‘Qualifications ecosystems need to pre-emptively disrupt from within or risk being unprepared for digital transformation.’

Since my last post we have had some great opportunities to gather further views to help inform our thinking about the future of assessment. The soundbite heading up this post was taken from ‘The Digitisation Agenda – Re-thinking the Role of Qualifications and Skills’ conference, organised by Quality and Qualifications Ireland on 24 October.

The starkness of the challenge presented in the quote was supported by a number of thought-provoking presentations that helped to illustrate the nature of the challenge and some possible responses. These added further weight to the views we have heard at other recent events including the Google for Education Study Tour, ATP Europe Conference, Young Scot’s Assessment Futures Vision Panel and the Scottish Training Federation Conference.

Whilst the emphasis may have varied across these different events, discussion at each indicated a widespread belief that the pace of change in the workplace and the world generally is becoming so great that we need to find new ways to ensure we prepare individuals to adapt and thrive in the face of these changes.

Just as the industries we work with are having to develop and implement new ways of working to reflect the pace of change, SQA needs to find new models of collaboration and partnership with industry and other stakeholders to help support and recognise the new skills and knowledge needed by employees and employers. We also need to help ensure candidates are ready for the next phase of their development whether that is in the workplace or in further training.

Across a number of sectors, particularly in the tech industry, we’re increasingly seeing education and training being delivered in new and creative ways to meet rapidly changing needs. As an example, SQA worked with Scotland’s CodeClan to develop a series of industry-leading Professional Development Awards in Software Development that underpin an intensive 16-week programme, for those hoping to secure a change of career. In another high-profile area of digital skills, SQA’s National Progression Awards in Cyber Security at SCQF levels 4, 5 and 6 provide foundation knowledge and skills in data security, digital forensics and ethical hacking — and provide a skills pipeline into the cyber security industry.

More radical models include the Nanodegrees offered by Udacity. My current favourite is the Self Driving Car Engineer programme which is available over three terms of twelve weeks each at a cost of $800 per term and carries endorsements from major industry names including Mercedes, BMW and McLaren. This programme has recently been complemented by an Introduction to Self Driving Cars to help ‘Start on the road to a Self-Driving car career’.

The innovative approaches offered by Udacity, and even CodeClan, are not necessarily for everyone: but they do offer an indication of how flexible and adaptable education and training and the associated qualifications and assessment can, and will increasingly need to be.

No doubt innovative approaches and more traditional delivery models will continue to co-exist for some time. If the World Economic Forum is right in its predictions, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is already underway, will see all of us needing to re-skill and up-skill far more frequently than we have had to in the past. Against this background it appears inevitable that more and more industries will need to adopt new approaches to training and developing their staff and recognising their achievements.

Whilst much of the current focus appears to be new models of education and training, there is also growing recognition within the assessment industry of the need for assessment to change, potentially radically, if it is to meet the needs of learners and employers in future. In her opening address at the recent ATP Europe conference the Chair noted that ‘the whole concept of assessment is changing’. The conference programme reflected this.

Just as digital technologies are one of the key driving forces behind the changes in the workplace, and therefore in education and training, exploring how these same technologies can help us to reshape assessment is critical. Technology can help us to assess the things we already assess in new ways. It can also help us to assess things that we increasingly value but have not previously been able to assess in a valid and reliable way. The concept of ‘21st century skills’ is a prominent theme here. Leaving aside for now specific definitions, there is growing evidence that employers do, and will, increasingly value these skills which include learning to learn, resilience, adaptability, collaboration and problem solving, alongside role-specific skills and knowledge. There is also a growing appetite for some form of representation of these capabilities and qualities which gives them currency. It has been suggested that the critical focus in future, in the face of progress with AI and robotics, will be on ‘human-only traits’ i.e. those things that only humans can (currently) do and so that help to determine our unique and distinctive contribution in an increasingly automated workplace.

Technology is now providing ways of measuring these skills that would not previously have been possible. If data is the basis of all assessment then the fact that we all generate increasing volumes of data knowingly and unknowingly in our personal and professional lives must present new opportunities for assessment. Whilst pinning down what these opportunities are remains work in progress and any move in this direction raises a number of questions including of ethics, legality, practicability and desirability, as one industry leader urged recently ‘We need to debate the constructive and responsible use of digital technologies for assessment.’

The opportunities presented by digital technologies to support representation of learning in new ways to give it currency are also starting to take clearer shape. Exploration of the potential of digital credentials and blockchain is gaining momentum and will help shape our understanding of what future approaches could and should look like.

Based on our fieldwork over the past few months and in particular the last six weeks, the context within which new approaches to assessment are needed is becoming increasingly clear as are some of the specific challenges and potential solutions. Our task now becomes to use this understanding to put in place new services that will meet the clearly defined needs of real users in this new world. This will require SQA to work in new and different ways. In particular it will require us to adopt new ways of working with existing partners and to explore the opportunities for new partnerships and collaborations that can help us achieve our objectives. To return to the start, it is only through this pre-emptive disruption of our own ecosystem that we can ensure we are prepared to meet the needs of future learners and therefore of the economy and society.

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