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UCL Education Strategy: where have we got to and where are we headed?

By ucypasm, on 1 May 2019

Anthony Smith, UCL Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)

Anthony Smith, UCL Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)

It is now three years since we launched the Education Strategy 2016-21.  The strategy is underpinned by the belief that during their time at UCL our students should experience directly the world-class research of academics and researchers so that they too understand the uncertainty at the boundaries of knowledge, become knowledge creators themselves, and build the skills they need to excel in their future careers.

Half way through, now is a good point to take stock of what has been achieved and look at what lies ahead for the next two years.

Personalising student support

We have improved how we help new students to settle in and organise their first few weeks. In its first year of operation, the Welcome to UCL app, with checklists for every stage of arrival and details of more than 1405 induction events, was downloaded more than 15,000 times and used by more than 70% of students  Our personal tutoring handbooks and digital resources explain the purpose and function of personal tutoring to students and staff, helping them to get the most out of their meetings.

Further work to support the transition to UCL life is underway.  The Transition Programme, where small groups of first-year undergraduate students are mentored on all aspects of university life by second years, is being reviewed to create more structured guidance for mentors, with a focus on how to get the most out of lectures and seminars, and how to use assessment and feedback effectively. This autumn we will be piloting our Introductory Programme, a new on-line programme that introduces offer-holders to UCL’s interdisciplinary approach and to new ways of thinking and enables them to explore our campus and connect with other students before they arrive.

Print resources And we are improving the way we support our students once they are here. We’ll be launching the Academic Communication Centre (ACC) in September 2019. The ACC will work directly with students to support their academic writing, and support programme leads to integrate academic writing into the taught curriculum. Later this month we are producing a comprehensive Module Catalogue, a significant step towards a much more positive experience of module choice and registration for students and staff alike. This has been made possible by improvements to our student records system – the result of intense prolonged collaboration between Academic Services and departments.

Our new Student Success Platform will join up the support we offer to our students: askUCL, a new enquiry management system where staff and students can raise and track enquiries, streamlining referral processes; and a personal tutoring support system that enables staff and students to manage their interactions, arranging and logging meetings and making referrals for specific support. Our new Student Health and Wellbeing Strategy aims to embed a university-wide approach to health and wellbeing so that our students can be successful and enjoy their time at UCL.

We want every student to achieve their full potential so we are working hard to make education at UCL  inclusive. Departmental colleagues have been using the Inclusive Curriculum Health Check to identify areas where their programmes and programme delivery could be made more inclusive. And through our BME Attainment Project, we are recruiting and training students to act as consultants to work with staff to develop their curricula with broader representation of thought and approaches, beyond the traditional euro-centric western canon.

Putting research and enquiry at the heart of learning

We introduced the Connected Curriculum, UCL’s framework for integrating a research-based education into all our taught programmes. It is a tool to prompt discussion about curricula to ensure our students get the most from what UCL has to offer.  In 2017-18, our departments benchmarked their programmes to find out the extent to which they reflected these dimensions. There is a growing bank of case studies on the UCL Teaching and Learning Portal that showcase the ways in which colleagues are developing the different dimensions of the Connected Curriculum into their modules and programmes.

UCL Education Conference question from the floorThere’s been an acceleration in the award of HEA Fellowships, thanks to the work of the Arena Centre for Research-based Education, and earlier this year Anil Doshi from the School of Management was the 1,000th UCL colleague to achieve Fellowship through the Arena Programme. But professional development doesn’t stop there. Every year more than 400 staff attend UCL Education Conference, for a programme packed with presentations by colleagues sharing their innovative practice and research.

Improving assessment and feedback

Our students continue to tell us that the way we are supporting their learning and evaluating their progress needs to get better.  There is no silver bullet here and we have been tackling this problem through a number of different initiatives. To ensure fairness and maintain academic standards, we have introduced a single set of academic regulations for all taught programmes, with more supportive progression regulations and clear classification regulations and algorithms.  The new regulations support staff to develop and make use of a variety of forms of assessment – we know that diversity in assessment is vital for inclusion. Our Assessment Review continues, and UCL Arena Centre will soon start to work with departments to audit their assessments, using a methodology known as TESTA which has had proven impact elsewhere in the sector.  We have also developed more print and online resources to help our students make the most of their assessment and feedback, as well as drawing their attention to processes such as Extenuating Circumstances and Condonement.

The experience for our students has been improved by the move to a single modern facility at ExcelLondon. Thanks to system and process improvements, the Exam Timetable now has an earlier publication date in February and we have rolled out Late Summer Assessments across the university, so that our students can take deferred exams or resits without having to wait until the following year.

