The discipline of biological science encompasses the long standing fields such as zoology, botany and anatomy, along with the more recently defined fields of biochemistry, ecology, genetics, developmental biology and others. Students often take highly general first year programs, later branching into more specialised sub fields. As the number of undergraduate students attracted to science declined steadily in the last decade, there has been a growing concern regarding the qualifications and capacity of teachers, and that of curricula to effectively prepare and enthuse young people for careers in the sciences (Harris et al., 2005). The purpose of this project was to develop and strategically disseminate resources designed to enhance the assessment of learning in the biological sciences in Australian universities. The project involved fieldwork on assessment issues, and studies of current approaches and best practice in eight Australian universities.
Good Practice Resources
Read more about how these resources have been identified.
Designing a diverse, future-orientated vision for undergraduate psychology in Australia
This impressive resource, developed following extensive consultations with key stakeholders, presents a comprehensive list of key attributes psychology students can develop during their undergraduate studies. By extending the principles of the scientist-practitioner model, there is no doubt that it will become a valuable research-led resource for both students and teachers of psychology.
This resource clearly delineates what will be learned, how it will be learned, what the learning outcomes will be, and how these apply in both the traditional psychology laboratory and in real world settings. This juxtaposition of laboratory and real world learning applications provides added value by challenging students to think more widely. In doing so, it enhances the identity of psychology. Accordingly, the resource is also relevant to students and teachers in Psychiatry and the allied health disciplines.
It may be necessary, however, to make explicit the academic background required for using this resource. For example, it may be essential to flag that empirical skills are a pre-requisite given that Research Methods in Psychology (Attribute 2) are traditionally quantitative. That undergraduate students are becoming interested in qualitative research approaches raises the question of why this is not included in Attribute 2. This is even more questionable given the learning outcome of describing and applying the different research methods used by psychologists and demonstrating practical skills in laboratory-based and other psychological research.
The theoretical orientation and attributes reflect the resource's orientation to a specific cohort of students, which in this discipline is not necessarily a bad thing.
Enhancing Communication and Life Skills in Veterinary Students: Curriculum Development and Assessment of Methods
This 25-page report details how the project team developed communication skills resources for those who teach professional skills modules for veterinary students. If you are teaching veterinary students, either as a core lecturer or someone contributing to a module on professional skills, the Workbook that this team produced will be of the most help, and this report can give you additional confidence in using it. The core team, who are from three universities, make a compelling case in this report for the value of the material to veterinary students. It is evident that the authors have engaged someone who has a strong understanding of human communication and how to cultivate empathy with a client. There is discussion of the theory of emotional intelligence and similar factors that one must understand to address deficits in student training that the report identifies in the literature and in surveys of students. It is interesting to read about what their surveys found to be challenging in client consultations by male students but not as challenging by female students, and vice versa. Evidence is provided documenting the impact of the learning activities developed in this project on students, and that should provide you with confidence and rationale for employing these materials, as alluded to above. If you are not teaching veterinary students, and you are a lateral thinker, you could read into the efforts documented here how to create materials for your own discipline. I was considering how useful some of the insights provided could be in creating teaching strategies to use with students in engineering, for example. If you would like to understand the study results in depth, it would be handy to have a communication specialist to consult. Note that not everything in this report will prove to be useful. There is a collection of research outcomes and theoretical justifications that could be handy as background information, but they are not essential for employing the actual teaching materials, which are in the Workbook.
Enhancing the assessment in the Biological Sciences
Teachers need to clearly explain assessment requirements and strategies pertinent to their courses within any discipline area. This excellent resource provokes academics firstly, to reflect upon and question what current methods they use to assess students, and secondly, whether they utilise recognised, up-to-date, principles of effective assessment. For early career academics and academics reviewing the curriculum design and content of their teaching courses this resource provides extensive examples of assessment strategies written by academic staff from across Australia (and supported by students’ feedback). Examples provided can be easily downloaded in PDF format, and provide contact details for academics to network with colleagues and share innovative assessment practices. Whilst the resource is complete in itself, there is an open invitation to all academics, students and stakeholders to contribute. For example, new academic users can easily download a template and submit their own assessment method to UniServe Science to share with colleagues. This opportunity permits all users to continually update and add content and ideas to the database and disseminate content to the wider academic community that will maintain the sustainability of the resource over an extended period of time. Professional accreditation bodies and stakeholders can clearly view assessment practices and even provide direct feedback. This resource is most informative for undergraduate students studying subject areas in the biological sciences. Students gain better performances in assessments if they clearly understand why and how they are being assessed. Clear explanations of principles of assessments, the types of assessment students need to confront and, the purposes of employing these modes of assessments, provide the student with a better understanding of assessment processes. As a likely consequence, the student may more effectively achieve learning tasks and desired learning outcomes. Being very user friendly it is easy to navigate to the various components of content. Each link can be easily opened and content downloaded and the search link is effective. ‘Biological science’ is used in its broadest sense and so one wonders if biological science should be replaced by ‘life sciences’ – particularly as the content is likely to expand greatly as more users contribute.
