Teaching Matters

Putting students at the fore of curriculum design in the Degrees of Difference

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Teaching Matters 2017 | Presentation Details | 28 NovemberNov 2017


Putting students at the fore of curriculum design in the Degrees of Difference


Jo-Anne Kelder, Faculty of Health
Joseph Crawford, Tasmania University Union


Curriculum Design for Degrees of Difference

Presentation Type

Showcase Presentation


Social Sciences 210




Applied Honours is a core component of the Tasmanian Education Model (Degrees of Difference). The Curriculum Change Leaders team established an Applied Honours Working Group (AHWG), comprising a broad range of academics, to articulate the details of Applied Honours and develop guidelines for staff responsible for developing and implementing the Applied Honours curriculum in a course. In line with the University’s commitment to Students as Partners, a consultation and engagement strategy was developed in consultation with the Students as Partners Fellow (Dr Wendy Green) and the Chair of the AHWG (Prof Justin Walls). The overall aim was to identify and understand student perspectives and expectations of a fourth year of study, in particular an applied honours. This presentation provides the background, method, and findings of a student survey and follow-up focus groups designed to:

  • Understand the current perceived value and interest in undertaking an additional year of coursework, study, or research;
  • Elicit what students know (or think they know) about the proposed applied honours;
  • Identify general characteristics of an applied honours that are attractive/unattractive (learning experiences, employability impact, impact on learning, and issues that are a barrier);
  • Identify students’ perceptions about pros and cons of a fourth year of study (applied honours) vs seeking a job in relation to employability; and
  • Elicit key characteristics that would make applied honours attractive.

The survey link and focus group invitation was sent via bulk email (18 September 2017) to all undergraduate students enrolled in a bachelor degree. Students were invited to complete an anonymous five minute survey about the ‘applied honours’ as a fourth year of study; and/or join a one-hour focus group to identify the pros and cons of what your ideal applied honours year would be like.

The survey questions included some demographic data (year of study, primary faculty of study, birth year, and primary campus {added at n=40}). Two 7-point Likert scale questions were used to test sentiment and perceived knowledge about the new Applied Honours program. A free text question tested actual knowledge. A sliding scale (1-100) question tested level of interest followed by a free text question to elicit factors that would increase interest.

The survey was closed after four days, 21st September, at n = 619 (in draw for a $25 gift voucher incentive). The survey drew strong interest from students both quantitatively (n=619) and qualitatively (the majority of respondents answered free text questions). Over 100 students indicated willingness to be invited to participate in a focus group ($25 gift voucher incentive) however, given the focus groups were scheduled for weeks 12 and 13, it was only expected that ten percent of these would be available.

The focus group activities were designed to take one hour and elicit rich data on pros and cons for students of job versus a fourth year of study and opinions on desirable learning experiences, expected impact on employability and learning as well as what would make applied honours unattractive.

Preliminary Findings

The key findings relate to sentiment towards applied honours and knowledge about the proposed fourth year of study. Overall, the general sentiment towards the Applied Honours program, or an additional year of study more generally, students seemed to recognise and understand the potential benefits of the program. Students were not, however, as convinced that their time was better spent undertaking an additional coursework year. Questions testing students’ knowledge about honours programs available at the University, and applied honours in particular, revealed lack of information surrounding the Applied Honours program and what it is likely to include. Qualitative responses testing perceived and actual knowledge revealed over half of respondents had no or minimal information. Around 20 responses highlighted misinformation, or partially correct understanding of what an applied honours involved. Around 25 respondents presented accurate information in their response.

Students’ reported interest varied, indicating a variety of potential uptake in the Applied Honours program. However, on the average, when respondents were grouped as either likely to consider applied honours (or rating 50 and above) versus unlikely to consider the Applied Honours program (or a rating below 50), a vast majority appear to have interest.

Factors reported that would increase interest include: information, applied honours in professional awards alongside pathways to postgraduate study, nature of the learning experience (with work placements highly valued), financial support and reliable (guaranteed) employment opportunities and competitiveness. Analysis of focus group data has not been conducted at the time of submission, but the key preliminary findings will be reported at Teaching Matters Conference 2017.

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