As you begin to design and develop your course, it is helpful to create and establish a clear vision and rationale including course aims and objectives, target audience and the skills knowledge to be developed. The activity in the 'Begin Course Design' page exploring Balancing the Curriculum will have begun this process and underpin the course storyboard being developed. Initial ideas and intentions will have been captured through the course proposal stage, and will be explored further in consultation with stakeholders.
QAA characteristic statements
The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) maintains characteristic statements that set out expectations for some types of courses delivered by the University.
The QAA maintain a Characteristics Statement for Foundation Degrees that sets out expectations for awards. According to this document, 'Foundation Degrees integrate academic and work-based learning through close collaboration between employers and higher education providers.' The characteristics statement explores how Foundation Degrees should be delivered in partnership, highlights characteristics such as flexibility and accessibility, and sets out expectations for employer involvement and student progression opportunities. Course teams developing or reviewing Foundation Degree courses should pay close attention to this characteristics statement and ensure that their proposed provision clearly addresses or aligns with the characteristics statement's stipulations.
The QAA Characteristics Statement for Masters Awards should be explored by course teams developing such courses. This statement focuses more on the types of Masters degrees that can be developed and how these are differentiated by the students' experience and course contents.
Course teams seeking to develop or review Apprenticeship courses are advised to liaise with the University's Apprenticeship Hub in the first instance. A QAA Characteristics Statement for Higher Education in Apprenticeships should be referred to, and the relevant apprenticeship standard (see the list on the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education website) will strongly influence the form and content that the course team will need to adopt.
Most courses offered at the University are also offered at other Universities. Consequently, it is worth considering what will make the course being planned, or makes the course currently in place, distinctive from all the other Universitys' provision. As a course team, alongside stakeholders including current students where possible, set aside some time to have an open discussion to identify some clear statements that differentiate the planned provision against others. These statements can form reference points as the course is developed, and used in the future within marketting. Possible aspects of distinctiveness worth considering include:
It is important that the course team develop a clear shared vision of their intended course that they can use to guide their developmental and design decisions, and to communicate their intentions to stakeholders. This may need to be expressed slightly differently (with particular emphasises) for different audiences but all such portrayals should be true to the shared vision.
For a course team beginning a course design process, it is likely that this overall vision will evolve as the team consider various aspects of course development, whilst teams seeking to review and enhance existing course designs may already have existing visions in place, although quite often these are tacit and teams would benefit from activity to draw out a vision they can agree on.
While the obvious starting point for developing a course vision is the disciplinary subject matter (History, Nursing, Artchitecture), as explored below there are other key aspects to a course that will often form essential design characteristics that will help drive or determing course design decisions.
For many courses, the character of the learning experience that students will encounter in their studies is a defining aspect of course design. For many arts-based courses the enculturisation of students into a critical and creative learning community is fundamental to the student experience. Similar approaches may be adopted in engineering and architectiral subject areas.
The process of completing a course can, in many instances, be seen as a means through which a student is supported through a transformational process resultuing in them taking on a new identity. Many of our health based courses are designed to enable students to take on particular professional roles, expecting students to 'become', for example, nurses, midwifes, or paramedics by adopting expected behaviours, attitudes and competencies alongside their theoretical and academic achievements. Many other courses will seek to instigate transformations of their students to become, for example, 'scientists', 'entrepeneurs', 'teachers', or 'historians', requiring students to adopt the attitudes, values and practices that characterise such identities.
For many subjects, course teams need to determine which of many aspects of the subject area, or contexts for practice, they will focus on and which will be only referenced or ommitted completely. The decisions taken will have an underlying purpose that it is useful to express explicitly in any depictions of the course. For example, the University's undergraduate history provision is focussed on a clearly demarkated period, the social work provision has adopted a particular focus on social justice, and our business MSc has adopted an international focus. In each case, the design of the curriculum has been informed by the decision taken, and the course marketting materials employ this as a distinguishing characteristic to help potential students see the benefits of applying for the course.
Courses do not exist in a vacuum but are provided for a purpose in relation to the world outside the educational deliverer. The rationale is the opportunity for the course team to provide reasons why the course should be provided by the University of Suffolk and identify how both the University and the wider community could gain through the provision. It is the start of the course narrative. Looking at a course, the course team might identify a number of ways in which it will or does interact with a wider community. For example, the course may:
Identifying these types of relationships with the wider community is not always easy for a course team to do fully – often there are valuable links that are never explicitly acknowledged but form a vital resource to the course or to the community.
Tip! Questions to ask yourself and answer in the rationale:
1. who is the course for?
2. what makes the course different and or exciting?
3. what does success look like?
4. how does the course contribute to the University vision and strategy?
5. who would notice if the course was not validated?