Sunday, January 06, 2013

ICT E-portfolios for Higher Degrees

For the final unit of my Certificate in Higher Education, I am looking at how university higher degree programs can be flexible enough to support both professional accreditation and research. The Certified Member Association for Learning Technology Program, the Professional Practice Subject of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Certified Professional Program and ACS Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Application process all use some form of portfolio.

The ACS Professional Practice Subject of the Certified Professional Program requires four components:
  1. Skill self assessment: the student assesses their own current skills against the Skills for the Information Age (SFIA) framework. Students are required to have reached SFIA Level 4 (generic skills:
    autonomy, influence, complexity and business skills) before commencing the activity.
  2. Career plan: the student has to identify three areas to develop over the following five years, with  a plan for development,
  3. Professional profile: the student prepares a professional profile in preparation for career advancement,
  4. Reflective journal: the student records a weekly reflections on what they have learned, their skills, and workplace experience.
The guidelines allow for 1 to 3 hours per week for up to 52 weeks for the preparation of the Professional Practice.

The ACS "Key Areas of Knowledge" document provides a list of topics for applicants for membership to address in an application for RPL:

ACS Key Areas of Knowledge

  1. Technology Resources (TR)
    • TR1. Hardware and software fundamentals
    • TR2. Data and information management
    • TR3. Networking
  2. Technology Building (TB)
    • TB1. Programming
    • TB2. Human-computer interaction
    • TB3 & TB4.System development and acquisition
  3. Services Management (SM)
    • SM1. Service management
    • SM2. Security management
  4. Outcomes Management (OM)
    • OM1. Organisational and Management Concepts
    • OM2. Change management
As these are the topics an applicant for RPL is required to address, it should be possible to use these same topics in an e-portfolio to support membership for students in university programs. However, these topics do not appear to match those which have been used traditionally to define the ICT "Body of Knowledge" (known as the "BoK"). In particular there is no mention of professional skills in communication and ethics. So I should check the latest ACS BoK.

The ACS "ICT Profession Body of Knowledge" (ACS Professional Standards Board, July 2012), follows the '... approach to educational program design that focuses on the development of professionals rather than taking a strict bottom‐up “curriculum‐driven” approach'.  The BoK cites several international standards and frameworks for defining ICT courses and skills requirements, including the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3), the the Seoul Accord graduate attributes and the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). It should be noted that the ACS has been closely involved in the development of these international programs. The BoK states: "It might be expected that a graduate from a degree program would be ready to assume Level 4 responsibilities in their area of specialisation". 

The "CORE Block" of the Core Body of Knowledge has six sub‐components:

  1. ICT Problem Solving (PS)
  2. Professional Knowledge (PK)
  3. Technology Building (TB)
  4. Technology Resources (TR)
  5. Services Management (SM)
  6. Outcomes Management (OM).
The last four of these (TB, TR, SM and OM) are also in the ACS "Key Areas of Knowledge" for RPL (but with TR before TB). It is not clear why "ICT Problem Solving" (PS) and Professional Knowledge (PK) are not included in the RPL process. Perhaps these are covered implicitly by the requirement for the applicant to provide case studies of their work. These two areas are the ones which are lest able to be covered in a traditional course based program and were the e-portolfio is most likely to be of use.

ICT Problem Solving

ICT Problem Solving (PS) covers modeling, abstraction and design. There are many different forms of modelling used in ICT, engineering and related disciplines which could be applied. It is likely that a student undertaking an ICT program will have covered this topic adequately somewhere, but may need to identify where they did and provide evidence of specific work.

Professional Knowledge

Professional Knowledge (PK) covers:
  1. Ethics
  2. Professionalism
  3. Teamwork concepts and issues
  4. Interpersonal communication
  5. Societal issues/Legal issues/Privacy
  6. History and status of discipline 
These are the topic which cause most difficulty in a traditional course based university program, as they do not fit within traditional technical categories. Teamwork is likely to be covered in a software engineering course, but less so in computer science. Ethics and other issues may be covered by one or two lectures and an assignment at best. The difficulty for university course designers is where to fit these topics.

Mapping of International Curriculum to ACS CBOK  

The ACS BoK includes an appendix Mapping of International Curriculum to ACS CBOK. This has a table indicating what BoK sub-components correspond to parts of the standard curricular of ACM, IEEE and IEEE CS. Notably ICT Problem Solving (PS) does not appear in the mapping. Professional Knowledge maps to the other curricular.

