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  • Brookes Learning and Teaching Conference Improving Student Learning 2020

    Improving Student Learning through Dialogue: Inclusive Curriculum, Assessment and Employability

    11 June 2020

    The Improving Student Learning movement was born in the crucible that transformed British polytechnics into independent, degree-awarding institutions of higher education. This transformation stimulated dialogue and debate around and through practice, purpose and policy. The dialogue continues today in a moment of change as dynamic and febrile as that of 1992. The Office for Students now has more than 350 applications pending for registration to award taught degrees. Were all to be approved this would double again the number of degree-awarding institutions. Is this expansive collegiality or increased competition? What is the impact on our role at our institution? How might we bring evidence to light about how students can be challenged and supported to achieve their aims? How might we explain and then develop the next curriculum? We invite proposals that build on, discuss and bring up to date what and how we know about learning and teaching in higher education here and now.

    Inclusive curriculum: teaching for the student

    We invite papers about what it means to be a teacher and learner in higher education, bringing issues of diversity, identity and community into focus. Who are we and what are we for? What it is like to be a student or a teacher in today's world striving for confidence, creativity and connection? When or how does one move, transform or become transformed into a life-long learner? How are intended outcomes determined and secured with professional, statutory and regulatory bodies? How is independent learning measured and valued? 

     A “colonised curriculum” is the imposition or preservation of; or acquiescence in: restriction, conformity, hierarchy and exclusivity. Such “enclosures” are made according to group taxonomies of power and authority, seemingly determined by those who benefit. “Accessibility”, “diversity”, “equality” and “inclusion” figure prominently in higher education policy, yet, diversity is seen more in exclusion than inclusion (OfS 2018). And, access to a secure future, is similarly measured more in inequality between groups than in equality. Accessibility, diversity, equality and inclusion, if taken fully together, are the decolonised curriculum.

    Assessment: practice for learning

    Half the problem is understanding what the problem is and then expressing it clearly and honestly. In order for feedback to work for learning it must be a dialogue: timely, encouraging and useful. There have been great transformations in assessment and feedback practice for learning, both conceptually and technically in the past few years, building on work from the first decade of the century and the earlier work on which that stood.

    Assessment has a powerful influence on what students pay attention to, how much time and effort they put in, the quality of their engagement with their studies, ... and how much they learn. (TESTA 2009-12 https://www.testa.ac.uk/index.php/about)

    Learning is deeper, more sustainable and satisfying when students become responsible partners in their learning. The most powerful way to achieve this is to involve students actively in assessment processes (REAP 2005-07 https://www.reap.ac.uk/reap/index.html).

    We have seen many new practices become routine: oral presentations, posters and coursework all may be used to evidence outcomes. Online collaborative tools are becoming ubiquitous. Models such as Experiential Learning (Kolb 1984), Activity Theory (Engeström 2001), Conversation Theory (Laurillard 2002) and Learning Design (Koper & Tattersall 2005) among others enabled new assessment schemes to be tried. As Gibbs put it:  … it is generalisations which enable new situations to be tackled effectively (Gibbs 1998 loc 128). A recent rethinking of assessment at Oxford Brookes University was forced, in places, by an insistence that there be no exams in the first semester. Module leaders are now asked to conceive of alternative ways of evidencing outcomes. But, even if assessment were universally designed (CAST 2018), is there a restorative justice argument for differentiating it?

    Employability: development for better

    There is a wide landscape of employability with changing patterns of work and life courses. We hardly dare call work a career any longer. Patterns of social integration through work-force engagement are dynamic as migration and inclusion vie with native/immigrant eras of digitised workplaces: are we “digital by default”?. What do people do now when they leave “uni”? How often, where and when do we return to learn? There are bold claims made for higher education:

    • An engine of social mobility, 
    • A driver of economic growth and 
    • Cornerstone of our cultural landscape

    Yet it was suggested that:

    … students are dissatisfied with the provision they receive, with over 60% of students feeling that all or some elements of their course are worse than expected and a third of these attributing this to concerns with teaching quality (Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) 2016, paragraph 5)

    Development and improvement imply scale and values; what is better? We invite teachers to submit empirical, reflective or evaluative papers addressing, proposing or challenging measures of improvement through targeted course-level, departmental or broader institutional interventions.