Academics' conceptions and orientations of graduate attributes in applied design programmes at a university of technology

Bester, Marianne (2014-04)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Based on a number of comprehensive international studies conducted in the past three decades as well as various other national surveys and reports, it is reasonable to argue that a focus on mere academic disciplinary knowledge is not sufficient to meet employers’ and students’ expectations about higher education studies. These studies support arguments of preparing students for today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive labour markets, for periods of unemployment in terms of economic downturn, and for lifelong learning. Moreover, the literature suggests that the so-called discrepancy between the needs of the world of work and those offered by higher education could possibly be addressed by placing a more pertinent focus on the development of graduate attributes. Despite the fact that graduate attributes have been the centre of discussion in many countries over a number of decades, literature indicates that the notion of graduate attributes is a complex concept that relates to issues such as employability, lifewide and lifelong learning, social responsibility and good citizenship, as well as others related to environmental consciousness and technological adeptness. This study is located within a constructivist-interprevist paradigm using a phenomenographic approach to investigate the qualitatively different ways in which academic staff members in five undergraduate Applied Design programmes at a University of Technology experience, conceptualise, perceive and understand the phenomenon of graduate attributes in the subjects they teach. The conceptual framework used in the study is based on the three domains of higher learning of the engaged curriculum model of Barnett and Coate (2005). For this study qualitative data was collected using multiple data collection methods, including curriculum document analysis, focus-group sessions and semi-structured interviews. The data analysis process consisted of seven stages of defining the categories of description that emerged from the qualitative data available to the researcher. This was an iterative process of discovery of which the categories of description were not based on predetermined classifications. A set of a limited number of hierarchically related categories of description emerged from this analysis. These categories of description, in conjunction with the relationships among the categories, constitute the outcome space of phenomenography. Based on the findings from the literature perspectives on graduate attributes and the empirical findings of the phenomenographic study a number of important issues can be highlighted. These include academics’ misconceptions of what is meant by graduate attributes as well as the interactions between their conceptions of graduate attributes and how they approach the development of graduate attributes through their teaching practice. The phenomenographic analysis indicates that if academics view graduate attributes as discrete, isolated units of learning that can be attached to an existing curriculum as a ‘quick-fix’ to address employers’ needs, they are likely to have a simplistic, technicist conception of curriculum and may adopt a transmission, teacher-centred approach to their teaching. Literature has revealed that such approaches negatively influence students’ learning experiences. As an alternative approach, an integrated capabilities framework is suggested to support the notion of graduate attributes as a complex, multi-dimensional and inter-related aspects of higher education.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Gebaseer op ‘n aantal omvattende internasionale studies wat in die afgelope drie dekades wêreldwyd uitgevoer is asook verskeie nasionale opnames en verslae kan daar met reg aangevoor word dat deur slegs klem te plaas op die ontwikkeling van akademiese dissiplinêre kennis binne hoër onderwys daar nie aan die behoeftes en verwagtinge van werkgewers en studente voldoen word nie. Hierdie studies bevestig ook vraagstukke wat verband hou met die voorbereiding van studente vir die hedendaagse snel veranderende arbeidsmark, ekonomiese afswaai en gepaardegaande werksloosheid, asook aspekte rakende lewenslange leer. Literatuur dui daarop dat hierdie sogenaamde tekortkominge moontlik aangespreek kan word deur meer klem te plaas op die ontwikkeling van die kenmerke wat met gegradueerdes geassosieer word. Alhoewel hierdie kenmerke van gegradueerdes reeds gedurende die afgelope aantal dekades en in verskeie lande die spilpunt van bespreking is, dui literatuur daarop dat die opvattings wat met gegradueerde kenmerke gepaardgaan kompleks van aard is. Dit hou ook verband met kwessies soos werkverkryging, lewenslange en lewenswye leer, goeie burgerskap en gemeenskapsveranderwoordelikheid asook ander relevante kwessies soos omgewingsbewustheid en tegnologiese kundigheid. Hierdie studie is geposisioneer binne ‘n konstruktivistiese en interpretatiewe paradigma. ‘n Fenomenografiese benadering is gebruik om die opvattings oor gegradueerde kenmerke, wat akademici in vyf toegepaste ontwerpskursusse aan ‘n Universiteit van Tegnologie het, kwalitatiewelik te ondersoek. Die konseptuele raamwerk vir hierdie studie is gebaseer op die drie aspekte van gevorderde leer wat deel vorm van die samevoegende kurrikulum model van Barnett en Coate (2005). Vir die doel van hierdie studie is kwalitatiewe data ingesamel deur middel van veelvuldige data insamelingsmetodes wat die ontleding van kurrikulum dokumente, fokusgroep besprekings en semi-gestruktureerde onderhoude ingesluit het. Die ontledingsproses het bestaan uit sewe stadiums om die kategorieë van beskrywing, wat vanuit die data ontstaan het, te definieer. Dit was ‘n proses van herhaaldelike ontdekking en was nie gebaseer op vooraf bepaalde klassifikasies nie. ‘n Stel van ‘n beperkte aantal kategorieë van beskrywing binne ‘n hierargiese orde het ontstaan vanuit hierdie ontleding. Hierdie kategorieë van beskrywing, met inagneming van die verband tussen die kategorieë, vorm die uitkomste ruimte (“outcome space”) van hierdie fenomenografiese studie. ‘n Aantal belangrike gevolgtrekkinge kan gemaak word gebaseer op die literatuurstudie en die bevindings van die empiriese studie. Hierdie gevolgtrekkinge sluit in die wanopvattings van akademiese personeellede aangaande die kenmerke van gegradueerdes, asook die wisselwerking tussen die akademici se opvattings en wyse waarop hul onderrig benader. Die data-ontleding dui daarop dat indien akademici die kenmerke van gegradueerdes beskou as afsonderlike en geïsoleerde eenhede van leer wat by ‘n bestaande kurrikulum gevoeg kan word as ‘n sogenaamde kitsoplossing om aan werkgewers se verwagtinge te voldoen, hul heel moontlik ‘n oorvereenvoudigde, tegniese opvatting van kurrikulum het en dat hul ook waarskynlik ‘n transmissie, dosentgesentreerde benadering tot onderrig het. Literatuur dui daarop dat sulke benaderings studente se leerervarings negatief beïnvloed. As ‘n alternatiewe benadering, stel die navorser ‘n geïntegreerde raamwerk voor wat gebaseer is op ‘n vermenging van alvermoë en vernuftigheid sodat die kenmerke van gegradueerdes gesien kan word as ‘n stel komplekse, multi-dimensionele en inter-afhanklike aspekte van hoër onderwysstudies.

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