New ODL role

I delighted to be moving into a new role within the University, as Head of ODL Student Education in the new Online Distance Learning Centre.

I’ve been working as Interim Director of Student Education for ODL since June this year on a part-time secondment from my current role. From 1st October I will be working 2 days a week in the new role, moving over full-time from IDEA from January 2017.

ULTA2 Assignment 1 submitted!

Having been on temporary leave from my ULTA2 studies for 12 months due to maternity leave, I’d lost momentum in terms of completing the assignments, despite having done most of the work for these in 2013/14. I’ve made a concerted effort this last month to pull everything together, and managed to submit my first assignment today. One down, one to go!

ULTA2 Learning Outcomes

I’ve fallen rather behind on my ULTA2 tasks, and am using the Easter lull to catch up. The first task of the second module (‘Developing your Practice’) is on learning outcomes. We were asked to read two papers and post our reflections in 200 words. A longer version of my response is reproduced below.

  • Allan, J., 1996. Learning Outcomes in Higher Education. Studies in Higher Education. 21(1), p93-108.
  • Hussey, T., & Smith, P., 2003. The Uses of Learning Outcomes. Teaching in Higher Education. 8(3), p.357-368.

I found the Allan paper helpful in providing a historical overview of the development of learning outcomes (LOs) and the different ways in which they have been used. The main impression for me was that the terminology here is very confused! Allan draws a useful distinction between teaching and learning objectives – the former are what the teacher aims to do (‘explain x’) while the latter are what a successful learner should be able to do at the end of the programme of study. One might object however that the teaching objectives should simply just be to help students achieve the learning objectives, and so the distinction falls away.

Hussey and Smith’s main claim is that LOs should be framed so that they are more flexible and general to allow for the fact that learning will be different for different groups and in different contexts. This is to prevent the opportunity for ‘learning moments’ – unpredictable but beneficial discussion and learning that can occur when students are given some freedom to explore the things that they are interested in – to be lost because of a desire to (a) have LOs that are measurable and therefore teaching that can be evaluated; and (b) avoid unpredictable and undesirable departures from planned LOs. Hussey and Smith criticise current use of LOs but they don’t give examples so it is difficult to assess their claims on this. They recommend the use of broader LOs but again don’t give examples so it is hard to apply their recommendations practically.

Their claim on pp. 357-8 that there is a tension between sticking to learning outcomes and allowing flexibility and freedom in group discussion assumes that learning outcomes are content-oriented. If learning outcomes are more skills-based (i.e. critical engagement, analysis, reasoning, argumentation), which is the case in my discipline of philosophy, then there is less of a tension here. ‘Syllabus’ and ‘learning outcomes’ are used interchangeably which I’m not sure is quite right.

Getting Things Finished

Things are calming down after an extremely busy six months, and I’m reflecting on the status of various of my projects. This is partly prompted by the fact that I’ll going to be on maternity leave from the beginning of September (my partner and I are expecting our second child on 1st October), which adds a certain urgency to things – the next 5 months are going to go very quickly!

I’m feeling slightly stressed by the fact that I have several ongoing projects, and I’m starting to have to think about prioritising things to make sure I can be realistic about what can be acheived. I’d hoped to have finished at least some of these by now (CMALT portfolio, first ULTA2 assignment…) there are others that I’m keen to start (my USEF project…), and some which I’ve had to abandon altogether (participation in #FDOL14…).

I’m trying to identify some of the reasons why I’ve not made the progress I would have liked. Time is clearly a big issue, but it can’t be used as the only excuse. When I say that I’ve not had enough time, what I really mean is that I haven’t had blocks of time available – I tend to need a concentrated period of time to get going with something – I find it very difficult to make progress in short bursts, snatching the odd hour here and there. The daily onslaught of email and admin tasks makes finding a whole day (or better still a whole week) very difficult. Clearly what I need to do is to block out time and turn off distractions such as email in order to get my head down and get something done.

Another pair of issues are indigestion – by which I mean failure to deal properly with the amount of information and resources available; and indecision – inability to choose between multiple tasks. When faced with several possible things to get done, as well as near limitless further resources to follow up on, I find myself slightly paralysed, and make no progress at all. Relatedly, I often spend time bookmarking resources ready to read ‘when I get a chance’, not admitting to myself that the chance is unlikely to materialise unless I force it to do so.

We all know that the first stage to solving a problem is admitting you have it in the first place, so hopefully this post is the first step on the road to finishing some of the things I’ve started!

University Student Education Fellowship

I’m delighted to have been awarded a full University Student Education Fellowship. University Student Education Fellowships are awarded for outstanding contribution to teaching and the development of student learning. Full fellowships are supported by project funding of £15,000 in total, and holders also receive an annual honorarium of £1,000 for three years.

I’m really excited to start my project, which will look at enhancing the experience of non-traditional students (in particular: part-time, mature, international, distance, CPD), through the development of innovative online and blended learning resources and expertise.

Leeds Student Education Conference 3 #SEC3

The 3rd Leeds Student Education Conference was yesterday (third since they renamed it to Student Education, the old Learning and Teaching conference was going for many years previously).

Highlights included a great keynote presentation from Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of the Open University and founder of FutureLearn, which can be viewed on the SEC3 homepage.

CMALT Evidence Brainstorming

Some colleagues (@jimjamyahauk, @becksell2001, and @ladyculottes) and I have been meeting monthly to help each other work on our CMALT portfolios. It’s been slow progress, as inevitably work commitments take priority. At our last meeting we took a slightly different approach, starting from our experience and then applying it to the criteria, rather than starting with the criteria and trying to find experience and evidence that would meet it. We all wrote down all of the different things we do, and have done, which relate to learning technology and student education, and then allocated them to each of the portfolio sections. The results can be seen below (my contributions are the heavy black pen on yellow post its)!

1. Operational Issues


2. Teaching, Learning and Assessment


3. Wider Context


4. Communication


5. Specialist Option