Strategy Three (August 2012 update)

Initiate a University-wide program of curriculum renewal

Our aim is to produce flexible and creative thinkers, leaders for Australia and the wider world. An education here will equip students with essential skills in critical thinking and communication, and foster an enquiring mind. It will support students in their transition to university, offer a coherent program of courses, and distinguish pathways through degrees.

Our work in this area so far has focused on agreeing principles for curriculum renewal, standards and assessment. As we embed these new systems, they will help us to deliver renewed coherence across the University’s curriculum, and ease students’ transition into and through tertiary study.

3(a) Establish a Curriculum Committee of SEG to oversee a University-wide program of curriculum renewal and ensure coherence of our programs and courses.

As described under strategy 2, SEG’s Curriculum and Course Planning Committee (CCPC) now reviews all new course proposals to ensure strategic fit with University and faculty plans. The CCPC has also started to negotiate with faculties the terms of reference for curriculum reviews to ensure they reflect key University strategic priorities. Before the creation of the CCPC, there was no system whereby central University portfolios could contribute to shaping or supporting faculty-led reviews. This made it difficult to ensure a shared strategic focus across all course offerings that reflected our core value of ‘engaged enquiry’.

3(b) Develop University-wide principles for curriculum development

A CCPC working party has developed University-wide curriculum development principles for use in faculty-led curriculum reviews, to ensure that students across the University routinely benefit from key elements of the strategic plan such as research-enhanced teaching and community-engaged experiences1. Several faculties have piloted elements of the principles (see under initiative 3(c). As the principles are applied more widely, we will see greater coherence in our course offerings and the pathways students can take, particularly in the generalist degrees.

3(c) Conduct a fundamental review of the major undergraduate generalist degree programs.

Our work here flows from the curriculum reform process. In 2011/12, the three faculties offering the main undergraduate generalist degrees – Arts and Social Sciences, Business, and Science – piloted aspects of the principles particularly relevant to their priorities, in order to demonstrate to the wider University the effectiveness and utility of the curriculum reform process. Arts and Social Sciences piloted the development of clearer and more coherent degree pathways through a review of majors that will result in a relaunch of the Bachelor of Arts later in 2012; Science focused on embedding engaged enquiry using research-enriched learning and teaching; and the Business School focused on embedding engaged enquiry using ‘work-integrated learning’ in a more structured coursework program. This last pilot has led to the development of new partnerships with external organisations that could extend to other parts of the University.

3(d) Articulate the standards and outcomes of teaching and learning experiences that distinguish different degree levels and pathways through degrees.

The University has taken a leading role in the pilot by the Group of Eight (Go8) universities of a new 'Quality Verification System' (QVS). This has provided for the first time external, peer-reviewed analysis of final-year undergraduate student learning outcomes, showing they are comparable to other Go8 institutions. The initial 2011 pilot covered four disciplines at the University of Sydney 3, and will extend by 4–5 disciplines each year. While still at a relatively small scale, the Go8 initiative is expected to provide a useful model for standards work by the federal government’s Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).4

3(e) Implement the assessment principles flowing from the Academic Board review, begun in 2009.

We have introduced a new Assessment Policy articulating the principles that assessment practices should (i) advance student learning, (ii) be clearly communicated to students and staff, (iii) be valid and fair, and (iv) be continuously improved and updated. The new policy introduces a standards-based, rather than norm-based, policy for University of Sydney assessment – that is, students’ assessment will be based on their individual achievements rather than on their performance relative to their peers.

3(f) Identify and empower scholars with expertise in curriculum development to champion curriculum renewal and best practice across the University.

3(g) Recognise and reward staff contribution to curriculum renewal and innovation.

We are now focusing more on supporting staff across the University to embed the new principles for curriculum reform, standards and assessment so they have an impact by 2015, when students from the 2012 intake start to graduate. The 2011 Strategic Teaching Enhancement Projects grants (STEPs) focused on embedding ‘engaged enquiry’ across our curricula: all applicants for the 2011 round (approximately 130 staff) were invited to join a network of engaged enquiry scholars, who champion curriculum reform within the faculties and have access to professional development support for their curriculum work. Out of 39 applications received, 29 STEP grants were awarded across the seven divisions, with a total of $890,000 in funding.

To provide evidence for, and increased momentum to, curriculum reform, the outcomes of the 2011 STEP grants will be reported through the engaged enquiry scholars network. The generalist degree curriculum renewal pilots will be reported through the 2012 Sydney Teaching Colloquium (a follow-up to the 2011 inaugural event attended by more than 450 staff).

1. See also under strategy 14
2. Sydney Nursing School also piloted aspects of the principles that relate to reporting on curriculum renewal.
3. Psychology, accounting, chemistry and history.
4. See strategy 7 for further discussion of teaching and learning standards and outcomes.