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The reasons for doing the National Vocational Qualifications or NVQ are vast and wide-ranging. NVQ's are becoming a vital part of the workplace particularly in the manufacturing and service sectors were they are slowly becoming a prerequisite before starting work in such fields.
In my field, the health profession 50% of care assistants/nursing auxiliaries etc were supposed to have their NVQ 2 in care by the end of 2005. There are several reasons why this became an impossibility and the date is being forever changed. The NVQ is a relatively new qualification and was seen by the government as a long-term replacement for the BTEC and City and Guild qualifications. However, the qualification has been and continues to be greeted with a mixture of apathy and scorn by both employees and employers and there are many reasons for this.
The NVQ is described as a vocational qualification to be completed in the workplace. You are assigned an assessor who can either be shipped in from an external body such as a college or has been trained as an NVQ assessor by the workplace. The idea is that your assessor observes your work and documents how you behave, be it towards your clients/service users in the care sector, customers in the retail sector etc. They also observe your working practices to ensure you carry out your designated tasks correctly and according to the procedures set out by your workplace and external bodies such as environmental health. Examples of this in my case this would be observing me feed a resident or administer medication. However, this element of the course is fine for most people but it is the "evidence" element that makes these work-based qualifications the scourge of many an employees and employers lives.
The NVQ level 2 in Care is the perfect example of this. Made up of four core units covering diversity and rights, communication, health and safety and abuse and a further five units of the employees own choosing from eating and drinking to continence control the employee is expected to write detailed accounts to cover the criteria of the units. Not only are they expected to write step by step accounts of, "How they take Mrs X to the toilet ensuring privacy and dignity by shutting the door..." they must then mark their own work using the criteria supplied. This is a ridiculously complicated process that takes longer than writing the actual piece or "reflective account" as they are called. Add to this the need for "witness testimonies" from Supervisors or Line managers supporting your abilities and what you have is a vocational qualification that is bogged down in paperwork and bureaucracy.
The problem with the NVQ is not the content that in my experience is relevant to the occupation but the way in which the pill is administered. Imagine this. You are a fifty-year-old care assistant who has been told they need to do an NVQ. It has been a number of years since you have written anything approaching an essay style piece and you are confronted with this mound of paperwork and the possibility of needing to attend college for extra assistance. Would you do it?
Where are the assessors in all this? Now the success or failure of someone working towards an NVQ is largely down to how helpful an assessor they have. As someone who assists those trying to get an NVQ and someone with an NVQ 3 in Care I am well aware of the importance of this. The assessor is the person who is there to guide you through and help you. It is they who decide whether you have completed a unit and indeed they who decide when you have completed your NVQ (after external verification). Therefore, the importance of a good assessor cannot be stressed strongly enough. A good assessor can get even the most non-academic employee through an NVQ 2 in twelve months whereas a bad one can make it a torturous process that lasts years. My own NVQ lasted two and a half years not because I did not complete the work (as I completed that in less than six months) but because my assessor was like the Scarlet Pimpernel and when she was there gave little in the way of advice or guidance. In contrast I know several colleagues who were guided through their NVQ with the assessor doing much of the supposed "self marking" for them. This is one of the major advantages of having an assessor in the workplace rather than an external body.
The employer also has a vital role as to your success o your NVQ course. Occasionally you may be required to attend courses, spend days in college or have one on one time with your assessor in the workplace. An employer's understanding of the need for this will largely affect whether you will spend six months or two years on your NVQ. Many employers see the NVQ as a necessary nuisance and are reluctant to give time off or any assistance to employees pursuing it.
You may be asking why after all my reservations should you do an NVQ? In my personal opinion the NVQ in itself does not make you a better employee. However, in many workplaces especially the care sector it is becoming something you have to do to continue in that field so many of you may consider it (like I do), a necessary evil. It also can provides some benefits in that employers tend to pay that little bit more to employees who have an NVQ and indeed some workplaces have started to only accept employees with NVQ's. An NVQ can also be used as a stepping stone to further your career as an NVQ 3 is classed in many universities as a viable qualification for access to many courses such as Nursing. The advanced NVQ's such as NVQ 4 or the assessors NVQ may even provide an opportunity to become self-employed as a freelance assessor or manager of a business.
