Last week I attended the Universities UK / HEA conference ‘Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning’ – #IETL16. A really insightful and inspiring day. One of the sessions I attended was ‘Developing an institutional approach to student engagement in curriculum design’ by Prof Mary Stuart and Dan Derricott. Both the case study of what they have been doing at the University of Lincoln and the discussion during the workshop were thought provoking. One thought related to why don’t we use students more when interviewing for academic appointments? Another related to engagement at module level. One experience shared in the workshop was starting talking about ‘our module’ rather than ‘my module’ and it got me thinking! As a course manager I was often frustrated that lecturers were so protective of their modules and thought solely at the module level rather than reflecting on how the module fits into the course. Not taking into account the cognitivism and constructivism theories of learning to build on prior learning from other modules and making relationships between what the student is learning in other modules. I have always previously blamed this on the modular system and so spent time trying to encourage the teaching team to think holistically about what the student learnt.
The workshop at #IETL16 made me question ‘whose module is it anyway?’ My module suggests ownership but does the module leader own it or do the students? Some of the ideas coming out of the workshop was including students in a module management team. Getting students involved in planning the content delivery. In the particular case discussed it was weak and less engaged students that were encouraged to become part of the management team and the module leader found that this did improve engagement. My personal experience of studying would definitely lead me to think that where I have felt ownership of something – so in particular my dissertations and PhD thesis where I was responsible for selecting the focus and direction – not only made me more engaged during the process but also very proud and self-satisfied with the result. This leaves me with the question – how can we encourage students to take more ownership of the module? Firstly, stop referring to it as ‘my’ module and start calling it ‘our’ module. Encourage students to take more of a management role – making decisions about assignments, what is on the Moodle page, what topics are covered when. I have previously used students to write the assessment criteria for assignments for the purpose of helping them to understand the criteria and hadn’t really considered how this could encourage engagement. I have responded when students have asked me to change how I have designed the Moodle page or to add or change content but I have not been proactive in asking students what they want from a Moodle page. Obviously this will need to be a dialogue and in some cases explanations will need to be given why certain things are not possible but in my experience students are not unrealistic and I think we could improve their learning, their experience and their engagement by getting them more involved and remembering it is not ‘my’ module but theirs.