Interpersonal Domain

The vast majority of employers ask that new employees, notably graduates, be effective communicators; that they should be able to work well within a team; that they take responsibility and that they are accountable for their actions. Increasingly in a global context new employees are also expected to be culturally ‘aware’ or ‘sensitive’. A great many universities go to significant effort to promote their ‘graduate attributes’ that usually include things like ‘global citizenship‘ and ‘being an effective member of society‘.

2018 Circular Representation of the Interpersonal Domain
2018 Circular Representation of the Interpersonal Domain

These abilities or attributes, communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, and cross-culture communication, all fall within the educational taxonomy of educational objectives, described as the interpersonal domain, with some overlap to an affective domain as it denotes personal value structures. The affective certainly underpins the interpersonal. Yet it is remarkable to find any institution, certainly here in the UK, in which interpersonal domain is adequately represented in their intended learning outcomes (ILO) with any notion of progression throughout a programme.

There will be elusions to ‘being able to work together in a team’ or ‘communicate effectively’ but these are rarely articulated in the form of an assessable ILO. Surely, given its importance as a personal attribute interpersonal skills should be the central feature of at least some modules within any given programme of studies. We know students pay more attention to those skills that are directly assessed so rather than having catch-all communication-lite style ILOs we should direct address and assess such attributes. My scholarship has derived an interpersonal domain taxonomy that maps the four facets of the interpersonal, communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, and cross-culture communication. Mapped within a single domain across five progressively complex levels of competence (articulate, argue, debate, translate, interpret) all four facets are represented.

As with all of my circular visual representations the boundaries between levels is fluid and can be breached by designers based on their personal needs. There may be reasons for articulating a ‘lower-level’ ILO for conflict resolution within an ‘articulate’ range whilst at the same time having an ILO addressing cross-cultural awareness from the highest ‘interpret’ level in the same module. This visual representation is intended simply to prompt discussions within learning design teams as to the appropriate language for structural ILOs and associated assessment. I also hope that it advocates for a greater balance across the domains.

Defining Transferable Skills

Recently I have been advising colleagues on how they should write Intended Learning Outcomes across all five educational domains (cognitive, knowledge, affective, psychomotor and interpersonal) and conform to the QAA guidance (UK). This guidance (widely adopted across UK higher education a sector) breaks ILOs into:

  • Knowledge and Understanding
  • Intellectual Skills
  • Practical and Professional Skills
  • Transferable Skills.

I don’t agree with this guidance and would prefer learning designers to identify a balance of outcomes, appropriate to the nature of the discipline, the focus of the module and the modules shape or purpose within a programme. I suggest it makes more sense to do this by using five distinct domains, rather than the existing four vaguely defined catagories. Pragmatically though it is possible to map five distinct domains onto the four existing catagories. This is illustrated below.

Table 1.         Mapping educational domains to QAA categories

 Domain QAA Category Description
Knowledge Knowledge and Understanding Knowledge often describes the scope of the subject intended to represent the ‘nature’ of the discipline with reference to the personal-epistemological and metacognitive development of students
Cognitive Intellectual Skills Cognitive often referred to as intellectual skills refers to ‘knowledge structures’ in cognition, the progressively complex use of knowledge artefacts
Affective Practical and Professional Skills Affective sometimes referred to professional ‘skills’ or attributes perception of value issues, and ranges from simple awareness (Receiving), through to the internalization of personal value systems
Psychomotor Transferable Skills Psychomotor referred to as practical skills refers to progressively complex manual or physical skills. This could be the ability to use a complex piece of software, instrument or paper documentation
Interpersonal  Transferable Skills  Interpersonal referred to as communication skills refers to progressively complex levels in interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, collaboration and cross-cultural communication

As stated elsewhere I think higher education fails to accurately describe the skills, attributes and knowledge that students are intended to acquire through their studies. Creating meaningful ILOs is the beginning of well designed constructively aligned curricula.

Simplifying Assessment Alignment

Some recent work with programme designers in other UK institutions suggests to me that quality assurance and enhancement measures continue to be appended to the policies and practices carried out in UK HEIs rather than seeing a revitalising redesign of the entire design and approval process.

This is a shame because it has produced a great deal of work for faculty in designing and administering programmes and modules, not least when it comes to assessment. Whatever you feel about intended learning outcomes (ILOs) and their constraints or structural purpose, there is nearly universal agreement that the purpose of assessment is not to assess students ‘knowledge of the content’ on a module. Rather the intention of assessment is to demonstrate higher learning skills, most commonly codified in the intended learning outcomes. I have written elsewhere about the paucity of writing effective ILOs and focusing them almost entirely the cognitive domain (intellectual skills), with the omission of other skill domains notably the effective (professional skills) and the psychomotor (transferable skills). Here I want to identify the need for close proximity between ILOs and assessment criteria.

