Friday, October 30, 2009

National Student Forum - Annual Report

The National Student forum, which was set up by Government in Feb 2008 to give a greater voice to students on Higher Education courses across England, has produced its second annual report.

Under a range of key topics, the report provides:
  • an ideal vision of what it would be like for students if everything is working well in this area
  • suggestions as to how individual universities and colleges can support students in this area recommendations for Government, and/or for areas which require further consideration and collaboration at a national strategic level
The key topics in this year's report are:
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Employability
  • Postgraduate Students
  • Mature and Part Time Students
  • Disabled Students
  • Accommodation
Under Teaching and Learning (obviously the area I will look at first!), the following comments are made:

"We would like to see all universities and colleges:
  • professionalise teaching and learning within the institution personalise and differentiate approaches to take account of disabilities, learning difficulties and learning styles
  • increase flexibility in course structures and modes of study
  • develop a cross-institutional strategy to enable students to co-design and manage their learning
  • undertake regular reviews of course content and material to ensure currency and relevance (where appropriate to subject matter)
  • ensure a university-wide focus on assessment for, not just of, learning
  • review adequacy and accessibility of study resources for number and range of students
  • monitor and formally record students’ broader learning
In particular, we identified some of the current barriers to the growth of technology-enhanced learning: unequal digital access; unequal digital literacy for both students and staff; the lack of time and lack of support for tutors to develop the necessary skills and restrictive university policies and practices at some institutions.

We would like to see all universities and colleges: implement a systematic policy to enhance traditional teaching methods with new technologies; leverage technology to provide innovative methods of assessment and feedback; implement a dedicated support programme for students and lecturers to develop skills and confidence in using technology; support whole campus access to ICT resources for all students; and promote the university or college’s technology-enhanced learning approaches and resources to prospective students."

Not much to answer there then!

Professionalising teaching in universities is always a thorny subject (maybe more so in some institutions than in others, but for those who are primarily involved in teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students, subject expertise will get you so far, but there is an increasing recognition that teaching IS a key part of the role of a University lecturer, and so aksing for professionalisation of this part of the role is not unreasonable. Of course, promotion and career progression still tend to be associated with parts of the job not associated with teaching....

The increased flexibility and modes of study will come - due to market forces if nothing else. For any institution to maintain the number of its students, relying on the traditional market of 18-22 year olds wanting to study for 3-4 years for a degree, will be difficult in light of student finance and a falling demographic. New modes of study are already being developed which will fit in with a broader range of students' aspirations,

I would hope everyone carries out regular reviews of course content - not just as a part of formal quality procedures, but as a recognition that subjects develop, and the material supporting awards in those subjects needs to move on as well. Sets of lecture notes and slides that are 5 years old, may not just be out of date, they also show to students that we don't care about the material we give them.

Assessment for learning as well as assessment for learning is essential - and links to the other key theme always raised in student surveys - the amount, the timing and the usefulness of feedback given. Institutions and individuals have to develop was of providing this feedback more quickly and during the delivery of a module - not easy with 300 students at a time!

Adequacy and accessibility of resources is always raised as an issue, especially in technical subjects where labs, studios, IT centres are needed. We've already moved to a 24/7 library and information service, and have increased lab and studio opening times, but these are a finite resource that are under heavy demand for 24 weeks a year. So what about the other 28 weeks.........

Monitoring and recording student's broader learning - increased used of negotiated modules, and fully negotiated awards goes some way to recognising and providing a solution to this issue. Broadening this to wider groups of students might also present two possible issues - resourcing, and ensuring credibility of any learning accredited in this way.

All in all, a welcome report, that shows real demands from real studnets, as opposed to some of the more hysterical comments in the press, and one which provides plenty of food for thought

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