John Swinney, MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills addresses the Scottish Learning Festival

A guest post from Joe Wilson, reporting on the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills’ speech at the Scottish Learning Festival. 

The Scottish Learning Festival is the annual gathering mainly of schools across Scotland. This year even had the usual mix of excellent keynotes and workshops to re-inforce changes across the sector and provide staff who can get out of school for one or two days with an important opportunity to network.  Keynotes from the event are available here https://www.youtube.com/user/educationscotland

As well as a programme of talks there is an exhibition area featuring most of the agencies that support Scottish schools, commercial vendors, with a broad focus on technology, and a local authority village highlighting a range of initiatives across Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

Traditionally the event starts with an address from the Minister for Education and this year was no exception. There are usually too a couple of well-timed press releases or policy changes that appear on the morning of address to give speech some beef.

This year was the announcement that the ‘assessment burden’ in schools would be tackled (Government plans major changes to school qualifications) and the Digital Learning and Teaching strategy Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology was published the previous day.

I think I’ve attended all the SLF conferences and this was the most confident delivery I’ve seen by an Education Minister in the last 20 years, focusing unrelentingly on closing the attainment gap. It needed to be a confident speech, relationships are currently fragile across this sector and while the Minister has picked up his brief in a confident fashion, as ever with education, there is a fair amount of baggage to be dealt with.

So what happened?

Swinney’s speech was directive really; a call to arms for teachers, head teachers, local authorities and all those working in public education to focus on the core values of Scottish Education. The system is there to transform lives and should be underpinned by “wisdom, compassion, justice, integrity”.  Scottish Education needs to build on its foundations and not rest on its laurels. There was reference to the recent OECD report on the state of Scottish Education; our report card is that we are on the right road but ‘could do better’ particularly around “closing the attainment gap”.

The challenge is that the right building blocks are there in our Getting it Right for Every Child, Curriculum for Excellence and Developing our Young Workforce policies, we need to free teachers and education leaders from unnecessary bureaucracy and let them get on with the job. The Minister praised the 23% rise in vocational qualifications now being delivered in schools as evidence of change happening and highlighted how the system was working towards building excellence and equity.

In his first six months Swinney has already taken action. Today, he announced that the assessment burden, the internal assessments in National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, will go and be replaced with more externally assessed components.  This has been done with agreement of the National Assessment and Qualifications Working Group. They are working through ways to give more resources directly to schools, but local authorities, head teachers and teachers also need to get rid of their own self-generated bureaucracy.  Education Scotland is going to take down thousands of pages of guidance that is often contradictory.  Definitive guidance is now provided here Delivering excellence and equity in Scottish education: A delivery plan.

The Minister’s speech did not directly address the Digital Learning and Teaching strategy and its actual or potential impact on the classroom. In response to questions, Swinney highlighted that connectivity was still a challenge in many schools and that resources were being allocated to improve bandwidth across Scotland and that schools should make more effective use of GLOW.

There is much that educational technology, or more specifically changes in educational practice supported by educational technology, could do to support the aim of closing the attainment gap in Scotland.  Digital technology is to become central to all areas of curriculum, assessment and delivery.

Open Education has a key role to play in this but it is not explicitly referenced in the strategy. It as a key part in improving the relationship between teachers and learners and enhancing the learners’ experience.

I know for instance that SQA are looking to move towards making evidence digital a standard in all areas that it can – this could change face of assessment across Scotland.  That is something that everyone across the education and skills system should be thinking about.

There was a question too about the support available for young learners with mental health challenges and the lack of re-sources and joined up provision from education, social and health services.

There was no mention in the speech around the external assessments that are being planned for primary and early stage secondary pupils to provide Government with a performance benchmark and nothing really of substance for those working in Colleges, Higher Education or the training provider sector.

European Guidelines for the Validation of Non-Formal and Informal Learning

cover_3073_enCEDEFOP, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, has recently issued the second edition of the  European Guidelines for the Validation of Non-Formal and Informal LearningThese guidelines set out how validation of informal and non-formal learning could increase the visibility and value of learning that takes place outwith formal education, and support the transferability of skills across Europe. This work is particularly relevant at this point in time given increased migration and social inclusion challenges across Europe, where the recognition of informal and non-formal learning could support transitions into employment and other positive pathways for those without formal qualifications.  According to the guidelines: 

Validation can help combat unemployment by improving skills matching and social cohesion, and supporting the unemployed or those at risk of losing their jobs by enabling citizens to communicate the value of their skills and experiences to potential employers or when returning to formal education. Validation can also form part of the response to the current refugee crisis through identification and certification of migrants’ previous experiences, to support quicker and smoother integration into host countries.  It can also play a major role in combating youth unemployment by making skills acquired through voluntary work, or during leisure, visible to employers.

A key objective of the earlier edition of these guidelines, issued in 2012, is that EU Member States work together towards national arrangements for validation by 2018.

What is particularly interesting about these new guidelines is that they place special emphasis on validation arrangements for education and training facilitated by open educational resources, and in addition, make specific reference to the use of badges with OER.  For reference, the section that relates to OER is included below in its entirety.

