• ACU’s distinctive approach to curriculum design and teaching is student-focused and based on the fundamentals of adult learning theory.
  • From an andragogical perspective, learning and teaching should build bridges between new knowledge and past experience (Knowles, 1990).
  • Transition Pedagogy is a framework that attempts to optimise the first-year experience and student success.
  • Vision 2033 (ACU, 2024) outlines six focus areas, which underpin ACU's distinctive approach to teaching and curriculum design.

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ACU's Distinctive Approach Traditional v Andragogical Perspective Transition Pedagogy Alignment to Strategic Direction

ACU's Distinctive Approach

ACU has a distinctive approach to curriculum design and teaching, which is student-focused and based on the fundamentals of adult learning theory. This approach puts the student experience at the centre. The model is predicated by the success of blended learning models adopted in response to COVID-19 and underpinned by sound andragogy and transition pedagogy.

Traditional v Andragogical Perspective

Innovation usually comes from those setting out to serve the needs of new and diverse students and the realization that traditional means of program design are inadequate (Swenson, 2003). It is difficult to trace the origins of the dominant instructional model of lecture and semester in university teaching, which arose from reasons other than student learning (Swenson, 2003). Regardless, over time such models have become entrenched in university systems as a culture and tradition, as opposed to sound andragogy (Scott, 2003; Swenson, 2003).

 Lecturer teaching in class with a whiteboard on the background

From an andragogical perspective, learning and teaching should build bridges between new knowledge and past experience (Knowles, 1990). It should also be underpinned by the premise that learning should be centred on solving problems, not memorising content (Knowles, 1990) through facilitating an active process of learning for adults (Kolb, 1981). As such, students construct their own understanding by asking questions, active involvement in class activities, reflecting on their personal experiences and relating the new knowledge to what they already know (Biggs & Tang, 2011).

Andragogy is founded on six key principles (Knowles, 1984)

  1. Adults need to know the reason for learning something
  2. Experience should provide the basis for learning activities
  3. Adults should be enabled to take responsibility for their decisions on education, including involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction
  4. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that are relevant to their work and/or personal lives
  5. Adult learning is problem-centred rather than content-centred
  6. Adults learn purposefully when they can see the real-world application

Transition pedagogy

Transition Pedagogy is a framework that attempts to optimise the first-year experience and student success. It is focused on first year curriculum design that carefully scaffolds, mediates, and supports learning (Kift, 2008; Kift & Field, 2009; Nelson & Kift, 2005; Nelson, Kift, Humphreys, & Harper, 2006). Whilst it is commonly accepted that the first-year experience is critical to retention, the issue is not exclusive to this cohort. Students are always in a state of transition within a program.

Transition pedagogy literature identifies the curriculum as the fulcrum of effective transition practice. It exposes six fundamental principles (Kift, 2009).

  1. Transition - curriculum and its delivery should be designed to be consistent and explicit in assisting students’ transition from their previous educational experience to learning in higher education.
  2. Diversity – appreciation of individuality and diversity means caring about and relating to each student in a class (Scott, 2003). Students at risk of attrition report lower perceptions of belonging, support and engagement (Naylor, Baik & Arkoudis, 2018) and appreciation of diversity promotes better mental health (Baik et al, 2017).
  3. Engagement – learning, teaching, and assessment approaches should enact an engaging and involving curriculum and enable active and collaborative learning. Smaller classes and personalised engagement can assist in facilitating greater collaboration.
  4. Design – blended learning design promotes an active student-centred style of learning.
  5. Assessment – early formative assessment of students’ work is critical, to aid learning and to provide information to both students and staff on achievement. Some evidence indicates that students prefer essay and other more ‘qualitative’ approaches to assessment as exams encouraged cramming (Scott, 2003).
  6. Evaluation and monitoring - active strategies embedded to monitor student engagement with learning and identify and intervene in a timely way with students at risk are critical to addressing issues which may lead to attrition.

Alignment to Strategic Direction

ACU's Vision 2033 outlines six focus areas which underpin the university's distinctive approach to teaching and curriculum design:

We will equip our learners with the knowledge, skills and confidence to thrive in an interconnected and changing world.

1.1 Provide a personalised, supportive, flexible and accessible learning experience.
1.2 Diversify and grow our course offer and student cohort.
1.3 Enhance our Core Curriculum and expand our student leadership and community engagement programs.
1.4 Foster a sense of global responsibility.

With a dynamic and forward-thinking curriculum, we will prepare students for the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow.

2.1 Develop curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities to prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow.
2.2 Expand offerings in our areas of strength and introduce new offerings in areas related to STEMM.
2.3 Provide students with industry-relevant experiences across education, research and research training.
2.4 Design and deliver tailored learning and professional development programs that meet Australia's future workforce needs.

