2½ years ago the RAU, in collaboration with UCEM and CCRI, started on the development of four new postgraduate and undergraduate programmes in what’s called the “Catalyst project”. The new programmes are designed to stimulate and support enhanced leadership in the land management and agri-food sectors, especially suited to the post-Brexit era that meets the unprecedented combination of challenges posed by the rapidly changing political, economic and natural environments.
The first stage of the Catalyst project was to write the programme and module specifications. The programmes have been created in conjunction with CCRI and RAU’s industry partners, including the National Trust, Waitrose and National Farmers’ Union, to carefully tailor the programmes to meet skills gaps and respond to changes in industry trends.
Once the specifications were in place, the Learning technology team worked on developing processes for the pedagogical and technical design and development of the programmes and modules.
Development of processes
Prior to starting module development we worked with UCEM, who specialise in online education, to develop processes for the design of our modules, taking best practices in pedagogy and online learning into account. Extensive research and conversations with other education organisations has gone into the development of module templates, design processes and academic training.
Postgraduate programmes development process
During the second stage of the Catalyst project, we developed two online postgraduate programmes: MBA Innovation in Sustainable Food and Agriculture and MSc Sustainable Food and Agriculture Policy.
We designed a 12-week module design process, with “on-time” training sessions to support the academics in their design and development. This process has been adapted from UCEM’s module development processes and works in stages.
This process uses UCEM’s model named “Student Outcome Led Design (SOLD)”; meaning that the final assessment is designed first, focusing on assessing the module learning outcomes, and the module is designed to develop the skills the students need to complete the assessment.
To kick off the design and development of the modules, the Learning technology team hosts a “Start-up day”, a day-long workshop consisting of multiple stages:
- Introductory training in module design, accessibility, design processes, online learning tools.
- Module conversations based on question cards designed to stimulate the thought process and familiarisation with the module
- Assessment design based on the module’s learning outcomes
- Planning “themes” based on the learning outcomes and final assessment
- Planning formative assessments – working towards the final assessment
- Planning weekly “learning points” i.e. what will the students learn this week?
The Start-up day is hosted with around 6-7 module leads and two Learning technologists in a room to allow for easy sharing of ideas and experiences.
After the start-up day, the academics go and speak to colleagues, library etc. to gather ideas and resources for their module, prior to a 1-1 design & planning session with a Learning technologist to flesh out the content further into learning activities and to write an action plan for development. This module design is written out into a templated sheet for a Quality review meeting with the programme lead, an additional academic with an interest in the subject and where possible one of our external partners. This meeting is an open discussion to discuss the module design prior to its development.
Once the module design has gone through the Quality review, the module lead, contributors and the Learning technologists develop the online learning activities over the next 10 weeks. The Learning technology team provides academics with templated sheets to write their content in, so it’s ready to be turned into online learning activities and consistent with other modules on the programme. These templates have clear instructions for the academics and links to short training pages. During the whole process, each module has a lead Learning technologist the academics are able to contact when they get stuck, need guidance or would like to brainstorm ideas for an activity. The learning technologists will also create the activities on the VLE.
The full design templates document consists of five steps:
- Learning outcomes and questions to think about
- Summative assessment(s)
- Themes: plan topics and put them in a logical order
- Learning points and activities: what will the students learn each week? What activities can be created for the students to learn that and how can they check their learning?
- Full activities: write out the content and gather resources and media, to be provided to a Learning technologist using a templated sheet.
During week 7 of the development stage, the Learning technology team hosts an informal “Show & Tell session”, where the module leads get to show off what they’ve done so far and share ideas with other academics going through the process.
In the final week of development, the Quality review team for the module comes together again to discuss the final result.
This process has been repeated twice to develop all modules on the post-graduate Catalyst programmes within an academic year. These programmes have now successfully run for their first year and the programme team has received great feedback from the students.
Adapting the process to development of new Undergraduate Catalyst programmes
The third stage of the Catalyst project consists of developing two Undergraduate programmes: BSc Rural Entrepreneurship and Enterprise and BSc Environment, Food and Society. These programmes are more campus-based and focus on innovative teaching methods as well as a proportion of online learning.
For this stage, we used the previous processes and adapted them based on lessons learned, as well as redesigning the templates to work for campus-based teaching. Additionally, we combined our previous processes with UCL’s ABC Learning design methods.
To adapt to the Covid-19 situation, we’ve had to scrap our Start-up days and are now using an online version of UCEM’s Design jam model on a module-by-module basis. For each module, we schedule in an initial three-hour Design jam with two Learning technologists, the module lead and one or two academics with an interest in the subject. As we are all currently working from home, we are using MS Teams and Sharepoint to facilitate the Design Jams: we use a Teams call to be able to discuss and share ideas as a group, while we all have a synchronously updated Word template opened up on Sharepoint to write out the ideas we have for the module design.
The Design Jam consists of a few stages:
- Introduction to the process by a Learning technologist
- Module basics: Learning outcomes and questions to think about before designing your module
- Writing the summative assessment task(s)
- Learning overview: weekly topics, learning points (what will the students learn this week) and opportunities to check student learning. Academics are asked to highlight the relevant learning outcomes for each week.
- Learning design: the activities, media and resources to be used or created for each week. Activities are designed within four to five weekly stages: Online introduction, Online lecture, Online activities, Face-to-face seminar and Online knowledge check (optional). UCL’s ABC learning design method is used at this stage to provide an even balance of activity types: Acquisition, Collaboration, Discussion, Investigation, Practice and Production.
- Action planning: an action register is created for the development of the module.
After the Design jam, the academics have some time to discuss their ideas with colleagues, library etc. The module lead, collaborators and Learning technologists work according to the action plan to develop their content. The programme team regularly comes together to check progress and quality of each module.
These programmes will run starting from September ’20.
Over the last two years, academics and Learning technologists have learned a lot about online teaching & learning and learning design. A lot of the lessons we have learned during the project have been heavily used during the pivot to online for all RAU programmes when the Covid lockdown started.
Academics who have taken part in the Catalyst project are already using what they’ve learned and the design processes for the modules they run on other programmes. We plan on further expanding the use of the processes to all new and old RAU programmes.