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Course Design Blueprint

Group learning, Independent learning


It is an expectation that all courses include learning and assessment activities in which students are required to work on significant projects or tasks in groups. Such activities are essential for equipping students for many working environments, building their abilities to communicate effectively, to negotiate and meet deadlines, and to take on responsibilities and leadership. Group learning activities can take many forms and should be integrated into the curriculum as a regular feature of the students’ experience.

A key emphasis of the University’s Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy is the aim of enabling and encouraging our students to develop independent learning skills, with them being expected to employ these in an increasing manner as they progress, particularly through undergraduate courses (see Progressive Learning). Approaches such as Problem Based learning embed expectations for students to take responsibility for their learning, and that of their peers, and the University’s adoption of Personal Academic Coaching has a particular focus on empowering students and building their confidence as they adopt and refine independent learning skills.

Group learning activity

There are a large variety of means by which group learning can be integrated into the curriculum, both as synchronous activity on campus or on-line, and through asynchronous activity on-line that gives students more freedom to contribute at their own pace.  The following examples are provided to give a flavour of some alternatives - we intend to collate examples of practice from across the University to expand this section over time.

  • There are many activities that students can be asked to complete whilst together within a physical learning setting, with flexibility on how these are set up and managed.  Options include:
    • allowing students to form groups with their friends, or to form groups according to some specific purpose (such as random, mix up ages or backgrounds or specialisms, ensure each of a cohort will be in a group with each of their peers at least once).
    • requiring students to report back to the overall group (by short presentation or reading out agreed written response, using flip chart paper), or to other groups (combine groups or shuffle and share).  The use of online tools can allow collation of group feedback, possibly anonymously, by the tutor to inform or drive further discussion.
    • giving all groups the same task, or having each tackle a different one and sharing their findings. 
    • Setting group work that can be completed in a short time in-class, work that can be discussed within the coffee break, or work that students are to go away and tackle in advance of the following session.
  • Many courses expect students to work in groups on prolonged activities or projects.  This needs more careful setting up (how are groups formed? What support can the students access during the group work?) and monitoring (are the groups wiorking well? Are there any issues that need to be addressed?), but can create highly effective learning experiences for some students.  It is usual for such prolonged projects to contribute to students summative assessment, although this could entail their reflections on the processes employed, the theoretical background applied, the group's working and effectiveness, and the quality of any resultant artifacts produced, rather than being based solely on the quality of any final product.
  • Group learning is integral to the use of Problem based learning.

For a detailed exploration of how various forms of group work can be employed in learning and teaching, chapter five of Phil Race's book The Lecturers Toolkit (Race 2020) is an excellent starting point.

The University has an Assessment of Group Work Policy which should be adhered to where students are asked to work as a group as part of their summative assessment activity.

Reference

Race, P. (2020) The Lecturer's Toolkit. 5th edn. Milton: Routledge.

Independent Learning

Courses should be designed to explicitly develop students’ independent learning skills, prompting them to recognise their own development and identify their own strengths and weaknesses and thus plan for further developmental activity as appropriate. The development of independent learning skills is fundamental to the University's Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy, and it's three phase model of learning where students are taken from being guided learners at level four through to being independent learners at level six.  Course teams will need to consider carefully how this transformation is both encouraged and facilitated through their curriculum, and make this explicit in their student handbook.

The majority of the University’s courses include a ‘capstone’ project as a key element of the final year of the students’ studies. Thus often take the form of a dissertation or research project, although more employment or practice based projects are also employed on some courses. These projects are generally a means of requiring students to demonstrate their independent skills and attributes including their ability to direct and plan their own learning in support of their projects process and outcomes. Course teams will need to plan the learning activities and assessments within earlier levels of study or modules to ensure that the students are well prepared for the capstone project and the various demands on the students it will impose.