Incredible as it may seem, the Higher National Certificate and Higher National Diploma qualifications are now 80 years old. And their age is beginning to show.
Over the past four years the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the further education sector have been reviewing HNCs and HNDs to make sure they fit the requirements of both higher education centres and employers. In the drive to update and modernise them, e-learning and e-assessment will be important.
"ICT is pretty well embedded in education now and our candidates expect it to be used in both delivery and assessment," says Martyn Ware, the SQA's business manager for computer-assisted assessment. "We want staff to have full access to e-approaches to learning and teaching and assessment, in collaboration with the FE sector, the funding council and the Scottish Further Education Unit (SFEU)."
There are three strands to the modernising programme. The first is the development of summative e-assessments (equivalent to online tests). This is run by 50 subject specialists working in eight teams across the sector.
It is still in the early stages, but there is no question of them replacing traditional assessments.
"E-assessment is not a panacea but has a contribution to make," says Mr Ware. "It could not replace practical activities."
The second strand is the development of information gateways or learner guides to give subject specialists time and space to trawl the web for curriculum content.
Managed by the SFEU with the SQA checking and providing quality assurance, the gateways are intended to make it easier for lecturers to use the web by guiding them to sources with useful activities and teaching and learning resources which would become part of the lecturer's repertoire.
"It's about presenting e-materials in a user-friendly way, while ensuring consistency and quality to make it easier for FE staff to use e-resources as part of their day to day delivery," explains Mr Ware.
Both these strands are funded by the Scottish Further Education Funding Council.
The third strand, funded to the tune of pound;1.5 million by the European Social Fund, is to support the newly modernised HNC and HND qualifications and allow the SQA to develop more e-learning materials and make them available to all FE colleges by July 2006.
This marks a development in the SQA's leadership as well as co-ordination role. "Increasingly, we are providing assessment exemplars, teaching and learning materials and guidance for delivery to FE lecturers and teachers," says Mr Ware.
"We are evolving in response to what our customers want and expect and today a lecturer expects from the SQA guidance and support as well as information and materials.
"The guidance and support role is growing to the point where it gives us a leadership role alongside bodies like the SFEU and the funding council.
"The modernising role means the SQA has to develop the right infrastructure to make all these things available to FE colleges."
One specific area which the SQA is actively encouraging is e-portfolios for students, because they allow colleges and schools to gather all sorts of evidence or assessments which are not exam-based and because they encourage reflective learning through continuous self-evaluation and self-assessment.
At present e-portfolios are the exception rather than the rule in education centres, but the SQA believes that within five years they will be more common if not the norm.
Modernising Delivery of Higher National Certificates and Diplomas by Martyn Ware and Graeme Clark of the SQA, Wednesday, 1pm