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Course Design Blueprint

Academic Skills and Attributes


The development, practice and assessment of relevant academic skills should be an essential feature of all courses, and at all levels.  There should be a distinct focus on introducing level four students to the essential academic skills, with all students being expected to demonstrate the University's learning outcomes for Academic Skills Development by the completion of their level four studies.

At higher levels of provision, course teams will continue to promote and enable students' further academic skills development as is appropriate to the subject area.  In particular, students will have opportunities to develop and gain feedback on their critical thinking skills, and on their academic writing and communication skills in preparation for their final year dissertation or project. 

Written English Skills

The production of written English is an essential transferrable skill for all our students, as signposted in our entry requirements.  However, it is only one of a number of transferable skills that students are able to develop and demonstrate through their studies.  The ability to demonstrate fluent and effective written English skills is valued higher in some subjects than others, and the refinement of other transferable skills is often seen as of more value for many subjects.

In courses where students are mainly assessed through written submissions, there is a danger that a student with less developed written English skills will be repeatedly marked down regardless of their achievement in other aspects of their learning.  Students with characteristics or backgrounds that make the development of written English skills a significant challenge could thus be disadvantaged when it comes to gaining higher marks and overall classifications.  Even for those for whom there are no specific barriers to developing their written English skills during their studies, requiring them to do so alongside the other course learning will add to their study load and potentially place them at a disadvantage compared to their peers.

In developing courses, teams need to consider how the development and assessment of English skills will be integrated into the curriculum.  While the focus can often fall on developing students’ writing skills, it is important that skills in academic reading and comprehension, and the effective understanding of subject specific terminology and written communication is included in the curriculum. In developing these aspects of their courses, teams need to consider how they will ensure that no students are disadvantaged unfairly by the approaches adopted.

For the purpose of the discussion here, when we refer to written English skills we refer to students’ abilities to employ English to communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions to both specialist and non-specialist audiences . Such abilities would be expected to enable students to demonstrate their abilities to devise and sustain arguments, and to describe and comment upon particular aspects of their discipline. Key elements of written English skills can be classified into two distinct groups: functional skills including the ability to construct sentences, spell correctly, and adhere to grammatical conventions; and higher skills: employing appropriate terminology, synthesising information effectively, and effectively conveying argument and discussion logically through the structuring of written work. While expectations for the good functional skill usage is generally common to all subject areas, there tends to be more variation in expectations on what constituted good higher skill usage within different subject areas.

In order to support course teams in these considerations, we set out below a set of principles and accompanying guidance.

 

A typical cohort of students on any programme will exhibit a range of abilities in each of the transferable/generic skills they will be expected to employ through their studies. It is unreasonable for us to require all students to attain the same level of written English skills without providing means by which this might realistically be achieved within the course delivery.

 

Most courses will need to integrate teaching and learning activity into their course delivery content to support students to develop and refine the higher writing skills that are required, and are likely to work with Learning Services staff in enabling students to seek further support and guidance to enable students to develop both higher and functional writing skills. Where the development of higher written English skills is an integral element of the course’s learning outcomes, the delivery and assessment of these needs to be planned carefully to ensure students have sufficient opportunity to learn, practice and receive developmental feedback on their progress before they are required to deploy them within substantial summative assessment activities.

 

Numerical Skills and Statistics

While all courses will require students to employ written English effectively, there is great variety in the level of numerical skills that will be required.  For some courses there will be a significant requirement for numerical proficiency and knowledge, and this will need to be recognised within the course's entry requirements - the course team will need to take care to bridge student's knowledge and skill level between that encapsulated in the entry requirements and that required for students to engage with the course's learning activity and assessment.  For other courses there will be much less requirements for numerical proficiency within the curriculum.  However, it is unlikely that any course will not need to require students to engage with numerical skills to some extent:

  • There is an expectation that all the University's courses include content on research methods as appropriate to the subject area.  The ability to make sense of basic numerical figures, to comprehend concepts such as proportions expressed as percentages, trends and averages, and to interpret meaning from data reported using these concepts is usually an essential skill for research in any subject area. 
  • The level and nature of statistical techniques and understanding required for students on any particular course will depend on the subject area and course level.  All students should be provided with opportunities to develop critical skills in order to evaluate others' statistical presentations and results as is pertinennt to the subject areas' literature.  Most courses will also provide in-course content exploring basic statistical techniques and measures, and many will go much further in developing student expertise and practical experience in planning and applying statistics, and in using the results effectively.
  • The University's Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy expects all courses to engage students with enterprise and entrepreneurship, aligned with their subject area and embedded in to curricula (see Employability and Enterprise section).  The ability to understand and interpret both financial reports and commercial data are fundamental to enterprise and entrepeneurship skills.

