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Building Behavioural Studies: Flexible curriculum design and pedagogy in progress

Melissa Bull
Lesley Jolly
Peter Kelly
Peter Newcombe
Sylvie Tourigny
University of Queensland, Ipswich
This paper analyses some of the processes structuring the development of the Bachelor of Behavioural Studies program at the University of Queensland (Ipswich) [UQ(I)]. This development is occurring in a new space characterised as combining 'new cutting-edge courses and state of the art technology'. At UQ(I) it is claimed that 'innovative courses' are 'being offered that will produce a new group of graduates to tackle emerging global industries'. Course development at Ipswich is supported by the Learning Resources Development Unit (LRDU) that conceives 'flexible learning' as being different from 'flexible delivery', and as 'enhancing the learning experience of students and improving student learning'.

But how do these claims manifest themselves in the real work of curriculum and pedagogy development in a brand new degree? In this paper we argue that preparing students for the new millennium requires rethinking curriculum and pedagogy from the bottom up and developing positions that are more 'flexible' than traditional degree programs. For example, Information Technology know-how is essential on the campus and as tools for 'new professionals.' This skills acquisition however, is only one within a range of tools we impart that include a range of significant social skills of the kind behavioural studies graduates should properly claim as their expertise.

This flexibility may focus on the 'flexible society', but that focus remains integrated within a critical perspective on pedagogy, professionalism and the development of critically flexible professionals. Our curriculum and pedagogy development occurs with a critical eye towards the social, cultural, economic and political processes that shape the so-called 'flexible society'. Thus, claims that we are producing 'professionals for the workplace' mean that our intent is to prepare 'agents of change' rather than mere technocrats.

We are seeking to adhere to an approach to pedagogy that is innovative in its incorporation of various component disciplines. Our purpose is to rethink traditional disciplinary boundaries in ways that are underwritten by a concern to enhance student centred outcomes. In developing a new degree for students who are conceived as 'agents of change' we aim to incorporate in the curriculum practices that stimulate both a heightened awareness of critical skills, and sensitivity to their application in a wide range of workplaces. We will illustrate this development process through a discussion of several dimensions of the strategy. The first is our matrix design, which serves as an organising framework that quite deliberately incorporates and monitors coherence. We argue the importance of the matrix in achieving vertical and horizontal coherence as features of innovative curriculum design for flexible delivery. The second is the range of teaching strategies, including individual and self-learning pedagogies, problem-based learning and case studies, as well as critical pedagogy.

Defining Behavioural Studies

This paper describes the creation of a new degree course on a new campus. The course is called "Behavioural Studies" and is situated at the University of Queensland's new Ipswich campus [UQ(I)]. This course is unique in Australia and we find that most of our colleagues assume that the core focus of the degree is psychology. Of all the authors on this paper however, only one of them - Peter Newcombe - is a psychologist. Melissa Bull is a criminologist, Lesley Jolly is an anthropologist, Peter Kelly is a sociologist and Sylvie Tourigny is a social psychologist. The Bachelor of Behavioural Studies is therefore interdisciplinary in nature. The rationale behind this degree is to provide students with multidisciplinary social science skills to understand human behaviour in a modern world characterised by what Anthony Giddens (1991) has called "institutional reflexivity". Giddens defines this as "the regularised use of knowledge about circumstances of social life as a constitutive element in its organisation and transformation" (1991:20). It is commonly lamented by researchers that society is changing faster than we can analyse it. What our degree aims to do therefore, is to produce people with the skills to intervene and guide the processes of change through the application of a broad spectrum of social science skills.

Radical flexibility

Giddens (1991) argues that institutional reflexivity, as a constitutive element of contemporary settings and practices, is characterised by 'radical doubt'. Radical doubt suggests that all forms of human knowledge are provisional and that reflexive change is ongoing and neverending (Giddens, 1990; 1991; 1994; Kelly, 1999). Keeping that in mind, we foresee that our graduates need to have flexibility as a radical condition of their skills, process and knowledge. They have to be able to respond to and intervene in a society that is changing faster than we can analyse it. They need to know how to draw on the skills and knowledge of several traditional disciplines to effect that intervention while maintaining a flexible yet critical stance towards understanding human behaviour throughout their working lives. In order to achieve this, the degree needs to foster the kinds of graduate attributes that are being demanded by almost all Australian universities that are built on generic skills such as the ability to communicate, group management skills, the development of global perspectives on their practice and the capacity for life-long learning. This is what we understand as 'radical flexibility'.

But what does this mean for the individual student and for the degree? There are five provisions that we see as necessary for our students to develop radical flexibility.

