Overview

  • The Higher Education Standards Framework and the Australian Qualification Framework provide regulatory standards in Australian Higher Education.
  • Unit Outlines (UO) are part of the course level documents. The UO is approved at the Academic and/or Faculty board level.

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Regulatory framework Documentation and CMAS Unit Outline

Regulatory framework

The Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA), through the Higher Education Standards Framework’s Threshold Standards (hereafter, “Threshold Standards”) (TEQSA 2021), regulates the provision of higher education courses in Australia. The Threshold Standards (2021) ensure quality across higher education providers in Australia and establish a general level to maintain the overall quality of the student experience. A key feature required under these standards is a real-world rationale for courses.

  Australian Qualifications Framework 

Source: Australian Qualification Framework Council (2013)

In addition to the Threshold Standards (2021), the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) (2013) provides nationally aligned levels for pedagogy in Higher Education degree qualifications. The AQF is the agreed policy of Commonwealth, State, and Territory ministers. Under this framework, alignment of course learning outcomes, unit learning outcomes and assessment to relevant AQF level is required. Rationales for courses, units, and assessments need to be provided and constructive alignment (Biggs, 2014) demonstrated.

Documentation and CMAS (Curriculum Management Approval System)

There are three interrelated levels underpinning unit documentation required to meet the regulatory standards. The course documentation and UOs are part of the course structure that goes through a rigorous academic approval process via the Academic Board.

CMAS is ACU’s system for managing curriculum information and documentation from approvals through to publication. CMAS supports the creation, amendment, and review of courses and units, and provides a central location for reporting of progress through tracked and managed Workflows. The ‘single source of truth’ for a course or unit is the version of the curriculum documented in CMAS. CMAS stores ‘Unit Outline’ information within the Unit template.

For more information on CMAS and how it is used at ACU please go to the CMAS resources.

Unit Outline

The UO is set as part of the course approval process and is a required course development document at the regulation level. Accordingly, it is written with reference to course level documents for academics and overseeing bodies (TEQSA, AQF, Accreditation bodies). It is important to note that UOs are to be written in the perspective of third person, eg. Students will...

Once finalised, the UO cannot be updated without a formal faculty approval process. For more information regarding the approval process and requirements see the Course Accreditation, Amendment and Review Policy (CAARP).

This is a statement of why a unit is necessary to the achievement of course learning outcomes, and a brief description of how this will be achieved. The final sentence should sum up the unit stating its one, over-arching aim. This statement will be published in the University Handbook.

The unit rationale needs to justify the need for the unit with reference to the course rationales and relationships with other units as part of effective curriculum design (Angelo, 2012). The basis of a unit rationale draws on Knowles’ (1970; 1984) concept of “andragogy”. Primary among the principles of andragogy is that adults are purposeful learners (Knowles, 1970; 1984). Thus, if students can see the link to a real-world purpose and the associated learning implications from the start, they will be more intrinsically motivated to engage in appropriate study.

The unit rationale should state the real-world need for the unit, how the need will be met and the aim of the unit. The description should allude to a constructive developmental sequence linking learning to real-world need. The UO description should comprise (in this order): the content knowledge, conceptual knowledge (understanding), and skills needed to meet the real-world need. The language of Catholic Social Thought should be integrated where possible along with objectives related to ACU’s Education Strategy and key priorities (for example, Indigenous perspectives).

Typically, the final statement of the rationale should be the aim statement. The key to this is that it should provide the overall big picture of the unit (Knowles et al., 2014) before the unit outline goes through the discrete components. The statement is not to exceed 200 words.

Structure using acquire, assimilate, apply model and show a progressive developmental sequence. (Nulty, 2021).

The UO learning outcomes for each unit need to be linked to the course rationale and learning outcomes. They should flow logically from the unit rationale, description, and aim and use appropriate AQF descriptors (for example, analyse and evaluate information...; AQF Level 7—Bachelor Degree). Biggs and Tang (2011) suggest that a unit should have a maximum of 4 to 6 learning outcomes.

