The Place of Learning and Teaching - Research and Development in Higher Education

The Place of Learning and Teaching - Research and Development in Higher Education
Research and Development in Higher Education:
         The Place of Learning and Teaching
                     Volume 36

                              Refereed papers from the
                     36th HERDSA Annual International Conference

                                      1 – 4 July 2013
                           AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand

Kelder, Jo-Anne & Canty, Alison & Carr, Andrea & Skalicky, Jane & Walls, Justin & Robinson,
Andrew & Vickers, James (2013). A learning place where a high-risk student cohort can succeed:
curriculum, assessment and teacher recruitment. In Frielick, S., Buissink-Smith, N., Wyse, P.,
Billot, J., Hallas, J. and Whitehead, E. (Eds.) Research and Development in Higher Education:
The Place of Learning and Teaching, 36 (pp 253 - 265). Auckland, New Zealand, 1 – 4 July 2013.

Published 2013 by the
Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia, Inc
PO Box 27, MILPERRA NSW 2214, Australia

ISSN 1441 001X
ISBN 0 908557 93 0

This research paper was reviewed using a double blind peer review process that meets DIISR
requirements. Two reviewers were appointed on the basis of their independence and they reviewed
the full paper devoid of the authors’ names and institutions in order to ensure objectivity and
anonymity. Papers were reviewed according to specified criteria, including relevance to the conference
theme and sub-themes, originality, quality and presentation. Following review and acceptance, this full
paper was presented at the international conference.

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The Place of Learning and Teaching - Research and Development in Higher Education
A learning place where a high-risk student cohort can
succeed: curriculum, assessment and teacher recruitment

                                    Jo-Anne Kelder
                       University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia

                                 Alison Canty
    Wicking Dementia Research Education Centre, University of Tasmania, Australia

                                 Andrea Carr
    Wicking Dementia Research Education Centre, University of Tasmania, Australia

                                     Jane Skalicky
                       University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia

                                     Justin Walls
         Faculty of Health Science, University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia

                               Andrew Robinson
    Wicking Dementia Research Education Centre, University of Tasmania, Australia

                                James Vickers
    Wicking Dementia Research Education Centre, University of Tasmania, Australia

  The Associate Degree in Dementia Care is a course offered by the University of Tasmania,
  developed in consultation with the Australian aged care industry to support the professional
  development of its workforce. Aged care workers do not typically possess higher education
  qualifications and the initial cohort of 180 students, consisted predominantly of mature age,
  non-traditional students normally classified as ‘high risk’ of failing to meet the demands of
  a university level degree. The challenge in designing a course targeting this workforce was
  to create a learning place in which students could succeed and, in turn, become change
  agents in the field of dementia care. This paper describes the rationale and method of
  course design and implementation, reports the demographics and retention data for the first
  student cohort, and shares barriers to retention and progression. The course development
  approach aligned curriculum design (content and delivery) with staff recruitment and
  provision for student support. The interventions designed into the course, including a
  dedicated student support officer, highly scaffolded foundation units and blended learning
  delivery mode. Early outcomes evidence attrition rates comparable with the first year of
  undergraduate studies and lower than for other pre-degree courses. The authors argue the
  curricular approach underpinning the broader course design provides a model for other pre-
  degree courses where enrolled students are at increased progression risk due to entry-level
  capabilities and personal background and where there is strong industry engagement in
  selection and support of students.

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Keywords: non-traditional students, retention and progression, course design


In 2010, approximately 180,000 people were in residential care in Australia, of which 49%
had dementia (Access Economics, 2009). To accommodate changing demographics, the
current aged care workforce must quadruple by 2050. Aged care workforce improvements in
management, access to high quality education and training and career paths are needed
(Productivity Commission, 2011).

The University of Tasmania’s (UTAS) Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre
(Wicking Centre) has initiated a discourse of “dementia as a terminal disease” and is
researching care practices for people with dementia (PWD). Understanding the biology of the
brain and the pathology of the disease is critical for designing appropriate care responses,
including relationship management, communication strategies for PWD and their families,
and palliation (Andrews, McInerney, & Robinson, 2009; McInerney et al., 2010). The
terminal nature of dementia and the applicability of palliative care for PWD is poorly
recognised in the current workforce (Robinson et al. 2010).

