This guide supports staff to complete unit details in the Unit & Course Management System (UCMS). The section names in this guide reflect the sections in the UCMS that will be in effect soon (October 2021).
Level of learning
Level of learning is a classification for units within a course. Designating the level of learning for a unit is based on the professional judgment of unit assessors and/or course coordinators and requires a whole-of-course approach. Depending on volume and/or duration, a course may have one to three levels of learning:
|Level 1 is Emerging Proficiency|
|Level 2 is Increasing Proficiency|
Level 3 is Attainment of Proficiency
The decision should be made early in the unit design process and documented in the unit overview. The critical issue is that course structure, content, assessment and course and unit learning outcomes are well aligned, justified and evidence-based.
Table 1. Questions to consider when designating a level of learning for a unit.
Information and examples
Are there any pre-requisites for the unit?
This may suggest that prior learning is required. If so the unit should be classified as Increasing Proficiency or Attainment of Proficiency.
What level of study is your unit designated as?
‘1000 …' (typically first year units), ‘2000 …' (typically second year units), and ‘3000 …’ (typically third year units), etc.
Where does the unit fit in the progression of the course?
In a bachelor degree, the level of learning may relate to the year of study, but this is not a necessary condition. For example, a level 2000 (Increasing Proficiency) unit may be undertaken in term 4 or 5 of year one; however, the same level 2000 unit may also be taken in year 2, 3 or 4 or perhaps later in part-time study.
Rather than being a year of learning/enrolment equivalent, the level of learning reflects an increasing sophistication of the unit learning outcomes so that scaffolding of learning is explicit within a course.
|What level do the majority of the unit learning outcomes align with?|
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy provides examples of levels of performance specified in learning outcomes:
However, within a unit you would expect to see at least one unit learning outcome that is higher or lower than the designated level of learning.
Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) and level of learning
Within the current policy AQF levels are not designated for any specific unit they are designated for a course.
The description provides a general overview of the content studied in the unit combined with an overview of the teaching approach employed within the unit. The example below shows both content and learning approaches within the 50-word limit prescribed for this section of the template. Please see the Constructive Alignment template instructions v2.0 for more examples.
Example: Introduces students to digital video production methodology including storyboarding, client management, production scheduling and staffing. Students will engage in a project-based learning approach with practical activities in a production studio using industry-standard software.
Other examples of teaching approaches include:
- problem-based learning (an exploratory/inquiry-based strategy – content is engaged through case studies, scenarios or problems)
- teacher-directed activities and experiences (a direct strategy – structured learning experiences built around subject-based content)
- cooperative learning (an interactive or experiential strategy – discussion, sharing or content creation among students working towards a common goal)
- community-engaged learning (an experiential strategy – students engage with the community to achieve student learning and community goals)
- workplace-based learning (an experiential strategy – students engage with focused resources to prepare and support them through internships or work practice).
This section should be more detailed than the Unit Description section, listing the modules/topics/scenarios (or similar) to be covered in the unit. Content should be aligned with the unit learning outcomes and assessment tasks. A whole-of-course approach should ensure connectivity with other units and enable overlap of content where necessary.
Unit learning outcomes help direct and organise a unit. They make it clear to students what they should focus on when working through the unit and what they will be expected to demonstrate when being assessed.
Learning outcomes thus direct the nature of the learning activities and the associated assessments. When writing (or reworking) unit learning outcomes, it is important to align learning outcomes with teaching and learning activities and assessment tasks and criteria. This principle is called constructive alignment and is illustrated in Figure 1 below.
Learning outcomes should not be a description or summary of the content, but rather a set of statements which capture what it is we want students to know, do and value by the end of the unit. There should be no ‘hidden content’, that is, content, skills and learning activities that do not relate clearly to one or more of the learning outcomes for the unit.
Keeping learning outcomes to a minimum helps students focus on the essential learning components of a unit and helps the unit assessor to refine assessment to necessary achievements. The guidelines allow no more than four learning outcomes unless it is a capstone or double-weighted unit where you can have up to six learning outcomes.
Figure 1. Constructive alignment between learning outcomes, teaching and learning activities and assessment tasks. Adapted from Biggs 1999, p. 27.
Writing learning outcomes
In writing unit learning outcomes avoid words like ‘be familiar with...’ and ‘understand’. Understanding by itself is a process that is internal to the individual. The assessment of understanding requires that a student should be able to do something that demonstrates understanding, for example, being able to ‘explain the connection between...’, or being able to ‘present a report which takes account of...’. Be as specific as possible.
Include some higher-order objectives. Cover both generic academic skills and course-specific skills, even in foundational units.
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy shows verbs related to learning arranged along a hierarchy from simple cognitive tasks to more complex cognitive tasks. The more complex tasks like synthesis and analysis are commonly referred to as higher-order tasks. The choices we make about verbs are very important and will be influenced by our students’ needs, the content, the place of the unit in a course, and the overall aims of the course. The desired level of performance specified in a unit learning outcome should be evident in the unit assessment tasks and associated rubrics.