Congratulations to those who have completed an NVQ or are working towards one. I know how difficult they are and have a respect for anyone who can get there heads around this most complex of courses.
Considering I view myself as a technophobe, even going so far as calling myself a Luddite where technology is concerned, then why I undertook my third technology course with the Open University remains a mystery to myself and all who know me. Even more startling is the fact that this was to be my third first year presentation course with the OU. Brand new courses are a challenge in themselves to all participants. The Course Team, having spent years writing the course, the tutors, lecturers and certainly for the eager students, as there are always glitches to iron out. These are usually mis-prints in the course books, bugs in the course software and no set precedents to refer to. However, all this adds to the feeling of anticipation and excitement and the sense that we are all in this together. There is also a great pioneering spirit that prevails, as all involved in a brand new course feel they are paving the way for future presentations by at times suffering from these teething problems in a ‘guinea pig’ kinda way! The second year presentation is always a smoother ride. So it was; I signed up for T209: Level 2: Information and Communication Technology: People and Interactions: February 2002 Presentation. The basis of T209 is to study the developments in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) How challenging is that? We all know how this subject is in a continual state of change that can be measured in weeks and months. ICT have changed the way we communicate with our friends, how we work and how we study. I’m sure, as many of you can imagine, that as we studied T209 new technologies and applications were emerging so the Course Team had wisely structured the course into a set of independent modules. This allowed them to respond to changes in technology and update the course as they happened. I think we all realised this meant that the last two or three modules hadn’t e
ven been written when we received our first set of printed course books, study guides, videos, application software, and CD-ROM resources with text, articles and interactive animations. My only qualms at this stage were horrid looking papers called Computer Marked Assignments. It appeared we had to work out answers to certain problems, tick the correct boxes and submit them. More of this later. Above all, the most important CD-ROM was the installation of the FirstClass Application software giving online access to the Open University virtual campus and dedicated T209 conferences where we were able to find support within our tutor groups, ‘real-time’ chat and interaction with our tutor. All essential for independent, self motivated, distance learning as this is one bunny who doesn’t like face to face tutorials and summer schools but loves Computer Mediated Communications (CMC) I’m far too cosy with my PC in my attic and although there are ‘real- world’ tutorials with all OU courses, for me these always involve an eighty mile round trip by train and car and costing over £20.00. What The Modules are About and my Reflections on Them *************************************************** Module One: In Touch and Informed: We were to read, research and discuss three key technologies- computer technologies, network technologies and wireless technologies and how they feature in everyday devises such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants with Internet access. The Tutor Marked Assessment (TMA) instructed us to write an imaginary report outlining the technical suitability of three specific mobile services for a company with a mobile workforce. Flossing Hell! I was ready to withdraw from T209 within the week. Writing about 1st/2nd/3rd/ generation mobile systems? My mobile phone is a house brick and I only use it to call the AA Emergency Services. However, I wrote a beautifully pr
esented, grammatically correct report but I clearly didn’t understand a word I was writing. Fortunately, all learning institutions are now into students analysing our own learning by reflecting and identifying our strengths and weaknesses. I’m good at that, consequently gained marks and scraped a pass. (60%) Module Two: Talking with Computers ******************************** We were to use specific voice recognition software to explore the requirements for human-technology on speech recognition systems. What we really had to do was construct a speech dialogue application with the software provided to build an automated user interface for a microwave oven! Flossing hell! I was ready to drop out yet again! The TMA was a hoot to do. Training this computer animated bloke to recognise my instructions to cook on ‘High’ Medium’ ‘Low’ would have been even better if marks didn’t depend on it and T209 hadn’t cost me over £400 and I didn’t want to waste my money. The best fun was to be had making him repeat my swearing! However, I submitted exquisitely beautiful flow charts, with the wrong information, and screen dumps of my microwave oven automated dialogue plus a summary of a tutor group discussion on communication technology and gained another pass. (69%) Module Three: Managing Networks ******************************* We looked at how computer networks have changed the way people work and organisations are managed and interact. This time the software provided was to enable us to build a simulated Local Area Network (LAN) model for an imaginary company. Swallow! The TMA asked us to submit planning sheets for an e-commerce company showing the requirements for departments sharing printers, servers, Internet and the web to transfer data of different sizes to and from each other. Then using the LAN simulator to build a workable network from these plans. Final