In 2011, the Wicking Centre designed an innovative associate degree programme to facilitate
qualification upgrading for the existing workforce, connect with an untapped student market,
and train future workforce. The intent is for graduates to act as change agents to disseminate
evidence-based practice, improving care throughout the sector.

The feasibility study into a workforce-relevant course and the Wicking Centre’s broad
knowledge of the industry workforce indicated that the target cohort would primarily consist
of ‘non-traditional’ students that lack foundation skills to succeed in university study.
Compounding the risk of under-performing or failing to complete is a cohort predominantly
first in family to university, low income and long timeframe since last formal study.

Retention is a significant topic in higher education research and various studies report
analyses of administrative data (for example, Jeffreys 2007; Rienks & Taylor, 2009;) to
identify risk factors for students failing to progress or complete a course of study. However
such studies are retrospective and factors identified for one context are not necessarily
predictive in another (Rienks & Taylor, 2009). Kuh et al. (2007) unpacked a plethora of
factors found to predict student success in postsecondary education. They emphasise the
importance of creating conditions for student success; including but not limited to family and
community support, financial capacity, early intervention, connections, and a student-centred
learning environment. Nelson, Clarke, Kift, and Creagh (2011) describe a decade of first year
experience research that has shifted focus from providing additional activities, to curriculum
focused approaches and is now looking at institution-wide coordinated approaches to first
year experience aimed at retention.

It is within this broad context that a holistic course design approach was taken. Understanding
both the risk factors for attrition for a particular cohort and addressing them within the context
of curriculum was deemed critical. In addition, drawing upon what is reported about
predictors of student success, and considering these within the context of the cohort and the
course led to the development of the framework within which the course was conceptualised.

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Conceptual Background
The course development team conceptualised the design as a learning place to which students
must be invited and supported to develop as full members of a learning community (Wenger,
1998). This implied pedagogical principles of student-centred learning, social constructivism
and constructive alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2010), incorporating scaffolded learning with
targeted, personal support for students at risk of failing. The design took into account the
nature of the cohort; the adaptations required for students to progress through the curriculum,
particularly foundation unit design and models for assessment; and the essential pedagogical
skill-set required of those teaching the foundation units. The curriculum is informed by the
Wicking Centre’s expertise in dementia education and dementia research. Domain experts
(dementia care; dementia care education) were consulted on details of the course and unit

Learning communities will not “mushroom” without favourable conditions (Bos-Ciussi,
Rosner, & Augier, 2008, p. 288). Thus the design scope for the ADDC course extended to all
student interactions. Student experiences and perspectives were conceived along a learning
trajectory with different dimensions of interaction: connecting, engaging, maintaining, and
developing students to successfully operate in the learning place. These dimensions acted to
foreground the role of the student in learning and the importance of interactions, within the
designed learning environment, particularly engaging with their peers and applying the
curriculum in real-life contexts (Vrasidas, 2000).

Connecting focused the team’s thinking on how to create a place for a conversation with the
aged care industry, and with individuals interested in professional training in dementia care.
The conceptual model for engaging students had two major components: ‘communication to
create community’ (3C) and ‘support to create confidence’ (S2C). Both components aimed to
motivate students to enrol, attend the first (face-to-face) classes and commit to continue.
Maintaining student engagement and commitment to the course was a composite of
continuing the 3C-2SC model alongside an assessment framework aligned with the expected
trajectory of students’ learning in foundation units. Flexible assessment was designed to build
confidence and meet learning outcomes needed for progression to core units. The developing
dimension of student interactions will focus on building students’ capacity and self-efficacy in
learning within the core units, while continuing to design opportunities to create community
(3C) and confidence (S2C).

