L&T Session C3: Greater than a sum of it parts? Adding value to combined honours programme design

Maeve Pearson (Academic Support Office), Scott Slorach (York Law School), Roddy Vann (Natural Sciences Programme Director), and Lisa O’Malley (Department of Social Policy and Social Work)

Abstract | Presentation | Recording

Do combined programmes have the capacity to “add value”
to students’ learning? This was the question posed by the panel in this insightful workshop at the Learning & Teaching conference 2016.

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Jonathan, the student rep for Natural Sciences, shared his experiences of undertaking a combined degree across multiple departments. He felt that combined degrees certainly provided added value as he could approach problems from multiple perspectives, using tools from Maths, Chemistry and Physics. The design of the programme was a key factor in it’s success with all first year modules being core and then more flexibility in the second year once students were in a position to make
a more informed decision about choices.

The panel went on to discuss some of the practicalities of designing and delivering combined degrees. This was made difficult by the infrastructure being designed for single subject degrees. However, it was clear that the benefits of these programmes outweighed the issues and that a well designed combined programme could provide students with a an opportunity to approach problems from two or more perspectives.


L&T Session B5: Skilling up for international communication

Victoria Jack and Paul Roberts Education/CELT

AbstractPresentation | Recording

A recent (2015) British Council Report suggests that “A common challenge shared by employers around the world is finding employees with adequate intercultural skills”. For today’s graduates, it is becoming ever more compelling not just to be able to communicate across cultures, but to develop communication skills in multilingual settings, and to do so quickly. These skills can be further enhanced, for those aspiring to leadership positions, by the ability to analyse and evaluate the success of international discussions and to provide ad hoc advice to conversation participants.

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This discussion paper, given by staff and students from CELT, presented CELT’s work in Transcultural Communication addressing the above needs and to focus in particular on:

(i) how students meet the challenges of moving between self- and peer-assessment (by developing criteria for the evaluation of successful communication) and selfmonitored practice (applying and modifying those criteria)

(ii) how ‘home’ students struggle where ‘international’ students succeed.

The presentation included video clips of students’ transcultural interactions, with their self-assessing commentaries. Delegates were then invited to discuss the effectiveness of the self-assessment process and ways in which more students might be engaged in this essential skill building process, for example by embedding TC into programmes being redesigned within the York Pedagogy.


L&T Session A5: Engaging students with employability within the programme

Janice Simpson, Vicky Barton and Claire McMahon, Careers Education Advice and Guidance 

Abstract | Presentation | Recording

After a thought LT Event Talk 52.jpgprovoking start to the conference with Tom Banham, Director of Employability and Careers at the University of York, it was a timely transition to host and participate in this inspiring workshop. After an overview of key context, Janice, Vicky and Claire outlined three unique case studies which sought to engage students and develop employability, responding to differing programme needs.

Each activity was characterised by the forging of effective partnerships between academic and careers staff, promoting dialogue and designing activities tailored to individual student communities.

The three diverse examples included skills reflection in Theatre, Film and Television (TFTV), the development of a flood defence care study in Environment and embedding an exploration of careers within a social research methods module in Sociology. The benefits and challenges of each case were highlighted in reflective summaries. Each articulated the dynamic and evolving nature of the activities undertaken, identifying clear motivations and suggestions for improvements, such as the refinement and timing of objectives and activities.

Lively group discussion followed. Facilitated by careers staff, delegates were challenged to consider:

* What are you doing well in terms of embedding employability in your department?

* What could be improved?

* How could you overcome any challenges?

Our concluding thoughts included the following:

  • Introducing employability at a very early stage – e.g. via engagement with employers and including a focus from student recruitment days onwards
  • Embedding employability in programme learning outcomes
  • Increasing engagement between academic and careers staff
  • Challenging and enabling academic staff to creatively ‘free up’ parts of the syllabus to engage in employability-related activities
  • Considering the value of formal credit-bearing activities which enhance employability within programmes

Helen Bedford, Health Sciences, University of York 

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


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.


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.


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.


Learning and Teaching Conference 2015 – One size does not fit all

The theme of the Learning and Teaching Conference 2015 is One size does not fit all: ensuring all students reach their potential


Students come to the University of York with different expectations, different learning styles, different needs, and different ambitions. It is essential to enable these students to benefit from our research-led teaching, our outstanding student support, and the opportunities for personal and academic fulfilment.

The conference will explore the implications of diversifying delivery of programmes and how students are engaged during their studies and supported in the process of achieving their potential. A key theme will be the way in which programme design can address the range of student ability and levels of student engagement. It will also explore the use of personalised learning approaches within module teaching.

This year’s Learning and Teaching Conference provides an opportunity to reflect on how best to do this, through teaching style, lecture content, lecture format, and the provision of offline material, providing an opportunity for sharing best practice across disciplines.

The University aims to promote its commitment to equality, inclusivity and diversity and how this is understood in broad terms. The conference will also focus on these perspectives and the ways in which inclusivity and diversity can be integrated into the curricula and teaching.

Key themes will include:

  • use of personalised learning approaches within teaching
  • ensuring fairness / enabling unimpeded learning by students from diverse backgrounds
  • dealing with a range of student ability and levels of student engagement
  • embedding training for students on appropriate conduct
  • addressing unconscious bias within our teaching
  • addressing diversity and promoting inclusivity through module content
  • examples of good practice relating to PGWT activities which successfully address individual student learning styles
  • the meaning, nature and implications of inclusivity and diversity in higher education.

Learning and Teaching Conference 2014

The 2014 conference, attended by over 160 delegates, was on the theme of ‘Thinking outside the module box’.ThinkingOutsideTheBox_Logo_01

The VC, Professor Koen Lamberts, opened the day, taking questions on the vision for learning and teaching at York.

The keynote address was given by Dr Mitch Waterman from the University of Leeds exploring assessment and how it aligns to feedback and marking criteria.

A variety of workshops were run by York colleagues exploring the conference theme, including topics such as embedding employability in the curriculum, aiming to build a York graduate and skills progression.

In addition, 24 posters on current learning and teaching projects across campus were on display during lunch and tea.

Feedback has been very positive with people appreciating the chance to find out about initiatives in the university: ‘An excellent opportunity to see the diverse projects going on elsewhere’; ‘Interesting and informative day’; ‘Really looking forward to the next one’.