Monday, 30 July 2012

UG-FLEX - thank you and good bye (well not quite.....)

The final steering group meeting took place on 16 July with a terrific presentation from Peter Chatterton, the external project evaluator.    A copy of the final report will shortly be available on the project webpage at and it is safe to say that the project ended on a very positive note and has generated a series of new initiatives and development going forward. 

Watch this space for news on the new academic calendar/framework!

A few days later the project hosted an "end of project" event at the Greenwich campus. The project manager gave a short presentation on the project's "story", but mainly it was an opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who had contributed their time, brain power and experiences to the project.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

UG-Flex at the 7th International Blended Learning Conference June 2012

Last week's session at the IBLC (University of Hertfordshire) went  well. I did a session with Rachel Forsyth and Marianne Sheppard called "Winning Hearts and Minds: tools and techniques to engage staff in curriculum change initatives".

More than 40 people took part and "gamely" tried out the Greenwich's "Snakes & Ladders" Interactive Workshop Tool and MMU's “Accreditation” game activity.  

It was a whistle stop introduction to the activity, since they only had 30 mins to try it out. Even so the feedback was extremely helpful and generally positive.

Group 1 Activity Output

Group 2 Activity Output

Group 3 Activity Output

It is clear that the Interactive Workshop Formula developed by Sally Alsford and Claire Eustance is proving to be an effective tool for getting people talking (my particular area of interest being to facilitate "creative conversations") and also as a means to convey and demonstrate how induction/transition cannot be a one off activity in the first week (Sally's area of expertise).

Contrary to some concerns voiced previously there were no comments along the lines of the “snakes and ladders” metaphor being a trifle "childish".  Participants were also really interested in thinking about how it could be used in other contexts.     Again the suggestion came up about post it notes, so all in all pretty positive. 

Guidance on the tools with templates are (or will be) available (shortly) on JISC's Design Studio:

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Report back on conference "A new deal for part-time and distance students" 12 Oct 2011

The UG-Flex project was represented at the recent conference looking at part-time, distance and flexible study in Higher Education by Annette Devine (Office of Student Affairs) and Emma Williams, (Planning and Statistics).

Speakers included Claire Callender and Tricia King (Birkbeck),  Ed Leser (Chief Exec. Student Loans Company), Kate Butland & Peter Mulligan (UCAS) and Bill Jones (Universities Association for Lifelong Learning)

A summary of the main discussion and issues follows below. Reading them it is interesting to note that the strategic and infrastructure issues raised are ones that the UG-Flex project at Greenwich has been grappling with. I think it is worth emphasizing that by tackling the core organisational functions and infrastructure implications of flexible learning, Greenwich is 2+ years further down the road towards changing its institutional mindset.
  • The public value of HE (social mobility and economic benefits) and individual benefit are recognised;
  • Growing importance of part-time study – demographic downturn in younger HE entrants, up-skilling/re-skilling of workforce in current economic climate, financial austerity;
  • Part-time students will have access to non means tested loan up to £6,750  and with access to loans the expectation (by Government) is that more students will opt for part-time, distance learning, work-based learning;
  • Expectation of increased employer input into HE courses;
  • Part-time learning are no longer obscured in policy statements;
  • Flexibility and responsiveness – students should be able to study where, when and how it suits them;
  • Student experience – part-time students are not just full-time students doing it slower;
  • New providers emerging (FE and private) and cheaper modes of delivery (online);
  • Personalised learning needs to be addressed: APL/APEL, accelerated learning, unitisation, credit transfer

