Designing and Delivering a Quality HE Curriculum – some takeaways
By Gabi Witthaus, Learning & Teaching Facilitator, School of Business & Economics, Loughborough University.
On 3 March I attended the Inside Gov event in London, “Designing and Delivering a Quality HE Curriculum”, wearing my SBE Learning & Teaching Facilitator hat. Here I summarise my key take-aways from the day.
Alan Palmer, Head of Policy and Research, Million+, opened the event. He briefly reflected on the status of the Green Paper for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), noting that he expected the Government to report back on responses received to the Green Paper in around mid-May – with the rationale that the release of this report would be timed to occur after the local elections but before the referendum on the EU.
Dr Tim Burton, Head of Standards, Quality and Enhancement, Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), was first up. He expressly did not talk about the TEF, and instead focused on the QAA’s Quality Code for awards and programmes, with its three component parts – Part A on academic standards, Part B on academic quality, and Part C on information about higher education provision. Part A contains the Subject Benchmark Statements, many of which are currently being reviewed. Tim noted that the statements are not prescriptive and do not form a curriculum; however, he said providers are “encouraged to take account of them”. My take-away: the resources on the QAA website are extremely useful, if not essential, for anyone designing programmes or modules.
Prof. Pauline Kneale, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) and Professor of Pedagogy and Enterprise, Plymouth University, gave a keynote on instilling flexibility within curriculum assessment. This was the highlight of the day for me. Pauline discussed how her institution had begun approaching assessment from the point of view of making assessments accessible to students with disabilities. Instead of merely offering modified versions of the mainstream assessments for students with particular needs, course teams at Plymouth looked at ways of changing the assessment to be accessible to everyone, and in the process began devising more authentic assessments (i.e. relevant to real-world situations) that encouraged deeper learning than traditional forms of assessments. The resources on Plymouth’s website contain guidelines, models and evidence-based examples of good practice in this area – a good place to start is with the Staff Good Practice Guide to Inclusive Assessment.
Chris Willmore, Academic Director of Undergraduate Studies and Reader in Sustainability and Law, University of Bristol spoke passionately about listening to the student voice in curriculum change. In an initiative at Bristol, students can pop into the Students’ Union to have a conversation with other students (not lecturers), in plain English, about what kinds of changes they would like to see in their various curricula. Whacky ideas are encouraged. A toolkit is provided for students to enable students convert their ideas into proposals for academic staff to consider – this requires students to rigorously map any new intended learning outcomes onto subject benchmark statements and professional body requirements.
Next, Dr Momodou Sallah, Senior Lecturer in Youth Work and Community Development, De Montfort University, talked about international study visits as transformative pedagogy. He gave a fascinating account of how De Montfort students were benefiting from field trips to the Gambia, and showed a very moving video (available here) of this cross-cultural exchange.
Dr Maria Cerrato Lara, Lead Researcher, ‘Learning Gain in Active Citizenship’ Research Project, Oxford Brookes University, continued the internationalisation theme by focusing on an HEA-funded initiative at Oxford Brookes in which ‘Active Citizenship’ was introduced as a graduate attribute for all taught courses.
Professor Peter Lawler, Academic Director, University College for Interdisciplinary Learning, University of Manchester, spoke about enriching the curriculum through interdisciplinary learning. He discussed the frequent misconceptions held about interdisciplinarity, for example the idea that simply combining modules from two or more disciplines equates to an interdisciplinary curriculum. Manchester University launched their University College for Interdisciplinary Learning (UCIL) in 2012, and this group supports programme teams across the institution in designing interdisciplinary courses. He emphasised the importance of starting out with the programme aims in mind, rather than starting from the vision of modules as ‘building blocks’ that could be combined to magically create a truly integrated programme.
Fiona Harvey, Education Development Manager, ILIaD, University of Southampton and Chair, Association for Learning Technology (ALT), spoke about an initiative at Southampton whereby a number of students took the opportunity to receive support and advice in learning about technology for learning, and those students then worked closely with their lecturers to redesign curricula to embed learning technologies. She gave several arguments for this being a more effective way of curriculum change than simply working with academics – to name a couple: if students themselves have ‘bought into’ a particular technology, they are more likely to use it; and secondly, academics generally appreciate having a student in the classroom who is willing to help if the technology goes wrong, and to support other students in using it.
Dr Neil Gordon, Author, Flexible Pedagogies: Technology-Enhanced Learning Report, from the University of Hull, spoke about integrating technology effectively to support flexible learning at Hull. He discussed the rationale for making learning more flexible for students, and talked about the implications, e.g. ethical and security concerns associated with the use of technologies. He also proposed flexible forms of assessment (for example, giving students a choice between an exam and an assignment; allowing students to propose the format of their own assessments) as a natural consequence of flexible teaching delivery.
Dr Crinela Pislaru, Senior Lecturer, University of Huddersfield, gave a case study on enhancing employability for STEM students through peer-based mentoring. In this case study, undergraduate students in electrical and mechanical engineering courses were mentored by postgraduate students from the Institute of Railway Research. Students were given practical projects to do in groups, with their mentors, and were required to reflect together regularly on the effectiveness of their teamwork.This experience was a valuable addition to students’ CVs.
Finally, Professor Michael Thorne, Vice-Chancellor, Anglia Ruskin University, spoke on the topic of embedding work-based learning into the curriculum to improve employability prospects. He described an initiative at Anglia Ruskin called Degrees@Work, in which entire degrees are offered at workplaces, jointly managed and run by the university and the employers. Their commercial partners include Barclays, Specsavers and Harrods, with degrees in banking, optometry, and retail respectively. He presented this business model as a win-win situation for all concerned – students do not have to pay fees, while the employers pay premium fees to the university for bespoke programmes. He also discussed a self-employment programme running at Anglia Ruskin, in which students are given support and encouragement to start up their own businesses.
All in all, it was a full programme with many thought-provoking ideas to take away. All slides from the event are available here.
Designing and Delivering a Quality HE Curriculum – some takeaways by Gabi Witthaus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.By Gabi Witthaus, Learning & Teaching Facilitator, School of Business & Economics, Loughborough University.