The Development of Professional Standards of Practice and the Assessment of Prior Learning of Mid-Career Journalists in Southern Africa by Elizabethtown College and the Polytechnic of Namibia’s Pilot Project “Butterfly”
Tamara L. Gillis, Ed.D., ABC Robert C. Moore, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor of Communications Professor of Communications
Elizabethtown College Elizabethtown College
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania
Association for the Study of Evaluation in Education in Southern Africa
Biannual International Conference
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
26 September 2000 – 29 September 2000
The Development of Professional Standards of Practice and the Assessment of Prior Learning of Mid-Career Journalists in Southern Africa by Elizabethtown College and the Polytechnic of Namibia’s Pilot Project “Butterfly”
Tamara L. Gillis, Ed.D., ABC, Assistant Professor of Communications and Robert C. Moore, Ed.D., Professor of Communications, Elizabethtown College , Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, 17022-2298 USA gillistl at etown dot edu moorerc at etown dot edu
This paper reviews a pilot project based on a model of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). The authors constructed the program as an experiment in the development of professional standards of knowledge and practice and the application of them to practitioners with significant lifelong learning but no formal education.
Assessment of the participants was based upon standards of competence for entry level journalists. The participants were required to meet all of the standards through three different activities:
•A portfolio, based upon their prior learning was submitted to a panel of assessors. It included documentation of the learning and experience as well as samples of work.
•A field experience was held for observation of the participants in the performance of their duties.
• In an interview, the panel of assessors reviewed the portfolio, the observation, and sought additional information regarding the standards that was not otherwise presented.
Successful participants were issued a certificate as Media Practitioners and permitted enrollment and possible advance placement in the diploma or degree program of the Polytechnic.
For decades, and increasingly so in recent years, universities have focused on programs of continuing education and the adult learner. These efforts essentially evolved as an answer for displaced employees wanting to embark on a new career, women in greater numbers entering the workforce rather than staying home solely as housewives or mothers, or the demand of a bulging post-war population clamoring for challenges and personal or professional career growth. These are a few examples of the many reasons for program growth in what is sometimes called non-traditional education because in addition to learners who are often not of traditional university age, the programs have also adopted unique approaches to teaching and learning.
Distance education often supplemented campus-based learning and in recent years has become a sole means of offering courses and even degrees. The flexibility of time shifting, geography and distance, and compatibility with concurrent demands of home, family, or current employment has made distance education a successful delivery system of learning for non-traditional students. (Krendl, 1999; Race, 1998.)
In 1998, Gillis and Moore showed how a course in distance education could be constructed and operated between Elizabethtown College (Pennsylvania) and the American Cultural Center in Mbabane, Swaziland. (Gillis & Moore, 1999a) A highly successful course in community journalism, learners made use of Internet audio/video technology to complete discussions, lectures and assignments in preparation for a comprehensive field experience to complete the course. Demands on the participants moved well beyond simple knowledge and recall and, by the end of the course, had challenged participants to apply, analyze and individually perform in the completion of final projects.
As was the case in simple continuing education programs, Gillis and Moore found from their many involvements, a clamoring for further and more comprehensive educational opportunities. Participants wanted to be able to pursue diplomas or degrees in journalism in the United States. African economies, and those of most developing nations, are such that the expense of formal education in the United States is prohibitive. In fact, a 1987 program to do just that by Elizabethtown College, terminated in 1998 due to significant declines in enrollment because of lack of funding. Distance education was seen as a possible answer.
The practice of journalism — the skills that must be acquired and the high level of performance expected — does not lend every course or topic to a distance learning mode. While some courses could certainly be delivered that way, it was determined that a bi-national partnership be established to develop a program of this nature. Elizabethtown College and the Polytechnic of Namibia have entered into discussions to create such a program. In advance of commitments, a pilot project (Project Butterfly) to study the feasibility of such an undertaking was created.
This paper will describe the challenges of lifelong learning and the recognition of prior learning as well as the specific operation and outcomes of Project Butterfly, the jointly developed education and assessment project of Elizabethtown College of Pennsylvania and the Polytechnic of Namibia in Windhoek.
Lifelong Learning and Sub-Saharan Africa
Journalists in developing countries, certainly in Africa, seldom are educationally prepared for their positions. Generally school leavers  2, these untrained people learn nearly everything on the job. Often, they attend seminars or workshops, they ply their craft with daily and incremental improvements. They are seldom given the opportunities for formal education in the profession. They often find themselves locked into their jobs while a few younger and more fortunate individuals earn diplomas and degrees and pass them by-through no fault of their own.
