Professional Development is critical for all constituents of your institution. Everyone involved in the process – from recruiters and admissions staff to faculty – need to understand the value and process of assessing prior learning.
Several professional development topics are consistent across all constituents:
- The philosophical background of why the college is engaging in PLA.
- Policies and procedures of the PLA process.
- Overview of different PLA techniques and sources of learning.
- Overview of how PLA can meet learning outcomes and be applied to credentials.
The following describes the roles and professional development considerations for each constituent.
The administration provides leadership with regard to the philosophy behind PLA and why the institution chooses to provide PLA options for its students. In addition, this leadership includes ensuring that policies support PLA, practices align with policy, and adequate allocations of resources are available to support PLA. The administration is also responsible for determining the business model for PLA. As a result, the administration needs a fundamental understanding of the background, research and trends in PLA, as well as the impact of the PLA program on student retention and completion.
- Recruiters – need to understand the benefits of PLA and the potential sources of credits for students through the PLA process as a recruiting tool.
- Admissions – in addition to the recruiter level, Admission staff also need to understand sources of PLA while reviewing incoming academic documents and how to gather information regarding workplace learning, specialized training, etc. shared during the admissions process.
- Academic Advisors – in addition to the recruiter and admission levels, academic advisors (either as faculty or as professional staff) need to understand how to guide students through the PLA process. This includes understanding potential candidates for the various types of PLA, guiding students through the process, translating the academic credit equivalencies and helping students apply the awarded credits to their curriculum. Academic advisors also need to know how to evaluate learning, with a particular focus on determining if the learning is college-level and determining learning outcomes, in order to advise students on the process and pre-screen potential credit awards.
PLA Advisors (faculty and/or professional staff) assists learners to:
- Understand how their learning fits within the context of career and educational pathways and contributes to appropriate credentials
- Reflect upon and self-assess their knowledge, including identifying strengths and weaknesses and the activities from which learning has occurred.
- Identify competencies, skills and knowledge and translate these into college-level learning
- Identify evidence and develop to demonstrate learning, and document and prepare that evidence for assessment;
- Provide feedback to the learner throughout the process, including post-assessment
- Understand standards, policies, and practices guiding the PLA process and the impact of these upon the students’ work and assessment outcomes
- Registrar’s Office – needs to know how to post the credits and work within the student information system with ‘non-course’ data and equivalency tables. In addition, needs an ability to look up PLA credit recommendations for standardized exams, military credits and industry-based training and licenses/certifications, and make academic decisions on the transfer of these credits (if within the purview of that office).
- Financial Aid Office – needs to know how to handle any financial aid allowances and implications for using PLA credits toward a degree. For some programs, PLA can be indicated as part of the normal costs of attending, but this requires that every student in the program engage PLA at the same level. The federal financial aid department has just approved some experimental sites to determine a better model for funding PLA through federal funds.
- Business Office – needs to know how to handle the billing side of PLA, including when PLA costs are covered through third-party payers (e.g., employers).
- Learning Center – needs to assist students preparing for standardized examinations and other forms of standardized PLA options. If individualized PLA portfolio development is part of the PLA process, the Learning Center also needs to help students reflect, articulate and document their learning. Some learning centers provide the service of being a testing center for standardized examinations.
- Marketing Office – needs to have a solid understanding of PLA and its processes to ensure appropriate, consistent and frequent messaging to students and the community.
- Technology Office – The technology office pays a critical role in implementing a PLA program at any institution. The student information system needs to be prepared to accept, store, transfer and report on any PLA data. Tracking mechanisms need to be in place to manage the PLA process, especially if there is an individual portfolio process. Some institutions use course management or ePortfolio systems to support the individualized portfolio process.
- Institutional Research – needs to have a grasp of the types of data to be collected and how to report on data representing the impact of PLA on student persistence and completion. The IR office will also need to be involved in the evaluation process of the PLA program.
