A Brave New “Deloitte” World… Educators Wake UP!

Could we leave the door unlocked? , by Erik Pevernagie, oil on canvas, 100 x130 cm

Could we leave the door unlocked? , by Erik Pevernagie, oil on canvas, 100 x130 cm

This week we have a spirited call to critique the corporate discourse on tertiary education that seems to be influencing executive management in universities. Dallas Wingrove & Angela Clarke take on Deloitte’s recent white paper.

In reading the recent Deloitte white paper The paradigm shift: redefining education we became increasingly concerned by the vision of higher education the authors propose. Deloitte’s analysis of the current and new education paradigm is alarming because of the potential influence this paper may have on the development of future government policy.

The paper, produced by business leaders and technology experts, details a nine-month study conducted by Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge. It indicates that existing models of education are becoming increasingly irrelevant.  The paper suggests a significant disconnect between the purpose of education and the demands on “the modern worker”. In the context of rapid technological change, Deloitte identifies two factors that are operating as catalysts for a paradigm shift in education: work-integrated learning, and a shift from traditional methods of credentialing employees.

In this post we discuss and respond to what we consider are the most alarming assumptions, conclusions and predictions presented by Deloitte through their blindsiding analysis of this new paradigm.  We call on educators to wake up and push back, lest we find ourselves immersed in a brave new “Deloitte” world.

Our response

  • Deloitte is blindsiding. Its analysis ignores major curriculum, pedagogical and policy shifts that have occurred in the higher education sector over the past twenty years. For example, they argue that the existing education paradigm is founded upon building “stocks of knowledge, transferring those stocks to individuals and then certifying that this knowledge has been successfully transferred”. Twenty-first century students are no longer considered entities for receiving transmission; rather they are encouraged to develop graduate attributes such as critical thinking, along with“the values that inform the work of universities, their contribution to culture, citizenship and intellectual growth” (Hounsell, 2010). In more recent years, and despite the massification of the higher education sector, Australian universities have embraced and enacted a more holistic, all-encompassing view of these attributes and values, foregrounding lifelong learning as a core graduate outcome.
  • Deloitte’s analysis ignores the complexities of the education debate. Their model triangulates industry, education and students and takes no account of its role in educating for essential public service sectors such as human services, health, and not-for-profits, or indeed the arts.
  • Deloitte appropriates and then subverts educational concepts. For example, the authors claim a holistic view of a university education and herald lifelong learning as integral to the way forward. Yet Deloitte’s framework subverts a holistic education by privileging productivity and enterprise skills over higher order learning. The underlying assumption is that the usefulness of a university education is to serve the needs of a product-producing economy. As noted above, the concept of lifelong learning is not new for educators. Australian universities have for decades been moving toward models of lifelong learning that foster and evidence the integration and application of knowledge and skills.
  • Deloitte assumes educational institutions are producing “workers” of the future. Using a superficial interpretation of Bloom’s taxonomy, the paper defines a creative worker as someone who has “the ability to build on lower order skills to create a new product or idea”.  In doing so, Deloitte fails to recognise the multiple intelligences required for the development of fully formed citizens.
  • Deloitte subvert research. By repositioning research activity as an “optimisation” practice undertaken to deliver economic outputs the authors ignore the critical role that research plays in enhancing social and cultural wellbeing in society for the betterment of all.  
  • Deloitte is inconsistent in its argument.  Much of the paper argues for a shift from “knowledge stocks” to “knowledge flows”.  This is where knowledge and skills acquisition is a continuous process of filling the gaps because of rapidly changing contexts and technology. However in the final paragraph Deloitte undermines this argument by suggesting that students might need “a bedrock of essential facts”. What facts would they be then, given that knowledge, according to Deloitte, should consist of “flows”?


We acknowledge that one of the fundamental roles of a university is to equip its graduates to contribute effectively to the knowledge economy. In this, employability represents a core graduate outcome. However, a university education should not be exclusively focused on economic returns and the creation of “productive workers”.

The Deloitte paper does raise some interesting points, particularly by reinforcing the importance of integrating learning and work. The role of education sectors in being able to adapt to newly emerging ways of credentialing employability is also worthy of deeper consideration.

