UCL’s new HEFCE curriculum enhancement project

natasaFollowing our successful bid to the HEFCE Catalyst Fund, which aims to drive innovation in the higher education sector, Digital Education and CALT launch a new project today called UCL Action for Curriculum Enhancement (ACE).

UCL ACE is one of 67 new HEFCE-funded projects which will develop and evaluate small-scale, experimental innovations with specific cohorts of learners and will run for a period of 18 months.

The project links to our commitment in the UCL Education Strategy 2016-21 to the development and implementation of the Connected Curriculum and the ABC learning design process. It aims to develop and evaluate UCL’s innovative rapid-development approaches to blended curriculum design, which focus on a framework for research-based education (Connected Curriculum) in order to make a curriculum development pack available to all HEIs interested in improving programme design and engaging students in research-based learning.

The project will evaluate the impact of our ABC rapid-development approaches to programme development on student outcomes and experience via case studies, produce an online and downloadable pack which can be adapted and used by any higher education institution and establish a supportive community of practice around its implementation.  

Across UCL programmes of study are being re-designed and developed to engage students much more actively in enquiry-based learning with the Connected Curriculum (CC) framework introduced to facilitate these changes. In parallel we have seen growing use of digital resources and approaches to support new modes of study such as blended learning.

UCL aims are to ensure that educational intentions, outcomes, activities and assessments are aligned to form a cohesive, connected and effective learning experience for our students, and that programmes of study enable students to connect more effectively with researchers, with the workplace, with each other, and with local and wider communities.

However we recognise planning rich and complex learning environments requires a structured, dialogic approach to effecting change in programme and module design. UCL has therefore piloted an integrated set of ‘light touch’ but focused learning design approaches, including workshops, CC guides, digital benchmarks and online support.

One key component is ABC, our effective and engaging hands-on workshop trialled with great success over a range of programmes. In just 90 minutes using a game format teams work together to create a visual ‘storyboard’ outlining the type and sequence of learning activities and assessment and feedback opportunities (both online and offline) required to meet the module’s learning outcomes. ABC is particularly useful for new programmes or those changing to an online or more blended format. This approach generates high levels of engagement, creative informed dialogue and group reflection about curriculum design among even time-poor academics. This is a highly transferrable methodology already trailed at Glasgow and Aarhus (DK) Universities. There are versions in Spanish and Dutch following other workshops run in Chile and Belgium.

In addition, we are introducing workshops to enable programme leaders and teams to work with students to benchmark their programmes in line with the descriptors of the Connected Curriculum framework, using a published Guide.

For this project, we aim to continue to deliver this range of dialogic workshops but track their effects and impacts carefully, using a combination of focus groups (with staff and with students), individual semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, and analysis of programme-level and module-level metrics. We will use this focused analysis to develop a resource pack to enable these developmental activities to be scaled up, both with and beyond UCL.

Clive Young (UCL Digital Education), will lead the project team which will include ABC co-developer Natasa Perovic (UCL Digital Education) and CALT colleagues.

HEFCE Press release HEFCE supports experimental innovation in learning and teaching

ABC Videos

Two videos on our ABC Curriculum design method created by myself and Natasa Perovic.

The ABC curriculum design method uses an effective and engaging paper card-based approach in a 90 minute hands-on workshop. It is based on research from the JISC and UCL IoE and designed to help module teams design engaging learning activities. It is particularly useful for new programmes or those changing to an online or more blended format. More information below.

A brief overview of ABC curriculum design method (3m50s).

This was based on some an earlier video we created back in March 2015 outlining the origins of ABC (8.29s).

Two and a half days into the future

Can you see the UCL logo in this video?

Like it or not, many of the trends, technologies and issues in learning technology often drift eastwards across the Atlantic, so it is useful to attend a US conference occasionally to hear the emerging debates.

EDUCAUSE is by far the biggest US conference of IT in education, last week attracting seven thousand IT, library and learning tech professionals to a very rainy Indianapolis. Popular topics were cybersecurity, the cloud, digital libraries, organisational change and generally managing an ever more disintegrated IT environment. Learning technologies were also well represented.

