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‘Key Skills Online’ – Intranet Support for Students reviewed


'Key Skills Online' - Intranet Support for Students
Authors: Edited by Sue Drew and Louise Thorpe
Publisher: Gower Publishing
Year: 2000
Price: varies from £400 to £750 depending on the size of the Institution
Format: CDROM

The resource

My interest in reviewing this particular resource sprang from a requirement of my current job to identify an initial assessment (IA) tool for use by Approved Suppliers contracted to Lincolnshire Training and Enterprise Council. Key Skills are now a well embedded part of Modern Apprenticeship programmes, which are becoming the main strand of delivery in Work Based Training, as well as figuring more and more prominently in other strands of learning such as A levels and HE courses – hence the need for accurate and easy to use IA materials.

For those new to Key Skills, the QCA units cover Communication, IT, Application of Number, Working with Others, Improving Own Learning and Problem Solving. A glance at the screen confirms that these topics are well covered and other topics, such as Career Management are also included. Communication is particularly well covered, being split into written, oral and visual aspects.

The resource, in fact, goes far beyond being an assessment tool. Envisage a pyramid that starts at the top by getting the student to think about different aspects of Key Skills as applied to their course, their career and a job. As you move down through the layers of the pyramid, you will encounter skill checks and then beyond that, a detailed breakdown of the skill area that clearly reflects the make up of the old (Pre KS2000) units. Within these layers, there is also learning material and worked examples which can be accessed on screen, as well as references to further resources such as books, videos etc.

As an example of the detail to which the section on Application of Number goes, the section devoted to decimals runs to 7 pages of A4 when printed, with topics such as rounding up and down and significant figures dealt with from basics and in fine detail in the examples; so this resource is not just about assessment, it is an excellent open learning resource as well.

I tested the section on decimals with 2 colleagues, the first one, an English Literature graduate with an innate wariness of anything mathematical, commented that she liked the layout – it made the text easy to read and digest, not too crowded – and that it did make the explanations clearly in a step by step process. She suggested that one or two more examples may be useful.

My second guinea pig was one of our Administration staff who achieved a CSE ‘a few years ago’ and who would not normally be expected to deal with numbers a part of her job – much less decimals. She said that the explanations were clear and made things easy to understand – she now understood things that school had failed to teach her.

From my own point of view as the TEC Key Skills ‘expert’, I thought the content clear and easy to understand – and far more detailed than is common on a website, where, very often, subjects are ‘skimmed’ at the expense of essential detail.


Once into the resource, the active screen you are working on has its own tool bar with icons that perform the following :- Back, Forward, Home, Parent (the next layer ‘up the pyramid’) and Theme – the skill area. This makes moving around very easy but sometimes quite slow – but I guess this would be affected by the PC being used. At top left there are icons to ‘Expand/contract’ (the contents list, ‘Exit’, ‘Print’, ‘Open’, ‘Scratchpad’,
‘Help’,and ‘Search Engine’. A very useful feature is the scratchpad, which requires a disc to be in the ‘A’ drive of your machine, but which is then available whenever you need it by clicking on the ‘scratchpad’ icon at the top of the screen. The scratchpad then pops up as a separate window with it’s own ‘Help’, ‘Save’ and ‘Close’ buttons.

Initial Assessment (IA)

As I mentioned earlier in this review, this was the feature that drew my interest in the first place. In the introduction, it is stated that the content is aligned to levels 2/3 of the QCA Key Skills (KS) units, these being the levels in most Modern Apprenticeship frameworks. The IA part of the resource consists of a number of questions framed thus :- ‘Do you need to’ and then a number of examples clearly based on the KS units performance criteria. It then goes on to ask about how the student feels about certain aspects of number application.

Right up front before all this, there is a statement that openly declares that the assessment relies on the students honesty and that it is for their information only, to guide them towards how they might improve their knowledge by concentrating on particular areas. I believe that there is an inherent weakness here, as the system relies on the student being truly aware of their own shortcomings and gaps in knowledge.

I am reminded of something described as the Competency Spiral, that says at the lowest level of the spiral, a person may not only be ignorant, but blissfully unaware of that ignorance – ‘Unconscious incompetence’. To use this assessment tool accurately, the student needs to be at the next level up – ‘Conscious incompetence’ – where they are truly aware of their shortcomings. In any area of the various skills where a person is ‘Unconsciously incompetent’, an inaccurate assessment will result. If an assessment tool can test knowledge at various levels, something that can be done with Key Skills, then that method can accurately identify the skill level that the student is at. A comparison with desired learning outcomes can then identify the gap to be closed by teaching or training – but we must know the starting point.


Overall, this is an excellent resource – its strength lies in the detail and style of the learning material. Provided the potential weakness in the assessment section is acknowledged and dealt with, and it may well be quite suitable for undergraduate or A level students, this is after all, a resource from University website, then this could contribute a great deal to learning and progression across a wide range of skills – certainly a valuable asset to the Sheffield Hallam website.

'Key Skills Online' was reviewed by Pete Laws MCIPD, Training & Development Advisor, Lincolnshire Training and Enterprise Council.


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