One characteristic of a four to five year Learning and Teaching Strategy (LTS) is that it should require a complete re-write when it comes up for renewal. Given the inevitable pace of change, any remotely ambitious strategy is likely to have several ‘not achieved’ elements when it comes up for review. If you can sign-off on a five-year strategy as ‘complete’, you weren’t trying hard enough.
Someone has recently asked me to contribute to a 2021-2025 Learning and Teaching Strategy (LTS) for a University. I have drafted and contributed to many such documents over the last 25 years, so it’s always interesting to have a glimpse into other institutions. I realized one defining characteristic of the leadership of universities today is whether they have looked at their Learning and Teaching Strategy issued before January 2020 and have thought, “Emmm, maybe we need a rethink.”
Some leadership has a long-term mindset. They have recognised the enormous effort, commitment and dedication of the majority of their faculty to adjust their practices to Emergency Remote Teaching and are supporting those same faculty to retain and enhance their best practice into the future. Others have solely focussed on their balance-sheets, student-generated income, estate costs and spend time appealing for government support. The former are concerned with investing in their future state, the later worrying about this year’s numbers.
This particular LTS is ambitious; for them. The ability for faculty to continue to support their learners regardless of whether they work remotely, across time zones, from anywhere in the world. A move away entirely from end-of-course summative assessments and exams, towards student-paced portfolio assessment regardless of the discipline. Developing practical learning experiences that can be undertaken at home, or at other institutions and work-places. There are some major structural changes that will be needed to enable these learning practices to take root. The underlying philosophy is that the contemporary University student no longer has the luxury of dedicating their entire being to live and study at University for three years. They need flexibility.
Elements within this particular 2021-2025 Learning and Teaching Strategy will not be achieved. Sometimes this is because ambitions require changes to the digital ecosystem beyond institutional control, or they are subject to the vagaries of the shifting political landscape. Given the intransigence that sometimes appears embedded in the sector, some ambitions may just require too much of people. Nonetheless, it has been satisfying to see leadership willing to embark on a strategy, knowing the best that can be hoped for is ‘partially achieved’. Which from my perspective will be an unmitigated success.
Dr Simon Paul Atkinson (PFHEA)
Learning Strategist //www.sijen.com
Short vodcast (3’25”) outlining four dimensions to the choices of media that IDs and academic faculty might consider as they make selections to support student learning. Originally a vodcast to accompany internal development it is long enough to provoke some reflective practice, short enough not to waste your time! It invites educational practitioners to think about how they solicit participation from students through media choice. #edtech #teaching #highered
These resources from 2013-2017 are being shared to support colleagues new to teaching online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strategic Directions in Higher, Vocational and Professional Education: Exploring Contexts
Tertiary providers are increasingly expected to deliver ‘work-ready’ graduates. This is a challenge when we must acknowledge that many graduates will begin a career, in a year’s time or in the three years, that does not exist today (Susskind, R., & Susskind, D., 2017). Identifying the competency frameworks within our disciplines and those of our professional colleagues is a good place to start (Atkinson, 2015). We can then identify a range of graduate attributes that will underpin our programme outcomes and inform the development of real-world assessment.
Challenging Our Assumptions
It is critically important to challenge our assumptions whenever we contemplate introducing any new courses or programmes into our portfolios.
Whether you are designing an individual course or an entire programme, it is important to ‘future-proof’ it to the greatest extent possible. To ensure that it is consistent and logical. If one sees individual courses as self-contained ‘units of learning’ with their own outcomes and assessment, you risk creating problems later on, for course substitutions, updating and student continuity
It is important to question all of our assumptions about the context into which our learning design is intended fit. Despite the fact that you may feel you know your learning context intimately the chances are there will be some contextual evolution. Take the time to go through these questions, if only to confirm your assumptions.
Regardless of whether you are charged with designing an entire degree-award, a programme or an individual course, you will be doing so within an institutional context. Validating learning is a responsibility of approved degree-awarding institutions in the UK and many countries too, although some have regional or national validation processes (www.inqaahe.org). Regulations vary marginally between contexts but they are remarkably consistent in their aspirations despite different levels of detail being required.
You should design your course or programme with reference to the academic regulations and policies and practices implemented by your institution. But, it is important to avoid copying existing learning on the basis that they will automatically be suitable for validation. The regulatory framework also evolves over time, it adjusts over time in response to the dynamic dialogue between innovative course designers and those responsible for institutional quality assurance. Never copy and paste!
You might want to convene a course team and ask:
Course / Module
What credit weighting is my course expected to carry?
At what Level is my course intended to be taught?
Is it intended to assess the same course at different levels?
Where in the programme sequence is my course intended to appear?
Is my course intended to flexible enough to be aligned to multiple programmes
Is my Programme divided into Stages, are there multiple exit points?
What are the naming conventions within my Programme?
Where does the academic management of the learning sit?
Which School will oversee the quality processes associated with this learning?
Are there graduate attributes at a School level?
