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safeguarding standards and improving the quality of UK higher education
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Quality Enhancement Network (QEN)

The QEN is exclusively for QAA subscribers.
Find out more about QEN and the latest events. ​

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Digital Literacy

​​​How does the higher education sector keep up with the demands of a young, digitally-savvy student intake? Find out more in this Spotlight on Digital Literacy, which is also one of the Higher Education Review themes for 2015-16.

Strategic approach to quality enhancement at the University of Northampton

The experience of the University of Northampton in the area of quality enhancement (QE), including specific examples of how their ​strategic approach operates in practice​.

Strategic approach to Quality Enhancement on QAA Spotlight

Project aims

The University of Northampton approaches quality enhancement on the basis of the following principles:

  • Transformational learning experiences through inspirational teaching
  • Quality of teaching central to the quality of the student experience
  • Knowledge and learning are ​open, mobile, connected and scalable.

Attributes of the University’s enhancement approach include:

QE as ‘formative quality assurance'

Quality enhancement activities, undertaken systematically and deliberately, provide timely developmental feedback towards a holistic model of quality assurance.

QE as relational, not transactional

The enhancement of quality achieved through the development of collegiate and constructive relationships over time, leading to the evidence-based identification, sharing and refinement of good practice.

From niche to mainstream enhancement

Where innovative practices are identified as offering benefit, they are incorporated, with the associated evidence, to other areas, within and outside the original context. Capitalising on those initiatives, sharing them and transferring them to the mainstream.

​Outcomes

Change making at Northampton: Development Opportunities (C@N-DO) - the University’s HEA-accredited CPD programme for staff.

What is C@N-DO? (opens in new window) It ​is a flexible professional development scheme for enabling positive change in learning, teaching and academic practice at the University of Northampton. It has been designed for all members of staff who are involved in teaching or who play a role in supporting the learning and teaching.

​C@N-DO offers a pathway to professional development in the form of recognition and qualification. It provides range of practical workshops, support, peer review and scholarship towards professional recognition as Associate Fellow, Fellow and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

Learning and teaching - moving towards blended learning as our modus operandi

The University of Northampton moves towards blended learning as modus operandi. It is not done in addition to normal teaching. Blended learning is their normal teaching method. View the video (opens in new window) showing the direction of travel in learning and teaching.

The implementation of mandatory online submission and marking of assessed work

The University of Northampton has operated mandatory online submission and marking since 2012. The majority of online work is managed through a combination of Blackboard and Turnitin. Staff digital literacy has had to improve as a result of the online requirements, with self-rating surveys noting that there has been an 8% year-on-year rise in confidence with marking online as a result. Students have noted the benefits of submitting online as they do not have to now pay for printing or travel to deposit work at an assignment handling office. 

Further resources


iChamps at University of Southampton

Students are employed as Champions for specific strategic areas. For innovation and digital literacy in the curriculum they are called iChamps.

iChamps on QAA Spotlight 

Project aims

Focusing on enabling students to grow, develop and make connections across all that they do as a student, this project aims to develop an integrated approach to supporting and enabling student development and enhancing student engagement opportunities. A top priority of the project has been to progress and develop teams of University of Southampton Student Champions, a collaborative learning and development opportunity for students and staff.

Students are employed as Champions for specific strategic areas of education enhancement activity. For the area of innovation and digital literacy in the curriculum their Champions are called iChamps. They, and other Champions, collaborate with academic staff from within their subject area and work in partnership to effect change, enhance practice, and raise awareness and understanding in their strategic area of development.

Outcomes

Established in 2013, iChamps (opens in new window) was the first Student Champion team to be set up to encourage and support integration of relevant and effortless digital technologies, applications and media, and help underpin successful student engagement, learning and development.

Fifteen iChamps are currently trained and set up to work with particular academics in the facilities who are keen to try new approaches to learning and teaching that utilise digital technologies. They also run seminars on staying safe online, raising online profiles, digital skills and more.

To find out more about iChamps, see Jisc Digital Student Exemplars: Enhancing the digital experience of students (opens in new window), focusing on University of Southampton students.

Further information

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Engaging students: blended staff training programme within the University College of Estate Management (UCEM) academic team​

UCEM achieved Taught Degree Awarding powers in 2013 which allowed the perfect opportunity to develop a new curriculum and redefine their vision and core purpose of providing accessible, relevant and cost-effective education. This would then enabling students to enhance their careers, increase their professionalism and contribute to a better built environment.

Engaging students: blended staff training programme on QAA Spotlight

Project aim

UCEM initiated a project to develop a 100% supported online curriculum that enhances the student learning experience through wider use of interactive learning media, adopting e-learning and multi-media technology.

It was critical for UCEM that the curriculum was flexible for students but also learning material was produced in a consistent and efficient way to allow for repurpose and reuse. The project was to deliver 75 modules (15,000 learning hours) in 15 months.

Outcome

A project team was established with over 80 people working 15 months. UCEM introduced a learning blueprint that promoted innovative, flexible and consistent delivery, using case studies, examples and scenarios to help to build a lively and relevant dialogue with learners using a variety of media. Materials are visually appealing for students while ensuring the focus is on pedagogy not just aesthetics. 

As well as learning new software packages the whole team worked on new processes to ensure consistency across materials by introducing version control and templates for different resources to ensure study materials arrive with the team needing minimum input. New patterns of working involved instructional designers and content developers working with tutors from the start to carefully plan and execute modules and develop new guidelines to create new materials or rework existing materials. UCEM also uses resources as time- and resource-efficiently as possible by looking at how items can be resued in different contexts with different learning narratives.

Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Each time a module is run again, student and tutor feedback is incorporated to enhance the modules and to make use of any additional functionality added to the platforms.

