Relationship between generic attributes and domain specific knowledge

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One answer, proposed by government (Australian Council for Educational Research, 2001), is the idea of pre-entry and post-exit objective testing of generic skills, but this has been resisted by many. One of the problems with this proposal is that since the objective tests will measure generic skills of the most abstract character, they will fail to pick up the vital disciplinary nuances of application that emerge when properly embedded graduate attribute development results in generic skills that are contextualized within the discipline.

An alternative approach to validating the achievement of graduate attributes would be to rely upon the assessment protocols in place within classroom contexts. Although this may address the problem of too little disciplinary specificity, there are also shortcomings with this approach, particularly from the perspective of its usefulness for quality assurance. First, it is not always the case that generic skills are specifically assessed, even where they are developed in a course of study. Second, even when generic skills are assessed, the students' achievements in them may not be specifically recorded; rather the achievement of some generic skill may be embedded in a larger piece of assessment (for instance, oral communication in the context of giving a seminar, or reasoning skills in the context of an essay, or teamwork in the context of a group laboratory experiment). Finally, the absence of a university-wide framework for assessing and reporting these developments means that even if generic skills developments were recorded at the level of a course, there will be no capacity for moderation or comparison between courses, disciplines, schools or faculties, and no ability to aggregate recordings at these higher levels, which would be necessary for national benchmarking.

What is needed, then, is a validation process that preserves the integrity of curriculum design for discipline-nuanced generic skill development, but which goes beyond the mapping of espoused and enacted development opportunities across the curriculum. This is the key issue addressed in this paper.

For example, Candy (2000) argues that whereas disciplinary knowledge is transient, generic skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership and analytical and critical thinking should be the hallmark of any graduate irrespective of field of study, and as such the opportunity to broaden students and develop their generic skills is an important element in undergraduate curriculum.

Some academics may perceive generic skills as something which should not be their concern or responsibility, and see that there is trade-off between focusing on academic goals and such skills which can be taught in separate courses Beyond mapping and embedding graduate attributes (Harvey, 1993; Drummond et al., 1998; Gash & Reardon, 1988; De La Harpe & Radloff, 2000). However, most research into the development of generic skills and attributes in higher education points to a different perspective (Boyatzis, Cowen & Kolb, 1995; Clanchy & Ballard, 1995; Kemp & Seagraves, 1995; Misko, 1995; Golding et al., 1996; Hattie et al., 1996; Nightingale et al., 1996; Diamond, 1998; Drury & Taylor, 1999; Oliver, 1998). For example, the HEC report for higher education in Australia (HEC, 1992) states that `it is only through the study of a body of knowledge that they (generic skills, attributes and values) can be acquired' (p.20). Such sentiments are also supported by a recent

project carried out by the Australian Technologies Network (Bowden et al., 2000) which formed a number of key principles for the development of generic capabilities in university graduates, including that the `development, practice and assessment of attributes is most effectively achieved within the context of discipline knowledge'. Similarly, Clanchy and Ballard (1995) argue that while generic skills by definition are considered to be generic across studies in higher education, they can really only be developed effectively within the specific context of a discipline or knowledge base, insisting, for example, that `critical thinking … cannot be developed independently of some subject matter about which such thinking is taking place' (p.160).

Bath et al

Problem solving as a cause for medical error

Some universities are specifically teaching problem solving (de Vries, personal communication 2007). Look for references

Problems with compartmentalizing GA's. Using specific courses such as communication courses that are taken out of context will result in students that may be deemed competent in communication but who are then unable to assimilate it into clinical practice.

Link this into medical knowledge as a ACGME core comp - unlike some institutions, UQ includes `in-depth knowledge of the field of study' as one of its graduate attributes


The relationship between generic attributes and domain-specific knowledge

Core competencies versus generic attributes in medical education

As noted previously, communication skills and reflective practice are two generic attributes that do command significant teaching time in the majority of health science curricula.

Clearly, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, life long learning and professionalism are all generic attributes within health care that are transferrable across domains, thus meeting the commonly used definition of generic attributes. However, as previously stated the terminology used and the focus on developing many of these attributes is passive, rather than active, with many expected to be develop in parallel to the curricula. The noticeable exception is communication skills, which commands a large proportion of teaching and assessment hours within most curricula.

Additionally, Australian universities have not received the same level of government support as other countries, with the onus of the development and implementation falling on the shoulders of university teachers (Barrie, 2006).

This however, should be less of a concern in the health sciences, where a large proportion of teaching occurs in the clinical area. In this situation, a number of generic skills are learned (often implicitly) through observation of their teachers and peers, and upon feedback and reflection of their own performance.

As previously discussed, some courses or programmes refer to generic competencies, which are domain specific. In this context, it is clear that such attributes are those which are transferable across domains, both within a profession and between different professions. When generic attributes define the basic skills required to achieve a particular qualification, it is not always clear whether these are truly transferable or not. Such inconsistency in which these terms are used may actually act as a barrier to their inclusion in university courses (Barrie, 2007).

Explore Barrie's four stages, the next section will follow on from this

Need to cover the different views regarding teaching

Supplementary either taught in separate classes. Often seen to be external and/or should be possessed prior

Specifically taught within the curriculum - also look at 'hidden curriculum' as this shifts the focus from teachers and teaching to learner and learning

In their paper on nursing manager competencies, McCarthy and Fitzpatrick (2009) state that these competencies were unable to be generalised to other areas. An example of this viewpoint would be competence in driving a car, which does not equate to competent at operating other types of vehicles. Conversely, when viewing generic attributes (or competencies as they are described here) as enabling attributes, the process of driving a vehicle remains fundamentally the same, with content specific knowledge (such as control locations, gear selection pattern, physical dimensions and laws specific its operation) accounting for the differences between vehicles.

The term 'the three Rs' (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic), is generally attributed to a speech by Sir William Curtis in 1795 (Stevens, 2008), and may be the earliest example of generic attributes. However, these fundamental traits are often neglected in favour or more technical skills and content knowledge, or are the victim of the belief that students should posses such attributes prior to entering tertiary education, which is not always the case (Bath, Smith, Stein, & Swann, 2004). This is highlighted in a comment made by the (then) Director of Postgraduate Medical Education at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Western Australian, in which she stated that it would be nice if all new doctors could read and write (Bagshawe, A, personal communication, 2002). The belief that students entering tertiary education should posses the necessary generic attributes could be influenced by the significant overlap between university generic attributes and those of secondary education (Cummings, 1998)

Competence is measured through performance (either directly or indirectly), against an established criterion (Berg, Lloyd, & Templeton, 1982).