Friday, September 14, 2012

Broadening University Coursework

Greeting from the Australian National University Graduate Lounge in Canberra, where I am attending a focus group with other graduate coursework students. The ANU is looking to improve support for the graduate coursework students, to match that provided for the research students.

One of the strategies suggested to the students is to make use of the extra-curricular activities which are available on campus. There are seminars by world leading visiting academics, business people and heads of state each week. One of the techniques I suggested for coursework students is to enroll in a "special project" course, where the top students can work with a staff member on what is essentially a six month mini-thesis, to give the flavor of research for those who have ambitions of doing a PHD.

Most ANU coursework programs have a structure to suit the needs of a particular profession, or discipline, such as ICT. However, the Graduate Studies Select allows students to pick from a wide range of courses across the universality to create their own custom program. With this flexibility comes the problem for the student of selecting what to do. I have suggested coursework students could use the Tool for Online Assessment of Skills and Training, and other tools developed for research students, to plan and document their work.

One thing which occurs to me is that while the university provides many extra training programs and extra activities, a coursework student will be focused on what they have to do for credit in courses. It may therefore be worth packaging up the extra activities into course-size units and offering credit for them. The coursework students may appreciate the same activities more if they are part of formal coursework and if the university charges the usual course fees.

Similarly research students will be concentrating on their research area, but also need to acquire skills to help with the research and to be able to communicate and present it. The same offering created for coursework students could also be offered to research students.

There would be value in coursework and research students combining their experience in the same classes. This could be taken further with staff of the university undertaking the same courses as part of their development of skills. The university could also offer these same courses on their own, as a program for those in the workforce wanting to improve skill, or just broaden their outlook. Entertaining events need not be turned into boring lectures as a result: the course can be blended with the detail and administration done on-line and the events kept fun.

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