A distinctive York Pedagogy: Implementing the new Learning and Teaching Strategy

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN FORUM 38: 8-9

A new University Strategy was launched last year to define our direction through to 2020.  Key objective 2 outlines a commitment to offering outstanding teaching and learning and to implementing a distinctive pedagogy, informed by research evidence on the best approaches to promote effective learning.

Defining a York Pedagogy (as outlined in the Strategy 2015-2020 document)

We will articulate a University of York pedagogy and apply it to all our programmes.

  • We will apply the best evidence on effective teaching and learning to define our institution’s learning culture and set expectations for our programmes.
  • We will put programme design and student work at the heart of our pedagogy.
    • Every programme will have distinctive and clear objectives, and each stage of study will be designed to offer progress towards those programme objectives.
    • Carefully-designed student work will enable students to make progress.
    • Students will understand the work they are expected to do and how that work will contribute to the achievement of the programme objectives.
    • Interactions between students and staff will be designed to encourage, inform and propel students’ work. Students will receive the guidance, support and feedback they need to make progress, and they will understand what they can expect from the University in support of their learning.
  • The design of programmes and student work will support the students’ development as autonomous learners.
  • All new programmes will be designed in accordance with our pedagogy. By 2017-18, all programmes in the University will comply with the principles of the University pedagogy.”

 The following paragraphs provide further detail on the framework of principles and expectations which underpins this new pedagogy.

Programme design

Programme design and student work are at the heart of the approach, meaning that we must focus clearly and consistently on students’ experience of their programme as a whole, rather than as a collection of modules. The York pedagogy will not change the rules of the University’s modular scheme, but it does require some reflection and fresh thinking about our programmes.

Under the York pedagogy, every programme will have clear and distinctive objectives with carefully designed student work to ensure progress towards these objectives. ‘Student work’ includes scheduled contact events and independent study, with the latter making up the majority of the time in many subjects.

Currently, programme specifications typically include 20-30 learning outcomes. Departments will be asked to identify a small subset of these which really capture the distinctive features of the programme. In turn, these will help to articulate how the programme’s main concepts or professional competences are introduced, practiced, applied to other situations and assessed.

This way of working aims to:

  • improve communication to students and applicants of programme learning outcomes and of the ‘route’ through the programme: the progression of concepts and competences within and across modules, the role of formative and summative work, and the expected pattern of student work;
  • improve student perceptions of the coherence and organisation of their programme, and how the design of content and assessment helps them to achieve these outcomes progressively and in the most effective way;
  • help students to build their capability to apply concepts and competences to different situations, including in preparation for future employment;
  • improve students’ learning by enabling them to plan their work more effectively in relation to the defining features;
  • help to improve the design and availability of resources to support students’ work in relation to key concepts and skills.

A3_L&Tstrategy

Assessment and feedback

Assessment and feedback are key drivers of student work, and contribute prominently to student engagement and satisfaction. It is important that they are designed at programme level:

  • to maximise their contribution to programme coherence;
  • to assess key concepts and programme learning outcomes at the most appropriate points to reinforce and capture genuine learning;
  • to provide timely and useful formative work in an efficient way, and
  • to avoid excessive summative assessment, which creates avoidable pressure for both students and staff.

A thorough review at programme level will ensure that the pattern and volume of assessment and feedback supports student learning as effectively as possible.

Contact events

Under the York pedagogy, contact time with staff and the use of technology will be designed to optimise the contribution to learning and the guidance of students’ independent study. For example, some material could be covered outside scheduled events, perhaps supported by online resources or asynchronous activities, to enable different types of interactions in class. This will explore opportunities to add more value to students’ contact time with staff, and will ensure that students’ independent study is directed to maximise its contribution to effective learning.

Programme leadership

Implementing the strategy requires strong programme leadership and collective responsibility for programmes. This will improve the shared understanding of programme design and learning outcomes. It will also improve collegiality and governance by engaging staff in programme teams and by making it easier to explore the implications of programme design for individual modules.

Opportunities and benefits

In summary, implementing the York pedagogy will ensure that the pattern and nature of contact with teaching staff, the level of academic challenge, the provision of learning resources, the format and timing of assessment and feedback, and the support for independent learning all come together in the best possible combination to facilitate student success.

This will improve student engagement as active, independent learners, improve student satisfaction, and improve student employability through understanding the development and transferability of skills and knowledge. It will also enable more efficient and productive use of staff time. These principles and aims apply both to undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes.

ProPEL

The ProPEL (Programmes to Propel Effective Learning) project is examining how best to help departments to evaluate their programmes, to identify opportunities for enhancement, and to plan and implement changes in the light of the principles of the York pedagogy. The focus is initially on undergraduate programmes, piloting with nine departments in 2014-15. This work will be evaluated in Summer 2015 to inform the roll-out to the rest of the University in 2015-16.

The scale of change will vary between programmes and departments. In some departments, programme-level design is already well-embedded and there is a strong culture of programme leadership and of dialogue within and across module teams. Nevertheless, there may still be opportunities to improve student learning using the principles of the York pedagogy. In other departments, the focus is more at the modular level. Here there may be a greater need for action to implement the strategy. In all cases, the strategy will provide an opportunity for a fresh look at our programmes.

A methodology based on TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students Through Assessment) is being developed to help to implement the strategy. TESTA is a proven approach with case study evidence of positive impact in a number of institutions (1). The model aligns closely to the York pedagogy and actively involves students and colleagues. The TESTA methodology has been adapted to broaden the focus beyond assessment and feedback, to inform discussions on the wider set of principles underlying the York pedagogy. It will also incorporate some flexibility to use different approaches and tools, to focus efficiently and effectively on the pertinent issues in each programme.

Exploration of the strategy

The Autumn issue of Forum magazine will be dedicated to the new learning and teaching strategy. It will explore the research that has informed the York pedagogy and provide an update on the pilot and roll out. Key articles will look at the main components of the strategy including programme design, designing effective student work and maximising the impact of contact events.

For more information, see the website.

References

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