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Satellite Sites at UCL – A Different Distance Learning Experience

By Henry T Lancashire, on 14 June 2018

UCL is centered in and around Bloomsbury, London. Visitors’ first impressions are shaped by the Portico and Cruciform Buildings. However UCL has and continues to expand beyond its central London roots. New locations including UCL School of Management in Canary Wharf, London, and UCL East in Stratford, London, are placing students away from UCL’s main student body, but closer to relevant industries and different communities.

Image of UCL Portico Building and UCL Cruciform Building

UCL’s Portico Building and Cruciform Building in Bloomsbury.

Some UCL locations are interwoven with other activities taking place at or near their site. This is particularly relevant to UCL’s many departments based in or around hospitals. For example UCL Institute of Child Health is adjacent Great Ormond Street Hospital, and departments including UCL Medical School and the Department of Primary Care and Population Health use space within the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead. Sites outside and on the outskirts of London, such as the Mullard Space Science Laboratory and the UCL Observatory, house departments which have relocated for space or environmental reasons.

“[The] concept of learners studying a course via ‘distance learning’ can conjure thoughts of remote people disconnected from the university’s campus life. But it shouldn’t be this way.” – UCL Distance Learning.

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Are Intercalated Programmes Connected?

By Henry T Lancashire, on 9 February 2018

A programme or departmental level approach to UCL’s Connected Curriculum (CC) may miss the potential in some programmes. In particular, where students cross between departments or faculties, or choose from a very wide range of options. The integrated BSc (iBSc) programme builds research-focused teaching into the third year of the six-year UCL Medicine MBBS BSc programme; however, these 1-year programmes are run, taught, and examined separately from other MBBS BSc years.

“Active engagement with UCL’s Connected Curriculum means that students are encouraged to integrate this research intensive [iBSc] into their ongoing medical studies and across all modules taken during the year.”

UCL Introduction to iBScs.

UCL medical students choose from one of 18 iBScs run across six UCL faculties. The programmes emphasise in depth study of a subject and an extended research project. Integrated BSc programmes have been criticised for increasing the length and cost of already demanding medical degrees (1,2), in addition there is anecdotal evidence that students consider the iBSc as separate and less important than other MBBS BSc years. However, benefits have been reported for students with iBScs, including; increased involvement in research (2); a chance to develop in depth skills (3,4); higher marks in subsequent years (5–7); and improved career prospects (8,9).

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6 new seconded CC Fellows for 2017-2018

By Brent Carnell, on 25 October 2017

This new academic year sees six new seconded members of staff working on the Connected Curriculum. At the moment, the Fellows are thinking about their plans of action — how best they can make an impact on education in their areas of UCL. Everyone will contribute to a larger Connected Curriculum research project, which seeks to measure the impact of curriculum development in practice, but there are a range of approaches planned. For instance Dr Henry Lancashire is putting together a project investigating student and alumni perceptions of research-based education principles in medical education. As well as contributing to the research project, all Fellows aim to make an impact through the following: producing Quick Guides — short intros to help colleagues developing their provision; engaging colleagues in Connected Curriculum through meetings, workshops, and one-on-one support; offering feedback on Annual Student Experience Review Connected Curriculum enhancement plans; hosting a UCL Arena Exchange Event; contributing to this blog; and writing a manuscript for an education-focused journal. Fellows will also use the secondment to write an application for Arena Fellowship.

The CC Fellows for 2017-2018:

  • Dr Nephtali Marina-Gonzalez, UCL Division of Medicine
  • Dr Michael Short, Bartlett School of Planning
  • Dr Henry Lancashire, UCL Division of Surgery
  • Dr Folashade Akinmolayan, Department of Chemical Engineering
  • Dr Julie Evans, UCL Brain Sciences
  • Dr Tabitha Tuckett, UCL Library Services

Read more about the new cohort of CC fellows, as well as the impact of last year’s group

The Experience of Working as an Undergraduate Programme Development Intern

By Thomas Kador, on 19 September 2017

Text by Noah Shepherd, third year Biological Science student.

Students examiing 'mystery' specimens at the Grant Museum of Zoology © UCL Media Services - University College London

Students examining ‘mystery’ specimens at the Grant Museum of Zoology
© UCL Media Services – University College London

Over this summer (May to July 2017) I worked closely with UCL Culture and the UCL Biosciences Division as a Programme Development Intern. The project focused on improving Dimension 5 of the Connected Curriculum – developing the public facing dimension of a Bioscience undergraduate module, Vertebrate Life and Evolution (BIOLM018); as highlighted in a recent CC Fellows’ Blog post.

