Faculty of Education - Theses

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    Remaking the university curriculum: what counts as knowledge in new forms of online learning
    O'Connor, Katherine ( 2017)
    The purposes of a university education and the knowledge it should seek to impart are today very much in question. Teaching within universities is becoming increasingly focused on generic instrumental and vocational agendas, and there are strong drives to improve teaching and make greater use of online technologies in response to a widening student body. The significance and implications of these trends for different aspects of university work have been widely debated, but there has been little attention to the changing dynamics of curriculum making and the assumptions at work in how subjects are being put together. Within this context, this thesis investigates the question ‘what counts as knowledge in new forms of online learning’. It focuses on the differences and similarities evident in the purposes, assumptions and constraints recognised by those working in different kinds of knowledge fields; and on the coherence of the conceptions of knowledge at work within the framing and development of new online initiatives and subjects. The thesis approaches these questions through a qualitative study of online initiatives developed at two Australian universities. The research draws on traditions of curriculum inquiry and policy sociology to focus on how those responsible for the development of the new online initiatives and subjects grapple with questions of knowledge and its teaching in their aims and practices. It considers the institutional policy framings informing the new online initiatives and undertakes case studies of the curriculum development of particular subjects, drawing on interviews with policy leaders and lecturers, and analyses of policy documentation and curriculum materials. For the policy leaders, the thesis shows that while their rhetoric is concerned with students’ own knowledge constructions, their approach positions curriculum content as settled and predefined. For the lecturers, it highlights significant differences in how those located in disciplinary and professional fields conceptualised knowledge and approached their curriculum development, but also that these orientations were undermined to an extent in the process of working with the new platforms. It shows the lecturers’ practices here led to more ‘instructivist’ rather than ‘constructivist’ teaching, and a greater emphasis on knowledge as a defined body of content to be taught. The thesis uncovers three problems arising in current university developments. One is the neglect of the differences between disciplines and professional knowledge fields, and the ways in which the different purposes and orientations of these fields shape curriculum development. A second is the neglect of the conditions required to encourage constructivist teaching practices online, including in relation to questions of substance. And a third is the neglect of the complex relations between curriculum and pedagogical form in building what counts as knowledge. The thesis explores the effects of these policy blindspots on lecturers’ practices of curriculum making and on the forms of education made possible as a result. In doing so, it opens up some new ways for researchers and institutional leaders to engage with questions of knowledge and curriculum within higher education.
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    Academic staff and international engagement in Australian higher education
    Proctor, Douglas John ( 2016)
    Australian higher education appears to be in the vanguard of internationalisation worldwide. In line with global changes to higher education, Australian universities have adopted comprehensive international strategies across their teaching, research and outreach agendas. By many measures, this strategic approach to internationalisation has been successful. Given the central role of academic staff within the life of the university, and with international strategies now touching on all aspects of a university’s activity, academic staff are important to the further internationalisation of Australian higher education. Yet little is known about the factors which influence the international engagement of Australian academics (that is, their involvement with the international dimensions of all aspects of their work) and the extent to which they consider international activities an important aspect of their academic work. This study has investigated the engagement of academic staff with the international dimensions of their work. It sought to identify the extent to which different aspects of international engagement have been integrated into contemporary understandings of academic work in Australia, as well as to examine the factors which influence academic staff choices in relation to their international engagement. Based on an Adaptive Theory approach (Layder, 1998), the research took case studies of two universities – a younger progressive university and an older research intensive university – which, between them, are broadly representative of one third of the Australian university sector. Qualitative data were collected through document analysis and in-depth interviews with thirty-seven academic staff drawn from Science and Business disciplines. The study found that the international dimensions of academic work are predominantly centred on research, despite the literature on internationalisation pointing to a more comprehensive focus and despite institutional strategies advocating for a more balanced approach to international engagement. In terms of contributions, the study has conceptualised a typology of international engagement to address the gap identified in the literature in relation to a holistic understanding of the international dimensions of academic work. Further findings are presented in relation to the influence of institutional and disciplinary context, as well as personal and individual factors. Particular to the Australian context is a finding in relation to geographic isolation, which is commonly described as both a driver and barrier to the international engagement of Australian academic staff. This study argues that institutions need to recognise the complex and interweaving nature of the factors which influence academic staff in relation to the international dimensions of their work. This recognition is important if institutions seek to foster greater international involvement amongst their academic community. In addition, institutions could review the role of leadership at the local level in fostering greater international engagement beyond research, as well as reconsider the availability of funding and technology to mitigate the barrier to international engagement of Australia’s distance from other countries.
