Discipline learning outcomes: Design resource and quality assurance mechanism



graduate learning outcomes, national standards, quality assurance, tertiary teaching, science education


The use of learning outcome statements underpins contemporary university course design, yet their impact in practice is unclear. Threshold learning outcomes (TLOs) for Australian bachelor degrees in science were published in the Science Standards Statement in 2011. This paper reports how and where the Science TLOs have been adopted by science faculties across Australian universities as a case study in the broad-scale application of discipline learning outcomes in generalist degrees. The analysis draws on four data sources: a desktop survey of published course learning outcomes for science degrees; an online survey of learning and teaching leaders; semi-structured interviews with a sub-set of those leaders; and a citation analysis. The results show that the majority of Australian science faculties have embraced the Science TLOs both as a reference point for quality assurance and as the basis of curriculum design or redevelopment. The TLOs are perceived as a trusted external reference point, endorsed by the Australian Council of Deans of Science, and aligned to national legislative requirements. Some challenges remain, including staff resistance to change and a perception of curriculum reform as a ‘top-down’ process. Positional leaders clearly have a pivotal role as active brokers to lead positive change. However, in terms of national standards and quality assurance, we conclude that disciplinary learning outcome statements such as the Science TLOs build a bridge between intent and practice in curriculum reform.

Author Biographies

Susan M. Jones, University of Tasmania

Susan Jones is Emeritus Professor of Zoology and of Learning and Teaching with the University of Tasmania. As the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) co-Discipline Scholar for Science, she facilitated the development of the national Science Threshold Learning Outcomes. Professor Jones has a long-term interest in easing the transition of first year students into university studies and in supporting academic staff to develop their scholarship of teaching. Her contributions to learning and teaching have been recognised with an ALTC Australian Award for Teaching Excellence Australian Award (2008), a Carrick Citation in 2007, and the inaugural UTAS  Vice-Chancellor’s Commendation for Sustained Commitment to Teaching Excellence (2012).

Elizabeth Johnson, Deakin University

Liz Johnson is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education at Deakin University leading the education mission of the university. Liz trained as a research biochemist and has over 30 years experience as a university educator and leader. Liz is an Australian National Teaching Fellow and a Principal Fellow of Advance HE (UK) and has led national projects on curriculum renewal for science courses, work-integrated learning and teaching and learning leadership.

Jo-Anne Kelder, University of Tasmania

Jo-Anne Kelder is currently Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Innovation and Development with the University’s Academic Division. She has been responsible for a number of operational and strategic projects for quality assurance of curriculum and enhancing student experience, as well as research to develop staff capability and practice in curriculum evaluation and scholarship.

She has been recognised for contributions to teaching and learning with three University of Tasmania team and program teaching awards (2014), and individual Vice Chancellor's citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning (2017). Nationally, she was involved in the ALTC LTAS-Science (2010-11) and OLT AgLTAS (2012-15) projects and led the OLT extension-PATS project (2014-15). With her colleague Associate Professor Tina Acuna, she was awarded the inaugural Joint Fellowship by the Australian Council of Deans of Science (2019). She has contributed as Associate, and then Senior, Editor to the Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice since 2016 and is in a research team developing a quality tool for reviewing literature that is sufficiently flexible to align with qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches.




How to Cite

Jones, S., Johnson, E., & Kelder, J.-A. (2021). Discipline learning outcomes: Design resource and quality assurance mechanism . Advancing Scholarship and Research in Higher Education, 2(1). Retrieved from https://asrhe.org/index.php/asrhe/article/view/5577



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