Graduate qualities and skills

 Resources*

Teaching and assessing to develop graduate skills and attributes

What is the intended outcome?

To design learning activities and assessment aimed at developing both disciplinary knowledge and targeted skills at an appropriate level for first year students.

What is the established practice?

Many university teachers have begun teaching and assessing for graduate skills within their own courses. Others teach and assess this way but tend to think of their process-based teaching in terms of academic literacy. Others acknowledge the importance of graduate qualities and skills but argue that their primary role is to teach disciplinary knowledge.

What are the advantages for teachers and students in the embedded approach?

Teaching skills as part of disciplinary learning allows university teachers to customise them in ways that are appropriate for their discipline, and for students' subsequent professional practice. Teaching students learning processes, as an integral part of building disciplinary knowledge, will enable them to continue learning after they graduate.



Background

Embedding graduate qualities and skills supports the University strategy to provide coursework curricula that develops employees and citizens that are valued by employers and the wider community.  Each of these qualities and skills will be customised, mapped and aligned across all undergraduate and postgraduate programs. A key focus for staff is to implement graduate skills at both a course and a program level.

Challenge

The challenge for first year convenors is to embed targeted graduate skills in their teaching and assessment of disciplinary knowledge, while targeting the appropriate level for first year students. This means that convenors must design teaching and assessment in their courses so it begins to build students' capacity for lifelong learning in their profession, while at the same time developing skills, which will enable them to make the successful transition to learning at university.

Academic solutions for maximum student impact

One solution community members have used to address the development of graduate skills is the explicit teaching of the learning process. In this instance, teaching team members have included explicit guidance on the process of completing developmental steps in each stage of the course assessment, rather than two major summative assessment tasks. Such guidance is embedded in the assessment tasks and discipline based learning activities in face-to-face teaching sessions, course materials and in online resources.

In general, authentic assessment that closely resembles the type of tasks students will be required to complete as professionals allows them to begin developing transferable skills and attributes, such as communication and teamwork, within their own disciplinary and professional context.

For first year students, another solution to the issue of developing graduate skills is to design assessment that targets more academic skills, such as information literacy and particular forms of written communication. This is because they are also key skills that students will be required to develop and demonstrate if they are to make a successful transition to university study. These are also developed in subsequent courses throughout the students' chosen program of study. This whole-of-program perspective also acknowledges that one course cannot develop every graduate skill and attribute on its own.

A key component of designing learning activities and assessment to develop graduate skills is ‘scaffolding'. Scaffolding consists of learning and teaching activities that are designed to support students in their development of knowledge and skills; it builds on what students already know, using support and feedback from teachers and peers. Scaffolding can include face-to-face and online teaching, as well as the use of support materials and exemplars. However, scaffolding students' learning can also include considerations about the key focus of set learning activities and, by extension, which aspects of these same activities can be scaffolded. For example, courses where written communication is a key focus may choose to scaffold assessment items, such as an analysis of arguments in four journal articles, by providing a set of references so students don't waste time on the peripheral component of the task, such as searching for relevant journal articles.

Key points for effective teaching practice

  • Teaching graduate skills requires explicit communication (through teaching and learning, course materials and online resources) about process and practice, as well as content
  • Skills are best taught as part of an integrated assessment process that also allows students to demonstrate their mastery of disciplinary knowledge
  • Authentic assessment that is designed to approximate workplace tasks offers students the opportunity to demonstrate both disciplinary knowledge and skills
  • In the first year, assessment tasks can be designed to develop graduate skills such as information literacy, which dovetail with the academic skills students need to succeed at university
  • Teaching graduate skills requires scaffolding, via explicit teaching and through the use of models, exemplars and formative assessment
  • Targeting one or two specific graduate skills for development in your course allows you to scaffold particular tasks that are supplementary to students demonstrating their ability in the key skill.

Final word

Those members who have provided case studies and exemplars have attempted to address what can seem like contradictory imperatives in first year: teaching and assessing students in a way that acknowledges their transition to ways of learning at university, whilst also kick-starting the development of qualities and skills that they will be required to demonstrate as practicing professionals. Implicit in this type of targeting is the issue of what constitutes an appropriate level of skill development at each level of a student's program.



* This file is in Portable Document Format (PDF) which requires the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader. A free copy of Acrobat Reader may be obtained from Adobe. Users who are unable to access information in PDF should contact Dr Jacquie McDonald  to obtain this information in an alternative format.