Epic quest – proposed new landscape of qualifications for NZ computing

Posted on August 4, 2014

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This week sees the release of the final consultation version of the new landscape of qualifications for IT. This fourth round of consultation is open for feedback until the 20th August.    I’ve spent the past year on the TRoQ Steering Group for the review and have attended most of the subject based working group meetings representing the governance group.

All sub-degree qualifications in all disciplines were the subject of a Targeted Review (hence TRoQ, this then became MRoQ because it is harder to say).  The Targeted Review of ICT qualifications was started last year. The goal is to better meet industry expectations and to reduce the number of qualifications.  Within each discipline there is a “Qualification Landscape”. The trick is an inflation of names: instead of being local offerings, Qualifications become nationally described and institutions will need to be accredited to teach to approved “programmes of study”.   To allow for flexibility in what is taught at the programme level, the Qualifications are strategic statements with graduate profiles outcomes.  The graduate profile outcomes are at about the 10-15 credit each scale.  The programmes of study will be accredited to the qualification and continuously check that they align (this in addition to usual quality assurance processes).

Note, a slight complication is that ICT includes both ICT “user” qualifications, and the professional qualifications.  Also note that the TRoQ is sub-degree Certificates and Diplomas but both the Steering Group and subject-based working groups are aware of the need for coherent pathways and possibility for integrated teaching.

The landscape represents two separate streams – ‘IT as a tool’ computing qualifications and ‘IT as a Profession’ information technology qualifications, as well as a bridging qualification.  There are 14 qualifications on the landscape, set to replace all sub-degree (certificates and diplomas) in New Zealand (see the full list). These qualifications have emerged from three previous rounds of consultation, and a great many meetings of working groups.

IT_Landscape_Aug14

 

At both the programme and learning outcome levels there are condition statements that refine the expectations. For example:

Configure a system, both through the graphical and command line interfaces, to meet typical organisational IT support requirements. 10 credits Programmes must include:
A system, which must include hardware, OS and software, and may include network connectivity; Organisational requirements must include performance, capacity, and business continuity.

Although the learning outcomes have specified credits it is worth noting that the graduate profile outcomes do not necessarily become courses.  This will be determined in the programme development. For example in one qualification the maths is specified alongside the technical learning outcomes it supports: maths for programming, maths for networks etc.  It may be that the programme keeps it this way, or it may be desirable to have a combined “maths for IT”.

So, the qualifications are now out for the last round of consultation.  CITRENZ  (which I chair represents IT schools from all the polytechnic and Institutes of Technology, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, and some associate members)  has begun to develop programmes of study to meet these qualifications.  Starting now gives CITRENZ the chance to work intensively on the developments on behalf of our member institutions, but also benefit the overall process in thoroughly testing the models. It is expected that this will take a couple of months, with the Qualifications being submitted for approval in September. The plan is then to submit the CITRENZ programmes of study for approval, with concurrent applications for accreditation for the each of our member institutions. We are still on track for programmes to be teachable in 2015, although it is more likely that institutions will wait until 2016.

There are some overarching qualification principles of the qualifications worth noting:

1. We are educating professionals. Hence the elements of professional practice are in all qualifications. As such, professional practice must be an integral part of the curriculum and delivery. It is expected that all qualifications have professionalism both purposefully taught and integrated with technical content. Here, professional practice includes the ‘soft skills’ of communication, team work, interpersonal skills, ethical principles, legislative requirements, sustainable practice, equity and Treaty of Waitangi.

2. Following strong industry feedback for a broad base including coding, every student will pass through generic core in Level 5 (this could be “first semester” or could be integrated). Thus every graduate will have a fundamentals including coding, operating systems, soft skills etc.

3. With the exception of the Level 5 certificate, the qualifications are purposefully targeted and specialised rather than wide “catch all” generic qualifications. As everyone must do the learning represented by the Level 5 certificate, this means graduates will have a wide base but then reasonably targeted specialisations.

4. Care has been take to “future proof” by being non-specific about technology. There is also room for expansion and with learning outcomes specifically addressing innovation.

5. Attempts have been made to address inequities and imbalances through qualification design. This has included valuing non-traditional focussed application areas (cf an implied engineering and business focus).

6. The qualifications are “delivery agnostic” but favouring experiential learning.  A common feature of most of the qualifications is a requirement for an integrated project (which could be a “capstone” or other mechanisms).

Questions for educators

The consultation document asks for feedback on individual qualifications and on the overall landscape.   In addition to those specifics on the content of each qualification, here are some more structurally focussed questions for educators that have emerged as we try to convert the qualifications into programmes of study.

1. Are the qualifications flexible enough?

While the intention was to create targeted qualifications, there is a danger that they have become too directive.

  •  Is there room for special topics?
  • Are the qualifications flexible enough to support innovative teaching?
  • Are the qualifications structured to generate programmes of study that will permit context in how they are delivered?  So, for example, the Diploma in Software Development, could be taught as web development or as embedded systems.
  • In short – can we make it work? 

2. Does the landscape provide sufficiently student-centric pathways?

This can be seen in two areas – the “straight” and “wiggly” pathways. For the straight-path students, the questions are whether the students are sufficiently prepared for progression. The questions are more complex for wiggly path students.

At a meeting of all CITRENZ HoDs last week we worked on wiggly path scenarios of students: students who pass most of a programme; or students who change their minds about their specialisation.  How are these students supported?

3. Is the level of specificity appropriate?

The qualifications have quite a lot of detail.  While this is useful for giving a strong guidance to programme developers, it may have trapped them into programmes that are overly narrow.  For example, could an institution create a programme that mixes web developer and business?

4. Does degree alignment work?

While degrees are out of scope for the review, for many students the certificates and diplomas are a route to bachelors study.   They need to be able to move diagonally on the framework, and from Level 6 to 7.   Further, for most providers the delivery of certificates, diplomas and degrees is aligned.    How is this going to play out?  Given that the degrees are all different (although some are variations on a theme), it is unlikely that the new qualifications will match degree learning outcomes.    Will institutions be able to wear these differences?   (perhaps giving advanced entry rather than attempting matching credit for credit).  Will degrees have to change to match?  for some this may be a bridge too far – not wishing to break a degree structure that works for the sake of other qualifications.   Will this affect uptake of the Certificates and Diplomas (and therefore damage hopes of strengthening pathways for a diverse population of students).

IT_Landscape_Aug14_degree-01

 

5.  Do the qualifications meet the goals of educating professionals?  

Here professionals is used to indicate more a role the considers more than technical aspects.    Are aspects such as team work, innovative, sustainable, ethical, sufficiently addressed?

6.  Do the qualifications address societal issues in computing?

As much as is possible in qualification design, does the landscape provide a framework for programmes that contribute positively to – for example –  gender equity in computing?

7. Do the qualifications meet Mātauranga Māori requirements?

“Programmes must contribute to the strengthening of Māori as a people by enhancing and advancing Mātauranga Māori” NZQA Qualification Approval Guidelines.

8. Is the landscape future proof and meeting for industry expectations of the “Unicorn graduate”? 

At a recent meeting for the ICT Grad Schools development, someone described the “unicorn candidate – technically adept, design aware, innovative, business savvy, and a beating social heart”.  While some see this as a mythical impossibility, to what extent is the new landscape delivering on this epic quest?

 

The consultation is open until the 20th August.

 

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