  • Uncharted territory – no-one can predict student behaviour: It is difficult to predict part time & distance learner behaviour for 2012 entry. It is noted  that part time student numbers have been reducing over last 10 years or so. At Birkbeck any shift in this trend will not be known until late in the planning cycle as many apply late as direct entrants.
  • Diverse profile of part-time students
  • No level playing field with full time students in terms of funding:
  • A cap of £6,750 imposed on part time students for fees loan regardless of intensity of study
  • Part time students only qualify for fees loans if studying more than 25% FTE
  • Grants will be removed for part time students (exception for students with disabilities)
  • Only a third of part-time students will be able to access loans for fees: those with Level 4 qualifications will not be able to access tuition fee loans.
  • Part time students will have to start to pay back their loan 3 ½ years after the start of their course regardless of completion status or income levels.
  • Full time and part time study are different and the course structure/content for part-time study needs to be individualised. 
  • There are concerns that fees will be set pro-rata, where in the past they may have been discounted.
  • Will part-time students take the risk when perception is one of debt?
  • Employer reluctance in current economic climate to fund re-skilling through HE
  • Flexible learning has to be an integral aspect of institutional strategic change and aligned to admissions, learning and teaching and e learning strategies and associated staff development
  • Addressing core organisational function and infrastructure implications inc support services, library and IT for part time students.
Other points

  • Part-time students will be able to apply to the Student Loans Company (SLC) through same process as full-timers – currently only deal with 16-20k per year;
  • SLC have no idea what the uptake will be but expect it within the range 16,700-150,00 and demand profile expected to be different from full-time;
  • UCAS currently undertaking major admissions process review to provide a flexible sustainable approach to all modes of study. Report expected in March 2012;
  • According to UCAS Potential part-time students want information on the following:
    • fees
    • how to apply
    • loans and repayment
    • course duration
    • method of course delivery (e.g. evening/weekend etc.)
    • contact hours
Presentation slides from conference speakers are available on request from

Monday, 10 October 2011


The UG-Flex Project has been working to deliver four key requirements articulated by stakeholders back in 2009.

These were:

1. Systems and processes designed around student need
2. Better support solutions for programme validation and review
3. Trusted, high quality course information
4. Better communication channels

See below for feedback from some of our stakeholders commenting on the impact they think the project has had:

View from a school manager
View from strategic academic planning perspective
View from member of project steering group

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Comments sought on options for Greenwich's academic calendar post 2012

My thanks to members of the University of Greenwich Teaching Fellows Group for inviting me to give a short presentation today on the research the UG-Flex project has conducted so far into options for Greenwich's academic calendar post 2012.

I've posted up a copy of the "work in progress" diagrams and statement of requirements on this blog and welcome any additional comments and observations. Your input really will help inform the content of the paper that will appear on our new VC's desk on the 1st October.

Claire Eustance
UG-Flex Project Manager x8918

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

UG-Flex at the CAMEL on Wheels in Cambridge

Last week's CAMEL meeting in Cambridge marked the start of the final year of the UG-Flex project.

Appropriately the focus was on: sustainability - evaluation - dissemination

The activities over the two days were extremely useful. As always it was an opportunity to reflect and share progress and challenges and added to this, there was a timely opportunity to reflect on strategies for embedding and sustaining outputs and outcomes.  I found this session an (unusually) reassuring indication that because UG-Flex has tackled problems from an institutional perspective and sought solutions that are equally as institutionally grounded and mainstream,  this has ensured sustainability has been integral from the outset. While embedding and sustaining change is always a challenge, for UG-Flex at least it is not an overwhelming one.

The session on evaluation was equally useful in clarifying impact and benefits in relation to different stakeholder groups.  It reinforced that UG-Flex's decision to focus on targeted training and awareness raising activities in the final 12 months is appropriate.

The final session on "the book" - our vision [increasingly likely I hope to become a reality] for writing up what we have learned on curriculum design / institutional change - rounded off a productive 2 days.

Thank you to Amayas and his colleagues at CARET in Cambridge for a fantastic CAMEL.

The cycle tour and supper at Christ's College were an added bonus, not withstanding my rather sore derriere the next day!

I have heard rumours that video clips have been posted on You Tube (Search: dcb09 Cambridge camel).

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Blended Learning Conference

A few weeks ago UG-Flex was at the International Blended Learning Conference at the University of Hertfordshire. The project manager contributed to a session called  "Enhancing the Blended Learning Experience through Flexibility" and described how we had used aspects of Peter Checkland's soft systems methodology to help stakeholders identify to barriers to flexibility at Greenwich through rich pictures.

A report on the session, along with photos of the rich pictures produced by participants can be found on the Design Studio: