Secion D: Designing programmes for inclusion in the NFQ - questions arising


The following section sets out some examples of the questions that have arisen for higher education practitioners when undertaking the process of designing programmes for inclusion in the Framework.

1. When constructing major awards, which should be designed first, the programme or the module learning outcomes?

In order to give coherence to a programme, a top down approach is probably the more logical sequencing, certainly for new programmes. The design of clear programme learning outcomes based on knowledge, skill and competence provides a basis for direct mapping to Framework award-type descriptors and Framework levels. Modules that collectively address these outcomes can then be designed and articulated as module outcomes.

In redesigning existing programmes, the sequence may be the other way around, where a collection of related modules are being brought together to construct a programme, and the programme learning outcomes are being derived from the combined module outcomes and then mapped to the appropriate Framework award-type/level.

2. Do all of the eight sub-strands of knowledge, skill and competence have to feature in the programme outcomes of a major award?

The majority of new or existing major awards are likely to accommodate all of the sub-strands, but the balance of emphasis in their representation will depend on the individual programme. Also, individual sub-strands of a major award may be at a different level to the overall level of the major award-type. However, the overall package of learning outcomes for a named award needs to correspond to those of the award-type to which it belongs.

3. Do all of the eight sub-strands of knowledge, skill and competence have to feature in every module of a major award?

It is extremely unlikely that all modules will reflect all of the sub-strands associated with the programme they combine to make. The function of the modules is to cumulatively address the programme learning outcomes of a major award.

4. Do all of the eight sub-strands of knowledge, skill and competence have to feature in the programme outcomes of a non-major award?

Non-major awards (minor, supplemental and special purpose awards) may often specify programme outcomes with fewer than the eight sub-strands. In some cases, their focus may be narrow and only a small number of sub-strands may be defined. If only one sub-strand is defined for the award then the level to which the award-type is allocated is decided on the basis of that strand. If more than one sub-strand is defined, a best-fit principle will apply. This will take into account the purpose and context for developing the award (and, where relevant, its link to other awards).

5. Is a programme designed using the Bologna Framework’s cycle descriptors the same as using the National Framework of Qualifications level indicators and award-type descriptors for reference?

The relationship between national qualifications frameworks and European Frameworks is outlined in Section C. This construct indicates that it makes sense for the Irish National Framework of Qualifications to take precedence when identifying a reference point for the design or redesign of programmes for inclusion in the Framework and for subsequent recognition in the context of the European frameworks. The greater level of detail provided in the NFQ descriptors ultimately makes it an easier framework to use as a reference for programme design; it accommodates the design of non-major award types and makes explicit how the suite of national awards relate to one another.

6. If a programme is designed for inclusion at Level x, do all of the outcomes associated with the programme have to be at that level?

There is no requirement that all of the outcomes of a programme at a given level (major or non-major) need to be written to that level. With regard to major awards, 60 credits of learning outcomes need to be at the level of the award; for non-major awards the balance of learning outcomes need to be at the level at which the award is included. The distribution of level outcomes across a series of modules that make up a programme is a matter for the programme designer, in response to the needs of the programme and the anticipated learner. There are often introductory and intermediate aspects of a programme that will be at a lower level than the overall programme level. Similarly, some programmes incorporate exit points, which are at lower levels of the Framework.

7. How are exit points built into a programme designed to be included at a given level of the Framework?

If a programme has exit points at which awards can be made, the sequence of designing outcomes from the top of the programme still provides a logical starting point. When the exit points are being built in, they should also be accompanied by programme learning outcomes. It is important when designing a major award with exit points to keep in mind the minimum of 60 credits being at the level at which the award is included in the Framework.

8. Are the Framework level indicators designed to be threshold level indicators?

The Framework level-indicators (and award-type descriptors) are considered to indicate the ‘typical’ learning outcomes associated with the successful attainment of an award at a given level on the Framework, rather than being indicators of ‘threshold’ or minimum learning outcome attainment. This distinction has important implications for assessment design and for the development of assessment criteria.

9. How is an Ordinary Bachelor Degree with 180 credits differentiated from an Honours Bachelor Degree with 180 credits?

The Framework includes an Ordinary Bachelor Degree award-type with 180 credits at level 7 on the Framework. At level 8, the Honours Bachelor Degree has been allocated a range of credit from 180-240 credits. If you are designing an Honours Bachelor Degree with 180 credits, the key element that distinguishes it from an Ordinary Bachelor Degree with the same credit amount is the learning outcomes. Those associated with the Honours Bachelor Degree should be evidently at the higher level. It is also likely that all of the outcomes in the final year of a 180 credit Honours Bachelor Degree will be of a level 8 standard.

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