Deloitte also proposes a model for “creative knowledge work” consisting of three pillars. The proposed second pillar relates to the importance of equipping “the worker” with the capacity to “create a new solution to a new problem”. A worthy attribute, and yet in making this point Deloitte states, “As Donald Rumsfeld might say, they need to minimise the unknown unknowns”. This is a surprising reference to say the least. “Unknown unknowns” was a phrase used by Rumsfeld when answering questions from the media in the context of evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002.

We believe that Deloitte’s reductionist analysis fails to recognise what lies at the heart of a high quality democratic university education. True, there may be a paradigm shift underway but we should not lose sight of the fact that a twenty-first century educational experience should still:

  • foster higher order  transformative learning, AND
  • nurture socially responsible and ethical citizens of the world committed to contribute to, and equipped to critically engage with, not only business and government, but also with community and culture.

As educators we must remain vigilant and active in the debates around education. Otherwise we may turn around one day to find our educational institutions have been appropriated for the purposes of economic imperatives alone.


Hounsell, D. (2010). ‘Graduates for the 21st Century: Integrating the Enhancement themes’. End of year report.

Whose knowledge is it anyway?

This week we hear from Angela Finn, Deputy Head Learning & Teaching in the School of Fashion and Textiles at RMIT University, discussing emergent issues with intellectual property for the creative arts online.

In recent years, the university has become increasingly interested in defining the ownership of intellectual property. This has become a topic of some confusion and discontent amongst teaching staff and students who are interested in protecting their own rights, for now and the future, for works that have been created within the university environment. In the context of design, sharing images of work can equate to publishing intellectual property. Where more traditional methods of sharing ideas are protected through anti-plagiarism policy and copyright law, the gratuitous reproduction of design images has become commonplace. Compiling and publishing of images is an accepted method of building contemporary knowledge within the visual disciplines and is encouraged through design methods such as recording inspirations in a visual diary – or more commonly now – a Pinterest board.


A screenshot of images that are available through Pinterest from a search for home design. https://www.pinterest.com/search

Consider the example of a recent Facebook post where innovative Australian design company ArchiBlox (http://www.archiblox.com.au/designs/) is gaining publicity by sharing and re-sharing their design drawings within the social media space.  The trade-off to generating interest within new markets is to share enough information for the audience to gain knowledge of a uniquely designed product such as the ArchiBlox modular system.

A link to Science Alert at University of Technology Sydney where the original Facebook posting was directed http://www.sciencealert.com/world-first-this-prefab-home-generates-more-energy-than-it-uses

A link to Science Alert at University of Technology Sydney where the original Facebook posting was directed http://www.sciencealert.com/world-first-this-prefab-home-generates-more-energy-than-it-uses

Although ArchiBlox go to the effort of posting a standard disclaimer on their website,

All ArchiBlox designs are subject to copyright law and are subject to the copyright act 1965. All rights retained by ArchiBlox Pty Ltd

They are embracing a different approach to online marketing. Business and industry are beginning to approach marketing of design by sharing design details as a way of setting their products apart from others in the marketplace. There is emerging freedom around making information freely available, in contrast to the earlier style where detailed information about a particular product or service was only accessible after completing a registration process.

The alternative is where companies such as ArchiBlox are overprotective of their intellectual property, to a point where no one would know about the sustainable, forward thinking, carbon positive, cutting-edge design that they are capable of producing. There is a long history within Fashion & Textiles design where being first is more important than being alone in terms of having a creative and innovative idea. There is little evidence of successful prosecution of fashion companies that infringe intellectual property rights through copying, given the rumoured commonality of the practice within industry circles. The costs of pursuing a case are prohibitive and in fashion terms, the evidence to prove an exact copy as well as hardship through a loss of profits is often difficult to procure.

