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Course Design Blueprint: Academic and Digital Skills

How do we plan, map and develop academic and digital skills? 

Careful and explicit consideration needs to be given to where and when students will be provided opportunities to learn, practice and develop personal confidence in their ability  to employ specific skills incrementally throughout the course. These skills support progression on the course and enable development of the attributes required by students on the next step on their learning or career journey. Follow the principles below whilst 'mapping-out' skills and attributes. 

  • It is essential that skills are introduced in context so that their application to pertinent scenarios or in resolving authentic problems grounds and enriches the students' understanding of their purpose and effective use.
  • All skill delivery should ensure students are equipped to make informed and critical judgements on their suitability and applicability within a range of contexts and situations.
  • Students should be able to access further support to enable them to develop and refine their skill development beyond the basic level of application.
  • Students need to be equipped to be able to make effective judgements on their ability to apply each skill.  
  • For attributes such as resilience, creativity and collaborative, course teams should recognise the time that these need to evolve, and the prompts that students need to help them recognise this development, and to identify opportunities for further development.
  • Where skills are to be employed in summative assessment, this should be preceded with sufficient learning activity and formative opportunities to enable the students to have gained confidence in their abilities.

Developing an Academic Voice

One of the most significant development requirements for the majority of our students is their need to develop the ability to express themselves academically.  This involves a combination of skills and abilities that will enable the students to bring together their learning, research findings, critical thought, and conclusions in a format and form that is academically sound and logically constructed.

Course teams need to recognise this in the design of their course, integrating specific opportunities for such learning and development into all levels of their provision.  As depicted in the FHEQ level outcomes (see section on Learning Outcomes), students are expected to demonstrate learning in their abilities to express themselves:

  • Level four: communicate the results of their study/work accurately and reliably, and with structured and coherent arguments.
  • Level five: effectively communicate information, arguments and analysis in a variety of forms to specialist and non-specialist audiences and deploy key techniques of the discipline effectively.
  • Level six: critically evaluate arguments, assumptions, abstract concepts and data (that may be incomplete), to make judgements, and to frame appropriate questions to achieve a solution - or identify a range of solutions - to a problem [and] communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions to both specialist and non-specialist audiences.
  • Level seven: deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate their conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences.

Students will need to be taught the meaning of these levels of achievement, provided with ample opportunities to explore ‘good’ examples, and possibly critique poorer examples, in order to develop their personal understanding of the expectations on them for academic expression.

Written English

The production of written English is an essential transferrable skill for all our students. In developing courses, teams need to consider how the development and assessment of English skills will be integrated into the curriculum. 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.
  • academic reading and comprehension.
  • effective understadning and application of subject specific terminology.
Fairness and Equity
Students embarking on a course with less well developed skills in the use of written English, such as those for whom English is not their first language, will not be disadvantaged in comparison to their peers whose written English skills are already well developed.

Numeracy Skills and Statistics

For some courses there will be a significant requirement for numerical proficiency and knowledge, 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. Students should have opportunity 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.
  • develop critical skills in order to evaluate others' statistical presentations and results as is pertinent 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.

Communication Skills

Students should 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.
  • short individual and group presentations of well defined concepts and ideas
  • prolonged presentations of research activities
  • vivas
Jargon busting.

Most subject areas will employ a subject specific vocabulary with which students are expected to become 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. There are many ways in which student's creative skills can be given space to be exhibited within a curriculum, examples and benefits include:
  • 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 and Digital Skills

All courses should 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 databases in order to locate literature and data sources.
  • proficiency in co-ordinating data collection, analysis and management, and employing appropriate IT tools to achieve this.
  • digital skills to support communication, digital wellbeing and appropriate lab or practice based technical skills.


As is drawn out in many areas of this Blueprint, fundamental to any student's development of their skills and attributes is their ability to use reflective skills in order to review and evaluate their progress, and to plan further work in response to such reflections. Reflection can be integrated into course delivery, required of students as part of their engagement or assessment. However, for many subjects promoting or facilitating a culture of reflective practice (applied to students own learning and progress and to their practice and professional experiences and development) is an essential aspect of course and subject philosophies and learning approaches.

Research Skills

All students are expected to be provided with an introduction to research within their curriculum as appropriate to the awards subject area and level.  The term 'Research skills' has a variety of meanings, and it is likely to be different for each subject area. Each course team will need to identify which research skills and attributes they expect their students to be able to understand and/or employ, and also determine the level at which these will need to be explored to enable students to progress within learning and assessment.


The University's frameworks for undergraduate and postgraduate awards both require the inclusion of explicit research methods content in most courses at level five or above.  In undergraduate courses there should normally be a twenty credit module that explores subject relevant research methodologies, enabling students to select and plan research activity in preparation for their final year dissertation or project.  Similarly, all Masters degrees are required to include a research methods module of at least 20 credits.


Promoting a research culture

Emphasising the place of research within each course's subject area and encouraging students to engage positively and constructively with current research developments is an essential aspect of University culture.  Schools and individual course teams could adopt a number of strategies to embed research into their student's experience, including by:
  • instituting regular School research seminars that are actively promoted to students as a substantive part of their experience, particularly their final year studies.
  • involving tutors and the University's researchers (including Masters and PhD students) in the delivery of modules, making explicit links between module content and current research activity and trends.
  • including a 'Contemporary Issues' module that is flexible enough to allow students to be exposed and to explore current research within their subject area.
  • requiring students to develop assessment artifacts that are in a format suitable for research publications.
  • staging annual conferences where students' work is shared with local or national audiences alongside established researcher's work.
  • encouraging students to work together to create and publish collections of their cohort's work - particularly relevant for creative and artistic subject areas.