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Development of Systems: How do Institutions cope with APL?

TELSTAR (UCLAN) and PINEAPPLE (Plymouth) led an assembly at the Festival of Assemblies, Oxford on 20 October 2010. The focus of the assembly was :

Development of Systems: How do Institutions cope with APL?


1. Challenges

Complicated non-standardised process;

  • Differs between HEI’s and even across departments within the same HEI: associated costs, number of credits allowed etc…
  • Lack of equality for APEL students
  • Promotion of APL: not widely publicised as an option available within a HEI.
  • APEL tends to occur at Programme level as opposed to a central policy.

2. Developments

Increase in HEI’s using ePortfolios to link to the APEL process.

With increased fees planned the demand for APEL should increase which raises many issues:

  • Associated costs
  • Assessment: transparency
  • The need to standardise the process across institutions.

3. Assessment

Currently within some institutions assessment is graded as either Pass or Fail. As flexible frameworks increase in availability this could have a negative impact on final grades.

4. The Future

Staff who advocate APEL need to be supported by their institutions to enable the APEL process to be supported centrally and incorporated into the wider promotion of options available at universities. Organisational polices should be readily available on websites and in prospectus’ to help widen the demand and awareness of APEL.

Flexible frameworks are increasingly becoming available which will create a higher demand for APEL. The use of technology could reduce the burden of administration resources required to facilitate the APEL process. Institutions should acknowledge the evaluation arising out of current JISC projects trialling this, such as the TELSTAR Project.

5. Some PINEAPPLE Key Issues

Some of the issues on which PINEAPPLE has been reflecting were raised for discussion at the Assembly.

A number of these can only be addressed by the institution itself and will to a large extent be governed by the institution’s choice of business model, which should in turn, be governed by the role it intends APEL to play. For example, is the purpose of APEL to:

  • satisfy the QAA?
  • widen participation?
  • get students through to an award in the shortest possible time?
  • part of the institution’s employer engagement strategy?
  • attract learners who want a degree as cheaply as possible?
  • encourage lifelong learning?

In any of these cases, except the first, the APEL regulations should be part of a wider mix of policies, processes and staff development to achieve the desired aim and to ensure equality of treatment throughout an institution. This is important as it seems to be not uncommon that regulations are interpreted idiosyncratically throughout an institution, and/or exemptions to parts of the regulations are given to some faculties/departments.

Early feedback on the PINEAPPLE tool suggests that staff often feel overwhelmed when dealing with an APEL application on their own. They report that having a software tool to guide and record their actions gives a feeling of safety and validates their decisions. We hope to explore these perceptions in a little more depth.

5.1 Assessing APEL

It was mentioned that learners may be deterred by the amount of work required to put together a portfolio of evidence and reflection, such that some prefer to do the module. Are we over-assessing APEL students when compared to students who take a module in the usual way?

When discussing currency in relation to APEL, what this means will vary between subject disciplines. It is also the case that APEL should be assessing the learning and not the experience; so if a claimant is evidencing their learning today, based on an experience they had 5 years ago, what does currency mean?

It is possible to APEL modules that count towards the classification of the final award. Some institutions deal with this by omitting the APEL’d modules from the calculation and adjusting their formula.

5.2 Group APEL – is it worth it

Of those who were familiar with this approach it seemed that it is fraught with difficulties. Not least, because each individual will have their own experiences from their lives, employment history and other areas.

If the institutional policies are sufficiently agile and flexible this could be partially circumvented by accrediting informal or non-assessed inhouse training.

APEL/APCL a claim involving both of these can be very complex. However, the regulations of individual institutions may preclude such a claim from being considered.

5.3 Role split between APEL adviser and assessor/APL board

Universities do not have a problem with a single tutor teaching and then marking an assessment so why is there a tendency to split these roles for APEL. It was suggested that institutions tend to be over-cautious in new areas and this may be the reason.

5.4 Timing of applications

There is huge variation between time constraints on placed on making an APEL application (+ 6 months to -3 weeks from module start date).

5.5 Module cost

This is another area that varies, though charging either the full cost of a module or half the cost is fairly common.

5.6 Room occupancy

This can be an issue for HE in FE staff teaching on foundation degrees. It is a formula based on frequency of use and occupancy that is used by OFSTED as part of its inspections of FE. However this metric may then be used in HE in FE management where it becomes a deterrent to promotion of APEL.

6. APEL Policies

If anyone is wishing to share their institutional policy with the Pineapple project please forward details to Neil Witt nwitt@plymouth.ac.uk.

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