Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

A gap analysis between academics’ intentions for, and students’ experiences of, graduate learning outcomes (#51)

Kelly E Matthews 1
  1. UQ, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)


Articulating graduate learning capabilities or outcomes for degree programs represent a ‘set of intentions’ that ideally guide academics in curriculum design, development and reform activities (Oliver, 2011). Understanding the two pieces of the puzzle - how these academic ‘intentions’ are ‘experienced’ by students – seem necessary when considering the effectiveness of curriculum framed around developing graduate learning outcomes. 


Research into final year science students’ perceptions of their graduate learning outcomes, as related to the science threshold learning outcomes, has revealed the invisibility of several of these outcomes to students (Varsavsky, Matthews, & Hodgson, 2013). Assuring the development of graduate outcomes in generalist degree programs, such as a Bachelor Science, presents numerous known challenges (Fraser & Thomas, 2013). This initiative explores the views of science students and academics at the same research-intensive university to gauge the extent to which students and academics hold similar beliefs about stated graduate learning outcomes. 


A quantitative study design was used, drawing on the Science Students Skills Inventory, which is a survey tool that explores how an entire science degree program contributes to the development of knowledge and skills that underpin expected graduate learning outcomes such as teamwork, oral communication, written communication, quantitative skills and the acquisition of scientific content knowledge (Matthews & Hodgson, 2012). All Bachelor of Science students were invited to complete the survey. It was then modified for academic use with all academics teaching into the degree program invited to complete the survey. 


The study is situated in a curriculum model of the ‘planned’, ‘enacted’, and ‘experienced’ (Erickson & Schulz, 1992). Results were interpreted to illuminate gaps between ‘what academics plan’ and ‘what students experience’ in regards to broader graduate learning outcomes. Statistical analysis probed these gaps through analysis of variance techniques. Results demonstrated how academics have a gap in what they ‘perceive should be’ and ‘what actually is’ in regards to teaching, learning and assessment of graduate learning outcomes. Gaps in the perception of students and academics, while evident in some instances, displayed similar patterns in responses. 

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

 This fits with the sub-theme of assessing, evidencing and evaluating graduate capabilities. The contribution to this theme is a nuanced view of graduate learning outcomes situated within a model of curriculum that recognises the place of both students and academics. 

  1. Erickson, F., & Shultz, J. (1992). Students’ experience of the curriculum. Handbook of research on curriculum, 465-485.
  2. Fraser, K., & Thomas, T. (2013). Challenges of assuring the development of graduate attributes in a Bachelor of Arts. Higher Education Research & Development, 32(4), 545-560.
  3. Matthews, K. E., & Hodgson, Y. (2012). The Science Students Skills Inventory: capturing graduate perceptions of their learning outcomes. International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education (formerly CAL-laborate International), 20(1).
  4. Oliver, Beverly. (2011). Assuring graduate outcomes. Canberra: The Australian Learning and Teaching Council.
  5. Varsavsky, C., Matthews, K. E., & Hodgson, Y. (2014). Perceptions of science graduating students on their learning gains. International Journal of Science Education, 36(6), 929-951.