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 Development and Improvement.
Are you a topic coordinator? Have you inherited a topic which needs improving? Do the learning outcomes of your topic need to be updated, perhaps in response to changing industry standards or community needs? Or do you just have a great idea for a new topic and want to know how it could be made a reality? If this sounds like you, read on.
The Educational Quality Framework encompasses policies and procedures that support and enable the development and approval of quality curriculum, including the establishment of new topics and improvement to existing ones. The first thing to bear in mind when wanting to change – or create – a topic is that there are steps involved. In Communicating Quality Part 3 we explained the rationale behind this. In a university, topics are interconnected cogs in the machinery of learning. They do not stand alone as separate entities. Even within an increasingly disaggregated learning environment, topics serve little purpose unless connected to some greater whole. When proposing changes to a topic or creating a new topic, it is therefore vital that the expected learning outcomes – what students will be expected to be able know or do to upon completion of the topic – are appropriate for the topic, suitably assessed and contribute to the course(s) in which it will be offered. That is a lot to consider, particularly for a new topic coordinator, which is why Academic Developers are part of the topic design process.
Under the EQF, different levels of approval apply depending on the intended action. This is not to create an obstacle of unnecessary hoops, but to ensure that necessary consideration is given to the impact of the action. Consider the following fictitious examples:
Course X is a three year, undergraduate, industry accredited course with core topics across the three years of the program of study. For students to be admitted to practice upon graduation, the course must comply with occupation standards set by the national industry body. A review of the national standards concluded that accredited courses of study must now include a critical thinking core topic at third year and that critical thinking be a learning outcome of the course. At the institutional level, this means that a new topic will need to be created and the learning outcomes and program of study for the course updated. Under the EQF, this constitutes Level 3b approval. The academic proposer: seeks support from the Academic Developer in their college; consults with the Course Coordinator, Teaching Program Director and Dean (Education); and completes an EQ8 New Topic Proposal together with an EQ6 Change to Existing Course or Course Specialisation Proposal to reflect the changes required. Once the concept is approved by the Dean (Education), the formal proposal is considered and endorsed by the College Education Committee and approved at the institutional level by the Education Quality Committee.
Following an academic restructure and subsequent staff changes, Dr Smith was tasked with coordinating a large first-year topic with high student attrition, poorly articulated expected learning outcomes, disparaging Student Evaluations of Teaching feedback, and unpopular assessment methods including an exam worth 60% and online tests worth 40%. Initially overwhelmed by the task, Dr Smith’s first port of call was to contact the Academic Developer for her College. She then nominated her topic for Academic Calibration with the express purpose of receiving constructive advice from an external reviewer on how the topic could be better designed. The upshot of discussions with the Academic Developer and the recommendations received via Academic Calibration were that Dr Smith would change the topic title, educational aims, expected learning outcomes, topic description and assessment methods. Consulting the Course and topic approval website and relevant Easy guides, Dr Smith was able to determine that the level of approval required for these changes was Level 2 and the form needed would be the EQ9 Change (or Discontinue) Existing Topic Proposal.
These examples demonstrate that topic development and improvement is rarely straightforward. The EQF policies and procedures are designed to guide topic coordinators through the process, and together with curriculum design support from Academic Developers and the guides and templates provided on the Course and topic approval website, topic coordinators need not be daunted by the process.