Saturday, 28 November 2009

Differing professional values

In this post, for activity 7.1. I explore the professional values mentioned by the Association for Learning Technology in the CMALT prospectus, by the Higher Education Academy, and by several other professional bodies.

The ALT's CMALT prospects specifies a surprisingly limited list of only four values:
  • Commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning
  • Commitment to keep up to date with new technologies
  • Empathy with and willingness to learn from colleagues from different backgrounds and specialisms
  • Commitment to communicate and disseminate effective practice
While the document does mention in passing "taking a committed and serious approach to professional development" and "critical reflection on practice, achievements and expertise", (and therefore implies that these are also professional values), I found it surprising that these aspects were not made explicit, and that while it is mentioned that CMALT will allow you to demonstrate these attributes, they are not an underlying principle.

The professional values expressed by the UK Higher Education Authority are:
  1. Respect for individual learners 
  2. Commitment to incorporating the process and outcomes of relevant research, scholarship and/or professional practice 
  3. Commitment to development of learning communities 
  4. Commitment to encouraging participation in higher education, acknowledging diversity and promoting equality of opportunity 
  5. Commitment to continuing professional development and evaluation of practice 
Point 5 here makes clear the value of commitment to professional development. There are further notable differences between the ALT and HEA's value statements. I found it particularly striking that the ALT makes no mention of values which directly involve learners. While it is a society of technologists, there is a need to understand the learners for whom they develop technology, and I feel that learning technology professionals ought to have a professional commitment to students, whether or not they work directly with them. Stemming from this need I would also expect a learning technologist to have an understanding of educational or pedagogical principles, and hence a value of commitment to appropriate understanding and application of these principles.

Interestingly, neither the ALT or the HEA make any reference to ethical principles or standards, and consequently there is no comment on procedures if such standards are not met. There is also no mention of quality, or the aspiration towards it, for professional knowledge, application or behaviour.

Other organisations, such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) provide more detailed codes of conduct. For example, the IET has 22 rules of conduct, each of which are underpinned by one or more of 8 principles (honesty, integrity, fairness, confidentiality, competence, objectivity, environmental sustainability and health, safety and risk).

It is possible that the less prescriptive approach of the ALT and HEA are indicative of a teaching profession which has (until relatively recently) had considerable freedom in its own organisation. Conversely (and in particular for the ALT), it may be considered unsurprising that a fledgling profession (if indeed it is one) has not yet established the depth and rigour that underpin professions such as engineering or medicine. However, the fundamental principles such as honesty, integrity and fairness, as exemplified by the IET's code of conduct, might be considered to be universal, and so should be expressed somewhere.

Some organisations, such as the IET or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), have a value set which further illuminates the key activities of the profession. For example, the BACP values include a commitment to:
  • Respecting human rights and dignity 
  • Ensuring the integrity of practitioner-client relationships 
  • Enhancing the quality of professional knowledge and its application 
  • Alleviating personal distress and suffering 
  • Fostering a sense of self that is meaningful to the person(s) concerned 
  • Increasing personal effectiveness 
  • Enhancing the quality of relationships between people 
  • Appreciating the variety of human experience and culture 
  • Striving for the fair and adequate provision of counselling and psychotherapy services. 
By contrast, the ALT's only values which make clear their professional activities are commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning, and to keeping up to date with new technologies. It seems that there is much left unsaid in these statements about what learning technology professionals do. Perhaps this is again due to the relatively undefined nature of the profession, and to the fact that it incorporates many roles. In fact, the ALT themselves acknowledge this in their statement that "values and codes of practice differ from institution to institution, discipline to discipline, role to role, and may evolve through time". It is therefore perhaps understandable that their listed values are not as prescriptive as more defined professions, but I fear that this lack of coherence may hamper attempts to become a recognised profession.

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