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 c.eustance@gre.ac.uk

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

c.eustance@gre.ac.uk 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:

The Design Studio - a useful resource for curriculum design

The Design Studio is a developing toolkit which draws together a range of existing and emergent resources around curriculum design and delivery and the role technology plays in supporting these processes and practices.

The Studio will provide access to project outcomes and outputs from UG-Flex and other projects in the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes as they are developed and will continue to be sustained as a community resource after the programmes finish.

Disseminating Good Practice & Knowledge Transfer

I am such a fan of the Viewpoint project! There is so much potential in the methodology they have developed to support curriculum teams to review their courses/programmes.

UG-Flex has been working with colleagues in Greenwich's Educational Development Unit (EDU) to help them to build the Viewpoints materials into their work with teams who are embarking on a programme review.

The beauty of Viewpoints is that the materials guide the discussions expose issues and questions.  This means programme teams don't feel they are being lectured to and facilitators aren't overburdened with expectations.

On Monday 6th June six members of Greenwich's EDU team travelled over the City University (our extremely generous hosts) to join with colleagues there to take part in a train the trainer session run by Alan Masson and Catherine O'Donnell (our extremely generous and knowledgeable trainers) who had travelled over especially from the University of Ulster. 

As well as a hands-on taster session using the Viewpoints materials, Alan and Catherine circulated a comprehensive Viewpoints Handbook and provided lots of advice and handy hints.

Alan's presentation can be viewed on their slideshare site and photographs of the outputs can be viewed on flickr.

The Handbook and all of the curriculum design resources are available to download free of charge at http://viewpoints.ulster.ac.uk/resources

I think I can safely say that my colleagues in EDU are now adopters (maybe even fans) of Viewpoints. I got some great feedback afterwards and I look forward to seeing the plans for school-based activities and incorporation in Greenwich's teacher training courses put into practice.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Going beyond the obvious – talking about challenge and change (Programme Meeting 11 May 2011)

The JISC Curriculum Design Programme Meetings have become something of a milestone for the UG-Flex project. The recent trip to Birmingham for the latest meeting provided an opportunity for reflection on our project in the context of challenge and change.  The question that framed the day was how can we convey, in a useful context, what we have learned and what has changed at Greenwich to others?

One thing that emerged from the activities and sessions was that UG-Flex is one of the projects that has delivered (and continues to deliver) a combination of technical outputs and softer change outcomes. So in our case we need to think about what outputs and outcomes such as “better dialogue around flexibility and curriculum design and delivery” actually look like and how to describe them to different audiences? Equally how can we convey meaningfully what improved processes and systems around course information / data look like and what impact they have had? To ensure we capture the breadth of what UG-Flex has achieved, it is likely that our approach will encompass case studies as well as multimedia tools and written guides and training.

The meeting was also a chance to talk to colleagues from other projects about their respective approaches to evaluation. These discussions were extremely useful in helping UG-Flex to re-evaluate its own approach, and proved the argument that there is something positive to take from every situation! A paper on our evaluation approach for the remainder of the project will go to the next Project Management Group meeting.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Feedback on the VOXUR video unit pilot

Feedback on VOXUR Unit loaned by T-SPARC to UG-Flex.


The T-SPARC project kindly loaned one of their VOXUR units to the UG-Flex project at the University of Greenwich over a two month period from December 2010 to January 2011. Oliver Jenkins from T-SPARC gave an introduction to the unit, guidance on usage and some top tips at a workshop at Greenwich in early December 2010, which was attended by 8 members of staff.

While on loan to the UG-Flex project the VOXUR was demonstrated and trialled at an e-centre meeting and by at least six members of staff on an ad hoc basis. The most concerted period of use was in January 2011 when it was used to collect feedback from students on assessment and feedback and over 270 clips of video feedback were collected.


Colleagues at Greenwich were invited to give feedback (in confidence) on the unit in particular on

1. Ease of use
2. Support/guidance/documentation requirements
3. Benefits and challenges of using video to collect information (i.e. feedback) compared to other methods questionnaires, focus groups etc
4. Benefits and challenges of using VOXUR unit specifically (compared to e.g. static units at one end to flip camera, hand held devices at the other)
5. Their plans for using the feedback
6. Other comments
1. Ease of Use
There was general agreement that the VOXUR was easy to use from the start (i.e. their first time). Increased use lead to greater familiarity with the unit.