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    Using assessment of student learning outcomes to measure university performance: towards a viable model
    Martin, Linley Margaret ( 2016)
    This study investigates the possibility of developing a suite of performance indicators which could measure differences in universities’ performance in attainment by their students of specified institutional or course-based learning outcomes. The measurement of learning outcomes has been the subject of active interest in higher education for over 20 years but to date there is no approach which has led to a sustainable generalised solution to this problem. A four staged measurement model is proposed which explores the learning outcomes specified by universities, establishes a set of standards against which such outcomes could be assessed, and examines local assessment of students’ learning for these outcomes to identify what graduates have learned and can do by the end of their study. Data on the grades achieved by individual students in local assessment tasks are then considered for use in a suite of institutional indicators which are designed to differentiate between universities in terms of the knowledge and skills demonstrated by their students. The focus of the study was to investigate whether the model could be applied to measure learning outcomes and institutional performance for Australian university undergraduate degrees. The study showed that it was possible to derive a generalisable set of learning outcomes relevant to Australian universities and also a set of standards relating to each of these outcomes which could be used to grade assessments in a quantitative way for individual learning outcomes measurement. It was also possible to define a suite of quantitative performance indicators which appear to be valid for measuring differences in achievement for a subset of the specified learning outcomes. However it was discovered that Australian universities’ current practice in describing and testing learning outcomes for subjects rather than courses or for the institution is different to the approaches commonly used internationally, requiring an adjustment to the model. Universities’ practice in this is also different to the approach they espouse on their websites and in their assessment policies. The Australian approach requires a bottom-up model for measurement rather than the top-down model originally identified from international practice. Various options are presented for types of local achievement assessment that are likely to produce the greatest consistency of learning outcome results between different universities. The favoured option is a set of newly devised signature assessments to test achievement of cognitive learning outcomes which could be framed in a discipline context, but this is a contentious solution. The bottom-up model has face validity based on detailed analysis of the expected outputs from each of its stages, but it could not be fully tested because assessment data held in universities’ repositories is not held at the level required. Implementation of such a model, while appearing feasible, would have implications for policy, pedagogy, scholarship and practice within universities, and it would require a strong commitment from government and the sector for implementation to be successful. The benefits to students, staff, employers and the government would be substantial and appear to outweigh the costs associated with implementation.
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    Strategic positioning in Australian higher education: reshaping perspectives
    MAHAT, MARIAN ( 2016)
    Key forces shaping higher education drive institutions to make strategic choices to locate themselves in niches where they can make use of their resources effectively and efficiently. However, the concepts of strategy in higher education are contested due to the nature and complexity of the sector and the university. As an industry facing increasing dual pressure toward marketization and competition, this study calls for an analysis of higher education as an industry, and a call for a more business-oriented framework. Working with perspectives offered by strategic management theory, and within the case study context of medical education, this study makes a contribution to higher education research by investigating the notion of strategic positioning in Australian higher education. Drawing on data from qualitative semi-structured interviews and quantitative analysis of performance data, the study produced four major findings. Firstly, the findings provide empirical evidence of strategic positioning and niche-finding behaviour of medical schools despite the highly structured and regulated field. Secondly, the study has made a contribution through the development of a visual profiling tool to assist medical schools to plan and monitor profiles in order to inform strategy formulation. Thirdly, this study has contributed to deeper understanding of the competitive forces which affect the nature of competition in medical education. Finally, the study has made a contribution by extending Porter’s five forces framework that incorporates regulatory bodies as a sixth and equivalent force, and two additional elements to the buyers’ and suppliers’ perspectives. This study provides important implications for higher education theory and practice. Theoretically, the study provides sufficient empirical evidence that an analysis of higher education as an industry using an extended version of Porter’s five forces is justifiable and possible. Practically, the findings of this study can assist researchers, practitioners and policy makers to recognize how medical schools have contrasting institutional priorities and values and consequently understand and predict ways in which they compete with one another for various resources. This has implications at both institutional and systems levels—in areas such as funding, governance and workforce. This study has contributed to greater understanding of higher education as an industry, by providing rich empirical data within the medical education context. The study has provided insights into the dimensions of activities on which medical schools can position themselves; the ways the planning and monitoring of profiles can inform strategy formulation; and the competitive forces that shape medical education. This knowledge can assist in developing a deeper understanding and knowledge of strategic positioning in higher education.
