Senate Wrap-up December 2015

Flambé Fun!

The end of 2015 is approaching with the re-entry velocity of a returning Soyuz capsule (230 metres per second) and indeed, much to my surprise, it seems that the festive season is already in full swing.

Last week we closed the Academic governance year with a Jamaican Christmas lunch, which Ainslee and I prepared to thank all those who had supported the work of Academic Senate in 2015. This is a great time for me, as I get to work with Peter Brewty, the Executive Chef, and his team for a day or two in the U@MQ kitchens. I’d like to thank them for their marvellous hospitality and great good humour, as I bumble my way around their environment. I’ve come away brimming with great cooking tips and ideas to impress my family with on Christmas day.

So it’s almost time to down tools and enjoy a well-deserved break until the new year. But before doing so, I realise it has been quite a while since I’ve provided an update on matters before Academic Senate, so here goes one last hurrah for 2015:

Assessment Policy

I hope you have now had an opportunity to preview the draft Assessment Policy (pages 24-34 of November Senate Agenda).

The Policy is underpinned by seven Principles of Assessment which seek to empower academics to develop rigorous assessment regimes to suit their own disciplines. Senate endorsed these Principles of Assessment at its October meeting.

The Policy will be accompanied by five Schedules, whose development is now well advanced, providing more detail about University wide requirements for assessment in units, grades and SNGs, higher degree research, final examinations & moderation. Most of these draft schedules have now been circulated to Faculty Boards for comment, and your board should be forwarding them for wider scrutiny and comment early in the new year.

In acknowledgement of the fact that assessment practices should, and do, vary across Faculties, it is not intended for the University to develop a central procedure to guide the implementation of the Assessment Policy. Instead, Faculty Boards will be given autonomy and flexibility to develop, publish and implement procedures tailored to the way the Faculty conducts its own assessment regime. It is hoped that through this process Faculties will own, and be genuinely committed to satisfying, the requirements of the University’s assessment policy.

In these local procedures, Faculty Boards will be asked to address a range of procedural matters, including but not limited to:

  • The process by which it will implement and foster standards based assessment
  • The process by which it will consider assessment at a program, rather than unit level.
  • The checks and balances to ensure assessments are fair, transparent and equitable.
  • The measures by which the Faculty will promote academic integrity in assessment design.
  • The manner in which moderation will be conducted at all stages of the assessment life-cycle.

This is a very important piece of work. It not only promises a new departure in the University’s assessment practice, but it also pilots a new approach to locally adaptable policy making. I look greatly forward to seeing this project through to completion during the first half of next year.

Academic Progression

As you may know, a significant number of students are excluded from further enrolment or graduation each session as a result of failing to meet certain requirements outlined in the General Coursework Rules.

The most common reason for exclusion is the failure to meet the minimum requirements for progression. In each session a much smaller number of students are also excluded for taking an unduly long time to complete a program of study.

Under current rules progression is first assessed after 36 credit points (a minimum of 3 semesters of study) and students are found to have failed to progress if they have a GPA at that point which is less than 1. Those who have failed to progress are excluded from enrolment for 2 years. Our rules and policies do not mandate interventions early than the 36 credit point cut-off, so it is not uncommon for the letter of exclusion to be the first time at which a student is notified that the University is worried about his or her performance.

In order to provide better targeted and more timely support to struggling students, the academic progression working group of Senate has developed a proposal to identify and support students who fail to pass more than 50% of their study load at the end of each session.

This progression model is underpinned by a notion of ‘Academic Standing’ which would be updated at the end of each session to indicate a student’s current position on the spectrum of academic progression. This would replace the GPA based cut-off system described above, and would more closely meet the University’s obligations under the ESOS Act and the Higher Education Standards. The working party is currently in the process of assessing the feasibility of implementing this model, with automation through the student management system being key to its success.

Senate will consider and discuss this model early in the new year, with implementation following in Session 2, 2016.

Academic Integrity Workshops

In November, Academic Senate hosted a two-day academic integrity workshop which was co-facilitated by academic integrity experts and international research leaders:

  • Dr Tracey Bretag, former Chair and Founding Member of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Educational Integrity and President of the Executive Board of the International Centre for Academic Integrity; and
  • Dr Teddi Fishman, the Director of the International Centre for Academic Integrity (ICAI), based at Clemson University in the United States.

