University of Western Sydney

May 25th, 2011 by QS in Science team Categories: University of Western Sydney No Responses

Print Version_UWS Case Study_Sept2011

The University of Western Sydney (UWS) is a multi-campus university based in the Greater Western Sydney area of Australia. Established in 1989, it now has a student enrolment of approximately 40,000 and offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programs.

 

 

Science at UWS: The College of Health and Science offers a Bachelor of Science  (BSc) in seven disciplines and a general BSc. The average annual intake of students is 300 with numbers varying across each of the eight degree programs. The entry score for each of these three-year degree programs is estimated to be at least 70 out of a possible 100 across all campuses offering the BSc.

Mathematics requirements for entry into Science: There are no specific mathematics prerequisite requirements for entry into any of the BSc degree programs.

The UWS case study focuses on the Chemistry major in the BSc 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?”

In 2010 the project Reconceptualising Science was launched as a response to the continued international debate around tertiary science curricula and teaching. This ambitious project sought to remodel all of the Science degree programs to reflect an evidence and inquiry based curriculum. To achieve this, a whole of degree program approach to the curriculum was adopted.

The ensuing discussions among academic staff highlighted the need for quantitative skills (QS) skills to be embedded throughout the BSc, as staff perceived that incoming students’ ability to use QS was poor, with this lack of ability continuing into third year.

Vision for Change

“What do QS in Science look like?”

The University of Western Sydney has institutional graduate attributes.

The BSc at UWS has contextualized the graduate attribute generic skill of ‘numeracy’ that incorporates QS, as follows:

  • Displays appropriate skills in gathering and critically analysing information that is required for solving scientific problems
  • Displays appropriate numerical and statistical skills for a professional scientist, in the context of their chosen scientific discipline(s).
  • Integrates theoretical and practical knowledge to analyse and solve complex and novel scientific problems.

Other UWS BSc graduate attributes have been articulated and mapped to the UWS graduate attributes and the ALTC Threshold Learning Outcome statements. Further ‘drilling down’ is occurring with a ‘whole of degree program’ curricula mapping exercise underway to map QS skills across the entire curriculum.

Cross departmental discussions between Chemistry and Mathematics has led to further articulation of what QS looked like in first year chemistry: Maths and Quantitative Thinking in Essential Chemistry_First Year.

Implementing for Change

How is need for QS in Science translated into practice?

Planned changes for 2012 are described here. The BSc (Chemistry) will offer students a choice between two calculus based mathematics units at the first year level. This knowledge is built upon in varying degrees in the subsequent compulsory chemistry units.

Curriculum Structure for building QS: The chemistry major at UWS has QS embedded throughout its program.  The above diagram shows the ‘critical QS pathway’, highlighting the requisite units for the major with a slant towards physical chemistry.

1st level features a choice of two units, Analysis of Change, or Mathematics 1A.  Both units are calculus based, and assume that students are proficient in algebraic manipulation. Students complete two chemistry units (Essential Chemistry 1 and Essential Chemistry 2).

2nd level features a number of chemistry units that rely on QS. In particular, the units on Physical Chemistry are heavily QS oriented.

3rd level features a capstone unit Science Research Project that most students choose to do. The expectation is that students have acquired a sufficient level of competence in QS to undertake the analysis usually required in such capstone subjects.

Extra Curricular QS: Currently UWS has a Student Learning Unit that provides both mathematical and statistical support to (mostly) first-year students. In 2011, UWS funded the establishment of the Mathematics Education Support Hub (MESH), which will provide both ‘just-in-time’ and ‘just-for-me’ help for both staff and students. The support provided by this centre will be tailored specifically to the mathematical and statistical needs of disciplines across the university by way of drop-in centres, online tutors, on-campus tuition and an extensive array of online resources.

Interdisciplinary QS: The University has a hierarchy of committees that focus on curriculum and teaching/learning. Due to a planned restructure which will take effect in 2012, the current suite of committees is under review. The 2011 Science Reconceptualisation process has promoted collaboration between science and mathematics staff that has resulted in a shared understanding of the content and pedagogy of the compulsory mathematics unit and the QS requirements of later stage science units.

Evaluating the Change

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

Institutional standardised evaluation procedures are in place at the UWS, including general unit and teaching surveys.

Evidence of QS learning outcomes: The proposed BSc programs will not be implemented until 2012. At present there are no plans to evaluate the success or otherwise of the changes made, but it is envisaged that this will be part of the next phase of this extensive curriculum review.

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Thanks to the following people at UWS for collaborating with us to document this case study:

Pauline Ross, Assistant Associate Dean Academic (Health)
Joanne Chuck, Senior Lecturer in Biology, School of Natural Sciences
Sebastian Holmes, Lecturer in Biology, School of Natural Sciences
Roy Tasker, Associate Professor of Chemistry, School of Natural Sciences.

If you have any questions or comments on the UWS case study, you are welcome to contact them directly.

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This case study is up to date as of September 2011. Interviews for this case study were conducted in August 2011.