The current debate about whether or not to freely share knowledge is becoming even more relevant as teachers begin to ‘capture’ their skills and knowledge in various formats to build teaching resources. This has been a result of a continuing and growing trend for using digital platforms to accommodate contemporary students, who have complex and varied work arrangements, and to support wider diversity within teaching practice. At RMIT University many large format lectures are recorded, lecturers produce numerous quizzes, blogs, Google+ communities, Facebook groups – the list continues to grow on what seems a weekly basis.  Some staff members have become concerned with ownership of the resulting image, text, film or other online content that is produced. The University will find it difficult to formulate policy around the dynamic nature of the digital environment. There is no clear delineation between lecturers’ paid work and the resources they develop as a side effect of their dedicated teaching practice, which also vary depending on their skill at using these ubiquitous forms of digital communication. The resulting questions may not have clear answers. Can content generated within an individual teacher’s practice be used to support other teachers within the university? What happens when a staff member moves on from RMIT University? Does the university ‘own’ these materials if they are produced by sessional or part-time staff?

I am reminded of the story of the digital revolution that retells the legend of the first software designers that published code for other designers to use and improve — this is long before our contemporary understanding of open source systems. One of my lecturers at university would tell his students the story that the rule of thumb was that if you liked a particular program you could send an envelope containing $5 to the author as a token of your appreciation. The resulting software was the back upon which today’s giants such as Microsoft, Apple Inc. and Google were built. What would have happened if each individual designer had developed their own software in isolation? Would we have the type of ubiquitous technology we have now? At a quick count I have at least seven personal computing devices (my personal and work laptops, iPads, iPhones as well as Apple TV) within a three metre radius of my sofa!

These questions would be resolved much more easily if we agree with the idea that knowledge cannot be owned but rather, as teachers, we are guardians of the knowledge we have accumulated and our main role is to offer this knowledge to our students. After all, where would any of us be without the people who shared their knowledge with us in the first place?

RMIT’s 2014 Learning and Teaching Expo

Posted by: Meaghan Botterill,  Senior Coordinator, Educational Technology Integration, e-Learning Strategy and Innovation Group, RMIT University.

Click on the image to register for the event.

Click on the image to register for the event.

RMIT’s annual Learning and Teaching Expo is on 2-3 September, 2014. This is a great opportunity to catch up on what is happening both nationally and locally in learning and teaching. Last year the Expo was a great success, so come and join colleagues from across the university to discuss and explore innovative practices that enhance student learning outcomes.

This year’s theme, Designing Teaching, Creating Learning, explores how good teaching design and pedagogical practices create and enhance student learning opportunities and outcomes. There will be an extensive range of speakers, presentations and workshops from across RMIT and the program features the following guests:

  • Professor James Arvanitakis from the University of Western Sydney who was the 2012 Prime Minister’s Teacher of the Year award winner. James’ passion and enthusiasm for teaching is apparent to any of you who have ever seen him present before. He is continually looking for ways to make connections with his students and to make learning relevant, accessible and exciting.
  • Professor Ruth Wallace is the Director of the Northern Institute, at Charles Darwin University. Her particular interests are related to undertaking engaged research that improves outcomes for stakeholders in regional and remote Australia. Ruth has extensive experience in innovative delivery of compulsory, post-school and VE programs in regional and remote areas across Northern Australia.
  • Associate Professor Nicolette Lee is from Victoria University and she is a 2013 OLT National Senior Teaching Fellow. Her project, Capstone curriculum across disciplines, synthesises theory, practice and policy to provide practical tools for curriculum design. It builds on previous and current work in the sector to identify capstone innovations and models-in-use, how standards might be demonstrated through a range of approaches, and providing publicly available and comprehensive practical tools for staff.
  • Associate Professor John Munro is from the University of Melbourne. John’s research, teaching and publications are in the fields of literacy and mathematics learning, and learning difficulties, learning internationally, gifted learning, professional learning and school improvement. His focus on neurology and the brain form the basis of designing explicit teaching strategies to create learning in diverse student cohorts.
This is a great opportunity to learn more about learning and teaching and what we as educators can do to design teaching to create learning and thus enhance student learning outcomes. Registration is essential. The full program and registration form are available here.

Learning and Teaching Expo 

Date: Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 September
Time: 9am to 4.30pm
Venue: Storey Hall, Building 16, City campus
Cost: Free

Registration: Essential
Registrations close Wednesday, 27 August 2014.
Register here now.

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Beyond Blackboard Course Shells: “What on earth are they using?”

Posted by: Howard Errey, Educational Developer
John Benwell, Principal Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

From a learning and teaching perspective it’s hard to think of a more important system in a modern university than its Learning Management System (LMS).

