Two weeks ago the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia hosted HERDSA2017, a key conference on research and development in higher education. This year’s theme was “Curriculum Transformation” with presentations organised around practical implications, drivers and facilitators in curriculum transformation. A few colleagues from Macquarie and I enjoyed stimulating, eye opening and thought-provoking conversations.

Here is what I learned based on selected presentations I attended:

Students as Partners: 

Involving students as (real) partners and taking their voice seriously is powerful if done right. Many initiatives which claim to fall under #studentsaspartners do not go beyond the tokenistic involvement of students. Here’s how Amani Bell (University of Sydney) and Kelly Matthews (UQ) define Students as Partners.


Employability means different things to different people. For me, so far the subject of employability has included professional knowledge, readiness and skillfulness. These skills can lead to improved professional performance and confidence. Dr Panos Vlachopoulus directed us to think about employability not only as an ability to find a job but also to improve work life and job conditions. One approach, commonly discussed at the conference, centred on asking students early on what employability meant for them and measuring how that changes over time, as they advance in their study and participate in professional experiences, such as PACE placements. Someone asked on Twitter: “If a student can’t find a job, does it mean they haven’t developed employability skills?’. Check out this new website on Developing Employability for more on this topic.

Dr Inger Mewburn Tweet

Dr Inger Mewburn Tweet


Professor Chris Rust’s keynote at HERDSA2017 suggested ‘Do away with grades! Focus on formative assessment’. At his workshop at Macquarie the following week (summarised here by Chris Froissard), he gave a few helpful guidelines on how to make assessment more meaningful. The main recommendations were:

  • Map assessments across programs
  • Quick and dirty: timely feedback is better than well written but untimely feedback
  • Written is not better. Consider oral feedback: it was shown to be more genuine and effective. (You can record feedback in Turnitin’s Feedback Studio.)
  • Provide written feedback on any submitted drafts and the grade (if you must) on the final version


ePortfolios were discussed as helpful tools to facilitate assessment, track student learning, and academic, as well as professional, development. Associate Professor Janice Orrell used ePortfolios as a meta-assessment: students regularly revisited the learning goals they recorded at the start of session and could choose assessments across the program of study that could best serve as evidence of achieving these goals.

Teaching development:

Kym Fraser (RMIT) presented a snapshot of teaching induction programs (like Macquarie’s FILT) across Australia. We were shocked to learn that very few new teaching staff (out of approx. 10-20,000 new teaching staff in Australian universities per year) receive induction training. If they receive ‘training’, its time amounts to less than a day on average (this is the case at 26% of all Australian universities). This situation has been getting slightly worse since 2001. Kym then revealed that her team has developed a MOOC Teaching Induction Course, currently undergoing a peer-review before opening to the public. I later learned there is another MOOC on Learning To Teach Online in development at UNSW, by Simon McIntyre (going live this July).

Professor Eeva Leinonen (University of Wollongong) provided the final keynote at the conference, summing up the key success factors (based on her experience) in university-wide curriculum transformation:

  • Students as Partners
  • Communities of Practice
  • Clear principles
  • Alignment of resources
  • Integration of resources

Above is just a snapshot of my conference notes, if you are keen to learn more check out #herdsa17 or read Agnes Bosanquet’s post ‘Enabling Dissent’ on her The Slow Academic blog.  We will be featuring more from Agnes’ blog soon.

Please add your comments:

What did you think when reading my notes?

Are you thinking about these topics in your work, do you need help putting in practice some of the ideas noted above?

Share your thoughts below or email me directly.

Posted by Lilia Mantai

Lilia's PhD was on the role of social support in the development of researcher identities in the PhD. She is a Higher Ed professional, passionate about education, research, and providing support to staff and students.

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