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In April, the Curriculum Transformation Hub was launched to support a long-term programme of work aimed at refining core elements of our curriculum and establishing the infrastructure needed to deliver this in line with the vision outlined in Strategy 2030: Curriculum Transformation Hub

A key part of the Hub, is a series of briefing papers that draw on the expertise, experience and insights from colleagues across the University community to help shape, design and implement our future curriculum based on relevant practice and research.

One of the latest is from Dr Catherine Bovill, Senior Lecturer in Student Engagement, and Celeste McLaughlin, Head of Academic Development for Digital Education, both in the Institute for Academic Development, who have been looking back at the changes within teaching and learning that took place during academic year 2020/21, in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

They gathered insights and learning from people and literature across the University on how the adaptations that had to be put in place to keep our staff and students safe can assist going forward in informing our Curriculum Transformation. Their detailed briefing paper is available on the Curriculum Transformation Hub, but here they outline a few of the key insights that they’ve uncovered.

Old College Quad

Co-creation and Hybrid learning

Adaptions to working practices have resulted in opportunities to embed inclusive and accessible practices in online environments, and there have also been many positive examples of collaboration and co-creation between staff and students. However, some staff have not found it as easy to get the immediate feedback on teaching from students that you would get in on-campus settings.

The move from existing teaching practices to hybrid modes has led to a great deal of innovation in learning and teaching, while also providing significant challenges. One important consideration for future curriculum planning is that digital education should not be considered as an add-on but rather should be seen as integral to teaching and learning practices.

Importance of interaction and community building

There is wide agreement that interaction and community building are absolutely critical to maintain engagement, and to foster relationships, belonging and wellbeing, and that this interaction and relationship building should start from the point of student applications and be considered across programmes. This is true of teaching in any form.

Assessment

Many changes were made to assessment approaches, including widespread use of open-book exams, a switch to more coursework, use of more authentic assessments, and greater online submission of assessments – in the main these changes were considered to have gone well and many colleagues would like to see these practices extended in future. Students are engaging more deeply with their learning and are studying in order to understand the material rather than ‘for the test’. Students also appreciated the reduced pressure for revision.

a girl sits with an exercise book and paper. She has earphones in and is looking at her laptop which shows a zoom call with a group of others

Staff and student workloads

Significant concerns have been reported around staff workload, and a fear that excessive workload is becoming normalised. Challenges have also arisen in relation to communication and information overload. We need to consider carefully and not underestimate, the workload implications of any changes to teaching approaches, systems, and governance.

Approach to teaching and contact time

Many staff and students have valued the use of smaller blocks of recorded content and activities which students engage with asynchronously, paired with synchronous or live digital opportunities for students and staff to meet, for students to ask questions and have discussions. The synchronous elements seem to be particularly highly valued for community building, and there seems to be a good deal of agreement that interaction and community building are crucial elements of teaching in all formats. Recording videos in bite sized chunks aids students’ engagement with the materials, manages cognitive load, and can support active learning. However, we need to be mindful of not overloading students with asynchronous activities.

The shift to digital teaching has resulted in a great deal of creativity and has also led to substantial shifts in thinking about contact time, changing perceptions of online teaching, and rethinking teaching spaces and places.

The detailed briefing paper is available on the Curriculum Transformation Hub (EASE log in required), where you can also view a video of Catherine and Celeste talking about the paper: Insights and Learning from 2020-21

It further explores themes including how we can think about relating the University to the wider city, using digital teaching more creatively where we can and other ways of organising our organisational systems. 

If you would like to share your own reflections of the last year and your views about how these experiences can help inform the Curriculum Transformation Programme, please email: curriculum.programme@ed.ac.uk 

Additional photography: Getty Images