PROPER REPRESENTATION Assisting Students in Making the Case for PLA Credit Robin F. Shaw, J.D., M.S.W. Academic Coordinator Prior Learning Assessment Director PRIOR LEARNING ASSESSMENT AT MARTIN U. Martin University, an early adopter of Prior Learning Assessment, began its PLA program in 1979. Martin utilizes the portfolio method of assessment and accepts credits by examination and credits from evaluated programs. Martin follows guidelines established by CAEL and the Higher Learning Commission. EXAMINING THE ROLES PLA Student as Client Course Evaluator as Judge/Jury PLA Course Instructor as Attorney Making the Case PLA STUDENT AS CLIENT A PLA Student: Is often an adult who has never been (or who has been absent from) formal education for some time. May have limited understanding of experiential learning and Prior Learning Assessment. Must persuade evaluator that they possess college-level learning in spite of limitations. Often needs help navigating the PLA process. COURSE EVALUATOR AS JUDGE/JURY The Course Evaluator: May have limited contact with PLA students and only circumstantial evidence of students’ actual level of learning and/or ability. May have limited experience with Experiential Learning and Prior Learning Assessment. May have biases regarding Experiential Learning and Prior Learning Assessment. Must evaluate narrative for sufficient evidence of college-level learning in spite of limitations and biases. PLA COURSE INSTRUCTOR AS ATTORNEY Has a true understanding of Experiential Learning and Prior Learning Assessment. May act as a liaison/advocate/mediator between PLA student and Course Evaluator. Represents best interest of the student while simultaneously maintaining program and institutional integrity. MAKING THE CASE In order to assist PLA students in preparing portfolios which will yield positive results, the PLA Course Instructor must: 1. 2. 3. 4. Minimize biases and legitimize the process (turn jurors into judges). Identify strengths and weaknesses in the case. Help students present compelling arguments. Ensure that “jury instructions” are clear and “rules of procedure” are followed. 1. MINIMIZE BIASES AND LEGITIMIZE THE PROCESS (TURN JURORS TO JUDGES) Educate course evaluators and faculty members about experiential learning and PLA so that they are more like judges (trained and well informed) and less like jurors (lay people who may be swayed by emotion). Do not devalue the “court of public opinion” (ensure that PLA has a good reputation on your campus with key stakeholders). Involve departments and faculty members in developing criteria for PLA evaluation that is both fair to PLA students and preserves the integrity of departmental standards and accrediting agency standards. 2. IDENTIFY STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES IN THE CASE Don’t ignore “bad facts.” Instead, be realistic with students about their ability to successfully earn credit through the portfolio process and ensure that students present their learning narratives with integrity. Understand both sides of the case. Both students and faculty members/course evaluators have strong opinions of what the outcome of the case (the portfolio evaluation) should be. Understand what the arguments are likely to be both for granting and denying credit. This will help anticipate and ameliorate gaps before they are raised by the course evaluator. Maximize good evidence. Be sure that students with great documentation (evidence) of college-level learning maximize its impact by mentioning it early and often in the learning narrative. 3. HELP STUDENTS PRESENT COMPELLING ARGUMENTS Ensure that students understand the mind of a professor (narratives should be succinct, key words should be prominent and portfolios should be well organized). Use a textbook (if necessary) to ensure that students understand PLA and how to prepare a portfolio. Earn College Credit for What You Know by Janet Colvin is a great option. Keep it simple. Give students a formula for preparing narratives and encourage them to “stay on message.” Inform students that a fewer number of strong submissions that are more likely to be successful that a large number that are not well written or supported. 4. ENSURE “JURY INSTRUCTIONS” ARE CLEAR AND “RULES OF PROCEDURE” ARE FOLLOWED Ensure that course evaluators understand what is expected of them and on what basis they are to grant or deny credit. Ensure that course evaluators do not deviate from guidelines and standards set forth for them by the institution, CAEL and/or accrediting agencies. QUESTIONS/COMMENTS Thank you!