The shifting focus along the dimensions, engaging, maintaining and developing is embedded
in the course structure and explicitly enacted in the way students achieve progression. The
concept of ‘soft’ assessment was developed during a course design workshop as a mechanism
to reflect the student-centred course philosophy and is applied to students enrolled in
foundation units who have failed the summative assessment. The goal of a soft assessment
regime is to enable these students to maintain commitment to the course, continue learning
and reach the learning outcomes at their own pace, without compromising standards. Soft
assessment utilises remediation and allows students additional time to complete an additional
(capstone) assessment and still progress to the next unit. This is explained further in the
Analysis and Discussion section. The approach is in line with the maintaining dimension of
student interactions. The standard assessment framework for UTAS students with hard
assessments, that form barriers to progression to the next level, occurs in core units where the
focus is on the developing dimension.

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The course commences with four foundation level units designed to develop confidence and
learning skills in technology and academic literacy and, in the second semester, skills in
communication and knowledge of the basic concepts of biology relating to the nervous
system. Students with previous University or Advanced Diploma level experience in these
any of these areas are eligible to apply for credit. The core units follow in the third semester.

Staffing Model
The strategic focus of the course and its overall quality is the responsibility of co-directors of
the Wicking Centre. The staffing model deliberately aligned with expected trajectory of
student characteristics from foundation to core units. The Wicking Centre contracted an
external expert consultant who contributed extensively to decisions about the desirable and
essential capabilities of staff employed to develop specific units and teach the cohort.

Teachers for the foundation units were recruited for skills in teaching to enable student
success at university: academic literacy, information technology and communication skills. A
clinical nurse with expertise in aged care and education taught the foundation unit preceding
the biological stream of core Units. A memorandum of understanding with the UTAS Student
Centre for a full-time Student Support Officer provided individual students with scaffolded
learning support and advice navigating the Higher Education learning place.

Core units will be designed and delivered by domain experts employed within the School of
Medicine and the Wicking Centre. The ADDC course has two distinct but inter-related
learning streams. Stream 1, Understanding Dementia, units are the responsibility of research
scientists in the neurosciences. Stream 2, Models of Healthcare, units are the responsibility of
academics from a social sciences research. All academics involved in the design and delivery
of core Units have PhDs in the relevant disciplines, qualifications and experience teaching at
the undergraduate level.


The course development team adopted a design research approach to the course with four
components for evaluation and research (analyse, design, develop, implement). The
educational evaluation research (EER) framework presented in (Phillips, McNaught, &
Kennedy, 2012) was integrated with the course design and evaluation. The EER framework is
ideal for a new online course as it provides a holistic, systematic and planned approach to
EER which maps evaluation-research activities to the design-and-development cycle of the
learning environment designed for the students. Phillips et al. (2012) distinguish four
interrelated, and potentially concurrent, evaluation-research activities: baseline analysis,
design evaluation, formative evaluation and effectiveness research with project management
evaluation as a separate, related, activity. This analysis presented in this paper is based on
data informing the baseline analysis of the ADDC learning design and the evaluation of the
two foundation Units delivered to the first cohort.

The design research question was, “What characteristics for the course design enable a high
risk cohort of students to succeed?” The outcomes research question, “To what extent do
graduates of the ADDC affect how care is delivered to people with dementia?” This paper
reports aspects related to the first research question.

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Data Sets and their Uses
The ADDC ethics approval (HREC 12768) was to collect re-identifiable data from students,
teaching and support staff for each Unit, enabling the construction of a longitudinal
(qualitative and quantitative) data set reflecting multiple perspectives. The data sets were
analysed initially for diagnostic purposes (identifying students for remediation) and for
quality improvement of the unit design. Once the learning design is mature, data can be
analysed for quality assurance purposes and to measure impact and effectiveness of the
course. Data is also being collected to enable measures of student behaviours, motivation and
attitudes. Table 1 sets out the data sets collected in the first semester, analytic purposes and
measures. Student data will be analysed using the following taxonomy: Knowledge (K);
Skills (S); Application (A) as well as, more difficult to assess, Behaviour (B) and Motivation
(M). This taxonomy is aligned to the AQF standards, particularly Knowledge, Skills and
Application (Qualifications Framework Council, 2013). Statistical data will also be collected
for internal UTAS reporting purposes and to inform analysis of student engagement, retention
and progression.