The output of the project were the following:

  1. A review of the module’s focus – whether it currently meets the Connected Curriculum criteria for public facing assessment.
  2. A list of recommendations for how to fix insufficiencies highlighted in report 1.
  3. A general guidebook for other modules and programme – including this blog post, which should also aid future interns.

The first stage of the internship was meeting with supervisors and colleagues. These meetings outlined the expectations of each group which helped me to structure how to undertake the project. In these first meetings I met with my supervisor, a number of other key members of the UCL Culture team, the coordinator of the module in question and my colleague – another undergraduate student who was undertaking this internship for a different module. These meetings gave me vital leads to pursue, and essential insights into the internal workings of UCL modules and helped me to formulate the problems that I would try to tackle with regard to BIOLM018.

The UCL Culture team, in particular the Public Engagement Unit (PEU) – provided me with a list of approachable UCL teaching staff from a variety of disciplines who had incorporated public facing teaching and assessment within their respective modules. I emailed these potential contacts with a range of questions, aiming to understand how they organised and structured their respective courses to incorporated public-facing learning. Most of these contacts responded with useful advice, helping to shape my recommendations for BIOLM018.

Knowing the opinions of your classmates is vital for generating ideas that will be of interest to future students. This can be done via a review of course feedback, or by individually contacting course-mates for feedback and advice. It is important to meet with the people who can make public engagement happen. One of these was Jack Ashby, the manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology. Since the workshops and public facing presentations of BIOLM018 take place within this location it was important to get a general idea of what ideas are logistically possible, and what ones are not… Jack also possesses key knowledge about the audiences that visit the Grant Museum and therefore listening to him was essential for balancing the interests between the students, the teaching staff, the museum and of course the target audience, the public. Many of these meetings resulted in a radical shake-up of the route I had imagined, but this was vital for making sure that my suggestions have a chance of being ultimately implementation. Most of my informants are experts in their respective fields and thus provided great suggestions on how to tackle any potential problems. So it was important to provide them with a mix of recommendations and questions.

A significant part of this process has been about being creative when trying to generate public-facing activities for a module. This frequently required a balance between interesting and intellectually stimulating content. It is important not to dumb down the content to make it public friendly; students need to learn how to produce accessible degree-level material.

I would highly recommend the opportunity to take up similar module-development internship to other students, especially those who are passionate about public-facing learning. But being part of this process also grants great insight into the inner workings of the university and the courses we take. During the struggle of balancing the various needs of the different areas I have greatly developed my organisational and people skills.

Developing outward-facing assessments through staff-student partnerships

By Thomas Kador, on 14 September 2017

Producing assessments that are directed at specific audiences can bring profound learning benefits concerning both discipline specific and transferable skills, as they allow students to engage with real world situations and express themselves in their own voices. However, it seems that students find it difficult to produce outward-facing assessments aimed at imagined or notional audiences. Therefore, the best way for students to engage with the needs and interests of different audiences and to help them find the most appropriate means and language to address them with, would seem to be through working directly with real audiences as part of the learning process.

In order to address this issue for two UCL modules we have devised a collaborative project involving two student interns and the university’s Public Engagement Unit (PEU), funded through the Connected Curriculum Co-Lab initiative. The interns have each recently taken either one of the following two modules.

The modules

Vertebrate life and Evolution (BIOLM018) is a third year undergraduate module primarily taken by biological science students, which involves lectures, lab-based sessions and practicals. As part of the module, students receiving an unidentified part of an animal, a ‘mystery specimen’, which they then have to try and identify, ideally to species level. They write their research up in the form of a journal article and present their discoveries through a seven-minute presentation, to their fellow students, university staff and the general public at the Grant Museum of Zoology.

Exhibition Label for the Grant Museum of Zoology for a 'Mystery Specimen' written by a student on BIOLM018 ((c) Grant Museum of Zoology)

Exhibition Label for a ‘mystery specimen’ written by a student on BIOLM018       ((c) Grant Museum of Zoology)

Object Lessons (BASc2001) is a second year core module on the interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences programme. For the duration of one term each student is allocated an object (item or specimen) from across UCL’s museums and collections, including archaeological artefacts, art works, ethnographic objects, natural history, pathological or anatomical specimens, as well as rare books and manuscripts. The module is divided into an initial individual research component, where each student investigates and writes about ‘their own’ object, and a group work element, involving five/six students bringing their objects together to curate a virtual exhibition. Additionally, they get to present their exhibitions to staff and fellow students as part of a presentation day.

