Simon Barrie

  • Locating generic graduate attributes in the Australian university curriculum: taught? mapped? implied? hidden? or ‘missing in action’?

    Simon Barrie (University of Sydney)
    Clair Hughes (University of Queensland) 
    Calvin Smith (Griffith University)

    Research seminar

    Themes: global citizenship, assessment as learning, lifelong learning, employability, skills development

    Wednesday 3 September 2008, 09.00-10.00 in the Senior Common Room

    This research seminar presents the results of the first phase of data analysis from a national scoping study funded by Australia's Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. The study investigates how Australian universities are fostering the development of student learning through their graduate attributes curriculum initiatives. The seminar is designed to stimulate discussion around the identified gap between the espoused and enacted incorporation of generic graduate attributes into the university curriculum. Discussion triggers will be drawn from an analysis of policy and quality assurance reports which has identified key unresolved issues which constitute barriers to system-wide curricula reform to support student learning. The seminar process will echo the second stage data collection process currently in progress in Australia. Through this seminar the leaders of this project are interested in exploring possibilities for extending their data collection through collaborations with international partners.

    As universities seek to renew and articulate their purposes, generic graduate attributes have become an increasing focus for curriculum renewal in the Australian context and elsewhere. Graduate attributes have come to be understood as ‘the qualities, skills and understanding a university community agrees its students should develop during their time with the institution’. Bowden et al 2000). However this surface agreement masks a demonstrated variation in how academics understand and teach these attributes (Barrie 2005). This variation is intensified by discipline and organisational cultures and the challenges of leading curriculum reform. Despite a decade of funding curriculum development around graduate attributes there remains little convincing evidence that the goals of such reform (enhanced student learning outcomes) have been achieved systemically across universities. The evidence typically advanced in support of institutional claims of developing these attributes remains restricted to policy statements and relatively surface mapping activities, and consequently audits conducted by the Australian University Quality Agency (AUQA) have identified the need for universities to more systematically address of generic attributes in curriculum learning experiences.

    A considerable body of literature has already been developed to report the practical outcomes of small and large scale initiatives to embed graduate attributes in curriculum and assessment (Bath et al, 2004: Hart et al, 1999; Hughes & Cappa, 2007; Leask, 2002 ) and to identify conceptual issues which have constituted barriers to effective practice such as the absence of a theoretical basis, assessment validity difficulties, workload demands, institutional inertia and inflexible management approaches and structures (Barrie, 2005; Drummond et al 1998, Washer, 2007). This project seeks to being these two fields of endeavour together, (the practical and the conceptual) using the powerful curriculum lens of assessment.

    The presentation segment of the seminar reports the project methodology and provides an overview of the analysis of graduate attribute curriculum practice in the Australian higher education context. The discussion that follows will be based on the series of issue statements developed as one of the project data collection instruments from this analysis. The seminar will present new research findings and provide participants with an opportunity to forge ongoing links with the national project and to contribute from their own institutional perspectives.