Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Developing professional identities in the first year: A creative discipline approach (#88)

Natalie Araujo 1 , Bronwyn Clarke 1 , Terry Johal 1
  1. Media and Communication, RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Existing literature on transition in higher education focuses primarily on two separate points in the student lifecycle: first year—and especially the first weeks of the first year—and the final semester of the degree program.  These natural focal points symbolically represent larger transformations in student experience and identity: transition into a dedicated community of learners and out into the “real world”.  While broad generic skills have become the focus of first year transition, as Knight and Yorke (2003) argue, complex professional learning, currently the focus of many final year programs, must introduced early into the student life cycle for maximum efficacy. 

In discussing the development of professional identity, Stern and Papadakis (2006:  1795) argue that teaching professionalism requires a focus on expectation setting, providing meaningful practical experiences, and purposefully evaluating outcomes. As they note, the current emphasis on the assessment of skills may produce technically competent professionals while still leaving students to their own devices about what constitutes professional behaviour.

This paper argues for a broader of view of transition and advocates for early and sustained development of professional identities. It documents a case study of innovative and iterative first year curriculum redesign in a creative discipline, which embedded professional identity experiences early in the student lifecycle.   Staff worked alongside key industry partners to engage industry partners, employers, and advanced students in assessment tasks during first two semesters of the student lifecycle. The industry partners, employers, and clients actively worked to develop reciprocal and collaborative opportunities within these assessments.

This paper draws on interview and survey data, focus groups, participation observation of an embedded researcher, and critical reflections of some of the nearly 150 student, staff, and professional participants.  It argues that complex professional experiences can and should be embedded through first year assessment.  These assessment tasks can compliment and extend a focus on generic skills, while simultaneously introducing meaningful, ongoing professional relationships.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

This paper specifically addresses the core conference theme of “Learning for life and work in a complex world.”  It extends it existing debates about professional learning through a detailed account of pedagogical innovation in a creative discipline.  It also and importantly extends debates about professionalism into the realm of first year learning and teaching.  In this way the paper addresses a key sub-theme: Educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals

  1. Knight, P., & Yorke, M. (2003). Assessment, learning and employability. McGraw-Hill International.
  2. Stern, D. T., & Papadakis, M. (2006). The developing physician—becoming a professional. New England Journal of Medicine, 355(17), 1794-1799.
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