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Centre for Online and Distance Education

Programme design for student success


Written by
Dr Julie Voce

What is the role of programme design in supporting student success? At the Centre for Distance Education (CODE) October 2019 workshop on Supporting Student Success. Jonathon Thomas (University of London) reflected on the use of the ABC Learning Design method for UoL programmes and MOOCs whilst Dr David Baume (CODE Fellow) explored the role of literacies for student outcomes.

Presenter in front of projection screen.

Approaches to Innovations in Programme Design

Jonathon Thomas explained that the current University of London (UOL) online model was adapted from print-based, study-guides.

Searching for a new approach suitable for online delivery, UoL adopted and adapted UCL’s ABC Learning Design method for the design of degree programmes and MOOCs.

What worked well?

Jonathon reported that the ABC approach was adaptable, flexible and worked for multiple disciplines.

They used ABC to work with academics in group workshops and 1-2-1 sessions, providing dedicated time for practitioners to work together to think about how they could teach their courses.

ABC was easy to work with and eased transition from the familiar (face-to-face teaching) to unfamiliar (online teaching).

What didn't work well? A single session was not enough time to explain/understand the operational constraints of online learning, to complete all the activities in the workshop and to assess activity length to ensure balance of learning activities vs. cognitive load.

In addition, ABC doesn't sufficiently focus on learning outcomes, so they found they had to keep referring academics back to ensure their ideas met the learning outcomes. It was also easy to spend too much time on designing one activity/assessment, rather than whole modules.

Potential next steps are providing a short, online pre-briefing before the workshop, including teaching assistants in the development process, ensuring learning designers maintain contact with module authors after the workshop, and providing a recognised UoL certificate or CPD points for staff for creating online courses.

Presenter in front of projection screen.

Exploring and embedding literacies for student outcomes

David Baume presented a list of literacies identified in the literature such as academic literacy, careers literacy, digital literacy, information literacy and research literacy. The audience suggested additionally data literacy, emotional literacy and creative literacy.

But which literacies are embedded in our programmes? David noted an emphasis on careers literacy (employability), information literacy (referencing and plagiarism), library literacy (knowing your subject librarian) and asked why some literacies are getting more attention than others.

He noted the changing role of the term literacy, previously being ‘able to read and write’, but now becoming a broader meaning of 'being competent or capable'; something he explores further in a blog post  ‘Literacies, Part One’.

Considering the role of knowledge vs. skills and the importance of both, he asked “where do competencies fit in?” and suggested that it's a combination of the two. It's not just about doing something, but knowing why you are doing it a particular way.

David presented some emergent issues in information literacies, based on a CDE project to investigate whether these issues relate to other literacies.

When it comes to programme design, he highlighted the perils of providing direct links to course materials as it doesn't help students to develop the necessary information literacies and urged programme designers to embed literacies in existing teaching, rather than making them a separate subject, e.g. teach numeracy as part of teaching engineering.

But do academics have to have these literacies in order to teach them? David emphasised that academics need to work with experts in these literacies such as learning designers, learning technologists, librarians and careers staff.

During the audience discussion, Linda Amrane-Cooper noted that there are additional modules available to UoL students for particular literacies, but that distance learners tend not to do things unless they are assessed. We should therefore  consider either how we motivate them to take the additional courses or how we fully embed literacies into the curriculum so they aren’t seen as a bolt-on.