ly, we were to write about our design methodology, plus of course, more reflection on the evidence of our learning and if we had overcome any weaknesses. I learned a great deal about networking in this module as I knew nothing at all about it. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the LAN simulator and this convinced me I am a ‘learn by doing’ kind of learner rather than trying to absorb information from books. Shock! A pass of (82%) Module Four: Cyborg ******************* The ‘Cyborg’ metaphor is said to blur the distinction between technology and people. To all DooYoo authors and readers ‘Hi there Cyborgs!’ Best of all, this module provided the basis for a group project and this is my forte. Hallelujah! Something I at last feel comfortable with. There was lots of reading provided both in the books for those who need to take their books to work, with the same text on the CD-ROMS for those who prefer on-screen reading. We were expected to conduct our own research on the web for such topics as virtual worlds, communities, cyberspace, bionics, robotics and identity. The TMA required us to work together in small groups of four or five and create a web-suite bringing our definitions of Cyborgs in Cyberspace together to an audience who knew nothing of the subject. The group collaboration included critically reviewing each others specialist topic by suggesting changes in structure and content with constructive feedback. We were all dreading this as none of us felt qualified to critique another’s work, but it was successful and beneficial, resulting in some very interesting web-suites. This is where I shone with a TMA pass of 90%. Module Five: Security ******************* Electronic security systems were examined in great detail. I’m afraid after reading one chapter of ‘Security Techniques in Digital Systems’ by John Monk I was ready to give up again and wit
hdraw. The course description had told us there was no math requirement for T209. They lied! The evil papers I described in my introduction were math. Each one of the four CMAs represented 3% of the marks. I could hardly bring myself to look at them, let alone work out the math problems. I did each one like the lottery and ticked a box. Miraculously, I marginally passed each one. The whole process of encryption, secretly coding messages to protect information falling into the wrong hands, is based on mathematical operations. More specifically modular math. I was repeatedly told I didn’t have to do math, just understand them! The TMA was a nightmare for me. it involved deciphering and coding text using a personal encrypted session key giving each user a digital signature. We exchanged coded emails and had to use the right public and private keys to decipher the messages, but the awful part was having to write a report on electronic security systems for a company. Fortunately I gained marks on style, grammar and presentation which made up for the marks lost on technical knowledge, understanding and of course ‘flossing’ math! My tutor wrote on my marked TMA ‘ knowing the struggle you had with this module, your mark is a triumph’ I got 61% and he was right, it was! End of Course Assessment ************************ Bringing it All Together. We were to work individually demonstrating our understanding of the various technologies introduced to us during T209. The ECA was to give us the opportunity to show our skills in researching and synthesising information and to communicate our ideas in an organised way. Working on a site plan of a new office suite, we were to write a report for a managing director of an expanding company summarising the key properties of a wireless LAN, Bluetooth, a wired LAN solution or a mixed wired and wireless LAN solution. Just three thousand words! Plus a bulleti
n for the staff on how the chosen new solution might alter their working practices. Well, it’s done and dusted and submitted. There will be no results until December. Considering the struggle I have had with T209 I will be more than happy to get a 40% pass with the ECA. T209 is a wonderful roller-coaster experience entailing an intensive work and more time consuming than suggested in the study guide. The learning materials provided are excellent. The support and encouragement from the online dedicated T209 conferences using FirstClass was outstanding, with the Course Team participating at all times. My tutor’s written comments and summaries on all my TMA submissions were always constructive and motivating. I learned many new skills such as writing reports, planning and organising my work, efficient referencing, interacting with software to build working applications and gained some deeper understanding of how technology actually works. I did not learn how to work with numbers! But if I can complete an Open University technology course like T209, and admit to having enjoyed the challenge and even learned something along the way, then you too could experience the same sense of achievement as I have.
