Giving Students, Parents and Employers Confidence: Geography’s Experiences of Accreditation

Dr Richard Hodgkins, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, has recently received a Vice-Chancellor’s Award from Loughborough University for his contribution to Learning and Teaching. In this post, Dr Hodgkins details the recent experiences in gaining accreditation for some, rather different, programmes offered by the Department of Geography at Loughborough.

On the face of it, some academic disciplines, with more obvious career pathways, lend themselves naturally to accreditation, and others less so. However, all degree programmes benefit from being able to display some kind of quality stamp.

These programmes are the MSci (Hons) Geography and BA (Hons) Geography, both also available as sandwich programmes, the latter leading to the additional qualification of Diploma in Professional Studies (DPS) for those undertaking an industrial placement, or Diploma in International Studies (DIntS), for those undertaking study abroad. The main goal of each is to offer the most appropriate curriculum and outcome for somewhat different communities of potential geography students. The MSci takes the route of specialisation, being a four-year integrated Masters’ programme with a strong focus on physical and environmental geography. The BA takes the route of generalisation, stemming from the nature of geography as a diverse discipline spanning the sciences and humanities, offering those favouring its social and cultural aspects the opportunity to graduate with a qualification which, more closely than the current BSc, reflects the content they have pursued.

What are the challengers ?

It’s difficult to persuade an accreditor to look favourably on your programmes if you don’t have a clear sense of their strengths, which can be articulated cogently. So for each programme, it’s been important to step back, and to see the wood for the trees. Why offer it? What are the real benefits for students: are they being offered a distinctive curriculum with a clear sense of purpose and outcome, rather than a mash-up of pre-existing modules? The MSci is therefore specified to provide a pathway to environmental employment through a focused, practically-orientated and progressive menu of physical geography modules, which engage extensively by design with both contemporary research and with environmental monitoring for the purpose of effective management. The BA, on the other hand, is specified to provide the widest coherent menu of options possible, given that a significant proportion of geography students (particular those aspiring to become teachers) prefer to study both human and physical aspects of the discipline. The latter is consistent with the unique nature of geography as the integrated study of landscapes, peoples, places and environments, and is a view of geography that is strongly favoured by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)(RGS-IBG), of which more below.

What are the benefits of offering a diverse range of programmes? 

From a departmental perspective, these recently-approved programmes have manageably diversified our offering, which contributes to admissions robustness. From a student perspective, enhanced satisfaction is the aim, through offering more tailored outcomes with specific awards. From the personal perspective of a departmental Director of Studies, there is a lot to be learned about matters that can get taken for granted, such as understanding how curricula should be consistently mapped to appropriate ILOs for different communities of students, and how Subject Benchmarking informs this process. I’m not under the illusion that ILO mapping is the stuff of dreams, but it’s vital that we retain the coherence of our programmes in the face of change and churn, so that students actually get what they believe they’ve signed up for, and so that accreditors can express their confidence in what they see.

We obtained accreditation for the MSci from the Institution of Environmental Sciences (Committee of Heads of Environmental Sciences, CHES) in May 2016. The key to the case was demonstrating, with evidence, how the modules aligned clearly with Subject Benchmarks, and with the specific expectations of the accrediting body; for instance, CHES places a particularly strong emphasis on environmental career development and links with professional practice, so it was important to establish in some depth that our modules did in fact do this in a substantive way that was both assessed and credited. In September 2016, we similarly obtained accreditation for the MSci and three other of our programmes – BA/BSc (Hons) Geography and BSc (Hons) Geography with Economics, including their DPS/DIntS versions – from the newly-established scheme of the Research and Higher Education Division of the RGS-IBG, now the key accreditor for the discipline. All four programmes were among the very first to be accredited: only 20 departments nationally achieved this distinction. In its evaluation, the RGS-IBG noted that the case contained “Clear and detailed description of aims achieved through core and optional modules… cross-referencing to the benchmark statement is evident”, underlining the value of all that ILO mapping, and that this is an ongoing process shared by all teaching staff. This is a significant accomplishment in a discipline a very wide range of alternative career pathways in which accreditation has not traditionally played an important role.

In our efforts to build our profile, Loughborough Geography can now justifiably claim a quality assurance “Kitemark” from the UK’s flagship accreditor. By the same token, our graduates – our ambassadors! – can be confident that their degrees are well-regarded when they pursue further study or enter the jobs market.

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.


