By Erica James

In a world-first for tertiary education, the University of Newcastle is adopting a personalised approach to learning, known as “Big Picture Education” design.

The design will underpin its new Bachelor of Public and Community Health launching in 2020.

Lack of engagement is not the students’ fault, nor the educators’ fault. Small tweaks to an education system that was developed hundreds of years ago, just do not cut it anymore.

So, we’re disrupting the system.

With successful roots in some of the most innovative high schools around the world, Big Picture Education design will make its higher education debut in our new Bachelor of Public and Community Health next year. We recognise that one of the biggest challenges facing universities is how to enhance student engagement, which is why it is more important than ever to put students at the centre of their own learning.

Big Picture pedagogy challenges the status quo of traditional tertiary education by focusing on personalised learning to capture each student’s interests, needs and learning preferences. It expands traditional enquiry-based learning and allows students to devise passion projects, develop personalised learning plans, and learn via internship, with assessment via exhibition and portfolio design built in as part of the learning process. Think assessment as learning, rather than assessment of learning.

Public health is a multi-faceted field, and the breadth of its practice can be challenging for students to grasp. Helping students who want a career in public health navigate this interdisciplinary palette poses challenges for educators, and traditional educational approaches do not allow for entrepreneurial learning processes that address this challenge.

Big Picture Education design will let our students try out areas of interest – whether that’s health promotion, environmental health, global health, or any of the other multi-disciplinary majors – and refine them over the course of the degree, so they can make really considered decisions. Importantly, internships form part of the design, so the students are out in the community from the beginning, giving them the opportunity for authentic learning and real-world experience.

A quarter of the new degree will be delivered in Big Picture design format. Referred to as Big Picture professional pathways, these courses provide the central scaffold of the Bachelor of Public and Community Health, with one 10-unit professional pathways course offered each semester, and one 20-unit course in the final year.

Professional Pathways courses will be delivered in an “advisory” format; that is, one mentor and seventeen students. The advisory format allows students to be exposed to a wide range of ideas, interests, skills and experiences, and social learning. The advisory format encourages students to investigate and discover their passion in making an impact on the variety of health problems both on the Central Coast, and in the globalised world.

Offering and facilitating Big Picture pedagogy requires a fundamental shift in traditional thinking in higher education, and we are excited by its possibilities.

Erica James is a professor in the School of Medical and Public Health at the University of Newcastle



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