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


Quality and Support for Distance and Blended Learners #altc2013 Day 3

My final set of reflections from altc2013…

Quality Assurance

Building a community-informed framework for assuring quality in distance learning programmes. The first session of the day, from Richard Walker and Wayne Britcliffe, University of York, was on a project to assure quality in distance learning programmes. Developed out of their Distance Learning Forum, which was set up in recognition that there is a danger that distance learning and be a silo activity, the aim is to ensure consistency, and share good practice. They have now an agreed set of standards for all York DL programmes, and the interactive webiste that they’ve developed  includes examples of good practice and suggestions of how to achieve and maintain the standards. Definitely something to follow up on with the Leeds ODL Network.

Teaching Online

Sue Folley from the University of Huddersfield presented some of the results of her doctoral research, on academic perceptions of differences between teaching face-to-face and online teaching. Staff reported negative experiences of teaching online, and there was a call for more training for tutors who will be tutoring online.


The Journey is the Reward: Online Induction for Online Distance Learning

Another great project from the University of Dundee, this time about induction for distance learners, something I’ve been working on a lot this year. Aileen McGuigan and Lucy Golden presented their new online induction pathway, which looked absolutely brilliant – something to aspire to!

A couple of things I noted: The pathway started with hand-holding (e.g. direct links to each document). It then backs off, finishing with directions to the document, so that the students have to follow these themselves to access it. I really like the idea of this gradual increase in independence.  The pathway finishes with a piece of reflective writing, involving referencing, critical engagement with literature etc. This is definitely another thing to follow up on.

And finally… a little bit of empathy

Blended Learning – The Perspective of the Learner Working on Placement. Leeds College of Music. Ruth Clark had us working in groups to record short musical pieces to demonstrate the important message that we need to have empathy with our students – when asking them to do unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable tasks (such as engaging with technology) we should make sure we know what it feels like.

Digitally Developing Staff and Students #altc2013 day 1

Below are my hurried reflections on the first day of altc2013

As always, it was difficult to choose which sessions to attend. I’ve tried to pull together some themes from those that I went to:

Staff development, staff attitudes:

I guess not surprising, since many of those attending are learning technologists and staff developers, but there was a lot on howto encourage staff take-up of technology, how to harness early adopters, and why some staff engage more than others. There was a sense that LTs are often comings up against multiple barriers and resistances when trying to get any LT project off the ground, and there was a large amount of understandable frustration at this.

Another theme, which continues into day 2, so I’ll write about in the next post, is students attitudes to technology. There are interesting parallels here, as James Little points out:


Digital literacy, employability, PPD, readiness to learn:

It’s clear that digital skills are a focus for many people, both in staff development and student learning. Interesting to think about the best way to approach digital literacy training. Common suggestion was that the first task is to assess the starting point, as everyone will be starting from a different place.

John Clayton gave a really interesting talk on some self-reflective questionnaires that they’ve developed on assessing student’s readiness to learn from a range of perspectives.

A couple more thoughts from Twitter:



Further random thoughts:

Lots of JISC funded projects! What’s going to happen now that, as i understand it at least, these funding streams have slowed?

Most presentations I saw were from perspective of institution or central or faculty LT team, often projects to develop a particular tool or promote particular literacies etc. Would be interested in more about what people are actually doing in practice on the ground. How do these things actually work? Models for practice. I think there will be more of this tomorrow…

Accessibility in slides! Disappointed in number of people still using red and green text on their slides with colourful backgrounds.

Beware of the shiny!

Finally, there was a strong sense that we need to resist tech for tthe sake of it, and beware the lure of exciting new tools without thinking what problem they are solving or what outocme they help acheive. as several people, including Rich Goodman, put it:


ULTA2 Equality and Diversity

The last task of the first ULTA2 module is to reflect on equality, diversity and accessibility issues. We were asked to review our Faculty diversity statistics, and to assess our own practice against accessibility checklists. My reflections are below.

A few things struck me when looking at the diversity statistics for the Faculty of Arts. Across the faculty the majority of students are female, but the proportions change as you move from UG to PGR level, at which point it becomes fairly even. This implies that although women are overrepresented in Arts, they are not progressing to postgraduate level, which perhaps is an issue for recruitment. At TP level, 41% are aged 25+, but only 14% are 36+. Our TP programmes buck the trend here, as we tend to attract a higher proportion of students in middle age. This has implications for support needs – they are more likely to have caring responsibilities than younger students. The statistics on religion prompted me to think about specific issues that I might face teaching sensitive ethical issues such as abortion to students of varying religious backgrounds. I was surprised at the low proportion of students identifying as suffering from a mental illness as I have encountered quite a few students with issues in this area. Perhaps the statistics reflect the fact that people with mental illness do not necessarily identify as disabled.

I found reviewing the accessibility guidance very useful. I was aware of some of the issues here, and had tried already to consider accessibility requirements. But reviewing the SDDU checklists in detail highlighted a few specific issues that I need to review (use of italics, underlining, right-justifying text), as well as a more general point – that it is important to be proactive and upfront in relation to accessibility – not to wait until students ask for help but to provide accessible information wherever possible and to make it clear that you are striving to do so.

eLearning, Technology Enhanced Learning, Online Distance Learning, Philosophy and Applied Ethics