Loughborough Academics Publish Research in Prestigious Journal

2010 Teaching Innovation Awards winners, Dr Lawrence Leger and Dr Karligash Glass (Kenjegalieva), have recently published their work in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.  Their research article, ‘What if best practice is too expensive? Feedback on oral presentations and efficient use of resources’, suggests that ‘less resource-intensive [teaching and learning] methods need not compromise learning outcomes’. [1]

To read their article, click on the link below:

[1] Lawrence A. Leger, Karligash Glass, Paraskevi Katsiampa, ShiboLiu & Kavita Sirichand (2015): What if best practice is too expensive? Feedback on oral presentations and efficient use of resources, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1109054, p.1.

Student Engagement in Curriculum Design

History prospectus print screenMarcus Collins from the Department of Politics History and International Relations won one of seven Teaching Innovation Awards this year. The project title was ‘Student Engagement in Curriculum Design’ and involved a group of 7 students (plus himself) carrying out research and work on the creation of a new single-honours History course set to run from September 2014 here at Loughborough.

To begin with they met a number of people to help formulate and strengthen their ideas. Including a meeting with the Vice Chancellor Professor Robert Allison to talk about some of the strengths already evident in the History Joint-honours course such as the innovative learning technologies. The team also hosted a talk given by Grace Barker from the University of Newcastle, known for her work on Student Engagement. In addition to this, once the project was in full swing, the students took their work to present at this year’s RAISE conference held at Nottingham Trent University.

The project’s research was focused on asking the current History joint-honours students for their feedback to find out what currently works best, and what perhaps could be changed. Research methods included surveys, questionnaires and focus groups. Other than paper copies of surveys being handed out in class some of the questions were put onto lecture slides and asked for a vote via the Turning Point clickers which added variety and captured large numbers of respondents.

history resultsResults from the project showed that the current History joint-honours students enjoy the use of innovative technology; examples listed were the recorded lectures via ReVIEW, the Turning Point Clickers and also the use of Twitter for asking questions and making points during the lectures.

When asked about the History lecturers and what they liked about the methods and styles of teaching, students used words such as ‘enthusiastic’, ‘approachable’ and that the students ‘are more of a name than a number’.

Findings also showed that students prefer flexible assessment methods, for example, being able to choose essay questions, sources and a dissertation topic. They said that they found a greater enjoyment of the module through choice.

The project has developed 12 draft recommendations for the new single-honours History course. These recommendations were opened up for discussion at the History Forum on the 14th October where students and staff were invited to hear about the findings and to add their thoughts on the recommendations.

Extracts from the draft recommendations include:

  • more of an emphasis on transferable skills
  • a greater choice of modules
  • a greater emphasis on presentations and group work
  • a high-visibility Learn page that outlines assessment criteria
  • greater utilisation or audio feedback
  • adjustments on the amount of weekly reading set
  • a compulsory Careers and Employability module.

These recommendations are yet to be set in stone but the amount of research and valuable data included in this project really has come from the student voice. The team have done a great job in capturing this and have been immersed in the design of this single-honours course which in practise will produce a student centred and excellent degree programme.

Peer Support at Lboro event – programme update

Peer Support at LboroThe Peer Support at Lboro: Enhancing the Student Experience event, which is being jointly hosted by the Mathematics Education Centre and the Teaching Centre, will be held in James France (Room CC.1.11) from 1:30pm to 4:30pm on Wednesday, 24 April 2013.

Further to the details posted previously regarding this Peer Support at Lboro event, we can now confirm that it will include information regarding:

  • different ways peer support is employed at Loughborough
  • Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) in Mathematics
  • benefits from student involvement
  • positive outcomes for student learning and performance
  • factors for successful peer support
  • practical ideas for people to take away

Colleagues will be encouraged to network with others from across campus, to reflect upon current practice, and to consider how future initiatives in this area might best be supported.

This resource was funded through the Loughborough University Development Trust. The Trust exists to support the University in giving students an outstanding quality of educational experience. It raises funds from former students and other friends of the University. Their generosity has made this support possible.

Peer Support at Lboro: Enhancing the Student Experience

The Mathematics Education Centre and the Teaching Centre have teamed up to host a practice sharing event entitled Peer Support at Lboro: Enhancing the Student Experience in James France (Room CC.1.11) from 1:30pm to 4:30pm on Wednesday, 24 April 2013.

