Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

A pathway towards a holistic skills framework in biomedical sciences (#74)

Lynne V. Mayne 1 , Julia K. Choate 1 , Tomas Zahora 1
  1. Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content

The Research Skills Development Framework (RSDF, (1)) provides an appealing structure for enhancing skill development within the undergraduate Biomedical Sciences (BMS) curriculum. But as we engaged with this framework, we identified the need for a comprehensive review of skills that appeared to span a number of almost independent skills ‘agendas’: ‘employability’, life long learning, research and discipline focused skills. To understand these agendas, we began by analysing their historical and political drivers, as well as their scope and underlying assumptions.

Initially our aim was to find the common ground between each agenda and then map the development of ‘core’ skills onto our curriculum, checking to ensure we did this well and revealing gaps that might need filling. What soon emerged was a number of complex and often poorly defined notions of skills and attributes. The broad generic graduate attribute statements blurred boundaries between ‘hard’ skills on one hand, and attitudes and behaviours (attributes) on the other, and obscured the underpinning pedagogy around how we define and assess intangible attributes within a higher education setting. We recognized that skills were complex domains and that simply teaching a skill in one context (e.g. a discipline setting) did not ensure that skill was then transferable (e.g. to the work place). To successfully transfer skills to different contexts required additional learning steps.

We report on the development of an analytical approach for governing curriculum innovation in BMS. This approach conceives skills as multidimensional and situational, and recognises the challenges of meeting the employability agenda from within a higher-education setting. It provides a foundation for re-visualising how personal and academic development are configured within the curriculum, and strategies for supporting and assessing skills development and graduate capabilities.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference 

This paper addresses sub-theme 3.
It documents our evidence-led approach towards defining and developing an undergraduate biomedical sciences (BMS) skills framework to assess and evaluate biomedical graduate competencies across the wider skills agendas, in addition to the skills normally sitting within the discipline. Though focused on BMS in the first instance, it provides a useful paradigm for other disciplines by defining the challenges, obstacles and barriers to a unified skills framework that recognises the demands of the different skills agendas (employability, life long learning, research and discipline based skills). Our approach rationalises the different context and definitions of skills as expressed in each ‘agenda’ providing an important approach for developing a shared working definition of the various skills, essential for developing effective teaching and assessment and measuring learning outcomes.
Furthermore, we highlight the different pedagogical approaches and assessment methods for supporting development of personal attributes, recognising the industry view that it is these behaviours and attitudes, not students’ hard skills, that act as a major barrier to employment for recent graduates. This brings into focus areas of skill development that can be effectively embedded directly into the curriculum and those that are better supported by extra-curricular or work related activities.

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