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    Transitioning from a Chinese education to an Australia education: a study of foundation studies program students from China
    Teo, Ian Wei Yuan ( 2015)
    This study was motivated by the growth of the Australian international education sector, increasing numbers of mainland Chinese students studying in Australian universities, and a lack of research relating to the Foundation Studies Programs (FSP) in which some Chinese students enrolled. In seeking to contribute to this gap in the FSP literature, this study investigated how a cohort of ex-FSP students from mainland China reflected on their transition through various stages of their education. Specifically, the main research question guiding this study asked, 'To what extent do Chinese students' higher education experiences align with their expectations as they transition from secondary schooling in China through to university in Australia?'. To address this question a mixed-methods design was utilised. This consisted of surveys being administered to Chinese and non-Chinese nationals within one FSP at entry and exit from the course, and subsequent semi-structured interviews with a cohort of these Chinese students who were now studying at university. Interview data comprised the bulk of this study's analysis, and revealed that Chinese students' expectations and experiences of education did not remain fixed as they transitioned between schooling contexts in China and Australia. The most salient feature of their transition experiences was the increased importance they placed on the social dimension seen to enhance their educational experiences. That is, where once these students viewed their entry into the FSP and gaining Australian higher education qualifications instrumentally, they later adjusted this view to include also the importance of developing and maintaining social relationships within educational contexts. This study's findings highlight the importance of social relationships across various schooling contexts, and challenge the assumption that FSPs ease international students' social transition into university.
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    Challenges and possibilities of regional collaboration in East Asian higher education
    Kyung, Eun Young ( 2015)
    In recent years, regional collaborations in higher education have been widely promoted around the world, as a basis for sharing of resources, conducting research into common problems and more broadly developing a sense of regional identity. The growth of regional collaboration among East Asian systems of higher education has been much anticipated. Despite substantial policy rhetoric, however, evidence-based analyses of actual collaborative practices among universities in China, Japan and South Korea are scant. This study seeks to provide an account of such practices by focusing on the challenges and possibilities of regional collaboration in East Asian higher education. It is based on data drawn primarily from document analysis and semi-structured interviews with executive leadership, academics and international strategy staff at eleven universities participating in two major programs of regional collaboration in East Asia: CAMPUS Asia and BESETOHA. Analysis of the data collected suggests that despite numerous challenges emanating from major cultural, economic and political differences across the three systems, the universities in East Asia remain optimistic about the possibility of increased levels of collaboration. Their optimism appears to rest on a common perception about the need to collaborate in order to meet the growing pressures of globalisation. Also significant is their inclination to focus on their abundant historical and cultural commonalities, along with their geographical adjacency, rather than on their differences. However the differences relating to competition over resources, historical suspicion and struggle for political supremacy remain. At this stage, small-scale trilateral networks of academic collaboration appear more feasible than the development of a stronger sense of regional identity, beyond the merely symbolic.
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    Higher education privatization in Kuwait: A study in the processes of policy production
    Al-Asfour, Ahoud ( 2015)
    Like most countries around the world, the State of Kuwait has over the past two decades experienced a rapid growth in student demand for higher education. Lacking public resources, most emerging systems of higher education have turned to privatization policies as a way of meeting this demand. Similar financial pressures do not however apply to Kuwait, since it enjoys a surplus of revenue from its oil exports. Financial arguments explaining the adoption of privatization policies are therefore not compelling in the case of Kuwait. This research project aims to analyze some of the key reasons for Kuwait to pursue a privatization policy in higher education. More broadly, the project seeks to examine how various local and global processes have influenced the production of national policies of higher education in Kuwait. Using qualitative methods of policy research, this project examines some of the internal and external pressures that led to the production of a privatization policy in the Kuwaiti system of higher education in 2000. Particular reference is made to the Private Universities Law (PUL) (34/2000) in an attempt to explain how this policy was developed, who were its main architects, and what interests does the policy now serves. The research supports the conclusion that privatization is not a necessary outcome of globalization, but that the production of higher education privatization policies in Kuwait has involved a complex interplay of both local and global factors, with contextual realities playing a crucial role not only in the introduction of these policies but also in defining the form of privatization that is currently being implemented.
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    Malaysian higher education and the United States as a model: policy borrowing or policy learning?
