MEd Academic Practice – Curriculum Design 2

Time for the second session of the curriculum design module ‘Enhancing the Student Experience through Course Design and Delivery (ESEtCDD)’ as part of the Masters in Education (MEd) in Academic Practice I am studying. I fear I might have bitten off more than I can chew this term…but it is only one term, post-Christmas and New Year will be a whole different story. Anyway, enough of that talk, here’s my write-up from today’s session.

We began the day by reflecting on and discussing the pre-reading for session 2, which included the Birmingham City University (BCU) Strategic Plan 2020, Conditions of Flexibility (June 2014) from The Higher Education Academy, Engagement through Partnership (July 2014) from The Higher Education Academy and an overview of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). My personal reflections on these documents are going into another reflective blog post, with other links, sources and findings. So here are reflections from today’s session…

BCU’s Strategic Plan 2020 replaced our need for a learning and teaching strategy…it was the branding flagship of Professor Cliff Allan when he took over as Vice Chancellor at BCU. The terminology within the document is interesting…it states students as “customers” and “clients”. We have to accept there is a change in paradigm, to commercial drivers not dis-similar from the American system that you pay for your degree. When you read around student as consumer, it often doesn’t play out with how students actually interact with the university after the initial 2-3 months of study, they often revert. One member of the group stated, we are customers to our GP’s, indirectly paying for the NHS…raising the notion of indirect versus direct expectation and service. Students still perceive paying their student loan as not paying us “directly”…thus, indirection as to where the money goes, going via a third-party. Do the students see themselves as “consumers” or students as “learners”? The 2020 vision has a slightly different vision to what it might have been 10 years ago. This is a sector-wide thing…they are trying to corporatise the position of the university, usually coinciding with a change in Vice Chancellor.

There is a clear paradigm shift and uncertain terminologies…from a personal perspective, so much focus is being given to giving the best to clients and customers, what about the internal market, the staff? What about us being prepared in giving the best to the clients and customers? What if the internal market (the staff) isn’t satisfied, where does the dream go? Due to the Conservative government, we have moved back 40 years in the educational paradigm for under 18 year olds…attempt to move towards something more progressive? Is the Higher Education sector going to end up with a Labour Government who wants to abolish all tuition fees? Or a slightly different dynamic in terms of largely bursaries and more robust scholarship system to support students? I don’t envisage moving away from a student “customer” notion. Do we just have to acknowledge it to move on? There are more ways to skin a cat. In the age we are living in, there are certain messages that we have to absorb.

We were asked whether there was anything we fundamentally disagreed with in the documents we read for the session. I stated that the documents all talk about “student-engagement” and “student-led” learning but none of the documents had any real voice of the students…it was created on behalf of them. Surely the alumni voice might be useful here? It was questioned as to whose responsibility is it to educate the students in having an opinion? To be in a position of understanding of what the options are…harder for students to offer an opinion as they are coming from the national curriculum where critical thinking isn’t part of it…however, great teachers, teach this. How do we embed a student voice from an informed point of view? We should be asking students what it is like to be students…not about education! To make it interesting for them, what is important? Is it about learning space? Access to technology? Approachable people in the learning environments? They might not be able to articulate it so we need to give them a framework.

“Rather than worrying about everyone and raising the crowd, we focus on the shooting stars and turn them into meteors (for marketing).”

Are we going to just repeat the process of FE in HE to meet institutional targets? How do we go about developing the curriculum to give them the higher order thinking skills? We need to focus on transition. Do we actually understand transition? I mentioned that international students, largely from East Asia, are not taught freedom of thought and as “internationalising” education is a key prerogative for (the future) HEI’s, which makes it even harder to teach them how to have an informed opinion and how to communicate it.

“Internationalising education is not just about students from other cultures coming to study in the UK, it is about how we learn from each others cultures, it’s not just about the international agenda, its how we create global awareness and citizenship.”

When talking about the early stages of the Internet and the world-wide web, it was created as an information exchange, a repository for data…it wasn’t conceivable that we would have conversations by text (e-mail) or that we would have full communication by Skype, Facetime, Facebook, Viber…that we’d be able to talk by social networks.

“We need to change our notion of what internationalisation is…it is working with the shifting tides…it is about global citizenship. These shifting tides never stop…there are always ever-changing factors…we are working at a much faster pace now. It is about breaking cultural barriers.”

It was then the first group activity, where we were asked to share the mission statements (or philosophy in my case) that we had written and with a short 2 minute discussion. From this, the groups brought together their responses to see the commonalities and differences…


“A dynamic, tailor-made, global adventure facilitated through international collaborative partnerships and practice-led learning, dedicated to cultural assimilation in arts education, towards independent thinking, confidence in the journey ahead and a conversation that keeps on unfolding.”


