|Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]
Graduate Attributes Projects: A focus for grass roots change in teaching and learning practicesMichele Scoufis
Teaching and Learning Coordinator
University of Western Sydney, Nepean
With Senior Management support, the Core Graduate Attributes Project at UWS Nepean has provided a pathway for grass roots involvement in changing teaching and learning practices in order to support the development of graduate attributes through the curricula.
The model underlying the Project at Nepean brings academics and professionals within the University together in developing integrated discipline contextualised strategies for the development of these lifelong skills and attributes.
Ownership and collaboration amongst University staff and students is supported by a Staff Development model that is pragmatic yet founded on current teaching/learning research. Issues that impact on the effectiveness of the Project have emerged that appear to cover concerns expressed within similar Graduate Attributes projects at other universities.
Issues to trigger discussion
It is hoped that participants will share their own experiences of similar projects and the ways issues such as those noted above, have been resolved.
Students, employers and government bodies expect that undergraduate university degrees will equip students, not only with the specific knowledge, skills and attributes of their field, but also with the professional and personal attributes relevant to their field of study. Across Australian, English and American universities, projects to integrate the development of graduate or 'professional' attributes into the undergraduate curricula, have been initiated, see for example [http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/ATN/ & http://cedir.uow.edu.au/programs/literacies/gswp].
These projects generally acknowledge that the development of graduate attributes needs to be contextualised within the specific fields of study since "knowledge is fundamentally situated" (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1998, De la Harpe, Wyber, Radloff and McKenna, 1999, p.3). It is also recognised that professional attributes are progressively developed over time and "thus professional skills should permeate the whole curriculum rather than be isolated in a single or specialised course, avoiding the 'one-shot' or inoculation model of teaching" (De la Harpe, Wyber, Radloff and McKenna, 1999, p.3).
At the University of Western Sydney, Nepean, a systematic model has been developed to support the integration into the curriculum of the Core Graduate Attributes (defined as disciplinary knowledge, critical analysis and problem solving skills, Boyer's scholarships of discovery, integration and transmission of knowledge, interdisciplinary knowledge base, written and oral communication skills, computer literacy, civic responsibility, multicultural sensitivity, ethical awareness and conduct, independent initiative and self confidence and effective team skills). The Graduate Attributes Project at Nepean covers three areas - Information Literacy (defined as the abilities involved in recognising what information is needed in order to locate, evaluate, effectively use and communicate information in its various formats), the other Core Graduate Attributes which are being defined in the context of specific fields of study and Basic Computer Skills (including basic wordprocessing, e-mail, spreadsheets and web navigation [http://www.nepean.uws.edu.au/ students/coreprogram/attributes.html]. Progress to date on the integration of the development of Information Literacy and the other Core Graduate Attributes into the undergraduate curriculum is shown in Diagram 1 below.
UWS Senate and UWS Nepean Academic Board endorsed the Core
Graduate Attributes Project as reflected in Nepean's Academic Plan
Core Graduate Attributes Project Task Group
Established with membership drawn from Academics from a number of Schools, the Library, The Learning Centre and the Centre for Academic Development and Flexible Learning (CADFL), (Michele Scoufis CADFL, Task Group Leader).
Integration of Core Graduate Attributes into the Undergraduate Curricula
(defined as basic wordprocessing, email, web, database and spreadsheet skills)
(defined as the abilities involved in recognising when and what information is needed in order to locate, evaluate, effectively use and communicate information in its various formats)
In this wider project, the student's development and demonstration of the Core Graduate Attributes is supported through a systematic peer monitoring program and the Nepean Portfolio (which provides students with a means to document their skills and experiences, including evidence of the Core Graduate Attributes).
