The Taxonomy for Credentialing Australasian University Educators (TCAUE)

10 Essential Focus Areas

The CAULLT Professional Recognition and Development Research survey found inconsistent use of teaching standards in the sector and a need for a national framework to “underpin teaching quality within institutions” (CAULLT, 2019, p. 4).

To this end, Six Essential Focus Areas were developed as the components that characterise quality teaching in higher education. The Six Essential Focus Areas were also confirmed by a review of literature (Dinan-Thompson et al., 2021), the HES Framework (Commonwealth of Australia, 2021), the AQF Review (DESE, 2019), benchmarking across Australia and New Zealand, and through alignment with professional learning frameworks and resources currently utilised in university foundation programs.

The Six Essential Focus Areas apply to all educator profiles and are listed as follows, with brief explanations provided.

• Learner-centred learning and teaching
General capabilities
• Technology-enhanced learning (TEL)
• Learning outcomes and assessment
• Data and evaluation
• Policy and governance.

In practice, the interpretation of the Six Essential Focus Areas is specific to each university’s implementation of the taxonomy, and the professional development needs and interests of each educator. For example, if learner diversity and inclusion is a specific area of interest to an educator then this may be investigated in terms of its impact on learner-centredness, institutional and national policy and governance, learning design and frameworks for inclusion and links to learning outcomes, and learning analytics and data available (or not available). Further, the learner may explore how frameworks for TEL and general capabilities link with, and support, diversity and inclusion.

The Six Essential Focus Areas

The following statements are intentionally brief to provide a summary of the focus area and their relevance to regulations. They are not prescriptive, as interpretation will vary for each provider. It is important to note that the Six Essential Focus Areas are also interconnected in concepts, theories, and practice, which becomes more apparent through reflection and continuous improvement activities. Figure 1 illustrates the intersection and dynamic interaction of the Six Essential Focus Areas.

diagram showing the Six Essential Focus Areas
Figure 1. Six Essential Focus Areas, image by James Cook University, CC BY-NC

Learner-centred learning and teaching

The taxonomy demonstrates a strong but flexible relationship between its learner-centred focus, learner diversity, and partnerships with learners. This focus area supports a learner-centred approach to learning and teaching in higher education and for ongoing professional development. It fosters critical thinking and collaborative learning, and encompasses inclusive design, which was identified as an area for attention in the CAULLT research survey (2019).

The dimensions (Engage-Apply-Evaluate) can be adapted to an educator’s specific interests

The taxonomy’s learner-centred approach recognises the individual development needs of educators and values the knowledges and experiences that they bring to the program. It accommodates the interests of professional and technical staff by responding to individual differences and expectations, and through the inclusion of authentic contexts. The taxonomy considers learners/students as knowledge holders or assets in and for learning, and is designed to improve their experiences at university, and the experiences of those who teach and support them.
Scholarly literature may lead us to the theories of social constructivism through Bruner (1966) and Vygotsky (1962) to permit student’s interpretation, interactions and negotiations. Teaching and educator practices are positioned as catalysts for learning, and to achieve this, educators evaluate their own practice, critique scholarly literature and frameworks, draw on inclusive learning practices, and critically reflect on how these findings apply to their own context and employment role. Universities and disciplines also have specific learning and teaching approaches that can be embedded in this focus area.

General capabilities

General capabilities have been included as an essential focus area in the taxonomy to support one of the main recommendations of the AQF Review (DESE, 2019). The general capabilities included are ethical decision-making, self-management, co-operation and collaboration. Language, literacy and numeracy are assumed in the alignment with AQF Level 8 requirements, and digital literacy and mental health have been explicitly added to the general capabilities, following current research. Additionally, the taxonomy acknowledges that general capabilities are considered in the Higher Education Reform Package (DESE, 2020), and are also part of the Australian Curriculum where they are incorporated in learning area content (Australian Curriculum, version 8.4, n.d.).

capabilities can be
to include
evolving issues and priorities

The general capabilities in the taxonomy also consider the Learning Compass 2030, an international project which “sets out an aspirational vision for the future of education”, and provides “points of orientation towards the future we want: individual and collective wellbeing” (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2019, p. 1).

It is not the purpose of this taxonomy to list the many skills that can be considered a general capability, rather it acknowledges capabilities specifically referred to in the context of the AQF and higher education.

The taxonomy’s summary statements for general capabilities are designed to take into account evolving issues and priorities in this relatively new field for university educators. The general capabilities statements have been written in such a way that they can be reviewed and expanded upon without changing the taxonomy. For example, an educator (or provider) may have a specific interest in mental health strategies, therefore the dimensions (Engage-Apply-Evaluate) can be adapted accordingly. The taxonomy is designed to be authentic and relevant both now and in the future, hence the inclusion of general capabilities.

Technology-enhanced learning

The taxonomy pays particular attention to TEL by presenting it as a distinct focus area. It uses the TEQSA definition of TEL: technology-enhanced learning is “interpreted broadly as any learning that occurs through the application of electronic communications and computer-based educational technology, combined with pedagogical principles and practices that are applicable to and tailored for this purpose” (TEQSA, 2019b, p.1).

HEA Fellowships include the use and value of appropriate learning technologies as core knowledge to underpin fellowship areas. Additionally, the review of literature (Dinan-Thompson et al., 2021), supports the appropriateness of considering TEL as a stand-alone area in the taxonomy due to its evolving and transformational nature, which encompasses learning and teaching support, virtual learning environments, ways to approach inclusive curriculum design, and the creation of innovative assessment items such as those incorporating gamification.

