Wednesday, 30 June 2010

University of Greenwich asks "How Flexible Can HE Be (Are We?)?

On 10th June some of my colleagues from the University of Greenwich spent the day considering flexibility in education, focussing on flexible access, recruitment and admissions. 

The day is well documented elsewhere,, but I just want to take this opportunity to note Professor Simon Jarvis's - our DVC for Academic Development - vision of on how Greenwich is - and should - respond to flexible learning.

  • Flexibility needs to have boundaries;
  • Greenwich must raise aspirations, standards and quality and have the expectation of success;
  • Greenwich should look at how it deals with credit accumulation and transfer;
  • Greenwich could be more flexible in using facilities "out of hours";
  • Greenwich should embrace "collaborative learning" and  invest in technology to deliver a "real time feel" with podcasting and computer aided assessment and feedback;
  • Despite a tough economic climate, Greenwich needs to pursue work based learning opportunities in partnership delivered through Foundation degrees, sandwich placements, internship, apprenticeships and flexible study packages such as Applied Professional Studies;
  • "Graduate attributes" will be a major plank of teaching and learning strategies and this may place some constraints on flexibility;
  • Greenwich should build its CPD activity through short courses, block mode delivery and accumulation of credit over time towards a qualification;
  • Flexibility requires appropriate processes and systems to support it.

I believe that UG-Flex has a role in encouraging further debate on these issues,with a view to the development of a University-wide strategy on flexible learning in the near future.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

University of Greenwich "Balanced Academic Workload Model" pilot project

A significant issue for UG-Flex's stakeholders is the extent to which the academic staff contract can support greater flexibility in pace, place and mode of delivery.  We know from the discussions that took place at the last Programme Meeting in May that other projects in the CDD programme are pondering the same kinds of questions.

So the UG-Flex project will be watching with great interest a pilot project that has started at the University of Greenwich,  led by our Personnel department, to test  a method of  modelling academic workloads that draws on practice developed through a  national "Managing Academic Workloads" project based at Salford University. The intention is to feedback the outcomes later in the 2010/11 academic session, with a view to wider roll out at Greenwich from in 2011/12.

UG-Flex has been working to ensure that lessons from this pilot are shared and considered in a broader context of enabling greater flexibility in curriculum design. We are well placed since the main sponsor, Russell Brocket, our  Director of Personnel, is also a member of the UG-Flex Project Steering Group and gave a presentation on the pilot at our last meeting in early June. Another champion, Mike Sharp, is member of our Project Management Group.

Further details of the background, principles and main features of the model can be found at

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A report back on the 'Viewpoints' Project Illuminate Session

The UG-Flex project manager took part in a fascinating Illuminate session on 9 June led by members of the ‘Viewpoints’ project team from the University of Ulster.

Viewpoints is seeking to develop a series of user-friendly reflective tools for staff that will embed a learner-centred approach to curriculum design based on best practice principles.

I was interested to hear how the project started out by running a series of development workshop sessions initially intended as a rapid prototyping approach to developing tool requirements. These have proved so effective that the intention is to continue to develop the workshop format and use the online tool to support the face-to-face work.

The workshops are short and sweet (1 – 2 hours) and use best practice resources to help practitioners reflect on and develop their curricula. Information is organised into topics and issues and actions recorded on a large laminate sheet. The plan is to develop an online tool that mirrors this approach, using drop down menus etc. (Balsamiq was cited as a useful piece of software that they have been using).

The project team shared feedback from staff that indicates there are opportunities to use Viewpoints's approach and tools to support academic development for new and existing staff; team building and collaboration and also as a non-threatening way to support course review processes. Challenges were cited in the way ideas developed at workshops were recorded and the current limitations they had found in using the tool to support the development of new courses. (They found that new courses were usually already partially developed by the time they reach the initial validation phase.)

Clearly the Viewpoints project is taking a very different approach to enhancing curriculum design compared to the UG-Flex project. And yet, what we have found at Greenwich is that our focus on improving our systems and business process in order to support more flexible curriculum design has helped to raise expectations about the quality of support and help staff should receive when they develop or review the content of their programmes. In this respect the work the Viewpoints project team has done so far is illuminating and potentially incredibly useful and I look forward to sharing it with my colleagues from the Educational Development Team and Learning & Quality Unit at our ‘Curriculum Development’ Away Day at Hever Castle in July.

For more on the Viewpoints Project go to:;;;