In 2015 serious attention was given to the importance of addressing the impact on throughput rates of courses impeding graduation (CIGs). Many, but not all, of these courses are first-year service courses with large enrolments with great diversity in the background and ability of the class.
Following a detailed investigation, two proposals that might result in better pass rates in service courses were identified. These are the development of guidelines for ownership of a course, means of resolving disputes around service courses (intra and cross faculty), incentives and obligations; and service agreements between the departments offering the service course and the programme conveners.
Improving throughput in courses impeding graduation (CIGs)
Associate Professor Saalih Allie circulated his draft document titled Courses, Combinations and Contexts that Impede Graduation to the Teaching and Learning Committee that he developed after attending all the faculty presentations at the Teaching and Learning Committee meetings. The document provided a contextual framework for interpreting the Institutional Planning Department’s high-risk course data and pointed to the complexities of CIGs and contended that the problem could be with the course, or combinations, or the broader context of the curriculum as a whole. It cites examples in each of the faculties where interesting interventions and strategies, from a teaching and learning perspective, have been implemented, and notes the differences in the ways that each faculty interrogated the data.
To facilitate faculty engagement with the document, it was proposed that faculty-specific information should be extracted and presented to faculty academic advisors and at faculty board meetings to enhance understanding of the issues across the university. It is important to link this work with that of the Service Courses Working Group and the Data Analytics Task Team.
Feedback on CIGs per faculty appear in the 2015 Teaching and Learning Report as follows.
The focus has been on Financial Reporting 2. After reformulating this mainstream course, successful students had a much stronger conceptual grounding. However, the course has been replaced with a dedicated Education Development Unit (EDU) Financial Reporting 2 class. The class was convened and taught by a qualified chartered accountant who is an EDU alumnus.
This created opportunities for EDU students to engage in a supportive, caring environment with a conceptually difficult course that is quite a significant shift from Financial Reporting 1. Being in a learning environment that is strongly participative and learning centred is already improving students’ confidence and their academic outcomes.
Engineering and the Built Environment
In first year, CIGs continue primarily to be service courses offered by other faculties. Significant effort has gone into ensuring that the graduation rates improve, but having a high failure rate in first year has a marked impact on throughput. The discussion in the Senate Teaching and Learning Committee about the possibility of developing service level agreements to define how service relationships should operate is welcomed.
Humanities: Extended Degree Programmes
The Extended Degree Programmes (EDPs) were flagged for Dean’s review over 2015/2016 and the tenets and structures of the programmes are under scrutiny. Curriculum advice for the extended and mainstream general degrees is now firmly entrenched as a single system, as part of a drive towards decreasing stigma. The Plus Tut and Writing Hub systems continued to expand over 2015, including pilots in new departments: these initiatives attempt to address matric under-preparation in disadvantaged students by providing additional space to explore course materials. While the flexibility of humanities programmes does not generate graduation-impeding courses to any notable extent, the expansion of Plus provision into second-year courses does target key courses with which students experience particular difficulty.
Analysis of the 2015 course marks for students in Plus courses shows that the performance of Education Development students on courses hosting Plus tutorials improved noticeably between 2013 and 2015. The augmenting material generated for Plus tuts is also feeding back into the mainstream courses with innovations and refinements in teaching practice, and the Educational Development Unit has identified the discrepancy between exam and coursework assessment as a particular area for further study.
In 2015 there was close monitoring of courses impeding graduation and, as mentioned above, extra tutorials were made available to at risk students in Property and Constitutional Law.
The Faculty of Science continues to contend with improving throughput and the quality of passes while facing a widening gap in preparedness of incoming students, especially in mathematics and the physical sciences. This challenge is being addressed through a number of interventions, ranging from admission and orientation through to peer learning models and a focus on courses perceived as impeding graduation. In this report, we focus on interventions in a student’s first week at UCT, those aimed at improving peer learning in courses and the faculty’s first blended learning course.