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Course Design Blueprint

Learning Community

Course teams are expected to develop collaborative learning and discursive approaches that help build partnerships between staff and students, making judicious use of peer learning activities, in order to increase and enhance student engagement and success. Enabling students to become active members of a scholarly and vibrant learning community promotes their personal development and capacity to be self-regulating in taking responsibility for their own learning.

We would expect the staff and students associated with a course to naturally form a learning community works together for mutual benefit.  Being part of a larger group than just their own cohort of students can provide students with valuable connections, role models, and peer support.  There is an expectation that course teams will endeavor to foster such learning communities, encouraging students to build and employ links with their peers, and to develop skills in supporting others' learning and progress.

Students should be encouraged to make effective use of peer learning and support throughout their studies. Courses are expected to initiate and facilitate peer learning within course delivery, encourage students to expand on its use in support of their independent study, and signpost further opportunities provided by the University.

In addition, the School or subject team within which each course is located can provide a broader forum for learning community activity, enabling students to mix with students from other courses, and to learn from tutors and researchers in related areas of interest.

There are many ways in which University of Suffolk course teams and Schools have sought to develop course learning communities, some of which are briefly explored below:

  • Peer learning and support mechanisms: Early in some courses students are required to form study groups in which they are tasked to complete learning and research activities in collaboration.  This can support cohorts in building links and supportive peer relationships, and encourage students to explore how they can work together in support of their learning.  Getting higher level students (or recent graduates) to meet with or present to lower level students can help provide guidance and insight that students can gain from in early engagement with study or assessment tasks, their first placement experiences, and the preparation for dissertation or final year project work.  Informally arranged peer mentoring can also be helpful - arranging for studnets in later years of their study to mentor individuals or groups of first year students as they adjust to Higher Education.  Similarly, more formal arrangements can be put in place where funding enables peer mentors to be paid for their contributions. 
  • Vertical leaning - the purposed and planned creation of situations and opportunities for students from different levels to interact or work together to the benefit of each other.  Examples include:
    • engaging level five students to manage student projects in which level four students provide the workforce;
    • the creation of open 'crits' where students of multiple levels share and critique each others' work (particularly relevant for creative subjects);
    • the engaging of lower level students to support final year students' research work (such as within an experimental project involving subjects that will need to be managed within and directed to laboratory settings, or within a wildlife surveying research project where lower level students can assist with the surveying activity and data recording);
    • the involvement of lower level students in the set-up or staging of final year students' exhibitions or shows;
    • inviting lower level students to attend and participate in final year students' final year project presentations.
  • Extra-curricular activities.  Notable examples include
    • the staging of Game Jams where students are encouraged to take part in a rapid game development over a short (i.e. two day) period;
    • the formation and support of a subject specific Students' Union Society;
    • scheduling of public lectures, presentations, exhibitions or conferences to which students are invited to attend or contribute to.
Exemplary Accomplished (baseline) Promising Incomplete
The course team, in partnership with students and other stakeholders (internal and external to the University), facilitate regular opportunities for students to meet, work with and learn from their peers, members of the wider University community, and external stakeholders. Student learning activities aimed at building and promoting the course learning community are regularly integrated into all levels of the curriculum.  The benefits of belonging to a learning community are emphasised by the course team. Scheduled and online learning activities that encourage and facilitate the development of learning communities are integrated into parts of the curriculum. Students are encouraged to form peer learning groups and support each other through their learning and development on the course, and some effort is made early in the course to facilitate this.