The provision of numerical skills within courses can be supported through the University's academic skills advisors team.

Communication Skills

While we expect all students to demonstrate proficiency in expressing themselves academically (see the Academic Voice section), it is also important that they have opportunities to develop and practice communication in other voices and formats.  Course teams are encouraged to consider the following aspects of communication skills, exploring the extent to which each should be integrated into their curriculum, and how this might be done in a progressive and supportive manner:

  • Oral communication.  Courses should include opportunities for students to plan and make oral presentations as part of their learning activities and within assessment.  There are many forms of oral communication which can be employed within students learning, ranging from short individual and group presentations of well defined concepts and ideas, through to pitches, prolonged presentations of research activities, and interviews and vivas.  As explored in the Digital section, using online tools can enhance student learning and achievement.  For example, providing students the opportunity to record presentations as videos can reduce their apprehensions and enable their development through their ability to review feedback whilst watching their work back, and making presentations through online tools can facilitate wider audience participation.
  • Jargon busting.  Most subject areas will employ a subject specific vocabulary with which students are expected to be come proficient in understanding and employing.  However, many roles that students will progress to will require then to communicate with those unfamiliar with this vocabulary, and courses should seek to equip their students with the skills required to communicate effectively in such scenarios.
  • Visual creativity.  Many students will have skills in expressing themselves effectively visually, a powerful communication skill in support of enabling communication to a variety of audiences, and a valued employability skill.  However, it is common for many courses to fail to provide such students opportunities to display or employ such talents within their learning or assessment.  Course teams can be rightly hesitant in including more creative forms of learning and assessment in recognition of the lack of capacity to provide support for students to develop the skills required within the curriculum.  However, many learning and assessment activities can be formulated to afford students flexibility in the formats they adopt.  There are many ways in which student's creative skills can be given space to be exhibited within a curriculum, examples including:
    • the freedom in the formats that materials accompanying presentations are allowed to take.  Quite often students are required to create a set of slides of a particular style.  However, for some the ability to employ more alternative formats, or even to employ physical artifacts or some kind of staged performance, might free them to express themselves far more effectively, thus improving their achievement, helping then build their confidence, and enabling them to explore how they can employ their talents in their study and future career options.
    • When students are required to produce reflective pieces, for some students the ability to express themselves more visually can free their ability to express their situations and feelings a more meaningful and deeper manner. 
    • Students within most courses are required at some point to produce a piece that communicates an aspect of their learning for a non-expert audience (such as for service users or the general public).  In such assessments, students could be given the freedom to choose (and justify their choice) the format that the communication should take, again, allowing them to employ their talents in its production or delivery.

Technical Skills

All courses shouid integrate opportunities for students to develop both generic and subject relevant technical academic skills.  Depending of the subject area, these might include:

  • abilities to use search tools and data bases in order to locate literature and data sources.
  • proficiency in co-ordinating data collection, analysis and management, and employing appropraite IT tools to achieve this.
  • effective abilities to employ IT (and other) tools in the creation of digital communication and artifacts.
  • appropriate lab or practice based technical skills.

Functional Skills on Apprenticeships

For Apprenticeship courses, all learners are required to demonstrate progress in both English and maths (usually collectively termed 'functional skills') through their studies.  Ofsted like to include Information Technology (Digital Skills) amongst Functional Skills, but this is not a requirement for a level 2 qualification. 

  • For all Higher Apprenticeships and Higher Degree Apprenticeships learners are required to have achieved level two maths and English to progress onto their end point assessment.  At University of Suffolk, this level of skill use is usually a pre-requisite of entry for the academic awards associated with our apprenticeship programmes although a few students will need to complete certification during their studies.
  • Programmes that are the basis for Apprenticeships are expected to map functional skill development activity within their module structure, clearly indicating which English and maths skills and competencies are delivered and/or practiced within each module, how these relate to the learners' workplace activity, and the expected outcomes of the learning and practice in terms of the impact this will have on the learners.
  • Apprentice learner's progress in developing their functional skills will need to be evidenced thorough their studies and discussed with their learning coaches and course team.  Programmes should provide opportunities for students to have their initial (on-entry or near entry) English and maths skills assessed as a baseline for the tracking of their progress, and provide many opportunities for students to be able to evidence their progress and achievement of higher levels of proficiency through the programme (through learning activities and formative and summative assessment).