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EPICA Pilot: The Maseno University Teachers’ Experience

By Beatrice Okoth

Over the years, writing a leading CV that would give one a competitive edge over other candidates for a job search has become increasingly difficult, particularly in an environment like Kenya where the job market has been shrinking as job seekers increase in leaps and bounds. Still, employers have incessantly decried the disconnect between the skills that students list in their CVs and their actual performance upon recruitment. This scenario has left institutions of higher learning with a need to regularly change their programmes to meet the market demands, and the industry with the need to devise innovative ways of recruitment. All these have yielded little.

To bridge this gap, EPICA, a new strategic Partnership between Europe and Africa that brings together a group of researchers, businesses, and tech developers came together to co-design an innovative, scalable ePortfolio which will improve the quality, visibility and availability of new skills. This initiative was co-funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020. And Maseno University is part of it.

The ePortfolio intends to not just list but to actually show a candidate’s competencies to potential employers. The employer also has a unique chance of grading a student’s competency in a particular task as part of the learner feedback.

When the EPICA ePortfolio was introduced to approximately 250 students at  Maseno University drawn from five different programmes of Education, Mathematics and Statistics, Nursing, and Business and Economics, as part of the pilot process, they were excited as they felt it was a solution to the difficult task of clearly proving themselves to potential employers as competent professionals.

‘What inspired you to think of such a project?’ John, a first year Bachelor of Science (Nursing) student asked us when we inducted them into the project.

We explained that the feedback from the industry to institutions of higher learning was that graduates did not really meet the skills demand of the market and this had inspired a group of researchers, universities and tech developers to try and come up with an efficient solution that could bridge this gap. That was the birth of EPICA, and that they were the pilot students, thus part of the creating the solution.

The development of an ePortfolio has come with some exciting challenges to both the students and lecturers. First, as lecturers we have had to undergo a pedagogical shift from a knowledge-based approach to a competency-based approach which involves not only designing learning outcomes to show the skills and competencies the leaners have to achieve, but also a change in teaching methods and concurrent assessments. This shift prompted the retraining of five selected lecturers through a self- paced online course on pedagogy by the Open University of Catalonia. I am one of the five.

The course was an eye opener to most of the lecturers, more so, to those who had no training in education. Dr. Caroline Oloo, one of the lecturers in the pilot confessed that, ‘the course has been informative and insightful with regards to skills, abilities and knowledge. I have learnt about exciting teaching methods that I didn’t know about before. My normal approach of teaching will now be aligned towards skill based orientation. Moreover, EPICA has given teaching a more structured approach.’

The teachers have now had to redesign their courses to meet the demands of a competency based approach. Though the process is rigorous and time consuming, with lecturers having to do this alongside their normal workload, they are in agreement that the outcome is worth the effort.

The students have had to undergo an attitude and skills shift too. They have had to learn to think critically and to work collaboratively to find solutions to given problems as part of learning. Importantly, learners have had to electronically document the key stages and the final product of a competency learnt as part of evidence of learning and post it online on their ePortfolio. This online evidence, for the first time, is to be assessed not just by the lecturer but also by the potential employer. Consequently, learners have had to learn how to use the ePortfolio as well.

The students, while excited by this prospect, have expressed reservations about the time demands put on them to electronically document the evidence of learning. They have wondered about the quality of the videos, voice overs etc. and their impact on potential employers. They have also questioned the safety of their data, copyright issues and many other aspects. We were able to explain and clarify some of these fears to them.

All in all, the pilot is on-going, and we shall share the results in due course.