Lean Practitioner – Streamlining the External Credit Application for Graduate Research Students

By Jennifer Sullivan, UCD  Graduate Studies

Credit for External Learning is Concurrent credit for modules/courses/learning that graduate research students complete outside of UCD during their programme. (See Section 2.4 of the revised Recognition of Prior and Concurrent Learning Policy.)

Why did we need a project on this?

I joined the UCD Graduate Studies-Graduate Research Board Support Team in June 2020 while working entirely remotely due to Covid-19. The Graduate Research Board (GRB) came into operation in September 2020. The remote working environment increased the need for clear resources for Schools about the new Board. Our team created several online guides for Schools during 2020. However, there was not yet one for External (Concurrent) Credit. At the time, External Credit was not explicitly addressed in a policy.

We observed a significant turnaround time on some applications. There was also a lack of clarity on appropriate supporting documentation. Schools had requested a set of guidelines on External Credit as well as a form for External Credit that their graduate research students could use. 

Finally, the revised Recognition of Prior and Concurrent Learning Policy would come into effect in September 2021. External Credit falls under this Policy as Concurrent Learning.

I attended Lean Practitioner training in March 2021. Have you been to a workshop where you get valuable feedback and get to meet other colleagues who are doing very relevant work? Well, this was my experience. Olga had the ability to sum up where I needed to focus into a single word, “delay”.

Why were delays happening in the External Credit application process? What could we do about it?

Following the training in March 2021, I drew up a Process Flow Map, using ‘swim lanes’, for the existing External Credit application process.

In April 2021, my colleagues and I on the GRB Support Team worked on the “Fishbone” Diagram. My colleagues identified that it would be helpful if there was clearer information on the difference between External Credit (Concurrent Learning) and General Credit (Prior Learning).

The Root Cause Table to describe the solution led to:

●      A Checklist for Schools on External Credit from the start to the finish of the application process

●      An Interim Form for students to fill in 

●      A Guide for Schools on the Recognition of Prior and Concurrent (External) Learning, for submissions to the GRB, for graduate research students

●      Requests for minor changes to the wording of the InfoHub External Credit and General Credit Tasks. UCD Students Records were very helpful in promptly making these changes.

The entire UCD Graduate Studies team gave feedback on the new resources before we brought them to the GRB in April 2021.

In early May, I approached Olga for feedback as I was coming to the end of the project. Olga identified the need for “before” and “after” figures. This enabled me to:

●      Create a graph of the number of External Credit applications that were not straightforward to process between September 2020 and April 2021

●      Send out a short survey to Schools on the new Checklist, Form and Guide

●      Make projections about the positive impact the new resources would have.

The Checklist and Form are available on the UCD Graduate Studies Document Repository. The Guide is available on the GRB Intranet.

There have been fewer delayed and complex External Credit Applications since we made the new resources available. Will these improvements continue in 2021/22? We will keep monitoring this and update our resources if we need to.

The Lean Practitioner project has helped me to improve my individual skills: Lean Six Sigma techniques, Adobe InDesign, Adobe and Word fillable forms, R software for graphs/charts.

Lean Practitioner also gave me the opportunity to work with others who shared their knowledge and feedback generously with me: Olga Murdoch-UCD Agile, my Manager, GRB Support Team Colleagues, entire UCD Graduate Studies Team, Graduate Research Board, various UCD Schools, UCD Student Records, Martin Hurley-UCD Admissions, colleagues in University Secretariat. I particularly valued this.

I would fully recommend Lean Practitioner to others.

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