Learning outcomes and assessment

The focus area of learning outcomes and assessment allows much institutional and individual flexibility, and takes into account the varied roles of educators. As this focus area is aligned with the HERDSA Fellowship Portfolio Criteria 2 and 5, it can be used by academic staff to support applications to the HERDSA Fellowship Scheme. For example, Criterion 2 requires educators to “describe the assessment methods that you use to determine if your educational practices facilitate the achievement of learning outcomes for your students or participants” (HERDSA, 2014, p. 7). Criterion 5 involves reflecting and evaluation on impact and innovation in the area of curriculum design, enhancing learning, and improving assessment practices.

The taxonomy has relevance for all
educator roles

However, the taxonomy has relevance for all roles; not all educators may formally engage with learning outcomes or assess learners as part of their job, and the emphasis can be on context of practice and individual areas of interest for professional and technical staff roles.

As an example, a careers team leader may engage, apply, and evaluate how a particular student cohort could develop disciplinary skills alongside general capabilities for improved employment outcomes.

From the perspective of academic staff engagement with the TCAUE, this focus area encourages research that leads to innovation in assessment, while also referencing regulatory frameworks.

The HES Framework (Commonwealth of Australia, 2021) requires course design to specify “expected learning outcomes, methods of assessment and indicative student workload”, and notes that “teaching and learning activities are arranged to foster progressive and coherent achievement of expected learning outcomes throughout each course of study … regardless of a student’s place of study or the mode of delivery” (Section 3.1, p. 8 and p. 9).

Monitoring, review, and improvement activities attend to achievement of learning outcomes at course level, and review includes “assessment methods and grading of students’ achievement of learning outcomes for selected units of study within courses of study” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2021, Section 5.3, p.11).

The NZQF Programme Approval and Accreditation Rules (NZQA, 2021) Criterions 2 (“Title, aims, learning outcomes and coherence”), 6 (“Assessment and moderation”), and 7 (“Programme review”) all state corresponding requirements. Hence, a comprehensive and integrated knowledge and skill base is necessary to design learning outcomes and align assessment methods at course and subject/unit levels. Constructive alignment is the most significant scholarly principle that guides this work, with learners constructing meaning through aligned assessment and learning activities. “The key is that all components in the teaching system –the curriculum and its intended outcomes, the teaching methods used, the assessment tasks – are aligned to each other” (Biggs, 2003, p. 1).

    Constructive alignment is more than criterion-reference assessment, which aligns assessment to the objectives. CA includes that, but it differs (a) in talking not so much about the assessment matching the objectives, but of first expressing the objectives in terms of intended learning outcomes (ILOs), which then in effect define the assessment task; and (b) in aligning the teaching methods, with the intended outcomes as well as aligning just the assessment tasks. (Biggs, 2003, p. 3)

Assessment is authentic and fit-for-purpose

Contemporary assessment research in higher education confirms a rise in authentic assessment, a move towards principles-based assessment policies, repositioning students as learners and producers, developing evaluative judgement, and enhanced feedback processes (Boud, 2020).

The TCAUE supports assessment that is fit-for-purpose (Brown & Race, 2012), sustainable, tailored to each learner and “connected to the world” (Boud, 2020, n.p.). Assessment feedback takes a learner-centred approach (Brown & Race, 2012), and learner success is valued.

Data and evaluation

The intent of this focus area is to improve learner-engagement and the overall student experience, help educators to design and implement contextually relevant learning experiences, and identify areas where learners need additional support. Further, this focus area supports the HES Framework which requires providers to “analyse and understand the performance of their students to address risks, inform continual improvement and continue to meet the requirements of the HES Framework” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2021, p. 3). This focus area of the TCAUE is also informed by national and international frameworks for professional development. As an example, it aligns with the HERDSA Fellowship Portfolio Criterion 6, which is: “critical reflection to improve educational practice [which] takes place in light of evidence obtained from different types of evaluation” (HERDSA, 2014, p. 6).

The taxonomy responds to calls to improve professional
development in the area of data analysis

The taxonomy recognises improvements in data collection and technology, and the associated need for continuous professional development in the area of data analysis.

Educators review the impact of institutional practices on learner outcomes, wellbeing, and retention/progression through the evaluation and analysis of data. As with all the sections of the taxonomy, data and evaluation allows for flexibility, and accommodates the specific interests of individuals, including those who are not directly involved in academic teaching. Educators are encouraged to examine ways to use multiple sources of data to inform their specific practice and decision-making.

Policy and governance

Academic governance is an area of interest to TEQSA, which examines how the academic governance requirements of the Threshold Standards (HESF, 2021) are enacted at an institutional level through indicators and benchmarking. Further, new and revised legislation and accreditation regimes, are ever present, with impact on strategic and operational plans, policy, and procedures.

In recognition of the various educator profiles, this focus area of the taxonomy is flexible in its approach and encourages awareness around how research can support policy development in higher education. Educators are encouraged to review local, national, and international policy perspectives and frameworks and consider how they impact on student learning and teaching. Exploring policy and governance frameworks in individual areas of interest is encouraged, and aligns with TEQSA’s expectations that educators will have a role in “developing policy frameworks” (TEQSA, 2019, p. 6), and that “academic leaders will be experienced in a wide range of academic issues, bringing their expertise and judgement to such matters as academic policy development and review, as well as being leaders in their disciplines” (p. 5).