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Course Design Blueprint

Course Structure


Course and module structure requirements for University of Suffolk awards are set out within the relevant Framework and Assessment Regulations documents as available under Academic Services on the Policies and Procedures area on the University’s website.  Where course teams seek to deviate from the stipulations of these documents, usually to meet PSRB requirements, a variation to the relevant qualification’s Framework and Assessment Regulations will need to be approved as part of the course approval process.  
 

 

Module credits

A standard Honours degree consists of 360 credits of undergraduate study equally divided between three levels (four to six).  Where undergraduate courses include a foundation year, a further 120 credits at level three is included at the start of the programme. Foundation Degrees and Diplomas of Higher Education comprises 240 credits with 120 credits at each of levels four and five.  A Masters Degree requires 180 credits of postgraduate study at level seven.  Also at postgraduate level, a Postgraduate Certificate comprises 60 credits of study at level seven, and a Postgraduate Diploma comprises 120 credits of study. 

At the University of Suffolk all modules must be situated at a single level of study (but see course team guidance below for further guidance on this), and so each student will be required to pass 120 credits at each relevant level of study.  In general, the expectation is that all modules are either of 20 credits or multiples thereof (40 credits or 60 credits). The majority of University of Suffolk undergraduate courses are made up of six twenty credit modules at each level except level six where a forty credit project or dissertation is included.  However, for practice and arts based courses it is common for forty credit modules to be included at each level, and in some arts based courses a sixty credit module is used for a major project module alongside the dissertation at level six.

A few courses, with specific justification, have a very limited number of ten credit modules (mainly at level four) but this is not encouraged as it does not fit well into block and blend learning and sceduling, tends to lead to over assessment and high student workloads, and can create barriers to progression and achievement for students.  Exceptionally, courses have included 30 credit modules to meet professional body requirements or to enable the course to align with Apprenticeship standards.

Required course contents

The frameworks for awards set out a number of specific requirements for course structures:

  • "All Foundation Degree courses should include a personal development skills module at Level 4 (as a requisite module) and a research skills module at Level 5 (as a mandatory module). They should also include a minimum of 40 credits of work-related learning across Levels 4 and 5 (ideally 20 credits per level) as mandatory modules."
  • "All Honours Degree programmes should include, as mandatory modules, a 20 credit subject-specific research methods module at Level 5 and a 40 credit dissertation or research project module at Level 6."
  • "All Postgraduate Diploma and Masters programmes will contain a mandatory 20 credit Research Methods module specific to the subject area. All Masters programmes will contain a mandatory 60 credit dissertation or research project module. Exceptionally, where the coherence of the curriculum necessitates, a mandatory 40 credit dissertation or research project may be permitted and approved at validation."

Pre-requisites

Course content often has implicit relationships such that students will not be able to meaningfully study one topic until another has already been covered, or until they have developed a good degree of competence and confidence in  particular aspects of the subject and associated skills and attributes.  While these may be obvious to subject experts, this will not always be the case for students or validation/re-approval panel members. 

Module specifications allow the explicit recording of prerequisites, modules which students must have studied or passed prior to being allowed to embark on the module. However, the specification of prerequisites can prevent students progressing despite them meeting the usual assessment regulations requirements.  Consequently, while it is helpful to specify prerequisites which require students to have taken, but not necessarily passed, modules at previous levels, specifying modules that must have been passed at a previous level should only be done when entirely necessary.

Module Designations

The frameworks require course teams to designate modules as one of 'Mandatory', 'Requisite' or 'Optional':

  • Mandatory:   All students are required to achieve a pass mark in all modules designated as mandatory in order to gain an award.  If a module provides the only opportunity for students to demonstrate one of a course's learning outcomes, or if it provides fundamental knowledge or understanding that underpins the course's discipline or practice, it would normally be designated as mandatory.
  • Requisite:  While all students must take any requisite modules on their course, it is possible for them to fail these modules and still pass the overall award.  This can be achieved either through module condonement (at level four only) or through the student taking an alternative module at the same or higher level in order to make up the credit. 
  • Optional: Modules designated optional do not have to be taken by all students, with the course structure providing an alternative to choose instead.  Some courses, particularly those with significant numbers of students, are able to offer many different options for students to choose from, whilst the degree of choice in many courses is very limited.

Sandwich Year Honours Degrees

A number of course teams have opted to validate four year versions of their courses where the third year consists of either a year in placement, a year studying abroad, or half a year of each.  Students engaging in a Sandwich year have to achieve 120 credits at level five based on their additional year's learning.  This credit does not count towards their final degree classification but is included on their final transcript.  There are a number of specific regulations associated with this type of course (as set out in Appendix A of the Framework and Regulations for Undergraduate Awards) and course teams will need to provide clear student guidance and supporting documentation on how these opportunities will be managed.  Course teams considering the inclusion of a sandwich year option within their programme should, in the first instance, consult with teams who are operating similar arrangements to gain insight on the opportunities, costs and constraints of such provision.

