Thursday, June 23, 2011

Framework for teaching standards in Australian universities

The discussion paper "Developing a framework for teaching and learning standards in Australian higher education and the role of TEQSA" has been released by the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA) on 22 June 2011. This is a 22 page report available in PDF (90kb) and RTF (2mb). Comments on the paper are invited by email, until 22 July 2010.
This paper initiates a process of discussion on possible approaches to articulating, reviewing and reporting on
teaching and learning standards in Australian higher education. It presents the policy context, including the role of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA); incorporates an analysis of relevant developments as background; and proposes a way forward.

The TEQSA legislation introduced into the Parliament of Australia in March provides, among other things, that a
Higher Education Standards Panel (Standards Panel) will be responsible for developing the Higher Education
Standards Framework, including teaching and learning standards. The Standards Panel must consult with interested parties when developing the standards.

The Standards Panel will be independent of the TEQSA Commission and will provide advice and recommendations directly to the Minister for Tertiary Education and the Minister for Research. This will ensure the separation of standard setting from the monitoring and enforcement functions carried out by TEQSA.

The Interim TEQSA Commission seeks feedback from higher education providers, professional associations, industry bodies and government agencies about directions for development before detailed work begins. The outcomes from this discussion process will be provided to the Standards Panel for further consideration once the Commission is formally established.

The contribution of Professor Richard James and Dr Kerri-Lee Harris of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education to the preparation of this paper is gratefully acknowledged.

There are three sections in the paper, each with associated discussion points:
  1. The policy context for national teaching and learning standards, including proposed statements of principle for TEQSA’s approach. Feedback is sought on the proposed definition of teaching and learning standards.
    Feedback is also sought on the proposed statements of principle describing TEQSA’s approach to teaching and learning standards.
  2. A brief review of international and domestic developments, including student surveys, qualification frameworks, explicit statements of learning outcomes, common tests and peer review.
    Feedback is sought on the analysis of these developments in terms of their utility in developing a teaching and learning standards framework.
  3. Steps toward Australian teaching and learning standards, how Australian higher education, including TEQSA, might further develop a national approach to teaching and learning standards.
    Feedback is sought on the proposed structure of the framework, including on the relationships between the various elements. Feedback is also sought on the particular considerations and possibilities described for developing standards statements, measures and indicators, and processes for expert review. ...
From: "Developing a framework for teaching and learning standards in Australian higher education and the role of TEQSA", Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA), 22 June 2011

Lack of on-line and global perspective in the framework

My interest is in on-line learning, so I was curious to see how prominently in the discussion paper. The words "Internet" and "computer" do not appear in the paper at all and there is no mention of the World Wide Web. "Online" occurs once, under the heading "Standards categories":
Standards categories

Broad categories are needed for identifying and locating teaching standards and learning standards within a
coherent, explicit framework. The categories are purely for organisational purposes and should be broad,
identifiable areas of significance that will bring structure to the standards framework. Within teaching standards,
for example and for illustrative purposes, such categories might be course design, course resourcing, quality of teaching, quality of learner support, quality of provision for student diversity, quality of provision for online learning and so on. It is feasible that some categories, once they are agreed to, may not be applicable to certain providers or certain courses, and thus a mechanism for diversity would be embedded within the framework. ...
Australian higher education needs to address new techniques in education. Accompanying on-line education are new approaches to student directed learning. This is similar to the situation with organizations failing to grasp that "social networking" is not a new media channel to market to their customers, but a way to genuinely involve the community in decision making.

The discussion paper failing also lacks a global perspective. The Australian tertiary sector does not have the option of setting its own standards for teaching, or for anything else. Australian institutions are part of a global system of education and so must comply with global standards, or go out of business. Australia can remain competitive by being involved in setting those standards, or remain aloof and decline.

Australia is competing with other countries for international students and, as online systems become establisher (particularly in India and China), Australian universities will be competing for Australian students with overseas institutions.

In my area of teaching IT professionals, the standards for education as well as technical standards, tend to come from the USA and the UK. Australia is a leader in the development of education standards in IT and able to influence those standards, by acting as a bridge to Asia. I suggest this is a strategy which could be adopted generally by Australian Higher Education.

As an example of how course standards are set against global standards, my course "Green Information Technology Strategies" run at ANU as COMP7310, addresses the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) Level 5 competencies:
"ensure, advise: Broad direction, supervisory, objective setting responsibility. Influences organisation. Challenging and unpredictable work. Self sufficient in business skills".

The course outline outline lists Category/Subcategory/Skill from SFIA.

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