So you're probably thinking "what on earth is cultural criticism?" I have to admit, when I came to Cardiff on an open day, I thought the same thing. But after reading the blurb and a tutor telling me what it is about, I decided to sign up. So now I am at Cardiff studying English, Philosophy and Cultural Criticism. In the first year, the course is a double module on the concept of Postmodernity. This is a phrase that many people use, but what does it actually mean to call something postmodern? This is one of the things we have to think about and discuss in seminars. If I choose to continue with the subject next year, I will be able to choose modules such as * Globalisation * Gender and Culture * Art and Culture The best thing about studying C.C. is that the subject is a new one which began in Cardiff. The teachers are all enthusiastic and really inspirational! If people look at me in a strange way when I tell them what I am studying, I don't care! This is what the prospectus says about the subject: "Cultural Criticism is a new subject, available only in Cardiff, which uniquely offers the chance to study the whole range of cultural materials: Hollywood cinema and Renaissance painting, cross-dressing and the history of etiquette, body-piercing and architectural styles". The subject covers a huge range of ideas and includes film, music, books, plays and newspapers. It involves looking at these "cultural objects" and deconstructing them to see what they can tell us about our society. For example, in our very first lecture, the tutor brought out a cornflakes box. We didn't know what was going on but once we got the hang of it, it was great! We saw how the design of the box reflects cultures aspirations of childhood, natural products and health. I never realised you could learn so much from a cornflakes box! You should try it next time you are having your bre
akfast! It goes very well with English or Journalism. You need to have grades ABB to study Cultural Criticism. Cardiff is the only place you can study this subject. At other universities you can do cultural theory, or cultural studies, which may be similar but I couldn't be certain. I have to say I am really enjoying this course as I find it a new challenge. It makes you look at every day objects such as advertisements, or packaging in a totally new way. It's great to study something I actually have an interest in as it makes it so much easier to get stuck into an essay! I intend to continue to study this subject into the second and third years, along with English Literature. I feel it helps me to analyse ideas and concepts, and is also fascinating on its'own. Having only been at uni for 4 weeks (when I originally wrote this opinion), we covered a lot of ground. We watched short films in lectures and analysed TV adverts. This subject is cetainly making me more cynical about advertising. We have to consider what we can know about the past. Think about Hollywood and how they tend to rewrite history in many films by warping the facts. It has been said that "the winners write the history books". Does this mean that everything we know about the past is untrue? This subject is difficult, but well worth taking up. I find that the work I do in cultural criticism often overlaps with the other subjects I am taking. Theories from English literature can be used on the books we study for Cult Crit (the shortened version of the name) as can various Philosophical ideas. It says in the prospectus that Cultural Criticism "borrows theories from philosophy, literature, city and town planning, history, anthropology and the history of art". So there is something for everyone! Even in the first year with the compulsary modules, you still have a certain degree to choice a
s to the areas that you concentrate on. For the essay I am doing over Christmas I have chosen to write about capitalism and the power of the image in advertising. Other people are writing on Pulp Fiction, Barbie or historical paintings! The work is assessed by two essays to be done over the Christmas holidays and an exam at the end of the first year. You have to pass (the current pass rate is 40%)all three subjects in order to progress to the second year. *Do you think a urinal can be seen as a work of art? *How can Pulp Fiction be seen as postmodern? *What does a McDonalds "restaurant" tell us about our society? I thought I would leave you with something to think about! For more information, phone: (029) 2087 4822 or e-mail: email@example.com or if you are *really* interested, go here: www.cardiff.ac.uk/encap Regarding future careers and what this subject may be useful for, I would say that it is similar to any other arts based subject in that * Writing essays, tuning your skills to analyse and produce information * Researching projects, useful in any line of work. * Discussion and debating skills-practised and perfected so you can have a good old argument and make a point clearly. Anyone want to be a politician? As for specific careers in which this subject may be of particular help, I have come up with these: * Museum Curator or Guide * Critic * Journalist * Campaigner