Developing student engagement and leadership

So that we can gather feedback from our students, we have overhauled the student survey cycle, introducing PTES, New to UCL and Student Experience Survey (for penultimate year undergraduates), and dropping the Student Barometer. We are now working on making the results of these surveys accessible through Tableau, so that staff can delve into the data and work out priority areas for improvement. In the three years since its launch, our Student Experience Panel has grown to 1100 active participants, providing another way of gathering student perspectives and feedback on issues outside of their programmes.

UCL ChangeMakers, our scheme that brings students and staff together to work on projects to enhance education within departments, is being scaled up to give students the opportunity to collaborate on projects of institution-wide impact.

Our current Student Voice project is reviewing how student voices shape our decision making and how we can make students more active participants in the process of improvement. Currently there are many different ways in which students are asked to evaluate the modules they have studied. We are scoping a Module Evaluation Platform with a view to harmonise module evaluation across the university, to improve the experience for our students and to provide more useful data and insight.

Preparing students for the workplace and the world

UCL Student Opportunities GuideWe have introduced annual careers registration for all undergraduate and postgraduate taught students In the first year, 96% of new and returning students completed careers registration, giving us extremely valuable data, so that we can provide targeted support, reaching those students who would benefit from intensive careers advice at a much earlier stage. So that UCL Careers can give effective support to recent graduates and enhance graduate outcomes, an Exit Survey for graduating students is being developed. In particular, the data will enable us to identify which students are at risk of leaving without having secured their next opportunity.

Our Global Internships Programme encourages UCL students to undertake an international summer internship during their time at university, offering internship opportunities, funding and advice on working overseas.

Enriching digital learning

We have invested £2.5m in audio visual facilities across the campus and continue to enable Lecturecast across our teaching estate. Early adopters of Reflect, our blogging platform for staff and students, are enthusiastic about its potential to enhance teaching and learning.

We keep how we want to teach and learn under constant review so that we can continue to design an online environment to support changing pedagogic and social approaches as well as taking advantage of rapidly advancing technology. We will work closely with academic colleagues to meet increasing demand for good online content to support digital learning. And compliance with new accessibility legislation will ensure that all content on our digital estate is inclusive.

Creating a teaching estate to meet our needs

When we launched the Education Strategy in 2016 there was an acute shortage of teaching and learning spaces that was seriously diminishing the experience for students and staff alike.  Three years on there is still much to do but much has been achieved.  In 2016-17 alone, we increased the number of study spaces by 15% and through Transforming UCL increased teaching seat capacity by 23%, as well as refurbishing significant buildings such as Bentham House, home to the Faculty of Laws, and creating Wilkins Terrace, a new outdoor social space at the heart of the Bloomsbury Campus.

We have made operational improvements to the timetable and introduced a system that tells students where they can find free study spaces. There is still more work to be done on timetabling but it is possible to see how improved module choice with the new module catalogue, earlier module registration, better systems and higher quality management information will enable us to make much-needed further progress in the medium term.

UCL Student CentreA personal highlight has been the recent opening of the Student Centre.  Five years in planning and build, this was conceived in partnership with our students and reflects our commitment not only to them, but also to world-class architecture, construction and sustainability.  Being really high quality and with students at its heart, it is the physical embodiment of everything that we have been seeking to achieve through the Education Strategy.

Evolving the culture

We have been working hard to raise the status of education at UCL, to secure parity of esteem for the work of our educators and those who support them. In 2018 we introduced the Academic Career Framework, which enables recognition and reward for teaching activity and encourages innovation and education leadership.

So as we enter the next phase of the Education Strategy, thank you to everyone who has helped to get us this far. We are making great progress. The many initiatives to improve and develop our practice, processes, systems and facilities will all help in this next phase, but most of all it will be your continuing dedication to our students that will make the crucial difference.  And for that I thank you very much indeed.

Why it’s important to let our students know we’re listening

By ucypasm, on 4 December 2018

Our students have many opportunities to make their voices heard, so why don’t they think we’re acting on their feedback?

Our Student Engagement team can help you tell your students how they are driving change.

Professor Anthony Smith


At the heart of what we are doing is the idea of students as partners – a key principle that we wrote into UCL2034 and followed through in the Education Strategy 2016- 21.

This was developed through wide-reaching consultation with students as well as staff, and is predicated on working in partnership with our students towards our objectives of all students having a stretching and challenging education and a fulfilling experience to prepare them for the next stage in their careers.

What does partnership look like?

Our partnerships with students take many forms and I am proud of all the ways that have been established – at department, faculty and institution level – to enable our students to make their voices heard and create real and lasting change for them and their successors. We know that such engagement is a positive influence on the quality of their experience at UCL.

