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CLeaR Fellows 2020 – Dr Julie McIntosh

Transforming the assessment structure of our curriculum to maximise student achievement

Dr Julie McIntoshThe School of Biological Sciences has recently undergone a curriculum review resulting in a collective reflection of our current curriculum and design of 9 subject pathways. These pathways reflect the extensive scope of SBS, a collection of diverse disciplines united by a common theme of investigation into living organisms. The current curriculum allows students to follow a defined pathway with prescribed courses in a particular subject; alongside this development, the BSc degree restructure ensures all biology majors complete five common courses. This new structure allows the development of Graduate Attributes (GA) to be precisely mapped to ensure progressive development of both skills and knowledge within each pathway, both horizontally and vertically.

There is a desire to develop coherence across the pathways to ensure all pathways embed all aspects of the UOA graduate profile (GP). To do this, it is critical to reflect on our current assessment design to determine whether our practice is optimised within each pathway. A previous mapping of GA using Compass software does not reflect the current curriculum and only reflects current assessment design. In our curriculum review, we require a more cohesive appraisal and reflection of our current design of assessments for learning.

To build a cohesive comprehensive assessment design across a pathway, it was crucial to all teaching staff involved have a thorough knowledge of GA progressive development and are aware of the student experience in other papers. This ensures a cohesive teaching team across the entire pathway rather than individuals teaching sequential related topics.

My fellowship aimed to develop communities of practice (COP, Wenger 1998) for reflection and (re)design of assessment by pathway-focussed groups. These COP intend to support and empower staff to transform the assessment structure of our pathways to maximise student achievement and development of GP. I researched current best practice in the learning literature for dissemination and seeked support from academics in the Faculty of Education, CLeaR and other institutions to engage with staff as required. Within these COP, we reflected on and redesigned the assessments by focussing on the following aspects:

  • Do assessments progressively develop graduate skills in the vertical sequence of the pathway? Are assessments scaffolded at each stage to prepare students for successive stages?
  • Is our assessment plan inclusive? Do they develop a coherent sense of diverse perspectives of biology, with particular emphasis on Mātuarangi Maori and the NZ perspective?
  • Within pathways (and common papers), is there sufficient diversity of assessment styles to optimise student achievement? Are there more opportunities to engage with industry partners and develop experiential learning experiences?
  • Do our practices reflect best practice according to the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL)? Where could new innovative practices be included?
  • Are the GA explicitly stated and available? Can a departmental/pathway-specific graduate mapping be developed?

References
Wenger, Etienne (1998), Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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