Assurance of learning (AoL) is an important process in educational settings. It evaluates how well an institution accomplishes the educational aims at the core of its activities, while assisting the faculty members to manage and improve programs and courses. Universities use the AoL process to provide both qualitative and quantitative indicators of performance of teaching and learning for the assessment of the quality of award courses (Chalmers, 2008). These indicators of performance guide the strategic directions, priorities, quality assurance and enhancement processes for teaching and learning. In addition to individual curriculum development, AoL can provide valid evidence to external constituents that the education provider is meeting its goals and has built-in strategies for improvement in the area of student learning outcomes.
This project concentrated on two elements of the AoL process:
Mapping program learning objectives;
Collecting data on student performance in relation to each learning objective.
These two critical elements were investigated through a sector wide audit of Australian universities. The initial data collection phase was conducted in the Business education sector through an interview process with 25 of the 39 Associate Deans Teaching and Learning (ADTL), with eight follow up focus groups with institutions that exhibited good practice. For the second phase of data collection a Delphi methodology was adopted. Experts in law; pharmacy; nursing; and engineering were interviewed. An online survey was undertaken with the wider field and the findings were collated and returned to the key personnel for comment. The factors considered in the audit were the range of approaches for mapping and collecting AoL data adopted by Australian universities, identification of standard approaches, as well as contrasting approaches; common challenges in assuring GAs; good practice strategies; and opportunities for innovative practice and change management.
Based upon the audit a range of good practice strategies were developed for curriculum mapping and data collection in assuring GAs. These recommended strategies include the following:
- Holistic – A whole of program approach was important to ensure students’ progress in a way that ensures they have the opportunity to be introduced and then further developed before they are asked to demonstrate the standards expected in each graduate attribute at graduation;
- Integrated – In order for GAs to be valued by academic teaching staff and students they had to be embedded into the curriculum, and linked to assessment;
- Collaborative – The process had to be developed in conjunction with the academic teaching staff in an inclusive rather than top down approach, so that staff engaged and recognized the importance of the process;
- Maintainable – Any process that is implemented has to be sustainable to ensure it is not reliant on individuals or resources.
Leadership techniques which were found to be effective in implementing these strategies were documented. The approaches identified could be categorized under Kotter and Cohen’s (2002) cultural change strategies:
- Get the vision right – Establish a simple vision and strategy focusing on aspects necessary to drive service and efficiency;
- Executive support – Strong senior management commitment and leadership demonstrating a constant and high level drive for staff engagement until AoL becomes an institutional norm;
- Build a guiding team – Developing leadership and champions among unit and program level staff, to share practices and promote the benefits that come from engaging in the process;
- Training – Providing professional development opportunities to discuss and resolve difficulties and tensions around AoL;
- Reward and recognise – Demonstrating success and effectiveness by selling staff on the evidence that AoL makes a difference;
- Empowerment – Inclusive and making the process inclusive with academics collaborating in the development and implementation of the process;
- Communication – For buy-in.
In addition an independent review of existing tools to improve efficiency in mapping and data collection of AoL and practical strategies has been undertaken to improve current practice. The project team has disseminated this tool review, strategic leadership recommendations and the project outcomes at national and international conferences; and through journal papers; invited addresses; consultations; and other dissemination events across five states catering for over 170 participants. A series of additional resources were developed and these can be found on the project website.
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