Sunday, 5 October 2008

Open accreditation

About 2 weeks ago a very interesting discussion on open accreditation started, I think on D'Arcy Norman's blog. Some of the responses, such as for instance David Wiley's response, are very edupunk. Do we even need degrees? I'm not sure that's a viable position to be honest. I think George Siemens hit the nail on the head when he said that "providing a statement of competence is only value when the provider of the statement is also trusted". Traditionally it has been institutions like our Universities that have instilled that trust. It was against this background that I have argued that accreditation is a key part of the value proposition for HE. But to be honest, I'm not so sure about that anymore.

In a draft of a call for action I read recently, Microsoft, Cisco and Intel are calling for serious reforms to our assessment system, as they feel it no longer assesses the skills that they value (creativity, collaboration and communication to name a few). That is a very serious indictment, but I think not an unjust one. many of these skills are, or should be, implicitly part of what we think of as "a degree". But if they are not assessed, how do we ensure they are taught, and more importantly, learned? This becomes even more important when we are increasingly atomising the curriculum. If we want to let students pick and mix, we should at least be able to ensure that the sum of their choices still adds up to what we consider to be the whole of their degree.

I think a transparent and reliable way to assess these 21st century skills would go a long way to solving some of our problems in lifelong learning. It would make the accreditation of prior learning easier, as in my opinion it is this 'hidden curriculum' that often concerns people when considering accrediting prior learning. And with prior learning, instantly we have a vehicle to enable a flexible curriculum that spans multiple universities, or the incorporation of non-institutional learning into a qualification. But more crucially, if we can measure these things transparently perhaps trust becomes less important. If degrees no longer are black boxes with a reputation, but an open book that we can all evaluate ourselves... Portfolio anyone... ?

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