James Cook University Case Study

PART 1: Background


a) As part of a suite of measures developed to respond to both the widening participation agenda, internal quality assurance and regulatory requirements from the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Authority (TEQSA), the Deputy Vice Chancellor – Academic and Student Life (DVC:ASL) and the Dean of Learning, Teaching and Student Engagement developed and implemented the James Cook University English Language and Numeracy Policy. This policy, framed around the English Language Standards for Higher Education (DEEWR, 2010), built upon previous work of the JCU Literacy and Numeracy project and the JCU First Year Experience project.

b) The policy identifies the requirements for, and expectations of, students’ English language proficiency and numeracy on enrolment, during their course of study and on graduation.

c) University’s whole-of-institution retention strategy includes initiatives to integrate the development and assessment of communication skills within curriculum.


a) Large scale implementation of a post entry language assessment within core first year subjects of 10 degree programs (selected for high student load and diverse cohorts).

i) Tasks marked and moderated by learning advisors

ii) Data provided to academics to inform a collaborative action plan to support development of discipline specific written communication skills

iii) Various interventions undertaken. For example, co-teaching in lead up to assessment tasks, annotated exemplars and elaborated task descriptions made available in various formats (video, text) via the learning management system (LMS)

iv) Students identified as critically underprepared provided with additional support and case management.

b) Evaluation indicated that the PELA result could be considered as a predictor of achievement in ‘language rich’ courses but that strategic interventions benefitted students whose PELA results suggested they might be underprepared for their chosen course of study.

i) In years since, some courses still utilise a PELA task; however, most courses have moved to early formative task consistent with the demands of the discipline.


a) James Cook University developed the Access, Participation and Success Plan 2015-2017 [hyperlink] as part of the Retention Strategy. This included strategies to integrate support and development of a range of academic literacies, including communication skills.

PART 2: Current university wide approach

1. English Language and Numeracy Policy is currently being reviewed and a revised policy will be presented to Academic board early in 2017.

2. Curriculum Enhancement actions negotiated with Associate Dean: Learning and Teaching for each College prior to the start of the academic year.

a) The JCU Curriculum Model [hyperlink] identifies integrating the development and assessment of discipline specific language and numeracy as an essential whole-of-course curriculum enhancement priority.

3. Course teams, including Course Coordinator, Subject Coordinators across relevant year levels, First Year Experience Coordinator, Learning Advisors, Educational Designers, Career Development Advisors and Academic Developers work collaboratively on prioritised curriculum enhancement strategies.

a) Actions vary depending upon the priorities of the discipline as endorsed by the respective Divisional Director: Academic Quality and Strategy (DAQS). Examples in the priority area of communication skills include:

i) Articulating exit expectations for graduates’ communication skills and determining threshold standards

ii) Backwards mapping of assessment to ensure exist expectations are taught and assessed at key points in the course of study

iii) Leveraging learning technologies to support the development of communication skills

iv) Supporting academics to integrate development and assessment of communication skills into curriculum relevant to the level of study

b) Sites of action vary depending upon the priorities of the discipline as endorsed by the respective Divisional DAQS.

4. Professional development of staff

a) Currently provided in role based short courses or workshops; for example, Subject Coordinator workshop, Course Coordinator 2 day short course

i) Provides an opportunity to present the development and assessment of communication skills as core business.

b) New resources are in development to support the implementation of the English Language and Numeracy Policy. Examples of these resources include, video examples of the procedures articulated in the policy’s supporting documents, Tip Sheets, reflections from academic staff.

PART 3: Issues

1. JCU is currently developing an integrated curriculum management solution. The absence of such a solution makes tracking and mapping of assessment tasks, learning outcomes, and assessment criteria very laborious.

2. Professional development of staff remains challenging as the workload of academics intensifies and becomes increasingly administratively heavy.

3. Repositioning the development of assessment of communication skills as core business and a threshold exit standard requires resolute leadership at all levels of the institution.

PART 4: High Impact Practices

1. Clear policy and supporting procedures

This document positions communication skills as developmental, as core business and an essential element of disciplinary knowledge.

2. Strong focus on integrating into learning and teaching

Through the Curriculum Enhancement initiative, communication skills are positioned as an essential element of discipline knowledge and academics are supported to develop their teaching and assessment practices to that end.

3. Distributed expertise

At JCU, a strong collaborative culture is emerging characterised by collaborations between professional staff and discipline academics to ensure graduates complete their degree and meet threshold standards in communication skills.