Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

The science Learning and Teaching Academic Standards project: A discipline community’s response to regulatory change in Australian tertiary education  (#113)

Jo-Anne Kelder 1 , Susan M. Jones 1
  1. University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

In 2010, the Australian Federal Government announced their intention to establish the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Authority (TEQSA) to audit tertiary education institutions against new standards, including standards for graduate learning outcomes. This induced significant sectoral concern about potential ‘perverse consequences’ such as standardisation of curricula.  In response, the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) funded the Learning and Teaching Academic Standards (LTAS) project to support discipline communities to develop graduate learning outcomes for nominated degrees. This paper provides a sociological analysis of the LTAS project for Science. We reflect upon the process of attaining national endorsement of science threshold learning outcomes (TLOs) through a fundamentally collegial project design: consulting academics, students, employers and graduates in science professions.  Project data were analysed by varying the unit of analysis, and using different theoretical frameworks from Science Technology and Society (STS) literature to elicit insights about the process and outcomes of the project. Activity Theory allowed us to interpret the project as intitiating a cycle of expansive learning; Communities of Practice theory provided insights into the catalytic role of the Discipline Scholars. In leading a discipline-community response to quality assurance requirements of higher education awards, the LTAS project provided a social framework for defining and evidencing graduate capabilities, including ongoing engagement.

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

 The tertiary education climate continues in a state of flux, heightened by current uncertainties regarding budgetary measures to be imposed by the Australian Federal Government.  Financial uncertainty is compounding anxieties regarding new regulatory requirements, including stipulations related to quality assurance and standards requiring clearly identified learning outcomes for every award. The initial announcements regarding the establishment of TEQSA in 2010 elicited considerable concern amongst academics who envisaged perverse consequences of adopting national standards for learning outcomes, including increased workloads associated with new levels of compliance and standardisation of curricula, to the detriment of differentiation and innovation. There was considerable resistance within discipline communities, yet many academics invited to participate in a project dedicated to the notion of developing nationally endorsed learning outcomes for selected degrees did so with positive or open minds. The context of the Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Project for Science was characterised by social responses to uncertainty and complexity and this understanding was germane to how we designed and implemented the project. We provide a sociological analysis of stakeholders and their engagement that validates our project design as an effective mechanism for engaging a national discipline community in a productive conversation even in times of uncertainty

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