This academic year is another very exciting and important one for Abertay. Our students who start first year next week will be the first to undertake our new interdisciplinary electives studying such diverse and contemporary challenges as “Defence against the dark arts”, Games for Change”, “Smart Cities” and “How big is infinity?” Getting to grips with how we know what know.” Also, our students who graduate next July will be the first cohort at Abertay to have their degree classification calculated on their performance during third and fourth year and to leave with a Grade Point Average (GPA) and a traditional honours classification. Abertay is only one of two universities in the UK to have fully implemented this system and there is real interest across the sector in what we are doing as evidenced by two keynote invitations this autumn to outline our approach and experiences, to date.
So, how do we define an Abertay education experience? The issues and challenges faced by modern society are complex, cross disciplinary boundaries, uncertain. Our students upon leaving Abertay need to be prepared to cope and thrive in such a context of “wicked problems”. There is much in contemporary higher education literature on the notions of “Graduateness” and, notably, Abertay was the first Scottish university to develop and publish a set of Graduate Attributes in 2007. These evolved over the years but it is fair to say that the language used did not always trip off the tongue and as a result they were perhaps a bit more challenging to engage with and outdated.
Last year, the university’s teaching and learning committee commissioned a short life working group comprising staff and students from across the institution to take a completely fresh look. After several meetings debating language and semantics we felt that a completely different approach was required and we wanted something which was flexible and accessible and distinctive to Abertay. What really struck me was that having freed ourselves of the shackles of the previous Graduate Attributes we developed a framework within an hour which everyone in the room was really enthused about, could relate to and engaged with! The framework comprises of four dimensions: intellectual, professional, personal and active citizen each accompanied by a series of qualitative descriptors e.g. under Professional:
Abertay will foster individuals to:
- Be decision-makers and problem-solvers, tackling complex issues using creativity and considered judgement;
- Be equipped and motivated to continue learning and professional development throughout their careers;
- Be able to work both independently and collectively, understanding the values and responsibilities of playing a leadership and a team-member role as required.
It is worth noting the synergy between our new Attributes’ Framework and Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) which aims to support all young people to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor (the four CfE “capacities”).
The new framework offers advantages over the previous approach to articulate Graduate Attributes; it is visual, the language is accessible, it is inclusive and it offers flexibility with the potential to apply this framework to current students (undergraduate and postgraduate), graduates or, in the future, even staff (academic and professional services) as they convey the value and ethos of the university more broadly. It is also distinctive and allows Abertay to re-take the lead in the Scottish sector in this field.
The Attributes have already been used as a key reference point to inform development of our new curricula launching in September 2016. In addition, we have recently funded an ATLEF project led by Eddie Simpson in SET to help evaluate the new Attributes and also to develop a reflective self-assessment tool for students to support their engagement with the attributes and aid their future development planning.
I strongly encourage you to think about how you might use the new attributes within your practice both in terms of informing your content and delivery but also how you might use them explicitly with your students e.g. as part of assessments and feeding forward. There is also significant potential to use them during structured feedback week and to support formative use of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).
You can find out more information on the Abertay Attributes on the intranet. Finally, we would love to hear your examples of Abertay Attributes’ use in practice which we can collate and showcase to the wider sector. Please email email@example.com.
Director of Teaching and Learning Enhancement