Saturday, June 28, 2014

Honorary Doctorates as a Model of RPL in Australian Universities 
Recently, I wrote concerning the weak development of RPL in Higher Education the Australian context. I argued that "fence-sitting, and do-nothing abounds in response to growing evidence of open learning, digital badges, MOOCS, workplace learning, lifewide learning in terms of RPL" and that "it is as if a magic wand illuminates [new] approaches to evidence of learning outcomes once a student is enrolled [in a university course], but the light suddenly fades to grey if the same evidence was self-authored by a learner outside enrolment." I also argued that the emerging focus on aligned learning outcomes offers hope for a genuine shift of Universities towards credentialing of open and lifelong learning. 

In fact, Universities do have one important model of portfolio assessment whereby a person is able to be conferred with a qualification and attendant title without enrolling and completing formal studies. Over the years when I have been told that Universities don't have the capacity to assess portfolios, experience, or evidence-based learning as a basis of an award, I point out the model of the Honorary Doctorate.

The Honorary Doctorate is an award conferred by Universities on candidates that meet certain criteria. For example, the University of Southern Queensland indicates that the "purpose of an honorary doctorate award is to:
·         acknowledge distinguished and/or significant contribution to the University and or/community
·         acknowledge strong advocacy of, and contributions to, the ideals of the University
·         recognise outstanding scholarship and/or professional practice in one or more disciplines or professions.

Here are the policies of University of Sydney, University of South Australia, and the University of Victoria for the conferring of awards and other forms of recognition.The University of Western Australia indicates that the "primary purpose for conferring honorary degrees is to “give public recognition to individuals for outstanding achievements, either at the State level or beyond, in any recognised field of human endeavour, and that "reasons for awarding honorary degrees would normally include:
·         making a public statement about the values, positioning and importance of the University;
·         enlarging the University’s network of people of influence in the national and international communities;
·         developing support for the University in the community”.

The process for assessing an HD is fairly standard across the sector. As an example, at the University of New England, the process for awarding an HD is made up of
·         A proposal that is “first discussed with the Vice-Chancellor”.
·         Validation of the proposal by at least three Professors of the University.
·         Validation of proposals made on the grounds of distinguished public service by three full-time members of the Academic or General Staff of the University or a member of the Council.

Taken from an assessment of learning outcomes perspective, this model of assessment bases the awarding of the Honorary Doctorate on evidence (for example, reputation evidenced in the public domain, validated through nomination and recommendation), certain criteria that is validated (by the VC and senior academic staff). Typically a portfolio of evidence is not required in the formal sense. Dame Jane Goodall and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, for example, would not have been asked to submit an ePortfolio to evidence their graduate capabilities in order to be awarded their Honorary Doctorates. However, their life's work (the evidence) would have been packed together in a summative way, as they were considered for the award (the portfolio), then recommended and accepted (the validation). 

This process is very recognisable as an RPL process, for example as described by Christine Wihak (2012) when she described portfolio-based assessment for RPL purposes. In principle it varies little from guidelines for portfolio assessment of UG students, such as those developed by UNSW - except that the evidence is developed by the recipient of the award outside formal higher degree research studies. 

Universities clearly have the policy frameworks, model of assessment of evidence, and validation processes needed to confer a full award, albeit with the restrictions placed on an Honorary Doctorate, at the elite level of the institution. In terms of volume of learning, the assumption is made that the recipient of the award has earned the equivalent of an undergraduate and higher degree research (PhD) qualification, in order to receive the honorarium. In broad principle, the same head-space and willingness to value evidence gained outside the institution can be applied to other levels of qualifications. The issue here isn't whether or not Australian Universities have models of RPL, rather it is a lack of willingness to apply those models to the contexts of UG and PG course work studies. 

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Dialogue about blended learning

Visit a project I built using Wix in 2010 where colleagues and I explore the meaning of "blended learning"