It seems to me that well-designed intended learning outcomes lead to cogent assessment design. They also suggest that the use of a transparent marking rubric, used by both markers and students, creates a simpler process.

To illustrate this I wanted to share two alternative approaches to aligning assessment to the outcomes of a specific module. In order to preserve the confidentiality of the module in question some elements have been omitted but hopefully the point will still be clearly made.

Complex Attempt to Assessment Alignment

Complex Assessment AlignmentI have experienced this process in several Universities.

  1. Intended Learning Outcomes are written (normally at the end of the ‘design’ process)
  2. ILOs are mapped to different categorizations of domains, Knowledge & Understanding, Intellectual Skills, Professional Skills and Attitudes, Transferable Skills.
  3. ILOs are mapped against assessments, sometimes even mapped to subject topics or weeks.
  4. Students get first sight of the assessment.
  5. Assessment Criteria are written for students using different categories of judgement: Organisation, Implementation, Analysis, Application, Structure, Referencing, etc.
  6. Assessment Marking Schemes are then written for assessors. Often with guidance as to what might be expected at specific threshold stages in the marking scheme.
  7. General Grading Criteria are then developed to map the schemes outcomes back to the ILOs.

 

Streamlined version of aligned assessment

streamlined marking rubric

I realise that this proposed structure is not suitable for all contexts, all educational levels and all disciplines. Nonetheless I would advocate that this is the optimal approach.

  1. ILO are written using a clear delineation of domains; Knowledge, Cognitive (Intellectual), Affective (Values), Psychomotor (Skills) and Interpersonal. These use appropriate verb structures tied directly to appropriate levels. This process is explained in this earlier post.
  2. A comprehensive marking rubric is then shared with both students and assessors. It identifies all of the ILOs that are being assessed. In principle we should only be assessing the ILOs in UK Higher Education NOT content. The rubric will differentiate the type of responses expected to achieve varies grading level.
    • There is an option to automatically sum grades given against specific outcomes or to take a more holistic view.
    • It is possible to weight specific ILOs as being worth more marks than others.
    • This approach works for portfolio assessment but also for a model of assessment where there are perhaps two or three separate pieces of assessment assuming each piece is linked to two or three ILOs.
    • Feedback is given against each ILO on the same rubric (I use Excel workbooks)

I would suggest that it makes sense to use this streamlined process even if it means rewriting your existing ILOs. I’d be happy to engage in debate with anyone about how best to use the streamlined process in their context.

Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes

We hear much about the changing world of work and how slow higher and professional education is to respond. So in an increasingly competitive global market of Higher Apprenticeships and work-based learning provision I began to take a particular interest in students’ ‘graduateness’. What had begun as an exploratory look for examples of intended learning outcomes (ILO) with ’employability’ in mind ended up as this critical review published in an article entitled ‘Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes’ in the journal called  Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

I randomly identified 20 UK institutions, 80 undergraduate modules and examined their ILOs. This resulted in 435 individual ILOs being taken by students in current modules (academic year 2014-2015) across different stages of their undergraduate journey (ordinarily in the UK this takes place over three years through Levels 4,5 and 6). This research reveals the lack of specificity of ILOs in terms of skills, literacies and graduates attributes that employers consistently say they want from graduates

The data in the table below from the full paper which describes the post-analysis attribution of ILOs to domains of educational objectives (see paper for methodology) which I found rather surprising. The first surprise was the significant percentage of ILOs which are poorly structured, given the weight of existing practice guidance and encouragement for learning designers and validators (notably from the UK Higher Education Academy and the UK Quality Assurance Agency). Some 94 individual ILOs (21.6%) had no discernible active verbs in their construction.  64 ILOs (14.7%) did not contain any meaningful verbs so could not be mapped to any educational domain. This included the infamous ‘to understand’ and ‘to be aware of’. So as a result only 276 ILOs (64%) were deemed ‘well-structured’ and were then mapped against four domains of educational objectives.

Table 8.          Post-analysis attribution of ILOs to Domains of Educational Objectives

  Level 4 Level 5 Level 6 Total
Knowledge(Subject Knowledge) 14 5 11 30
Cognitive (Intellectual Skills) 46 91 61 198
Affective(Professional Skills) 1 4 1 6
Psychomotor(Practical/Transferable Skills) 12 18 13 43
No Verbs 35 32 27 94
Not classifiable 23 30 11 64
Totals 131 180 125 435

Remember what I had been originally looking for were examples of ILOs that represented skills that the literature on employability and capabilities suggested should be there. These could have been anticipated to be those in the affective or psychomotor domains.

