Thursday, September 20, 2012

A4PL 'Learning Journal'

Module 8 – Professional Judgements

Norman Evans writes about the diversity of evidence and assessment methods in RPL, both of which are considered and chosen via the professionals’ (facilitator and assessor/s) judgements.

‘As with all academic assessments the method of assessment needs to be appropriate for what is being assessed…Whatever manner of assessment is used, it must be such that the judgement made can be considered by external examiners and boards of examiners alongside and with the same degree of confidence as other more traditionally assessed performances such as formal examination results.’ (Evans, N. P.81)
However, the discipline within which the candidate wishes to be assessed will also determine what form the evidence comes in and what assessment method is used;
‘…the nature of the discipline heavily influences the most appropriate approach to indentification of prior learning. These variations between the disciplines also can produce different approaches to assessment.’  (Evans, N. P.83)

To make an informed professional judgement of a candidate’s skills, the context for the assessment may be ‘work based’. Assessors and facilitators may visit the candidate’s place of employment. (This is a practice run through Otago Polytechnic’s CAPABLE department – ‘Work Based learning’)

As well as the reasons behind a candidate engaging in RPL and/or what qualification the candidate is hoping to earn, it is a facilitator or assessor’s subjective beliefs, unique perspectives and experience that determines what might be considered evidence in a prior learning assessment situation.
This is because learning in the 21st century takes place in mixed forms – any time, any place. (Carpenter, H) 
The places where RPL is assessed and the evidence material for RPL could be as diverse as snowflakes. However the facilitator and assessor must be sensitive enough, or similar in experience to the candidate enough to appreciate the learning. I see this as a major hurdle for RPL.
A network of experts available for consultation would be ideal. However consultation would need to happen within the time-frame of the candidate’s RPL process. (Another hurdle)


Carpenter, H. One Assessor’s Perspective. CAPABLE NZ website.

Evans, N. Experiential Learning – Assessment and Accreditation. P. 81, 83. Routledge, London. 1992.

Module 7 – Diversity and Cultural Sensitivity

Diversity can be viewed in terms of Age, ethnicity, background, neuro-diversity, religious belief, gender identity, sexuality and a plethora of other factors.
Some previous study on how to acknowledge students with Asperger’s Syndrome can be found here in my blog. – Link 
The following link to my blog also talks about acknowledging diversity specifically in a classroom environment and particularly to do with acknowledging different learning styles. Learning styles in the classroom can cross over to the facilitated portfolio workshop situation, specific for RPL. – Link 

Sometimes an acknowledgement that you don’t know the best way to show sensitivity is necessary, and asking the candidate about their background and needs might be appropriate. Or we might need to consult someone with more understanding of the particular diversity.
For example, myself as a Pakeha, can show cultural sensitivity when engaging with Māori content by involving other people who are more appropriate to deal with content than myself. When working with a candidate who identifies as Māori I would check the chart which the Kaitohutohu has produced which directs an OP staff member through the appropriate routes of consultation, and is available on insite. (‘Awhina me te Muru’ - Staff Guidelines) 
If in doubt – consult!

The Kaiārahi at Student Support is available too, although I’m not sure if RPL candidates would access Student Support services.

Module 6 - Professional assessment conversations.

Professional assessment conversations are an opportunity for the candidate to express more about their prior learning than the evidence in the portfolio does.
Dave Hornblow writes about preparing for an interview with candidate, facilitator, assessor and candidate’s advocate;

Before the interview, the RPL facilitator spoke by phone to all parties involved and stressed the positive and supportive nature of the RPL interview. The aim was to make sure everyone had the opportunity to state their case in an atmosphere that was friendly and at the same time, allowed for valid and reliable academic assessment.

In this case study, Hornblow describes how the facilitator helped to create a more freely communicative environment in the interview;

Jenny (the candidate) arrived. She looked nervous. The RPL facilitator eased her tension by chatting with the others… and then invited her to talk about her family. Specifically, he asked about a daughter who (as her knew from previous correspondence from Jenny) had been ‘quite a challenge’ but who was now doing very well as a typist and receptionist… Jenny responded warmly to the question and the conversation merged naturally into her experiences in managing various groups: her family, religious and community organizations, and the accounting firm.

The relaxed conversation functioned as an ‘ice-breaker’ but also helped to build a more detailed picture of Jenny’s circumstances. Relaxed discussion in this context of a professional conversation or relaxed interview illustrated Jenny’s previous learning which was embedded in her life experiences.

Hornblow, D. ‘Recognition of Prior Learning in New Zealand: What Has Been, What Is, and What Might Be’. The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. Lower Hutt. 2002

Simosko, S and Cook, C. Applying APL Priciples in Flexible Assessment: A Practical Guide. Kogan Page Limited. London. 1996

Module 5 - Process and tools for assessment.

