Programme-level approaches to skills development in modular degrees

Claire Hughes and Abigail Parrish, Environment


Promoting progressive development towards the programme learning outcomes (PLOs) defined under the York Pedagogy requires us to define a clear programme-level strategy for key skills development. In the Enhancement Plan we put together in the Environment Department we propose to introduce key skills training pathways, involving face-to-face learning activities complemented by an online skills hub, into the core modules that sit within our degree programmes. For this approach to support effective learning it is essential that the skills pathways are bespoke, and take into consideration the variable skills sets that our students have on entry, the interdisciplinarity of our degree streams and the current structure and content of our existing programmes. It is also essential that the design of both the training pathways and associated online hub are based on best evidence from educational research and offer our students opportunities to enhance their employability. As part of a University Strategic Learning and Teaching Fund project we have been exploring optimal programme-level models of face-to-face and online skills development to propel learning towards our PLOs. In this session we will introduce you to some of our proposed models of skills development and give you the opportunity to examine, critique and design models of key skills development.

Chair’s Summary

Claire first presented a series of icons that represent the various programme student skills outcomes for Environment: these had been developed for the department by a designer.  The department has also gathered a series of employer statements that confirm their need for, and the value of these skills.  Together, these will highlight these skills outcomes for prospective and enrolled students.

Three main improvements had been identified during the Pedagogy project for the enhancement plan to provide a focus on skills:

  • Skills pathways embedded into all core modules
  • An online skills hub to allow students to access guidance on skills, and carry out activities on which they will receive formative feedback
  • Interactions with future employers, to highlight how student skills can be used in the workplace

Strategic L&T funding had been sourced to enable a review of programme mapping information and educational literature on skills, before developing pathways and resources.

Abigail explained that four possible skills models had been considered:

  • “Stepping stones” [Yeadley et al] which suggests the acquisition of one skill (or sub-skill) before another, before another, to acquire the overall skill.
  • Blocking – learning one skill in entirety before another –
  • Interleaving – learning a chunk of one skill and then starting another, then coming back to the first, then starting another, then coming back to a previous one, etc., etc. Taylor & Rohrer – showed that interleaved learning produced higher scores on problems
  • Spiral curriculum [Bruner 1960] – progressive development of a series of skills by returning to them on a repetitive and developmental basis across the years of a curriculum

Some cross-over between spiral and interleaving, but spiral curriculum = layers of a skill c/w interleaving = chunks of a skill

Delegates then presented with an Environment programme PLO to plan, design and execute research – where spiral curriculum had been developed.

Then, a PLO to obtain, synthesise and critically evaluate complex information, where the stepping stone approach had been selected.

The final PLO presented was to critically analyse and interpret quantitative data, where the stepping stone approach had been selected – because there was viewed as being “leaps” between required skills.  The Pedagogy had helped to identify the individual skills steps required to achieve the PLO.

Delegates were then asked to work together to critique these skills pathways created, followed by discussion:

  • The simplicity of the presentation of the skills progression to students was commended – there was a single page setting out the PLO and the skills task(s) for each year for each PLO, progressively developed was very clear. It was also thought that it would be good for staff.  It was thought to be much clearer and accessible than the PDD programme map.
  • Questioned how students would see integration and interrelationship between technical knowledge and skills, as neither are learned in isolation – is there a need for a meta-picture showing how all elements come together.
  • Thought it more difficult to show the skills progression towards a PLO when there is a multiplicity of skills within a single PLO, e.g., an employability PLO.
  • Questioned about risk of conceptual learning models becoming dominant and followed zealously rather than using them as a tool to think about how best to achieve skills outcomes

Further Workshop Materials

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