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.


TurnItIn shifts focus

The September TurnItIn UK User Group meeting was hosted by Leeds Uni this year.
It followed the usual format of a position statement by the host, an overview of the development roadmap and case studies from users.

There are big changes under way at TurnItIn, in response to a massive increase in the demand for their services which have exposed weaknesses in their 10-year old systems. Such is the pace of change that a rolling upgrade programme will see all aspects of the service improved by Spring 2014. Amongst other things, the performance issues that affected some of our users in the summer should be fixed.

The expectation is that by 2016 GradeMark will have taken over from Originality Checking as the main part of the TurnItIn package, so the focus of the software is shifting from Originality Checking towards online marking, without losing any text-matching functionality.


It was good to note that Leeds’ policies on Plagiarism are closely aligned with our new Code of Practice (and what happens elsewhere e.g. Bristol and Cranfield).

For example their objectives are
1) To ensure equal vigour in the detection and treatment of plagiarism across all subjects and
2) To provide equal support for students in referencing study skills across all subjects. They have a standard Plagiarism Study Unit which all freshers take in their first semester as part of their tutorial activities.

Development Roadmap

As part of their upgrading effort, TurnItIn are recruiting development programmers in the UK, and we were asked to pass this on to anyone who may be interested in database development work in Newcastle.

  • The TurnItIn iPad app has been well-received and has been updated several times since the initial release so if you are using it, please check for updates.

By Christmas 2013:

  • Colour printing will added to the Document Viewer
  • PowerPoint files will be accepted for Originality Checking
  • Submission to TurnItIn from Goodle Docs or DropBox will be possible

Early 2014:

  • GradeMark gets criterion-based marking without the complexity of a full rubric

Spring 2014:

  • GradeMark will use overlays, which could be used for marking themes e.g. ‘marks for methodology’, ‘marks for analysis’ etc OR for individual tutors.  Visibility of each layer can be controlled, so double-blind marking will be possible for the first time in any online marking tool.


The dates above carry the usual health warnings, of course!

Loughborough University joins Futurelearn

Futurelearn ScreenshotThe first free, open, online platform for courses from multiple UK universities and other leading higher education institutions has announced a further five partners today (3 May), including Loughborough University and the British Museum.

Loughborough and the British Museum join Strathclyde and Glasgow universities, alongside 17 other universities, the British Council and British Library, as part of Futurelearn, with each committing to providing engaging and entertaining courses when the site launches.

Loughborough will offer courses in mathematics, enterprise and innovation – areas in which the University already has a well-established reputation for excellence.

Futurelearn was founded in December 2012 and now has 24 partners including those announced today.

FutureLearn Launch CEO Simon Nelson said:

“We are delighted that more of the UK’s leading universities, along with one of its most popular cultural institutions, have agreed to work with Futurelearn and will join the growing ranks of institutions that will offer high quality, entertaining and enjoyable courses to people across the world. We are committed to removing the barriers to education by making learning more accessible, inspiring and useful to people, no matter what stage of life they are at. These partnerships will enable us to open up access to the best academics from world-class universities and cultural institutions and deliver new forms of social learning at large scale.”

Professor Morag Bell, Pro Vice Chancellor for Teaching at Loughborough University, said:

“We are delighted to be working in partnership with Futurelearn. Loughborough has a well-established reputation for providing its students with a first-class education. Through these online courses, we will be able to make these outstanding learning opportunities available to even greater numbers of students.”

[Adapted from Loughborough University press release 3 May]

'Other' Web tools

Martin Hamilton BlogEvery so often, my colleague Martin Hamilton (Head of Internet Services) and I are asked by a University group to look again at the University’s policy on the use of Web 2.0 services to support Teaching and Learning. “Web 2.0” is an unsatisfactory term that covers a wide variety of tools out there on the Web, including the best known social media services (Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn; etc) but also an ever-increasing range of ‘other’ Web tools, some of which have been developed specifically for education but most of which have not. The Tools for Teaching section of this blog covers some of them; this section will be expanded over the next few weeks.

They are characterised by the ability for a user to create a new account within moments, although of course many now adopt a ‘freemium’ business model, where users can upgrade to a paid-for account to get additional features. Many of these services also have a corresponding app for mobile devices.