Ensuring quality graduates of pharmacology: Final Investigation Report
This project report addresses the important issue of the consistency and quality of Pharmacology teaching across institutions in Australia. It is, in effect, a comprehensive scoping exercise carried out in 2008. Importantly, it draws on information from students, academics and industry stakeholders. The project also involved a number of workshops integrated with the pharmacological society interest groups. The data obtained provides for a strong foundation for future curriculum development. Another important outcome is the formation of an education network within the discipline to provide a platform for ongoing curriculum renewal.
This is a well-written, clearly presented stand-alone resource that is an excellent exemplar of how such scoping activities should be conducted. The survey covers different cohorts of students in the science and health sciences area who have to learn pharmacological principles. The survey instrument is appended to the report and, as such, provides a very useful template for others to adapt. It would be of significant use and interest to a broad range of other discipline-based initiatives that are planning such a comprehensive benchmarking exercise. In particular, this report would be of considerable value to other disciplines who engage in service teaching of standard content to diverse student cohorts.
One of the more interesting findings relate to the data around the student's preferred teaching/learning methods. This information has implications that may well extend beyond the health sciences. Future developments from this project should be accessible through the newly-formed Australian Pharmacology and Therapeutics Education Network (APTEN).
Facilitating the integration of evidence based practice into speech pathology curricula: a scoping study to examine the congruence between academic curricula and work based needs
This resource profiles two surveys that sought to elicit the views of a representative sample of academic staff and clinical educators in regards to the integration and application of evidence based practice (EBP) in speech pathology education. The gaps and challenges of incorporating EBP into curricula and clinical education and clearly discussed. The survey was undertaken in 2009 as a component of a project funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council.
The resource, while focused on speech pathology education, will have broader application for a range of health professions where the challenge of integrating EBP into academic and clinical education is a perennial problem. The results of the survey, while not particularly surprising, are illuminative and identify some of the key issues that educators face in creating a culture where EBP is integral to contemporary practice rather than simply another academic 'subject'.
This resource can be accessed as a pdf document as part of the full report of the ALTC project. The full report also provides an interesting contextual discussion of the issues surrounding speech pathology education and EBP.
The strengths, challenges and recommendations sections of this resource will be valuable to those involved in health professional education.
The resource is succinct (14 pages) and written in plain English. Some of the tables included in the report, although relevant, will take some time to interpret.
The authors correctly identify the limitations of the approach taken in this study, ie potentially valuable student perspectives were not sought, and the surveys were based on self-report rather than observational/behavioural measures. The resource also mentions observation of four case studies but provides only limited discussion or analysis of this aspect of the study. However, the complete case studies are available as part of the full ALTC report, as are the surveys.
Forging new directions in physics education in Australian Universities
The website consists mainly of components of the final project report and some derived resources that address three priorities: service teaching, laboratory work and employment of physics graduates. These form the three strands of the project.
The report on a survey of service teaching identifies three models of service teaching and outlines differences between student expectations and experiences of service-taught units. The survey found that students' experiences are significantly at variance with their expectations. The outcomes provide very strong evidence that university service teaching physics needs to be examined and reformed. Examples of units where students' experiences matched their expectations are described in Appendix 3 of the final report.
There is also a self-efficacy survey which would be of use in unit reviews.
The strand on laboratory work for physics students consists mostly of reports on workshop meetings, from which many issues were raised but few solutions proposed. The most tangible and immediate outcome of this strand is the depository of physics higher year laboratory experiments in use in Australian universities. This resource provides experiment titles, brief outline and the contact details of their designers/authors. It could prove very valuable in the sharing of and, if engaged with critically, improving of laboratory work.
The report on graduates in the workforce outlines graduates' employment types and graduates' preparedness for work in terms of knowledge and generic attributes. The report will be of interest to physics program managers. A separate document, outlining employment destinations of physics graduates, could be used to motivate or inform potential or current physics students.
Graduate attributes statements database
This resource forms part of a larger collection. It is recommended that readers refer also to:
This is one of the outcomes of the National GAP (Graduate Attributes Project), a national scoping study of Australian universities' recent activities in relation to the development of graduate attributes. It is an aggregation of de-identified university graduate attributes statements, gathered in 2007-08. The statements were sorted into groups describing similar graduate attributes. They are presented as 'Enabling' level attributes (broader dispositions: scholarship, global citizenship, life-long learning) and 'Translation' level (more discrete, discipline-specific attributes: research and enquiry; information literacy; personal and intellectual autonomy; ethical, social and professional understanding and communication).
