What is different about Associate Degrees?

Not many people have heard of Associate Degrees although this is gradually changing as more information is getting out there and graduates of Associate degrees spread the word about how great they are.

So let’s get formal. This next paragraph is from a conference paper (the abstract actually) that my colleague, Helen Smith and I wrote for The Learner Conference in 2014.

The Associate Degree in the Australian Qualifications Framework (the AQF) aims to prepare graduates for both paraprofessional work and pathways to further learning. In other words, at the end of this qualification a student should be confident that they could decide to go and get a job in their chosen field, and be successful in that job, or continue on to a Bachelor Degree for which they should have considerable credit.

Helen and I noted that the dual aims of the Australian Associate Degree present a particular challenge for program designers and teachers in higher education: assessing and teaching across traditional academic boundaries.

Educational teams and managers are designing learning and assessment strategies to bridge the vocational/academic divide, and this means a new orientation to the theory/practice relationship and to the way this is realised in assessment and learning practices.

It is a very exciting space to work in.

I have outlined in a previous blog how work-based projects can be framed by scholarly practice.

Here is piece I wrote about observing Associate Degree student presentations. They had completed their design projects and were then talking about their experiences and their learning.

The very best presentations addressed the assessment criteria and presented garments not as simply “show and tell” (“I quite like this”), but with an analysis of the design and why it works as design. Such students brought a conceptual understanding to the process, and may have discussed historical derivations or political and social values that influenced them. They described how the design changed over time and why. They could articulate the links between mood boards, aesthetics and how the design worked.

They referenced design in other disciplines such as visual arts, architecture, film, photography etc. They could talk about the essence of the piece, especially the signature piece, and its technical and design challenges. The signature piece was an expression of their personal values, aesthetics and philosophy. They were not afraid to take risks with experimentation. And they could explain all this and were comfortable with the language of design.

It was such a pleasure to listen to such presentations and witness such holistic learning!

Download this blog as a PDF.

Embedding scholarly practice and critical reflection in work-based projects

This framework for engaging students in scholarly practice developed as part of my work designing Associate Degrees where there are two possible graduate outcomes: employment in relevant industry or further study usually in Bachelor Degrees. This makes the Associate Degree a hybrid degree bridging the worlds of competency based training in vocational qualifications and academic learning in Bachelor Degrees. Many of the Associate Degree teachers with a vocational education background were highly effective at supporting students to achieve capabilities, but less experienced in facilitating learning that is critical and reflective, i.e. scholarly.

This framework draws on the work of Glassick, Huber & Maeroff (1997) who presented six standards by which the quality of scholarship can be measured. I have changed the wording of the original (eg from “scholar” to “student”) and added elements, which relate more specifically to project based learning. The framework can be applied to any work-based or work integrated project that students in Associate Degrees undertake. Students are be expected to:

  1. Establish clear goals
  2. Prepare adequately
  3. Use appropriate methods
  4. Achieves significant results
  5. Present the project effectively
  6. Engage in critical reflection

This table asks key learning and assessment questions of each standard. Download a PDF version here.

embedding scholarly practice in work-based projects

21st International Conference on Learning and the Learner knowledge community

The abstract to my upcoming presentation at the 21st International Conference on Learning and the Learner.

Building a Bridge over Troubled Waters: Designing Practice to Link Vocational and Academic Learning by Helen Smith & Margaret Taylor

The Associate Degree in the Australian Qualifications Framework aims to prepare graduates for both paraprofessional work and pathways to further learning. This distinguishes it from the equivalent qualifications in the United States and Canada that have traditionally led to either baccalaureate or occupational outcomes, and are known respectively as “transfer” or “terminal” associate degrees. The dual aims of the Australian Associate Degree present a particular challenge for program designers and teachers in higher education: assessing and teaching across traditional academic boundaries. At RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, an added dimension is the design and delivery of the qualification by vocational teachers rather than academics.