It is certainly not true that US universities are universally “ahead” of UK and European counterparts in educational IT. Many of the issues arising were depressingly/comfortingly familiar but in a few areas there were interesting differences, reminding me of the famous William Gibson quote, “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed“.

A striking example was learning analytics, the monitoring of student performance, attendance and so on. In the UK collection of such data, the focus of a large Jisc project, is generally seen as benign. Some US universities however are much further down this path, trying to link performance to lecture attendance, library use, time spent in the VLE and so on. This data can be used to trigger interventions from tutors, but some questions had already arisen as to reductionism and even ethics of “profiling” students in this way. The fundamental question raised was who is this monitoring actually for; the student to improve study practices or the institution to reduce dropout statistics?

Not surprisingly several sessions attempted to identify key future trends. Number one was growing US student debt, commonly described as a “crisis”. One response may be a refocusing on competency-based education, short vocational for-credit courses from both new and traditional providers. Promoted as more affordable and career-friendly, credit accumulation enables flexible study paths (often online) and timeframes. The traditional three/four year residential degree was described as “over-engineered”, i.e. too long, too expensive, too unfocused, for increasing numbers of cost-sensitive, more consumer-minded students. The growth of “sub-degree education” and alternative HE-level providers is becoming more noticeable in the UK, too.

Whether this leads to the long-predicted decoupling of study paths and accreditation remains to be seen. In this new diverse environment universities, while still maintaining their elite status for the moment, were now “not the only game in town” and maybe not the automatic choice for a future generation of aspirational students.

Meanwhile on traditional US campuses the student demographic was subtly remixing. Students were on average older, more culturally diverse and ever more demanding of student services. Wellbeing and psychological support were becoming critical components of learning. Universities, we were told,  should take adult non-traditional learners far more seriously. I heard a frequent critique of the US trend of over-investing in glossy, expensive residential campuses at the expense of building a more agile, future-proofed and hybrid infrastructures. Distance education, it was claimed, would soon become the delivery norm in US higher education.

As mentioned above the pervasive connectivity of modern student life presents a major challenge to conventional IT services and roles as well as to academic colleagues who often struggle to accommodate the impact of technical changes, and often associated changes in discipline practices, into traditional programmes.

Maker culture” inspired by consumer-level 3D printers, coding schools and the “internet of things” should continue to impact across the curriculum, with libraries possibly playing a major role in providing maker spaces and opportunities for self-publishing. Optimists felt all this may produce the “next-generation workforce” ready for high-tech and distributed advanced manufacturing enterprises, where creativity and design will be as important as traditional attributes

It may be a bumpy ride, though. One EDUCAUSE keynote was MIT futurologist Andrew McAfee who predicted a rapid growth in machine intelligence as the effect of Moore’s law kicked in to mainstream computing. His thesis was that in many areas machines would soon be able to make better predictions and decisions than experts, and the market are already demanding that they do.

Postscript: If this futurology seems  a bit far-fetched back here in London, note a Guardian article this week; Robot doctors and lawyers? It’s a change we should embrace. But don’t worry, a recent BBC Tech article Will a robot take your job? reassured us that we Higher Education teaching professionals have only a 3% likelihood of automation!

Digital Identity and Scholarship course starts

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Ran first session of a new course Digital Identity and Scholarship with Prof Martin Oliver today.

The aim of this blended course is to develop participants’ understanding of digital identities, how these form part of digital scholarship, and for them to decide on and pursue their own strategy for working with this. The course format is a half-day introductory sessions, a series of online activities and a final half-day review session.

By completing the course participants will have an opportunity to

  1. understand issues in the creation and maintenance of digital identities
  2. understand the links between digital identities and scholarship
  3. find out what forms of digital identity work are most relevant to their discipline
  4. learn to use one or more technologies to build their digital identity (e.g. Twitter)
  5. plan how to develop this over time

The course will also address relevant issues including ethics, licensing, copyright, consent, anonymity/privacy and job searching online.

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