Alongside (and sometimes instead of) the physical experience of a campus, its buildings and facilities, a student now navigates an online set of hierarchies through the LMS.

There’s a great new tool available for RMIT staff that allows you to see what a student is seeing at the current point in time.

At RMIT, our implementation of Blackboard (‘myRMIT’) currently shows students that course surveys are about to close, deadlines for exchanges are coming, the availability of financial support, upcoming study skills workshops and various other announcements from whole-of-University groups.

And all of that is before they see any announcements, course materials or assessment links in their Program or Course.

There’s a renewed scrutiny on just how well and how widely myRMIT is being used by academics. Statistics showed that many courses have very low usage but there are notable exceptions and as that Swiss Army Knife expression goes, ‘pockets of good practice’. We knew anecdotally and from Program Managers that a number of other technologies were being used within and alongside the Blackboard environment.

This led our project team to ask “Well, what on earth are they using?” and a Learning and Teaching Investment Fund (LTIF) proposal to answer this question was developed. This Q&A explains some of the background to the project:

What do you think might be discovered by the project?

I think we will find a diversity of online tools that are not evidenced by the statistics. I think we will find new ways academics are using educational technologies for learning and teaching. We will discover why Blackboard’s capabilities fall short of the requirements of the creative and design disciplines and why designers/architects/artists take to alternate platforms.

I hope we will also find that staff are using many technologies in their teaching, but are simply not providing the links in Blackboard. Using the approved channel for assessment and course material has a number of advantages. It provides an enterprise-grade archive and ensures there’s a course ‘memory’ to name just a couple of benefits.

But it’s a bit like asking why people drive around in different types of cars. We look for a car that fits our requirements. At the moment I suspect some feel ‘illicit’ if they’re using tools like Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or Google Sites to organise or run aspects of their course.

Think of it from the university’s point of view. We spend a lot of money on the LMS, and we want to see staff using it. A large organisation has to keep everyone happy and at the same time be adaptable. Yet we have different people and school personalities in a myriad of disciplines. So the reality is not all black and white in terms of teaching technologies. One size seems to not fit all.

One of the issues is that statistics are not analytics. What is being done with the data?

With the LMS we have never had a measure of how much it was being used. A considerable amount of our budget is being spent on the LMS and of course the university would like reporting back on its usage. However the only statistics we have are hits per course per student. This tells us very little. Yet there is a lot more going on that we know about. Staff and students are always working online – so what are they doing? This is what we set out to find out in the project.

Judgements are being made on the above statistics. There is no doubt that RMIT has patchy LMS usage, but we also know that so much more is going on.

Why is the LMS used so little is some places?

Blackboard is complex and can be difficult to use. I liken it to an old 16mm film projector. The films are what people want to see, but the projector requires a licensed operator. In the same manner, the LMS is not important; it’s the content that is. With a lack of operational understanding of the LMS, it often gets treated as just a document store. Unless lecturers are aware of what online activities can be achieved and the value to their teaching and the students’ learning, efforts beyond the use of myRMIT as a filing cabinet are hard to get excited about.

What influence would you like the project to have?

It would be a great outcome if the project discovered school/discipline specific learning technologies and how they added value to learning and teaching. We need a range of technologies that match the diversity of the university’s disciplines. We know we can’t have everything, yet we need to find some middle ground.

The imminent arrival of Google Classroom could change everything...

The imminent arrival of Google Classroom could change everything…

We also need statistics for all of the learning technologies we use, to enable meaningful learner analytics and of course to provide evidence we are using them and that they are worth paying for.

Do you see some middle ground with the suite of Google Apps?

There are quick wins for all with Google sites. The fact that RMIT students have Google accounts is an exciting and under-utilised aspect in all of this. The imminent arrival of Google Classroom could change everything.  Designers don’t want to follow what has happened before. They are not followers. They want to research, change, innovate and create anew. To some, Blackboard has a last century feel. I am surprised that there is not more competition in the LMS marketplace.

I know we will discover an enormous diversity in learning technologies in use during this project and much more than just Blackboard shells in this project.

We’ll be back later in the year with an update on the project and we have a Part 2 of this post that goes into more depth about the concept of learner analytics, but for now we’d love to hear from staff directly (email us) or through the comments section.