Enhancing quality – knowledge impartation – self-discovery and actualisation – collaboration with stakeholders. Knowledge impartation is the theoretical aspect of learning, the process of exchange and how we see cultures differently. The mission statement should reflect who we are, what we do, why we’re here, where we are heading…focus on customer, service, market, technology. The mission focuses on the services we offer.  It is how we “continue” to embrace changes.


Facilitating  – innovative – transformative – self-discovery, interaction and reflection – requisite knowledge and skills – patient centred – meet needs of themselves. How do you see the students journey as self-discovery? Importance of teaching the psychology of the journey.


Meeting the needs of the learner, the university and professional bodies – stakeholder engagement (student, parent, NHS etc) – partnership approach – encourage and fulfil – lifelong learner – curriculum is responsive, flexible and innovative. Responsive to meeting the need of the student…in relation to learning difficulties. Holistic consideration. Giving everyone the equal chance. Educational, physical and psychological needs of the students. Inclusivity.

Curriculum Design session 2 3

Group 1 (my group)

  • Self-discovery and reflection
  • Transformative
  • Innovation
  • Responsive and flexible to embrace change
  • Stakeholder engagement (in a wider sense from students and their parents to official institutions)
  • Creating global citizens
  • Dynamic
  • Learning and life-long journey

Group 2

  • Student-centred
  • Transformative
  • Creative/not based on preconceived ideas ‘the way it is normally done’
  • Engage stakeholder/partnership with stakeholder
  • Flexible/adoptable – responding to the needs of all
  • Life-long learning plan/structure

Group 3

  • Cohesive, unified approach – enquiry to employment
  • Future-proof design – organic, flexible, agile. responsible
  • What we say is what we do (complimentary)
  • Skill mix and skill growth
  • Generating buy-in
  • Ownership and personalisation – student drives
  • Life-long learning

Can you stand by all of these statements and words? Isn’t there a grey area of standing by these words versus being able to achieve them?

What is education for?

Following this exercise, we watched the RSA Animate speech by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education expert and recipient of the RSA Benjamin Franklin award. I actually blogged about him back in June so this was a familiar video to meSee the full presentation here. I’ve spoken about Ken before as he is a little bit of a teaching idol to me.

Curriculum Design session 2 1

Sir Ken Robinson RSA Animate 3

Sir Ken Robinson RSA Animate 2

Sir Ken Robinson RSA Animate 1

In RSA ANIMATE – Changing Paradigms Ken questions how do we educate our children to take place in the economies of the 21st Century? The second is cultural – every county on earth is trying to figure out how do we educate our children so they have a sense of cultural identity so that we can pass on the cultural genes of our communities in the process of globalisation. How do you square that circle? They are trying to meet the future by trying to do what they did in the pass. It used to be that if you worked hard and did well you’d get a job…which doesn’t apply anymore. The current system is conceived in a different age of the enlightenment and the industrial revolution. Driven by economics at the time and running through it was the enlightenment model of intelligence…what we know as academic ability deep in the gene pool of education…academic and non-academic…smart people and non-smart people. These twin pillars of economic and intellectual model has caused chaos, the modern (fictitious) epidemic…the plague of ADHD. Children are living in the mostly intensely stimulated period of the history of the earth…they are penalised for being distracted. The arts are the victim of this mentality…they address the aesthetic of experience…when your sense are fully awake and alive. We educate children by batches, by age group, by process, by standardisation. Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity…it is an essential capacity for creativity, the possibility to see answers to a questions, not just to think in linear ways, to see multiple answers not just one. We all have this capacity and for many it deteriorates as students are told there is only one answer. It is in the gene pool of education…

  1. We need to think differently about human capacity, get over the old conception academic/non-academic/vocational/abstract/theoretical and see it for what it is as a myth
  2. We have to recognise that most great learning happens in groups and that collaboration is the stuff of growth
  3. Crucially it is about the culture, habits and habitats of the institutions they occupy

Reflections from the group:

Higher Education is the only place for intellectual autonomy to make a stand…the national curriculum is the national curriculum. Social growth versus intellectual growth. Teaching socialisation(?). Curriculum design, as Ken Robinson states, is about the standardisation…we are conditioned to meet the status quo to meet the quality level. To achieve the mission statements and words above, if you truly believe in them, then the road blocks and barriers will not stand in your way. People will prevent innovation or curriculum or learning experience…they will avoid doing it by using the regulations to prevent it. It is a paradigm shift. When we attempt to innovate things, people don’t want experiments they want guarantees. We perpetuate and maintain the status quo because it is easier.

“The path of least resistance is to continue with what we do. It’s not about revolutionising the university…it’s about glacial change not immediate change.”