                            Table 1: Data Sets, Analytic Purposes and Measures

 Data Set                      Analytic Purpose(s)                                       Measure
                               Diagnostic: identifying known and potential risk          Demographics
 Student Application           factors                                                   Risk factors
                               Correlation with UTAS student statistics
                               Diagnostic: Literacy rubric to analyse student skills.    K
 Application Supporting        Baseline: thematic analysis student answers on            S
 Statement                     interest in & expectations of course, employment and      A
                               dementia interaction experience.                          M
                               Diagnostic:                                               Demographics
                               àdesign and pitch for first two foundation units.        Literacies
 Skills Survey                 à Student Support officer to identify at risk students   K
                               and provide remediation                                   S
                               Baseline – student skills
 Dementia Knowledge                                                                      K
                               Baseline: pre-test knowledge of dementia prior to
 Assessment        Tool
                               commencing course.
 Version 2 (D–KAT2)
                               Summative: re-administered post-completion of core
 (Toye, Popescus, Drake
 & Lester. 2007).
 In-class     formative        Baseline: pre-test to establish knowledge of dementia     K
 assessment - “what is         prior course.
 dementia?”                    Correlation with DKAT-2 survey responses
                               Baseline: students to identify an area of personal        K
                               professional strength, evidence of capability and         S
                               impact on client care; identify professional learning     A
 ePortfolio      (Student
                               needs. Respond and critically reflect on peer             M
 reflective journal; peer
                               response.                                                 B
                               Formative and Summative: measure learning
                               development and learning outcomes applied to
                               dementia care contexts.
                               Baseline and Summative measure – students report
 Reflective      Journal       and reflect on first impressions of coming to
 entries                       university at beginning of semester and at end of
                               semester on their learning curve.
                               Formative: quality improvement: unit review by            Internal and external
 Peer review                   external expert from content and learning design          peer review each unit

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Data Set                 Analytic Purpose(s)                                Measure
                                                                             Student      agreement
 UTAS teaching and        Summative: quality improvement: student feedback
                                                                             with           standard
 unit student survey      (unit and teaching).
                                                                             Student engagement:
                          Diagnostic – monitor participation to identify
                                                                             # posts by student
                          students at risk.
 UTAS LMS analytics                                                          # responses to posts
                                                                             # visits to discussion

Analysis and Discussion

This section sets out the models for each dimension of student interactions on the learning
trajectory and the analysis for the dimensions connecting, engaging and maintaining students’
ability to participate in the learning place that was designed into and around the ADDC. The
analysis is confined to the preliminary data set from the first delivery of the first two
foundation units. It is primarily descriptive and focuses its use to inform learning and
educational research design. Broader issues of retention and progression will be addressed
once we have a dataset of progression from the foundation to core units in late 2013. Data
related to the dimension, developing, will not be evaluated until the current cohort have
completed the four foundation Units and progressed to core Units, which teach the curriculum

Student trajectory of interactions and course design
For each interaction dimension experienced on the student’s learning trajectory, the team
developed models to guide decision-making.

For connecting, a conceptual model focussed on the drivers for change and the mechanisms
necessary to create a place for a conversation with the aged care industry that could lead to
ability to connect effectively with potential students. It leveraged the industry desire for a
qualified and knowledgeable workforce and individuals’ desire for qualifications and
knowledge to do their work more effectively or to understand what is happening to a family
member. The Wicking Centre’s research knowledge was augmented by a feasibility study and
discussions with a national industry body, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA).
Drivers in the higher education sector, including Federal government requirements for access
and social inclusion and addressing workforce issues in the aged care sector via education
(Productivity Commission, 2011) were also considered.

The Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) fee was waived for students enrolled
through employers who were members of ACSA to remove financial barriers. In turn, ACSA
agreed to promote the course to their members who were able to recommend interested
employees in whom they had confidence, to apply for the course. Thus a significant
percentage (85%) of the student cohort work in the aged care industry, predominantly as
personal care workers/nursing assistants, and have a high level of domain-specific knowledge
and practical expertise, often with vocational certificates. However, many of the cohort have
not engaged in post-secondary education nor have academic literacies required for success at
university. Table 1 shows the educational levels at which the cohort last engaged in formal
English writing or numeracy activities (166 respondents in Skills Survey). Those students
with university experience were given credit for the three foundation units, teaching
information technology skills (CAD001), academic literacy and study skills (CAD003) and

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communication skills (CAD002). These units were designed to provide students with the
requisite academic skills for successful learning and demonstrating learning via standard
higher education assessments such as essays.