Students’ Union UCL and Student Academic Representatives: we work closely with the elected Sabbatical Officers and staff of the UCL Students’ Union. The Students’ Union trains and inspires more than 1,350 Student Academic Representatives, who work at department and faculty level to represent the opinions and ideas of their undergraduate and postgraduate classmates.

Every department has a Student Staff Consultative Committee (SSCC), where staff and student representatives meet at least termly to discuss issues raised by students and come up with solutions.

Student surveys and consultations: students are given the opportunity to reflect on many aspects of their experience of UCL at different points during their time here through our institutional surveys, New to UCL, Student Experience Survey, National Student Survey, PTES [link to Annual Survey Cycle].

Our students give more specific feedback about their academic experience through module evaluation and work is underway to buy a new system to reduce the administrative burden on departments of running these surveys.

Student Experience Panel and focus groups: students are recruited to focus groups for consultation on initiatives to make the student experience better, for example, ensuring that regulations around exams and extenuating circumstances are clear and fair, or asking students for their feedback on how UCL handles enquiries and questions about access to services.

Our thousand-strong Student Experience Panel gives feedback through surveys, workshops or user-testing on anything from the design of new print material to the key message of a campaign. Find out more about working with the Student Experience Panel or how to submit a request on the Teaching and Learning portal.

Active engagement: as ChangeMakers, Arena Student Fellows and Student Reviewers, our students collaborate with staff across the university to improve the student experience (for example, reviewing and replacing a key textbook with an alternative, more accessible option for the Psychology with Education BSc programme, establishing a dissertation ‘mixer’ event for third year students to help prepare second years on the BA Geography programme and the development of the UCL ChangeMaker Guides to Assessment and Feedback.)

Poor NSS score for Student Voice

In spite of the mechanisms that are in place, we perform poorly on the ‘Student Voice’ measure in the National Student Survey.  In 2018 we scored 68%, compared with the sector average of 73%. Look more closely at the three questions that combine to create this score, and it is clear where the problem lies.

  • 84% of our students agree that they have had the right opportunities to provide feedback on their course – here we are absolutely in line with the sector.
  • But only 69% of our students agree that staff value students’ views and opinions about the course
  • And, worryingly, only just over half our students (51%) agree with the statement ‘It is clear how students’ feedback on the course has been acted on’.

Across UCL in recent years you have made a tremendous number of positive changes. So why don’t our students think we’re listening? Perhaps because we aren’t communicating that change effectively.

This matters. First, because that’s how successful partnerships work – if you work alongside students to make change, if you consult them about the way you do things, then part of the partnership process is to tell them how they’ve made a difference.

Second, closing the loop helps you to measure the impact of the changes you’ve made – if you’ve acted on what your students are telling you and your students can see the difference, then they’ll let you know through surveys and more informal feedback.

Third, the metrics matter to our reputation. In 2020 we will make our subject-level submission to the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF). One of the metrics that will be used to measure the quality of a UCL education will be the Student Voice metric of NSS.

How can you tell your students about change?

We have just appointed Professor Deborah Gill as UCL’s first Pro Vice-Provost (Student Experience) and engaging with students is key to her role. Early in the New Year, Professor Gill and our Head of Student Engagement, Sally Mackenzie, will be meeting with departments to understand local challenges and identify ways that my office can offer support to communicate the changes that have been driven by your students.

There are several ways to do this:

Celebrate positive change

We are privileged to be able to attract such talented students to UCL and we must make the most of the opportunities to benefit from their ideas to improve the education we offer.

And finally, communicating the positive changes gives us the opportunity to thank all the students and staff who are making a difference and shaping UCL for the better.

New technologies are crucial to our curriculum and its delivery

By ucypasm, on 10 May 2018

The transformation of our digital estate must keep pace with that of our physical estate, if we are to deliver a world class education, says Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)

Our students expect a blended education, with easy online access to lecture materials and further reading, recordings of lectures, as well as opportunities for virtual collaboration with their peers. Our Digital Education team has developed the ABC (Arena, Blended, Connected) ‘rapid development’ workshop for curriculum design so that blended learning can be systematically embedded into formal programme and module planning and I warmly encourage colleagues to get in touch with the team, digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk, to arrange a workshop for your programme. So far 173 modules and 28 CPD courses and MOOCs have been designed or redesigned through 69 ABC workshops with academic teams.

Of course, key to blended learning is Moodle, our digital learning environment. Moodle is widely used by students and staff and I am pleased that we have agreed on the UCL E-Learning Baseline, a set of minimum standards for every Moodle course, including the desirability, requested by the Students’ Union, that lecture materials be made available online 48 hours in advance, where that is practicable.

After a huge increase in use by students, the Digital Education team is preparing to reconfigure Moodle for the start of session 2018-19, to make it more responsive and accessible, and to make sure that it reflects accurately the module data currently being collected by the Academic Model Project (see below). I recognise that this will place an additional burden on teaching and teaching support staff, at a time when they are managing other new initiatives such as the Late Summer Assessment period and I would like to thank everyone in advance for their support for this urgent and necessary work. The new Moodle will bring a new, more accessible theme (the look and feel that sits on top of Moodle), that will enable those with disabilities to better use the VLE, as well as making it easier for all staff and students to navigate and use. Read more about the Accessible Moodle theme and the project that made it happen on the Digital Education blog.

lecture being delivered

Lecturecast, where students can revisit all or part of their lectures, is one of the services that receives very positive feedback from students. The accessibility it affords strengthens the inclusive nature of our education, and helps our students to direct their own learning. There has been a five-fold increase in the use of Lecturecast this year – 50% of classes held in Lecturecast-enabled spaces are now being recorded. I encourage departments and individuals to use the system wherever possible – students are clear that this is what they want and increasingly expect. We are planning to install the technology into smaller classrooms in addition to our large capacity lecture theatres over the next few years to meet student demand.

Technology supporting assessment and feedback

Digital technology is already bringing improvements to assessment and feedback across our taught programmes. Introduced nearly ten years ago, Turnitin is a digital system that works via Moodle to manage all stages of the assessment process for written assessments, including submission, marking and returning work, giving feedback and supporting good academic writing. Turnitin is now used in nearly all departments and more than 200,000 pieces of work have been submitted already this year.

MyFeedback, a tool within Moodle, allows students to view all their assessment feedback in a single view, which means that they can compare and identify common areas for improvement, with the support of their personal tutors. MyFeedback provides quick access to feedback provided in Moodle Assignments, Turnitin Assignments, quizzes, workshops (for peer assessment) and feedback within the Moodle gradebook. The MyFeedback report was developed at UCL and is now being used by more than 400 other institutions worldwide. But many UCL modules do not provide electronic feedback within Moodle, which means MyFeedback cannot be used by these students. Assessment and feedback is the one area where we have struggled to demonstrate consistent improvement across UCL. Students tell us this and it was reflected in last year’s Teaching Excellence Framework and will come into even sharper focus in subject-level TEF. The MyFeedback tool is one approach to help with feedback. Please take a look at it or ask for a demonstration. It is a powerful tool that we need to adopt more widely across UCL.

The digital spine of UCL education

Thank you to everyone who has been collaborating with Academic Services on the Academic Model Project, through which we are making urgent improvements to Portico. This comprehensive exercise to gather module data, programme summaries, and teaching and assessment data will result in the streamlining of many processes – for example, students will find module selection much more straightforward. This project touches on other services including Moodle and Lecturecast, and we are working to avoid disruption to these key services at start of session. Preparations for the next phase of the project has already begun, focussing on the delivery of further process improvements to key areas including module registration, progression and award. Again, I would like to thank everyone involved in the collection and processing of this data. These projects add to your already substantial workload, but the dividend will be efficient systems with quick access to accurate data that will improve our teaching delivery.

Our ambition is to deliver exceptional teaching and learning: giving all our students the opportunity to conduct original research, to learn across disciplines and to develop, through their programmes and extracurricular opportunities, the skills that will help them towards rewarding and exciting careers. A digital infrastructure that is robust, reliable and user-friendly is vital to meet this ambition. Thank you for all your work with our digital environment – it will greatly enhance the student experience.

NSS and preparing for subject-level TEF

By ucypasm, on 6 February 2018

The National Student Survey (NSS) – the annual survey of all undergraduate students in their final year of study – is now open and we are actively encouraging all eligible students to complete it.

The NSS has been with us since 2006 and it has become the single most persuasive driver for education change in UK universities. The feedback we get from our students completing the NSS is enormously valuable. While it doesn’t tell the whole story of what is happening across UCL, NSS scores and comments are the most listened-to voice of our undergraduate students. They help us to prioritise investment in the people, systems and facilities we need to improve their education. (more…)

Supporting students to succeed: priorities for 2017-18

By ucypasm, on 16 October 2017

Professor Anthony Smith, UCL Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)

Professor Anthony Smith, UCL Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)

To say that the higher education landscape was facing rapid change and uncertainty was a cliche even five years ago, but now it seems like an understatement.

The Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has put university education in the spotlight and we began 2017 expecting that inflation-tracking increases in tuition fees for Home/EU students would be based on TEF outcomes.