Gathering the evidence

What evidence do we need to inform course design and delivery? For example, QAA, NSS, External Expert Comments, Marketing reports, alumni/student input, learning and teaching strategy, corporate plan/mission statement.

Can you get students to articulate the unexpected? How does the student apply this knowledge to the context they are within? How is this critical engagement – these breakthrough moments and holistic development – built into the curriculum? “Students as stakeholders”. Transition…transition as induction…creating a sense of belonging…more than just induction. How do we make reparation from the education system? How do accommodate the widening participation agenda? How do we induct mature students? How do you embed part-time students who have external responsibilities such as carers and parents? We need to understand that the typical student doesn’t exist. In terms of level 4…how do we reframe the assessment of this year of learning when it doesn’t count towards their final qualification. Could we courage more risk taking as there is no risk? Can we take a more experiential approach in the first year? The curriculum is not just building a course or programme, it’s the bigger picture stuff…how do we capture this in the narrative we create for the programme? When we construct documentation, we construct narratives. Students care about what we say. Evidence your innovation.

“To instigate change, you need an evidence informed approach….People cannot argue with rational thought (in theory).”

Curriculum Design session 2 5 why are we doing this

“The fact that universities call them a knowledge exchange institute is null and void as information is free…it is everywhere.”

Student Engagement:

  • Value for money
  • Transparency
  • Future-focus
  • Importance of learning environment…space and timetabling
  • Feedback and feed forwards…how are we going to implement good assessment/choice assessment
  • Core staffing…are they on board, same message
  • Standardisation versus personalisation…structures, checks and balances(?)…to be accountable. Who are the checks and balances for and from? It is to ensure that any student that applies to this programme with achieve…also relates to feedback and feed forward.
  • Engagement and belonging
  • Transition…a course that allows all students to access it and engage

What is being said from a student point of view? What is being said from a market point of view? What is being said from a quality point of view? The session then moved back to thinking about our group Philosophy and Aims where Sonia began by citing two different definitions of the term as Philosophy 101:

noun: philosophy

  1. The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge reality and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.
    A particular system of philosophical thought
  2. A theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviours. “don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed, that’s my philosophy”.

It was then time to begin writing the group’s Philosophy and Aims…and this is no easy task in a group of 12…

Curriculum Design session 2 4 Philosophy and aims

Life Philosophy (or whatever we will call the course)

The ‘Life Programme’ has been explicitly designed to support a personalised journey of learning and self-discovery, developing graduates who have attitudes, attributes and skills for an ever-changing global environment through flexible and experiential learning and teaching.

I think we need a word before “attitudes” to describe what types we are looking for…and feel the end of the sentence could be reframed. Could we say ‘and professional development/industry-led partnership? Time to re-read, re-read and re-read.

We said that the philosophy and aims would

  1. Be designed for the individual
  2. Programme has emerged because of…
  3. The programme reflects…
  4. The programme does XY&Z

The programme aims to develop future-focused, adaptable, critical-thinkers…(that is as far as we got!).

We Value…

  • Transformative learning experience
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Life-long learning – cohesion
  • Flexibility/dynamic
  • Personalisation/self-discovery
  • Partnership engagement/ownership
  • Future proofing
  • Inclusive and accessible…student-centred
  • Reflection
  • “What we say is what we do”


  • Create global citizens
  • Staff: skill mix and growth
  • Organic flexibility
  • Alumni input
  • Industries as partners – coming to us

Our graduates are able to…

  • Communicate, argue, problem-solve and rationalise
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Reflection/critical thinking/forward thinking
  • Transferable skills
  • Be flexible
  • Apply knowledge
  • Independence and inter-dependence
  • Be confident

Our graduates will know… (based on our personal (not professional though there are borders and cross-overs) learning and teaching review that we completed prior to the session). I think you can single out which were mine, if you can’t, they were health and wellbeing, the art of failure (and failing well), dietary requirements, dance, outdoor education, failing, risk taking, blogging and social media…and of course, communication through writing, narratives and talking honestly. Basically the cornerstones of my world.

  • Emotional Resilience – life skills, art of failure, health and wellbeing, alternative therapies
  • (Trans)cultural Studies
  • Higher Home Economics – DIY, sewing, carpentry, painting and decorating, tiling, grow your own, bag a bargain, cooking and baking (including chef-ing to dietary requirements)
  • Performance Studies – film, dance, drama, singing, music, theatre
  • Outdoor Education – failing, leadership, risk taking and team building from outdoor exercise pursuits such as hiking, canoeing, climbing, high-speed driving
  • Digital Studies – new technology, web design, blogging, social media including teaching study skills

We mentioned the learning and teaching of communication throughout (story-telling, hand writing, letter writing, talking honestly and openly)…enough for one day. Time to reflect…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s