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This issue of CDTL Brief is all about Cultivating Active Learners: Applying Scenario-Based Learning and Other Teaching Strategies to Enrich Classroom Learning. Whether it is utilising “real-life“ or non-analogous scenarios to stimulate students’ interest in complex life science concepts such as metabolism or the human immune system, or using role-play to build students’ confidence in tackling commercial real estate issues, the colleagues who have generously shared their teaching experiences here are united in their common goal of equipping their students with the skills to become active learners.

October/November 2011, Vol. 14 No. 2 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
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Embedding Graduate Attributes Into Four Discipline Areas Using Scenario-based Learning
E.P. Errington, L. Ireland, A. Nickson, R. Sorin and M.L. Caltabiano
James Cook University, Queensland, Australia


An expanding student population, widening participation and the subsequent pressure on work placement opportunities where students, as would-be professionals, can articulate and present their experience has resulted in a re-evaluation of what is possible in embedding graduate attributes while studying at university. Added to this pressure is the Australian Government’s insistence on institutions helping students bridge perceived gaps between subject theory and professional practice.

Scenario-based learning (SBL), based on situated learning theory incorporating contextual knowledge, may provide one approach for getting students nearer to the realities of their intended workplace through the construction and analyses of authentic learning experiences and the conscious embedding of graduate attributes—as the building bricks for employability. SBL is not used to replace work-based experiences but rather to supplement them.

This brief article summarises the journey made so far by five colleagues from four discipline areas and Teaching and Learning Development at James Cook University (JCU), whose collective aim is to embed graduate attributes into their four curriculum areas using scenario-based learning.

The project and its purpose(s)

The working title of the project is “Embedding graduate attributes into four discipline areas using scenario-based learning”. Its purposes were fourfold: The first was to identify our team members’ understanding of SBL and the extent to which scenario-based learning was already being used in their professionally-oriented courses. Basically, we needed to know where we were all ‘at’ in our understanding of SBL before we could enhance SBL offerings in JCU as a team.

The second purpose was to build on the team’s current knowledge of SBL and the embedding of graduate attributes through a shared process of peer review. Collectively, the team has a wealth of teaching and learning experience at all university levels so that respective peer reviews were rightly anticipated to be rich and productive.

The third purpose was to generate SBL resource materials for using scenario-based learning to embed graduate attributes, in particular, the creation of filmed exemplars of SBL delivery targeting specific graduate attributes and the construction of a dedicated SBL website (hosting a blog, the film, resources and useful links).

The final purpose was to disseminate the processes and outcomes of the project.

The team

The team consisted of five members: Dr Ed Errington (Teaching and Learning Development, team leader and SBL specialist); Dr Marie Caltabiano (Psychology), Dr Reesa Sorin (Teacher Education); Amanda Nickson (Social Work & Community Welfare); and, Lynette Ireland (Australian Indigenous Studies). The team had worked together successfully earlier in 2010 where the project leader had edited an anthology of SBL praxis to which team members had contributed.


The project comprises four stages:

Stage 1: Reconnoitring the territory

During the first stage of the project, team members examined their own ‘territory’ first: “What was our team’s understanding of scenario-based learning, and what role did we see for SBL in promoting graduate attributes?” Strategic conversations (Van der Heijden, 2002, p.3) were used to ‘unpack’ individual team member’s meanings of significant terms. In particular, terms such as

a. Scenario-based learning. The discussions provided a rich opportunity for team members from different disciplines to probe and share their understanding of SBL, noting that the term ‘scenario-based learning’ attracts various labels in the literature, such as ‘critical incidents’ (Tripp, 1993); ‘scripted role-play’ (Brislin & Yoshida, 1994), ‘triggers’ (Wilkie, 2000) or by the catch-all term ‘simulation’ (attributed to numerous authors).

Team members encouraged each other to note why, where and how scenario-based learning was being used within their own discipline area. Common to our deliberations was an agreement that SBL (which is usually delivered as a set of circumstances that students had to contend with) was a learning design underpinned by situated cognition (Lave & Wenger, 1991; McLellan,1995) which is used by some educators to contextualise learning. The common purpose of SBL, regardless of discipline area, was the siting of learning within (simulated) professional settings, incorporating forms of technical and informal language, etiquette, ethical positioning, roles and responsibilities, challenges, tasks, problems, relationships, norms and values located within the profession, (Errington, 2009, p.585).

With SBL, students can explore professional worlds within the safety of the scenario simulation intent on dealing “with the repercussions of the precipitating and related events efficiently and effectively”, (Naidu, 2010, p.5). The journey towards task completion, offered with each scenario, will ideally engage students in processes of problem-solving/setting, decision-making, acts of creativity, critical analysis, evaluation, and ref lectivity—factors compatible with employability skills valued by employers, (Universities UK, 2009).

b. Graduate attributes. In a similar vein, team members discussed the embedding of graduate attributes. Graduate attributes are the qualities, skills and level of understanding a university community agrees its students should develop during their time with the institution. These attributes include (but go beyond) the disciplinary expertise or technical knowledge that has traditionally formed the core of most university courses. Examples of graduate attributes include teamwork, critical thinking, ethical understanding, an ability to communicate clearly and so on.

We asked ourselves: “How, and in what ways might SBL enrich the delivery of graduate attributes?” Through our strategic conversations, important conceptual and practical links were made between the construction, delivery and evaluation of SBL and the embedding of desirable graduate attributes in specified contexts.

Stage 2: Enhancing current offerings

Following agreement on the potential value of SBL to facilitate graduate attributes, the team engaged in processes of the peer review of teaching. We wanted to know how we were using scenario-based learning now to achieve learning outcomes (intended and actual), and how we might enhance/add offerings to optimise chosen graduate attributes.

a. Each team member was observed by other members on the basis of negotiated observations (what was to be observed), specific feedback (that relate to the scenario and the embedding of attributes), and proffered advice (observations that could be accepted/rejected/built upon by the observed teaching member).

b. Team members peer reviewed other members at least twice, providing valuable feedback to each observed teacher. It was important that team members were co-observers and co-workers in the process. In this way, all members had a sense of classroom/project ownership.

c. Individual observations also generated conversations on current and potential scenario offerings with respect to the choice of scenario approach, scenario construction, single/accumulative scenarios and the ‘goodness of fit’ between scenario options and desired attributes.

Stage 3: Generating support materials/ identifying SBL champions

By design, the creation of scenario-based learning support materials has been ongoing. The intention is to create and update SBL exemplars periodically. Support materials will consist of:

a. Filmed exemplars of scenario-based learning (soon to be mounted on the JCU website). Each film will provide one or more scenario examples accompanied by an explanatory teacher narrative and student ref lections on scenario experiences.

b. Added to the above, an SBL website supporting other resource materials has been established and includes links to visual resources, Powerpoint presentations, academic publications, links to similar (practical) teaching and learning sites, dialogue links to institutions/centres advancing SBL, and a weblog to encourage communication between/ among SBL practitioners.

Stage 4: Disseminating the project and engaging staff within/across disciplines in SBL

The project is to be disseminated via internal and external means.

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Inside this issue
Contextualised Teaching Towards Active Learning
Using Role Play to Enhance Classroom Learning: A Case Study in Real Estate
Effective Cancer Pharmacology Teaching Through Guided Self-learning and Students’ Short Presentations in Small Group Tutorials
Application of a Novel Non-analogous Scenario for Introducing Human Immunology
Embedding Graduate Attributes Into Four Discipline Areas Using Scenario-based Learning