Both of these modules already incorporated a nominally outward-facing dimension, however, it seems clear that many students struggle conceiving of an audience at which to pitch their research without having had the benefit of interacting with it. This may results in over- or under pitching their presentation/exhibition. At worst, it can even make the students question the usefulness of such assessments – compared to more traditional essays or exams – if the actual audience receiving and assessing it is the same anyway, i.e. their teaching staff.

The project

The student interns worked with us with a view of turning their notionally outward-facing assessments into assessments that are truly pitched at and communicated with specific public audiences.

Initially they each produced a critical review of the entire module (not just the outward-facing assessment component) from a student’s perspective, taking into consideration the handbook, assessment guidelines and online documentation (on Moodle) as well as student feedback gathered as part of the modules. Based on these reviews the interns highlighted where the modules fail to communicate their aims and objectives sufficiently clearly and made recommendations how this could be addressed. From the outset of their involvement, the students also attended regular meetings with the PEU who advised them on best practice in public engagement and key things to bear in mind when working with public audiences and community partners.

On completion of the reviews the students began working with the PEU more intensively on redesigning the modules in order to identify opportunities to involve community partners in the learning and assessment process and produced a set of guidelines how this could be implemented in practice. This necessitated also reorganising the modules more holistically so that the outward-facing elements join up with other aspects of the modules.

Findings

While the true results of the project will only become apparent when the first cohorts of students have taken the re-designed assessments, the project has already provided several important insights. First, initiating a genuine dialogue with undergraduate students and engaging them in the module design process has been extremely eye opening to all involved. We as teachers learned lots from how the students see the modules, making plain in which areas the clarity of how we communicate these modules could be improved, while the students equally benefitted from adopting the perspective of someone developing a modules. Second, thinking about potential audiences has made us to reflect on who the learning that students undertake, and the outputs they produce, is/are relevant for; especially beyond the university.  This in turn forces us to confront the key question of the value of learning and how it relates to the ‘real world’.

Dogfooding

By Mira Vogel, on 18 July 2017

For my project I interviewed pairs of students and assessors discussing their experiences with assessment in various digital modes including blog, website, video and podcast. These are the forms students’ work can take as they are asked to make their first steps in conceptualising an audience beyond academia.

Again and again I heard students express the view that the primary need of their audience was to be engaged, to have their interest kept. ‘Eating your own dogfood’ is a slang term for using your own product or process to test or promote that product or process. I decided early on in this project that dogfooding would be to make my final report using the kinds of digital tools and abilities we increasingly expect students to deploy, posting the outputs somewhere I could build an audience and count the views and links. I would need to monitor the time I spent on this, though. As an investment in my skills, would it be a good one? I heard about many students whose interest, pride and/or determination led them to put in far more effort than their tutors required – but if I were a part time student with kids and a job, could I manage this? In any case, would these be the kind of skills I would use again soon enough to remember them? Compared to typing out a text report which, as altmetrics are beginning to reveal, chances are hardly anybody would read, would it have more impact? I have heard from a tutor who didn’t participate in my project because he had abandoned assessing student media, that unless students can see how their effort builds skills which will help them in future endeavours, they are reluctant to spend their time this way.

With this in mind from the beginning (and enabled by the total impossibility of anonymity in my project) I video-recorded the conversations with the intention of editing them into thematic films of no more than 3 minutes each, which I would cut with screenshots or footage of the students’ work. I have made three of these videos so far, and find they have striking benefits I hadn’t really grasped before. Unsurprisingly, because they include non-verbal cues – including the other parties in the conversation – they are immensively expressive compared to typed-out quotations. They are engaging, and this invites longer excerpts than I would get away with if I typed out the quotations. The ability to edit in excerpts from different interviews with illustrative footage and stills from students’ work has two major advantages: one is that it sustains engagement and the other is that it allows me to communicate the theme in question more succinctly and elegantly through my selections, sequencing and other editing decisions than I could with words. Having typed no end of widely-ignored verbal reports, I am hopeful about reporting in this way (and after all, this is not new – ask anybody involved in teaching documentary film making in UCL Anthropology).