If you want to keep up to date with our project, follow us at www.whatonearth14.wordpress.com

Share your thoughts on Learning Management Systems comments section!

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Reflecting on reflection: Part 2

Posted by: Mary Ryan, Associate Professor and Higher Degree Research Coordinator in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. 

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

The project team thanks the Office of the Dean of Learning and Teaching and Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching, DSC for supporting the Inclusive Conversation Series.

(This post has been broken into two parts- click here to go to the previous post.)

4Rs of Reflection

Reporting and responding

Reflective learning is a wicked skill (Knight, 2007). It has slippery definitions, is seen differently by different people, and is often treated as omnipresent rather than teachable. My response to this issue has been to find out a bit more about it. I needed evidence about things like… What constitutes reflective learning? What are the conditions under which it can happen or is taught? What do people do in different disciplines? How can it be expressed? Is it assessable?


I started by drawing on my own experiences. I realised that in my own teaching I was making assumptions about students’ knowledge of how to write an effective text, their abilities to analyse and weigh up a situation, and their skills in identifying a key issue (for them) upon which to reflect. I soon became conscious of the need for a teaching intervention. I couldn’t leave this to chance – particularly for those students for whom English was not their first language or for those who were first in their family to attend university or who had entered university through pathways other than senior schooling. So I decided some serious research was needed to help me work out how this could be improved for students in higher education. Fortunately, the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) agreed that this was an important issue and they funded a project over two years.


I turned to learning theories such as Kalantzis and Cope’s Science of Learning through knowledge processes, Bloom’s taxonomy and others. A common factor across these theories was the view that learning was an active rather than passive process and that students can move from basic understandings to quite complex thinking skills of critical analysis and reasoning.  I scoured the literature on reflective learning and practice and found that it is generally accepted that there are levels of reflective thinking or learning, moving from basic identification of an issue, to dialogic thinking back and forth, to deep, transformative reflection that can change ideas or practice – hence the 4Rs that I’m using to reflect here (nothing like practicing what you preach). Plus I started to annoy plenty of colleagues at QUT – asking them about their own practices in teaching reflective learning. My colleague (Michael Ryan) and I developed the Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning (TARL) Model: (See Figure 1: Populating the Pedagogic Field). The model considers the pedagogic field of higher

Populating the Pedagogic Field

Figure 1: Populating the Pedagogic Field (click to enlarge).

education as a space that enables increasingly more complex ideas and professional attributes to be attained (vertical axis) as students move through their degree (horizontal axis). It suggests that students can:

  • begin by reflecting on their own views and practices as a novice in the field,
  • incorporate the views and practices of others in the field,
  • reach the final goal of critically reflecting on self in relation to experienced colleagues and clients as a beginning professional.

The practical aspects of the model are the teaching patterns that are mapped to show at which point in a program they have been successful and the level of complex thinking that they can achieve. The benefits of this approach include minimising replication of activities across a program, ensuring that reflective activities are increasingly more sophisticated across a program and introducing a shared language for staff and students.


I’ve learnt that a smorgasbord of reflective activities is not useful to develop levels of complexity across a program. I’ve learnt that we can’t make assumptions about students’ skills in this area. I’ve realised the importance of a shared language across programs and consistency in language within a course. Most importantly, I’ve learnt that higher education teachers really make a difference. If they prioritise and explicitly teach reflective learning, students can progress to those deep levels of self-reflection. New applications of this work have been in areas of peer review – teaching students how to write a reflective and useful review and how to respond reflectively to peer feedback; as well as teaching students how to evaluate university teaching and courses in a more reflective way as co-contributors to the learning experience. From here, I think I need to work more with academic staff in helping them to implement some of the great resources and strategies from the project.


Knight, P 2007, Fostering and assessing ‘wicked’ competences, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Murphy, KR, 2011, ‘Student reflective practice – building deeper connections to concepts’, ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 25

Ryan, ME & Ryan, MC 2013, ‘Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol 32, no. 5, pp. 244-257.

Ryan, ME, 2014, Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning in Higher Education, Inclusive Conversation Series, RMIT, March 2014 presentation.

Share your thoughts on reflection in the comments section!

