Last Friday I journeyed south to Solent University for their Solent Learning and Teaching Community Conference 2018.
It is a great annual internal event that Solent open out to other local institutions. This year it was attended by 280 colleagues from 10 universities. Much of the day focused on Solent’s new Curriculum Framework which has been developed by Tansy Jessop and Claire Saunders from the Solent Learning and Teaching Institute. Tansy explained that the ground rules for development had foundations in the ideas of William Pinar 1) Curriculum is a “complicated conversation” – it was never going to be easy 2) Curriculum comes from the verb currer, it is not a noun 3) Curriculum design should be an intellectual rather than an instructional or bureaucratic pursuit.
The process in creating the new framework has involved collecting a vast amount of data (ethnographic reports, kiviat charts, consultation documents), used the time of 10 interns and many staff members (through 9 curriculum cafes) – but the results are worth it! The newly designed curriculum framework has great buy in from Solent staff and I’m sure it will be well received by future students. It has what HE education is about at its core.
Our students often arrive with fixed, dualist ideas and our duty is to unsettle them – introduce them to ‘risible untidiness’ #sltcc2018
— David Wright (@solentlibguy) June 22, 2018
Ruth Pickford, Director of the Centre for Learning and Teaching at Leeds Beckett gave the opening keynote at the conference. Her inspiring talk on regaining control pointed out that we are not in need of the Office for Students’ reminder that students are at the heart of higher education because we “live and breath it”. The sad situation is that the words excellence, engagement and experience have been hijacked and we are now participating in a game of Higher Education trivial pursuit.
Despite this there is much we can do. Her recommendations and words of wisdom suggested:
- Leading from the front is hard work and should be avoided. It is better to give others the map and compass and lead from the back.
- Teaching excellence is not the same as excellent teaching.
- When it comes to metrics we need to “work with the terrain and make the terrain work for us.”
- Academic innovation is more than a ‘nice-to-have’, we need to push it up the priority list.
- To make an impact it’s not enough to do things better – we need to do better things. We can start with what we control: the curriculum, learning activities, and the learning environment.
The real digital inspiration for the day came in the form of a workshop led by Roger Emery (Head of Learning Technologies) and his team. Roger gave an overview of some of the updates for the new academic year to the Solent moodle VLE – new layouts and user support, quite a few of the ideas we will also be implementing at RAU. The team then demoed Spiral, a new formative assessment tool that has a selection of apps to support lessons. These include quick fire assessments, group quizzes, group drawing tasks and student portfolios. They ended with some great H5P ideas including use of the image juxtaposition and essay tools allowing students to compare images and write comments on what they found.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day, it felt like window into how Solent works. The morale seemed high and there was a definite ‘team collaboration’ feel to the sessions. Possibly my favourite moment was when the HEA awards were announced and staff were encouraged to stand up and be cheered by their colleagues. The sense of pride by both those who had achieved awards and those who were cheering was palpable. There was a great poster session and the food was fab – a sweet trolley always wins people over! Solent also did a great job of using technology seamlessly as part of the day’s activities, from the use of Slido to collect the questions for speakers, to mentimeter for for voting on various decisions related to the day. So much for us to learn from and aspire to!