Firstly we need to provide an environment that is sensitive to the variety of different selves among the population of self-directed learners. Self-directed learning is an oft-heard mantra, however as teachers we know that the way one person goes about learning is never the same as the next person. We try to accommodate those differences in the learning environment by providing a variety of learning opportunities and using a range of different teaching strategies.

Secondly we need to provide the range of skills necessary for the students to learn. Information technology (IT) literacy is one of those skills, with a heavy emphasis placed on it across the board. We also see that our students need to have a solid grasp of group management skills. This is not only because group skills will be required in the workplace after graduation, but also because we need to use those skills for effective teaching and learning. Group work skills are therefore an important component of our coursework, the fostering of which starts in orientation week with a variety of workshops. We also see the need for basic critical research skills. Many students come to university not knowing what research is for. It is important to make it explicit to students that in disciplines such as ours and in the work situations we foresee for them, the point of research is not necessarily to come down with a right answer but to explore a situation and offer a number of solutions by using a range of methodologies, bodies of knowledge and world views. We foster this attitude towards research from a very early stage in the degree.

In interdisciplinary degrees such as this one, content requirements tend to be a contentious issue leaving many course controllers concerned that they cannot cover all of the content that they would like for their students. We take a different approach however and feel that the details of course content are less important than giving students broad parameters within which to mobilise their knowledge. We therefore make available a broad range of information but concentrate more on the processes by which students access and apply that information. While our students will know a lot of content upon graduation, they will know more about its use.

Another important consideration in designing the degree is the life circumstances of students as far as timetabling and other practical issues go. Such issues are commonly connected with the phrase 'flexibility'. We feel that it is incumbent on us as teachers to set an example for the students that flexibility is desirable, putting ourselves out to achieve it, even though we think flexibility goes far beyond such considerations.

The above considerations will provide our students with a broad range of social skills that can be applied in flexible, reflexive work settings. They will also foster the understanding of how standard procedures and processes of social science might be adapted to any given situation. Yet how do we achieve all of this without creating absolute chaos?

Flexibility without chaos

The assumption in much curriculum planning seems to be that the discipline specific content knowledge and skills will set the parameters. The key to achieving flexibility in curriculum planning for an interdisciplinary degree, without causing chaos, is a matrix curriculum design. (Tourigny, 2000). By using a matrix to map subjects within a semester and from semester to semester, we can monitor horizontal and vertical coherence in the course material. We can repeat themes, develop them in different directions or argue them from different disciplinary and methodological stand points. Moving away from the standard concern with course content, the matrix gives us a framework for developing the degree to achieve the aims discussed above. Content is inserted into the matrix after we have decided what the desirable outcomes are. Table 1 indicates the kind of categories that are standard in our matrix planning.

Table 1: Typical Matrix Categories

Aims/ObjectivesConceptsA/V MaterialExperiences
PedagogyEthicsIT NeedsAssessment

As well as standard considerations such as aims and objectives, concepts to be covered, theories to be used and ethical issues, we pay special attention to the pedagogy applied (eg: problem based learning or case study analysis) and also the structure of the particular subject. Some subjects may have slightly different categories according to their needs. Figure 1 is an extract from the matrix for one core second-year subject.

Pedagogical DescriptionA Problem Based Learning pedagogy will present students with ill-defined life-like situations such as they may encounter in professional practice. The standard inductive method is used over 5 modules...
Aims & Objectives
  • To make principled judgements about conditions of employment, scope of duties, professional responsibility and ethical conduct.
  • Ability to plan appropriate action on the basis of those judgements.
  • Ability to produce concise and precise oral and written reports on actions.
  • Reflection on how to balance values, ambition and responsibility in planning a career
  • Develop strategies for offering well-argued professional opinions that are neither unduly influenced by, nor do violence to personal opinions.
  • Legal, financial and workplace health and safety implications of professional BR practice
  • Gate-keepers
  • Prejudice
  • Outcomes
  • Social diversity
  • Induction & Deduction
  • Reliability & Validity
  • Social theory pertaining to radical change in the organisation of work, political and family relations (Giddens, Bourdieu)
  • Theories of knowledge production (Kuhn, Popper, Foucault)
  • Social constructivism

Figure 1: Extract from a subject matrix

Once each subject has analysed according to each category, the subjects are placed adjacently in the matrix. An extract of the full degree matrix is shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Mapping subjects across the matrix

Deconstructing each subject in this way and placing it in the matrix alongside other subjects enables a quick comparison of subjects and a complete overview of the degree. We can then see across a semester whether the students are being exposed to repetition or not and from semester to semester we can see what ideas they should have already met and can be built on further. It also allows us to spread the workloads of the students by adjusting assessment requirements. Students have already told us that they appreciate this very much.