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Reflecting on reflection: Part 1

Posted by: Mary Ryan, Associate Professor and Higher Degree Research Coordinator in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. 

The project team thanks the Office of the Dean of Learning and Teaching and Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching, DSC for supporting the Inclusive Conversation Series.

(This post has been broken into two parts- click here to go to the next post where I apply the 4Rs to my own experiences.)

Reflective practice is often described as being as much a state of mind or attitude as it is a set of activities. It requires educators to assess themselves and their practice and as a result of this process become, “conscious agents in their own pedagogy” (Griffiths: 2010).

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 11.45.45 AM

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

My work as a teacher of undergraduate and postgraduate Education students for many years has shown me how much students can benefit from explicit teaching of critical reflection to improve their learning. This has motivated my work on developing students’ reflective learning capacities over several years — first as a teacher working directly with students and in the past few years supporting other teachers, program coordinators and support staff to develop a systematic curriculum model with practical strategies and resources that builds students’ capacities in reflective learning.

At the end of this page I’ve provided some resources that could help you in your teaching and in Part 2 I’ll share my reflections (on reflection) using this 4R model.

When educators reflect on their teaching, their practice improves. Students can also benefit when they reflect on their learning experience or practice. Murphy (2011) states the act of reflecting on an experience or critical incident, leads to students making deeper connections to the concepts they are learning beyond the rote memorisation or simple completion, resulting in students experiencing an ‘a-ha’ moment.

Reflective learning is a way for students to:

  • develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills

  • consider different possibilities and actions

  • link old ideas with new ones

  • stimulate creative solutions

  • encourage life-long learning

  • draw on evidence to plan future actions

  • improve practice

  • create cohesiveness across a course/program. (Ryan, 2014)

How can I integrate reflection into teaching and assessment?

Designing a practice of reflection means both clarifying the purposes it needs to serve and identifying opportunities for reflection in students’ work that are realistic and yet occur at the right intervals with sufficient depth to be meaningful (Murphy 2011).

At RMIT, there are a number of teaching staff who have introduced reflective practice into their curriculum in courses such as Fashion and Textiles, International Development (GUSS), and Media and Communication to name just a few. And there would be countless staff who use the word ‘reflection’ in a task or in assessment criteria. What makes our project special is the real examples of reflection shown within their discipline. These patterns have been linked (where appropriate) to professional standards for the accrediting bodies and plotted on a graph to

Populating the Pedagogic Field

Populating the Pedagogic Field

show how they increase in complexity, or how they move from simulated to real experiences. (See the figure: ‘Populating the Pedagogic Field’ to the right and click to expand.)

Some examples have been selected here from the Developing Reflective Approaches to Writing (DRAW) Wiki to illustrate how you could introduce reflective practice into the course. The patterns include teaching resources including annotated examples of reflective writing, and student blogs:

Analysing Reflective Texts (ART),

Mapping Critical Incidents – Foundation (MCIF)

Reflections Around Artefacts (RAA)

Reflection as a Professional Activity during Service Learning (RPA)


The Developing Reflective Approaches to Writing (DRAW) Wiki: holds the teaching patterns and common resources for over 20 patterns that are being used in different disciplines. The DRAW website (http://www.drawproject.net)provides a short summary of the project and references.


Knight, P 2007, Fostering and assessing ‘wicked’ competences, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Murphy, KR, 2011, ‘Student reflective practice – building deeper connections to concepts’, ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 25

Ryan, ME & Ryan, MC 2013, ‘Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol 32, no. 5, pp. 244-257.

Ryan, ME, 2014, Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning in Higher Education, Inclusive Conversation Series, RMIT, March 2014 presentation.

Share your thoughts on inclusive teaching and assessment in the comments section! Click here to read Part 2 of this post!

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Assessment, Grade, Holidays…

Posted by: John Benwell, Principal Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

HD rubricIn Melbourne, it’s the last week of scheduled classes and nearing the long break over the southern summer. Whilst thoughts may be wandering towards holidays, sun, the beach and all those great ‘Aussie’ pastimes, it’s time to assess and grade our students.

All the formative assessment has been done; we have provided vast quantities of feedback to our students and maybe provided avenues for feedback from their peers; now is the time to give each one a grade.

