The section on visualising course information describes the Newcastle University dynamic learning maps tool initially developed in response to particular issues in medical education where there were a lot of academic staff who taught very small elements of a course or module and who consequently did not have an overview of how their teaching fitted into the curriculum as a whole.
The tool is now supporting a wide range of functions and the University has developed a series of scenarios to show how it benefits particular users. The curriculum manager scenario highlights how greater transparency about the curriculum helps support the manager in key areas of delivery and review such as:
- Getting better teacher involvement and performance through showing them what they need to deliver in the context of what has gone before and what goes after
- Improving feedback from teachers about their orientation in the curriculum
- Being able to see where there is redundancy and duplication in the curriculum
- Being able to see that the curriculum is coherent and that we aim to deliver what we agree we should be aiming for
- Being able to show internal and external quality assurance processes that we meet specific requirements and where we meet them in the course
- Being able to place new things in the curriculum and take some things out without having to take the whole course to bits and rewrite everything
- Being able to show what bits of the curriculum we are assessing in our exams and what bits we are not so we can target specific areas and address gaps in assessment
Such benefits are applicable not only within single modules or courses but also across the wider curriculum. The ability to gain a clear overview of the curriculum permits modelling to understand where dependencies on certain modules are high (see example below) and to model the impact of proposed changes as well as offering an understanding of the extent to which existing institutional structures, processes and regulatory requirements may constrain the pathways of study available to the student.
A change for the better?
The University of Lincoln has also been doing some extremely interesting work in terms of visualising course data that has important ramifications for understanding the delivered curriculum and the implications of changes made during course review.
One example looks at the relationship between modules used on different courses and illustrates how visualisation could help course planners ensure that changes to a particular module did not have unintended consequences for other courses:
"Take for instance, a module that contains an element of group work. Five courses use this module, four of which are run by one particular college, the fifth course is run by a completely separate college. Four of the courses have far too much group work, it is decided, so the decision is made to remove the group work element from the module. Do those involved in the decision know that the module is used by a course in college B, and, that the module is the only element of group work within a year’s study on the course? Removing the group work element would mean that the course doesn’t contain all of the required elements to be re-validated, obviously causing problems further down the line."
University of Lincoln
At Manchester Metropolitan University an online repository of curriculum information is yielding benefits by enabling the University to gain a more immediate overview of how the curriculum is performing and an online student survey now tests the views of students twice-yearly mirroring aspects of the National Student Survey to pick up early on issues that need to be addressed.
With these improvements in place, the university is poised to move from retrospective, faculty-based annual course monitoring to a live process of continuous monitoring and improvement, enabling the health of programmes and units to be checked at appropriate times in the academic year. Any actions taken can be also reported to students within the year, a significant advance in terms of improving the student experience.
Jisc activity supporting curriculum design and delivery has produced a wealth of staff development materials to support ongoing enhancement of academic practice. Examples include material from City University on revising module specifications and revising programme specifications.