The Science Learning and Teaching Academic Standards project: a discipline community’s response to regulatory change in Australian higher education

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 38: Learning for Life and Work in a Complex World

July, 2015, 528 pages
Published by
T. Thomas, E. Levin, P. Dawson, K. Fraser & R. Hadgraft

In 2010, the Australian Federal Government announced their intention to establish the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Authority (TEQSA) to audit tertiary education institutions against new standards, including standards for graduate learning outcomes. This induced significant sectoral concern about potential ‘perverse consequences’ such as standardisation of curricula. In response, the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) funded the Learning and Teaching Academic Standards (LTAS) project to support discipline communities to develop graduate learning outcomes for nominated degrees. This paper provides a sociological analysis of the LTAS project for Science. We reflect upon the process of attaining national endorsement of science threshold learning outcomes (TLOs) through a fundamentally collegial project design: consulting academics, students, employers and graduates in science professions. Project data were analysed by varying the unit of analysis, and using different theoretical frameworks from Science Technology and Society (STS) literature to elicit insights about the process and outcomes of the project. Activity Theory allowed us to interpret the project as intitiating a cycle of expansive learning; Communities of Practice theory provided insights into the catalytic role of the Discipline Scholars. In leading a discipline-community response to quality assurance requirements of higher education awards, the LTAS project provided a social framework for defining and evidencing graduate capabilities, including ongoing engagement.

Keywords: discipline community, learning outcomes, graduate workforce capability