This is just one element of a wider peer support project which has been facilitated by Loughborough University Development Trust’s Loughborough Fund, and also includes the public-facing Peer Support Directory, as well as a Learn module entitled Peer Support Community of Practice. The main drivers behind this event and these resources are as follows:

  1. to stop colleagues from reinventing the wheel when it comes to peer support, but to encourage learning from one another;
  2. to get a better idea of the range of possibilities out there, both internally and externally, whether they are academic and/or pastoral in nature;
  3. to encourage more examples of peer support to spring up across the University, and in turn to attract ever greater buy-in from staff and students; and
  4. to provide mechanisms for connecting people, sharing experiences and developing effective practice so that objectives 1) to 3) are met.

More details regarding the practice sharing event will become available in due course.

This resource was funded through the Loughborough University Development Trust. The Trust exists to support the University in giving students an outstanding quality of educational experience. It raises funds from former students and other friends of the University. Their generosity has made this support possible.

Loughborough University Institutional Repository

Institutional Repository

Research-informed teaching goes to the heart of the undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum. It is epitomised by the dissertations and/or projects which students themselves undertake towards the end of their studies, when staff deliver final year undergraduate modules within their field of research, and when students collaborate with staff in research and/or are exposed to their latest publications.

If you have not done so already, why not have a look on the Loughborough University Institutional Repository and add some of your own items, particularly if you are already using your published research in your teaching. Ad-lib (the University Library blog) recently published The Top Five Institutional Repository Downloads from December, and continues to encourage colleagues to add items to this database, an increasingly accessed and utilised resource which recently saw the 10,000th item added to Loughborough University’s Institutional Repository!

The teaching and assessment of graduate attributes


What abilities do we want our students to be able to take away with them on graduation? Knowledge and expertise of their discipline area is one, but there is also a growing emphasis on the skills and attributes that will prepare them for work and life. In the UK, David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, has emphasised the need for graduates to have the right ‘technical’ skills to help them in employment. These sentiments are common to many governments across the globe, and there is now a growing body of research looking at graduate attributes and how they are taught and assessed.

One example is survey of academics across 16 Australian universities by Harpe and David (2012). They identified the following graduate attributes:

• Written Communication
• Independent learning
• Oral Communication
• Ethical Practice
• Problem solving
• Information literacy
• Critical thinking
• Information Communication Technology
• Teamwork

They found that 73% of academic staff surveyed believed the above attributes were important, but they also identified difficulties of integrating them into the curriculum. Strong beliefs and/or greater familiarity with graduate attributes amongst the academics in their sample did not necessarily translate into the successful teaching and assessment of these attributes on the ground.

Harpe and David argue that the route to success lies in policies and strategies that encourage a systemic whole-of-university approach, including going beyond what the formal curriculum can offer. Relying solely on individual academics and their ability to integrate attributes into the formal curriculum will not necessarily deliver university graduates equipped for the rapidly changing world of work.


Barbara de la Harpe & Christina David (2012): Major influences on the teaching and assessment of graduate attributes, Higher Education Research & Development, 31:4, 493-510

New UG curriculum at MMU

JISC logoIt’s the annual JISC online conference this week and I’ve just been watching today (via Blackboard Collaborate) a striking presentation by Mark Stubbs who’s the Head of Learning and Research Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University. In this talk he described how MMU have been going through a complete UG curriculum re-write process in just 3 years – a task which seems even more ambitious when you hear that it has coincided with moving all online support from Blackboard to Moodle, and developing a range of other new systems and processes around, for instance, new programme / module approval. Mark admitted that, as you would expect, there had been many issues and obstacles along the way, and that the goodwill of academic colleagues was a resource that needed nurturing, but overall the change programme had been a big success.

Peer Support Directory – new online resource

Peer Support directoryIn looking to support a variety of peer support initiatives which have been taking place across campus in recent years, the Teaching Centre is in the process of creating a new online resource to support staff and students.

Called a Peer Support Directory, it promotes the idea that students are particularly well positioned to support other students, while themselves gaining invaluable experience which can contribute towards their employability.

A beta version of this resource is currently available at and will soon become available on the Teaching Centre’s revamped website. It will work in conjunction with a Peer Support Community of Practice which recently met for the first time, as well as a dedicated intranet site.

Feedback is very welcome regarding these peer support initiatives, and should be addressed to Maurice FitzGerald (Quality Enhancement Officer) or Lee Barnett (E-learning Officer).