The unit learning outcomes should reflect the level of the unit and be developmentally sequenced to reflect learning, progressing from acquiring knowledge, to assimilating knowledge, and finally applying knowledge

Graduate attributes at ACU are intended to enable students to develop a range or work ready skills and core ACU attributes as they progress through a course. In this section of the UO a teaching team along with the national course governing team should consider the most appropriate GAs to include in each unit. Note that the Graduate Attributes are not all covered in each unit. They need to be fully covered at a course level ensuring that, by graduation, students have demonstrated each of the ACU Graduate Attributes.

The content topics are selected to ensure that students achieve the learning outcomes for the unit. For the unit to be constructively aligned (Biggs & Tang, 2011), the teaching topics, content, and learning activities must directly enable the students to achieve the learning outcomes, which are then demonstrated in the assessments.

Provides the overarching strategy for attaining the learning outcomes.

The key to the learning and teaching strategy statement is that it shows how learning and teaching in the unit has been designed to foster deep and active learning and engages and motivates students (Race, 2019). It describes a purposeful and developmental narrative that explains the journey the students will experience and aligns with the needs of the cohort of learners.

The learning and teaching strategy should refer to the overall combined effect of multiple methods or approaches working together, purposefully and progressively, toward a particular goal. Doing this will explain the developmental journey the students will have in a descriptive narrative. It should then be made apparent to students how they will learn and why they will learn in the approaches and methods that have been selected.

Should the unit be offered in multiple modes, then a learning and teaching strategy and rationale are required for each delivery mode.

The learning and teaching strategy and rationale is not to exceed 200 words.

The unit assessment strategy provides justification for specific tasks and how these assess the learning outcomes in a progressive sequence.
Assessment tasks show a progressive increase in their weighting in line with the importance of the learning outcomes.

The assessment strategy and rationale align with the ACU Assessment Policy and include how the assessment tasks and their weightings are designed to allow students to progressively demonstrate and assess the achievement of the unit learning outcomes, as well as the course learning outcomes. In addition, the assessment strategy and rationale should include relevant academic and professional standards, align with the ACU policy framework, and ensure the development of graduate attributes.

Assessment should be justified as part of the overall teaching strategy. It is logical for learning outcomes to be assessed in the same order as knowledge development: acquire, assimilate, apply (Nulty, 2021):

  • Knowledge acquisition suits tasks assessing recall
  • Assimilation or understanding suits tasks that assess understanding
  • Application of knowledge and understanding suits tasks that assess higher order cognitive skills

The relevant learning activities should be integrated with the assessment activities, each supporting the other in the achievement of the learning outcomes: Assessment as learning, as well as for and of learning (Nulty, 2021). For more information about the aims and principles underpinning assessment design at ACU see Assessment Principles and Aims.

The assessment strategy and rationale is not to exceed 200 words.

Other resources

Angelo, T. (2012). Designing subjects for learning: practical research – based principles and guidelines. In L. Hunt & D. Chalmers (Eds.), University teaching in focus: a learning-centred approach (pp. 93-111). ACER Press.

Australian Qualifications Framework Council. (2013). Australian Qualifications Framework (2nd ed.). Commonwealth of Australia.

Biggs, J. (2014). Constructive alignment in university teaching. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1, 5-22. https://www.herdsa.org.au/herdsa-review-higher-education-vol-1/5-22

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Knowles, M. S. (1970). The modern practice of adult education; andragogy versus pedagogy. The Association Press.

Knowles, M. S. (1984). The adult learner: a neglected species (3rd ed.). Gulf Publishing.

Knowles, M. S., Holton III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2014). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). Routledge.

Nulty, D. (2021). ‘Understanding unit design and constructive alignment’ PowerPoint Presentation, used as Teaching Materials for ACU GCHE.

Race, P. (2019). The lecturer's toolkit: a practical guide to assessment, learning and teaching (5th ed.). Routledge.

TEQSA (2021). Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2021. Australian Government.

Page last updated on 20/05/2024

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