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The SLMS Education Domain mission

31 January 2013

The School of Life and Medical Sciences (SLMS) recently established an Education Domain, headed by Dr Joyce Harper of the UCL Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health. Here, she tells Ele Cooper about its aims and how she plans to go about achieving them.

UCL Medical School student conducting a supervised patient consultation

As part of the process that saw SLMS split into four faculties that together form one school, a Research Domain and an Education Domain were established, each covering the interests and practices of all four faculties. In 2012, Dr Joyce Harper, Reader in Human Genetics and Embryology as well as Education Lead and Graduate Tutor for the Institute of Women’s Health, was asked to head up the Education Domain.

“The Education Domain’s key aims are to identify and share good educational practice across the school and to facilitate a teaching and learning culture that will inspire academics to engage more deeply with SLMS’ educational mission,” says Joyce.

She began by setting up a committee and then met with a range of colleagues including SLMS faculties’ Vice Deans for Education, Dr Rosalind Duhs (one of the CALT Senior Schools-Facing Teaching Fellows for SLMS), and the Vice-Provost (Education) in order to identify the key areas that the Education Domain should initially try to address.

“The first area I identified through those meetings was the student learning experience – and by that I mean from the time before they come to UCL right through to after they’ve left,” says Joyce. “I felt that we needed to look at outreach and see what people are doing in this area within SLMS: are people going into schools, are schools coming to UCL? And how about alumni – do we keep in contact with them or hold careers days for our students to help them think about where they’ll go when they leave UCL?”

In order to get a proper idea of the current situation, the Education Domain members decided to conduct an audit. Joyce also met with the UCL Widening Participation team and the Careers Service to explore what could be done to develop SLMS’ current offering.

In December 2012 Joyce held a careers day at the Institute for Women’s Health, to see how ideas resulting from the audit might work using her own setting as an example. Around 20 alumni, some employed by private companies, some working for the NHS, some self-employed and others working at UCL, came in and gave talks to current students. Joyce says, “The days of the university being isolated with no industrial links are over. Two of the companies that were at the careers day said that they’d be willing to sponsor PhD students or host an MSc research project, which the students were really excited about. The whole day worked fantastically well and it’s definitely something I would encourage across SLMS.”

Another area the Education Domain committee is keen to work on is e-learning, with a sub-committee having been set up to explore the subject, particularly in line with the new institutional E-Learning Strategy. While every programme is now required to have a Moodle presence, the next aim in SLMS is to make this presence interactive, for example through the use of forums in which students can discuss ideas and queries, thus complementing the face-to-face teaching they experience. A SLMS e-learning strategy has been drafted and a survey is about to be launched to audit the use of e-learning across SLMS.

“One of my alumni said to me that part of the reason that UCL is so amazing is that you can read a world-leading researcher’s paper one day and then be taught by them the next,” says Joyce. “That’s a huge advantage of being at UCL and we now want to engage with the researchers further and encourage people to start using their research in their teaching more often.”

“I very much believe in sharing good, solid practice rather than reinventing the wheel,” she continues. “We’re planning to create a document entitled ‘The Life Course of a Student’. It would show ideas and good practice that others could use throughout SLMS and focus on the main areas of student life covered by the National Student Survey (NSS).”

A significant area covered by the NSS – and one which UCL tends to score more lowly in than others – is assessment and feedback. Joyce is keen to decrease the number of exams sat by Master’s-level students and to increase the amount of formative assessment, ensuring students learn key skills which will be beneficial to them in the future. Joyce says, “From next year, in some of our very clinical modules we’ll be asking students to each pick a patient and then follow the patient’s journey, applying everything that they’ve learned during that module to their analysis of the patient. It’s about thinking, ‘Ok, so we currently have an exam here, but are there more useful things the students could be doing that will prepare them for their first job?’”

Joyce also has big plans for the Education Domain’s future remit, being keen to start considering contribution to teaching in appraisals and promotions. The lack of any reliable metric of teaching quality is a stumbling block – simply measuring how many hours a staff member spends in the lecture theatre would not suffice for obvious reasons – so Joyce is keen to set up another sub-committee to explore this issue next year.

“I think that life at UCL for a student is excellent. We offer an amazing service to our students, but there are always things that can be improved. Hopefully, the Education Domain can help achieve that through spreading great practice rather than reinventing the wheel – after all, the best ideas are often the simple ones that leave you wondering, ‘Why didn’t I think of that before?’”

Further information

Page last modified on 31 jan 13 14:44

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