Learning and teaching are purposeful activities. Key questions to help us thing about our educational intentions for a topic are:
- where does the topic fit in the course context?
- why is the topic needed?
- what do our students need?
- what should the topic do? What is its educational aim?
An aim statement is a starting point - a declaration of educational intent and direction for the topic.
It is good educational practice, to clearly communicate to students what a topic is intended to do. When formulating statements of aims, words really matter. The statement should encapsulate the essential characteristics of what the topic intends to do.
Developing the topic description
The purposes and essential educational characteristics of a topic are described in the topic description. This topic description (included on the University's website and course information book) is usually the first information about a topic that prospective students encounter. It creates the first impression that can strongly influence enrolment decisions.
The key question is:
what (say 3 to 5) elements of the topic are critical to the achievement of the topic aim?
This phase results in a precise, detailed statement of specific characteristics of the scope of the topic.
Detailed topic design
Detailed design must occur within the general structural and administrative parameters of what constitutes a topic. The detailed design should be communicated to students in the topic booklet and Statement of Assessment Methods (SAM).
The key aspects and questions that need to be considered in the detailed design are:
Students are at the heart of the learning experience. Different student cohorts are likely to bring different previous experiences to a learning environment. The nature of the student cohort can have a significant effect on what can be realistically achieved in a topic of a specified size (e.g. 4.5 points; 9 points). Detailed design needs to consider matters of educational background, cultural diversity and inclusive teaching.
Questions that need to be asked about the potential student cohort are:
what background and knowledge are they likely to bring to the topic in relation to:
academic skills, practices and conventions?
the knowledge and culture of the discipline/field of study ?
cultural and contextual behaviours and knowledge ?
what pre-existing knowledge/skills are required for a student to have a reasonable chance of success in achieving the intended learning outcomes of the topic?
The expected entry competencies need to be made clear to prospective students, and if necessary mechanisms put in place to help build those competencies.
Intended Learning Outcomes
Learning outcomes are statements of the attributes and capabilities that a student should be able to display on successful completion of the topic. They provide the basis for determining student progress and designing assessment strategies and methods. They also provide signposts towards appropriate content and learning interactions to help students achieve those outcomes.
Questions that need to be asked about intended learning outcomes are:
- What are the intended outcomes of the learning experience for students in the domains of:
- Discipline knowledge and application of knowledge?
- Action and process competencies - including generic skills?
- Development of the student as learner?
- What is the appropriate balance across the intended outcomes?
- How will these outcomes contribute to the development of the Flinders Graduate Qualities?
In developing and recording intended learning outcomes, words really matter. In particular, verbs really matter.
Learning outcomes are statements of the capabilities that a student should be able to display on successful completion of the topic
"Assessment affects peoples lives" (Boud and Falchikov, 2007, 1). Assessment is the critical link between learning outcomes, content and learning and teaching activities. Assessment not only gauges what students have learned, it shapes how many students approach learning. Design of assessment focuses on developing assessment methods and activities to enable students to demonstrate their learning in relation to the stated learning outcomes for the topic.
The key questions are
- how will student learning and progress be measured/determined?
- what methods will be used for assessment?
- what criteria will be used to determine student capabilities?
- Do the assessment tasks match the intended learning outcomes?
Detailed information on design and use of various assessment methods is available on the assessment web pages.
Content is more than just knowledge. Content selection needs to give appropriate balance to subject knowledge, process skills and the development of the student as learner as well as to detail and context.
The key questions are:
- what knowledge (concepts, ideas, interpretations, applications) must be included to enable students to achieve the intended learning outcomes?
- what generic process knowledge and skills should the student have been taught by the end of the topic?
- what context in the discipline do the students need to have by the end of the topic?
- what is the appropriate balance of content: depth/breadth, knowledge/skills and processes/values?
- what content should contribute to the development of Graduate Qualities?
- how can international perspectives be incorporated into the topic?
Once content has been selected it needs to be organized in relation to two main principles: scope and sequence. Time is a major factor in determining the scope of content and the balance between breadth and depth. Integration is also a factor in relation to scope: students generally learn more when they are able to connect new content to prior knowledge and to seek and find real world applications for what they are learning.
The selection of content is complete NOT when as much as possible has been put in, but rather when as much as possible has been taken out without compromising the integrity of the topic as a learning experience towards the intended learning outcomes.
Detailed consideration of learning and teaching interactions needs to be framed by the educational aims and intended learning outcomes for the topic. Teaching needs to communicate and model the knowledge, practices and values contained in the outcomes to prompt and support learning.
The main questions that need to be answered are:
- What broad learning approach will best help to achieve the topic aim, e.g. problem based learning, WIL, group based learning?
- How can teaching most effectively contribute to student learning towards the intended learning outcomes?
The selection of teaching strategies and specific learning and teaching interactions needs to take into account:
- appropriateness for the learners and inclusive teaching
- resources to support student learning (e.g. textbooks, FLO)
- other constraints (e.g. time, student cohort, teaching space)
A combination of strategies can promote greater learning for more students. Students learn more when they are actively engaged in their academic work; become aware of their own preferred way of learning; seek and find real world applications of what they are learning; and work regularly and productively with staff and other students.
Other questions are:
- What are the most appropriate and practical learning activities?
- What resources are needed to support student learning?
- How can learning and teaching interactions contribute to the development of Graduate Qualities?