Thursday, 1 April 2010

UG-Flex at the AUA Conference 2010

Two members of the UG-Flex Project Team attended their first AUA Conference this week.

Highlights were few and far between (Lows: no show of Lord Robert Winston as key note, taxi drivers and the rain – Highs: great curry and a few potentially useful contacts). Still, we agree that there were some sessions that were interesting/informative/useful.

I found Michelle Morgan’s session on “Supporting student transition” extremely thought-provoking. She suggested approaching the student lifecycle through a series of phases - Pre-arrival; Orientation; Induction; Reinduction & Outduction and this made complete sense to me. She also offered a wealth of experience and advice that I’ll make sure I share with colleagues in the Education Development Team at Greenwich. In response to my question, Michelle was emphatic that her model applied to students whatever their mode of study or background. Reflecting on this I am inclined to think that careful thought is needed about the content and format of information given to different students. As Michelle herself said, there is a balance to be struck between meeting students’ needs and avoiding overloading them with information.

I’m still reeling slightly from reaction to the paper I gave with Duncan at the same conference on “the role of administrators in revealing and enhancing curriculum design processes”.

The aim of the paper was to describe why UG-Flex believes it is necessary to capture and act on the expertise of administrators alongside academic staff to reveal and enhance systems and business processes in order to deliver a more agile and diverse curriculum, how we set about doing this and the benefits/challenges/impact so far.

Among our 40+ audience (much more than we expected!) a diverse range of views emerged ranging from “curriculum design is nothing to do with me and I don’t want it to be” to “yes we’re involved but in a clearly structured manner as defined by clear processes and procedures that don’t need to be reviewed” (yeah, right!) and a few more who felt “yes, it is absolutely right for administrators to have a view on and be involved in curriculum design processes and this is why....”

Reflecting on what was a bit of bruising experience, I think what is so interesting and personally unexpected was the extent to which so many in the audience – administrators in HEIs - didn’t recognise UG-Flex’s definition of curriculum design as a process that needs to take in account the complex set of dimensions concerning both the learning students will achieve (i.e. pedagogical issues) and how that learning will be facilitated/supported/structured/delivered/funded. Of course we’re not alone in this definition and I’d be interested to hear from others in the JISC CDD programme on whether this is something that needs to be addressed by JISC / others?

If I do this again – I did half mention going back to an AUA conference in a few years to share the outcomes and outputs of the UG-Flex – I would definitely do a better paper and I’d put much more thought into my definition of “administrators” – I was over simplistic (and I say this as someone with an academic background who is now essentially an administrator...) Also I’ll never ever underestimate the complexities of the “them and us” mentality and how this manifests itself in our HEIs.

Claire Eustance, UG-Flex Project Manager

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