How does this learning align with the strategic objectives of the University?
National Quality Assurance Context
Once you have a sense of how your learning design might conceivably fit into the institutional context, but before anything is regarded as fixed, it is prudent to review external contextual influences on learning design. One of the most important is the national, regional or state context.
In the United Kingdom, for example, this oversight is provided by the Quality Assurance Agency (qaa.ac.uk) or QAA. This section is illustrative of the kinds of questions you will need to be asking yourself..
The UK Quality Code for Higher Education is a web-based resource with printable PDFs (qaa.ac.uk) that provides a comprehensive structural guide as to how learning designs should be interpreted. It does not provide a design template, rather it functions more accurately as an evaluative framework. Part A of the code is the most pertinent to the design process at this moment. There are four themes that UK course and programme designers need to consider:
At what Level is the programme’s named award to be made (Graduation level)? In the UK these levels are defined in the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications
Broad guidance as to the distinguishing characteristics of specific named awards.
Convention determines that certain exit awards have a certain number of credits associated with them. Credit is often defined through the concept of ‘notional student hours’ which might, for example, suggest that 1 credit equates to 10 hours of study. This measurement should include everything the student does, including assessment.
Disciplines, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, may have subject benchmarks associated with them. These provide valuable conventional guidance on what is anticipated to be learned by students under specific discipline, or subject, headings.
These may closely relate to professional criteria which is dealt with next.
Professional Accreditation and Employment Trends
Now you know your course or programme is going to fit into your institutional profile and you are assured that it will meet the quality assurance criteria, you need to ask yourself ‘why would a student want to do this course‘?
Given the design process is likely to take several months and it may take a year or two before you enrol first students; the reality is your Postgraduate students will probably be graduating in two years at the earliest, your Undergraduates students in 4 years; a great deal can change.
It is important to build into your design and review processes, some form of environmental horizon scanning. This may exist in your practice already but where it doesn’t it is worth instituting. Gathering White Papers from commercial partners or competitors, clients, employers as well as press clippings and exploring changes in the direction that your profession or discipline may be heading should be the focus of some course team debate.
For more on horizon scanning, you may want to explore this UK government resource.
There is clearly also value in sharing your early programme and module designs with representatives from the professions or disciplines that your graduates are intended to graduate into. It’s often a good idea to do this very early on in the process, not to ask for validation of your designs, but to capture the widest possible intelligence on future directions.
Here are some basic questions, but you should explore as a course team those questions that seem more appropriate to your evolving context.
What competency frameworks (apprenticeship standards) and professional body guidelines exist in my discipline?
If there is no national guidance, what about international guidance that might be indicative of trends?
Are there globally recognised ethical standards in my discipline?
What internationally agreed accords are under development?
Are competitors working on alternative offerings such as two-year degrees or new degree apprenticeships.?
Globalisation vs Localisation
How is my profession or discipline evolving over time, are there identifiable trends?
How important is language ability or digital skills?
Automation / Systematisation
How much of my discipline or profession is data-driven, or knowledge-based, and therefore more prone to automation?
On the contrary, are there inter-personal or affective skills that distinguish my discipline that is likely to require personal presence?
What are the big ideas in my discipline?
Are there new Internet applications that take away part of what has traditionally been seen as a distinguishing feature of my discipline?
It is natural for course teams to be intimately familiar with the scholarship that underpins the ‘content’ that they intend to deliver to students. Harder for most course teams is to get some distance from their own practice and to take a ‘bird’s eye view’ of their design as it emerges.
Again, it is important to be sensitive to the evolving discipline landscape. The best way to do this is to establish some form of ‘environmental scanning’ or ‘horizon scanning’ processes within your design team. Avoid the danger of fixating on a competitor’s advantage, or a particular client’s requirements, by maintaining as broad a view as possible.
Here are four categories you may want to start with. Review sources in each category with the same question; “What does this source tell me about the evolving needs of effective learning design in my discipline?”
Academic Journals in your discipline
Academic Books and Book Chapters in your discipline
Academic publications in related fields that impact directly, or indirectly on your discipline.
Conference proceedings are very often very much current or future implementations of scholarship. A great place to get a handle on what is happening ‘now’ and in the near future.
The blogosphere is a great place to source original and innovative approaches. Once you have validated the sources (so that you know the writer has credibility) you may want to track their train of thought over time.
White Papers from software producers (most disciplines make some use of technology!) and publishers are also counted as ‘Grey Literature’. Some software companies have in-house R&D divisions that foreshadow major trends in your discipline.
Personal or Team contacts also provide invaluable accounts of practice that inform the design process. You may find out the difficulties, or advantages, of running virtual scenarios for example and correct your design accordingly.
Evaluating your Contextual Judgements
It is important to return to these questions as you go through the future stages of the 8-SLDF. You will want to revisit these questions each time you have a course team meeting:
Has my institutional strategy or alignment changed in any way?
Have any quality assurance regulations, guidelines or benchmarks changed in any way?