Advantages and disadvantages of the portfolio and e portfolio.

An advantage of a portfolio is that candidates have a lot of control over how they present themselves. They can tailor their portfolio to their own learning and development goals. (Simosko & Cook 1996, P.95)
A disadvantage of the portfolio could arise when a candidate lacks literacy in the areas of writing and computing and does not have experience presenting information. They may struggle to present the evidence in a clear communicative manner.

We see varying degrees of ability in producing portfolios in the Certificate in Creative Studies. Our applicants must produce a portfolio of their work when they apply for entrance to the programme. This helps build a picture of the potential student’s literacy and work ethic as well as visual arts practice.
It’s at this point that I can say we DO assess for prior learning in Creative Studies by examining their portfolios. The outcome of that assessment can indicate the applicant’s suitability to the course or give an indication as to what programme the applicant might be better suited to.


Portfolio of Evidence for assessment of:
The National Certificate in Horticulture
Unit Standard 20557  - Propagate plants from seed.
Unit Standard 20558 – Propagate plants from cuttings.
Reflection - I thought I would have plenty of evidence to prove the above. But now as I search for photographs of ‘before’ and ‘after’ my garden work, I realise they don’t prove the exact requirements of ME personally PROPOGATING the plants from seed and cuttings. I could have bought the plants from a garden centre, and nature has done the rest.
The only way of me proving my knowledge is to write or discuss what I know about propagation from seed and cuttings.

Unit Standard 20557  - Propagate plants from seed:

-       Collection of seed from the plant
Timing is important to ensure the seed is sufficiently developed, yet not so mature that the seed falls on the ground. After flowering, the seed heads need time to develop, usually turning firm and black, as in Hebe and Parsley, which can then be tapped out of their pods. Other species with pods such as Kowhai and Tree Lucern indicate the seed’s readiness by opening the pod. Collect each type of seed in it’s own container and discard any damaged or diseased looking seed.
-       Storage of seed
Seed must be kept in a dark, dry not too hot environment until ready to use. I use paper bags. Foil is OK if the seed is dried thoroughly before wrapping. I air-dry my freshly collected seed on paper for a few days before storing.
-       Sowing
Seed raising mix or a fine textured rich soil is used in trays or pots as a bed for the seed. One seed per pot, or rows of seed 40 – 50mm apart in trays, at a depth of from 4mm - 20mm depending on the size of the seed. Small seed should be shallower than large seed. Hard-shelled seed like Kowhai can be nicked with a sharp knife or nail-clippers then soaked over night before sowing.
Fill free-draining tray or pot about 4/5 full with soil mix, lightly level / flatten and gently pack the soil down. Make indentations with a finger into the soil to the depth you want to sow the seeds. Place a seed into every indentation then cover the indentations with more soil.
Apply water to the pots / trays with a sprinkler attachment as to not disrupt the placement of the seeds, then place in a warm sunny spot, preferably a greenhouse. Keep soil moist throughout germination.
-       Pricking out / Planting
Plant out into bigger pots or garden beds when roots start to emerge from drainage holes or when seedling looks strong, approx 50mm in height, whichever comes first.

Unit Standard 20558 – Propagate plants from cuttings.
Many plants can be propagated by cutting without the use of hormone liquid / gel.
If a small part of the plant can be taken from the base of the parent plant and roots are attached, hormone gel is not needed, but simply putting the cutting in a potting mix and keeping the soil damp for a few weeks should suffice.
The key is that the lowest node on the cutting be deeply embedded in soil and the cutting is not disturbed / moved.
Far Left: Growing cuttings (Third generation) of Cranberry.
Centre Left: Kawakawa cutting treated with hormone liquid.
Left: Parent Cranberry, itself originally grown from cutting.
Left Bottom: Fruiting Gooseberry grown from cutting.
All grown in my garden.

Module 4 –The Candidates Perspective

In 2007/8 I was an art workshop facilitator at Studio2. I was working (sole charge) with adults with intellectual and physical disabilities to produce art works.
Skills required – management of adults with int. & phs. issues. Great verbal and written communication. Multi-tasking. Time management. Handling money and writing receipts.
Knowledge required – Knowledge of a range of disability types. Health and safety protocols. Basic care and use of art materials.
What did I learn? – Funding systems for ID organizations. How different service providers operate in Dunedin.
How can I prove what I learned? – Letters of reference from old boss and colleages. Could perform the duties again for an observer.

For many years I have worked in domestic gardens. Gardener / Landscaper.
Skills required – Manual labour, measurement, safe use of; chainsaw, mower, line-trimmer, hedge clipper.
Knowledge required – plants, seasons, weather, Materials – timber concrete, soils, composts. Tools – care and use of. Use of safety equipment.
What did I learn? – all of the above.
How can I prove what I learned? – photographs of my garden / property in progress. Letters from neighbour. A guided tour through my property. A narrative written by me.

