Rob Ward: The Higher Education Achievement Record (UK)
I think it’s certainly where things started out in the UK and if you trace the history of it; A: it’s taken the best part of a decade to get to where we’ve got to and there’s all sorts of issues there for changing HE and the speed at which we move but I think we’re in slightly a different place now and not everybody’s in that place but some of the leading edge institutions are extending on from that kind of notion of a summative record provided for students when they graduate and looking to the HEAR as something that is developed from when the students arrive. So it’s got a formative dimension leading to a final record, that’s one bit and the other bit I think we might, at some point, want to pick up in more detail is that it’s an electronic record rather than a paper record, though some feedback from the students says we’d really like the paper. Okay, well, I think there are a number of dimensions in that but I think where some of the leading folks are going is with rethinking the HEAR in terms of a means of capturing at least those parts of the student experience that the institution wants to pay attention to and give recognition to. So that has an academic component. It has a broader academic component than the transcript tended to have in that people are interested in forms of assessments alongside modules and mark information and also in communicating to a wider audience and a wider set of stakeholders so not just employers but parents and somebody said grandparents. What their program of study is about, so in some institutions we’ve got colleagues who are writing plain English program statements, 250 words, what’s this program really about for a non-HE audience and some people have found that really tough. So there’s an academic dimension. Beyond that there’s the life wide dimension that you eluded to in terms of awards, in terms of prizes and in terms of a third category which is, anything else the university wants to attest the student has achieved through. So it’s a kind of big open space for negotiation. Yes, that’s true. It’s not everything in the students experience but what that does is it creates a bounded space but a space for discussion. Interestingly in the UK context, between student representative bodies often and the institution and on one side we have perhaps quite conservative people in the registry who are saying ‘do I want to put my name to that?’ and on the other side we have the students saying ‘We’re doing lots of stuff. We’re doing volunteering in the community. We’ve got projects running. We’re running social activities, communities, societies, clubs. Yes we’ve got the awards as well’. Sometimes those are run by the students as well and it has the potential and again it’s happening some places more that others that the students become much more engaged in the debate about what learning is and what achievement is and they become part of the assessment process. So we get into peer assessment in a much more diverse way beyond the academic curriculum. Let’s take a couple then. Well maybe we’ll take three but I’ll make them quite short. If we take University of Gloucester and what Gloucester is doing is developing a model which is about providing a rubric through which students make claims for achievement supported by evidence within an extra curricular framework which has contexts for learning but it also had domains for learning. It’s like a framework of the kind of ingredients that you have to present with an indication of the number of words that you have to present. It’s actually a means of developing a simple reflective framework for students to work within, so interestingly it brings in some of the personal development planning elements but is part of a mechanism of claims for recognition and that’s about verification rather than assessment so we have a verification system in that institution. I think we’ve gone in a different direction there, broadly through the HEAR and in a sense through the extra curricular awards that now almost every institution in the UK has got or is in the process of developing, sometimes around employability, sometimes around volunteering or social and community engagement out of which employability falls. And for most institutions, they’ve not gone for a grading model or a model which emphasises particular standards. They’ve gone for a model which is about a consistency of engagement so the evidence supports the claim in that kind of context. There are other models where people are getting notional credit, not academic credit, not credit that counts to a degree, where there are some clearer criteria but in all cases, in almost all cases, we are not grading. We’re not going for different levels of performance, for a couple of reasons I think, and these are my reasons, they may not be theirs. One is we have an anxiety that if we start to offer things at different levels which in an awards structure might be bronze, silver, gold, etc. employers will immediately negate the lower levels just as they negate in some context in the UK, lower levels of performance in degrees. [Interviewer] Is this yet another coding system? It is. It’s another means that employers might choose to use that universities provide to limit the number of people they would want to consider and in the UK certainly at the minute there’s a degree of interest in making the most of the talent that we’ve got and that has some implications for social mobility amongst other things. The other thing I should say in that kind of territory is that the way that things are being recorded in those institutions that have just taken this life long and life wide perspective on the HEAR is we’re going for electronic records that build as the student life cycle develops. [Interviewer] So how is that not an e-portfolio? Well, that’s a good question and we had a workshop which involved employers and academics and somebody from an e-portfolio strong institution in the UK said ‘but that’s just an e-portfolio’ and an employer said ‘it might be, providing the e-portfolio is warranted by the institution. If it’s a personal e-portfolio, then it’s not the same thing at all.’ Employers in the UK consistently are saying ‘we like the notion that the data comes to us with a university tag on it’. Some e-portfolios in the UK are very much in that territory, particularly those from a professional accreditation. Others are much more about personal development and personal learning space and so people have made that kind of distinction between the personal record of the learner, and that’s part of the learner’s experience while a student inside the curriculum and in the co-curricular areas that the university wants to attest achievement within and that’s not everything and it shouldn’t be everything. So I think the model that we’ve got is a kind of institutionally stewarded record but with the data that’s owned by the student and that can be played out at the process of application for further study or for a job in ways which enable the student to control the data electronically but still make it available to the employer.