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Practicing PLAR at Athabasca University: Overviewing a Complex System ACAT Workshop May 16, 2007 Dianne Conrad Centre for Learning Accreditation Athabasca.

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Presentation on theme: "Practicing PLAR at Athabasca University: Overviewing a Complex System ACAT Workshop May 16, 2007 Dianne Conrad Centre for Learning Accreditation Athabasca."— Presentation transcript:

1 Practicing PLAR at Athabasca University: Overviewing a Complex System ACAT Workshop May 16, 2007 Dianne Conrad Centre for Learning Accreditation Athabasca University

2 Process Why PLAR? What [kind of] PLAR? How [do we do] PLAR? Principles Issues and Sticky Stuff

3 Why PLAR? Knowledge is what you have after you’ve forgotten all the facts. (Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences) AU mandate PLAR is mandated by AU’s Strategic Plan. Accommodates issues of access and flexibility for AU’s ODL learners. Part of a suite of approaches that includes credit transfer and challenge-for-credit.

4 What [kind of] PLAR? Mandated, centralized PLAR University-wide PLAR Program-contextualized, program-specific PLAR CAEL-supported PLAR [ ] [ ] [ ] Policy-protected PLAR Academically engaged PLAR

5 How [do we do] PLAR? Very carefully! With rigor With structure With consultation With program criteria [example] and learning outcomes. [example]

6 Principles: PLAR in the university context Universities embrace PLAR pedagogically: “The beginning of instruction shall be made with the experience learners already have…this experience and the capacities that have been developed during its course provide the starting point for all further learning.” (Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938, p. 74)

7 “ Society sustains itself through the sharing of knowledge and information and, in so doing, lives beyond the lifespan of the individual. Not only does social life demand teaching and learning for its own permanence, but the very process of living together educates.” Dewey (1916, p. 4)

8 Conceptual issues around PLAR Who has the knowledge? How is it spread around? Who is responsible for it?

9 Learning through PLAR The educator’s role involves three interrelated activities. (1)helping self and others engage in reflection. (2)helping self and others redefine premises. (3)helping self and others decide how to act on new insights and understandings. (Transformation theory of adult learning. In M. Welton, (Ed.) In Defense of the lifeworld: Critical perspectives on adult learning. New York: State University of New York Press.)

10 Learning through PLAR AU uses the portfolio method: Program-basedCourse-based Fundamental principles: There are many ways to learn. PLAR is for KNOWING, not doing. PLAR is a learning activity. PLAR credit is assessed, not transferred. PLAR credit is program-relevant and program- related.

11 What learners do Once engaged in an AU program, learners decide the appropriateness of PLAR to them. Ideally, they should contact CLA. With guidance and materials supplied by us, they create a portfolio. Portfolios are demonstrations of learning in text, well organized, lengthy, and carefully documented. Good portfolios take a long time to prepare.

12 What CLA does Answers program-related, course-related, PLAR- related queries and requests from AU students and potential students. Guides, directs, instructs, and mentors PLAR participants through the process. Locates assessor expertise for all undergraduate courses that are PLAR-able. Maintains assessors database. Instructs, trains, mentors and guides content experts through PLAR’s assessment process.

13 What CLA does…2 Receives and vets official letters of documentation arriving from PLAR participants’ attestors. Adds vetted and copied documentation material to 3 copies of PLAR portfolio. Receives 3 copies of portfolio material. Vets portfolios to determine completeness. Determines appropriate assessors and distributes portfolios accordingly. Requests necessary student records from RO to accompany portfolio materials. Requests necessary student records from RO to accompany portfolio materials.

14 What CLA does...3 Handles shipping, mailing, and return mailing procedures. Receives, edits, compiles, clarifies assessors’ comments. Prepares final paperwork for PLAR participant and University, in consultation with:  Program advisors/chair  Assessors  Registrar’s Office personnel

15 What assessors do Physically receive huge boxes of binders and papers that constitute portfolios. Read learners’ narratives, goal statements, educational histories, resumes, learning statements, and documentation material. Familiarize themselves with the learner’s program and program history. Apply their content knowledge to learners’ expression of “prior” knowledge, making many assessments on knowledge-based criteria relative to learners’ programs. Assign scores and offer comments to support decisions. Return materials to CLA. Be available for follow-up, consultation or appeal.

16 Assessment! Evaluation is about learning. “Evaluation is shot through with issues of power, responsibility, sensitivity, and even personal taste... Everyone who wishes to study evaluation must first grapple with important and fundamental questions about teaching, learning, and evaluation.” (The Art of Evaluation: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers, Fenwick and Parsons, 2000, p. 13)

17 About learning “The distinction between formal and informal learning is important in order to emphasize that learning is not to be equated with education. Education offers explicit, theoretical knowledge- so-called propositional knowledge. This can go on without the participants learning anything that can be used in a practical way in everyday life or at work.” (Ellstrom, 1996, quoted in Antonacopoulou, E., Jarvis, P., Andersen, V., Elkjaer, B., Hoyrup, 2006)

18 Two different ways of approaching evaluation 1. One way is focused on programs as objects or “thing-like” entities with identifiable properties that be categorized and measured…it centres on standards and criteria. (Stake, 2004) (Stake, 2004) 2. “the other way attends to programs as multifaceted compositions of lived human experience permeated with meanings” (from Schwandt, & Burgon, Evaluation and the study of lived experience, p. 99) (from Schwandt, & Burgon, Evaluation and the study of lived experience, p. 99)

19 Vygotsky’s (1978) learning processes- patterning and puzzling 1.patterning – learn by comparing to and building on similar experiences. 2.puzzling – new situations give us no reference point:  cannot reach back to existing generalizations  “learning by surprise, exception, contradiction.” Puzzling requires more social support than patterning. Epistemological tradition in evaluation favours patterning. Quantitative assessments treat “exceptions” as random noise “rather than as an opportunity for learning.”

20 Hands-on assessment Handout

21 Issues and Sticky Stuff: The Bigger Picture StakeholdersLearners Academic faculty Employers Other institutions

22 IssuesQualityTraditionReputationEconomicsPedagogyDiversity Academic Engagement

23 In conclusion…. PLAR is a learning experience. The best PLAR successes arise from learners’ realization of valuable learning experience through the PLAR process. This occurs (in spite of them or to their great surprise) when they enter into a well-managed, well-documented and mentored process.

24 Contact Centre for Learning Accreditation (780)


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