Beyond competencies: what HE assessment could offer the workplace and the practitioner researcher

Harvey, Morag and Norman, Lyn (2007). Beyond competencies: what HE assessment could offer the workplace and the practitioner researcher. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 12(3) pp. 331–342.



This article is based on research and development carried out at the Centre for Outcomes-Based Education at the Open University (OU). It explores the way in which higher education (HE) assessment could meet specific criteria in order to assess the unique qualities that underpin the relationship between practitioner-researchers and the workplace. These unique qualities relate to the new knowledge and understanding created from finding solutions to real issues. Evaluation of curriculum developments assessing learning in the workplace at the higher education level suggests that being an experienced and successful practitioner requires both the ability to seek out relevant knowledge and the skills to apply that knowledge in the appropriate way to real situations. HE therefore needs to assess not only cognitive knowledge, but also the social and cultural knowledge that is an essential characteristic of a successful practitioner-researcher. This article sets out the criteria for developing this type of assessment. Social and cultural knowledge has been seen as 'intangible', but it is the position of the authors of this article that developing appropriate assessment must help to reveal this type of knowledge by teasing out how individuals apply them to their working practices. This could fulfil the aim of helping to make these skills more explicit for the individual practitioner and the workplace, while also ensuring that the assessment criteria is appropriate for the purpose of assessing the relationship between the practitioner's knowledge and behaviour in the workplace. Experienced practitioners rely on their experiential learning from past experiences within the culture of their workplace in order to develop new ideas that are successful and relevant to that workplace or sector. Practitioner-researchers therefore display a range of social, cultural and interpersonal skills, as well as a tacit knowledge and understanding of their particular workplace and sector. The workplace sets the scene in which the practitioner needs to operate, and the practitioner-researcher uses a wide range of behaviours to create practical solutions to real problems. Some areas of HE assessment, such as health and social care, have long required articulation with the workplace and cultural norms, and these have evolved to facilitate this interaction of research and practice. It is the spread of this articulation into new areas and across new cultures that presents issues for the development of effective assessment practices that are able to elucidate the full range of knowledge and skills used by practitioner-researchers in the workplace.

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