Global and National Comparability in Teaching and Learning in the First Year as Informed by Explicit Discipline Standards: An Emerging Australian Example in the Discipline of History

Jennifer CLARK
University of New England, Australia

Adrian JONES
Latrobe University, Australia

Australian Catholic University, Australia

Bronwyn COLE
University of Western Sydney, Australia

University of Western Sydney, Australia

University of Southern Queensland, Australia

University of Tasmania, Australia


The influence of models of disciplinary and institutional curriculum alignment has encouraged new hopes of the comparability and verification of student learning outcomes across higher-education providers. For many years there has been a misconception that student entrance-rank scores are indicative of the quality of educational outputs. But how to measure of "value-adding" in ways that don't straitjacket local initiative? The emerging Australian policy approach is first to invite the framing of local suites of definite discipline learning outcomes, then to attach explicit standards to each, and last to report back to the sector. Evidence bases for national and global contrasts are enabled around locally determined intended learning outcomes and about national standards linked to the outcomes. And disciplinary academics, not edu-managers, determine the local shapes of the national process. To this end, and to make accountability easier, Australian higher-education regulators have promoted the formulation of Threshold Learning Outcomes (TLOs), accompanying them with Standards. All students' learning can be measured against agreed criteria. Within Australia the TLOs for History have been determined and benchmarked internationally. The next issue is kick-starting the key local academic commitments and conversations about how to provide opportunities for students to develop their skills and abilities so that they can demonstrate their achievement of the TLOs by the time they graduate. It quickly became apparent that the beginning of higher study is as vital as the end. This paper examines ways in which teachers can approach the teaching of the TLOs in the first year to ensure progression through to compliance in the third. What do first-year History students need to know and to do at the onset of their higher studies in order to set them on their way to meet the TLOs in their final year? What are the student barriers to this learning? What is our pedagogical agenda as teachers to help students overcome these barriers? This paper describes our use of Indiana "Decoding the Disciplines" methods to encourage academics to identify elements of the TLOs that should be taught in the first year. A model of discipline-grounded professional development is offered that links to institutional, national and global notions of outcomes in higher education.. If a standards-based environment is to enable evidence-based international comparability and surer measures of institutional quality the approach to teaching TLOs needs to be as transparent, as disciplinary-grounded and as openly available as possible.

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