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When Southern Cross University set out to revolutionise the way it teaches, everything centred around one thing: our students’ success

Students in a group working


Michael Jacobson
27 November 2023

The world is changing and the demands on students are changing too. Drawing on a proud history of thinking and acting boldly, we produced a new way to support them to succeed: the Southern Cross Model. The results are coming in and, increasingly, the world is watching.

Professor Thomas Roche sitting in front of bookshelf

The Southern Cross Model

At Southern Cross University, student success rates are up, fail rates are down, satisfaction is high and other benefits are emerging.  

The numbers are compelling, but it is people who are the heart of this story.  

In 2023, the University finalised a seismic shift from the old semester-based education model to a revolutionary approach specifically designed to meet the needs and demands of today’s students and today’s world. 

The Southern Cross Model comes with a set of principles at its core, including greater focus, flexibility and interactivity to help students achieve a better balance of study, work and other commitments. Gone, in most instances, are traditional lectures, exams and textbooks as the University moved to a more immersive and active form of learning and assessment.  

Dividing the university year into six terms each six weeks in length, with a maximum two units taught per term, the Model raised some eyebrows initially. However, increasingly the evidence confirms its positive impact and acceptance with students.  

When comparing the first half of 2023 with the baseline pre-pandemic year of 2019, international students have experienced a nearly 20 per cent increase in pass rates, reaching 85 per cent. This positive trend has extended to higher Grade Point Averages and sustained student satisfaction.  

Student stories are also encouraging. Gold Coast student Hollie Robards spent almost a decade as a Registered Nurse before choosing to pursue her true passion – teaching – by undertaking a Master of Teaching (Primary) at Southern Cross. 

She says the calendar structure, appeal, flexibility and interactivity of the Southern Cross Model gave her a great learning experience and supported her need to balance study and work commitments. 

“Studying for me looks different every day, so the adaptability of studying online under the Southern Cross Model was ideal,” says Hollie.  

“The six-week terms go by quickly and you learn exactly what you need in that time. I was also able to fast-track my degree over the summer semester, picking up an extra term so I could finish a little earlier.” 

Psychology (Honours) student Sahar Mokhtarpour is of a similar mind when she says that working under the six-week term structure of the Southern Cross Model enabled her to meet her study goals and strategies. 

For her Honours thesis, Gold Coast-based Sahar researched psychological impacts on women as pertaining to gymnasiums, body image and body satisfaction. She plans to become a clinical psychologist and says the Southern Cross Model provided a contemporary and relevant platform for her study needs and career objectives. 

“I was so happy with the 6 x 6 system as opposed to the traditional semesters,” she says. “While the learning was focused, I found I had enough of a break between terms and was always excited to start the next phase. 

“The unit content was so up to date, keeping me on task, and there was great access to the convenors who always responded so quickly and were always there for you. That is so important for a student.”

Co-designers of the Southern Cross Model – Professor Thomas Roche (Pro Vice-Chancellor, Academic Quality) and Professor Erica Wilson (Pro Vice-Chancellor, Academic Innovation) – emphasise that its initial success stems from that essential alignment with the learning needs and lifestyles of modern students. 

With the traditional semester system presenting less and less relevance to today’s students, we looked at the type of learning we deliver,” says Professor Roche. 

“Instead of students sitting in lecture theatres and listening, we wanted them talking, interacting, solving problems and working on cases.

“We set about finding ways to help students gain more focus in their study and no longer juggle so many tasks.”

Among innovations, assessment procedures have undergone a major change.  

“Most of the heavily weighted examinations have been removed under the Model,” says Professor Wilson. “We don’t believe that is the best way to assess students. We want more authentic, lived assessment that means something in the real world.”  

“Studying for me looks different every day, so the adaptability of the Southern Cross Model was ideal.”

Hollie Robards at whiteboard

Full implementation of the Southern Cross Model was preceded by four years of research, testing and planning.

Signs were good and forecasts optimistic, with 2022 data – based on analysis of 13,000 grades – revealing a 16 per cent increase in student success rates (passing a unit of study) and significantly declining fail rates.

While the findings were positive, 2023 always loomed as central to generating more comprehensive evidence as the Model became embedded in every discipline and at every campus.

The subsequent data offers affirmation and cause for ongoing optimism, although an ever-mindful Professor Roche and Professor Wilson caution that the Model’s effectiveness does not happen automatically. 

They advise students embarking on study to stay engaged from the beginning of each term and to actively participate in quizzes, activities and group work to make the most of the 6 x 6 system. 

Though it is still early days, the Model is already influencing other initiatives at Southern Cross University, notably one led by Coffs Harbour-based senior lecturer Dr Desiree Kozlowski within the Bachelor of Psychological Science. 

Psychology students are saving thousands of dollars by replacing traditional, expensive and often outdated textbooks with Open Educational Resources (OERs), which include e-textbooks and other freely available online material. 

Bringing this Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) initiative to fruition has been a team effort between Dr Kozlowski, Faculty of Health colleagues and the Southern Cross University Library, which had been advocating for the inclusion of OERs in the Southern Cross Model.

“The Southern Cross Model was an opportunity to further endorse the use of OERs given students could not be expected to purchase multiple prescribed texts for six-week units,” says Librarian (Library Education and Research) Ms Carlie Daley.

“Following the Psychology initiative, the Library has since created a special collection to map OER texts for all faculty areas. It is a great win for students and learning at Southern Cross University.”

News of the Model’s success is spreading, as evidenced by the Social Science Research Network, a global Open-Source Platform that holds thousands of academic papers and research findings. 

Southern Cross University has harnessed SSRN to share its own research around the Southern Cross Model and by October 2023 more than 1000 papers had been downloaded throughout the world, thereby building overall reputation. 

As the world changes, and students change with it, the Southern Cross Model is proving to be a powerful response.