Putting together new teaching materials or updating your existing ones? These things all take time. In this Design, Deliver and Evaluate section of StaffNet we introduce a series of materials, ideas and links to staff from around the University of Aberdeen that are aimed at helping you to make informed, evidence-based decisions about your teaching. Investing your valuable time wisely in the early stages of your teaching can pay dividends later on.
Few teaching methods (or problems) are truly new and unique; frequently colleagues from another part of the University are grappling with, or indeed might have solved, the very issue with which you are tasked. A quick email or phone call to a colleague either within or outwith your discipline could help with new course design or enhancements. To facilitate this approach throughout these sections reference is made to examples submitted by teaching staff from across the University of Aberdeen.
Design of any taught element, from a single tutorial or lecture through to an entire Programme, can be made simpler if a few basic design principles are applied.
Some useful starting points for designing any teaching can be broken down as follows:
- Start with the end in mind – what are the learning outcomes? In other words what do you want your students to know or be able to do as a result of your teaching? Also consider at this stage the relationship between these outcomes and the University’s wider Graduate Attributes.
- In parallel with 1 above, what content will be included – and what will be left out? Curricula are always full, and it is easy to overfill them. Coverage is the enemy of understanding. Fewer concepts, well explained, can be beneficial.
- Which other concepts, not traditionally thought of as part of the formal curriculum, will be included. These include due consideration being given to aspects such as employability, enterprise and entrepreneurship and generic skills development.
- Assessment and feedback: How will students and you know that the learning outcomes have been achieved? How will students know how they are progressing along the way, before it is too late for them to change their practice?
- Methods of delivery: How are you going to help your students to engage with the materials, ideas and concepts that you have set out above? Are lectures the best way to do this or are there others? Have you taken account of the accessibility of your materials from an equality and diversity perspective?
- Evaluation: How will you know that your teaching is effective?
Writing learning outcomes is not an easy task. Striking a balance between being over-prescriptive (producing too many) and too vague to be of use (too few) is never easy.
Download the guide to writing learning outcomes, which has been written to be used alongside the University’s course and programme descriptor forms.
Check out the University’s Graduate Attributes website.
It is difficult to write learning outcomes without reference to your content, and in practice the two are usually considered together. Some pointers at this early stage to help with this phase of design include:
- Don’t think that you have to cover everything. Many curricula are too “full” already
- Ensure that the students know why particular content is in the curriculum
Employability, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship
At this stage consider how you might build in those aspects of the curriculum that sometimes get forgotten. Remember you don’t have to do all of them, and not all topics lend themselves to this (although with a little lateral thought often they can). The following is not a prescriptive list, but consider:
Have a look at our employability resources for some ideas and inspiration. Also, employability case studies has a range of examples of how staff from around the University have engaged with the concept of employability in their teaching.
Enterprise and Entrepreneurship
Although we won’t all be able to produce a spinout company from our courses, there are plenty of opportunities to help and encourage your students to engage with the wider concepts of enterprise and what it means to be entrepreneurial.
You can find examples on the Careers Website and in our Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Spotlights.
Assessment and Feedback
Thinking about the assessment strategy at the start of the design process will aid the design of learning activities that help students to not only achieve the learning outcomes, but stretch them academically in order to demonstrate their mastery of the topic or subject matter. There are plenty of novel methods of assessment that might also be used; don’t feel constrained to use written, timed, closed book assessments at all times of this doesn’t help to test students in an effective manner.
- Alternative assessment techniques - along with examples of staff from around the University describing their assessment techniques and regimes
Feedback is one of the areas of teaching most commonly singled out by students for criticism. The University of Aberdeen has developed a Feedback Framework.
One of the largest studies in recent years on feedback was the Re-engineering Assessment Practices (REAP) project, (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2007).
Delivery of teaching encompasses a vast range of methods, and colleagues in each discipline will have their own ideas as to the most effective blend of these. With changing patterns of work for both academics and students, often traditional forms of delivery are no longer the most effective way to encourage students to engage with ideas and materials; this is not to say that a good lecture, well delivered, is not a useful teaching method. However, there are many techniques that exist and that are in use around the University to which staff might not have been exposed.
A discussion with colleagues from outwith one’s own discipline, and even the opportunity to sit in on teaching taking place in other disciplines, is a valuable piece of professional development.
- Support materials for staff giving large lectures (content to follow)
- Support materials for teaching small groups (content to follow)
There is a legal expectation that teaching materials and sessions will be as inclusive as possible. Equality and Diversity is frequently thought of in legislative terms (it is), but by making your materials and sessions as accessible as possible, this may benefit all of your students.