All that said, this approach brings new challenges. One is the kit. I wanted to restrict myself to the kit students tend to have already, namely a phone and iMovie. In fact I succumbed to buying a gorilla grip (because I already had a camera phone mount and my existing grip broke and what’s the point then of having the mount?), and then ended up using an old phone to take a second higher-quality sound recording. I succumbed to buying a portable light because I really wanted to light interviews in darker rooms and then, because the light made my participants squint, deployed a portable light diffuser which I’d noticed in the Arena Centre kitchen. My department paid for an educational licence for video editing software. I could have claimed all this back but students wouldn’t have that privilege. If I had been a student my relative wealth would have placed me at a potential advantage (and managing this level-playing-field factor comes up in the discussions).

There are ethical challenges too. I obtained consent to record but by remixing these discussions what I am doing here is basically taking out of context, or making new context. Of course we do this in typed form but for the reasons above, these videos are more impactful, especially where they juxtapose contrasting views. Trust is important – I have a duty to leave my participants as willing to participate in future projects as they were before they encountered mine – and this kind of very rich, expressive, attributable quoting seems to imply new levels of consent. So my consent form promised that participants would have the chance to check the films, and were free to withdraw at any time. Nobody has raised any problems so far but I am still in the thick of making videos and sharing them with the relevant people via OneDrive, which is why I can’t post my videos quite yet.

However, I did get consent to show the ones I’ve made so far at the recent Connecting Higher Education conference at UCL, where the feedback I received included “enchanting” and “outstanding evidence”. Not the kind of response I tend to get for my 20-pagers.

Here, for now without the videos, is the presentation visuals including plenty of images and quotations. Need this bigger? Here’s the link to the original.

Why are throughlines in a programme important? Help from a string quartet

By Gwyneth J Hughes, on 9 January 2017

Learning can be horizontal (accumulating new knowledge and skills in a discipline) or vertical where there is a clear learning journey throughout a programme (progressing knowledge and/or disciplinary skills over time) – or of course both.
The vertical can easily get lost in modular programmes – it may be there but do students know what their overall journey is and whether or not that they are progressing? Maybe not particularly in research based education where the skills being developed can be a bit nebulous. It’s a bit like going for a walk without a destination in mind or even a map.

How playing in a string quartet helped me

DSCN0852crop

The following anecdote illustrates why I became interested in making the learning journey or learning gain more obvious to students and assessing student progress as well as product.

I play in an amateur string quartet and we gathered one evening to view a video recording of our recent charity concert. My three fellow string players’ viewing of the video was accompanied by the harshest of criticism and cries of dismay at our performance. One player even suggested that perhaps we should give up playing altogether. I pointed out that they were comparing our performance to that of professional musicians and that such comparison is not helpful – we were not aiming to compete with other quartets. I reminded them that when we first started playing together two years ago we played as four separate voices and not as an ensemble, but the video recording demonstrated that we were now listening to each other and so there was evidence of how much we had improved. We would not have been able give a credible concert performance at all two years ago and this performance was our personal best. Switching from a judgment based on a competitive standard to an assessment of our progress enabled us to feel much more proud of our performance and continue playing together rather than disband. This incident demonstrated to me very starkly a focus on progress over time rather than only outcomes can have huge motivational benefits.

I am looking at how to apply progress monitoring or ipsative assessment to programmes in higher education.

How I plan to research throughlines of research and assessment

So now I am exploring different methods of setting up explicit throughlines of research and assessment in programmes. For these throughlines to be useful I propose that the throughline activity will be:
• Coherent. Consistent disciplinary and generic skills or attributes are assessed across the programme.
• Recorded. Students and staff have good access to past assessments so these are captured. Digital technologies make this a realistic possibility.
• Motivating. Students are aware of progression so they can be motivated.
• Identifying problems early. Students who are not progressing are managed early.
• Supported. Students are supported in the throughline of study e.g. through self or peer review and/or tutor feedback.

I plan to interview staff from different programmes with different kinds of throughline to explore how far these conditions are met in each case. I plan to look at examples such as:

• Student self-monitoring of professional enquiry skills e.g. MBA in Higher Education Management
• Capstone assessment that brings together work from several modules
• End of programme research project or dissertation
• A long thin module that stretches over a year or more
• Peer feedback across several modules
• Other approaches yet to be identified

Anyone who would like to discuss their programme throughline as part of this research – whether fledgling or more advanced- please get in touch as I would love to talk to you.