Education, in general, is often not a high priority in the developing world. Businesses, economies, and governments flounder because the workforce is narrowly trained and under educated.
Recent efforts in South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia — to mention a few — are placing new emphasis on the plight of the workforce and the need for education. The basis for these movements is that in the performance of one's job, and over a lifetime, individuals have learned — and all learning is valuable and can be measured.
Through a sophisticated program, the learning of an individual throughout their life span can be matched to those educational expectations for a particular position. Areas identified as strengths can be rewarded. Those that are weak or missing can be pursued through further learning. Ultimately, the goal is a well-rounded, educated professional.
Recognition of Prior Learning
If Elizabethtown College and the Polytechnic of Namibia were going to be successful in enrolling participants in their diploma and degree program, then many of the likely candidates should come from the ranks of practicing journalists who do not have the necessary credentials to move further through the profession.
Yet, the institutions could not ask every participant, some with 10 or more years of experience, to take every course. Much of the information or skills they would take in course work may already be known or perhaps mastered by the participants. Instead, it was important to find a method to systematically ascertain what knowledge and skills were already possessed, recognize that learning as valid, and give admittance to participants and perhaps advanced placement in a curriculum of study. Under normal circumstances, these practitioners might be prohibited from even attending university if they did not have the proper entrance requirements.
What Elizabethtown College and the Polytechnic of Namibia were embarking on was a process of recognition of prior learning. According to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL, 1999):
Prior learning assessment (PLA) helps individuals receive credit for the learning they have achieved from experience. PLA is a process of defining, documenting, measuring, evaluating and granting credit for learning acquired through experience. PLA assists adult learners by:
•validating the worth of learning they have achieved on their own
•demonstrating to them what they need to learn in order to achieve their personal, career or academic goals
•shortening the time necessary to earn a college or university credential
•saving them money by reducing the number of courses they need to take
•enhancing their pride and self-esteem for what they have accomplished as learners
•making them aware of learning as a lifelong process.
Before an individual’s prior learning can be assessed for recognition, it is clear that a determination must be made as to what learning is being sought in the exercise. Certainly, much of what is learned on the job can be valuable — but on what basis?
Prior Learning Assessment
Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is an evaluation process that holds a person's prior or lifelong learning up to professional standards or expectations and if deemed satisfactory is recognized as meeting one or more desired professional standards. Sometime this recognition is accompanied by university course credit. Often, the recognition allows for advanced placement of an individual in a course of study. (Lamdin, 1992.)
Very often, the standards or knowledge basis for a PLA program are university courses and their outcomes. Such a scheme easily allows for admittance or advanced placement. But, in the situation of mid-career professionals with years of on the job experience and often no formal university learning, the standards to which they are held must be dependent on the profession rather than upon discrete courses.
The assessment of the participants may be based upon professional standards seen as universal statements of competence for entry level journalists. The participants in this exercise were required to satisfactorily meet all of the standards.
The meeting of the standards would be determined through three different activities for the participants.
1. Perhaps the most frequently used form of PLA, a portfolio of evidence (Wolfson, 1996; Sansregret, 1984; Orlik, 1994.), based upon their prior learning would be submitted to a panel of assessors. The portfolio must include full documentation of the learning and the professional experience relevant to each standard. Examples of work and verifications must be included.
2. During a contact session when all participants and the panel of assessors would be present, a field experience would be held for the purpose of observation of the participants in the performance of their duties as media professionals. The advantage of this assessment element was that participants could demonstrate their mastery of several different standards at one time. Assessors were able to look for the utilization of cognitive, affective and psychomotor expertise while generally drawing conclusions as to the competence of the practice (Moore, 1999; Sansregret, 1987.).
3. Lastly, in a private interview (Sansregret, 1984) with each participant, the panel of assessors would review the portfolio, the observation, and seek additional information regarding the standards that was not otherwise presented.
In private deliberation, the panel of assessors of the Namibian Qualifications Authority, the newly formed national qualifications authority (similar to the systems of qualifications assessment already in place in such countries as Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa), reviewed all of the materials against every standard and its criteria. Successful evaluations were forwarded to a Board of Accreditation for awarding of the Certificate as Practitioner in Media Technology.
