Blending tertiary education and industry certification

Higher education purports to provide graduates with the knowledge and experience as pathways to professional careers, while in the industry, there has been a recent trend towards professional certification of skills and competencies offered by various vendor and standard bodies to uplift employee capability. However, criticisms of graduate job-readiness are common with employers often reporting the need to invest in in-job training to raise the level of graduate competence to productive levels.

This discussion references recent experience of The University of Melbourne (UniMelb) in gaining accreditation for its Enterprise Architecture (EA) subject for graduating students to achieve TOGAF® certification as an outcome of their Master of Information Systems Studies course. Meeting the learning objectives applicable in the higher education and industry certification curricula required balancing often competing pedagogical paradigms. This case scenario narrates this dilemma, discusses the approach taken, and reviews the solution deployed with the ultimate aim of equipping graduates with the skills and knowledge required to ‘hit the ground running’ when entering the workforce.

Background

Higher education is generally accepted as formal learning beyond secondary school level and typically offers coursework channeling students into particular disciplines, ie, Arts, Science, Medicine, Engineering and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) at universities, with trade and vocational schools providing higher learning opportunities for traditional blue-collar occupations.

The Australian Resources 2030 Taskforce, (2018) recommends that industry should ‘re-skill, upskill and better support current and prospective resources workers, promoting a culture of continuous learning’ and this sentiment is reflected internationally. In the ICT industry, various certifications in practice areas have become increasingly popular and are common features of professional development. Consequently, there has been a recent trend towards Higher Education providers offering industry-focused micro certifications, credentials and MOOC’s (massive open online courses) that supplement and compete with numerous vendor / product specific certifications in technology products, and independent certifications of vendor neutral capabilities including PRINCE2, COBIT, ITIL, Cybersecurity and TOGAF®.

The Open Group TOGAF® Standard, is described as ‘a proven EA development methodology and framework used by the world’s leading organizations to improve business efficiency.’ The Open Group Architecture Forum evolves the standards to keep pace with the currency of industry practice and claims TOGAF® certification has been achieved by over 103,000 individuals worldwide. (Open Group 2018).

Given feedback from the employer community regarding graduate readiness and the aim to provide job-ready graduates, UniMelb explored the option to provide students with both formal qualification and industry certification as an outcome of their studies in EA within the Master of Information Systems degree program ( MIS). The value proposition for aligning academic and industry educational outcomes is presented at Figure 1. It shows the dichotomy that needs balancing between formal qualifications that are theory based and assumed not to be practical, with the need for on-the-job skilling on entering the workforce and subsequent certifications that are based in applied experience providing hands on job ready skills.

Course pedagogy

Enterprise Architecture is a core subject with the MIS degree program and its focus provides an opportunity to align the subject content with the TOGAF® body of knowledge to award both industry certification and formal qualification. Accreditation provides an authoritative and independent assurance of the quality and relevance of TOGAF® training courses.

TOGAF® certification is typically offered as two, two-day courses for level 1 and level 2 certification. This involves 30 study hours with assessment examination of 60 minutes and 90 minutes for levels 1 and 2, respectively.

UniMelb’s EA subject is taught over a 12-week semester with weekly three-hour lectures and tutorials, 36 hours in total. Assessment is by way of individual participation, Group Assignment and final two-hour examination. The classroom learning time is similar to TOGAF certification training however, assessment of the EA curriculum judged that 75 – 80% of content conformed to TOGAF® standards. To address this gap, a one-day bridging course was developed and accredited by the Open Group.

The starting point for the pedagogical design that would render students eligible to sit the TOGAF® level 1 and 2 examinations is the alignment of learning outcomes of the respective courses. To calibrate this alignment, we adopt the de-facto standard for comparing learning outcomes from Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956, Revised 2001) which provides a hierarchy of goals of the learning process as follows’

Level 1 Remember – Recognising, Recalling
Level 2 Understand – Interpreting, Classifying, Summarizing, Inferring, Comparing, Explaining
Level 3 Apply – Executing, Implementing
Level 4 Analyze – Differentiating, Organizing, Attributing
Level 5 Evaluate – Checking, Critiquing,
Level 6 Create – Generating, Planning, Producing

The EA subject has been designed and accredited to Australian Quality Framework standards at AQF9 (master’s) level and accredited to the ACS Core Body of Knowledge (2015) which complements the role of Australia’s Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), in turn aligned with international standards ie IFIP IP3 and Seoul Accord. (2008) affording mutual international recognition for undergraduate and postgraduate (master’s level).

TOGAF® training content is developed to conform to The Open Group Body of Knowledge Standards. Certification is available at two levels:

Level 1: Knowledge of the fundamentals of TOGAF 9 sufficient to be able to contribute to an architecture effort or to work with the results.

Level 2: Knowledge, comprehension, and ability to analyze and apply TOGAF 9 concepts. These are proximate to Bloom’s taxonomy standards’ Level 2 – Understand ‘and Level 4 – Analyze’, respectively (Figure 2). However, master’s tertiary standards at level 5 are applicable, which require critical evaluation.

Figure 2 - Blooms' learning outcome requirement

The alignment challenge

At a practical level, the development of course content to comply with learning outcomes set to different standards and levels requires balancing of learning content. This is not a straightforward task and figure 3 presents the respective courses and identifies the learning outcome gaps relative to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Figure 3 - TOGAF and EA Course Mapping to Bloom's Taxonomy

Learning outcome gap A is the gap between TOGAF Level 1 and Level 2 courses. This gap does not present issues as standard practice for TOGAF.

Certification courseware assumes each course is delivered to the respective learning outcomes ie separate courses. However, for the EA course to achieve TOGAF compliance and AQF9 master’s standards learning outcomes, gap B must be addressed – ie the course must provide for higher order learning outcomes required to meet ‘Evaluate’ standards but must also meet the lower level needs to Remember , Understand, Apply, and Analyze.

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