Following on from the report that has just been published on Approaches to Curriculum and Learning Design in the UK HE sector, Helen Beetham and I are exploring some of the key issues that were highlighted through the survey and the interviews we conducted. Central to this are issues around time, space and place. Earlier this week we were able to start to share some of our initial thinking during a workshop at the Jisc Student Experience Experts Meeting.
In the interviews I conducted as part of the project, there was a general consensus that after the first lockdown most organisations were quite keen, even quite ambitious about their future plans for new approaches to learning and teaching. There was a sense of an appetite to embrace some the changes to practice that being forced off campus had brought about. Assessment was a huge part of that.
Rapid changes to assessments had to be introduced, along with rapid changes to assessment regulations. Student care was high on the agenda – a visible sign of that was the no detriment practices that many adopted. Again in the interviews, it was clear that lots of the changes from f2f exams to online submissions of various types including open book, authentic assessments have now been adopted.
In terms of wider curriculum change, it was also clear from the survey responses and interviews that the appetite for changes to other aspects of curriculum design and delivery had been divisively impacted by the UK Governments’ insistence that everyone needed to be back on campus, at lectures and doing “proper” in person exams. Never mind the lessons that had been learnt from students about the benefits of more flexible, accessible and inclusive approaches. Strategic statements were subtly altered to reflect as a pragmatic response to that political driver.
However, back in the real world, we can’t ignore that our understandings and use of the spaces, places (both physical and digital) and times for learning and teaching have been altered by the pandemic experience. Students have been off campus, on campus, off campus, on and off campus for a bit . . . and now on campus. Typical 1st and 2nd year students have had their final years of school turned upside down in the same way.
I think how “be” a student has changed, and that might be one of the reasons there have been so many issues around engagement. Where (and when) you actually need to be isn’t as clear cut as it was in the “before times”.
Going back to assessment, some of the comments student interns on the Irish EDTL project made during one of their webinars really struck me. Including the student who very eloquently shared how being able to take assessments off campus, in a space that was comfortable for them, massively reduced their stress levels; another who felt that the design of some of the online MCQs exams they had taken were “mean” as they didn’t allow you to go back to a question to answer it. That experience was making them want almost long for pen and paper exams. In the panel discussion at the experts meeting, Deborah Longworth from the University of Birmingham shared how some changes to assessment are now having impact on the mental health of students. She described how some students can think that a 72 hour open book exam means that they need to be working on it for 72 hours. Does this mean taking time to develop more scaffolding around time expectations, or is it an “in” to go back to fixed, in person exam that everyone understands the conventions of ?
Whilst terms such hybrid and hyflex are commonly used and, are they really fully understood by both students and staff? Do we really have effective examples of how these approaches work in practice. This is one area Helen and I want to explore from a pedagogical lens.
We are starting with time, and thinking in terms of synchronous and asynchronous. Then considering what types of activities/interactions that work best in these contexts, and then starting to map the spaces and places that students and staff need to be in as these activities are instantiated. In terms of broadening our approaches to learning design, do we need to be more explicit about time, space and place expectations in?
As the cost of living crisis starts to really kick in, what additional changes do we need/ are we making to make to our physical estate to support our students (and staff). Warm areas, areas with kettles? What choices might commuting students have to make about how many times a week they can be on campus?
As we discussed these issues in the meeting, a dose of pragmatism was injected into the conversation. Whilst it is often said that pedagogy should always come before technology, in reality it’s pragmatism, and the contextual constraints that everyone has to work with that really make have “the power”. Pragmatics always win over everything else.
I know I have run many learning design workshops where some really innovative approaches have been planned, only to find out that 2 weeks before the start of term, the plans have been changed because of timetabling issues or more commonly not enough staff resource or time.
As the sector moves forward is it just easier to cope with increases in student numbers, and the staff/studio ratio to just timetable in lectures? Is it just pragmatically more effective not to change workload models and notions of contact time to reflect the shifts in preparation/contact time and presence needed, and stick with the conventions we are all familiar and comfortable with?
Hopefully not, and that’s what we are working on now, to develop resources that can help provide guidance and exemplars of how the sector can, and is, evolving to allow us to think about pedagogy and place and hopefully start to change some of the pragmatics and constraints approaches to learning design, and in turn the student experience, exist in. I know Peter Bryant’s recent post on the “snapback” discusses many of these issues in more depth so is worth a look if you haven’t seen it yet.
So if you have any thoughts on this, or would like to share any examples, please do get in touch, or leave a comment. We want to provide spaces to have these conversations and hopefully provide some resource to help others have them in their contexts.