Tuesday, May 12, 2020

More Flexibility from Accreditation Bodies During Pandemic

Five organizations with members who train medical and other professionals have called on accreditation bodies to be more flexible during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Australian Council of Professions (ACoP), Universities Australia (UA), the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), the Australian Collaborative Education Network (ACEN) and the Independent Higher Education Australia (IHEA) are concerned that accreditation procedures may slow the supply of trained staff when they are needed most.

The problem is that front line professionals need hands-on training, supervision and testing, but this is difficult to provide due to lock-downs and stringent processes at places of employment. With the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA), they are supporting creation of principles for professional accreditation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim is to maintain quality while there are fewer reduced availability of Professional Placements available, and with measures such as online assessments required.

However, the first of the proposed principles I don't agree with: 
a. Professional accreditation bodies recognise that during the current pandemic higher education providers must attend to educational delivery and student needs first.

In a pandemic, the need of the community for intimidate support comes first, with education of students a lower priority. All professional codes of ethics state that the needs of the community override those of the individual professionals and their organizations. Trained staff are needed now to save lives, so training programs may be shortened, and students asked to volunteer for font-line duty, sooner than they otherwise would. As future professionals, this is a valuable lesson for students: my needs do not come first.

One way I suggest accreditation bodies can help, without compromising standards, is though online working and allowing online training and assessment. The need to physically visit and meet with educators should be replaced with an online option, and not hours of tedious Zoom meetings: a genuine online, efficient process.

The use of online forms of reporting by and of students in placement should be encouraged. Much of the tedious paperwork which takes up everyone's time can be put online, streamlined, and in some cases eliminated all together. Some years ago I helped the University of Queensland develop a system for online reporting of occupational therapy students in professional practice placements. This took several attempts and revisions, to get something practical for use in a clinical environment. This proved a lot harder than it first looked.

To a large extent, the need for reporting can be replaced with monitoring of the online logs already kept routinely in the workplace. The Australian National University provides an example of this with its TechLauncher program. Students undertake team projects for real clients, as part of the requirements for Australian Computer Society professional accreditation. Students use online tools to collaborate. A byproduct of this is that the tools keep a log of what every student did, stamped with the time and date they did it. Examiners have access to all the logs, so they do not have to rely on what students, and their clients, say they did. Students, clients and instructors, can also report on the quality of student work, as it is happening, rather than waiting until long after the event.

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