                      Table 1: Percentage pre-entry Skills Survey respondents

                                                                        was in a class where
Response to question:           was in an English   wrote an essay”
                                                                        mathematics     was
“Last time I …                  class”
Grade 10                        30                  15                  29
Grade 11                        11                  7                   14
Grade 12                        19                  8                   23
TAFE/technical college          20                  63                  44
Undergraduate at University     11                  33                  24
Postgraduate at University      5                   20                  7
Other                           4                   10                  7

The model for engaging students had two major components: ‘communication to create
community’ (3C) and ‘support to create confidence’ (S2C). The ADDC course was
introduced as a place of supported learning using digital and non-digital communication
modes so that students lacking confidence ‘online’ were not excluded. Offers of enrolment
were sent by post with a hard copy of the Skills Survey and the invitation to participate using
a reply paid envelope.

The Skills Survey was designed to inform development of the first foundation units that the
students would enrol in, as well as to inform evaluation of the course and ongoing
improvements. The survey response rate was 95%: 166 students out of the 180 applicants who
accepted a place in the course completed the survey. 98% of those who responded agreed to
their data being re-identifiable (to enable tracking progress by student) and available for
research. The Course Coordinator presented the survey responses, and how the outcomes
informed the design of the first two units, to the student cohort. The purpose was to
demonstrate the role of the students in the evidence-based approach being applied to the
course design and as a mechanism for engaging them.

The presentation engaged students in two ways. It highlighted similarities of the cohort;
engendered discussion about surprising outcomes and often provoked collective laughter.
This inscribed the students as a learning community with common baseline skills and learning
needs. It also affirmed the values of evidence-based practice as a desirable characteristic of
their newly forming learning community. This inscribed the students as participants in an
educational research programme, demonstrating active commitment to the quality and
effectiveness of their learning experience and to evidence-based practice in their professional

From a learning community perspective, using some of the insights from Communities of
Practice theory (Wenger, 1998) students responded to an invitation to develop a shared
domain of interest. Face-to-face, and online on the UTAS LMS, they could form a learning
community focused on dementia, engaging and sharing growing knowledge and skills in the
practice of dementia care (practiced in different local contexts).

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The 3C-S2C model for engaging students focused decisions on the content, format and
frequency of each interaction with students. It was based on knowledge of characteristics of
the cohort that did not qualify for RPL and starting foundation units in the first semester. Each
communication interaction from the course delivery team (course coordinator, unit
coordinators, student support) was reviewed for clarity, simplicity and completeness of
information before dissemination.

Communicate to Create Community – 3C
As part of the 3C component of engaging students, a course-specific website was maintained
on the Wicking Centre website ( The
website included FAQs and a “Meet the Team” page consisting of video-messages by people
relevant to the students. The tone was deliberately friendly and non-threatening; the
information provided was designed to encourage a sense of ‘This is an environment in which
I can learn successfully’. Each staff member provided personal information and explained
their role. The Co-Director of Wicking and an expert aged care consultant were filmed
chatting together about the course and additionally to introduce each Unit. The CEO of ACSA
Tasmania spoke about the course from the industry perspective.

An email from the course coordinator was carefully crafted to communicate ‘welcome’ and
provide step-by-step instructions to set up for engaging in the course. Unit Coordinators
provided welcome messages encouraging students to engage in the first learning activities
(designed to scaffold students’ learning to use the LMS discussion post and email functions).
The dedicated Student Support Officer provided fulltime phone and online support.

