UOC’s GRAF project presented at Dxtera’s Next Generation by Design Symposium

27 May, 2020

Tuesday 12 May marked the start of the three sessions scheduled to take place as part of Dxtera’s Next Generation by Design Symposium. This first session, entitled Comparative Taxonomy Management, included my presentation on the GRAF project.

The GRAF project refers to the set of actions carried out at the eLearn Center to promote what is known as competency-based education (CBE) within the UOC.

The UOC has been committed to competency-based learning for some time now. Europe began promoting the use of competencies in 1999 during the Bologna Process, further consolidating this approach with the European Higher Education Area in 2010. The goal is to use competencies as a mechanism for providing access to higher education and the employment market. As a result, the UOC and all European universities are required to present their programmes with a clear explanation of the set of competencies being addressed and detailing how they will be developed by students during the course of the programme.

Once a programme has been approved, however, do we have a method for deploying that programme based on a design that ensures the development of those competencies in the manner we have outlined? Do we know exactly which learning activities and resources work to address each competency? Do we have a way of charting student progress and keeping them informed of how well they are progressing and developing these competencies? Unfortunately, there are very few technological tools capable of answering these questions.

The most important part of the GRAF project and what makes it useful is its ability to provide methodological solutions that ensure an adequate focus on competency-based design. However, as we have just seen, to do so requires technological tools. These tools have to provide the foundation that lets us effectively implement competency-based course and programme design processes. They also have to provide the foundation for linking these competencies to each programme, course and learning activity so that we can see how and where each competency is developed and to what degree. This visualization is vital for the continual calibrating and fine-tuning of the design. This all leads to the following questions: Do we develop the entire competency all at once? Do we only address it at a basic level? Do we develop a proportion of it? And what is that proportion? What percentage of the total does that represent? Figure 1 illustrates this exercise in design that, thanks to GRAF’s tools, can now be recorded and computerized.

GRAF also works in connection with the assessment process, providing course instructors with a set of rubrics for each competency that, using the GRAF assessment tool, they can then validate in relation to each continuous assessment activity. This tool provides them with a simple way of making informed evaluations, not only in relation to the continuous assessment activity but also regarding the degree to which each competency has been addressed.

And lastly, GRAF provides another tool that enables student progress to be viewed in relation to the competencies they have developed and provides a summary of all the assessment information collected (see Figure 2). This tool establishes an almost direct link between the areas of student assessment and the skills demanded in the workplace.

As we have seen, the set of GRAF tools facilitates the comprehensive management of competencies, but these management tasks are shared between different actors within the educational process. Thus, a programme director approves the competencies that will be addressed in their programme at a given time and then, subsequently, a course coordinator on the same programme adds a new learning activity that works on some of those competencies in greater depth or from a different angle. Meanwhile, a course instructor evaluates a continuous assessment activity using the rubrics previously defined by the course coordinator. GRAF uses data analysis and artificial intelligence techniques to manage the interaction between all these actors, providing them with recommendations and maintaining the integrity, coherence and applicability of the entire competency model.

The set of solutions provided by GRAF have been produced by the UOC based on technologies developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), specifically the following two software programs:

  • The MIT Core Concept Catalog (MC3 – https://mc3.mit.edu): an academic data service to help manage and share information about the curricular topics, learning goals, and related content within and across disciplines and subjects of the Institute.
  • QBank (https://qbank.mit.edu): an academic data service to help manage and share information about questions and tests and assessment processes as well.

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels

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About the author
Francesc Santanach has a degree in Software Engineering from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. He works as an e-learning specialist and software engineer at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya's eLearn Center. He directs national and international projects for e-learning content, tools and standards, such as SCORM and IMS QTI platforms, videoconferencing, audio and video blogs, 3D environments, and integration and interoperability services based on IMS LTI and OKI OSIDs. He has also been a researcher in the field of e-learning, the author of teaching materials and an instructor at the UOC.
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