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A through-line of research activity is built into each programme: Dimension two

Is there a connective line of enquiry, for example, in the pattern of learning or research activities and assessments which helps students to build their own coherent learning narrative?

Each programme of study needs to be designed in such a way that students experience a connected sequence of learning activities that empower them, step by step, to apply the skills and dispositions needed to undertake investigations. 

The right balance is needed between compulsory and optional modules (or units of study), so that students can make critical, creative connections between apparently disparate elements of their learning. In some disciplines, regulating bodies may limit this.

The pattern of assessment and feedback activities across the whole programme, both formative and summative, plays a key part here. 

Overall, the assessment and feedback activities should encourage students to link different aspects of their learning, for example by requiring them to draw on different themes and skills within a final capstone module or by asking them to work towards a curated Showcase Portfolio. 

Where to start: asking questions of your programme of study

  1. Is there a well-designed core sequence of modules, units and/ or learning activities through which students steadily build their research skills and understandings, and is this explicit to students?
  2. Are students explicitly challenged to make intellectual connections between different elements of their programme?
  3. Can students have some flexibility and even take risks with their research-related activities, for example by working towards a Showcase Portfolio for which they can curate their best work? 
  4. How could digital education resource support this reflective opportunity for students? 
  5. Are there opportunities for students to draw on their own identity, background, and interest to inform their research?

Don’t forget: It’s important to consider all dimensions of the Connected Curriculum across all years of study – a holistic view across a programme.

Top tips for implementation

Chapter 4: Connected programme design in A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education (Dilly Fung 2017) gives an overview of implementing this dimension including details on 10 steps of implementation which include:

  1. Creating a sequence of mandatory modules, which clearly follow on through each year (or phase) of study and which explicitly challenge students to build their own connected learning narrative. 
  2. Creating a series of ‘Connections’ modules, which act like the mandatory, connective modules above but allow for some student choice.
  3. Creating a single linear module that stretches from the beginning to the end of the programme, running alongside other optional modules.
  4. Building timetabled peer study groups into the full length of the degree.
  5. Orientating the whole degree programme towards a real-world event, such as an undergraduate or postgraduate research conference.
  6. Designing a ‘capstone’ module. A capstone module acts as an integrative and culminating module and is central to the student being able to demonstrate the high-level skills and knowledge required to earn a specified qualification. 
  7. Creating a single core assessment, for example a portfolio that builds from phase to phase.
  8. Using a programme of online learning which runs in parallel with face-to-face elements, but which provides structured opportunities for students to make connections between the full spectrum of topics.
  9. Ensuring that connective themes are regularly revisited as a repeated motif in the content and student assessments.
  10. Underpinning the programme with an academic tutorial system, in which students work in small groups with the support of a tutor to connect and interrogate aspects of their learning.

Other implementation ideas

  • See also Chapter 5: Outward-facing student assessments in A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education (Dilly Fung 2017), particularly page 108 on Showcase Portfolios.
  • Personal tutors play an important role by providing support and guidance - taking a broad overview of students’ progress and may have an advisory role with research-based activities.
  • Book a bespoke ABC curriculum design workshop to design/redesign programmes and modules that helps you plan to fully incorporate the dimensions.

Get advice and support by contacting the UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education at arenacentre@ucl.ac.uk.

Examples of this dimension in action

Below are case study highlights, with more coming soon.