Institute of Teaching and Learning

Professional Development for Teaching and Learning

Developing graduate attributes

Implementing graduate attributes

The nomenclature surrounding, and approaches to, the implementation of 'graduate attributes' are varied, but many institutions identify a hierarchy of levels, with general graduate attributes (such as those specified by Deakin) at the top. At the next level, each attribute may have a range of elements that students must demonstrate, which are often program-specific. There may be additional levels of discipline-specific specification between this level and the complete range of individual student learning objectives for a program. The exact approach is institution-specific and would depend on the institutions policy(s) relating to graduate attributes. Apart from specifying the top-level graduate attributes and requiring programs to provide opportunities for students to develop them, the current Deakin policy doesn't articulate a specific approach for translating the top-level attributes into program/discipline learning objectives.

As an example, consider the approach currently taken by the University of Sydney. At the top level, they identify three generic attributes of graduates:

  • scholarship: An attitude or stance towards knowledge:
  • global citizenship: An attitude or stance towards the world:
  • lifelong learning: An attitude or stance towards themselves:

Each of these overarching attributes is considered to be a combination of five overlapping clusters of skills and abilities.

  1. Research and Inquiry: Graduates of the University will be able to create new knowledge and understanding through the process of research and inquiry.
  2. Information Literacy: Graduates of the University will be able to use information effectively in a range of contexts.
  3. Personal and Intellectual Autonomy: Graduates of the University will be able to work independently and sustainably, in a way that is informed by openness, curiosity and a desire to meet new challenges.
  4. Ethical, Social and Professional Understanding: Graduates of the University will hold personal values and beliefs consistent with their role as responsible members of local, national, international and professional communities.
  5. Communication: Graduates of the University will recognise and value communication as a tool for negotiating and creating new understanding, interacting with others, and furthering their own learning.

An 'indicative interpretation' is provided for each of the clusters of skills and abilities, for example, Information Literacy might be understood as the ability to:

  • recognise the extent of information needed
  • locate needed information efficiently and effectively
  • evaluate information and its sources
  • use information in critical thinking and problem solving contexts to construct knowledge
  • understand economic, legal, social and cultural issues in the use of information
  • use contemporary media and technology to access and manage information (University of Sydney, 2004).

Normally, university-level lists of graduate attributes are necessarily general, as they nominally apply to students in all programs. It is also common for the lists of graduate attributes published by program accrediting professional bodies to be comparatively general in nature, as many professions now encompass a diversity of practice areas and specialisms, for which it may not be practical to produce a tightly specified list of attributes. Virtually all authors agree that institution- and/or profession-level graduate attributes must be contextualised/interpreted into more meaningful attribute specifications for particular discipline areas and/or discipline specialisms. Returning to the University of Sydney case, Faculties can contextualise the 'indicative interpretation' for each of the attribute clusters into their own disciplinary domain. For example, the Faculty of Medicine contextualises the attribute of Information Literacy as:

Graduates of the Faculty of Medicine will be able to use information effectively in a range of contexts.

  • Apply an understanding of normal and abnormal human structure, function and behaviour to the diagnosis, management and prevention of health problems
  • Use the best available evidence on outcomes to prevent or cure disease, relieve symptoms or minimise disability
  • Analyse clinical data and published work to determine their validity and generalisability
  • The ability to elicit and interpret clinical symptoms and signs by interviewing and examining patients systematically and with sensitivity, and to use this information to guide further investigations
  • Make evidence-based, ethical and economically responsible decisions about the most appropriate management of health problems in individuals and in communities (Faculty of Medicine - University of Sydney, 2004)

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Does your School contextualise the standard set of Deakin graduate attributes into more discipline-specific terms for the program(s) that you contribute to? If yes, in what ways are they made more relevant to the program(s)? If no, how could the standard set of Deakin graduate attributes be contextualised into terms more specific for the program(s) that you contribute to?

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19th January 2012