New Brunswick Community College – Information Technology

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Program summary

NBCC’s Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) pilot program aims to provide everyone with a pathway to formal recognition for their learned life, work, and non-formal training experience. The pilot will focus on first-year courses in two NBCC programs in the IT sector between now and the Fall of 2022.

Beyond these programs, the pilot will establish goals and recommendations for future expansion to other sectors. NBCC will implement innovative solutions to efficient assessment processes and help students develop individual skills portfolios.

Admission requirements

This NBCC pilot is open to all potential students with experiential or non-formal learning relevant to the following Information Technology programs: (1) Programmer-Analyst, and (2) Web & Mobile App Development. If the applicant has learning that is equivalent to some or all first-year courses within these programs, they may be a good candidate for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition. After a self-assessment, approved applicants must be prepared to provide evidence of their prior learning, using a variety of accepted methods (dependent on subject matter). This body of evidence may include written or oral explanations, video demonstrations, samples of work, and more. Together, these pieces will form a portfolio of learning that can assessed for credit.

To inquire about this initiative, please contact plar@nbcc.ca.

Applicants must keep in mind that Prior Learning Assessment may affect their status as a full-time student. Students are required to obtain a minimum of 25 per cent of their program credits from NBCC courses to receive an NBCC Certificate or Diploma.

Program length

The pilot will engage applicants beginning in Fall 2021. Applicants will be asked to participate in a self-assessment activity to begin the process. Once approved, a guide will be available to help begin collecting the materials they will need to show evidence of their learning, and to ensure that learning is well-represented.

Equity and diversity

This program seeks to provide new learning paths and opportunities for upskilling to immigrants and newcomers, as well as rural and remote learners, and mid-career workers.

Industry Partners

Project Highlights

In late 2021 through Summer 2022, the NBCC team ran a pilot in prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) with a specific focus on experiential learning for Information Technology (IT). Participants were able to select from a prepared list of 15 courses that represent the first-year offerings in two programs: Programmer-Analyst and Web and Mobile Application Development. These programs were chosen for their general popularity, shared content, and likelihood of finding participants with prior learning in the areas they cover. Collectively, participants made PLAR attempts for 11 courses, including 6 unique offerings, with 8 attempts resulting in credits being awarded.

The pilot design sought to emphasize accessibility and flexibility for participants in order to reduce barriers to education, particularly for equity-seeking groups, and provide alternate pathways into NBCC based on previous experience and informal learning. Participants were asked if they self-identified with the following groups: newcomer to Canada, mid-career worker, Indigenous/First Nations, 2SLGBTQIA+, and/or rural or remote learner. Out of 5 participants, 1 identified as 2SLGBTQIA+, 2 identified as mid-career workers, and 2 identified as newcomers to Canada. 

To this end, the pilot incorporated a number of unique features, including:

  • Continuous intake. Participation was not tied to a specific semester or opportunity window.
  • Pre-admissions assessment. Participation was open to all learners, including non-students. Participants did not have to be enrolled or wait for classes to start.
  • Online delivery. Using software tools, participants could submit work from anywhere at anytime, while receiving in-progress feedback from NBCC assessors. Structured courses meant that participants would be guided to address all course competencies.
  • Curricular mapping. Development of detailed learning objectives and associated rubric for each eligible course, using NBCC course outlines as a starting point.
  • Pre-registration self-assessment. Even before registering to participate, prospective applicants completed information screeners and engaged in self-assessment activities. 
  • Flexible assessment methods. Participants were given freedom to show their learning in an open-ended format, using a wide variety of documentation and/or file types.
  • Accessibility functions, support and resources for participants. The pilot design was mindful of including accessibility functions and following Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principals. Participants receive access to various supports through their custom courses, as well as a comprehensive PLAR handbook.

Some highlights of lessons learned during the PLAR pilot are: 

  • Communicating about PLAR takes care and precision – not everyone knows what PLAR is. Therefore, the pilot not only gave participants the opportunity to be assessed for their prior learning, but Coordinators often spent time upfront educating and informing candidates about the concept of PLAR and what it can offer. 
  • PLAR has the potential to open new pathways for students. Participants appreciated the flexibility of the pilot without feeling constrained to complete a typical college degree. 
  • PLAR can affect a student’s full-time status. This can have significant impact on VISA applications for international students, student loans, and more.
  • Institutions must be able to clearly demonstrate the value and benefits of PLAR. Where many participants hope to become students and don’t wish to lose their full-time status, financial benefits are often minimal. 
  • Though the pilot focuses on assessing experiential learning, many arrive with a mix of formal and informal learning. Therefore, participants benefit from being assessed upfront for both credit equivalencies and transfer credits.
  • There is a need for system support for students in non-traditional roles, like those enrolled in the PLAR pilot. Where participants (and similar recipients of college services) are not considered traditional “students,” work-arounds are needed to provided them with necessary software access.
  • Participants require ongoing support. Non-students lack typical support networks like instructors, student services or peers. Under a continuous intake model, no two participants are ever at the same stage. Coordinators therefore become the primary point of contact for PLAR participants and require the means to organize all these points of contact.
  • PLAR benefits from specific competencies. Open-ended competencies provide teaching flexibility, but create uncertainty for PLAR. Curriculum mapping, including those for PLAR purposes, requires time and ongoing maintenance.

 

The pilot team was pleased to issue formal NBCC credits to several learners in the group after taking them through these new processes. All but one participant were able to demonstrate course-equivalent prior learning, indicating a high success rate for individuals who took part.

Even among those who did not attempt demonstrations of learning, there were indications that students appreciated the ability to self-assess and learn about the expectations of programs, as well as about their own learning gaps. One student who ultimately opted out of PLAR, nevertheless told coordinators that they learned a great deal about themselves and saw their participation as a positive step.

The pilot team was also excited to engage with the many learners and students who expressed interest in PLAR and wanted to share their prior learning, even if not all went on to participate. To demonstrate the range of varying interests in PLAR, consider these student stories we heard from:

  • A New Brunswick high school student, preparing for graduation. They hoped to learn about PLAR as a possible means to gain recognition for their hobbies and extracurricular learning, while exploring options for post-secondary education. 
  • A 3rd term NBCC Student (IT: Programmer-Analyst) interested in PLAR for Web and Mobile Development. Student’s work experience was extensive in the web and mobile field, making them a possible contender for credits through PLAR assessment.
  • A Business student from a local university wanting to switch to the IT: Programmer-Analyst program at NBCC. Interested in both credit transfers and assessment for credit equivalencies for informal learning.
  • An international student interested in Web and Mobile Development. They had former education in Geodetic Engineering. They then had 10 years of practice as a software developer and as the senior manager of IT in their workplace. 
  • An international student who studied computer science in the 1990’s. They did not finish their degree, but are working in the IT field and would like to refresh their education.

From an institutional perspective, the pilot provides a proof of concept that can have wider applications, while providing data and learning about new approaches to PLAR. This opens doors for more programs to consider prior learning as a valid pathway into the classroom.

 

A few highlights statistics from the pilot’s active participants.

  • The #1 potential benefit that made survey respondents interested in applying for PLAR: getting a head start on a college program
  • The #1 barrier to further education that respondents identified: competing responsibilities (e.g., work, family)
  • Most respondents agreed that self-assessment helped them identify their strengths and weakness in their chosen courses
  • Most respondents agreed that PLAR took more preparation and time than they expected
  • All respondents agreed they would recommend PLAR for a friend with prior learning
  • Although participants were not yet sure if PLAR would have a direct impact on their employment status, all intended to continue their IT education