Our approach to community engagement is informed by the principle of subsidiarity. We will support local autonomy and decision making and empower communities to determine their own futures.

3.1 Co-create workforce participation initiatives for underrepresented groups. 3.2 Facilitate collaborative research and research training projects between communities, industry and government.
3.3 Engage in community-based research collaborations.
3.4 Promote reconciliation and champion Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges, cultures and leadership.

We will make practical contributions towards addressing the social challenges facing Australia and engage in mission-aligned programs of work that benefit Australia and its people.

4.1 Develop workforce capacity and capability solutions in national areas of critical need. 4.2 Translate research into applied and practical impact.
4.3 Partner with government and industry to find solutions to pressing national issues.
4.4 Engage in policy development and make recommendations to government on areas of university expertise.

We will fulfil our mission commitment to upholding the inherent worth of every individual and advocating for a just and harmonious world.

5.1 Strengthen our contribution to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
5.2 Form international collaborations to address global challenges.
5.3 Promote the importance of ethical practice in all aspects of life and work.
5.4 Critically evaluate the effects of global progress and change on individuals, communities and environments.

To facilitate the sustained success and growth of ACU, we will consistently work to strengthen our institutional foundations.

6.1 Implement internal initiatives that advance our mission, build organisational culture, provide staff development, increase efficiency and promote innovation.
6.2 Diversify and grow ACU's sources of revenue.
6.3 Demonstrate environmental, social and governance excellence.
6.4 Transform ACU campuses into precincts focused on innovation and co-location with Catholic partners, industry and community.

Other resources

ACU Strategic Plan 2020-2023 Impact Through Empathy. Retrieved from https://www.acu.edu.au/-/media/feature/pagecontent/richtext/about-acu/strategic-plan-2020-2023/v3_ritm0083397-strategic-plan-2020-2023_b5.pdf?la=en&hash=EB3EDA6C3B6448FCBAE24E29126BCD2B 

Baik, C., Larcombe, W., Brooker, A., Wyn, J., Allen, L., Brett, M., Field, R., & James, R. (2017). Enhancing student mental wellbeing: a handbook for academic educators. Melbourne, Australian Government Department of Education and Training. https://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/2408604/MCSHE-Student-Wellbeing-Handbook-FINAL.pdf

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university, (4th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Bradley, D., Noonan, P., Nugent, H., & Scales, B. (2008). Review of Australian Higher Education. Canberra.

Kift, S. (2008). The next, great first year challenge: Sustaining, coordinating and embedding coherent institution–wide approaches to enact the FYE as "everybody’s business". Paper presented at the 11th International Pacific Rim First Year in Higher Education Conference, An Apple for the Learner: Celebrating the First Year Experience, Hobart. http://eprints.qut.edu.au/14401/

Kift, S. (2009). Articulating a transition pedagogy to scaffold and to enhance the first year student learning experience in Australian higher education: Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

Kift, S., & Field, R. (2009). Intentional first year curriculum design as a means of facilitating student engagement: some exemplars. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 12th Pacific Rim First Year in Higher Education Conference, Townsville, Queensland. http://eprints.qut.edu.au/30044/

Knowles, M. (1990). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Co.

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

Kolb, D. (1981). Learning styles and disciplinary differences. in Arthur W. Chickering and Associates (eds), The modern American college, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp. 232-255.

McCluskey, T., Weldon, J., & Smallridge, A. (2019). Rebuilding the first year experience, one block at a time. A Practice Report. Student Success, 10(1), 1 -15. doi: 10.5204/ssj.v10i1.1048

Nelson, K., & Kift, S. (2005). Beyond curriculum reform: embedding the transition experience. Paper presented at the HERDSA 2005, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia. http://eprints.qut.edu.au/3944/

Nelson, K., Kift, S., Humphreys, J., & Harper, W. (2006). A blueprint for enhanced transition: taking an holistic approach to managing student transition into a large university. Paper presented at the First Year in Higher Education Conference, Gold Coast, Australia. http://eprints.qut.edu.au/4557/

Naylor, R., Baik, C. & Arkoudis, S. (2018) Identifying attrition risk based on the first year experience, Higher Education Research & Development, 37:2, 328-342, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2017.1370438

Scott, P. (2003), Attributes of high‐quality intensive courses. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2003: 29-38. doi:10.1002/ace.86

Swenson, C. (2003), Accelerated and traditional formats: Using learning as a criterion for quality. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2003: 83-92. doi:10.1002/ace.91

Page last updated on 11/10/2022

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