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ECTS: Toward academic crediting system standardization

A radical shift in measuring student workload might soon come into being. In a Help Desk announcement (HDA) released last April 27, the Academics Council moved to bring DLSU’s crediting system closer to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), the standard used by educational institutions in European Union member states. Instead of using in-class hours alone as the basis for calculating workload, the new system would also consider learning and tasks done outside the classroom. 

Vice Chancellor for Academics Dr. Robert Roleda previously revealed details of this plan in a townhall meeting last December 13. The measure entails the adoption of a modified ECTS design to regulate student workload for the academic year.

Proper work

According to “the perspective of the Academics Council”, the alignment toward ECTS is necessary for the University’s programs to conform with international standards, shares College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Dean Dr. Jazmin Llana.

Under the European credit standard, one ECTS credit is equivalent to two hours a week, or roughly 25 to 30 hours of combined classroom and non-classroom learning per semester. Applying the measurement for a full academic year would yield a sum of 60 ECTS credits, which is roughly equivalent to 1,500 to 1,800 hours in total, according to the latest version of the ECTS User’s Guide. 

Comparing the ECTS to the Philippines’ crediting system, Roleda conveys that the latter does not accurately measure how much academic workload is carried beyond the classroom. “[The] conversion is one class [hour] per unit, but we all know that education is actually done not just inside the classroom,” he says. 

Hence, the adoption of ECTS intends to help manage expectations on the amount of academic workload to be accomplished in a particular class. Roleda confirms this, saying, “The faculty will be aware of how much work he or she should expect from the student, and the student, on the other hand, should be able to manage their time.” 

Aside from devising a more accurate benchmark for student workload, Roleda says that the application of the ECTS design in DLSU will allow exchange students to properly transfer credit for academic units taken overseas. The plan is not without precedent too, Roleda shares, with a standardized academic crediting system already adopted for nursing schools around the country—benefitting Filipino nurses working abroad whose “credentials must have equivalencies with educational systems in other countries.” It is expectedly a similar case across different professions, with employers and higher education institutions looking for a consistent metric in evaluating academic standards.

In transition

Roleda discloses, however, that a full conversion to the actual ECTS is not possible, being in conflict with program requirements set by the Commission on Higher Education. The system DLSU will adopt, Roleda explains, needs to be adjusted. 

“We are still figuring out what is the proper conversion when we apply it to the Philippine situation because we cannot just simply adopt the European system,” the VCA admits, pointing out that there are more major courses in the Philippine curriculum compared to other countries. He expounds, “The European system will give us more than 300 credits; that’s already a bachelor and master’s [degree], so obviously we cannot just follow the conversion [system] that we used then, [which] was one unit equals two ECTS credits.”

Instead, he explains that the integration of the ECTS may constitute minor changes in the curriculum as “it will be a matter of adjusting the sequences of courses” to even out workload in a single trimester, thus, allowing the total units to remain the same as what each degree program has at present.

Affirming Roleda’s statement, Llana mentions that they are assessing different programs across the college for equivalent ECTS units. “We are exploring more ways to reckon workload, and the contact and non-contact hours,” she says.

The CLA head shares that the process of determining the actual workload of students has been difficult, as different courses have varying learning outcomes. Nonetheless, she assures that the CLA Office of the Dean is open to feedback on how to improve teaching and learning in a particular course to better align it to ECTS measures.

A new learning policy

The planned adoption of the new system, however, was disrupted with the suspension of classes because of the COVID-19 health crisis, leaving the ECTS proposal back on the table. 

“We never were able to tackle the [ECTS’ final approval]; we have to push everything aside and deal with the emergency that we have,” Roleda shares. 

However, an HDA dated April 27 detailed that, effective Term 3, one unit for a lecture class will be equivalent to 2.5 hours of total student workload; this means a three-unit course will comprise 7.5 hours per week to account for in-class and outside-of-class activities, instead of measuring only the three in-class hours a week. 

“We really had to put this in place to ensure that the students are not overworked,” Roleda shares. According to the HDA, the new policy seeks to help students manage their workload and recognize the reality of contact and non-contact learning activities.

The vice chancellor assures that the recent learning scheme remains aligned with the ECTS’ design as both classroom and non-classroom workload are now factored in determining credits.

“It’s really a matter of setting a standard, taking into account both, in this time, synchronous and asynchronous activities,” Roleda reasons. “Moving on toward an ECTS system that will be acknowledged by other universities abroad will now be very easy because we now have put in the major part—which is the workload.”

With student exchange programs on hold due to travel restrictions, however,  Roleda relents that the aspect of ensuring proper course crediting abroad is the least of DLSU’s current priorities. “What is more important really for us is [to use ECTS] to be able to regulate the workload for each class,” he expresses.

Adding that the new system can help faculty members better monitor non-classroom activities, Llana emphasizes, “With the contact and non-contact hours, we are able to see how learning happens, how learning should be directed [and] guided—both the times the students are in the classroom [and] the times they are not in the classroom.”

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