More thoughts on planning for graduate success.


At the recent ACEN workshop at the University of Technology Sydney, Simon Barrie spoke about designing programmes for student work integrated learning. Barrie is currently based at the University of Sydney and has undertaken a significant research project on graduate profiles in higher education.  Barrie suggests a need for various stakeholders in higher education to recognise the inherent complexity of designing for graduate success.  He identifies the enormous potential for learners, teachers and society, from more meaningful engagement with approaches to community engaged learning and teaching.

Can higher education be a tool for social change?

Barrie thinks higher education can lead students out of poverty and disadvantage.  While he sees the role of higher education to train students for career success and contribution to the economy and society, Barrie places a high emphasis on education for graduate contribution.

So how do we in higher education design programmes and courses that bring about social change?

Barrie looks to the concept of “constructive alignment”, as the key ingredient in the planning and design phases in programmes and courses of study. 

Constructive Alignment (Biggs, 1999) is a fundamental principle for course design in higher education. It is the underpinning concept of the current use of Learning Outcomes and assessment criteria, and indeed programme specifications. It is concerned with the alignment of learning outcomes for a course or module set by the teacher, the student learning required to achieve these, and Assessment of the student activities to demonstrate the degree to which the outcomes have been achieved. Therefore the starting point is the curriculum and what needs to be learned, and the focus is on what the students will do, how teaching can support their learning, and how this learning can be demonstrated and assessed.

Central to Barrie’s ideas is the continous measurement of student achievement to evaluate the success of the constructive alignment process. In order to be able to measure student achievement, teachers will require increased intellectual engagement around the knowledge, skills and personal attributes students will need in order to become economic and societal contributors.  In order to increase intellectual engagement, teachers will need collaborative skills in identifying, evaluating, designing and managing knowledge, skills and attributes.  He encourages teachers to consider how to design programmes and courses which encourage students and graduates to think like a contributor.   He believes students should become contributors to not only their profession, career or trade but their community.  Equally teachers need to practice contribution to their profession, discipline and communities.

Barrie has identified some key skills which should be scaffolded into students’ programmes of study. Firstly, the ability to identify, assess and manage risk.  Secondly, the ability to perform in open ended and unfamiliar situations, and thirdly, the ability to competently collaborate with others in a variety of contexts.  Again these are equally important skills for teachers.

Barrie suggests higher education management resource staff for increased collaboration, and provide a range of collaborative tools, expectations, performance measurements and rewards.  Quick to identify the range of online tools which encourage collaboration, he identifies an urgent need for staff learning and development to collaborate online.  Barrie would like to see increase teacher engagement with curriculum particularly graduate profiles.  These need to be regularly evaluated by key stakeholders, such students, graduates, community, business, industry and the professions.  The feedback needs to be measured against evidence of student success.

For teachers and teaching teams, collaboration and curriculum are top priorities. 


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