Vol. One - Issue Two - Jan 2005

Published: January 2005

Editorial: A new Academy but an old problem…

The new Higher Education Academy has recently been launched through a series of events across the country. The Academy brings together the former Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) and its concern for the promotion and recognition of professional standards, including sponsorship of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS), with the network of Subject Centres across the UK which comprised the former Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) and which support and promote developments in practice through their engagement with subject communities. It also incorporates members of the former National Coordination Team (NCT) who, together with the Subject Centres, are supporting pedagogic development projects funded through competitive bidding to the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL), now in its fifth and final phase. The Academy will, largely through its Subject Centres, work closely with the new Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLS) which are soon to be established through a competitive bidding process. It is also engaged in a number of broad-based, national development initiatives, e.g. on external examining, on e-learning, on employability, and on widening participation.

The new Chief Executive, Professor Paul Ramsden, joins the Academy from his previous position as Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) at the University of Sydney and is already well known for his approaches to surveying aspects of the student experience, which have informed approaches taken at Brookes, and his highly influential books Learning to Teach in Higher Education and Learning to Lead in Higher Education. He is quickly establishing an emphasis in the Academy on enhancement of higher education through better understanding of all aspects of the student experience, and on policy and practice informed and influenced by evidence from research.

Funded by the UK Funding Councils and through institutional subscription, the Academy is a significant new player on the higher education landscape and brings with it opportunities for Brookes to learn from others, to gain access to resources, and to contribute the evidence from its own research to influence wider developments. It is important that we engage effectively with it from the outset to support our work on enhancing the learning experiences of our own students.

The Academy can be welcomed as a very positive affirmation of government support for higher education. Indeed, Dr Kim Howells, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, spoke in glowing support of the Academy and its ambitions at the London launch event. But what one hand gives the other takes away and at a recent meeting of the All Party Universities Group at Westminster, Prof John Tarrant, Vice-Chancellor of Huddersfield University gave a graphic account of the current shortfall in funding to support learning and teaching as evidence of this. Of the current £3,487 government and fee funding per student on Humanities and Social Sciences programmes, 43% is spent at Huddersfield on ‘libraries, IT, administration and central costs and premises’. This leaves £1,988 per student available to teaching departments from which 13% goes to ‘non-staffing, departmental costs’. Of the £1,730 that remains for staffing, 20% is used for non-teaching staff leaving just £1,384 from the original £3,487 for teaching – or, in effect, a true student to staff ratio of 32.5 : 1! Representatives of other universities present at the meeting agreed that such apportioning of income was probably typical of the sector… and perhaps more generous than some! To this current under-funding of teaching in England, of course, must be added an estimated £1.6 billion current shortfall of teaching capital in England.

This, then, is the reality. Great play made of enhancement – which we will all sign up for, an agenda for expanding participation in higher education­ – likewise, but abject under-funding of teaching. This is the context in which we at Brookes must draw from our culture of ‘student centredness’ and of innovation and creativity in our approaches to learning, teaching and assessment, and endeavour to ensure effective and efficient use of our time, capabilities and energy in supporting students in their learning. Never more important have been decisions on practice based on evidence and dissemination of evidence to inform practice – a vital role for this journal.

In this issue of BeJLT, we sample from the rich and growing vein of pedagogic development at Brookes and the evidence which this provides to inform practice. The topics covered reflect the range of issues that require our attention. Diane Seymour from the Business School looks at the role of assessment criteria at postgraduate level, Paul Catley from the School of Social Sciences and Law describes a particular application of blended learning in improving student performance, while Katy Newell-Jones, Debora Osborne and Debbie Massey from the School of Health and Social Care discuss the creation of a ‘community of practice’ approach in response to concerns about academic skills development. Nina Becket of the HE Academy Subject Centre for Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism, which is hosted by Brookes, and Maureen Brookes from the Business School discuss the impact of and relevance to quality enhancement of different approaches to evaluation.

A paper from Jude Carroll of OCSLD explores the effectiveness of approaches to the problem of plagiarism, experiences in using problem-based learning are assessed by Judith Piggott from the Business School, and the issue of pedagogic research ethics is discussed by Glauco De Vita and Teresa Smallbone, also from the Business School. Richard Francis of the Media Workshop and Greg Benfield of OCSLD pose questions about the future directions of e-learning at Brookes, while Alan Jenkins of Westminster Institute of Education reports his discussions with colleagues on the opportunities which were gained to enhance teaching and research links through re-approval of programmes for delivery in semesters.

We hope that such variety offers something for everyone. We also hope that it will prompt you to write for future issues of BeJLT -to share with others the work you are doing and so contribute to our understanding of, and our ability to enhance, the student experience.

Clive Robertson
Chair BeJLT Editorial Committee
Head of Learning and Teaching Development

January 2005

From this issue:

Current Learning and Teaching Developments Within the School of Social Sciences and Law

The paper examines the developments that have flowed from the creation within the School of Social Sciences and Law of three full-time principal lecturer posts in September 2003.

Posted in Short Article

Perspectives on E-learning at Brookes

This paper presents a brief reflection from our own personal viewpoints on the immediate future of e-learning at Brookes. Starting with the observation that we are in the midst of a dramatic transformation in how people handle information and communications – characterised chiefly by simultaneous handling of multiple information and communication channels – we note that this necessarily impacts on teaching and learning. At the same time, the institution itself – its culture, strengths and aspirations – also affect the shape of e-learning at Brookes. By considering some current examples of e-learning applications, the paper suggests that at Brookes, e-learning is likely to emphasise affordances such as flexibility of mode, time and location of study; authenticity and professional relevance of the learning experience; and the building and support of vibrant learning communities.

Posted in Perspective

Handling student plagiarism: moving to mainstream

Oxford Brookes was the first institution in the UK to develop and implement a system of specialist officers to deal with students who did not comply with University regulations concerning academic conduct. The role of Academic Conduct Officers or ACOs was developed by a working group that revised University policies and procedures to deal with the rising number of incidences of student plagiarism and the concern that other misconduct was also not being dealt with fairly and consistently across the University. This paper discusses how the ACO-system has functioned over five years, in particular in the way punishments are selected and recorded. It identifies what has already been learned from using the ACO system and new issues that have emerged and identifies ways the University has developed a holistic approach to encouraging students’; academic integrity

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Posted in Perspective

Realising teaching and research links in course redesign for delivery in semesters: mission statement rhetoric, mission impossible, or mission accomplished?

Richard Huggins and Alan Jenkins, with Howard Colley, Margaret Price and David Scurry The context ‘In view of the central nature of research and teaching in HE, and the almost universal assumption that R benefits T, and the importance of

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Posted in Perspective

Problem-based learning: a sceptic’s diary

This paper outlines my own experiences in learning about problem-based learning (PBL) and my attempts to implement it (or elements of it) into my teaching at Brookes. It is a very personal paper, outlining one person’s experiences and feelings about PBL and also the problems and advantages gained from using it on one particular module. Basically this paper gives initial responses to ‘trying something different’ (for example PBL) and the rewards this can give.

Posted in Practice Paper

Pedagogic Research and Ethics: Some Pointers for Pedagogic Researchers

In all research planning and execution, ethical issues should be considered. Not least is this the case in pedagogic research and development where data on our students’ experience and performance are essential evidence of good practice or of the need for change. This short paper describes an approach to consideration of pedagogic research ethics that has been adopted by the Business School. It is based on the experience of practitioners.

Posted in Practice Paper

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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Posted in Academic Paper

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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Posted in Academic Paper

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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Posted in Academic Paper

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.

Posted in Academic Paper

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