I’d FAP To That

23 August 2017

Trimesters and ‘flipped classrooms’ have been rejected from the latest recommendations made by the University’s Flexible Academic Programming project.

Instead, the project has recommended a number of changes, including more support for winter and summer semesters and a quiet move away from lectures as the main mode of education.

The Flexible Academic Programming project (or FAP, despite the University’s best efforts to push the non-masturbatory acronym, FlexAP) started in 2015 as an attempt to look at ways the University could “enhance and improve the quality of teaching and student learning”, “provide more flexibility in study options” and “make more effective use of the University’s infrastructure to support teaching and learning”.

In July, eight green papers were released by the project for discussion by the University community. They are not yet endorsed and will be presented to the Provost when the project completes in August 2017.

Are lectures dying?

One of the papers tabled by the project, ‘Curriculum Structure and Approach’, found approximately 48 per cent of undergraduate subjects have fewer than 30 enrolments, and around half of student contact hours is in the form of lectures. As a result, 41 per cent of students feel they could use more contact time with staff

The paper considered ‘flipped classrooms’ – a structure through which students prepare for lectures prior to the class, and then use the lecture space to consolidate their knowledge.

The paper recommends that the proportion of student contact hours in lecture form, currently 55 per cent for undergraduates, be reduced to no more than 50 per cent by 2019. In addition, it encourages the University to offer more intensive subjects. Finally, it recommends the structure of first year undergraduate programs should be revised in order to better support transition, cohort and inter-student connection.

Another paper, about undergraduate subjects with large numbers of students, reveals that approximately one in 20 subjects exceed 200 enrolments, and account for 44 per cent of enrolled students. Student Experience Survey data indicates that students enrolled in these subjects are less satisfied with their experiences, as large cohorts make it difficult for students to engage with teachers and peers.

The paper suggests diversifying and improving assessments in large subjects, while also exploring opportunities for off-campus, site-based learning.

The project observed that there is a decreasing level of collaboration among teachers from different disciplines, leading to issues where multiple lecturers are teaching the same material. As a result, the FAP project recommended that the Chancellery collaborate with Academic Divisions to prioritise work on curriculum duplication. Each Academic Division should develop a policy for collaborative teaching, curriculum sharing and collaborative learning.

After comparing data from 2011 and 2016, the project found an increase in technology use and desire to trial new technology. A majority (70.8 per cent) of students felt that technology was “very helpful” or “extremely helpful” in their studies. The findings also note a significant interest in online subjects being offered.

As a result, the project recommends trialling new forms of digital assessment, as well as providing the option for students to take a limited number of wholly online subjects. The paper also suggested piloting new technologies to assist both staff and students, particularly in large subjects.

We don’t want your stinkin’ trimesters

A green paper on semester structure found most current students support the existing semester model. But a range of issues, including course progression and load flexibility, could be alleviated by making better use of the summer and winter semesters. However, it was noted that the university holidays serve important roles as time for internships and other activities that enhance students’ lives.

The paper recommended maintaining the existing semester structure, while increasing institutional support for the summer and winter semesters, as well as support for variable teaching schedules.

The problem with timetabling

The project also looked at the University’s physical infrastructure. Findings here indicated that a significant majority of centrally administered spaces see heavy use during semester, and informal study spaces, like libraries, are more than at capacity. The paper identified the issue of subjects being scheduled across different precincts, requiring significant travel time between locations for students. There is no current University-wide subject enrolment tools to plan for anticipated growth in student numbers.

As such, the paper proposes that the curriculum be extended beyond current teaching hours and significant investment be made in informal learning and study spaces. In addition, Academic Services should develop a mechanism to reduce time and distance between classes.

Unsurprisingly, a paper on timetabling found that the process is onerous for staff, with a high degree of manual effort, and current timelines and cut-off dates are not always practical for students. In addition, it was revealed that the online experience in enrolling in subjects and registering for classes can be frustrating for students.

The paper proposes improving the visibility and management of timetable constraints, reducing volatility in variations. Ultimately, this would seek to better facilitate student enrolment and choice.

To the future

A final paper on the academic workforce considered trends in higher education beyond the University. These included seeing a move towards more team-based delivery of teaching, rising student expectations for choice and flexibility and increased attention toward analytics to measure outcomes, including student employment.

The paper recommends furthering the use of expert roles in teaching, as well as enhancing and targeting professional development and training. The paper also suggests offering greater recognition and reward for individual contributions to learning at the University.

The coordinator of the FAP project, Pro-Vice Chancellor Gregor Kennedy is excited by the prospects of these recommendations.

“These green papers present a range of findings and recommendations; and each offers options for how the University might improve teaching and learning practices.”

“Many exciting ideas are now being considered by staff and students of [the] University.”

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