So I thought for my last post for the year, and before running to the beach to go sailing, I’d do a light refresher on assessment and point to some resources on rubrics to help you through.

At this stage of the year, we already know how most students are going. We have been giving them formative assessment tasks, and providing feedback to them so they can learn from their mistakes, fill the gaps and polish their performance. There have likely been summative assessments, which have been building towards a final mark.

Maybe you’ve read (and found useful) other tomtom posts that have discussed aspects of assessment (like Thembi’s post on Active Learning Strategies, Meredith’s post on Academic Integrity, Alex’s post on Peer and Self-Assessment and my previous post, Keeping Watch on using assessment to track our students’ progress), so here is a post with some handy references on assessment and rubric development.

In the old days, students would now start cramming, revising knowledge and processes, going to the library and doing old exam papers hoping their lecturer would just revise the last year’s paper for this year.

Nowadays, we hope those student expectations are well behind us and the last assignment encapsulates the skills, knowledge and the application skills and knowledge into a capstone assessment experience to confirm the student has achieved the course (subject) learning outcomes.

In pondering assessment we should never lose sight of what assessment is, and its purpose. As a reminder, here are the core principles of assessment from The University of Melbourne’s  Centre for the Study of Higher Education:

  1. Assessment guides and encourages effective approaches to learning
  2. Assessment validates and reliably measures expected learning outcomes, in particular the higher–order learning that characterises higher education
  3. Assessment and grading defines and protects academic standards.

At this stage of the year, principle 1 should have provided students with tasks that permitted them to test their learning and understanding in their passage towards the achieving the learning outcomes. The best scenario would be student-lecturer negotiated, multiple learning and assessment tasks that were designed to increase in complexity over the semester.

Principle 2 reminds us that we should not be simply testing students’ knowledge, but more their application of skills and knowledge and their ability to independently think though increasingly complex problems associated with their intended discipline. And we must grade each student in a reliable and repeatable manner. More on how we do that later.

Principle 3 helps maintain our standards. Not only do we have to assess if they have achieved the course learning outcomes, but also how well they have achieved it with reference to industry standards and moderation across institutions. Painfully for a teacher, we also must decide if a student has not achieved the learning outcomes.

Using the results from several forms of assessment during the semester, we need a framework to grade effectively. We need to have a considered series of statements that allow us to assign an overall grade to each student. They are like performance indicators. These statements are incremental performance levels of the learning outcomes. The levels are based on professional judgement, industry expectations and the quality standards of the university.

Commonly referred to as rubrics, you should develop a set of guidelines for marking and grading. They are not rules, but a framework to help you and your co-assessors be consistent across the group of students, from year to year and to maintain the academic quality standards expected by your industry/discipline and the students’ future employers. Your institution also relies on your professional judgement to uphold the standard of its awards.

Some argue that rubrics are restrictive, but with a well-developed set of rubrics, time is saved, consistency is improved, standards are upheld, and the course remains constructively aligned — the rubrics being generated from the learning outcomes. Levels of attainment between are  documented and described for the students to see. These can be a little bit fuzzy in their generic form but discussion with students, providing exemplars and using the same rubrics for peer and self-assessment can enhance all participants’ understanding of what a rubric is trying to do. Rubrics can be applied to all types of assessments: essays, drawings, pictures, models, presentations, designs and films.

The links below have some useful reading on rubrics, their purpose, value and how to write them:




Unfortunately some students, despite all attempts by us, fail to provide us with the evidence they have achieved the learning outcomes. The result is then a fail. There wouldn’t be a lecturer or educator who does it lightly, but it’s part of upholding the professionalism of our discipline, and the standards of our university. The determined learner who fails will return and do the course again, learning from their mistakes, and hopefully will achieve a better mark the next time around.

So before you start marking this semester try developing your own rubrics. Start by writing your learning outcomes on the left of a tabjboceanle, and then use grade descriptors of what you would expect to see from the students in the boxes. Your learning and teaching advisor can help you create them and your results will be fairer and more consistent. Rubrics are also a great help when marking online or if you have several tutors performing the assessment. What’s more, you can save time!

Well my last student is graded, so I’m off to a BBQ tonight and out into the ocean (Bass Strait) for a sail on the weekend.

I hope you have an enjoyable break.

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