Posted by: tonygurney | January 20, 2009

Area #4 – Qualifications

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Image via WikipediaThe danger for all qualifications is their limited shelf life. Alan Kay said that the best way to predict the future was to create it. Unfortunately, there is a minimum eighteen month development cycle for qualifications that means that often the course has a degree of redundancy by the time it is available. The inevitable outcome is that the future has become the past before we can influence it.

In addition, the ‘big bang‘ effect in colleges means that getting a new qualification, creating assessments, writing support notes and shepherding the new award through the quality process ensures that only the most enthusiastic, or foolish, colleges immediately implement new qualifications, ensuring that they are further out of date.

What is needed, perhaps, is nothing less than a root and branch reform of Higher National Computing to address these challenges.

A core change could be to create an HN General Computing. To achieve this award, students would have to successfully complete the required number of units. These units, save for some exceptions, can be those that are approved for any Computing course of study. There would be a relatively small (say three or four) number of mandatory credits which would be ‘soft’ skills such as project management or working in a project team.

To ensure a proper spread of knowledge, areas/topics would be grouped and a limit placed on the number of units available from each group. For example, there might be a minimum of one and a maximum of eight credits available from a programming group that could count
towards the award.

Where duplication exists, such as with the ‘Professional Issues’ units, only one unit would be eligible.

To differentiate awards and give them an identity, sets of extra mandatory units could be created or a specific number of credits from a group might be set. In either case specialism would not be necessary to achieve the general award.

The other major change would be to set up a revolving standing committee responsible for researching, writing and implementing new units in response to demand from stakeholders. These units would be immediately added to the pool of units available for the award.

This approach would be advantageous for all stakeholders:

  • Students would not be forced to specialise on their first day at college. Instead they could work towards an award secure in the knowledge that their work would not be wasted.
  • Colleges would benefit from being able to consolidate many classes, only providing specialisms where there was clear demand and at the latest possible time in the course. Those specialisms could also be closely tailored to local articulation routes.
  • Practitioners would benefit from a stable set of base units with small but regular turnover.
  • Industry would have access to more computing students with current skills.

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