My theoretical perspective is explored in: Hughes, G. (2014) Ipsative Assessment: Motivation through marking progress. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

 

Wikipedia as a worldly learning environment

By Mira Vogel, on 9 December 2016

Wikipedia – the encyclopaedia anybody can edit – is one of the most influential, multilingual sources of information in the world. Editing Wikipedia is a very Connected Curriculum friendly pursuit, often requiring students to knit their contributions into an existing community of interest. As well as subject knowledge, encounters with other editors often require students to draw on their sensitivity and powers of persuasion, expressed in discussion about edits on each article’s Talk page.

As well as being a fertile site for assessment, Wikipedia is also labouring under a marked gender imbalance.  Women make up about one in six of the biographical articles on the site, and there are relatively few women editors.

Yesterday marked the beginning of a worldwide campaign to represent more women on Wikipedia. On BBC Radio 4 Today, Thursday 8th December (start at 2 hours 48 minutes), at  Lucy Crompton-Reid, Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK explains  how Wikimedia reflects the bias to men in primary sources and editing and proposes ways to address this. Over on her blog, Professor Alison Littlejohn introduces her research into the transition people make to become Wikipedia editors.

If you or your students are editing Wikipedia, I’d love to hear from you. Or if you’re interested in setting up an editing activity, there are several colleagues and students in UCL with experience to help.

Connecting our Masters students

By Jennifer A Griffiths, on 9 December 2016

The Connected Curriculum (CC) is becoming embedded across UCL at undergraduate level, but more work needs to be done to carry the values of CC through to postgraduate level.

Where are we at the moment?

The nature of a UCL undergraduate programme offers ample opportunity to build in the core values of CC: there is time to develop through-lines of research, dialogue, reflection and skills development. Students build relationships with departments and each other, most students are at a similar point in their life-experience, and the majority of students entering the programmes have values and expectations shaped by the UK education system.
By contrast, most Masters programmes are a full year of intensive study where students need to ‘hit the ground running’ and it is more difficult to find the time to build relationships or reflect upon their educational journey. The single year length often leads to a reduction in the concept of through-lines beyond occasional pre-requisites of first term modules for second term modules. PGT students also enter UCL with a broad range of backgrounds, both in terms of their academic training and their life-experience. This offers increased challenges for implementation of the values of CC into PGT, but also offers unique opportunities. These students, and indeed our staff, can learn a great deal from each other’s experiences, and can use their understanding of the world to work across audiences and workplaces. How can we draw out these conversations and make full use of this wealth of current world experience when the most useful people may well be the ones with the busiest lives?

What are we doing about this?

We want to research how the Connected Curriculum is currently used within PGT at UCL. We’re looking for Masters programmes that can say yes to any of the following questions:

• Is there a through-line of research?
• Are alumni, staff, other students, or external stakeholders engaged by the students?
• Is assessment outward facing?

The survey will begin by analysing programmes through the CC benchmarking grid. When programmes with an active CC component are identified, this project will follow up by considering the student outcomes from these programmes:

• Are these students more engaged?
• Are they more self-aware of their strengths, their community and the wider world implications of their work?
• How do their research skills, and their confidence in using these skills, compare to those on other programmes?

This work will lead to an evaluation of the successes and failure points for the Connected Curriculum in postgraduate education, and a proposal of models of pedagogy, curricula and engagement techniques for new postgraduate programmes that will ensure that our students gain the knowledge and skills that they need for their futures, and become active partners in their own learning.

What next?

If you think that your programme, or part of your programme, has embraced any Connected Curriculum dimensions, then please do get in contact to become part of this project to shape our postgraduate taught future.

Escapism, Popcorn entertainement? Or political film of the year?

By Frank Witte, on 29 November 2016

Queen Jamillia: “The day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it.
Padme:”Let’s pray that day never comes.”

(Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones)

In the coming month the second of a new tranche of Star Wars films hits the cinema, “Rogue One; A Star Wars Story”. As a Connected Curriculum Fellow who also teaches a voluntary 0-credit class on Star Wars I cannot resist writing something about that here for once. But is that escapism? Entertainement? Or a political commentary on the times in which we live?

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