Program-Based Design in Business and Economics

Have you ever wondered how different faculties at Macquarie might approach program-based design? We asked Professor Anne Ross-Smith (Associate Dean of Curriculum and Quality Assurance, Faculty of Business and Economics) to share her thoughts.

There is an increasing interest in managing curriculum on the program level. Could you tell us how it is approached by your Faculty?

We have a faculty-wide curriculum management process which has been in place for two years now and we are still fine tuning it.

This curriculum management process is based on setting up program-level management.  We then look at the relationship between program and learning level unit outcomes and map the curriculum unit by unit. Our curriculum management process focuses on the required units as this is where we assure student learning. The process also enables us to identify issues at the unit level and take action to close the loop by acting on feedback identified through the AOL (assurance of learning) process.

Can you tell us a bit more about it?

We have a large number of programs in the Faculty of Business and Economics, and each of these programs has a Director. A Program Director’s role is to work with Unit Convenors to ensure that Unit Convenors are provided with feedback on their units to assist them in contributing to ongoing quality improvement.

We are finding, however, that that the weak point at the moment is the engagement of Unit Convenors in this process, as they tend to think primarily about their own units. It is not surprising – they love teaching and have often taught the same unit for many years, so some struggle to make a move from unit-level thinking to program-level thinking. We have been trying different strategies to increase Unit Convenors’ engagement. One strategy is to work with Unit Convenors on a one-to-one basis. We are very lucky to have on our team a person who is meeting with individual Unit Convenors, talking to them about their assessment tasks, looking at ways in which they can enhance their units and make them better and more closely aligned with the program learning outcomes, etc. However, we do find that even though these meetings are usually very satisfactory and Unit Convenors are usually enthusiastic, they tend not to follow up and make the changes. There are many competing demands on the academic roles in the University, such as the requirement to achieve significant research outcomes, and this leads to tensions and competing demands.

Another way to increase the involvement of Unit Convenors being trialled at the moment is setting up a series of opportunities for Program Directors to hold meetings with Unit Convenors in a friendly environment over lunch.  The Faculty supports these meetings by providing funding for the lunch.  I recently attended one such meeting which was very productive. There are going to be more meetings like this in the second semester.

Having said that, engaging Unit Convenors remains a challenge and the University does need to consider carefully how Unit Convenors can be best engaged in program-level management.

Do you use Data Analytics for learning and teaching purposes in your Faculty?

We use data analytics a lot in this Faculty. One of the main uses is keeping track of different cohorts. We have a quite a diverse student population with cohorts coming through different pathways such as SIBT, TAFE and various international universities with which we have partnerships. So we want to be able to compare the performance of those different cohorts over a period of time. For example, we have identified that in one of our programs, the Master of Applied Finance, the cohort coming from Beijing tends to have a higher failure rate than the Sydney cohort. Even though we may have known it anecdotally, it was good to have data on it. Having data enabled us to say, “Ok, we need to do some work there to help these students do better”. If you don’t have the data, you can’t see the big picture and act on it. It is ‘closing the loop’ and it is important for student learning. Moreover, the international accreditation that we are currently going for requires us to demonstrate that we track and compare cohorts and take action to address differences between the cohorts.

Do you have any concerns about using Big Data?

My biggest concern is the integrity of data. I am not saying it is not there, but I think we could do with a little more assurance and University support on this. Some of the work that we are doing at the Faculty level could probably be done at University level and such a step will ensure stronger data integrity. There are some positive developments in this area. We have been interacting with the analytics team to identify the type of reports that are most relevant to Faculty needs.

Is there anything we can learn from other universities in terms of using technology or data?

Absolutely. The example that comes to mind is the University’s rollout of RPL (recognition of prior learning). It is one of the more complex projects the University is implementing at present and a big thing is the user-friendliness of the University’s RPL processes, particularly for students. Quite a few of our competitor universities have developed a system where a student can log on and request information about what RPL they will get for their qualification from more or less any university in the Asia-Pacific region. It would be ideal if Macquarie could offer this service to its prospective students as well.