- Outcomes Assessment – needs to understand how PLA outcomes become integrated into the institution’s standard outcomes assessment processes. In addition, faculty and students need guidance on how to interpret PLA outcomes to integrate into existing curriculum.
- Evaluators (a.k.a. assessors) are involved in some types of PLA offerings, such as challenge exams and individualized portfolio development. Assessors need to know how to evaluate learning, with a particular focus on determining if the learning is college-level and determining learning outcomes. In addition, skills are needed to determine best titles for the learning; credits to be awarded; and any specific designations, such as meeting general education, liberal arts & science, or advanced learning requirements. Assessors can be internal or external to the institution.
- Internal evaluators – need a solid understanding of the curriculum and assessment processes. Typically, internal faculty develop challenge exams, which requires skills in test development and topic assessments. Often an assumption is made that faculty know the institution’s PLA program, but this is not always the case; thus, at least a review is needed so that the internal assessors are aware of the college’s processes.
- External evaluators –Typically, external assessors are employed to assess individual portfolios in areas that the internal faculty may not have expertise. If the external evaluator is not from higher education, they need professional development on assessing learning and assessing college-level learning. In addition, external assessors need a background in PLA and why it is important. They also need a solid understanding of the college’s PLA processes, roles and responsibilities, and expectations of the different constituents.
PLA Program Oversight.
There are different responsibilities within the PLA program oversight:
- Academic Integrity – The academic integrity of the PLA process and the application of the credits requires those involved have an in-depth understanding of college-level learning, learning outcomes and curricular design. If there is an individualized portfolio process, there also needs to be oversight of the evaluation process, including the evaluator qualifications and acceptance of the assessment results, to ensure academic quality. Often Department Chairs, Deans or Academic Affairs administration are in these roles, although the PLA program director may be authorized to accept credits.
- PLA Program Director – Although not always at a director level position, the function of directing a PLA program has its own professional development needs. This role serves as the PLA expert at the institution.
- College-wide Professional Development – Usually the program director is responsible for ensuring all others involved in the process understand their roles and responsibilities and have an adequate background in PLA to meet these expectations; in other words, this role is responsible for the professional development on PLA college wide.
- Program Administration – This role needs to know how to run a program, including how to track progress, evaluate the program and report on student data, learning outcomes and the budget.
- Evaluator Recruitment and Training– If evaluators use portfolio assessment, they need to be recruited and trained (see above).
- Academic Awareness and Integration – This position provides the college with leadership in the academic interpretation and application of PLA credits. This includes latest trends and research in the field. It also requires that this role know the various sources, interpretation and applications of PLA, and can translate this knowledge into the culture and processes of the college.
- Communication – This role needs to be a key source for communicating all aspects of PLA and assuring that the college community is well informed about policies, practices and outcomes.
- Student Advocacy and Preparation – At the center of the PLA processes is the students. This is why PLA is being provided as an option. The program director provides leadership for the advocacy of students being able to use PLA credits toward their credentials. In addition, successful programs provide a variety of student supports throughout the process, including workshops, information sessions, etc. If portfolio assessment is part of the PLA options, additional supports need to be in place to ensure students understand how to reflect upon, document and articulate their learning. This role is responsible for providing student supports to ensure students are ready for and understand their responsibilities in the PLA process.
- Students need professional development regarding PLA. We usually don’t think of communicating about an academic feature as professional development, but it is. Often students are employees within industries and can provide valuable information on latest developments that can inform the curriculum. Also students provide referrals to other potential students. The better students are informed regarding PLA and its processes, the greater advantage it is to the institution.
- Partners. Many possible sources for PLA are from workplace training and development. PLA can function as a way to develop partnerships, especially if curriculum development is part of the partnership agreement. Partners need to understand the fundamentals of PLA in order to determine how it would benefit their employees. In addition, some partnerships will pay the costs of conducting PLA and therefore need to understand in what they are investing.