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A student consultation was held on Friday 16th September to explore the student’s perspective of the proposed changes to be made to the structure of UHI’s curriculum. Despite a disappointing student turnout, the content of the discussion at the C21C Student Consultation was extremely useful and informative. A brief background history of the need for the changes proposed and the content of the consultation discussion will be detailed below:
In the Autumn of 2010, approval for the Curriculum for the 21st Century was given. The current situation, with regard to the UHI curriculum framework is unsustainable; there are less than ten students on 48% of UHI’s modules and less than 5 on 27% of UHI’s modules. This is not a cost effective way to run a university. Neither is it an optimum situation for the students; the experience of taking under-subscribed modules is limiting in terms of class discussions and time allocated by tutors.
There were primarily two papers up for discussion. The first of which concentrated on the allocation of ‘contact hours’ which is based on the number of students on the module and the level of study. The second is related to the role of the ‘Personal Academic Tutor’ or PAT; each student will be allocated their own PAT, who will act as their first point of contact with the University, should they have an issue of query. The aim of both of these proposed changes is to implement greater consistency across all partner colleges and UHI degree courses.
The change from 15 to 20 credit modules as already underway; the modules are currently being revalidated and should be in-effect by the next academic year, although, some may be introduced earlier. Nonetheless, there is still time to influence how these changes are conducted. The student consultation is open until the end of the month, so if you have any comments to make, please direct those to C21C@uhi.ac.uk
Student Questions and the Answers given by the C21C team:
Will the changes to the module structure take into consideration the differing needs of students at different levels and/or on different modes of study?
There will be an increase in blended learning; peer support groups are more likely to be introduced in the latter stages of the degrees. Rather than reducing lectures, the option for recording lectures and making better use of VC time, for class discussion/supportive learning, will be optimal.
Some tutors release the lecture notes on a weekly basis and this does not allow adequate time for preparation and reading around the subject. Is it possible to implement greater consistency across the degree modules?
This is an aspect that has not been brought to our (UHI) attention previously, but it is agreed that a need for greater consistency would improve the student learning experience, thus it will be taken as a recommendation for the tutors. Staff development events would be a place for this type of discussion.
Will the proposed changes lead to greater online delivery and less face to face lectures?
Yes, more networked delivery would enable a greater number of students to be able to access a greater number of degrees. However, the staff need to reflect on the effectiveness of their teaching via this method, to ensure that networked students are as involved as those from larger colleges.
The lack of personal support and out of hours online assistance, that is available to students, is frustrating and many students are dissatisfied with this service; will it be possible to improve this?
24/7 IT support is something that is being discussed at present. The number of UHI students, who work during the day and study in the evenings and at weekends, lends itself to this type of support, especially for IT support. The financial implications of this are considerable; however, the UHI recognises the need for this change to enhance the student experience. Development of the student induction guidance on how to use IT to learn and the learning methodology is being worked on.
By reducing the number of modules available to chose from and the number of modules needed to take, are we not narrowing the choices available? Are the student’s expectations being met?
In the present system, we are continually faced with the threat of modules not being able to run due to a lack of students. By streamlining the modules available and combining similar modules, this uncertainty and frustration will be lessened. The expertise within a module will not be lost as it will move with the lecturer. There are strategies that can aid modules which are not in high demand to still run; for example, by running a module on a two-year cycle and allowing the student to take more modules from a level above or below.
The number of fourth year modules is already limited; what safe-guarders will be put in place?
At the moment, there are simply too many modules and not enough students or staff to make them financially viable. It is estimated that every two students could have a module between them. It was previously thought that, SQA regulations demanded that a student could only do one module above or below; however, this is not the case, thus, greater flexibility is possible. Therefore, the need for students to receive guidance from their PAT (Personal Academic Tutor) or Student Advisor is essential here.
The number of students, in the early years of the degrees, renders the current number of modules and the curriculum structure viable, but once the student numbers drop, towards the end of the degrees, this is where the problem lies. What is being done about student retention?
There is a large cohort of first year degree students and the reasons for this are diverse. UHI is, at present, endeavouring to investigate the reasons why students do not complete their degrees and whether UHI can do more to help these students. Additionally, we are looking at ways to help students to feel like they belong to the UHI community and the possibility of raising the entrance requirements.
The students present also offered some of the reasons they think for their fellow students leaving early:
• Emotional/family problems
• The student’s expectations are not met
• Unable to meet the demands of a university level qualification
• Distance learning can make the student feel isolated.
How will the changes made to the amount of module credits awarded, affect the students that are studying part-time?
At present, if you are a part-time student, you will take four 15 credit modules over two semesters thus two every semester. However, to gain the same amount of credits – 60 credits each year – you will only need to take three 20 credit modules. There are several proposed methods for how the degrees can be structured to deal with this:
1. One module in one semester and two in the other
2. One full module in each semester and one that bridges both semesters.
3. One module each semester and one taken in the summer – however, this will incur staffing issues.
4. One and a half each semester
There are a number of implications for all of these suggestions and further debate will need to take place. Students are invited to join the debate on this issue by sending their suggestions to the C21C@uhi.ac.uk
Would a greater number of generic modules be a financially viable option?
Some modules are able to cross-over easily but the majority do not. Areas of specialism do not lend themselves well to generalised teaching, especially at university level and the main issue with small class numbers is in the latter stages of the degrees, when specialist areas of knowledge are prevalent.