Communicating Quality Part 3

Topic changes: Why so many steps?

With the launch of the new Educational Quality Framework (EQF) and associated policies and procedures, over the coming months we will be highlighting an aspect of the EQF in more detail. This month we look at topic changes, and why it can be a more complex process than first anticipated.

In many ways, topics sit at the heart of everything we do at Flinders. Topics are what our students want to enrol in. They are what capture their interest and lure them to further study. From Zombie Apocalypse: Microbes and Toxins (ENVS2741) to Sex, Death and Ritual in the Ancient World (ARCH1006) and The Real Game of Thrones 1453-1789 (HIST2075), topics are the lifeblood of the courses that our students undertake.

Topics can be majors, minors, electives, options, core, capstone and more. They can be prerequisites, concurrent prerequisites, corequisites, anti-requisites and restricted. They can be 4.5 or 9 or 13.5 or – occasionally – 0 units. They can be online, in person, intensive, semester or non-semester based. They can include exams, essays, projects, presentations, readings, requirements, and tests.

Topics reflect the research interests and passions of those that coordinate them and provide a platform from which to share this passion with a keen and eager audience. Critically for university management, topics provide an important source of revenue as institutional Commonwealth Grants Scheme funding is intrinsically linked to student enrolments.

When combined in a particular order and combination, topics fit together to form a course. Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each piece has its own design but can be seen within a larger picture.

It is this interconnectivity and the relational nature of topics that begets a complexity of process when it comes to making topic changes. Even seemingly minor changes to a topic can have a ripple effect that spans courses and colleges and – vitally – student enrolment.

A recent topic discontinuation proposal impacted no less than forty courses. Forty. For some of those courses, the topic represented a core element of the study plan; for others, an option. In each case, the impacted courses will now need changes made to the study plan to accommodate the loss of the discontinued topic.

Another topic change involved a change of availability. Shifting a topic from one semester to another might seem straightforward (accommodating for teaching plans and staffing), but what happens when the topic in question is a prerequisite for a topic held in the same semester, for example, a student cannot enrol in Topic A without first having successfully completed Topic B, but Topic B is now offered in the same semester as Topic A? What at first might seem like a simple change can have significant impact on study plans and student enrolment.

These are just two examples of common topic changes that warrant deeper consideration and hence, layers of consultation and approval. Topic changes impact study plans and course rules and teaching load and student enrolment. Like a cog in a vast machinery of learning they are critical to its function and must be engineered and maintained accordingly. The EQF outlines the process required for topic changes, and while it may seem a layered bureaucracy of forms, approvals, steps and ‘hoops’, logic and rationale underpin it.

Anna Smith
Project Officer, Learning and Teaching – CILT

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