Student feedback: “The v-blogs really offset to a great extent the disadvantage of distance learning. This has been a great journey and the materials are great and challenging. Thank you very much for having made the experience especially enjoyable.”

Further information


Special subcommittee at University of Bath

The creation of an info matrix and stakeholder map to generate discussion across the University.

Special subcommittee on QAA Spotlight 

Project aims

In response to Part C of the Quality Code, the University undertook a mapping exercise to ensure that it was appropriately engaged with the Expectation and Indicators of sound practice. This helped identify further work regarding future processes for assuring and enhancing provision of information at the University. As a result, the Public Information Subcommittee was established. This Subcommittee has a deliberately broad membership to reflect the University-wide nature of information provided.

Outcomes

An initial activity for the Subcommittee was to build on the initial mapping exercise and attempt to include all information provided by the University to each of the five stakeholders referred to in Part C of the Quality Code.

The matrix has proven to be a catalyst in facilitating discussion between the students' union, academic departments and professional services about the range of information, as well as the varying approaches to publication. One area of enhancement highlighted and supported by the Subcommittee is better coordination of pre-arrival information for students.

Further information


The Digital Literacies Framework at the University of Brighton: Challenges and opportunities

At the University of Brighton, digital literacy is being promoted through the Digital Literacies Framework website​ (opens in new window). The Framework is targeted at academic staff, with the aim of improving their literacy before then rolling the scheme out to students and administrative staff.​

Digital Literacies Framework on QAA Spotlight

Project aims

The Digital Literacies Framework contains 39 literacies organised into 4 categories (Learning and Teaching, Research, Communication and Collaboration, and Administration). Each includes an explanation of why it is important and links to existing internal and external staff development resources. The aims were to engage staff in several different ways, via School-level staff development, embedding into the University’s formal staff development such as the Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PGCLTHE), incorporation into staff development reviews, in staff induction, and through individual engagement.

Outcomes

The Digital Literacies Framework is one of the key ways that academic staff at the University engage with staff development in IT. The embedding of the Framework into the curriculum of the taught PGCLTHE, and the CPD-based PRD scheme has been straightforward, probably because it aligned to the UKPSF’s commitment to the use and value of appropriate learning technologies. 

The evaluation of School-level staff development showed that in practice this was immediately devolved to course teams to take forward, and in particular linking the Framework to quality assurance processes such as revalidation encouraged course leaders to engage. The Framework is being used to ‘brand’ many different staff development resources, and is acting as a catalyst for course teams to request sessions on particular literacies. The next phase of the development of the Framework will take into account all these findings, and will consider ways of extending the Framework to include students.

Further information


Online staff engagement and feedback at the University of Reading

Creation of websites has allowed staff to engage in feedback and assessment, supporting their needs and the needs of their students.

Online staff engagement and feedback on QAA Spotlight 

Project aims

Working towards improving practice in assessment and feedback, one approach the University of Reading has developed involves two online resources for staff: Engage in Feedback (launched 2009) and Engage in Assessment (launched 2011) (opens in new window). The websites have been designed to support the needs of busy academic staff.

Outcomes: Engaging in feedback

Providing high quality and timely feedback can be a difficult process, sometimes receiving low priority because it can be a tedious task and is often seen as unrewarding if students appear not to use the feedback provided. The project aimed to:

  • review and collate good practice experience on the provision of feedback to students
  • produce a feedback audit tool for staff
  • provide Engage in Feedback workshops
  • disseminate and evaluate the project outputs.

Outcomes: Engaging in assessment

Assessment is one of the most important aspects of the education process and will often determine a considerable proportion of the work students undertake during their undergraduate degree. At the same time, assessments consume a significant proportion of staff time and effort. This project aimed to showcase the range of assessment methods being used in different disciplines at the University and explore new evidence-based approaches to support and enhance students active learning. The project also aimed to:

  • collate examples of different methods of assessment being used at the University
  • compare disciplinary approaches to assessment across the higher education sector
  • collate the outputs of the project into a new Engage in Assessment website, to complement the existing Engage in Feedback site
  • disseminate the Engage in Assessment project both within the University and externally.

A suite of publicity materials, including pull-up banners and flyers, are used to promote the websites at the regular teaching and learning events that take place at the University.

Further information


Subscriber Research Series 2016-17

As part of the Subscriber Research Series 2016-17 QAA commissioned a small-scale primary research project on digital capability and teaching excellence. This report from Sheffield Hallam University poses the question: how can digital capability promote teaching excellence? Using an integrative review approach the research team explored which digital capability strategies are the most successful in transforming the student learning experience and which features of institutional infrastructure best support these strategies. Their research has resulted in a set of practical guidelines for developing digitally-capable teaching excellence that can be used by both providers and academic staff.

The research consists of a review paper, a brief overview summary listing the guidelines, and an engaging supporting video.


Further resources

In relation to embedding digital literacies in higher education, the UK Qualit​y Code sets out high level principles endorsed by the higher education sector in relation to:

  • the strategic institutional commitment (Part A and Expectations B3, B4 and B6)
  • ways to embed digital literacies into the curriculum/ programme level (Part A and Expectations B1, B3, B4, B6, B8, B10 and B11)
  • the importance of developing staff (Expectations B3, B6 and B7).

If you are preparing for a QAA Higher Education Review, and have chosen to focus on digital literacies, find out more in our HER Themes guide.

Quality Enhancement Ne​twork (QEN) resources on digital literacies include (all links open in new windows):

  • event on embedding digital literacies via Storify 
  • article via Ariadne by QAA's Marieke Guy
  • dedicated Twitter and hash tag: #QENetwork 

Keep up to date with what is under the QAA Spotlight by following #QAASpotlight (opens in new window).​

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