Generic Attributes of Australian Information Systems Graduates: an Empirical Study

Snoke, Robert Lee (2004) Generic Attributes of Australian Information Systems Graduates: an Empirical Study. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The need to provide currency in education in terms of the qualities and skills of graduates is a continuous requirement of higher education institutions. Industry expects that graduates from courses of study at universities have the necessary skills and attributes to be able to work in the modern work environment.

The generic attribute agenda permeates all areas and sectors of education. Some of the areas of the generic attribute agenda include teaching, learning, assessment and the development of the generic attributes in students. This thesis specifically deals with a singular discipline, Information Systems, and the identification of the generic attributes applicable to this discipline. It does not attempt to enter the debate on the broader issues of how generic attributes are taught, assessed and developed in the educational sphere. The areas of teaching, learning, assessment and development of generic attributes in higher education are outside the scope of this thesis.

This thesis presents an investigation of the extent of coverage of the identified generic attributes within the unit objectives. The generic attributes required from the Information Systems (IS) industry for graduates from IS courses of study were identified and validated using an extensive three round Delphi questionnaire of academics and industry representatives. Academic participants were from several Australian universities that offer IS undergraduate courses of study. Industry representatives were from the Australian Computer Society (ACS) and the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and local Australian IS industry employers that employ the graduates from the participating universities also took part in the survey. The validation process involved two surveys, one in Queensland and a second involving the other Australian states. The significant finding from this survey was that the attribute of working as part of a team in a productive and cooperative manner was rated as the most important. Other significant findings

included the high correlation between the Queensland study and the national study in terms of the relative importance of the attributes. Another important finding is that the attribute relating to discipline knowledge was rated as relatively unimportant being ranked 13th out of 29 attributes.

The extent of treatment of the attributes within a course of study was identified by means of mapping each of the unit objectives within a course of study against the generic attributes and then plotting this data on a Kiviat chart. The universities used in this study included Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Southern Cross University (SCU), Bond University and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology(RMIT). A similar mapping was performed for the major curriculum documents IS'97 Model Curriculum and Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Courses in Information Systems (IS'97), Information Systems-Centric Curriculum (ISCC'99) and the Australian Computer Society Core Body of Knowledge. Comparisons were then made between the curriculum documents and the courses of study in terms of the extent of treatment of the generic attributes.

Statistical analysis of the combined data from both the Queensland and Australian studies identified eight underlying factors. These included Team Communications, Information Use, Individual Competencies, IS Knowledge, Professionalism, Project Management, Professional Development and Diversity.

Team Communications are associated with the attributes of working as part of a team, oral communications, written communications, interpersonal skills, time management and define problems. Information Use is associated with the attributes of: retrieval, evaluation and use of information, and sensitivity to gender customs and cultures. Individual Competencies are associated with the attributes of: self-motivation, ability to learn independently, reflection on strengths and weaknesses and work independently. IS Knowledge is associated with the attributes of: programming language ability, IS knowledge, reference discipline knowledge and technical competence. Professionalism is associated with the attributes of: ethics, curiosity about technology, continuous learning and intellectual development, embracing change, and professional development. Project Management is associated with the attributes of: analyse and evaluate solutions, understand the

profit motive of business, knowledge of business operations and its orientation, quality of solutions and project management skills. Professional Development is associated with the attributes of: research skills and related discipline knowledge. Diversity is associated with the attribute of operate in a diverse environment.

An important finding from the mapping processes were that all the documents displayed a similar coverage of the generic attributes. All the graphs showed a strong treatment of IS discipline knowledge. IS'97 showed the strongest coverage of written and oral communications as compared to the other curriculum documents or the courses of study examined.

A number of limitations were identified during the study. Some of the more important ones are:

  • This study identified a significant shortfall in the manner in which the objectives of the units of study that comprise IS courses of study at the tertiary level are written. The study found that the curriculum documents from the USA were often written with a specific number of objectives that often related to the length of the course or the number of times class was held during a week. In Australia the traditional unit has approximately 6-8 objectives. The objectives are often related to the content of the unit rather than what the student should be able to do at the end of the unit, in terms of the attributes identified by the university as being obtained by the students when they complete the course of study.