ACM/IEEE-CS Report on Masters Degree Programs in Europe and the United States

Of relevance to any new Australian Computing Masters is the "Report of the Joint ACM and IEEE-CS Committee on Masters Degree Programs in Europe and the United States" by Lillian N. Cassel, Arnold Pears, Michael Casperson Art Pyster, Gordon Davies and Heikki Topi (2012). This report looks at the European standardization of Masters programs under the Bologna model and the different US approach

The report categorises the types of Masters as:
  1. Research: Students are assumed to be going to continue on to a PHD. 
  2. Continuation/Integrated: Students undertake an undergraduate degree, then a Masters.
  3. Conversion: Students enter the masters having an undergraduate degree in another discipline.
  4. Professional/Industrial: Students study and work at the same time.
The Continuation/Integrated and Conversion categories match most closely what is proposed for ANU.

The report discusses "Professional Practice", which matches closely the ACS "Professional Knowledge". The ACS "Code of Professional Conduct and Professional Practice" is cited in the report. Also the "problem solving"and communication skills. Unfortunately the requirements for Professional Knowledge and Problem Solving are not detailed. Also the report ends without any recommendations on how US style masters can be harmonized with Europe, which is the issue Australia is now facing.

Computer Science Curricula 2013

The Computer Science Curricula 2013 (ACM/IEEE CS, Strawman Draft, February 2012) includes a section on "Social and Professional Practice" (SP, also referred to as "Social and Professional Issues" in some parts of the report) which matches closely the ACS "Professional Knowledge". This is covered over nine pages in in far more detail than the previously discussed reports. The joint committee which produced the curricula is due to produce an updated draft for comment in February 2013 and the final report in "Summer 2013".

Social and Professional Practice (SP) is allocated 11 Core-Tier 1 hours and 5 Core-Tier 2 hours of the curriculum (no change from 2001  and 2008 versions of the curriculum). In this context "hours" refers to the time required to present the material in a traditional lecture format, not counting other student work. Tier 1 are introductory and Tier 2 advanced courses. The total hours are 305 (163 Tier 1 and 142 Tier 2). So Social and Professional Practice represents 6.7% of the Tier 1 total hours and 3.5% of Tier 2, making 5.2% of the total program hours. Assuming an undergraduate program consists of 4 courses per semester, 2 semesters per year for 3 years (24 in total), then SP makes up 125% of a course.

Comments on the report are being collected using . This allows anyone to sign up to enter a comment, with contributors able to "earn" higher level access. This is part of the "Ensemble" NSF NSDL Pathways project on computing education. However, little use seems to have been made of the system for this report. I have submitted this comment:
The CS2013 Ironman draft refers to the Knowledge Area "SP" mostly as "Social and Professional Practice" but in a few places as "Social and Professional Issues".
I suggest using "Practice" rather than "Issues" throughout. Change:
Chapter 1, Page 7, Line 89,
Chapter 5, Page 33, Line 136

Social and Professional Practice (SP)

Social and Professional Practice (SP) is made up of ten topics:

SP. Social and Professional Practice

Core-Tier1 hours Core-Tier2 hours Includes Electives
SP/Social Context 1 2 N
SP/Analytical Tools 2
SP/Professional Ethics 2 2 N
SP/Intellectual Property 2
SP/Privacy and Civil Liberties 2
SP/Professional Communication 1
SP/Sustainability 1 1 Y

SP/Economies of Computing

SP/Security Policies, Laws and Computer Crimes


Curiously, "Professional Communication", makes up only one hour of the curriculum. This only about 0.3% of the total course, which appears inadequate, gen the importance of communication to any professional and the problems computer scientists have had communicating.

SP/ Professional Communication
[1 Core-Tier1 hour]
  • Reading, understanding and summarizing technical material, including source code and documentation
  • Writing effective technical documentation and materials
  • Dynamics of oral, written, and electronic team and group communication
  • Communicating professionally with stakeholders
  • Utilizing collaboration tools
  • Dealing with cross-cultural environments
  • Tradeoffs of competing risks in software projects, such as technology, structure/process, quality, people,
  • market and financial
Learning Outcomes:
  1. Write clear, concise, and accurate technical documents following well-defined standards for format and for including appropriate tables, figures, and references. [Application]
  2. Evaluate written technical documentation to detect problems of various kinds. [Evaluation]
  3. Develop and deliver a good quality formal presentation. [Evaluation]
  4. Plan interactions (e.g. virtual, face-to-face, shared documents) with others in which they are able to get their point across, and are also able to listen carefully and appreciate the points of others, even when they
  5. disagree, and are able to convey to others that they have heard. [Application]
  6. Describe the strengths and weaknesses of various forms of communication (e.g. virtual, face-to-face, shared
  7. documents) [Knowledge]
  8. Examine appropriate measures used to communicate with stakeholders involved in a project. [Application]
  9. Compare and contrast various collaboration tools. [Evaluation]
  1. Discuss ways to influence performance and results in cross-cultural teams. [Knowledge]
  2. Examine the tradeoffs and common sources of risk in software projects regarding technology, structure/process, quality, people, market and financial. [Application]

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