The certificate, endorsed by Elizabethtown College and the Polytechnic of Namibia, recognizes that, after an intensive program of assessment, the lifelong learning of the individual meets all of the basic standards of the profession. As such, the journalist has an endorsed recognition of ability and knowledge. The practical applicability of the certificate is that a benchmark has been established, as has been a process, which will allow the journalist entry into the Polytechnic of Namibia's diploma or degree program in Media Technology. Additional reviews by the specific faculty will advance place the applicant in the curriculum. The credential will also be recognized for admittance by Elizabethtown College and perhaps by other tertiary educational institutions. The certificates may also may serve as a recognition of the individual’s expertise and improve future employment opportunities (Sansregret, 1987).
PROJECT BUTTERFLY 
Project Butterfly was conceived as a pilot project with the aim to further develop media personnel in southern Africa and, in particular, Namibia by seeking to establish standards of knowledge and practice among mid-career journalists and media professionals, as well as a standard means for measuring or assessing that knowledge.
The first program of its type among tertiary institutions in the region, the Polytechnic of Namibia in association with Elizabethtown College of Pennsylvania, offered a certificate recognizing the prior learning and expertise of the participants who met all of the standards set forth by the program. Successful participants may use the certificate to gain admittance to a diploma or degree program at the Polytechnic of Namibia beginning in the year 2000. The certificate will make it possible for the learning achievements of participants in this program to be nationally recognized by the Namibian Qualifications Authority  . It was also hoped that this exercise would result in its standards being used as input to the various formal standards setting processes currently being undertaken by educational and professional bodies in Namibia and many of the countries in the southern Africa region.
Structure and Operation
The project was based on the concept of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). That is, mid-career journalists, in the absence of an educational credential like a diploma or degree, will be able to be recognized for past learning of knowledge, skills, and experience which will allow for identification of areas of needed training, future education and mobility in their chosen career path.
Ten journalists representing the areas of radio, television, newspapers, independent/freelance media and public relations comprised the class of participants for Project Butterfly. Of these ten participants: two were women and eight were men; six regularly reported from Namibia, while the remaining four regularly reported from South Africa. They represented four different countries and most were from different tribal heritage.
The assessment of the participants was made against standards and criteria (Exhibit 1) set by the program. Based on portfolio assessment of documentation and evidence (Exhibit 2), participants were required to take part in an observation exercise as well as an assessment interview. Successful evaluation of all standards had to be met order for the certificate to be awarded.
Project Butterfly consisted of four main components. Each are discussed below and included two contact sessions, an Internet-enabled course of study, a field experience, and the assessment process.
The First Contact Session
Project Butterfly included two contact sessions with the participants in Windhoek, Namibia. During the initial contact session, held July 4-9, 1999, participants were introduced to the professional standards, methods of assessment, development of a portfolio of evidence, and the process of recognition of prior learning. Participants also were introduced to the concept of community journalism, also known as public journalism or civic journalism. Dr. Robert C. Moore, professor of communications at Elizabethtown College, conducted a workshop to introduce this concept that included a discussion as well as a number of videos produced by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism.
Internet Enabled Course Content
To expand on the introductory lecture on community journalism provided during the first contact session and to provide a controlled experience for the assessment process, participants were engaged in a ten week exploration of community journalism  through a series of lecture manuscripts. These manuscripts were provided to most of the participants through the use of a project web site (www.etown.edu/com/namibia) and through e-mail. When participants could not receive these materials by these means, materials were faxed to them by the project staff at the Polytechnic of Namibia.
These Internet-enabled course materials included five lecture manuscripts. These manuscripts set out the process of community journalism for the participants in simple segments that they could critically review and implement in their daily work as journalists while preparing for the assessment process to come in the second contact session. Each manuscript was accompanied by discussion questions to help the participants focus their work in community journalism. After each lecture was released, participants discussed the materials through group e-mails. These lectures and electronic discussions set the foundation for the field experience scheduled for the second contact session.
The Second Contact Session
Upon arrival in Windhoek for the second contact session (September 27, 1999 to October 6, 1999), participants provided the Namibian Qualification Authority panel of assessors with a portfolio of evidence for their review. These portfolios included evidence to satisfy the criteria originally developed for the project by the NQA and members of Project Butterfly. These portfolios included sample broadcast tapes as well as written samples of work and affidavits to secure the credibility of the work. The panel of assessors reviewed the portfolios while the participants engaged in preparatory workshops for the community journalism field experience.