Support to Create Comfort – S2C
The Skills Survey was also used to establish a baseline of skills for students, to measure
student development and identify risk factors, and therefore needs for academic and social
support. Questions were carefully framed to reduce students perceiving they ought to have the
skills listed. For example, the question on word processing and general computing skills was
phrased, “In the first unit (CAD001) we will teach you the following computer skills. Please
indicate any that you already feel confident in” followed by a list with responses yes, no,
unsure. Another question, “Do you have any worries or concerns about your ability to succeed
in this course/University Education?” was added to identify students needing encouragement
or additional support. Themes identified from the 41% of students listing concerns were: may
struggle with assignments, essays or maths (12.3%); fear of failure/uncertainty/self doubt
(13.5%); time management and/or travel issues (7.6%); work/ life balance (5.3%); lack of
computer skills (4.7%); inadequate home computer (2.3%); health issues (1.2%) and
workforce outcome at course completion (0.5%). These were later mapped to reasons given
by students for withdrawing from the course. Any student who withdrew during the semester
was contacted to check if further support might mean they could continue and to elicit reasons
for withdrawing.

Early outcomes are positive in terms of retention and progression for the 142 students
enrolled at census date for the first semester the course was offered. Retention was 74% of the
starting cohort, with 105 students making successful completions. This calculation was based
on students who successfully completed at least one unit in their first semester. Average
retention at UTAS from first to second year approximates 72-76% and is lower for pre-degree
and enabling enrolments. Motivation is a key factor in retention, as many in the pre-degree
space don't necessarily have particular direction, and the 74% retention potentially affirms the

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strategies of engaging with ACSA to recruit motivated students already working in the
industry and providing a dedicated support officer. 26% (37) of students were lost throughout
the first semester (excluding students who withdrew from a unit when awarded credit for
RPL). The main reasons cited for withdrawal/failure included: unknown/non-participators in
the unit (43%); personal health reasons (22%); time management - not enough time with other
responsibilities (13%); technology issues (13%); family reasons (8%) and work reasons (7%).

In terms of progression, 94% of 104 students who passed the first foundation Units
subsequently enrolled in further units. This indicates that the overwhelming majority of
students who made it through the first semester of foundation units returned for more
study. Notably, these students did not have RPL for the first two foundation Units, and so
includes all of the students recognised as having higher needs.

Foundation Units were focused on skills development and building the concept of the students
as a community of learners. The first two units began with a three-day face-to-face intensive
that was highly interactive and encouraged students to form relationships that could continue
in an online setting. Assessment was aligned to the skills-focused learning outcomes,
including communication and teamwork. CAD001 students were assessed via a computer
skills quiz, scavenger hunt of electronic databases, peer moderated ePortfolio and
participation in online discussions. CAD003 students were assessed on writing and study
skills, including critical thinking. Assessment tasks included reflective writing, note
taking/summarising, reading for information and two essays. Curriculum from a content
perspective was deliberately minimal; students were not assessed on dementia knowledge, for
example, but for academic literacy in writing what they knew about dementia.

Maintaining and Developing
This section discusses the dimensions of maintaining and developing together. The plans for
facilitating the developing dimension for students’ interaction in the ADDC learning place
will not be enacted until the third semester when the first core Units are delivered.

Student engagement and commitment to the course was maintained through opportunities and
support to build confidence and meet the required learning outcomes, including ‘soft’
assessment tasks with remediation and capstone assessment offered to failing students to
provide an additional opportunity to progress. Once enrolled in core Units, students’ capacity
in learning will be developed by continuing the 3C component of the 3C-S2C model
(designing in opportunities and mechanisms to foster a learning community) while reducing
the amount of personalised support (the Student Support Officer being dedicated to
foundation unit students) and introducing ‘hard’ assessment tasks that form barriers to

Figures 1 and 2 represent the different approach to progression requirements between a
standard UTAS course structure (Figure 1) and the course structure devised for the ADDC
(Figure 2). The course design assumes that students who have completed the foundation
Units, have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed in progressing through
core Units to meet the AQF Level 6 standards (Qualifications Framework Council, 2013).

For a standard course structure at UTAS, progression is reviewed at the end of each semester
in light of overall progress to date. Failure of one 12.5% unit for a second time or failure of
more than 50% of load (i.e. 2 x 12.5% units for a full time student) is a trigger for students to
be placed on probation. Probation is a supportive tool used by Schools and Faculty to ensure

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that a student specific learning contract or ‘support plan’ is put in place. These plans are
designed to enable each student to address personal and academic issues that may impact on
their ability to successfully complete their studies. In a subsequent period of study, if another
academic progression trigger occurs, then students may be excluded from the course they are
enrolled in for a period of 12 months.

