L&T Conference 2013

What makes an excellent course?

The 2013 conference shared practice in creating and delivering an excellent course experience for students – the nuts and bolts, bells and whistles.

The day was organised around the themes of:

  • Course identity – How does the course create a sense of belonging and a sense of transformation? This theme explores the value of course identity for students and staff and how this can be developed to promote engagement, build engagement, professionalism and disciplinary knowledge. This theme will receive proposals that address ideas of community, especially where practice and initiatives make connections across modules and enhance employability.
  • Credibility – Credibility and course authenticity relate to the perceptions and experiences of students, staff, employers and professionals. The theme embraces ideas of authenticity, reliability and quality. Relevance, meaning and usefulness, especially in relation to professional practice and employability will characterise the proposals for this theme.
  • Supporting students – This theme will describe how students experience the course, transition into, through and out of it, and accommodates a lifewide and lifelong approach to the student experience. Submissions will include accounts of good and emerging support strategies, as well as curriculum designs that peer learning and mentoring for students, for example.
  • The technology-enhanced course – This theme explores how technology can be used to enhance student engagement in their course. For example, the theme will present examples of innovative practice in using Blackboard, Collaborate, social media, mobile and smart technologies, technology-enhanced feedback, especially in ways that help to establish a strong course experience for students and staff.

Keynote Speaker: Graham Gibbs

Graham Gibbs referred to his two reports Dimensions of Quality and the Implications of ‘Dimensions of Quality’ in a market environmentHe also recommended Chickering and Gamson’s “Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education

If we want to improve our courses, what should we be paying attention to, and how should we go about making changes?

This talk is based around two national reports Prof. Gibbs was commissioned to write. The first, ‘Dimensions of Quality’, reviewed educational literature to identify which variables are known to have an impact on how much students learn – and which variables have no impact, or are uninterpretable. If universities wish to succeed in the current higher education market driven by quality indicators then it helps to know which indicators are valid and which are not. The second report examined the way English universities are currently behaving in this market, what change processes they are adopting, and which of these appear to be succeeding … and failing. There is currently more effort expended on the improvement of teaching – or at least of NSS scores – than ever before, but not all of this effort appears to be productive. The two reports are being used by universities to orient teaching and learning improvement efforts, and by the government to modify the way the market is operating by adopting better performance indicators.

Graham Gibbs retired from his position as Professor and Director of the Oxford Learning Institute, University of Oxford, in 2008. His research has encompassed the effects of class size on student learning, whether training university teachers makes any difference, and how departments and universities become better at teaching. He has led a series of national and international teaching development initiatives since the 1980’s – his most recent being the TESTA project that improves student learning by changing assessment regimes at programme level, now used by many universities globally. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Sheffield Hallam University in 1998, and by the University of Utrecht in 2006, for his leadership of the improvement of university teaching. He is currently a (very part time) Professor at the University of Winchester where he is supporting the involvement of students in the evaluation and improvement of teaching.