Macquarie University (New South Wales, Australia)

May 25th, 2011 by QS in Science team Categories: Macquarie University No Responses

Print Version_Macquarie Case Study_Aug2011

Macquarie is a multi-campus university based in Sydney, Australia.  Established in 1964, it has approximately 35,000 students as of 2009 across both undergraduate and post-graduate programs.

Science at Macquarie: As of 2008, the Faculty of Science offers a Bachelor of Science (BSc) with 25 majors. The 3-year degree has an average intake of 300 new students and is described as a “general degree program, which offers maximum flexibility”. The Faculty of Science also offers a range of more structured, named degrees in specific areas of science.

Mathematics requirements for entry into Science: For entry into the BSc, mathematics is not a required prerequisite, although it is considered assumed knowledge.  The exception is the mathematics major, which does require mathematics for entry.

The Macquarie case study focuses on majors in the Biological Sciences, and is framed around a model of educational change based on the work of Michael Fullan.

Initiation of Change

“Who prompted need for QS in science and why?”

At the institutional level, organisational restructures in the past five years along with university-wide curriculum reviews have catalyzed change. 

In the Biological Sciences this prompted departmental discussions about what discipline specific capabilities where required of students. Quantitative skills (QS) were identified as a desired capability and an area of weakness for many science students. New academics to the department recognized the increasing reliance on QS in their own research, which influenced their ideas of desirable graduate capabilities and curriculum design. The need for competent honours and PhD students was also a motivation to better build the QS of students in the Biological Sciences major.

Vision for Change

“What do QS in Science look like?”

University-wide graduate capabilities were identified at Macquarie in 2008.

The BSc at Macquarie does not have degree program specific graduate capabilities, as the degree program model is decentralized to the major-level.  Each major is expected to have a list of graduate capabilities.

In the Biological Sciences, quantitative skills (QS) have been identified as a graduate capability. The department articulated specific QS competencies across five areas:

  • Basic mathematical skills
  • Data management
  • Study design (experimental)
  • Statistics
  • Advanced statistics/mathematics

Specific topics for each of the above were then mapped to the current units offered to students by the Biological Sciences department. 

Implementing for Change

“How is need for QS in Science translated into practice?”

The Biological Sciences majors incorporate QS into many units, as evidenced by the curriculum mapping documentation. However, the flexible nature of the degree program enables students to mix and match units.

Curriculum Structure for building QS: BSc with a focus on the Biological Sciences major in 2nd and 3rd year. The above diagram shows the ‘critical pathway’, highlighting the requisite units for the major.

1st level features a common statistics unit taught by Department of Statistics, which is taken by students across a range of disciplines and recommended as a pre-requisite for many 3rd year Biological Sciences units. Additionally, data management is introduced into a core Biological Sciences unit. The mathematics department and the faculty office are discussing the possibility of an interdisciplinary science-mathematics unit.

2nd level features a biostatistics unit built around experimental design in science.  At 2nd year, there is an expectation that QS are incorporated into units offered by the Biological Sciences department.

At 3rd level— as part of capstone unit requirements—students select a unit from a choice of five (with four of these featuring significant quantitative skills components). At 3rd year, there is an expectation that QS are incorporated into units offered by the Biological Sciences department.

Extra Curricular QS: Macquarie is in the early stages of QS in Science curriculum change, however there is the Numeracy Resource Centre that provides institutional support for the development of basic mathematics via student drop-ins and workshops as requested by unit coordinators.

Interdisciplinary QS: There are no formal structures or mechanism that facilitate or promote cross-departmental planning or on-going communication around building QS in the BSc.

Evaluating the Change

“How effective has the change to build QS in Science been?”

Institutional standardised evaluation procedures are in place at Macquarie, including general unit surveys.

Evidence of QS learning outcomes: To date, in the Faculty of Science, and in the Biological Sciences majors, there has been no formal evaluation on the effectiveness of the changes in the curriculum to build QS.

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Thanks to the following people at Macquarie for collaborating with us to document this Case Study.

Dr Kelsie Dadd, Associate Dean Learning and Teaching
Belinda Medlyn, Senior Lecturer in Ecophysiology, Department of Biological Sciences
Paul Smith, Professor in Mathematics, Head of Department, Department of Mathematics.

If you have any questions or comments on the Macquarie Case Study, you are welcome to contact them directly.

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This case study is up to date as of August 2011. The interviews to gather this data were conducted in May 2011.