The purpose of the workshops was to provide a forum to encourage staff and students to think about how we might embed a renewed culture of personal integrity and ethical good practice throughout Macquarie’s undergraduate and postgraduate coursework programs. The workshops canvassed the following topics:

  • Creating a campus culture of personal integrity and ethical good practice,
  • Policy responses to the challenge of fostering academic integrity as a community value,
  • Educating & engaging students in academic integrity matters,
  • Supporting staff in developing responses to academic integrity challenges.

The workshops were well attended, by about 70 staff over the two days, and proved to be very enjoyable and successful. The recommendations arising out of the workshops will be documented in a report titled “A Framework for Action”. This report will be considered and endorsed by Academic Senate and University Council in early 2016.

Recommendations that may be included in the Framework include: drafting and implementing an Academic Integrity Policy to articulate shared values and principles; appointing Academic Integrity Advisers in each department; making academic integrity a standing item at existing Faculty/University level academic board meetings; revising staff induction and on-boarding processes; and creating a visual campaign on campus to promote and raise awareness of the importance of integrity both at university and beyond the campus.

This Framework is being designed to provide a solid foundation for ensuring that academic integrity remains a strategic priority for 2016 and beyond.

I’d like to use this opportunity to extend a special thank you to colleagues and students who participated in the workshops at such a busy time of the year – your support and assistance was greatly appreciated.

External Review of the Master of Research Program

In October, Academic Senate agreed to sponsor a far-reaching external review of the Master of Research Program.

As next year marks the 3-year anniversary of the Master of Research Program, it seems an appropriate time to openly review both its great successes and some of its key weaknesses. The independent review will consider, amongst other things:

  • the policies governing and the academic oversight of the program,
  • the experiences of students and academics engaged in the program,
  • the balance of centralised and devolved authority in the conduct of the program overall,
  • the structure and conduct of assessment and examination processes,
  • the way in which external examiners are briefed to engage in our examination process, and
  • the way in which program outcomes are moderated and approved.

An external chair has been identified to lead the review, and discussions are currently under way with the Vice-Chancellor, Chair of Academic Senate, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, and the Higher Degree Research Office to frame the terms of reference for the review. The terms of reference will return to Senate for approval early next year.

Student Disability Support Policy & Procedure

In August Academic Senate approved the Student Disability and Support Policy.

This Policy articulates the rights and responsibilities of Macquarie University staff and students in relation to students with a disability and the University’s application of ‘reasonable adjustment’ to ensure fair and inclusive treatment for students with disability.

The Policy highlights the University’s commitment to achieving a participatory and equitable environment for those students with a disability, and assists in the streamlining of administrative requirements.

Indigenous Strategy

In December, Senate considered the Indigenous Strategy Green Paper which is the first step towards building capacity for Indigenous excellence at our University. The Green Paper is intended to open a collaborative dialogue regarding a whole of university approach to indigenous strategy.

Resignation as Chair of Academic Senate

In other news, it was with some slight trepidation that I announced my resignation to Academic Senate at the December meeting.

As agreed with the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor, I will stay in post until the end of April 2016. The intervening months will allow me to oversee completion of a few important outstanding projects, to assist with any TEQSA re-registration matters, and to ensure an orderly transition to a new Chair.

It has been a great privilege to serve Senate over the past 15 years, as a member of its Academic Program Committee, elected member, Chair of its Learning and Teaching Committee and most recently its Chair. That being said a number of recent events, both personal and professional, good and bad, have caused me to think more carefully about re-balancing the various aspects of my professional and personal life.

My field, Pure Mathematics, is thriving at Macquarie, and the past few years have been some of the most productive in my own mathematical career. This good fortune brings with it opportunities and mathematical challenges that I’ve found increasingly difficult to balance with my responsibilities as Chair. So it is time for me to return to the life of an itinerant mathematical scribbler.

The best capsule summary may be that I am resigning in order to spend more time with my family, my students, my mathematical collaborators and with my equations.

Finally, happy holidays!

Wishing you all a safe, and very merry Christmas.

With the very best wishes for 2016,