Sunday, November 12, 2017

Professional Accreditation Needs to Move Online

The Department of Education and Training issued the report "Professional Accreditation: Mapping the territory" in September 2017, but this does not appear to have attracted much attention. The report for the Department by PhillipsKPAPty Ltd, looked at the way  100 professional associations set requirements for higher education programs to be suitable for their members. 

The report points out that accreditation processes are similar between professional bodies: with a public document published specifying competencies, or a body of knowledge, which graduates are to have.Most are aligned with Australian post-secondary requirements, such as TEQSA, AQF, and Higher Education Standards Framework.
Of 100 accrediting bodies, all but 14 were self-regulating. The exceptions were for health professionals, under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme. Half the accrediting agencies belonged to Professions Australia, Australian Health Professions Accreditation Councils Forum or another umbrella body. The authors expressed concern about smaller and newer professional bodies lacking resources for effective accreditation and not drawing on the experience of other groups.
Most accreditation is now national, but some is still state based, with inconsistencies between states. Accreditation of teacher education was identified by the authors as a problem area with a whole chapter (5) devoted to the topic. State authorities were interpreting national teaching requirements inconsistently and adding their own criteria. the authors made the extrondary statement:
"The high political and industrial stakes surrounding initial teacher education confound investigation and resolution of the apparent difficulties in this report, and exceed by far the terms of reference of this overview."
The engineering and computing professions come in for positive comment, with the authors noting that Engineers Australia was an original signatorys to the International Engineering Alliance’s Washington Accord in 1989 and the Australian Computer Society a signatory to the similar Seoul Accord. These accords recognize accreditation processes internationally. As a Certified Professional member of the ACS I benefit from this.
One problem noted, particularly for health professionals, was a requirement for training to undertaken in Australia or by Australian registered professionals. Another issue is programs accredited by multiple professional bodies. One way around this, I suggest, are joint accreditations. As an example, I have been on a panel accrediting a program for both accounting and computing bodies. Even if there are two sets of paperwork to complete, it helps if the educational institution has to deal with just one visit by one panel.

One problem the report identifies are accreditation of programs using capstones, research projects, work-placed learning and reflective journals. These are useful learning techniques, but require specialist skills and it helps if the teacher has been trained using these techniques (I undertook an e-portfolio capstone for my MEd).

The issue of accreditation of online programs does not receive as much attention as it deserves in the report:

  • 'In the case of new mixed mode delivery technologies and paradigms such as MOOCs the current approach is to put the onus on the educational provider to provide the evidence that assessment of learning outcomes is rigorous. Some providers express frustration with the lack of familiarity with these methods represented in review panels who tend to prefer traditional face to face approaches to classroom teaching. Some providers are beginning to invite accreditation panel members to log into their learning management systems so they can “experience some aspects of what it is like to be a student.”'
Australian higher education has already passed a tipping point: students now receive more of their instruction on-line than in face-to-face classrooms. Within a few years almost all university education will be undertaken online in Australia. I suggest accreditation bodies need to prepare for this reality, rather than treating it as a novel exception.

One recommendation in the report which may be contentious is:
"Mutual recognition of online and on campus programs could be considered to avoid duplication of content where mode of delivery is the only difference." 
The  topic of how those who accredit programs is briefly covered, with the recommendation:
  • "Develop more efficient ways to train assessors – online, collaborative inter-professional, inter-agency training."
The authors appear to have missed the obvious similarity between evaluation of programs within institutions and accreditation by outside bodies. Education specialists are trained in evaluation and I suggest these skills could also be applied to accreditation.

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