Report

Assuring learning is a vital element in educational practice. It is a feedback mechanism for learning and teaching practice, allowing educators to review students’ achievements in relation to the expectations set for the learning experience, and to use this data to continually inform practice. All those involved in education should be engaged with assuring learning, but in the current standards-driven climate, it is regularly viewed as a compliance activity and a burden that encroaches on teaching and research time. This view needs to be dismissed: a cultural change is required to encourage mindsets that recognise that assurance of learning is beneficial to students, academics and institutions in improving learning and teaching experiences. This fellowship takes a step towards re-engaging academics with assurance of learning by examining curriculum design in a holistic manner, fostering a collaborative approach to design.
This ‘whole-of-course’ curriculum-design approach for assuring learning focuses around course (degree) learning outcomes. It works with course teams to develop appropriate outcomes that meet all the internal and external body requirements, and to use these outcomes to drive design. It encourages course teams to embed course learning outcomes directly into subjects (units of study) to introduce, develop and then assure, a technique that results in assessments aligning directly to course learning outcomes (as required by legislation – see Higher Education Standards Framework: 5.1 (2011)), and to provide consistency to students and academics in relation to the overall aims of the degree. The differing expectations and contexts for students at various stages of the degree are then mediated by the assessment tasks used in subjects to monitor progress.
The next element of the approach is agreed criteria and levels of achievement for the different stages of the degree, by the course team collaboratively developing whole-of-course rubrics for each course learning outcome. This, again, provides a consistent message to students about the expectations that have been set depending on where they are in their degree. It also, if developed in a social constructivist way, ensures that academics teaching on a course have a shared understanding of each course learning outcome and the standard required from students. If this calibration is done well, the instructor’s judgements on students’ performance for a course learning outcome are comparable to others’ judgements on the same outcome.
To embed this into the curriculum, the course team must design authentic assessment and learning activities that provide a valid and progressive way to both develop and assess each course learning outcome. This whole-of-course approach to designing key learning activities and assessment tasks means that the course is designed in a scaffolded way, where both students and staff can see progression. These assessment points can then be used to collate evidence to demonstrate achievement with summative assessments focussing on these key tasks. This also provides an opportunity for students to take ownership of demonstrating their learning by collating portfolios.
Only after these whole-of-course design activities are in place can curriculum mapping take place to find the best subjects within which to embed the learning activities and assessments. This holistic design is not a common approach in higher education, with many degrees mapping course learning outcomes at the beginning, and subject coordinators then developing their subjects in isolation.
This fellowship consisted of three parts:
• Coaching – working with institutions who were going through curriculum review to collaboratively revise their course using this whole-of-course approach;
• Dissemination – conducting workshops and presenting at conferences to share the thinking behind whole-of-course design as well as examples of good practice to a wider audience. This also facilitated engaging participants in conversation to further develop the approach; and
• Resource development – expanding the assuringlearning.com website to incorporate materials to support course teams in adopting a whole-of-course approach. These resources included animations to explain concepts at each stage; ‘talking head’ videos from course directors who had experience in the whole-of-course design approach; coached workshop materials and templates; examples of good practice; conference abstracts and presentations; and workshop materials. In addition to these resources, the fellowship allowed for an open-source online tool to be developed (the Curriculum Design Workbench) to step course teams through the whole-of-course design approach, collating, mapping and summarising data on course learning outcomes, rubrics, assessment tasks and learning activities, as teams progress through the stages.
The fellowship has been able to engage with over 1,200 participants from 62 universities and nine other higher-education-related organisations over six countries, in a total of 46 dissemination events. The feedback has been very positive, but, more importantly, the conversations have been rich for all involved, especially the fellow. The evaluations suggest that the fellowship is going to have significant impact on the sector in beginning the move to a mindset that sees assurance of course learning outcomes as a basic educational principle that can be achieved through a collaborative whole-of-course design approach. This has been a heartening experience, for which I thank the Office of Learning and Teaching for their faith in me and their support to undertake my campaign to change the way we think about curriculum design.

Final Report