Structuring modules into a Block schedule

The standard Block delivery pattern at the University is a four plus one model whereby each module is allocated a dedicated block of five weeks for delivery, within which the normal pattern is to use four weeks for tutor structured learning and one week for assessment work. As explored in the Block and Blend basics guide, there is some flexibility in this, and teams are free to employ the five weeks as best suits their learners and the subject matter. Here we look at how a level's modules might be scheduled within an academic year, exploring issues that course teams will need to consider, how learning hubs might be employed to support longer-term learning and skills development, and options for courses with placement learning.

Standard Block-based academic year

The University's standard block model is for each academic year to be divided into six five week blocks for undergraduate provision, and nine five week blocks for postgraduate taught provision, each running consecutively, albeit with breaks for Christmas and Easter.  Each block would be allocated a single twenty credit module, thus accommodating 120 credits in a year for undergraduate cousres, and 180 credits for postgraduate courses. Where courses include forty credit modules, these may occupy consecutive or non-consecutive blocks, as is best suited to their content and learning.  For example, most honours degree courses include a forty credit project or dissertation module in the final year.  This is usually scheduled in two blocks, one early in the year to facilitate students making a good start on their work, and one at or near to the end of the year.

In some courses, a double block model has been developed to allow the coupling of two closely related modules to be delivered in parallel.  This is only permitted where the content of the coupled modules is very closely related, and the teaching of the two modules is integrated to form a unitary learning and assessment experience for the students.  Examples of where double blocks are particularly useful are where theory and practice modules are coupled such that the theoretical learning informs the practice activity and development, and the practice activity prompts reflection and critical application of the theoretical learning.

What is a learning hub?

In the Block and Blend model of delivery that the University has adopted, learning hubs provide a means by which skill development can be placed alongside students’ module learning.  Many skills required of students are not easily developed in the short time provided within a single block, and will be applied within many modules rather than just one. 

As illustrated in the diagram below, a learning hub runs at the same time as module delivery in blocks.  Each hub will link to module delivery, providing skill development that enables students to complete the module learning and assessment activities. The students’ achievement of the skills and any associated learning outcomes are normally assessed through the modules’ assessment components.

How a learning hub might be delivered

A learning hub could be provided in a number of ways, as is suited to the skill development or learning activity involved.  Examples include:

  • Provision of a weekly or fortnightly session throughout the duration of the learning hub at the same time of the week.  This can be particularly helpful when skill development is associated with specialist resources (labs, workshops, …) that need to be timetabled.  Similarly, a regular seminar session that encourages students to link between their modules’ learning, or between module and practice learning, can be a powerful mechanism for developing student’s learning and confidence, as well as encouraging peer learning.
  • An on-line module of learning activities for students to work through as best suits their personal situations and opportunities for learning time.  For example, such a module could be designed to involve many bite-sized pieces of content or activities to enable easy of access for students with busy schedules in which to fit their learning.
  • A learning hub could take the form of a prolonged project in which students will be expected to work individually or in groups to practice or develop skills.  This could feed from module delivery, allowing students to apply theory in a practical situation, and feed into module assessments where students are able to draw from their work to evidence their learning. 
  • A learning hub model can allow work placements or work based learning to be integrated into the curriculum, recognising that the availability of such opportunities will rarely fit neatly into the block structure.
  • Working with the University’s central departments, a learning hub could be constructed to make use of centrally developed provision.  For example, working with the Learning services team, a hub exploring academic skills could draw on their existing provision and involve them in the delivery.  Such a learning hub could be employed on a number of related courses.  Similarly, a learning hub exploring career progression and development opportunities could be built upon existing careers team resources and expertise.

In practice, many learning hubs would use a combination of the approaches, and should all be employing a blended approach to learning.

While we would not normally expect learning hubs to include summative assessment, there may be occasions where pass/fail assessment tasks are integrated into learning hubs for reasons of encouraging engagement or providing evidence of module or practice/PSRB learning outcome achievement. 

Why would I include a learning hub in my course?

As noted above, the development of many skills takes prolonged work by students and is often ill suited to inclusion within a single block.  Using learning hubs allows this development to be prolonged through multiple blocks.  It is perhaps most helpful to consider some examples of how learning hubs could be used:

  • During the first year of a course, a learning hub could be used to develop students’ study and academic skills.  The hub would focus on academic skill development, and modules’ activities and assessments would build upon this and provide an opportunity for achievement to be recognised and rewarded.
  • In a course where skill development is a key element of student’s learning, a learning hub can provide the context for this learning with associated learning outcomes assessed once the students have had sufficient opportunity to learn, practice and refine their abilities. Examples of where this might be a valuable model to employ include practical arts subjects, the development of laboratory skills in science courses, or for the development of technical skills in computing and engineering.
  • For courses that integrate modules from a number of related subject areas, a relatively light touch learning hub can provide regular opportunities for individual course cohorts to meet together with a tutor, helping the formation of a course specific learning community and providing the cohort with a clear identity and course ownership.
  • Where a course has a particular theme that underlies all delivery, this could be held together through the use of a learning hub.  As an example, the University’s Social Work provision has a social justice theme which could be emphasised through a hub in which module content is explored through interactions applying the theme to it.

