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.


Summertime manoeuvres

Isn’t the summer supposed to be the time when the living is easy, fish are jumping and the cotton is high? Two recent posts suggest that the recently proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is stirring a lot of thinking and calls for action across the sector:

In a post on the WonkHE site – – Gordon Mckenzie, the Chief executive of the GuildHE, one of the two recognised representative bodies for Higher education (according to its website), discusses the TEF and makes the following important points:

  • The TEF seems likely to use a series of metrics, some of which already exist and others that currently don’t.
  • Ones that already exist could include
    • recruitment data: students’ prior qualifications, the socio-economic background of students, teaching qualifications of staff
    • Graduation data: NSS and DLHE data
  • Ones that need developing are perhaps around “learning gain”
  • The government call for help and guidance in constructing the TEF has been welcomed and the opportunity seized.
  • Jo Johnson, the Minister in charge of this project, wants something that is “cyclical, external, independent’ and open to peer review.

Mckenzie argues for the need to find a system which is at once sector wide and at the same time responsive to the local circumstances of the individual institution. One suggestion is to have a series of common indicators across all institutions and then allow individual institutions to add others, perhaps from a list of options. He ends is post with the observation that “If collectively, we get it right then students will benefit. The findings from the HEPI/HEA 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey show there is still some way to go to convince students they are getting value from university teaching. An effective TEF can help accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives for students.”

Alongside this the THE published an article from the new HEA Chair, professor Rama Thirunamachandran -see – in which the prospect of the HEA becoming the professional body for higher education academics involved in teaching was again discussed. The article linked the change in the HEA’s role with the introduction of a membership fee for individuals (as well as the institutional fee currently charged).

There will be much debate about this and the article suggests some opposing ideas. Perhaps the biggest issue though will be the tension between a TEF that seems to require academics to have teaching qualifications and the body that runs this scheme who see it as a voluntary professional body. This debate has already happened in the schools sector and the General Teaching Council now no longer exists.

There is still much to discuss before the government produces its Green paper but the lines of argument are becoming clear, its just that an agreement seems a long way off just yet.

Evaluating the quality of web resources

TurnItIn have released two new tools to support the evaluation of web-based resources; a review of the sources actually used and an interactive tool for the evaluation of resources.  These should be useful as tutorial-level discussion pieces and lend some objectivity to assessing the worth of the Web.

“Open access to this new interactive rubric helps educators teach students proper research and source evaluation.

Turnitin worked with educators to develop The Source Educational Evaluation Rubric (SEER), an interactive rubric to analyze and grade the academic quality of Internet sources used by students in their writing. Instructors and students who use SEER can quickly evaluate a website and arrive at a single score based on five criteria scaled to credibility: Authority, Educational Value, Intent, Originality, and Quality.

“Recent research shows that students rely heavily on websites of questionable academic value,” said Jason Chu, senior education manager for Turnitin. “We believe that widespread usage of SEER will help educators teach students the importance of using quality resources in their research.”

This interactive rubric, when opened in Adobe Reader, allows you to adjust criteria weight and simply click to score each criterion with a rubric score and percentage automatically calculated.”

1) What’s wrong with Wikipedia?

2) The Source Educational Evaluation Rubric (SEER tool)

TurnItIn UK User group

TurnItIn UK User Group, 3/2/11, Aston University

Bryan Dawson

 This is a six-monthly event for TurnItIn (TII) Administrators and power users.  The system continues to grow, with over ½ million submissions per month to the system in the last quarter of 2010.  The UK branch of iParadigms (the U.S. company that built TurnItIn) now has responsibility for all of the world except the Americas, and will probably change its name from ‘iParadigms Europe’.

 New developments for TurnItIn Originality Checking include:

Large documents don’t now cause the system to seize up.  This has never been a problem for us, even with dissertations.

We were promised better Quality Assurance for new releases – the revised user interface introduced in the autumn is only now fully functional.

A Moodle 2.0-compatible plugin is promised for the middle of 2011.

Work is under way on allowing multiple markers of an assignment.    This would allow for double-marking of coursework, which explains why double blind anonymous marking is not currently under development.  There were many requests for this feature.

It was confirmed that TII submissions will still be visible to submitting institutions even after 5 years (we started using TII in 2005).

 The GradeMark online marking system received much emphasis at the meeting.  It is only just starting to be used by Lboro tutors. 

  • It is now possible to import and export rubrics (marking criteria), so rubrics can be deployed over several assignments, and the same rubric can be used by several tutors.
  • An ‘e-rater’ will be added to provide spelling and grammar checking for online submissions.  However, TurnItIn is an American product, so it is not clear whether UK English spelling, punctuation, grammar and usage will be checked.
  • A translation facility can be introduced to check for the possibility that a foreign-language source has been translated into English and used in a submission.
  • Feedback files can be uploaded to GradeMark for retrieval by the student.  These could be audio or video files e.g. a lecture-captured demo of a worked answer.

 A Plagiarism Reference Tariff was introduced by Jo Badge from Leicester Uni.  This aims to provide consistency across Academic Misconduct cases by applying a formula to establish the ‘severity’ of the case.  Details are available from

 An online marking Case Study was presented by Cath Ellis of Huddersfield University.  She noted that the OU uses GradeMark and in the NSS it gets 100% satisfaction scores for feedback and marking.

At Huddersfield there was a strong steer from HoDs to use online marking.  The option for paper marking has always been kept open, but its use is now in the minority.  Online marking is the default, and tutors have to opt IN to paper marking. 

After a quite short learning curve (hours, not days) TurnItIn and Grademark had been integrated into the work flow of processing submitted student coursework.  Because marking is a fairly frequent activity, the new skills were kept refreshed and didn’t need to be re-learnt every semester. Using the GradeMark online marking tool was found to be:

  • Quicker, with marking throughput anything up to twice as fast as paper methods;
  • Better, because by using stock comments for common errors, the tutor was concentrating on what was being said, not how it was being said;
  • Easier, because you didn’t have to keep track of lots of pieces of paper; and
  • Safer because the marked-up coursework was automatically archived on a server.

Students liked the fact that they could submit from home, and didn’t have to make the trip to the campus just to hand in a piece of paper.  They appreciated the private and unhurried view of the feedback that had been provided, and felt they got more detailed feedback than before.

Admin staff set up duplicate copies of coursework to allow double-marking, but Anonymous marking is not used.