Course design think sheet

In considering how to support curriculum design for new programmes I have developed a question framework for course design teams to use to help them to deliberate and discuss the shape of new programmes. It tries to encourage a balance of looking back at what has worked before, and looking forward at how designs could be improved. It encourages discussion in the context of the discipline, but focuses on the underpinning structure of the design rather than specific content.

Download the course design think sheet

Diversifying assessment (and assessment generally)

After a inspiring Learning & Teaching Forum lead by Professor Chris Rust of Oxford Brookes, I pledged my post session action would be to capture my best bits from the day. So … Some  take away points from today’s session ….

  1. Authentic assessment is an excellent way to encourage engagement by students as it helps to personalise the student’s approach to the task and generates buy in. So rather than offering abstract tasks, like produce an essay on leadership styles, frame it to have a sense of audience and so that it emulates real world situations that the student may encounter. This could be as simple as changing an essay on business planning principles into a presentation of a business proposal to a prospective funder.
  2. Spot review class activities and feedback to the group – a major efficiency saver and a good way of making feedback a routine. So in a class of 40 students pick out five pieces of work to review and send group feedback based on those which have been seen.
  3. Getting back to first principles of constructive alignment guarantees some variety. If the learning outcomes are sufficiently varied and, if the assessment lines up to ensure that the actual outcomes are being assessed, this should in itself offer a degree of variety.
  4. Diversity is good, but care needs to be taken to ensure that the student journey does not become disjointed by variety. Having some repetition of assessment approaches at the programme level ensures that there is opportunity for students to make use of feedback. A balance is to be struck between variety and the opportunity to facilitate growth in students.
  5. Tutor time is disproportionately spent on housekeeping feedback – Are headings present? Are tables labelled? Is evidence offered when requested?  etc etc. A super simple tip might be to have a housekeeping checklist that students complete before submission to deal with all of these aspects, thus allowing time to be better spent on more substantial points of feedback. It works on the principle that answering ‘no’ to any of the housekeeping question prompts a response such that issues are dealt with before submission. Using such checklists, as a routine, ensures that the student takes greater responsibility for their own learning and tutor feedback can deal with more substantial issues. It must be an integral part of the assignment, i.e. will not mark without it, or else it will not be adopted.
  6. Less is more. With a greater number of summative assessments the opportunity to give feedback which can feed forward is limited by processes, effort spent on the justification of grades and administration. Instead, lose an assessment and gain the opportunity to utilise feed forward on a piece of work. One assignment, but constructed drawing upon feedback along the way. Simple, but brilliant (and a bit more like real life where review on a document would be an entirely sensible step).
  7. Reviewer is king! It is the act of reviewing more than the act of receiving feedback that can spur interest, new insights and leaps in understanding. Getting peer review embedded within courses is an excellent way of raising the presence and effectiveness of the feedback process. To buy into this we need to lay aside fears around peer feedback meaning a lack of parity in the quality and quantity of feedback received (which may be inevitable), and appreciate the value of the experience of reviewing as where the learning is really at. Liken this to being a journal reviewer – how much is learned by engaging with a review whether good or awful? (Analogy courtesy of Mark).
  8. Group vivas. Liking this lot and not something I had previously encountered. So simply a group project and attribution of marks depends in some part on a group viva where honesty is, in theory, self-regulating.
  9. 24 hours to act. In considering the value of formative quizzes, computer aided or class based as an opportunity to engage with knowledge received, we were reminded of the benefits of engaging sooner rather than later. Engagement with formative quizzes (or indeed reflective processes) within 24 hours of a class is much more effective that if left.
  10. Use audio feedback – it doubles feedback and makes production smoother.
  11. Future proof feedback plans. Think how SMART devise ubiquity will play out in future. Formative in-class tests may be more efficient on paper for now, but insure efforts by taking a dual pronged approach (online and paper).
  12. Pool efforts. Whether across course teams, departments or with colleagues nationally, look for efficiency gains in providing formative question banks. Open educational resource banks (e.g. Open jorum), subject centres and commercial textbooks with CDs of instructor question banks may all be sources to consider.
  13. The uber simple approach of asking students what the strengths and weaknesses of their assignment are can focus minds. Additionally asking them on which aspect they would like feedback creates a learning dialogue and ensures feedback is especially useful.