    Abdullah, Arnida ( 2013)
    Higher education plays an important role in many developing countries. Graduates are being equipped with professional knowledge and skills to fulfil the demands of the labour market in a knowledge economy. Developing countries tend to adopt models of higher education organization from developed nations, especially those that are world leaders. Progress in science and technology and national wealth itself point to the success of these systems and suggest that they represent a suitable and feasible path to take. Malaysia is amongst those developing nations that have looked to advanced economies to provide a model of mass higher education which would raise educational levels and national income. But has a process of policy-borrowing achieved both the growth and the equity that governments have promised? Has the expansion and diversification of higher education in Malaysia created more equitable access for all students in order to ensure that increased higher education is undertaken by a wide range of population who have the ability and motivation to succeed? This study aims to contribute to policy learning in higher education in the developing world (as distinct from uncritical policy borrowing). It focuses on Malaysia’s efforts to learn from the US experience. The findings of this study may assist the Malaysian policy makers in designing new improved policies to widen access in higher education and to further strengthen Malaysian higher education sector. In the first section of this thesis, a review is made of US efforts to expand higher education, while improving equity. Two barriers to participation in higher education – school dropout rates and low achievement among young people who do graduate – are examined in greater detail. This then leads to a key discussion on the types of higher educational institutions in the US, their enrolment patterns and the challenges faced by each institution. At the end of this section, the findings that developing countries can learn from the United States’ experience are highlighted. In the second section, the study focuses on Malaysia. It starts with historical overview pre independence, focusing on economic, social and educational developments. The growth and structural transformation of the Malaysian economy are also examined and compared with educational attainment. Trends in primary and secondary public education expansion and challenges facing this public system are then discussed, leading to a detailed discussion on the development of the Malaysian public and private tertiary education sector. The findings presented in this study show that the challenge for Malaysia is not to become like the USA, but to learn from the US experience and to develop its own strategic plans for higher education that fit with the social and economic needs of the country. The study suggests policy directions to making higher education in Malaysia more effective and equitable, which includes strengthening and improving Malaysia’s public schools, enhancing the quality of higher education and assisting students from disadvantaged families. Such initiatives may assist Malaysia to become the best provider of higher education in the South East Asian region and a high-income developed country by the year 2020.
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    The aspiring spires: momentum and the status university
    Leihy, Peodair Seamus ( 2013)
    Higher education is in many respects governed by market relations and state direction; in some ways, however, it is not. In prestige, it falls back on an elusive force. The university is entrepreneurial, and it is public spirited, and it is also itself. According to perceptions of how much of a university a university is, it is able to relay credibility. Rankings and taxonomical mapping may come at this nebulous prestige from more solid data, including the tracing of market performance and state backing. Crucially, though, it is prestige that any ranking hoping to gauge the calibrations of trust and belief is after, whether prestige already detected or that anticipated according to momentum. Aware of this, inasmuch as an organization can think, the status university continues to grow as a magnet for competitive but remarkably peaceable human endeavour, and as a major junction for the forces of civil religion. The thesis seeks to update the appraisal of the highly evolved sense of status in universities and in progressively expanded higher education systems, and to deepen appreciation of the energy and history with which they swell.
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    Creative practice, value, and the teaching of art and design in higher education
    BUDGE, KYLIE ( 2014)
    Despite the current emphasis on creativity in education, the teaching of art and design in universities is an underresearched area of higher education. Those who teach within university art and design disciplines are most often artists and designers with their own active and vibrant creative practices. Yet the connection between the teaching of art and design and the creative practices of the artists and designers who teach in those programs is not well understood. This thesis is an attempt to articulate this area. Contemporary higher education, a space currently experiencing much change due to the force of economics and policy in Australia and internationally, is the contextual background for this research. Within this context, the academic disciplines of art and design and those who teach within them are considered in light of their creative practices as artists and designers, and the value of this practice. I began with the premise that there is value in the teaching of art and design, and from the creative practices of artists and designers who teach in these disciplines; therefore, this thesis focuses on articulating the nature of this value rather than arguing for its existence. To research this topic, a qualitative methodology was used, with Australian art and design academics as participants. Qualitative methods involving two phases included semistructured interviews, class observations, visual data, participant journals, and field notes. Value theory was the main theoretical lens used for analysis, in addition to theories of embodied and tacit knowledge, and creativity. Analysis highlighted that participants model and draw from creative practice in teaching of art and design, conceptualise research in a variety of ways, struggle to balance their two professional worlds of creative practice and teaching, and seek the support of university leadership. Value, value disconnects, and tensions became apparent. In addition, research highlighted that dual values are at play: those of participants and those of universities. The research found the value that artist/designer-academics contribute from their creative practices to the teaching of art and design is primarily instrumental in nature because it is a means towards obtaining something else: enabling and assisting students to create works of art and design. I argue that this value encompasses three key areas in the teaching of art/design: the modelling of professional art/design practice, the ability to draw from various creative practices, and the mentoring of art/design students. In addition, artist/designer-academics contribute value in the form of their creative practice to the research agendas and outputs of universities. Each of these areas is contingent upon support and leadership within universities. Recommendations outlined suggest a way forward. This thesis is based in the experiences, views, and voices of its participants: those with active art and design practices who teach in university art and design programs. It also takes into account the realities of contemporary higher education, disciplinary cultures, creative practice, and notions of value in articulating the nature of the value contributed from the creative practices of artists and designers to the teaching of art and design.