Next, the participants reviewed the concept of community journalism and developed news topics and news teams for the field experience. The participants were divided into three groups. Each group was composed of broadcast and print journalists so that each group could produce news products for all three media: radio, television and print. The topics that the participants chose for their community journalism field experience included hunger and natural resources; crime and its effects on the community; and AIDS and health care.
The community journalism field experience included a day of preparatory workshops in which the participants declared their subject matter, developed news gathering plans, set up interviews and developed a work schedule for the two days to follow. During the field experience, the participants gathered news through traditional means from local authorities, local officials, and local community residents. After gathering the materials for their news stories, the next two days were consumed with the production of the broadcast and print news products. Participants also prepare to present their work to the Project Butterfly staff and the NQA panel of assessors.
In addition to providing the participants with practical learning in carrying out the community journalism project, this experience served as a component in the assessment of prior learning of the participants.
Members of the assessment panel from the NQA observed the participants as they performed news gathering activities on October 1, 1999, at a number of locations within the vicinity of Windhoek. Members of the assessment panel observed the journalists conducting interviews, discussing news elements, and making judgements as to what elements should be included in their individual news stories.
From the observations of the participants in the field experience, the review of the participants’ portfolios of evidence, the review of the presentations made by participants of their news products (print, radio and television), and individual interviews, the panel of assessors judged the competencies and abilities of the journalists as professional media practitioners.
The participants presented their news stories to the Project Butterfly staff and the NQA panel of assessors at a special meeting. Through these presentations, the participants were given another forum for displaying their expertise as media professionals as they explained the process their used in producing their work.
Lastly, the panel of assessors were given the opportunity to interview each of the participants individually to assess their knowledge and understanding the role and responsibilities as a media professional. These interviews were conducted by two assessors for each participant and lasted approximately 30 minutes. The assessors used this opportunity to ask the participants questions that allowed the journalists to further explain their work as media professionals. After reviewing portfolios, the field observations and the project presentations, the assessors used the interview process to focus their attention on standards not completely addressed in other areas of the assessment process.
Having concluded the formal program activities that supplied information to the assessors, a period of intense deliberation was undertaken. Comparing all of the evidence collected to the criteria of every standard, the assessors had to verify that each participant had satisfactorily documented the criteria and thus met every standard.
In concluding the assessment phase of the project, the NQA panel of assessors reported to the Project Butterfly Board of Accreditation that all ten participants had met the criteria set forth for this assessment of RPL.
A comprehensive report was made by Moore, chair of the panel of assessors, to the Project Butterfly Board of Accreditation. This Board, made up of academics, media professionals, representatives of the Polytechnic of Namibia and of Elizabethtown College, was chaired by Professor Jos Grobbelaar retired Deputy Chief Executive of the South African Universities' Vice-Chancellors' Association, SAUVCA.
The Board of Accreditation was charged with the responsibility to determine that the process and the procedure of the exercise was well founded and comprehensive. Additionally, they were to endorse that the deliberations of the panel of assessors were fair and complete.
The vote of the Board of Accreditation was later presented to the Executive Committee of the Senate of the Polytechnic of Namibia, (SENEX) which then certified the findings and made possible the awarding of certificates.
Elizabethtown College was closely involved in the formulation of the pilot project and was satisfied that the process and procedures had met its expectations. Moore and Gillis were charged by the institution to verify the academic integrity of the review by the panel and the Board and then certify that the academic requirements of the Polytechnic would meet the requirements of Elizabethtown College.
Concluding the Project
All ten participants were judged to have met all of the standards of the project by the panel of assessors. The Board of Accreditation unanimously accepted the recommendation of the panel after reviewing assessment sheets and evaluations presented by the panel of assessors for each candidate.
The project concluded on October 6, 1999 with a graduation ceremony at which time the ten participants were honored and awarded the Certificate of Practitioners in Media Technology.
PROJECT PERFORMANCE, OUTCOMES AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The three-fold strategy of the Recognition of Prior Learning (portfolio, field observation, and interview) was reported to have been effective in giving a comprehensive view of knowledge and ability of the participants to the assessment panel.
The handbook developed to coach the participants in the creation of the portfolio was also seen as helpful, as was the form given to the standards.
The standards, however, were very complex in terms of criteria. While the intent was to create a measurable list of items that participants would address in presentation of evidence, the result was an unwieldy list of descriptors that often tended to confuse participants weeks after the first contact session.
