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Small Beginnings of a Community of Practice with a Global Focus

This paper explores the early stages in the establishment of a Global Dimension Network (GDN) of academic staff in the field of health and social care. The rationale for selecting a community of practice (Wenger, 1998) as the model for the GDN is discussed, together with the advantages and inherent tensions.

The GDN has raised the profile of the global dimension to learning across the School of Health and Social Care, Oxford Brookes University, through a range of programme-based and more strategic initiatives, including staff development sessions, networking and a focus group with international students.

The GDN has explored examples where the use of materials and the literature from less developed countries has resulted in transformational learning which has impacted on learners’ practice as well as enhanced their understanding of different contexts. Discussing these instances in relation to the concepts of single- and double-loop learning (Argyris and Schon, 1974, 1996) and Illeris’ Tension Triangle (2003, 2005) has begun the process of identifying interventions which will increase the likelihood of deeper learning. This is work in progress that will be taken forward through discussion, programme-based initiatives and pedagogic research.

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‘Staying the Distance’: The Unfolding Story of Discovery and Development Through Long-Term Collaborative Research into Assessment

In the UK, there is growing pressure both within and across higher education institutions to make assessment standards and processes more transparent to students and other stakeholders. What follows is a brief account of our continuing quest to develop student understanding of assessment standards and processes. The evolution of our research and practice, undertaken at The Business School, Oxford Brookes University, is then related to a suggested framework of four generic approaches to developing student understanding of assessment standards and processes, culminating in a community of practice approach.

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Tracking the Academic Progression of Home and International Students: An Exploratory Study

The paper investigates the learning achievements of home and international students by focusing on the dynamic construct of academic progression, rather than relying on the typically adopted performance measures of final achievement. Our data have confirmed that, on average, UK students outperform international students. The observed differential is particularly pronounced with respect to the academic achievements of home students vis-��-vis students from China. This is the case in terms both of the average marks in each year, and the overall average over the three years of the programme. The analysis of the full dynamics of performance also shows that following a moderate to substantial decline in average marks from the first to the second year of study, all sub-groups examined display a significant rise in their average marks from the second to the final year of study. Our results cast doubt on the generally held view that international students, especially those from China, tend to under-perform in their first year of study. On the contrary, we find that the greatest difficulties faced by these students occur during the transition from the first to the second year of study.

Posted in Academic Paper

The Student Experience of E-learning in Higher Education: A Review of the Literature

This paper reviews the student experience of e-learning in higher education in order to identify areas worthy of future investigation. This review highlights some common themes in the student’s e-learning experience and recommends implications for practice arising from these, particularly the emotionality of the student experience and a concern about time and time management. E-learning developments based on changes to traditional pedagogy evoke the most inconsistencies in student perceptions and it is here that individual differences emerge as possible success factors. The review concludes that future research should investigate how students understanding of the teaching and learning process impacts on their study strategies and perceptions of online learning.

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Learning Outcomes and Assessment: developing assessment criteria for Masters-level dissertations

This paper discusses the development of appropriate and effective criteria for the assessment of Masters dissertations. It identifies the features of dissertations which present difficulties in the assessment process and considers the problems faced by assessors, relating these difficulties to the literature. It presents a literature-based approach to developing assessment criteria, related to the learning outcomes of the dissertation modules. The new approach used a grid, and distinguished between first- and second- order criteria. Although the new approach has yet to be thoroughly evaluated, first indications were that it captured the learning outcomes more fully and that it led to greater consistency and agreement between assessors.

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Analysing Quality Audits in Higher Education

In many countries and many cultures, the issue of quality management is firmly on the agenda for higher education institutions. Whether a result of a growing climate of increasing accountability or an expansion in the size and diversity of student populations (Oldfield and Baron, 1998), both quality assurance and quality enhancement are now considered essential components of any quality management programme (Brookes and Downie, 2002). Despite the abundance of research on the subject, there is no universal consensus on how best to measure quality in higher education. In the UK, quality assessment procedures are both internally and externally driven using different mechanisms and quality criteria. As such the assessed ‘quality’ of any given programme of study may therefore be variable across different audits. In addition, the potential value of the different assessments for quality enhancement purposes may also vary. Given the importance of quality assurance on the higher education agenda, this paper undertakes a critical evaluation of the different methods used to assess the quality of provision in the UK through a case study of one department. A comparison of internally versus externally driven quality audits is undertaken at three different levels; module, programme, and subject level. By examining the methods and criteria used to assess the quality of provision and the way in which the quality assessment findings are disseminated, the paper considers the potential value of these different audits in enhancing the quality of higher education provision and identifies action which could be taken by institutions and departments as a result. The authors adopt a secondary approach, drawing on relevant quality management literature, the quality audits conducted within one department as well as those by the Subject Centre for Hospitality, Leisure, Sport, and Tourism of the Higher Education Academy, and the most recent Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) audits within the relevant area, i.e in Unit 25 of their classification of subjects. The findings suggest that while externally driven quality audits enable comparative benchmarking between individual programmes, they may not be the most appropriate for enhancing the quality of higher education provision. The potential for quality enhancement is determined by the manner in which the evaluation is conducted and subsequent change implemented.

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One Lecturer’s Experience of Blending E-learning with Traditional Teaching

The paper examines the author’s experience of developing e-learning materials to support a traditionally delivered first-year undergraduate module, setting this in the context of institutional and national moves towards the greater utilisation of e-learning in enhancing student learning. The paper focuses on the impact of the e-learning materials on student performance over a three-year period and assesses the possible reasons behind the dramatic improvement in marks achieved by those students who engaged with the e-learning materials.

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Academic Skills Development – changing attitudes through a community of practice

This paper examines the experiences of a particular group within the School of Health and Social Care as it created a community of practice in response to an international concern around students academic skills development and support in higher education. This Academic Skills Development Group generated a range of activities including small staff and student surveys that led to a wider exploration of the prevalent perceptions of literacies development and the culture of learning in which this was being sustained. Embracing a community of practice approach, the group, underpinned by the emergent literature, was able to challenge existing approaches to academic skills support across pre-registration, post-qualifying, and postgraduate courses. Initiatives included workshops, consultation in the schools strategic plan and also attempts to impact more fundamentally on the culture of learning within the school. The paper highlights some of the obstacles and complexities encountered when attempting to define academic skills and develop effective support systems.

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Learning From Link

The paper provides an overview of the FDTL funded LINK project (‘linking teaching and research in selected Built Environment disciplines’) run by Oxford Brookes between 2000 and 2004. The learning process inherent in the project; what was learned about the LINK; its generic applicability beyond the Built Environment disciplines; and the importance of institutional support in embedding the LINK in the student experience are considered. The paper also explains how a shift in project focus from educational development to pedagogic research occurred as the extent of the gaps in understanding what it means to link teaching and research became clear.

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A View from the Bridge: Tensions between Practical and Theoretical Perspectives in Vocational Programme Development

This paper aims to analyse and explore the tensions arising from ‘academic’ and ‘practitioner’ perspectives within a business undergraduate course team during a curriculum redesign process. The differing perspectives are examined and some shared perceptions uncovered, particularly concerning the value of research in teaching to produce graduates prepared for both the world of business and for future research. The paper concludes that the identified tensions can be used constructively to develop creative ideas for curriculum development, harnessing the input from both academic and practitioner to develop well-balanced business graduates.

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