So it was rather surprising to see that of the 64% of the full sample that was codeable,  sizeable percentage were cognitive (45.4%), a relatively small percentage fell into the psychomotor domain (9.8%), even less into the knowledge domain (6.8%) and a remarkably small number could be deemed affective (1.4%).

I say remarkable because the affective domain, sometimes detailed as personal and professional skills, are very much the skills that employers (and most graduates) prize above all else. These refer to the development of values and the perception of values, including professionalism, inter-personal awareness, timeliness, ethics, inter-cultural sensitivity, and diversity and inclusivity issues.

Apparently despite all the sterling work going on in our libraries and career services, employment-ready priorities within programmes and modules in higher education, are not integrated with teaching and learning practices. I suggest that as a consequence, this makes it difficult for students to extract, from their learning experience within modules, the tangible skill development required of them as future employees.

There is an evident reliance by module designers on the cognitive domain most commonly associated at a lower level with ‘knowing and understanding’ and at a higher level as ‘thinking and intellectual skills’. The old favourite ‘to critically evaluate’ and ‘to critically analyse’ are perennial favourites.

There is much more to the picture than this single study attempts to represent but I think it is remarkable not more attention is being paid to the affective and psychomotor domains in module creation.

More analysis, and further data collection will be done, to explore the issue at programme level and stage outcomes (is it plausible that module ILOs are simply not mapped and unrelated and all is well at programme level). I would also be interested to explore the mapping of module and programme ILOs to specified graduate attributes that many institutions make public.

I go on in the full paper about the relative balance of different ILOs in each of the domains depending on the nature of the learning, whether it is a clinical laboratory module or a fieldwork module or a literature-based module.

The reason I think this is important, and I have written here before, that this important (it is about semantics!), is that students are increasingly demanding control over their choices, their options, the shape of their portfolios, their ‘graduateness’, and they need to be able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and make meaningful modules choices to modify the balance of the skills acquired in a ’practical’ module compared with those in a ‘cerebral’ one. I conclude that the ability to consciously build a ‘skills profile’ is a useful graduate attribute in itself…. which incidentally would be an affective ILO.

You can download the full paper here LINK.

Also available on ResearchGate and Academia.edu

Full citation:
Atkinson, S. 2015 Jul 9. Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education [Online] 10:2. Available: http://community.dur.ac.uk/pestlhe.learning/index.php/pestlhe/article/view/194/281

Is Higher Education lacking its affective dimension?

Affective Domain March 2015
Affective Domain March 2015

Whilst the majority of writings and reflection concerning the use of taxonomies of educational objectives remain focused around the cognitive domain, typified by Bloom (1984), there is a growing attention being paid to the affective domain, particularly in professional education. Bloom’s now famous research project which resulted in Book 2 of the ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: the affective domain’ led by Krathwohl, which has been much neglected, applied scantily (and often erroneously) to practice (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1999).

Often described in terms of feelings or emotions I think it more useful to regard the affective as being a question of degree of acceptance or rejection of values, of the evolution of value structures. It is certainly true that having one’s values challenged can result in emotional disturbance (Mezirow, 2000) but I think there is a danger to using language that describes the domain in terms of emotions, not least because it scares off academics!

In my interpretation of the affective domain, illustrated above as a circular representation, I have retained Krathwohl’s five divisions but choose to use active verbs rather than the passive. So receiving becomes to receive, responding becomes to respond, valuing becomes to value, organization becomes to organize, and the final division originally entitled characterization becomes to internalize.

Original Atkinson Descriptor Sample Verbs
Receiving To Receive Ability to learn from others Sense, experience, concentrate, attend, perceive
Responding To Respond Ability to participate responsibly , respectively as appropriate to the context Perform, contribute, satisfy, cite
Valuing To Value Ability to associate personal and collective values with contextual experiences and express value judgements Justify, seek, respect, persuade
Organization To Organize Ability to structure, prioritize and reconcile personal and others’ value systems Clarify, reconcile, integrate
Characterization To Internalize Ability to articulate one’s own values and belief systems and operate consistently within them Conclude, internalize, resolve, embody

The reason I think it helpful to think about values rather than emotions is that clearly most of higher and professional education, is concerned by changing not just how much or what students know, or even how they know and apply that knowledge, but with how they ‘feel’ about knowing. At its simplest we seek to instil a love of learning and a passion for the subject. In professional education we also seek to instil our professional values into the learning process. Whilst it is clearly very difficult to evaluate the emotional impact that learning has on students there are ways of providing formative assessment to support affective developments.

