Saturday, 14 January 2012

Level 4 Playing Field

I have been struggling with making sense of what I understand to be the requirements to pass university modules at level 4 compared to those issued for Edexcel HNC units at the same level.

Initially, having read through the indicative content and explanation of the learning outcomes for an HNC unit, I thought: "Fair enough. They're damn tough and will need the students to do a lot more research and examination of concepts in depth, as well as writing pretty well to provide evidence of their knowledge and understanding, and whilst I reckon that's going to be very difficult for them in some, if not all, cases, I guess that's life at this level. They scraped through level 3 but now really do have not only to think but actually put their thoughts together coherently on paper." And with that in mind I have been rather frightening most of them with indications of what I am expecting to see by way of assignments to be handed in shortly.

I was actually in the middle of being tedious on this topic when I remembered how several of their older colleagues had just completed degrees in similar subjects. I had been their tutor for a module with a similar title and learning outcomes and, despite all my best efforts, prodding and verbal abuse (it was before safeguarding was on the menu and we could get away with threatening to do dreadful things or tell their parents what they really did at lunchtime in order to get good results), yes, despite all that, quite a few submitted very weak portfolios and only covered  a few of the points I'd hoped for and had a basic grasp of what might be required but not a great deal more.

When it came to grading, I managed to get hold of some papers that the university had issued to help us figure out where on the 1 - 20 scale their work fitted. Under the column for grades 1-3 this was the text:
High level of abstract thinking original ideas; understanding is generalised and applied to new contexts ideas drawn to conclusions; highly reflective; sharply perceived; generalised from personal experience; shows metacognitive understanding; goes beyond what has been given; the whole is conceptualized at a higher level
Luckily for them, this was in the column 13-16
The work meets one part of the task, but misses other important attributes; little evidence of moving from the specific to the general; often focuses on terminology; sparse understandings, or some higher level understanding offset by some misunderstandings
The latter being pretty accurate for most. So the degrees got completed and everyone was happy. Well, maybe their employers weren't but that's another matter. The point is I could pass them.

Now, this is what the HNC book says for one of several learning outcomes:
3 Be able to evaluate the project outcomes

Evaluation techniques: detailed analysis of results, conclusions and recommendations; critical analysis against the project specification and planned procedures; use of appropriate evaluation techniques; application of project evaluation and review techniques; opportunities for further studies and developments

Interpretation: use of appropriate techniques to justify project progress and outcomes in terms of the original agreed project specification

Further consideration: significance of project; application of project results; implications; limitations of the project; improvements; recommendations for further consideration
Students have to meet all the learning outcomes so in the appropriate task for this they will have to do what it says. This is just to pass. There is a whole host of further requirements for merit and distinction.

OK, the degree guide text and the learning outcomes aren't directly comparable as one lists academic approach and the other lists things to be demonstrated but you'll get the gist. It looks an awful lot simpler to get a pass in the degree module than in the HNC unit

In a discussion with a colleague I have appreciated that at level 3 we didn't expect every element of each learning outcome to be covered by assignment. He used the example of an exam at the end of a year: people pass by successfully answering questions about a selection of things covered by the course. So I should use the same approach here too. Yes, I'll provide teaching, materials and guidance about the whole range but the assignments need only test their ability to prove an understanding of some. That was helpful and meant my brain was slightly better able to cope with this assessment business. However, I would still much prefer to deal with university second assessors and panels than the Edexcel External Verifier. Any day of the week.

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