Do I still have all of the external reference points (my horizon-scanning) established to be able to define Programme Outcomes?
What contextual circumstances might suggest that I should do something different from the norm and what external support is needed? And if I’m not doing anything innovative, why not?!
What issues has my horizon scanning produced that others in the School or wide University need to be aware of?
Atkinson, S. P. (2015). Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 10(2), 154–177.
Susskind, R., & Susskind, D. (2017). The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts. OUP Oxford.
We hear much about the changing world of work and how slow higher and professional education is to respond. So in an increasingly competitive global market of Higher Apprenticeships and work-based learning provision I began to take a particular interest in students’ ‘graduateness’. What had begun as an exploratory look for examples of intended learning outcomes (ILO) with ’employability’ in mind ended up as this critical review published in an article entitled ‘Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes’ in the journal called Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.
I randomly identified 20 UK institutions, 80 undergraduate modules and examined their ILOs. This resulted in 435 individual ILOs being taken by students in current modules (academic year 2014-2015) across different stages of their undergraduate journey (ordinarily in the UK this takes place over three years through Levels 4,5 and 6). This research reveals the lack of specificity of ILOs in terms of skills, literacies and graduates attributes that employers consistently say they want from graduates
The data in the table below from the full paper which describes the post-analysis attribution of ILOs to domains of educational objectives (see paper for methodology) which I found rather surprising. The first surprise was the significant percentage of ILOs which are poorly structured, given the weight of existing practice guidance and encouragement for learning designers and validators (notably from the UK Higher Education Academy and the UK Quality Assurance Agency). Some 94 individual ILOs (21.6%) had no discernible active verbs in their construction. 64 ILOs (14.7%) did not contain any meaningful verbs so could not be mapped to any educational domain. This included the infamous ‘to understand’ and ‘to be aware of’. So as a result only 276 ILOs (64%) were deemed ‘well-structured’ and were then mapped against four domains of educational objectives.
Table 8. Post-analysis attribution of ILOs to Domains of Educational Objectives
Cognitive (Intellectual Skills)
Remember what I had been originally looking for were examples of ILOs that represented skills that the literature on employability and capabilities suggested should be there. These could have been anticipated to be those in the affective or psychomotor domains.
So it was rather surprising to see that of the 64% of the full sample that was codeable, sizeable percentage were cognitive (45.4%), a relatively small percentage fell into the psychomotor domain (9.8%), even less into the knowledge domain (6.8%) and a remarkably small number could be deemed affective (1.4%).
I say remarkable because the affective domain, sometimes detailed as personal and professional skills, are very much the skills that employers (and most graduates) prize above all else. These refer to the development of values and the perception of values, including professionalism, inter-personal awareness, timeliness, ethics, inter-cultural sensitivity, and diversity and inclusivity issues.
Apparently despite all the sterling work going on in our libraries and career services, employment-ready priorities within programmes and modules in higher education, are not integrated with teaching and learning practices. I suggest that as a consequence, this makes it difficult for students to extract, from their learning experience within modules, the tangible skill development required of them as future employees.
There is an evident reliance by module designers on the cognitive domain most commonly associated at a lower level with ‘knowing and understanding’ and at a higher level as ‘thinking and intellectual skills’. The old favourite ‘to critically evaluate’ and ‘to critically analyse’ are perennial favourites.
There is much more to the picture than this single study attempts to represent but I think it is remarkable not more attention is being paid to the affective and psychomotor domains in module creation.
More analysis, and further data collection will be done, to explore the issue at programme level and stage outcomes (is it plausible that module ILOs are simply not mapped and unrelated and all is well at programme level). I would also be interested to explore the mapping of module and programme ILOs to specified graduate attributes that many institutions make public.
I go on in the full paper about the relative balance of different ILOs in each of the domains depending on the nature of the learning, whether it is a clinical laboratory module or a fieldwork module or a literature-based module.
The reason I think this is important, and I have written here before, that this important (it is about semantics!), is that students are increasingly demanding control over their choices, their options, the shape of their portfolios, their ‘graduateness’, and they need to be able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and make meaningful modules choices to modify the balance of the skills acquired in a ’practical’ module compared with those in a ‘cerebral’ one. I conclude that the ability to consciously build a ‘skills profile’ is a useful graduate attribute in itself…. which incidentally would be an affective ILO.
1% of the World’s Population has a College education?
I’ve been looking recently at some of the policy declarations around millennium goals and development targets. It’s confusing and, at times, contradictory. I came across this rather nice, succinct, if unreferenced, account which struck me as worth contemplating (and verifying).
“If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following. There would be: 57 Asians 21 Europeans 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south 8 Africans 52 would be female 48 would be male 70 would be non-white 30 would be white 70 would be non-Christian 30 would be Christian 89 would be heterosexual 11 would be homosexual 6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth and all 6 would be from the United States. 80 would live in substandard housing 70 would be unable to read 50 would suffer from malnutrition 1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth 1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education 1 would own a computer When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for both acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent.”