The boundaries between categories are artificial and some relate to more than one category.
This web resource includes a clickable visual map showing these eight subcategories. Links take the user to an aggregation of university statements of attributes -- for example, when universities include an attribute related to critical thinking, here are examples of how they phrase that statement. Even though these were gathered in 2007-08, they are unlikely to date -- the database shows the similarities and differences in statements.
This is a useful resource for those considering reviewing their attributes. It also shows the broad emphases in attributes across the sector.
Historical thinking in higher education
This is a well-researched, lucidly and frank report on the similarities and contrasts in attitudes between academics and students involved in university-level study of history. It is a most valuable report and deserves wide discussion among staff and students about the 'why' and 'how' of historical study.
In general, it highlights (although does not identify) the contrasts between academics who would like all students to be like those they eventually teach in Honours, and the majority of students who simple find history 'interesting'. Few students understand an undergraduate 'major' in history as more than a collection of subjects chosen from interest.
The report highlights the importance of the sharing of good practice. It does not provide practical examples of how better to engage students, particularly in introducing them to research methodologies, but has an extensive bibliography.
There are perplexing contrasts revealed between student responses at different universities, suggesting that heads of departments should find this a most useful starting-point for curriculum discussion. This is all the more important because of the worrying evidence adduced that some academics respond to student 'disengagement' by expressing despair about current student and cultural behaviours rather than by seeking innovative ways to re-engage students with sustained historical study.
The report suggests that individual heads of history programs should take the initiative in working with professional bodies to make improvements. For the recommendations to be more effective, those bodies (particularly the Australian Historical Association) should also be responsible for ensuring that this happens: they were established to provide national leadership.
Learning and Teaching Guide: A handbook to support institutions in implementing programs for assisting the development of communication and life skills in veterinary students
This 80-page handbook provides seven lesson plans, four assessment tools, fifteen supporting materials such as marking rubrics, and a bibliography to support training in communication for veterinary care. The handbook enables a lecturer to teach skills and insights into empathy – essentially emotional intelligence – for professional veterinary practice, with particular attention to the owner-pet bond.
Teaching a professional skills module for veterinary students? This handbook is meant for you. If you are trying to teach professional skills in any field, such as engineering, this handbook can reveal useful insights, though the examples provided will not be directly applicable.
The handbook’s lesson plans are presented succinctly. They include a one-paragraph review of the literature to justify the need for the lesson as well as a list of steps required to complete the activity. Detailed resources may be found at the back of the handbook. This format keeps the lesson plan to a single page, presenting it as an outline to help selection and stimulate thought.
The lesson plans are not provided with an estimate of how long each activity can take. Nor are there strategies for demonstrating to colleagues why one should include each lesson in the curriculum, though one can follow up with the project principals for these insights.
It will take some effort to integrate these communication activities into science-based subjects, for those who have insufficient ‘space’ in their professional skills modules, or who indeed have no such module. That said, the teaching strategies are well conceived, with lots of student group discussion and background theory to help the lecturer to understand, and relay to the students, key aspects of the nature of humans and their pets.
Those who are familiar with facilitating discussions will find adopting these materials to be easier than those who lack such experience. If you are not yet comfortable with facilitative teaching, then you might want to have a colleague who specialises in communication at your side during development and implementation of lessons (e.g., someone from psychology or doctor-patient communication training). Note that some exercises call for people to role-play clients; so check on resources needed before launching into an element of this curriculum. The bottom line – good stuff, but you may need a coach by your side (or on the phone).
Managing educational change in the ICT discipline at the tertiary education level: Final Report
This is an outstanding, comprehensive analysis of the state of tertiary ICT education in Australia, including the need for some change and how this should be approached. The report includes extensive survey data from the perspectives of academic staff, recent graduates and (to a lesser extent) employers of ICT graduates. It is noteworthy that these surveys have been conducted across a very representative component of the Australian sector, giving confidence about the broad relevance of the findings.
The report is a "must read" for anyone undertaking a serious review of their ICT curriculum or teaching, and indeed is worth the attention of anyone seeking a good example of such a review, irrespective of discipline. It is particularly illuminating to observe the alignment, of lack thereof, between what is taught at University and what students require in the workforce. Of course, there is an ongoing debate about how tightly Universities should aim for work-ready graduates, but the data in this report from recent ICT graduates are relevant to all tertiary programs in this area.
The report is lengthy, with a wealth of (quantitative and qualitative) data and substantial data analysis. There are nine recommendations, of which three focus on the ICT sector and its perceptions by stakeholders, and six address aspects of the curriculum and teaching; these latter recommendations are most relevant for discipline standards. The report is beautifully written and well-organised, and argues its case convincingly. The reader will benefit from either a short reading or a comprehensive analysis.
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