One thing to note is that the guidelines’ broad definition of OER includes both MOOCs and open courseware and it is possible that this may point the way to developing a solution to address accreditation and validation for MOOCs. Furthermore, there could be an opportunity to build on the Scottish Open Education Declaration as a basis for developing validation policies within Scotland, given that it already promotes the development of a culture of openness around education and assessment. 

With thanks to Grainne Hamilton of DigitalMe for summarising these guidelines and for highlighting the link to OER and the Scottish Open Education Declaration. 


4.1.1. Validation and open education resources

The recommendation states that the knowledge skills and competences acquired through open educational resources should be addressed by validation arrangements: ‘The arrangements for the validation of non-formal and informal learning [which] enable individuals to have knowledge, skills and competences which have been acquired through non-formal and informal learning validated, including, where applicable, through open educational resources’ (Council of EU, 2012, p. 3, point 1).

The reference to open educational resources (OERs) in the recommendation reflects the rapid expansion of online learning opportunities, particularly promoted by higher education institutions. OERs are defined in the recommendation as ‘digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research; it includes learning content, software tools to develop, use and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licences; OER also refers to accumulated digital assets that can be adjusted and which provide benefits without restricting the possibilities for others to enjoy them’ (Council of EU, 2012, p. 5, point d). OER may include ‘…full courses, course modules, syllabuses, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world’ (7). Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and open courseware are examples of OERs.

OERs are seen as important supplements to traditional education and training programmes, reducing overall cost, increasing accessibility and allowing individuals to follow their own learning pace. MOOCs are seen as a way to deliver high quality (world- class) teaching to a broad group of learners.

For all these reasons it is important to consider how the outcomes of this learning can be appropriately documented and assessed and how current practices on validation can take them into account. Box 4 indicates some issues to be considered when linking validation and OERs.

Possible requirements for validation of OERs:

  • Learning carried out through OER must be described in the form of learning outcomes.
  • Where the OER brings with it some form of internal credit, for example badges, these must explained and documented in a transparent way encouraging trust.
  • Standards and/or reference points underpinning credits or badges must be clearly explained.
  • Arrangements for quality assurance underpinning OERs must be transparently presented.
  • Methods for assessment/testing must be transparently explained.

The outcomes of online learning have to be treated with the same care and degree of scrutiny as any other learning outcomes. Given the inevitable variation in quality of OERs, along with the varying success of learners to adapt to online learning, attention has to be given – at national, European and international level – to documenting, assessing and certifying the outcomes OERs. For them to be considered in validation, transparency is crucial. The learning experienced through OERs needs to be described through learning outcomes. The status of standards and testing arrangements, if these exist, need to be clear and available to aid validation. Web-based platforms that allow for recognition and assessment of specific skills require careful consideration and need to be compared to existing systems of validation to promote adequate quality assurance and allow for rationalisation of efforts.

Key questions regarding on educational resources

The following questions are important when addressing open educational resources:

  • Are methods for validating learning outcomes acquired through OERs the same as for learning outcomes acquired in a different way?
  • How are internal credits (e.g. badges) considered by validation?

European Guidelines for the Validation of Non-Formal and Informal Learning
http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/publications-and-resources/publications/3073

University of Edinburgh approves new OER Policy

edinburghAs part of its on going commitment to open education, the University of Edinburgh has recently approved a new Open Educational Resources Policy, that encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience. The University is committed to supporting open and sustainable learning and teaching practices by encouraging engagement with OER within the curriculum, and supporting the development of digital literacies for both staff and students in their use of OERs.

The policy, together with supporting guidance from Open.Ed, intends to help colleagues in making informed decisions about the creation and use of open educational resources in support of the University’s OER vision. This vision builds on the history of the Edinburgh Settlement, the University’s excellence in teaching and learning, it’s unique research collections, and its civic mission.

The policy is based on University of Leeds OER Policy, which has already been adopted by the University of Greenwich and Glasgow Caledonian University. It’s interesting to note how this policy has been adapted by each institution that adopts it. The original policy describes open educational resources as

“…digitised teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released by the copyright owner under an intellectual property licence (e.g. Creative Commons) that permits their use or re-purposing (re-use, revision, remixing, redistribution) by others.”

However Edinburgh has adapted this description to move towards a more active and inclusive definition of OER

“digital resources that are used in the context of teaching and learning (e.g. course material, images, video, multimedia resources, assessment items, etc.), which have been released by the copyright holder under an open licence (e.g. Creative Commons) permitting their use or re-purposing (re-use, revision, remixing, redistribution) by others.”

This definition aims to encompass the widest possible range of resources that can be used in teaching and learning, not just resources that are developed specifically for that purpose. This description acknowledges that it is often the context of use that makes a thing useful for teaching and learning, rather than some inherent property of the resource itself.

Although open licensing is central to the University’s OER vision, this is much more than a resource management policy. In order to place open education at the heart of learning and teaching strategy, the University’s OER Policy has been approved by the Senate Learning and Teaching Committee. The policy is intended to be clear and concise and to encourage participation by all. By adopting this policy, the University is demonstrating its commitment to all staff and students who wish to use and create OERs in their learning and teaching activities, and who wish to disseminate the knowledge created and curated within the University to the wider community.

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