Despite the work undertaken through the Curriculum Refresh project, for the most part, course models and structures have remained predominantly traditional, with degree offerings that are 3-6 years in duration, with two semesters each year (and a trimester system operating in Singapore and Brisbane), with some subjects being offered more flexibly through, for example, limited or block mode. There is a general assumption, through these traditional models, that learning is linear and sequenced. Further consideration should be given to modular delivery of subjects or cognate groups of subjects to provide coherence and flexibility to students as they progress through their course.
Structural adjustments in terms of curriculum also need to be considered. For example, there is not yet any University-wide consensus on the number and level of subjects that constitute a major. A standard definition of a major is required to provide students with options to customise their programs and transfer between programs easily. A standard definition may also increase the appetite of students for joint degrees, which at the current time are under-subscribed at the University. More work is required to understand why joint degrees are not popular with anecdotal information suggesting that these programs lack cohort identification, with students feeling they don’t belong in either degree program; difficulty with timetables; and dissatisfaction with a testamur listing a joint degree as opposed to separate testamurs for each degree.
In a similar vein, we need to consider the prospects for improving the harmonisation of teaching periods across campuses. In particular, the costs and benefits of moving to a trimester system across the three tropical campuses must be assessed as a matter of priority. Such a move will ensure greater opportunity for student mobility between Australia and Singapore.
Managing the balance between supporting students who need greater academic support and challenging more advanced students is an issue facing all faculties. There is undoubtedly a need to continue programs for students who are less well prepared for university study, for example, by providing appropriate learning pathways. However, there may be value in consolidating the preparatory programs available to students to build clear and seamless pathways into the University for those who don’t meet standard entry requirements. The current discussions in regard to JCU Pathways and related issues need to address this.
The ways in which we cater to and provide for high performing students also warrants attention. Putting aside the high profile professional programs, there is little that is offered specifically for students of superior academic ability; the Bachelor of Science (Advanced) and the Bachelor of Marine Science (Advanced) are two examples. There is a view that more should be done in this respect, including the suggestion that an ‘Honours College’ might be established.
That we strengthen our focus on students through the following initiatives:
review traditional course structures and sequencing of subjects;
assess the net benefits of moving to trimesters;
explore opportunities for more customisation of degree programs;
establish a standard definition of a major;
simplify course structures for all degree programs and joint degree programs;
consolidate preparatory programs and learning support available to students; and
develop programs to cater to high performing students, including specifically the establishment of an Honours College.
The development of effective, flexible, online and blended learning models will be essential to the future success of any university, including ours. As always, responses will need to be focused on the strategic convergence of pedagogy with technology, while issues of technical infrastructure and staff and student capability all need to be anticipated and managed. Having said this, the prospects for enhanced student experience and learning outcomes utilising technology, are considerable and exciting.
That we consider technology-based approaches to enhance course delivery, improve flexibility for students and assist academic staff with the delivery of course content.
It is also important to be purposeful about the student experience. Ensuring a sense of belonging and the development of a student life-course (focusing on transitions into, through and out of the University) that is responsive to ‘our place’ will be critical in the development of any structural model. We must continue to promote a university-wide, coordinated approach to systematically research and monitor the first year student experience, and to coordinate and strengthen the range of first year activities currently available.
In late 2012 the Office of the Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor commenced an inventory of initiatives within the University that target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The objectives are to obtain an institution-wide picture of the range and scope of activities, to identify funding sources being utilised presently and to develop an understanding of gaps and overlaps in the initiatives offered currently.
To date the project has identified that there are some outstanding initiatives in place that could be extended to other parts of the University. Staff have expressed a clear need for a more coordinated approach to maximise outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and to achieve value for money in program delivery. The recommendations of the Behrendt Review into Higher Education Outcomes and Access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will also be considered within the development of a University strategy.
That a University-wide strategy be developed to provide a coordinated approach to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from recruitment and transition, through their course of study and on to graduation and alumni relations.
The Taskforce is of the view that face-to-face and on-campus delivery will remain an important aspect of the James Cook University Model, including the promotion of the place-based learning at our campuses and field locations. A high quality on-campus learning experience will be enhanced by improvements in the use of digital technology and we should continue to extend our geographic reach by increasing access to learning resources online. We must continue to invest in the development of services, facilities and IT connectivity that provide opportunities for social interaction on our three tropical campuses. Improvements to the built environment, amenities and services on campus are an integral element of this blended learning strategy.
The Discovery Rise project expresses a vision for the transformation of the Townsville Campus in a way that is consistent with the commitment to a quality campus-based experience.
That there is an ongoing investment in the delivery of a high quality on-campus experience, that is flexible and technology enabled.
Drawing the various recommendations together, the Taskforce envisages a student-centred learning environment with the following features:
Engaged (looking inward and looking outward)
Student-centred and mediated over the student life-course
Responsive to our student demographics and supportive of students according to their varied needs and interests
Embodying the teaching-research nexus
Distinguished by the opportunities for WIL and other partnerships – ‘community-engaged scholarship’, delivering outstanding graduate outcomes.
Flexible (providing greater choice in terms of what, when, where and how learning takes place)
Committed to innovative and flexible approaches
Offering students guided choice (as appropriate, depending on context, cohort and other requirements) regarding a mixture of learning styles, timing, pace, place, content, assessment and collaboration
Giving particular consideration to eLearning opportunities, block mode, and the institutional harmonisation of semesters.
Enabled by technology (careful harnessing and bundling of technological enablers)
Personalised and contextualised learning
A strategic convergence of pedagogy with technology
Providing the necessary infrastructure and staff and student support for this engagement.
Giving particular attention to integrating open access content and resources, mobile devices, ePortfolios, Cloud opportunities, learning analytics, and next generation learning spaces.