Thursday, August 15, 2013

Whatever happened to course profiles?

When I was an undergraduate I don't think Course Profiles [detailed descriptions of course content, assessment, policies, ...] even existed. If I recall correctly there was a Course handbook which contained a paragraph about each course. Sometimes on the first day of class the lecturer might hand out a one page sheet with some more details about the course.
Times have certainly changed.

Now at University of Queensland [and I presume at most other universities] the course profile can be 15 plus pages. Here is an example from a course I have taught. It contains very detailed descriptions of not just course content, learning methods, and assessment but how these map onto "graduate attributes."
Profiles have to include details about university policies about plagiarism, student appeals, disabilities, library resources, ....

 Hence, it is not surprising that students often don't read the details, including the ones that really matter (e.g., what topics will be covered when, what they should be reading, the key concepts in the course,...).

Preparation of these documents increases the administrative overhead to faculty of teaching.

But, my biggest concern is that Course Profiles have become quasi-legal documents, like a will that might be contested by potential heirs. In particular, the language about assessment and marking [grading] have to be very carefully crafted so that they are not open to dispute. Increasingly, disgruntled students will claim that assessment criteria was ambiguous or not applied in a manner consistent with their "reading" of the course profile. One has to anticipate bizarre possibilities such as a student getting a dozen medical certificates [for every wednesday of the semester] so they never have to do any laboratory sessions but can pass the course!

Is my experience common? Should we care? Can anything be done about this?

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen anything as long and bureaucratic as the one you linked to.

    I agree that the length and style hides the useful information, and there is really useful information there. I was impressed by the item 'course changes in response to student feedback'. I like the existence of course objectives, but not needing to force them into three lists would make it easier to construct them as something students could look at 80% of the way through the course to help understand what they've learned (and should remember!) and how things fit together.

    I have only taught one undergraduate course, but the only grading complaint was an arithmetic error. Regarding grading policies, I think it's worth thinking about the most obvious unusual situations (e.g. stating that a student may miss at most x lab sessions, even with medical certificates), and the decision might as well be put in writing.