For those in the Academy who are seeking to merely perpetuate their academic DNA in their students, the latters’ changes in values may not mean a great deal to them. For those of us who teach in order to make the next generation better than we are, better able to adapt to the ever-changing world that they face outside of the Academy, then having an interest in our students affective development is extremely important.

I have argued elsewhere that the relative weighting given in learning design to the domains depends largely on the subject and the context of learning. Clearly there will be foundational modules in a degree programme in which knowledge domain learning will be dominant. I would expect much that is done in an undergraduate degree to be concerned with the cognitive domain, clearly an ability to analyse, evaluate, synopsise and synthesise represent the higher-order skills we expect from graduates on graduation. I have also argued elsewhere that psychomotor skills are also worthy of being part of higher education. But it occurs to me that much of the learning opportunity offered in our current universities neglect and equally important set of skills.

Almost all employers agree that they want to attract applicants who share their values. These oft cited idealized values are in fact widely held; the ability to work well with others, to be an effective communicator, to be an effective listener, to work independently, to take the initiative. It seems unrealistic to expect students to necessarily acquire such skills without being guided through the learning process and taught to identify their own development. And it is fair to say that certainly in the United Kingdom sector a huge amount has been added to the curriculum, with employability strategies and planning personal development (PDP) initiatives, that students do not wont for opportunities.

But I maintain that we should ingrain in our students the values we expect them to demonstrate through the disciplines themselves, not bolt them on and relieve the academics from their repsonsability. To my mind it makes sense to write intended learning outcomes to encapsulate a range of affective outcomes and align learning and teaching activities to rehearse those skills with our students.

Why not include alongside an intellectual skills outcome (cognitive) that states “by the end of this module you will be able to critique at least three different perspectives on (whatever the subject is)” another outcome, this time an affective one that says “by the end of this module you will be able to reconcile two contrasting, and contentious, perspectives on (whatever the subject is)”. There is nothing touchy-feely about the second outcome but it focuses on the students value structures, supporting their ability to structure and reconcile personal value systems in contrast to those held by others. Critiquing sounds very higher education, but to be able ‘to reconcile’ is a much needed skill in the workplace.

Bloom, B. S. (1984). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 1: Cognitive Domain (2nd edition). Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1999). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 2/Affective Domain (2nd edition). Longman Pub Group.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation : critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Adaptation of Dave’s Psychomotor Domain

I have received some interesting feedback and critique of my circular representation of Ravindra H. Dave’s psychomotor domain of educational objectives. I have been asked why I have chosen to use the circular design, to alternative verbs and to expand the definition of psychomotor activity.

Firstly the representation of the domain as a circle, which I have done across four domains elsewhere, I believe serves to make the subcategories more fluid. It contains the proto-verbs at the centre, next circle contains active verbs which also represent teaching and learning activity and the outer circle contains the nature of evidence (or assessment forms) that might demonstrate the active verbs. Using the circle one also has an inherently clock-face like visual which makes the dialling-up from the basic to more sophisticated concepts as you travel around clockwise. Maybe its most powerful function is to encourage lateral thinking on the part of learning designers, encouraging them to explore learning and teaching activities as assessment or evidence examples at the same time.

Psychomotor Domain - Taxonomy Circle - after Dave (1969/71)
Psychomotor Domain – Taxonomy Circle – after Dave (1969/71)

Secondly, I have chosen to use active verbs to describe the subcategories of the domain and so there is a clear change from:

Dave’s Original  Atkinson’s Adaptation  Descriptor
Imitation Imitate ability to copy, replicate the actions of others following observations.
 Manipulation  Manipulate ability to repeat or reproduce actions to prescribed standard from memory or instructions.
Precision  Perfect ability to perform actions with expertise and without interventions and the ability to demonstrate and explain actions to others.
Articulation  Articulate ability to adapt existing psychomotor skills in a non-standard way, in different contexts, using alternative tools and instruments to satisfy need.
 Naturalisation  Embody ability to perform actions in an automatic, intuitive or unconscious way appropriate to the context.

This is to articulate more clearly the need to describe learning outcomes as things that the students will actually ‘do’ in line with the principles of constructively aligned learning and teaching design.

The third, more less obvious change, is that I have chosen to expand the definition of psychomotor activity to incorporate a wider range of physical activities that perhaps Dave had not envisaged, particularly those involved with the manipulation of computer software, laboratory and fieldwork equipment and a range of technical equipment. I felt this was necessary because I have seen so many University courses make light of the skills developed in acquiring such expertise, as though such skills are incidental, when clearly it is the primary outcome valued by most students and employers.