The assessment framework for the first four Units of the ADDC deviates from the standard
assessment approach in a number of ways. Upon completion of each unit a soft rather than
hard assessment point is utilised. A soft assessment point involves all students progressing to
the next sequenced Unit, even if satisfactory attainment of all the learning outcomes for a Unit
has not been achieved. Throughout the next period of study students who have not met the
learning outcomes are offered targeted, personalised remediation opportunities with flexible
access to further assessment. This flexibility enables students to demonstrate attainment of
learning outcomes when it suits them rather than at an arbitrary point in time. Once the first
four units have been completed the assessment approach reverts to the standard assessment
approach common to all other courses on offer at UTAS.

      Figure 1. Standard Course Structure at UTAS with assessment points for each level

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Figure 2: ADDC course structure with hard and soft assessment points


The curricular approach underpinning the course design for the ADDC provides a model for
other pre-degree courses where, 1) enrolled students are at higher than usual progression risk
due to entry-level capabilities and personal background and 2) there is strong industry
engagement in selection and support of students. A key feature of this approach was that
addressing the problem of ‘at risk’ students was articulated as a design requirement, fully
funded and resourced. The concept of a student learning trajectory of interactions with
dimensions, connecting, engaging, maintaining and developing formed a sound conceptual
model for decision-making. The educational evaluation research (EER) framework (Phillips
et al. 2012) ensured that decision-making was undergirded by evidence: demographic,
educational background and baseline knowledge data from the cohort. This was particularly
beneficial in the context of developing and delivering a unique course with high risk of cohort
attrition and no relevant benchmark available.

The course design encompassed more than learning outcomes, assessment design and content:
it included a model for ensuring a positive trajectory of learning for our students. The course
development approach was to align curriculum design (content and delivery) with teacher
recruitment and provision for student support. The design brief was based on a detailed
knowledge of the aged care industry needs, the student cohort baseline skills and knowledge
as well as the teaching skills and knowledge required. The aim was to create a learning place
in which students could succeed and, in turn, become change agents in the field of dementia
care. Outcomes for the first student cohort having completed the first two foundation units
includes encouraging retention (74%) and, anecdotally, several students reporting that
personal contact with the Student Support Officer was the reason for their enrolment in the
next subsequent foundation units. Evaluation of the first delivery informed the design of the
third fourth foundation units, delivered in Semester 1, 2013.

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Barriers to students continuing in the course included personal health reasons, time
management - not enough time with other responsibilities, technology issues, family and work
reasons. The interventions designed into the course, including a dedicated student support
officer, highly scaffolded foundation units and blended learning delivery mode, resulted in an
attrition rate of less than 26% after completion of two foundation units. This compares
favourably with attrition rates reported for other university programmes providing enabling
and pre-degree programmes. The approach has highlighted the importance of targeted
remediation and initially flexible assessment. It has also demonstrated the importance of
recruiting staff with the requisite skills to successfully engage with a non-traditional cohort
and support them to engage with a course, maintain commitment to being part of a learning
community (growing a shared practice) and develop confidence and capacity to succeed
without specialist support, reaching the course Learning Outcomes.

Ongoing evaluation and monitoring will inform ongoing improvement in the delivery and
learning environment of the course. The EER framework has resulted in a consistent and
structured data collection and process for analysis that is focused on quality improvement, in
the first instance. This data set will be aggregated over time to provide a longitudinal evidence
base for measuring student learning outcomes. Additionally, the course having strong
industry linkages means we will be able to track graduate impact on care provided to people
with dementia.


The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Aged and Community Services
Association Tasmania, NSW and ACT and J.O. and J.R. Wicking Trust.


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Copyright © 2013 Jo-Anne Kelder, Alison Canty, Andrea Carr, Jane Skalicky, Justin Walls, Andrew Robinson and
James Vickers. The authors assign to HERDSA and educational non-profit institutions a non-exclusive license to
use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this
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HERDSA 2013 conference proceedings. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the

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