The standards were written by academics and members of the media, some from the region, all with substantial African experience. However, the standards were not written with members of the NQA and as a result, while they were refined to conform to the NQA format, the panel of assessors were not intimately familiar with the content or intent of the wording.
To assist the participants in the organizing of the required documentation and evidence for each of the criteria, it was determined that five elements had to be present in the portfolio for every criteria in the standards (Definition, Evidence, Statement of Relevance, Discussion and Verification.) These elements often had overlap and close association that could not be easily compartmentalized in terms of discussion and evidence.
The community journalism instruction (during the contact sessions and on the Internet) was evaluated as very valuable in terms giving the participants new perspective on their profession and its practices. In exit evaluations, the journalists saw the actual field experience as unique and valuable in that the new approaches learned could actually be practiced. News products from each of the teams were generally high quality reports and productions that could be used by the respective employers at the conclusion of the project.
A problem that was created by the desire of the project to include reporting in all media (radio, television and print) forced project staff to assign print or broadcast roles to participants that may have been different than the roles in which they were currently employed. No one was asked to perform in a role that they had not previously held or previously performed. However, by not having them to engage in their primary area of current responsibility for the field experience could have compromised the quality of some of the products.
The panel of assessors saw the field experience as very enlightening and reacted quite positively to it. However, the experience uncovered for the course facilitators a basic flaw in the project. Since the NQA was in its infancy and there was actually no qualified assessor pool to draw the panel from in the field of media, the assessors used were unsure how to assess the media or the field experience. The assessors were instructed to view the exercise from a consumer's point of view.
This lack of background on the part of the assessors became more acute during the portfolio review and deliberation stage of the project when their lack of professional knowledge and practice actually encouraged them to accept information and performance that might not have been accepted by seasoned professionals. To replicate this project again, significant time must be allocated to first training assessors specific to their area of responsibility. Content specialists cannot make up for the deficiency of the assessors without the content background.
An additional problem area was in English proficiency. The official language of all of the countries was English. All of the journalists were judged competent in the language, as were the assessors. In most cases, the level of proficiency was less than desired and both groups of individuals had some difficulty with expression and interpretation.
Transportation logistics for the fieldwork were adequate. Equipment and human resource support logistics were a failure. Promised equipment did not materialize. Support staff did not perform as promised. Projects took much longer to complete, quality was compromised, and equipment was shared and rented at the last minute to make up for the breech of promises. Consequently, the field experience component of the project was expensive. For the future, the entire project should be recast as a packaged program which may include the Internet education component, the portfolio review, and the interviews.
Project Butterfly affirms the principle of lifelong learning and the importance of knowledge that cannot be acquired in the classroom. According to Tara Elyssa, dean of the School of Communication, Secretarial and Legal Studies, Project Butterfly will serve as a model for other RPL programs (not only journalism) and can provide the planning foundation for the new Media Technology program at the Polytechnic of Namibia currently under development at the institution. The project model also provides a framework for the new NQA.
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 . The authors of this paper served as faculty in developing and delivering this project and acknowledge the support and cooperation of the following institutions in making this program a success: Elizabethtown College of Pennsylvania and the Polytechnic of Namibia in Windhoek, Namibia.
Additional details about this project may be found at the project website: www.etown.edu/com/namibia.
2. School leavers are those individuals who leave the formal education system after achieving the O levels under the Cambridge system. They may be considered to have high school equivalency but generally not qualifications to attend tertiary institutions.
3. Project Butterfly was so named by the Polytechnic of Namibia and the African Lifelong Learning Initiative. The intent was to characterize both journalism and the countries of the region as developmental. This project would build capacity in the profession, in turn aiding national development, as both matured in the development process.
4. The Namibian Qualifications Authority is a newly created body in Namibia whose charter includes standardization of the practice of major professions in the country, i.e., media professionals and teachers.
5. Community journalism (also known as public journalism or civic journalism) asks journalists to change the way they think about identifying news, gathering information for news story development, and developing a public’s point of view in the news story writing process. This process should bring closer journalists as citizens with their fellow citizens in the community at large and in specific arenas such as the government.
Public journalism focuses on the community and the role of the journalist is a member of that community as a partner with the people. It is grounded in the concept that journalists from all media have a responsibility not just to report on public issues, but to actively facilitate their debate and resolution. The media can encourage active dialog on the issues without becoming involved in the decision making. (Gillis & Moore, 1999.)