One user (SUUG member of staff) who used the unit over a series of days observed of new users (students) that at first there was a tendency for them to look at the keyboard rather than at the camera.

2. Support/Guidance/Documentation Requirements

The view from Greenwich is that the guidance material produced by VOXUR (and supplied by BCU along with the unit) was very good. The tips from Oliver Jenkins were very helpful as well and provided a good perspective based on “hands on” experience.

Suggestions from users:

- Could Oliver’s tips be written up in a short “handy hints” guide?
- A very short document that summarises the main keys to use for key functions, possibly on laminated card, would be welcome.

3. Benefits and challenges of using video to collect information (i.e. feedback) compared to other methods questionnaires, focus groups etc

A key benefit noted is that the VOXUR unit offers a new method of engaging. The unit did elicit considerable interest among students and it was evident that students wanted to have a go.

The most extensive period of usage at Greenwich was with students and it was observed that while many users spoke freely, a significant number wanted clarification about how their feedback would be used. Some students did not want to be associated with specific comments they had made personally, which negated the impact of video capture somewhat. These students said that they were more comfortable being “generally” associated with the collective views expressed. On this note, only one student chose to cover the camera and record their views by audio alone.

A drawback noted by at least 3 users who tried out the unit was that the method of capturing feedback is relatively time consuming, although not substantially more so that other methods.

4. Benefits and challenges of using VOXUR unit specifically (compared to e.g. static units at one end to flip camera, hand held devices at the other)

It was observed that the portability of the VOXUR unit has pros and cons - a bigger unit would have been difficult to transport although students might have been more inclined to use a more enclosed unit.

From discussions among colleagues introduced to the VOXUR a view emerged of some risk that the VOXUR unit “over complicated” the method of capturing verbal feedback on video. One user commented “I would have been just as happy with a flip camera”.

Some reservation were expressed about how useful the VOXUR’s functionality to ask structured questions and organise the responses will prove to be as a method for capturing and conveying qualitative feedback from students. Given the relatively limited usage by Greenwich, it is not possible to comment with any certainty on the scope of the VOXUR to produce more quantitative outputs (e.g. statistical data). However, initial reaction is that this would not a preferred option.

5. Future use of information

The majority of users of the VOXUR took part in short trials which were not intended for future use.

The exercise to capture student feedback on assessment and feedback in which over 270 clips of video feedback were collected was undertaken as a pilot and the evidence will be used. The intention is to produce a short video compilation of no more than 2 – 3 minutes. (Some reservation was voiced about how easy it will be to compile a single video from the clips, say compared with editing and compiling a video clip from more free flowing feedback that has captured previously using a flip camera.)

In addition, the SU in collaboration with the EDU will look through the assembled clips in order to identify five or six key messages that will be used to inform future policy / activity.

6. Other comments

A number of observations were made on the VOXUR in terms of value for money:

One user commented “It is supposedly unique but I’m not sure how difficult it would be to replicate.... I just feel it is prohibitively expensive... the difference between a top of the range Mac and the VOXUR in terms of functionality and editing software just doesn’t seem to justify forking out another £4,000.”

Users at Greenwich concur that the VOXUR trial has been a very useful exercise and we would like to put on record our thanks to T-SPARC, Paul Bartholomew and Oliver Jenkins for their interest and generosity.

Monday, 17 January 2011

UG Flex at the SEUG Conference in Durham

A rare guest appearance from Duncan Reeder on the UG Flex blog! Finally!!!

Friday the 14th of January saw Dave Mutti and myself make the six hour (!!!) round trip to Durham, to present to the Sungard European User Group (SEUG) annual conference. SEUG brings together Banner institutions from around Europe, and we wanted to use the conference as a way of finalising our research into methods of configuring terms in Banner for flexibility.

Presenting on the final day of a three day conference, we were a bit worried no one would show up. We were even more concerned when we learned that some delegates were just getting in from the Gala dinner, while we were boarding the train from London!!

Luckily we had good representation from five different institutions. It was great to get some insight from other Banner institutions on how certain configurations can limit or enhance flexibility. We also learned that the configuration model we regard as being the most flexible is in use at Nottingham Trent University, which will lead us to get in contact with them soon.

So a good days work then. It was also a good opportunity to give some recognition to JISC, and point out that all our work would not have been possible without the framework the project provides.

And finally great to see Durham - just beautiful!