03 April 2011

My preoccupation this week: academic standards

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the new Australian Academic Standards Statement for Accounting (AAS-Accounting) recently ... not something that will interest as many people, I suspect. I haven't quite worked out the purpose of this document. How will individual academics use it? How will it be used by the various quality assurance agencies and mechanisms in place in the Australian higher education sector? Will anyone care that it exists?  Maybe the Director of TEQSA will tell us once that agency is up and running.

It raises this question for me: What guides the judgements academics make about student (and peer) work at the artefact level, i.e. students' individual assignments or academic journal articles?

My reading of the literature suggests three possibilities:
  1. Commonly-agreed, explicit, published criteria (e.g. marking rubrics circulated amongst groups of markers or distributed to students, or the reviewers' guidelines used by academic journals)
  2. Discipline standards descriptors (like the AAS documents coming out of the ALTC Disciplines Setting Standards project)
  3. Personal understanding or interpretation of discipline-based, tacit, unpublished criteria gained from simply practicing as a member of an academic discipline community for a period of time
... or a mixture of all three.

If this is so, then how does a novice get better at the job?  Well, it depends on the quality of feedback and how that feedback is provided, I suppose.

Well, it's keeping me occupied anyway.

Here's another thing ... a great little tool for teachers or conference presenters struggling to think of an innovative way to present data: A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods.


Markus said...

Hi Deb.

A good question to ask, and one I wondered myself when preparing for some teaching many years back. But I think the three options are not independent. I think the personal understanding is what leads to (sometimes) commonly agreed criteria (but perhaps only within an institution, or a network of them that try to work together), and only then do you get do some formal discipline standards.

Of course, I'd suggest the "trades" are more organised than say the "sciences", as there is more formality to the career path in the trades. Only in those I'd expect it to come "top-down".

Anyway, my two bits :-). Love the periodic table! I'm a sucker for structural analyses...


Deborah Veness said...

That's the thing, isn't it? Criteria don't pop into the world out of nowhere and nor do standards ... they themselves are the result of something.

The whole thing is an interative, circular, messy evolution of sorts.