  • The lack of direct access to the large mailing list of the industry representative body.

  • The currency of the unit outline.

  • The fact that many course unit outlines are written when a course of study is accredited. This means that by the time the course of study is due for re-accreditation, that a long period of time has elapsed. This time period is often five years or more. In the IS discipline this is an extremely long period for any course of study to be accredited;

  • The emerging and constantly changing employer and IS professional desired attributes of graduates. This is a reflection of the changing nature of the IS

environment. The fact that employers and IS professionals judge the quality of a university course based on what the graduates can actually do in the workplace;

  • There is a large difference between the percentage coverage of the model curriculum documents within the courses offered in the USA where they constitute approximately 30 percent of the total course content. In the Australian context the model curriculum coverage represents approximately 83 percent of the course content;

  • The study used curriculum documentation and there was no validation from a student perspective of what they learnt or what generic attributes were developed in units they studied; and,

  • The courses of study used in this research are restricted to the tertiary sector and the current educational offerings of universities in the states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, in Australia. While this may represent the views of the eastern part of the country, they may not be totally representative of the offerings for the country as a whole.

One of the most important outputs from this research has been the development of a replicable methodology for determining the extent of coverage of the generic attributes within units and courses in other disciplines. The process would be to identify the relevant curriculum documents for the discipline and the Core Body of Knowledge from the associated professional association. The generic attributes that may have a specific context within the discipline need to be validated using a similar method such as the Delphi technique. Mapping of the generic attributes would then be done and a set of similar graphs produced. This research process meets the third research objective of producing a replicable methodology for mapping the unit objectives against the generic attributes.

This study is unique in that it sought the views of both industry and academics of the required generic attribute of graduates from IS courses of study. The study then mapped the generic attributes against the unit objectives to give an indication of the extent of treatment or development during a student's course.

In an attempt to increase the response rate to the Delphi study email was used as a medium for data collection. This provided the necessary data for the identification and validation of the importance of the generic attributes in a relatively short period of time as compared to the time that a traditional Delphi study would have taken. The email medium also allowed for the easy follow up of any questions raised during the course of the questionnaires. Delphi studies may now be conducted in a relatively short time frame. This will give the researchers the ability to publish their findings more quickly than other methods of conducting studies using the Delphi method. Individually addressed email, where this was possible, enhanced the response rate and provided the researcher with added anecdotal evidence from comments made in the reply to the survey instrument.

The generic attributes need to be developed within the courses of study at the institutions examined in this study. Specifically the wording of objectives needs to reflect not only the content of the material to be covered but also the process through which the student gains that knowledge or competency.

The elicitation of the generic attributes is required as part of the unit outline and should clearly demonstrate to students what skills they will be developing within a particular unit. This information is then able to form part of the accreditation submission for institutions seeking accreditation from professional bodies such as the ACS.

From the process of gathering information for this study it became clear that the writers of the unit outlines need to have professional development in the writing of the unit objectives to address the inclusion of the generic attributes.

The identification of generic attributes needs to be continually reviewed and a follow-up study is suggested to identify any longitudinal trends that may be evolving since this study commenced in 1998. This follow-up is needed because of significant changes in society may suggest that there are new and additional attributes that are now considered to be generic skills.

The relationship between the generic attributes identified in this study and the multi-literacies (Millard Sheets Library, 2003. -, Accessed 12 January, 2004) that are now the focus of educators will provide the platform for a follow-up study of the generic attributes agenda.

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ID Code: 15873
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Underwood, Barney, Bruce, Christine, Gable, Guy, & Lo, Bruce
Keywords: generic attributes, competencies, higher education, curriculum development, IS education and research, IS curriculum, IS skill requirements, IS professional societies, curriculum evaluation, industry requirements, HERN
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Past > Schools > Information Systems
Department: Faculty of Information Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Robert Lee Snoke
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:51
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2013 06:53

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