This list should not be seen as complete and we suspect that there will be many other effective uses for learning hubs within the University’s curricula.

Can we have more than one learning hub in a year?

While we would not expect many learning hubs to be active at once, there may be course requirements that can be best met through the provision of multiple learning hubs at a single level.  Two illustrative examples are shown in the diagram below.

Proposing learning hub delivery

When course teams wish to propose including learning hubs within their course delivery, their course documentation (particularly their student handbook), will need to explain how the hub(s) will form part of the curriculum.  In particular, the following should be included:

  • The schedule of learning hub delivery (in which blocks, in which years, will they be delivered?)
  • The intended content and/or skill development for each hub.
  • The intended learning opportunities to be provided in each hub.

The way in which modules are linked to learning hubs should also be clear.:

  • Learning hours within a learning hub should not add to a student's overall learning load, so where a module is operating alongside a learning hub, the learning hub’s hours should come from that module.  For example, a team might decide that a learning hub will operate throughout a level, and decide that a fifth of each module’s learning hours (40 per 20 credit module) be set aside for learning hub activity.
  • Where skills included in the learning hub will be employed within module assessment, this should be indicated in the module documentation.

The School of EAST are trialling a double block model of delivery to best suit the nature of much of their provision.  Double block delivery is a means by which a module with significant practical elements can be delivered alongside a companion module with more theoretical content.  The delivery of pairs of modules within two consecutive five week blocks (forming a single ten week block) provides more prolonged time for practical skill development, and embeds the application of the more theroetical aspects of the content in the context of the practical work.  Where pairs of modules are delivered within a double block, the students' experience should be of a single cognate experience with the two modules' learning activities interweaved in complement to each other. 

While the two modules' assessment may be distinct, teams are encouraged to explore synoptic assessment strategies (see discussion on Assessment types page) to ensure the learning and achievement for each module are clearly linked and mutually support each other.

Optional modules in Block

Sceduling modules in blocks has implications for how optional modules are offered.  Effectively, all optional modules will be clustered in as many blocks as the number of options students are able to select.  To illustrate, a possible block structure for a level involving four mandatory modules and allowing students to select two optional module is shown below.

Diagram shoing a block structure with two optional modules available in each of the fourth and fifth blocks

In this schedule, students are limited in their choice of optional modules.  Students must choose between two modules in block four (A and B) and between the two modules in block five (C and D).  This means that students would not be able to take both module A and module B, both module C and module D.

Course teams determining their course structure will need to explore carefully the optionality they offer.  In particular they will need to consider:

  • the viability of their modules: offering too many modules in a single block may result in some being chosen by too few students to make them viable. 
  • whether they want to impose particular restrictions or enable students to avoid particular aspects of the curriculum.  By scheduling options focussing on one aspect of the curriculum in one block, and options associated with another in a different block, students can be required to take an option from each set.  For example, where option modules could be classified as either practice based and theory based, by gathering all practice based modules in one block and all theory options in another, students can be required to take both a practice and a theory module.  Alternatively, should a course team want to allow students to focus their studies on either theory or practice, this can be achieved by having both theory and practice options in each block.
  • student pathways and joint provision: Where courses are offered as joint or minor/major awards then module availability will need to accomodate all possible awards, and where possible avoid the need to deliver modules more than once.  Similarly, where the selection of optional modules determine possible award pathways, these need to scheduled to enable these to be achieved.  As an example, a possible configuration is shown below for a course with two possible pathways, with students not opting for a pathway being able to select pathway modules freely.

Block structure with two sets of three pathway modules included

Placement learning and Block

Many courses, particularly our vocational health related courses, have to integrate significant placement learning within their curriculum.  Students time through the year is apportioned between periods dedicated to module learning activities and periods spent in a professional setting.  In most of such courses, the periods of module learning do not fit neatly into blocks, and often do not add up to the 30 weeks that are required to accomodate the standard University four plus one model.  Consequently, such courses will often need to adopt a modified block schedule in which each block's module delivery time is compressed, leaving much of the learning to take place through reflection and practice whilst the students are in placement.

Many modules in courses with placements will require students to complete a portion of their learning within the placement setting.  This learning may be seen as needing assessment as part of the module's summative assessment.  However, in some cases, the module's assessment will enable students to demonstrate the learning outcomes, whilst the subsequent learning that will occur through the application of that learning in placement will not be directly assessed, or will be assessed as part of a placement learning assessment document (effectively a synoptic assessment).

Course teams are advised to consult with colleagues in their school with some experience of scheduling block,and to discuss their ideas with members of the CELT team.