The ASCOT+ research and transfer initiative launches with six projects
Natalia Lohmeyer, Stefanie Velten
Six projects to develop learning and test instruments for subsequent piloting in training and examination contexts have been receiving funding since May 2019 as part of a transfer initiative by the Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung (BMBF) [Federal Ministry of Education and Research]. This article explains the background to the initiative and looks at its objectives. It also states which projects are being financed and outlines the contribution they may be able to make towards resolving current challenges in training and examination practice.
What is ASCOT+?
ASCOT+ is an acronym for “Technology-based Assessment of Skills and Competencies in VET”. The aims of the initiative are to support the competence development of trainees, to improve teaching and learning processes in company-based and school-based training and to continue to develop examinations in a competence-oriented way. Competence models and computer-based assessment procedures for the validation of both occupationally related (domain-specific) competencies and cross-cutting competencies, such as social and communication skills and general problem-solving abilities, had been drawn up in a predecessor initiative entitled ASCOT (2011–2015). These are now being re-addressed and developed further. One of the findings to emerge from the first ASCOT initiative is that the assessment procedures deployed are fundamentally suited to identifying large sections of vocational skills and competencies in an objective and valid way. The “+” in the title of the new initiative emphasises its focus on practice. Partners from the field of practice have been integrated from the outset. They are involved in the appraisal of project applications, in supporting the projects, in their capacity as project partners and in the transfer of results to training and examination practice. One new aspect of ASCOT+ is that the spectrum of assessed competence dimensions has been expanded. Examples of new additions are collaborative diagnostic competence in the training occupation of vehicle mechatronics technician (i.e. joint trouble shooting) and the ability to cope with mental stress in nursing occupations. A further goal is to move beyond the mere summative identification of competencies. The idea is also that selected competencies should be honed within the course of training and that it should be possible to map learning progress.
The BMBF has commissioned BIBB with the implementation of ASCOT+. The institute is using its expertise in competence research and in regulatory work to provide technical support to the research and development activities being conducted by the projects. BIBB’s existing communication structures and regulatory work platforms enable it to facilitate dialogue with social partners and the area of examination practice. Workshops and conferences are, for example, regularly staged with the aim of fostering ongoing networking between specialists from the occupational fields, social partners and education and training researchers.
Which projects are being funded?
Six projects were launched in May and June 2019, all with a three-year term. Two projects are being funded in each of the main focuses of Transfer to teaching and learning situations and Transfer to the examination system and to the regulation of recognised training occupations. Two projects are also looking at both of these issues (cf. Figure).
Three projects are addressing commercial training occupations, whilst two are dedicated to technical training occupations. One project centres on nursing professions (cf. Information Box).
Training occupations forming a focus of ASCOT+
- Industrial clerk
- Office manager
- Freight forwarding and logistics services clerk
- Electronics technician for automation technology
- Electronics technician specialising in automation technology
- Motor vehicle mechatronics technician
- Mechatronics fitter
- Construction mechanic
- Geriatric nurse
- Registered general nurse
What is special about the ASCOT+ initiative?
The ASCOT+ initiative concentrates on the transfer into practice of the instruments that have been developed and the findings that have emerged. This encompasses both “conventional” transfer measures such as publications and events and the sustainable utilisation of the project results (e.g. dissemination of training units free of charge on the basis of an Open Source Licence).
The project support group set up within the scope of ASCOT+, which consists of academic researchers and experts from the fields of education and training policy and practice (including trade unions, chambers, employers’ associations, task-setting institutions and ministries), is an important multiplier for transfer into practice.
At the same time, BIBB has been drawing up an overarching transfer concept to act as a framework model for formative evaluation within the scope of ASCOT+. The aim of this concept is to work in conjunction with the projects in order to arrive at a uniform understanding of transfer on the basis of current transfer theories and the existing requirements of practice. Activities have included a workshop staged in 2019 together with representatives from the ASCOT+ support group and interviews with experts in the relevant occupational areas for the purpose of identifying the main needs of training and examination practice. The transfer concept is facilitating a structured reflection upon transfer measures and areas of potential over the entire term of the project in a way which is individual to each project.
Which challenges in examination practice is ASCOT+ addressing?
The current challenges facing the examination system include acquiring of sufficient staff and structuring the voluntary role of the examiner in an attractive way against the background of increasing compaction of work (cf. Zipter 2019). A subject of discussion is also revealed between the objective of shaping regulatory instruments and the requirements of training and examination practice in a competence-oriented way and the need to keep the costs of conducting teaching and examinations at a reasonable level. With regard to the quality of competence assessment in the sense of applying the usual criteria of objectivity, reliability and validity within diagnostic contexts (cf. Nickolaus 2011), there remains a need to research and develop suitable instruments in vocational education and training.
The deployment of computer-based assessment instruments may represent one possible solution in terms of reducing some of the burdens on the voluntary examiners and making such a role more sustainable and in terms of improving competence and employment orientation. Firstly, such instruments allow the simultaneous and standardised testing of large groups and may also permit (partially) automated assessment. Secondly, it is possible to digitalise the setting of examination tasks, and appropriate databases containing reference assignments can also be added to enhance the process. The presentation of authentic task formats and alignment to business processes may enable an improvement in competence and employment orientation to be achieved in the examination system. Computer simulations with integrated test tasks could, for example, be an appropriate medium in this regard. Typical work situations, which require trainees to think about complex sequences and contexts, can be simulated on the screen in an authentic way. Specific competence acquisition processes can be identified and fostered (cf. BMBF 2015).
The projects being funded within the scope of ASCOT+ offer different solutions in terms of meeting the challenges which have been outlined. Developments include
- an online platform which aims to support and standardise the setting of competence-oriented examination tasks on a step-by-step basis,
- a training programme which can be used to school examination staff in the computer-based development of competence-oriented assignments,
- completely computer-based tests which are adapted to the general conditions governing examination practice.
What happens next?
Activities in the six projects are underway. These were showcased at an initial project meeting in November 2019, at which the transfer concept was also discussed. A specialist conference is scheduled for 2021 to afford the projects an opportunity to present their interim findings to a broader expert audience.
Finally, it should be noted that ASCOT+ faces the challenge of working with representatives of VET practice and the academic research sector to generate innovative impetuses for VET over a period of only three years. These will be able to contribute to the improvement of teaching/learning processes in training and examination practice and also have the long-term potential to act as a guide for collaboration between research and practice at a cross-cutting level.
BUNDESMINISTERIUM FÜR BILDUNG UND FORSCHUNG (BMBF): Technologiebasierte Kompetenzmessung in der beruflichen Bildung (ASCOT) – Ergebnisse und Bedeutung für Politik und Praxis. Bonn 2015
NICKOLAUS, R.: Kompetenzmessung und Prüfungen in der beruflichen Bildung. In: ZBW (2011) 2, S. 161-173
ZIPTER, S.: Das berufliche Prüfungswesen in der dualen Ausbildung. Aktuelle Herausforderungen. In: DENK-doch-MAL.de (2019) 2
Project Head of the ASCOT+ research and transfer initiative in the “Customer Service Occupations, Cross-Cutting Tasks” Division at BIBB
Evaluation research for the ASCOT+ research and transfer initiative in the “Competence Development” Division at BIBB
Translation from the German original (published in BWP 6/2019): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin