A research-based approach to generic graduate attributes policy

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [University of Auckland Library]On: 04 December 2014, At: 13:32Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Higher Education Research &amp;DevelopmentPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cher20</p><p>A research-based approach to genericgraduate attributes policySimon C. Barrie aa The Institute for Teaching and Learning , The University ofSydney , New South Wales , AustraliaPublished online: 23 Jan 2012.</p><p>To cite this article: Simon C. Barrie (2012) A research-based approach to genericgraduate attributes policy, Higher Education Research &amp; Development, 31:1, 79-92, DOI:10.1080/07294360.2012.642842</p><p>To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2012.642842</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp;Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p><p>http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cher20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/07294360.2012.642842http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2012.642842http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p></li><li><p>A research-based approach to generic graduate attributes policy</p><p>Simon C. Barrie</p><p>The Institute for Teaching and Learning, The University of Sydney, New South Wales,Australia</p><p>For many years universities around the world have sought to articulate the nature ofthe education they offer to their students through a description of the genericqualities and skills their graduates possess. Despite the lengthy history of therhetoric of such policy claims, universities endeavours to describe genericattributes of graduates continue to lack a clear theoretical or conceptual base andare characterized by a plurality of view-points. Furthermore, despite extensivefunding in some quarters, overall, efforts to foster the development of genericattributes appear to have met with limited success. Recent research has shedsome light on this apparent variability in policy and practice. It is apparent thatAustralian university teachers charged with responsibility for developingstudents generic graduate attributes do not share a common understanding ofeither the nature of these outcomes, or the teaching and learning processes thatmight facilitate the development of these outcomes. Instead academics holdqualitatively different conceptions of the phenomenon of graduate attributes.This paper considers how the qualitatively different conceptions of graduateattributes identified in this research have been applied to the challenge ofrevising a universitys policy statement specifying the generic attributes of itsgraduates. The paper outlines the key findings of the research and then describeshow the universitys revision of its policy statement has built upon this research,adopting a research-led approach to academic development. The resultant two-tiered policy is presented and the key academic development processesassociated with the disciplinary contextualization of this framework areconsidered. The discussion explores some of the implications of this novelapproach to structuring a universitys policy, in particular, the variation in therelationship between discipline knowledge and generic attributes which was akey feature of the qualitative variation in understandings identified in the research.</p><p>Introduction</p><p>Universities around the world have claimed various sets of generic attributes on the partof their graduates for many decades in some cases since the inception of the univer-sity, as in the case of Cardinal Wooleys original statement in 1862 in his openingaddress at Australias oldest university, The University of Sydney.</p><p>Our undergraduates . . . will, we may reasonably hope possess a well cultivated and vig-orous understanding: they will have formed the habit of thinking at once with modestyand independence; they will not be in danger of mistaking one branch of science forthe whole circle of knowledge, nor unduly exaggerating the importance of thosestudies they select as their own. Above all they will have attained the truest and most</p><p>ISSN 0729-4360 print/ISSN 1469-8366 online</p><p># 2012 HERDSAhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2012.642842http://www.tandfonline.com</p><p>Email: s.barrie@itl.usyd.edu.au</p><p>Higher Education Research &amp; DevelopmentVol. 31, No. 1, February 2012, 7992</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f A</p><p>uckl</p><p>and </p><p>Lib</p><p>rary</p><p>] at</p><p> 13:</p><p>32 0</p><p>4 D</p><p>ecem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li><li><p>useful result of human knowledge the consciousness and confession of their comparativeignorance. (Wooley, quoted in Candy et al., 1994, p. iv)</p><p>Such statements of generic graduate attributes seek to articulate the nature of the edu-cation the university offers to its students and through this an aspect of the institutionscontribution to society. In Australia, most definitions of these generic graduate out-comes derive from the definition in the Higher Education Council (HEC) report Achiev-ing Quality:</p><p>These are the skills, personal attributes and values which should be acquired by all gradu-ates regardless of their discipline or field of study. In other words, they should representthe central achievements of higher education as a process. (HEC, 1992, p. 20)</p><p>Unlike many generic, key or employable skills statements in the United Kingdom, Aus-tralian statements of generic graduate attributes (Bowden et al., 2000; Hager et al.,2002) explicitly emphasize the relevance of these graduate outcomes to both theworld of work (employability) and other aspects of life. In particular, the role ofsuch qualities in equipping graduates as global citizens and effective members ofmodern day society who can act as agents of social good has been emphasized inthe Australian context.</p><p>Graduate attributes are the qualities, skills and understandings a university communityagrees its students should develop during their time with the institution and consequentlyshape the contribution they are able to make to their profession and society. . . They arequalities that also prepare graduates as agents of social good in an unknown future.(Bowden et al., 2000)</p><p>Broadly speaking, generic graduate attributes in Australia have come to be accepted asbeing the skills, knowledge and abilities of university graduates, beyond disciplinarycontent knowledge, which are applicable to a range of contexts. It is intended that uni-versity students acquire these qualities as one of the outcomes of successfully complet-ing any undergraduate degree at university.</p><p>There are several key features to such a definition of generic graduate attributes:</p><p>1. These outcomes are referred to as generic in that it is claimed they are developedregardless of the field of study or domain of knowledge. That is not to say thatthey are necessarily independent of disciplinary knowledge rather, that thesequalities may be developed in various disciplinary contexts and are outcomesthat in some way transcend disciplinary outcomes.</p><p>2. They are abilities to be looked for in a graduate of any undergraduate degree.They are not entry-level skills rather, they are considered to be an importantoutcome of university-level learning experiences.</p><p>3. They are often referred to as generic attributes rather than generic skills in rec-ognition that as outcomes they encompass more than skills and attitudes. As wellas being a more global term for such outcomes it is one that can encompass newor alternative conceptions of wisdom and knowledge.</p><p>4. These outcomes result from the usual process of higher education. That is, theyare not a set of additional outcomes requiring an additional curriculum rather,they are outcomes that can be reasonably expected from the usual higher edu-cation experience.</p><p>80 S.C. Barrie</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f A</p><p>uckl</p><p>and </p><p>Lib</p><p>rary</p><p>] at</p><p> 13:</p><p>32 0</p><p>4 D</p><p>ecem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li><li><p>Such statements are typically claimed to reflect the collective understandings of the uni-versity community in terms of the generic outcomes of a university education (Bowdenet al., 2000). However, the experiences of authors reporting in the literature on initiat-ives to foster the development of such attributes either in their own classrooms or inacademic development contexts would suggest the need to question the extent towhich this rhetoric does reflect a shared understanding (Clanchy &amp; Ballard, 1995).In much of the literature there is a suggestion of apathy and even resistance on thepart of some colleagues to generic attributes initiatives (Holmes, 2000). Even wheresuch initiatives occur, approaches to the teaching and learning of graduate attributesare hugely varied (Fallows &amp; Steven, 2000) and, despite sometimes extensivesupport, have not always met with success when considered at an institutional ornational university system level.</p><p>[Graduate attributes initiatives in the United Kingdom] have had little impact so far, inpart because of teachers scepticism of the message, the messenger and its vocabularyand in part because the skills demanded lack clarity, consistency and a recognisabletheoretical base. Any attempt to acquire enhanced understandings of practicethrough which to inform staff and course development initiatives thus requires the con-ceptualisation and development of models of generic skills. (Bennett et al., 1999,p. 90)</p><p>Even though claims of graduate attributes sit at a vital intersection of many of the forcesshaping higher education today (Barnett, 2000), they by and large lack the support of aconceptual framework or theoretical underpinning. Universities endeavours todescribe and foster the development of generic attributes of graduates are characterizedby a plurality of viewpoints and approaches (Kemp &amp; Seagraves, 1995; Coaldrake,1998; Drummond et al., 1998). Recent research (Barrie, 2002, 2003, 2006) revisitingthe rhetoric of institutional claims of generic graduate attributes from the perspectiveof phenomenography (Marton &amp; Booth, 1997) has shown that Australian universityteachers charged with responsibility for developing students generic graduate attri-butes do not share a common understanding of either the nature of these outcomes,or the teaching and learning processes that might facilitate the development of theseoutcomes. Instead academics hold qualitatively different conceptions of the phenom-enon of graduate attributes, in terms of what is learned and how such outcomes areachieved. In the conceptions identified in this research particular understandings ofgraduate attribute outcomes are associated with particular approaches to the teachingand learning of such outcomes.</p><p>These findings shed new light on universities claims of a certain set of generic attri-butes on the part of all graduates, regardless of the particular degree studied. Suchclaims are currently being critically re-examined in some Australian universities inthe context of attempts to implement more systematic and widespread curriculumreform to address the efficient development of graduate attributes through universityeducation. Such curricular reform and development poses a considerable challengeto existing policy statements and for the academic development units charged with sup-porting their implementation in curricula and teaching.</p><p>This paper considers the implications of the variations in understandings of gradu-ate attributes identified in the research, in the context of a research-led academic devel-opment initiative. In doing so the paper considers how the empirically derivedqualitatively different conceptions of graduate attributes might first be applied to thechallenge of revising a universitys policy statement of graduate attributes, as a</p><p>Higher Education Research &amp; Development 81</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f A</p><p>uckl</p><p>and </p><p>Lib</p><p>rary</p><p>] at</p><p> 13:</p><p>32 0</p><p>4 D</p><p>ecem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li><li><p>precursor to developing a coherent approach to the development of these attributes inthe context of students experiences of university education. Such a research-basedapproach to the development of statements of the generic attributes of graduates hasbeen conspicuously absent from most Australian universities policy formulation inthis area.</p><p>The research underpinning the policy revision</p><p>Understanding the different ways members of the various disciplinary communitiesof the university conceive of generic graduate attributes in relation to the more fam-iliar university learning outcomes is a necessary precursor to any review of existingpolicy and meaningful, effective and lasting curriculum development. Research intouniversity academics understandings of the place of graduate attributes in the usualuniversity curriculum has highlighted the reality of these disparate views (Barrie2002, 2003, 2006). This research used a phenomenographic approach (Marton&amp; Booth, 1997) and focused on the activities of university teachers charged withdeveloping graduate attributes as part of the usual undergraduate experience. Theresearch found that academics express very different understandings of graduateattributes as an outcome of a university education. These different understandingsor conceptions of graduate attributes do not simply reflect disciplinary differences;that is, academics in widely different disciplines can share the same understandingof the nature of graduate attributes. Similarly, academics in the same discipline canhold very different understandings, which are realized differently in their teachingand curricula. Significantly, within a discipline, academics can hold fundamentallydifferent understandings as to how generic such outcomes are. Importantly, thedifferent conceptions identified position graduate attributes differently in terms ofthe nature and complexity of the skill or attribute and its relationship to disciplineknowledge. This...</p></li></ul>

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