In addition to the matrix, another way in which we try to enhance flexibility without losing direction is by using a diversity of teaching strategies. We use various methods to encourage self-directed learning that include problem based learning, case study analysis and standard lecturing and tutorial formats. The variety of techniques demonstrates to the students that there is always more than one way of doing things and it allows those with different learning styles to experience different ways of learning.

Requirements for flexibility arising from the different personalities and interests within our student population are dealt with in a mentoring program. This is a system whereby we establish a formal relationship between a staff member and a student. When students enter the degree they are assigned randomly to a staff member with whom they meet at various points throughout their degree. These meetings give staff the opportunity to negotiate with individual students over issues such as the choice of electives, concentration areas and third year placements. Students are also free to get in touch with their mentor for advice and support at any time. Using this program we aim to recognise the individual in the structure and it allows us to modify aspects of the course matrix to account for individual difference if necessary.

Our teaching strategies are therefore diverse and overwhelmingly student centred. While diverse, what our teaching strategies have in common is that they tend to be discursive and reflexive. Throughout the degree, we aim to model reflexivity and flexibility for our graduates. The use of IT is important in achieving these aims, yet while we use IT for support, we are not IT driven. In some understandings of flexibility information technology is seen merely as a way of delivering the same kind of content that standard courses may use. In contrast to this view, we explore IT as a way of supporting our aims and producing radically flexible learning. This means concentrating on the communicative and organisational benefits of IT and not just putting content and courses on the web.

Student responses

So far, the students have responded well to the organisation of the degree. One student recently wrote to the head of the program:
Dear Dr Tourigny,
... it is clear to me that the course that you head has some extraordinary things going for it... course themes... provided a logical navigation system through each of the topics and helped connect the real world examples with the theory... interesting and timely topics ... the way that the Learning Guide, Lectures, Tutorials and Web CT site worked together was excellent, allowing opportunities for idea exchange, direct and regular contact with lecturers, tutors and fellow students and interactive, in depth learning.
Of course it's always nice to get compliments. But we were particularly pleased that this student, and others who have given us similar feedback, had seen the strength of connection that we have worked so hard to establish. We feel very strongly that this sense of framework is very important to a multidisciplinary degree such as ours.

Challenges for the future

As we go on developing behavioural studies (which has only been in operation for one semester so far), we predict that we will be faced with two main challenges. The first is to maintain a high level of communication regarding the course design as the student numbers and range of subjects increase. Building a curriculum using a matrix requires a great deal of collaboration and constant communication among staff, between staff and students and to some extent, among the students themselves. That this continues is vital.

The second thing that is essential for the success of our degree is maintaining its relevance in the workplace. We have tried to ensure this by establishing close links with industry. We have established an industry reference group that consists of a number of representatives from industries in which graduates can expect to be employed. The reference group plays an active role in the design and conduct of the degree. Members have: been consulted about curriculum development; provided real world case materials; addressed lectures, helped assess student work, and provided work placement opportunities. The relevance of the course material is also maintained in a disciplinary sense, with every staff member being actively involved in research that is relevant both to the content and development of the degree as well as to the ongoing debates in the disciplines represented in the degree. In this way the Behavioural Studies degree is not restricted to a training course, but is also well equipped to cater to those students interested in a career in research.


Giddens, A. (1994). Risk, trust, reflexivity. In U.Beck, A. Giddens & S. Lash (Eds), Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order. Cambridge: Polity, pp.184-197.

Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self-Identity - Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stamford: Stamford University Press.

Giddens, A. (1990). The Consequences of Modernity. Stamford: Stamford University Press.

Kelly, P. (1999). Wild and tame zones: Regulating the transitions of youth at risk. Journal of Youth Studies, 2(2), 193-211.

Tourigny, S. (2000). The inadvertent nerds: Overcoming technophobia through integrated behavioural studies learning. Proceedings of the Sixth Australasian Women in Computing Conference "Living IT" held at Griffith University, Brisbane, 21-22 July, 2000.

Contact details: Lesley Jolly, University of Queensland
Phone (07) 3381 1506 Fax (07) 3381 1523 Email

Please cite as: Bull, M., Jolly, L., Kelly, P., Newcombe, P. and Tourigny, S. (2001). Building Behavioural Studies: Flexible curriculum design and pedagogy in progress. In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 83-88. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA.

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Created 23 Sep 2001. Last revised: 29 Mar 2003. HTML: Roger Atkinson
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