Challenging times, challenging curriculum(s)

The fact that we are living in increasingly challenging times is becoming ever more apparent. With the release of the Browne Report on HE funding and student finance, and the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review imminent; we are faced with radical changes to the current models of funding for our Universities. This is raising fundamental questions about the nature of teaching and learning provision, the role and relationship of students to institutions, the role and relationship of institutions and government and how institutions work with industry (in the widest sense of the word). It was in the wake of this complex backdrop, the current JISC funded Curriculum Delivery and Design programmes held a joint programme meeting last week Nottingham. The projects in these programmes are all grappling with issues around effective use of technology to enhance curriculum design and delivery process and provide a range of more flexible, adaptable curricula.

The meeting began with a very timely keynote from Peter Finlay from the QAA. Dispelling some of the current myths around the point and processes involved in QAA audits, Peter illustrated how inter-dependencies of what he described as the “triad” forces (State, Institutions and National Agencies) influence the quality assurance processes. The triad tends to work in a cyclical fashion with the interactions and developments of each stakeholder oscillating between extremes of autonomy within institutions to extremes of regulation from the State. The later most noticeably enforced by QA procedures. Peter highlighted how forward thinking institutions can use the QA process to create and foster institutional cultures of enquiry, based on informed reflection which should allow planned enhancement strategies.

The work of both the curriculum design and delivery programmes is already helping the institutions involved to take this approach as the projects are fundamentally about transforming course delivery and the course design and validation processes. Peter encouraged projects to promote and enhance the work they are doing. The current political context is unpredictable. However, by being proactive, institutions can influence the practice of QA. Peter finished by restating that he felt the programmes, and the work already highlighted within the Design Studio, is of great relevance and a major asset to the wider community.

The rest of the first day was then divided into a number of breakout session centred around some barriers/drivers to institutional change. Notes from each of the sessions will be available from the Circle website later this week. The day culminated with the Great Exhibition Awards Ceremony. Each of the Delivery projects set up their stall (you can get a feel for the stands from the pre event adverts for each project in the Design Studio ). Delegates had time to visit each stand then vote. The two runaway winners were Springboard TV (College of West Anglia) and Integrate (University of Exeter). Both teams thoroughly deserved the thoroughly outrageous chocolate prizes.

The second day started with another timely keynote, this time from Professor Betty Collis. Betty’s talk focused on her experiences learning from a workplace perspective -in particular through some of the key trends from her experiences of working with Shell. Taking us on a journey through some of the stages in the development of task orientated, work-based learning activities, Betty explained how they had developed a culture change from “I learn from myself, through to I learn with my group, to I learning in order to contribute to the learning of others throughout the enterprise.” Quite a leap – even for highly qualified, professionals. Shell had identified that their new graduate staff (even those at PhD level) had little experience of multidisciplinary, high pressured team working situations. By introducing a framework encapsulated by three verbs “ask, share, learn”, Betty and her team fostered the notion of coaching and effective organisational knowledge sharing. The use of a wiki as a common platform for knowledge sharing was fundamental to this process.

Betty encouraged the audience to think about formal education settings in a similar way by designing more cross discipline activities to help develop sharing/coaching and team working skills and to start thinking of e-portfolios not just as individual collation tools but as shared learning resources. She also challenged the programmes definition of design for learning which “refers to the complex processes by which practitioners devise, structure and realise learning for others” and reframe thinking to ask is it ultimately the task of formal education to fosters methods for learners (and teachers) to work with others to become more mature members of a learning organisation?

A number of the breakout sessions again highlighted some of the inroads projects are making in a number of these areas. Student engagement was high on the agenda and Integrate project from the University of Exeter has some excellent examples of students acting as real change agents.

The meeting finished was a panel session, which unsurprisingly focused on many of the issues the Brown report highlighted – particularly around fees and contact hours. Today’s education space is more complicated than ever. At a sectoral level we need to get politicians to understand the complexities, and we be able to provide accurate, update information about courses at a range of levels for a range of stakeholders. We are of course making good inroads with the work of XCRI in particular, but we need to do more and think more about how we can harness the principles of linked data to share information internally and externally. Peter Finlay also highlighted the need for greater clarity about when students are part of the learning partnership and when they are more service based customers i.e. paying for halls of residence as opposed to choosing a course of study. We need to ensure that students are able to commit to a learning partnership, as co-creators of knowledge and not just passive recipients.

We live in challenging times. However, there is a huge amount of experience within these two programmes (and across a range of JISC funded projects and beyond). We need to ensure that the lessons learned about the effective use of technology throughout the curriculum design and delivery process are being used as positive change agents to help us ensure the quality of our sector.

More information about the programme meeting is available from the Circle website and resources from the projects are available from the Design Studio. A timeline of the events twitter activity is also available online.

One thought on “Challenging times, challenging curriculum(s)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *