Roundtable Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Do current methods of teaching and assessing in doctoral education prepare graduates well for future careers? (#135)

Rachel Spronken-Smith 1 , Sharon Sharmini 1
  1. University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Aspects of doctoral education have undergone substantial change in recent years, and we argue that as a result the traditional PhD programme may be out of alignment. We draw on John Bigg’s theory of ‘constructive alignment’, in which the learning outcomes should be well aligned with the teaching and learning methods and the assessment regime. The learning outcomes for doctoral candidates have expanded considerably in recent years in response to the desire to graduate candidates with a wider skill set, well equipped for a range of jobs beyond academia. Although some programmes have provided more structured teaching and learning activities geared to generating a wider set of graduate outcomes, most remain focused on disciplinary knowledge and developing research skills. Moreover, the assessment has remained the same, narrowly focussed on a written thesis and, in some cases, an oral defense. In this roundtable discussion we consider the application of constructive alignment to doctoral education. We will raise questions such as ‘are the current models of doctoral education preparing PhD graduates well for academic and research careers?’ and ‘how well are doctoral graduates prepared for wider careers in government, business and other organisations?’ Moreover, we will consider whether we should be assessing the main desired outcomes, or could these be developed in a formative portfolio approach? We plan to explore the implications for doctoral education – particularly teaching methods and assessment – if we were to align the curriculum to the desired graduate outcomes.

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

This roundtable discussion is centrally linked to the overarching conference theme, as well as to subthemes one (Educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals) and especially three (Assessing, evidencing and evaluating graduate capabilities). The discussion will centre on the notion of outcomes for PhD graduates, which have expanded considerably in recent years.  We will consider whether our current models of teaching and assessing in doctoral education will help generate such outcomes, or whether a rethink is required.