Task Groups, within each School, are contextualising the Core Graduate Attributes with the support of the Project Leader. To achieve this end, task groups are relating the attributes to the qualities valued in graduates in their field (for example in Nursing, the attributes have been linked to the Australian Nursing Council Competency Standards for Registered Nurses) and/or to concerns that academics express about students in their field (eg lack of communication and team skills in Science) - see Table 1.
|Employment Relations and Work||Science||Civic|
|Interdisciplinary knowledge base|
|Written communication skills|
|Oral communication skills|
|Sensitivity to multicultural issues|
|Awareness of ethical issues and conduct|
|Independent initiative and self confidence|
|Group team skills|
|Basic computer skills|
The support and involvement of the Library, The Learning Centre and the Centre for Academic Development and Flexible Learning (CADFL), has been encouraged through a Project Management Task Group that includes academic and support services representatives. In partnership, the support services and academics are exploring ways that each group can assist in the integrated teaching, learning and assessment of these attributes within the undergraduate curriculum. This is illustrated in relation to the integrated development of Information Literacy Skills (see Appendix 1 - 'Helping Students to Develop Information Literacy Skills'). Whilst drawing on the literature in the field of Information Literacy (see, for example, Bruce, 1997, Radomski, 1999, Leckie and Fullerton, 1999, http://www.fit.qut.edu.au/InfoSys/bruce/inflit/prompts.html, http://www.library.unisa.edu.au/infolit/ and http://cedir.uow.edu.au/programs/literacies/information/), this document was developed from ideas and strategies provided by Academics, Librarians, The Learning Centre and CADFL staff.
Ownership, of the Project, by students is being facilitated by making explicit reference to the Graduate Attributes in subject learning outcomes, subject content and assessment criteria. By this means students are alerted to the expectation that they too must take responsibility for the development of these attributes.
The importance of providing support for academics in the process of integrating the graduate attributes into their curricula, cannot be overstated. Academics face time constraints, large student numbers and reward systems that value research, not teaching. Significantly, many academics may feel uncertain about their own competence in some areas of the Graduate Attributes. This concern was expressed in the Information Literacy Audit of first year subject coordinators and lecturers. The audit was designed to ascertain the specific Information Literacy needs of first year students (one component of the Core Graduate Attributes Project) in the specific fields of study and the forms of support that would assist academics in working with the Library and The Learning Centre, to assist their students to develop these skills. Similar concerns from academics about their real or perceived lack of competency have been noted by the Wollongong Graduate Attributes Working Party [ http://www.uow.edu.au/student/attributes.html].
Thus a significant objective of the Nepean Core Graduate Attributes Project has been to assist Academics to help their students develop these Attributes and, in so doing, to further develop these attributes themselves. This is being achieved by helping academics to deconstruct what is entailed by particular Attributes in their field of study and by sharing models and approaches for their development being used within the University and elsewhere. These models and approaches are being made available on the web and in hard copy form. Attention has been taken to ensure that these approaches provide educationally sound yet pragmatic responses to issues affecting academics today, such as large student numbers. Particular emphasis has been placed on finding examples from academic peers that model greater use of peer and collaborative learning, increased feedback mechanisms, greater use of explicitly defined learning outcome expectations and more student centred participative learning approaches.
The model of staff development that underpins the project is pragmatic and responsive to the immediate needs and issues faced by academics whilst being founded on sound teaching/learning principles and philosophy. As advocated by Prosser and Trigwell (1999), it is a collaborative, collegial approach to staff development, rather than a prescriptive one. The approach to Staff Development that is implicit in the model, acknowledges "that staff development should be informed by a sense of community" and seen to be "responsive to the special nature of the academic culture and its changing demands "and is responsive to the needs of individuals and groups at all levels" (Brew, 1995, pp.15-16).
Effective staff development is critical to the success of this project as a major shift in teaching learning practices from a teaching-centred and content-focused transmission model of teaching and learning to a student-centred and process-focused constructivist model of teaching and learning is necessitated (Boulton-Lewis, 1998 and Kember, 1998). Such a shift in the role of the academic from that of content expert to facilitator of learning, requires significant changes to other curricula to support the development of these Attributes at a time when academics are under considerable pressure. The sharing amongst Nepean academics of strategies to achieve these ends is one way by which such changes in teaching practices are being supported.
