A graduate attributes approach to curriculum design focuses on the desired learning outcomes that students are expected to have achieved by the time that they graduate. As widely acknowledged in the literature, there is growing recognition in higher education of the need to not only identify the graduate attributes that a curriculum is supposed to develop, but also to demonstrate that these graduate attributes are actually addressed in practice. Drivers for these developments in Australia include professional accreditations, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), which regulates and assures the quality of the higher education sector, the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), which is the national policy for regulated qualifications in Australian education and training and the increasing focus of business and employers on the 'employability' skills of graduates (Precision Consultancy, 2007).
Graduate Attribute (GA) frameworks have been established in many institutions to 1) ensure that an institution can demonstrate that their graduates have been exposed to, and assessed on, a range of graduate attributes including professional, personal and intellectual, and 2) to provide guidance to teachers and students along the way. Ideally, each assessment item, whether an essay, practical project or performance assessment will be linked through a set of performance criteria that contribute to the achievement of one or more graduate attributes. In this way, as a student progresses through the subjects in a course and undertakes the related assessments, his or her progress towards achieving the graduate attributes is being tracked and made visible to both the students and staff e.g. through the generation of a portfolio.
UTS courses are expected to enable students to develop three broad graduate attributes, as described in the UTS Graduate Profile Framework (PDF 135 kB).
A graduate of UTS:
- is equipped for ongoing learning in the pursuit of personal development and excellence in professional practice
- operates effectively with the body of knowledge that underpins professional practice
- is committed to the actions and responsibilities required of a professional and a citizen.
Rather than describing a set of more specific generic attributes that must be developed in all courses, the UTS approach asks course designers to consider how students might develop intellectual and personal attributes in the context of professional (or disciplinary) knowledge and practices. Some of these attributes, such as communication and teamwork skills, would be considered desirable for graduates from all courses, but could be developed in different ways with profession-relevant focuses.
Graduate attributes and the UTS Model of Learning
Embedding the UTS model in the curriculum and university life enables students to develop particular graduate attributes. The UTS Model of Learning provides a way of focusing on the development of particular attributes in the context of what, where and how the attributes are developed.
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Attributes that may be emphasised by the different aspects of the model include:
- professional dispositions and ways of thinking and practicing as ethical professionals, developed through an integrated and diverse exposure to professional practice, review and reflection;
- the international perspectives and cultural competencies necessary to be a successful professional and citizen, developed through diverse forms of international and cross-cultural engagement, self-awareness, communication and teamwork;
- ways of inquiring into, critically analysing, generating and extending professional and disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge and practice, developed though research inspired and integrated learning;
- lifelong learning capabilities, including the values, the communication, information and technological literacies and the capacities for judgement that underpin responsible professionalism and citizenship, developed through the integration of these themes into the curriculum overall.
Students may also experience aspects of the UTS model through their broader engagement in extra-curricular activities. Embedding of the UTS model in the university more broadly might be further achieved by enhancing the connections between course curricula and students’ engagement in university life.
Mapping graduate attributes
An ATN project on the generic attributes of ATN graduates (Bowden et al, 2000) outlined a series of principles for curricula that develop graduate attributes. These principles include the need for students to experience a variety of opportunities to develop particular attributes in a variety of different contexts, and the need each assessment task to assess aspects of several different attributes explicitly. For example, a typical written assignment might be assessing aspects of students' subject understanding, their ability to identify and analyse information sources (information literacies, analytical skills) and their ability to write in a particular format (written communication eg in a report style).
However in most cases of university assessment, the link between graduate attributes and individual subjects and their assessments has been implicit at best with little attempt made at mapping how graduate attributes will be attained throughout a course of study. The actual implementation has been left to e.g. subject coordinators who have their own interpretation of what graduate attributes are and how they will be attained. Outcomes have not generally been tracked in terms of the achievement of relevant graduate attributes. We are not suggesting that a graduate-attributes focused perspective means that we should be narrowly specifying and assessing everything that students might be able to learn in their time at university, but we do suggest the need for a greater emphasis on whole-of-curriculum planning and implementation.
There are several web-based tools that support academics to systematically plan and document the relationships between course graduate attributes and subject objectives and assessment criteria and enable both academics and students to see how patterns of assessment contribute to the progressive development of graduate attributes. As UTS a number of faculties use
ReView (prototype developed and trialled by Darrall Thompson, 2007 ). In addition to its uses in graduate attributes-based curriculum design, ReView enables academics to give criterion-referenced feedback to students on their assessment tasks and students to see how their assessment achievements in subjects contribute to their development of graduate attributes for the course.
Student experience of graduate attributes
E-portfolios, personal/professional development planning systems (PDPs) and progress files are becoming increasingly common as tools through which students can self-assess, document, provide evidence for and plan their development of attributes for purposes including future employment, personal growth, career planning and course and subject selection. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has been funding the development of PDP and related initiatives for a decade under quality and employability programs including Key Skills and Recording Achievement. Since 2005, all English universities have been required to provide opportunities for students to develop personal portfolios to record their learning achievements.
In addition, the development of particular graduate attributes, including employability skills, has implications for the provision of particular kinds of infrastructures and teaching and learning spaces. Teamwork and the capacity to assess one’s own performance and that of others are desired capabilities for graduates. A number of software tools (for example SPARK and TecTra have been designed to support the development of teamwork capabilities and students’ capacities to make judgements about their own performance and that of their peers. Tools like these and others that simplify broader processes of self and peer assessment should be considered. Functionality that would enable students to create their own online groups within the UTS online learning environment might also be considered.