A cursory glance through previous posts on this blog will reveal that we have effectively been encouraging academic colleagues to exploit specific tools (Twitter and Socrative are recent examples) but do the benefits of using non-University services outweigh the risks? There certainly are risks, connected with data protection issues, the lack of service level agreement, the possibility of a service you’ve invested time in disappearing overnight, and so on. On the other hand, these services offer opportunities to engage learners in new ways, supplementing the features of central IT systems such as Learn (Moodle).

Martin and I have drafted a discussion document which he has posted on his blog to elicit comments from colleagues here and elsewhere. Let us know what you think.

2012 Technology Enhanced Learning Survey

UCISA TEL survey cover
Every few years, UCISA (Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association) conducts a survey of the use of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) in UK universities and colleges. The report based on this year’s survey has just been published and is available here.  Here is a condensed version of the key findings from the executive summary:

Enhancing the quality of learning and teaching is consolidated as are meeting student expectations and improving access to learning for students off campus.

Availability of TEL support staff remains the leading factor in encouraging the development of TEL, followed by central university and school/departmental senior management support, which have overtaken availability and access to tools in the rankings.

Academic staff knowledge has dropped to fifth in the list of barriers influencing TEL development. However, the top two barriers to TEL development remain lack of time and money.

Institutional strategies continue to influence TEL development, with teaching, learning and assessment the leading internal strategy.

The key change since 2010 has been the emergence of corporate strategies, which have overtaken library and learning resources as the second most commonly cited internal strategy influencing TEL.

Dedicated e-learning strategies are on the decline.

Blackboard Learn is still the most common VLE, but Moodle has increased as an enterprise solution and remains the most used VLE when departmental implementations are included. Adoption of other VLEs is negligible.

Plagiarism detection, e-submission, and e-assessment tools remain the most common centrally supported software in use across the sector. E-portfolio, wiki and blog tools are also well established but support for podcasting tools has declined since the 2010 Survey. Social networking, blog and document sharing tools are the most common non-centrally supported tools in use across Pre- and Post-92 institutions.

The proportion of web supplemented modules has steadily decreased with web dependent modules increasing. This suggests that progress has been made in embedding TEL as a key element of course delivery. However, fully online courses have decreased.

Evaluation of the impact of TEL tools and systems on the student learning experience is well established with over half of the institutions responding to the Survey having conducted studies, but evaluation of pedagogy is less common (except in Scotland!)

There has progress towards the optimisation of services for mobile devices.

Mobile technologies have moved to the top of the list of the items making the most demand on TEL support teams. E-assessment and lecture capture remain in the list of top five demands.

JISC – Out with the old

This message has just been posted to the JISC Announce mailing list by Martyn Harrow, the new Chief Executive, and marks the end of an era for JISC, at least in terms of the way funding is distributed.

Below you will find one funding call, which represents the end of our funding programme for the 2011-2012 academic year. Given the significant changes now being geared up for JISC, I thought you would appreciate it if I set these final calls in context.

In the Wilson Review of JISC published in February 2011, our customers, communities and funders expressed their views very clearly about the kind of reshaped and impactful JISC they wanted us to become. Following that a Transition Group was set up with senior representatives from across the sectors we serve to produce a more developed blueprint for this new JISC.

I started as Executive Secretary on 1st February; and since that time we have been working very hard to mobilise all the necessary actions to make this transition to a ‘new JISC for new times’ happen in practice. This new JISC will have a more focused mandate, will be driven by the needs of those we serve and will work within a significantly tighter funding envelope. Among many other things, therefore, it will require a new ‘business/funding model’. Proposals for which, based on the recommendations accepted from the Wilson Review and Transition Group report, are being prepared for approval. Once finalised and agreed, I expect this to commence in the financial year 2013/14.

So a lot of work is in hand. The Invitation to Tender (ITT) below is therefore the last that will be undertaken in quite this way; and seeks to tie off existing commitments elegantly and obtain best value from the remaining funds allocated to JISC this year. For 2012/13 and beyond, it is my intention that increasingly the priorities for all JISC activity, including the allocation of any funds which can be made available for ‘pathfinding’ activity, will be arrived at in consultation with our customers, owners and funders – and agreed with our Board – in a more transparent and ‘co-invented’ process.

