Defining, Assessing and Measuring Generic Competences

Author: David Curtis

Curtis, David, 2010 Defining, Assessing and Measuring Generic Competences, Flinders University, School of Education

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This thesis reports an investigation into generic skills, a class of skills that appear to be broadly applicable to many work, social and civic contexts. Two major generic skills schemes were proposed in Australia, namely the key competencies (Australian Education Council. Mayer Committee, 1992) and the employability skills initiative (Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry & Business Council of Australia, 2002). The implementation of these schemes is reviewed and several difficulties in their implementation are identified. The most significant issues are thought to be the definition and assessment of these skills. The issue of definition occurs for generic skills as a class of constructs and arises in relation to each skill proposed as generic. Generic skills could be perceived as representations of either general intelligence or as particular kinds of intelligence. They could also be seen as components of competence. The representation of generic skills as aspects of competence, involving the deployment of cognitive and metacognitive processes, appears to be a fruitful approach to the investigation of generic skills. In addition to defining generic skills as a class of constructs, each generic skill requires definition. For the research reported in this thesis, one commonly recognised generic skill, problem solving, is selected for investigation. Problem solving is defined as a set of processes that are deployed in identifying, defining, planning, executing, monitoring and evaluating problems and their solutions. The second major issue identified in the implementation of generic skills schemes is assessment. A body of literature on assessment is reviewed. Assessment is found to serve two major sets of purposes, namely summative and formative. A variety of methods has been used in the assessment of generic skills, most of these methods having been designed for the summative assessment of generic skills achievement. There would appear to be a role for assessment methods that seek to enhance generic skills performance, and this is a focus of the research reported here. Two studies are undertaken into the assessment of problem solving. In the first, the definition of problem solving, based upon notions of competence, is used to develop and validate a problem solving assessment instrument. The instrument is used as one element of a particular assessment process. In this process, students assess their own problem solving performance on routine assessment tasks that they undertake within their courses. They submit their work, including both the substantive course-related tasks and their assessment of their problem solving performance on that task. Their self-assessment is validated by their lecturer and they receive feedback on that assessment. The results of the first study indicate that the problem-solving assessment instrument, based on a cognitive theory of problem solving, does provides a valid basis for the assessment and measurement of problem solving performance, although some improvements to the instrument are foreshadowed. In the second study, a revised version of the problem solving assessment instrument developed in the first study is used. In this study, students use the problem solving assessment tool on a series of course-related assessment tasks over an academic year, receiving feedback on each assessment. The purpose of this study is to test the proposition that repeated assessment and feedback cycles might lead to improved problem solving performance. Evidence for such improvement is reported. It is concluded that existing course-related activities can be used as vehicles for the development of students' problem solving skills. The development of generic skills (problem solving in this instance) would appear to depend upon two elements of an assessment regime. First, the assessment target needs to be defined in terms of an underlying construct that is operationalised through an assessment tool that focuses student attention on its key elements. Second, the development of problem solving proficiency is related to repeated assessment and feedback cycles, that is, to the implementation of a formative assessment approach.

Keywords: generic skills, education, key competencies, employability skills, assessment, formative assessment, self assessment, problem solving, Rasch measurement, multilevel modelling

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2010
School: School of Education
Supervisor: Unknown