Unit learning outcomes in the broader context of the course
Unit learning outcomes also need to be thought of in relation to the broader context of the course – SCU Graduate Attributes and course learning outcomes; relevant AQF levels; discipline-based threshold learning outcomes; and any professional accreditation requirements that may apply.
The relationship between course and unit learning outcomes, graduate attributes and assessment is intertwined as demonstrated in Figure 2 in an example taken from the sciences.
Figure 2. Relationship between an SCU Graduate Attribute, course learning outcome and unit learning outcome (AQF 7). Adapted from Graduate Attributes at SCU Discussion Paper – April 2012.
Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding is a short film about teaching at university and tertiary level educational institutions. It is based on Biggs’ constructive alignment theory.
Decisions about assessment type and volume should be made in consultation with the course coordinator to ensure a whole-of-course approach. It will be important to ensure that the volume of assessment is not excessive from both the students’ and the teaching staff perspectives. This will include consideration of the number and timing of the assessment tasks, the word or time limits, and the weighting of relevant tasks. Refer to the Designing assessment resources.
Current policy allows for three assessments and the first assessment needs to be within the first one third of the unit.
Teaching and learning arrangements
Each discrete unit offering has a teaching and learning arrangement:
- the duration of each session
- the frequency with which it is delivered
- depending on the mode of offering, one or more methods of presentation and delivery may be available.
There will often be accepted ways within a faculty around the teaching and learning arrangements. Decisions about these arrangements will consider the nature of the learning outcomes and student and staff workload. Teaching and learning arrangements should be a whole-of-course decision initially. Details of these arrangements will assist the University to plan timetables for on-campus teaching.
The Southern Cross model has three distinct teaching and learning delivery methods over six weeks:
- Self-access: Students access content through MySCU with approximately 20 hours study/week
- Tutorials: Students access online or face-to-face instructor facilitated tutorials for two hours each week
- Workshops: Students access online instructor facilitated for one hour each week.
The Blended learning resource covers teaching approaches that provide equitable learning experiences regardless of location or mode of study.
Notional student workload
A notional workload provides:
- students with guidance of the expected time commitment
- unit assessors with a measure against which they can judge volume of work within a unit
- a transparent means to measure course volume of learning for each AQF
The workload of students in a standard unit is distributed over a term (6 weeks). Variations in length of study may occur for clinical, practical, community or work integrated learning or research units.
Normally a single 12 credit point unit would accrue a notional student workload of 150 hours per term. There is no difference in the notional hours for undergraduate and postgraduate units. Notional hours are consistent across units at AQF levels 5 to 10.
If subjects exceed the SCU standard workload by more than 20 hours, the workload should be discussed with the course coordinator. Normally, even in community or workplace learning, the course workload would not exceed 600 hours per term. If the unit requires significantly more time, then consideration should be given to making it double-weighted. Decisions about the workload that are beyond the norm should be discussed with the course coordinator and course team as this would be a whole-of-course consideration.
Determining notional workload
The actual amount of time each student dedicates to their learning in a unit will depend on many factors: prior knowledge, motivation, study habits, work commitments etc. However, notional workload is not a measure of the actual time spent by an individual. It is an estimation of the expected time students would spend throughout the 6 weeks of a term as a best-case scenario. Such estimates are based on the professional judgment of the unit assessor and reviewing colleague or course coordinator and formal and informal student feedback on the unit. Estimations of student workload are developed during the unit design process and considered in the unit overview.
The scheduled study may include a variety of activities usually associated with contact hours (workshops, tutorials, laboratories, projects, and practicals). In the online environment, this may also include virtual workshops or tutorials via Blackboard Collaborate or Zoom, or designated online activities, e.g. contributions to discussion forums, creation of a blog, etc. Scheduled activities may include times when teaching staff are not involved, e.g. team meetings in team-based learning.
Personal study will include the range of active learning not included in the scheduled study and can include review of self-access content, discussion with peers, reading (eBooks, open education resources, journal articles, online resources, student contributions), and preparing for assessment.
This section details the prescribed texts for the course. The term ‘recommended references’ used previously is now not included in this section. It will be called ‘optional references’ instead, available in the Unit Outline.
When planning for a textbook and essential resources it is important to consider these in association with other resources the students may have to use, e.g. readings, recommended websites and other recommended resources. The workload associated with prescribed readings in all of its forms will impact the notional student workload.
Liaison librarians provide advice and assistance in planning and creating a list of electronic and print titles for your unit. The library has a range of subject guides that assist students to focus on the discipline. Your liaison librarian can assist you with myReadings, eBooks, linking to eResources, referencing guides and copyright.
If you have any questions about any of the issues discussed in this guide, please contact the teaching and learning representative for your faculty.