Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Creating an iterative, patchwork consensus for teaching and learning complexity (#64)

Liam Phelan 1 , Bonnie McBain 1
  1. University of Newcastle, Australia, CALLAGHAN NSW 2308, NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

 This paper is about the threshold learning outcomes (TLOs) for student learning about complexity in the more-than-disciplinary field of environment and sustainability, and the development of those TLOs. Approaches to complex systems have evolved across multiple and diverse disciplines, from physics through education, each with their own variants in disciplinary terminologies. In environment and sustainability, some attention to complexity centres on social-ecological systems at varied scales, i.e., complex systems comprising human social and ecological elements, and the interactions between those elements. In 2014 we embarked upon a project, commissioned by the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, to draft TLOs for environment and sustainability, a very broad field spanning the humanities and the social and natural sciences. As such, defining standards that accommodate disciplinary diversity across the field while remaining true to the commonality that gives the field its coherence was a challenging undertaking. The process of crafting the TLOs included a sophisticated and comprehensive national consultation engaging with academics and students within universities as well as external stakeholders such as employers and employer groups, industry associations, Indigenous people and their organisations, environmental educators and other civil society groups. The TLOs’ treatment of complexity is important both in a disciplinary sense, i.e. for programs in environment and sustainability, as well as more broadly, to the extent that these TLOs are available to serve as a curriculum reference point for other disciplines that also engage with this area. Analysis of data collected from participants in the collective process of crafting TLOs that address complexity indicates that the process itself is complex, requiring an adaptive approach, which we describe as being the creation of an iterative, patchwork consensus for teaching and learning complexity. This paper will be of interest to lecturers and academic developers interested in both complexity and learning standards.

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

 This submission addresses the conference theme ‘Learning for life and work in a complex world’ and the following two sub-themes:

1.       Assessing, evidencing and evaluating graduate capabilities

2.       Navigating uncertainty and complexity

The submission addresses the first sub-theme above through its focus on developing threshold learning outcomes for students, towards assuring graduate capabilities, and the complexity in that development process.  The submission addresses the second sub-theme above though its focus on teaching and learning complexity in the environment and sustainability field, and the wider applicability (i.e., to other disciplines), of the approach to complexity developed in this context.