James Cook University (Queensland, Australia)

September 18th, 2011 by QS in Science team Categories: James Cook University No Responses

Print Version_JCU Case Study_Oct2011

James Cook University (Queensland, Australia)

James Cook University (JCU) is a multi-campus university that has been in operation since 1961.  It is located in tropical north Queensland with approximately 19000 students enrolled in various undergraduate and postgraduate programs.  James Cook University is a member of the Innovative Research Universities, a consortium of seven universities across Australia.


Science at JCU: The Faculty of Science and Engineering offers a Bachelor of Science (BSc) program with 16 majors.   The entry requirement for the BSc at James Cook is a rank of 16 out of a possible 25, with 1 being the highest rank.  There is an annual intake of approximately 300 students into the BSc program.

Mathematics requirements for entry into Science: The BSc requires Mathematics B for entry.  This is a calculus-based secondary school subject.

The JCU case study focuses on the Marine Biology 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?”

JCU began a Curriculum Refresh  of the Bachelor of Science in 2009.  This project received government funding and when complete, will have impacted on all disciplines across JCU.

The ensuing discussions by science academic staff   highlighted the need for improvement in the development of quantitative skills (QS) of science students.  Many students entering first year had poor QS with the level of QS not significantly improving by third year.  This situation was perceived to have deteriorated over a period of several years preceding the Curriculum Refresh initiative.

Vision for Change

“What do QS in Science look like?”

James Cook University has institutional graduate attributes.

Each unit within the BSc programs list the “graduate qualities” developed within that unit.  However, these are not mapped directly to the graduate attributes.

Implementing for Change

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

The BSc program allows students great flexibility in designing their program of study.  Thus it is difficult to identify “QS pathways” that build on the knowledge gained from the core level one mathematics unit.

Curriculum Structure for building QS: In the following diagram, the critical pathway for building QS is shown for the Marine Biology majors.

1st level features the core unit SC1102 Modeling Natural Systems in all BSc programs.

2nd level features the core unit BZ2001 Quantitative Methods in Biology.

3rd level features a range of units  within the majors that can embed QS.

Extra Curricular QS: Students who do not have the required secondary school Mathematicss B background are required to complete the bridging mathematics unit MA1020 Preparatory Mathematics.  This unit does not contribute in terms of credit towards any of the BSc program except the BSc (General).  This unit is taught by mathematics academic staff.

Interdisciplinary QS: Academic staff across all the disciplines of Science at JCU were involved in the discussions prompted by Curriculum Refresh.  These discussions have incurred informally as no formal mechanisms are in place to promote cross-disciplinary collaboration in building QS in science students.

Evaluating the Change

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

Institutional standardized evaluation procedures are in place at JCU, including general unit and teaching surveys.

Evidence of QS learning outcomes: Implementation of the new Science curriculum is occurring over a three year period, beginning with the first year units in 2010. No formal evaluation procedures concentrating on the development of QS are yet in place. However, the SC1102 project team has evaluated the outcome of this new subject – leading to a paper published in the 2011 Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education (ACSME) Proceedings.


Thanks to the following people at James Cook University for collaborating with us to document this case study, on the development of the Bachelor of Science program.

Orpha Bellwood, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology, School of Marine and Tropical Biology
Yvette Everingham, Senior Lecturer in Statistics, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Emma Gyuris, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Betsy Jackes, Associate Dean Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Science and Engineering and Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Marine and Tropical Biology

If you have any questions, comments or thoughts on the James Cook University case study, you are welcome to contact them directly.
This case study is up to date as of September 2011. The interviews to gather these data were conducted in August 2011.