The Newcastle Business School (NBS) has an Assurance of Learning process that measures student achievement of a set of learning goals and objectives and provides the basis for continuous improvement of its curriculum. Simply put, Assurance of Learning (AOL) is making sure that our students achieve what we say they should be able to learn and do. We express what we want them to be able to learn and do through our program learning goals and objectives and each course's learning objectives. We then ensure that our teaching and learning activities and assessments all contribute towards achieving those learning outcomes. AOL asks these questions:
- What are the most important things our students should learn in our program? What are our expectations?
- How and where will they learn these things?
- How (and when) will we know they have learned them?
- How well have they learned them?
- What will we do if they have not learned them?
Above all, Assurance of Learning is a continuous improvement process. We are interested in whether our students are learning what we have identified as the important learning goals of their program. We also want to develop our programs. We use our assessment of students' progress to inform decisions about our programs and curricula, our teaching and our learning support.
For our most recent AOL cycle, completed mid-2013, a total of 222 rubrics were used to assess agreed objectives in each NBS program. This equated to approximately 4400 assessments, conducted across all degrees at the NSB for the 2013 AOL assessment period. The assessments were carried out across 66 goals, 102 objectives and 27 courses. Samples were taken from the Callaghan, Ourimbah, Newcastle, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and WebLearn precincts. All programs share goals related to core skills such as written communication, critical thinking and problem solving, and knowledge of models, concepts and theory. Each of these goals is operationalized through objectives that address program-relevant aspects of the goal at the appropriate Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) level.
All programs are assessed twice in a five year period. For each cycle, AOL results are analyzed by our program convenors who interpret the results and provide recommendations regarding appropriate curriculum changes or learning support responses. These are summarized in a report, which is sent to the Teaching and Learning (T&L) Committee. The T&L Committee reviews AOL reports and makes recommendations regarding their endorsement, and necessary School or Faculty- level actions. The T&L Committee then forward the AOL reports and recommendations to the Faculty Board for endorsement.
We implemented a range of strategies in response to the results of the 2011 cycle (discussed under Continuous Improvement below) and comparison of the current results with this previous cycle allows us to assess the utility of these strategies in student learning. The figures show overall stability in results and that the majority of assessments met or exceeded expectations for all objectives in both cycles. We also note a reduction in the proportion assessed as below expectation for Global Awareness and Knowledge and Skills.
Figure 3: Assessment results by objective 2011
Figure 4: Assessment results by objective 2012-2013
AOL Results - Continuous Improvement
The NBS introduced a number of specific initiatives designed to respond to data generated through our AOL process. In addition, our assurance of learning data forms an important component of the material provided to the external review panel and consideration of this data is prioritized during the internal review process.
The integration of our AOL system into the University's review process has led to a number of significant changes and improvements. For example, the most recent postgraduate review, informed by AOL data, has led to the development of a Business Academic Skills Program (BASP) that will be rolled out from 2015 onwards. The Business Academic Skills Program (BASP) is an intensive program of study (six weeks) designed to assist students to learn, understand and practice the common language and concepts of business as they are applied in Business postgraduate programs and commercial activity. It is specifically designed for students enrolling in Business postgraduate programs via a staged entry pathway. These students typically will not be from a cognate area of study and/or will not have requisite workforce or career experience.