While all of these points matter it remains that it is most important to review the bigger picture. A major barrier to diversifying assessment and capitalising (in learning terms) of feedback opportunities can be modular structure to programmes. The TESTA Project revealed that  “the volume of feedback students receive does not predict even whether students think they receive enough feedback, without taking into account the way assessment across the programme operates”.  Volume of feedback or assessment will not improve student perceptions of feedback. Point 4. Above leads to the assumption also that timeliness alone is not enough either. While it is good for module level assessment and feedback to be considered in relation to the ideas above  a holistic look at the programme level helps us to understand the assessment journey of the student. How can feedback feed forward? Is their sufficient variety across a programme? Is their repetition? All questions worth asking beyond the module level.

Patchwork discussions

Really interesting to catch up with Kevin Brace earlier in the week. Kevin, based at Aston, and I met up to explore ideas about patchwork text (or, more accurately patchwork media) on the back of some ALT mail list exchanges.

Thoughts arising and articulated through our discussions ….

·      Patchwork media is about process and not just product (a focus on the produce dis-aggregates the learning).

·      Patchwork approaches are inseparable from the belief that learning is a journey constructed and are inseparable from social processes and dialogue.

·      Curriculum design and assessment design are inseparably interwoven for maximum impact.

·      Grading reflective portfolios is a messy business but can be made more simple by focusing on the meta-level attributes.

·      Buy-in to patchwork needs to be [sometimes, heavily] facilitated and does not just happen.

·      Templates for patchwork can be practical and solve a whole range of potential issues around logistics, hand-ins, learner scaffolding and perceived parity; however templating approaches may be as stifling as they are enabling.

·      Do not get consumed by the media! Encourage patch creators to think critically about their media choices and critically review choices in the light of experience. (How does this stack up with some marking ruberics?)

·      Attempting to create or re-create patchwork approaches from other study programmes may be extremely difficult as the nature of patchwork is that it is very much shaped by the subtleties of implementation (e.g. strategies for peer review, the place of technology, the immersiveness of facilitators, the use of structured vs. open patches). Perhaps better is to create a context relevant and practically achievable version of the approach.

·      Despite very many worthy efforts the use of rather cumbersome e-portfolio tools can perhaps, sometimes, act as a barrier to plain old discussion and sharing – simplicity in tools may be under-rated.

patchwork elephant


An approach to graduate development for employer engagement

We have been developing a series of online modules that may be combined to form a postgraduate certificate, a postgraduate diploma or even an MSc. One of the core modules is summarised in this ‘walk through’ along with details of how the module may be used and customised by employers or professional bodies to make it their own. The same principles apply to all the modules in the suite.
Modules are provided with generic resources maybe taken and customised to the employers requirements thus providing a bespoke graduate programme .

Find out more by downloading the explanatory document.

Professional Studies – A graduate development approach

UVAC 2010

Liz Warr and I hosted a workshop session on frameworks, wrapper modules and inquiry based learning design at UVAC 2010. The workshop was informed by work undertaken in the last 12-18 months at Harper Adams through the REEDNet project and formally the Aspire CETL.

I think it was fair to say that the most interest in the session was on wrappers and re-scalable modules. To read more about the wrapper idea you can click here or go straight to the paper.

Thanks to those who joined us today, it has certainly helped us move on our thinking and to consolidate some thoughts. Here is the session presentation for reference:

Conceptualising wrappers

One of the curriculum tools under early usage at the moment is a wrapper module. Now in operation these modules enable higher level learning to wrap around work-based training. Through extensions of various sorts the core learning can be escalated and deepened. The following diagram tries to conceptualise  this for a forthcoming publication (click to view) :

Wrapping training for relevant HE

One way in which REEDNet has succeeded at enhancing work-focussed learning has been through the development and use of wrapper modules. The wrapper module essentially grows the learning from competency and skills focused training.

Whilst it is not new to embed competence based training to HE qualifications, it is perhaps a little more novel to build around competence based training to form an HE award.

Now tried and tested REEDNet is offering an invitation to providers of competence and skills focused training to co-develop relevant HE provision. Download the invitation here.