). A long process for APEL claims poses a high hurdle for many candidates and creative ways need to be found to help students and their work-place mentors with this process.
Participants agreed that learners need support when producing an APEL claim. Regarding who should provide this, there was some preference for specialised APL support in the department, but a recognition that support needs to be widely available. Emphasising assessment as part of the entry process is a barrier to the growth of WFD in HE. Barriers to APEL often centre on not understanding the concept, not taking enough time, and insufficient explanation of the process.
Mentoring and supporting work-based learners
All agreed that work-based mentoring partnerships benefit from simplifying access by using technology familiar to both parties. Which technology is chosen may depend on whether the learners can access the university VLE or a dedicated bulletin/discussion board from their workplace, and whether security and confidentiality can be maintained. Mentors may need to learn lots of different systems and they need their own network. The Bucks (SMART) project found that mentors needed help with with ICT; the Leicester (HELLO) project found that students wanted to choose the technology they used with mentors. The decision to choose a mentor system needs to be informed by the ability of mentors to share, consistency of access, and maintenance of confidentiality.
E-portfolios and reflective practice
Participants agreed that the use of e-portfolios should be encouraged by institutions, but this poses a difficulty where portfolios are linked closely to HR files and performance management. Student ownership of the e-portfolio is crucial, so that sharing is by choice and not compulsion (cf the MyShowcase e-portfolio from the Hull project, CPD-Eng).
Participants showed some preference for allowing the department/programme to choose which e-portfolio tools are used, but that the adoption of portfolio pedagogy and assessment for at least part of all programmes should be mandatory to encourage reflective practice in all disciplines.