I think learning outcomes are easier to describe and identify in the ‘Gardener / Landscaper’ role because it has nothing to do with working with people. The skills I needed and acquired for working at Studio2 were mainly around experience with people with disabilities. How does one write learning outcomes about that?!

Two learning outcomes from a course I have not formally studied:
From the National Certificate in Horticulture
Unit Standard 20557  - Propagate plants from seed.
Unit Standard 20558 – Propagate plants from cuttings.

An answer to the above question could be that ‘permanent products’ are easier to evaluate than ‘less permanent products’ which need to be evaluated at the time or documented well. (P19. Learning and Assessment NZQA 2001).

Types of evidence

Evidence must be:

Current, Authentic, Valid, Reliable and Sufficient (Simosko & Cook)

Evidence can be categorised under three different types: (p.84 Simosko & Cook)
  • Personal report or narrative by the candidate
  • Direct evidence, and
  • Indirect evidence

A personal report / letter / narrative by the candidate shows a general picture and gives context to her / his achievements.

Direct evidence of the candidate’s performance can be gained from products or outcomes of performance eg computer programmes, financial reports, lesson plans, musical compositions, training manuals, components, operations schedules etc.
Direct evidence can also be gained by direct observation of tasks, roles etc by the assessor. If direct observation is not possible, a simulation or role play exercise could be used to gain the required evidence. (p.85)

Indirect evidence can come from letters of validation from past or current employers, special awards or certificates, newspaper articles about the candidate, photographs of the candidates work etc. (p.85)

In a portfolio development workshop candidates can be motivated to reflect on their past accomplishments and current competence (p.80) The workshop environment is particularly useful for groups of candidates.
 Content in the workshop would include: Discussion and interpreting the standards or learning outcomes, which will help the candidate to select or develop the most appropriate evidence.
  • Understanding the standards
  • Defining the nature of acceptable evidence
  • Constructing the portfolio
  • Preparing for assessment.
The concept of evidence should not be new to anyone. It should be seen as a natural, everyday phenomenon” (p.83)

Simosko, S and Cook, C. Applying APL Priciples in Flexible Assessment: A Practical Guide. Kogan Page Limited. 1996

1 -Pros and Cons – Advantages and Disadvantages of RPL (recognition of prior learning) in a tertiary setting.
RPL IS available for Measurement. The online ALNAT assessment tool gathers the evidence.
The course statistics – achievement rates would be high. A lecturer could do a preliminary quick assessment to see whether the candidate would most probably be successful at fulfilling the course requirements. And a student who applies for RPL is unlikely to ‘drop out’ or not complete.
Boosts achievement of students who otherwise may not achieve. Boost morale, encouragement, further success.
Contributes to a more qualified workforce.
Recognizes skills and labour that was previously not counted.
A new course document would have to written for each course. Or a separate RPL version of the course?? So that the assessment criteria are ‘open’ enough to include proof of achievements outside of the programme.
Is RPL available for the Certificate in Creative Studies?
Not currently. A portfolio worthy of entrance to a degree programme is what our graduates need to be equipped with by the completion of our course. Partial credits could be awarded through RPL, but if a candidate already has a sufficient portfolio of degree entry quality, they would probably be enrolling in a degree programme. (In effect Degree programmes already employ their own version of RPL in the form of ‘the candidate must provide a portfolio and letter of motivation)
If the candidate needs more work in areas like academic writing or numeracy they could be RPL-ed the creative / development credits, whilst being enrolled in the few foundation numeracy and literacy papers. But then, why would the candidate not simply enrol in Foundation Studies, then when their study is complete, go on to their chosen degree programme.
It appears that RPL is redundant in regard to a certificate level programme

More thoughts on what RPL is:

Dave Hornblow’s paper ‘Recognition of Prior Learning in New Zealand: What Has Been, What Is, and What Might Be’ 2002 has opened my eyes to what RPL is or can potentially be. It has confirmed my ideas that RPL has potential to reach more people, to provide better access to education and to give value where there was none before. This has got me a bit excited!

Also exciting is the idea that recognition of non-certificated learning doesn’t have to lead to formal accreditation. RPL doesn’t necessitate a ‘credit’ or piece of paper, but can build a picture of the learner’s skills and experience and clear pathways to future education.
Hornblow quotes Whitaker (1989);

‘….identifying the quantity and quality of the past learning provides a content analysis that is an essential foundation for setting new learning objectives.’

Also interesting is the history of RPL in New Zealand. OP’s CAPL dept being mentioned and Phil Ker being part of a RnD team for RPL funded by NZQA in 1997.
NZQA’s attitude towards RPL seems predictable in the mid 1990’s. RPL “was being seen as an assessment methodology that did not need special impetus” I wonder if their attitude has changed??

RPL is far more than an assessment methodology.

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