For example, the specifics of the volume of water flowing through the Mississippi delta in November (Knowledge) will prove less useful than the ability to master the GIS and computational software used to document those specifics (Psychomotor).

I believe that the majority of what in the UK further and higher context is described as ‘transferable skills’ fall into the psychomotor domain and are worthy of careful attention.

An Opinion on a new approach on Personal Tutorial Systems

(Extracted for a draft Working paper)

In the previous four posts I have outlined the changing nature of student support demands, the existing basis for current support, the need to embrace epistemological orientation as a necessary function of higher education institutions and suggested one project that attempts to resources such an effort. I should also state (for the record as it were) that I have had the utmost respect for a great many colleagues who are fantastic academic and personal tutors. It was also my privilege to oversee the work of the Study Support Services when I was Head of the Centre for Learning Development at the University of Hull and have been an (occasional) study advisor (at the LSE) and to postgraduate students at BPP University. However I don’t believe in Sacred Cows (unless they are there to be at least considered worthy of butchering).

Given the increasingly diverse nature of the student population, ever distant from the selected and ‘ever ready ‘ school graduates, it is unsurprising that institutions now provide a myriad of support services. In some institutions there is clarity between study support and student welfare services and in others these can be found bundled together in ‘student services’. In some institutions these services are aligned alongside library provision and in others provided wholly or jointly with student union organisations. There is a need for institutions to recognise the evolutionary nature of this provision and to question whether there is not in need to wipe the slate clean. There is an obligation on institutions to provide students what they need but also what they want and the onus is then on us to ask students new questions.

Students are clearly a diverse group of individuals and we must provide individually tailored solutions if we wish to maintain the diversity within our learning communities. Clearly it is impractical, not least from a financial perspective, to design solutions targeted with each individual but it is surely possible to provide mechanisms that enable students to pull down services as and when they require them in a more meaningful way. Whilst there are certainly faculty members who are heroic in their endeavours to service both the academic needs of their students and provide welfare and personal guidance this is an unrealistic expectation. While in some disciplines, notably in health, such personal tutorial support focused on the affective development of students, clearly is a requirement imposed on faculty, this is not universally true. We should re-evaluate the need for personal tutorial support and where appropriate specify academic guidance and mentoring from welfare duties. I believe with correct epistemological orientation and the embedding of skills within courses the academic role should be largely limited to academic ‘mentoring’ in reviewing choices, strengths and weaknesses, and academic progression.

The degree to which support for the affective development of students is provided will then depend largely on the nature of the learning community itself. The ability of faculty and students to create a supportive community able to furnish appropriate aid on demand will depend on the extent to which students operate within a closed system. In a non-residential commuter institution, and in distance provision, the enormity of diverse needs simply cannot be sustained within our existing tutorial systems. Instead we should provide students with the maturity to understand their own needs and facilitate their access to appropriate support most probably sourced from outside the institution. Partnerships, both formal and informal, with welfare services (counselling services, financial advisers, spiritual services, housing support and other) can be paid for by the institution itself based on use or delegated to the individual student. A more formal arrangement of the division of academic mentoring and effective support is more likely to ensure quality advice and guidance is more universally accessible. Institutions must recognise however that instituting such a division of labour may appear to disenfranchise those tutors whose strengths include the personal, human touch, support which they’ve become accustomed to providing their students.

I believe this begins with an orientation to individual epistemological beliefs, a conversation that can begin before students even begin their formal programme of study, to ensure not that we are all on the same page but that we understand the page where on. POISE is one attempt at this meaningful orientation that can be integrated into online materials or initiated in face-to-face individual or group interactions. I believe we should also re-evaluate the our course designs to ensure that a full range of skills are built into intended learning outcomes to which constructively aligned teaching activity is targeted. Ensuring that all the domains of educational objectives are embedded within course designs, with supplemental teaching integrated into course delivery if necessary, will enable students to best help themselves on their study journey.

Better prepared students will lighten the burden on academic guidance services and ‘reduce’ the role of the traditional personal tutor. Where students identify needs they must be able to find clearly signposted support services, internal to the institution or increasingly externally, available on demand. This is not an abdication of responsibility on the behalf of institutions, quite the opposite. It is a recognition that increasingly higher education approximates more closely to the world of work than it does to the closeted environment of school. In reality most of our modern universities never had cloisters and students living around the quad, it is time for our support services to students to reflect that truth.