I hope the above is helpful. If I can provide any further information or clarification on these points specifically, please feel free to contact me at Otherwise, the contact details for the ITT are referenced below.

 With best regards,

 Martyn C Harrow

 JISC Executive Secretary


 JISC, the UK’s leading expert on the information and digital technologies for education and research invites tenders for work as part of its Learning and Teaching Portfolio.

 One tender is issued from the Learning and Teaching Portfolio:

  • Coursedata demonstrators: The projects will demonstrate the value to both institutions and students of aggregated, standardised course data using the xcri-cap 1.2 feeds produced by the JISC #coursedata programme. The aim is to provide compelling examples of how standardised course advertising data can be used to improve recruitment, retention and the student experience. Please click this link for further information .

First Lboro E-learning Network meeting

Thanks to all those (30+) colleagues who attended the first Loughborough E-learning Network meeting this afternoon, chaired by Professor Ray Dawson. The theme was the planned migration of Learn to the next version of Moodle (V2).

Rich Goodman, Manager of the E-learning Systems Team in IT Services, gave a demonstration of our test installation and answered questions relating to the changes. Notable new features of Moodle 2 include the facility to schedule the release of resources within a module page, and to make the release conditonal on successfully completing an activity. We expect that module tutors will find this both useful and convenient (because it is easier than having to remember to ‘unhide’ a resource in, say, week 5).

The E-learning Network will meet regularly (probably quarterly) and will be an opportunity for staff who belong to the new school e-learning groups to come together in a wider forum.

Kindle winnerIt was particularly heartening to have a good turnout for this meeting after the overwhelming success of the annual E-learning Showcase which took place on Feb 1st, with an attendance of over 100 staff from across the institution. Many of these staff were drawn (in part!) by the chance to enter a prize draw for a Kindle E-book reader. The lucky winner was Dr John Samson from Physics, pictured here (on the right) receiving his Kindle from yours truly.



Loughborough Student Charter, 2011-2012 – new website

Student CharterThe Loughborough Student Charter, 2011-2012, was created earlier this year with the input of staff, students and student representatives from across campus. Signed by both Prof Shirley Pearce, the Vice Chancellor, and Rebecca Bridger, the Loughborough Students’ Union President, this document exemplifies the sense of partnership that exists here at Loughborough University. In addition to being available in leaflet and poster form, it is also now located at

Developed with Loughborough Students’ Union, this document will be reviewed annually by the University’s Learning and Teaching Committee. It is based upon the work of the Student Charter Group, which was chaired by the National Union of Students and Universities UK, with Department of Business, Innovation & Skills support.

Currently in a dissemination phase, it will be evaluated during the course of this academic year, before being reviewed ahead of 2012-13. Feedback to either Dr Maurice FitzGerald (Quality Enhancement Officer, Teaching Centre) – email – or to Jayde Savage, Vice President (Education), Loughborough Students’ Union – email – is very welcome. 

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.

NUS Charter on Technology in Higher Education

NUS Charter on Technology in Higher Education
The NUS have produced a new Charter on Technology in Higher Education which follows on from their report into student perspectives on the use of ICT commissioned by the HEFCE Online Learning Taskforce (see previous post).

The Charter was presented by Emily-Ann Nash from the NUS at the Future of Technology in Education 2011 conference at University of London Senate House last Friday.

To my mind, the 10 principles set out in the Charter are uncontroversial although implementing them in full may not be straightforward. Having worked with various colleagues over the last few months developing a new E-learning Strategy for Loughborough, it is interesting to me that the 10 principles in the Charter map well onto our own document.

Emerging Practice in a Digital Age: new guide from JISC

JISC Emerging Practice Guide Cover


JISC have just launched at ALT-C 2011 their latest e-learning guide entitled Emerging Practice in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced institutional innovation . The report, with 10 case-studies from across UK HE, can be found at . Required reading for anyone involved in e-learning in UK HE.

I particularly like the quotation from Karl Royle at CeDARE (Centre for Development and Applied Research in Education, University of Wolverhampton):

“People have got to be given the space to experiment, try things out, to be innovative and also the space to fail and try again.”

Even in a ‘cold and challenging climate’ (as per the title of this year’s ALT-C conference in Leeds, this principle is as true as it has ever been.