The Project has resulted in wider engagement by academics in teaching learning issues than might normally have occurred and is supporting an environment where "interest in teaching is nurtured and where solving educational problems collaboratively is nurtured" (Ramsden, 1999).
Nevertheless, there are important issues emerging that impact on the effectiveness of the Project and reflect concerns expressed elsewhere.
The process of contextualising the Graduate Attributes is not always straight forward, and Attributes such as communication skills, team work, computing skills and information literacy attributes are more easily contextualised, developed and assessed than areas such as ethical and multicultural awareness and conduct. Further, the process has been more difficult in new courses such as Civic Ecology where there is still discussion about course philosophy and outcomes. A concern has also been expressed that the contextualisation and integration of the Graduate Attributes into the curricula has also led to an overemphasis on the development of "professional" attributes to the neglect of "pure academic content".
A further potential barrier to the successful changing of teaching/learning practices associated with the Project, is the need to engage all academics in the process. Helping part-time and casual academics to vary their approach to reflect this change in teaching/learning, remains an important issue since they are often primarily responsible for first year teaching.
Other unresolved issues include the need to progressively integrate the development of the Attributes beyond first year subjects. This is an issue that is still being considered. Finally, the ways in which students can ultimately demonstrate these Attributes on graduation requires further investigation.
Irrespective of the concerns expressed above, the Core Graduate Attributes Project at UWS Nepean has provided a focus for collaborative partnerships and a concern for the central Educational Role of the University which may not have occurred otherwise.
Boulton-Lewis, G. (1998). Applying the SOLO taxonomy to learning in higher education. In Dart, B. and Boulton-Lewis, G. (Eds.), Teaching and learning in higher education (pp. 201-221) Camberwell, Victoria, ACER Press.
Brew, A. (1995). Directions in Staff Development. London, Open University Press.
Brown, J.S., Collins, A. and Duguid, P. (1998). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Report No. IRL88-008. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED342357.
Bruce, C. (1997). The Seven faces of Information Literacy. Adelaide, AUSLIB Press.
De la Harpe, B., Wyber, J., Radloff, A. and McKenna, K. (1999). Quality and generic(professional) skills. Curtin University, Western Australia, unpublished paper.
De la Harpe, B., Radloff, A. and Wyber, J. (1999). What professional skills mean for different disciplines in a business school? Lessons learned from integrating professional skills across the curriculum . 7th ISL Symposium, York, September, 1999.
Iannuzzi, P. (1999). Information Literacy Competency Standards in the United States. In Concept Challenge and Conundrum: From Library Skills to Information Literacy, 4th National Information Literacy Conference, University of South Australia, Adelaide, December 5, 1999.
Kember, D. (1998). Teaching beliefs and their impact on students' approach to learning. In Dart, B. and Boulton-Lewis, G. (Eds.), Teaching and learning in higher education (pp.1-25). Camberwell, Victoria, ACER Press.
Leckie, G. and Fullerton, A. (1999). Information Literacy in Science and Engineering Undergraduate Education: Faculty Attitudes and Pedagogical Practices. College and Research Libraries, p.9-29.
Markless, S., Streetfield, D. and Baker, L. (1992). Cultivating information skills in further education.
Prosser, B. and Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding learning and teaching, Buckingham, SRHE and Open University Press.
Radomski, N. (1999). Implementing Information Literacy : Themes, Issues and Future Directions. Ballarat, University of Ballarat.
Information Literacy Task Group
This booklet is a living document. Your suggestions for further development are much appreciated. [Email Michele Scoufis "email@example.com"]
|Skill||Some ideas for support from the Library, The Learning Centre and CADFL, using discipline specific subject matter where relevant||Some possible teaching and assessment strategies|
|A - Developing effective search strategies
|B - Locating and retrieving information sources relevant to the field of study
|C - Analysing and critically evaluating information
eg web sites
|D - Organises and synthesises information
|E - Using information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
|F - Accesses and uses information ethically and legally
|Please cite as: Scoufis, M. (2000). Graduate Attributes Projects: A focus for grass roots change in teaching and learning practices. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/scoufis.html|