Higher education is under more pressure then ever to prove its value and measure the learning gain of its students. LITE Teaching Enhancement Project Leaders, Karen Llewellyn and Caroline Campbell, write here about how their project explores the benefits students get from their time at university.
The Leeds Curriculum is a unique approach to preparing students for an ever-changing world through enquiry, discovery and achievement.
With HEFCE’s focus on learning gain, our evaluation of Broadening as part of the University of Leeds‘s curriculum framework seems timely as a step towards analysing how students benefit from higher education.
Evaluating the journey
Broadening is the aspect of the Leeds Curriculum which enables students to widen their personal and professional horizons through exciting curricular opportunities, most notably ‘discovery modules’ which allow pathways of study outside the student’s core discipline.
Co-created by two staff and three undergraduates, our project aims to evaluate Broadening in general – and the value of learning new languages in particular through our language discovery modules – by interviewing students and also importantly employers, for their perspectives.
We have adopted a developmental evaluation approach and we are using inductive analysis as our research methodology.
As we continue to conduct the interviews, we’ve started to analyse the data and themes are beginning to emerge. For example, early findings suggest that students recognise both the intrinsic and extrinsic value of Broadening and language learning
Developing a love of languages, for example, students who seize the opportunity to learn a new language in their first year, then a different language in subsequent years, are able to immerse themselves in the culture of each new language.
One third year student, about her module, stated:
It gave me an insight into a different country, culture, history and language…and I can understand people from different cultures and different backgrounds
Students who have taken language discovery modules tend to apply for summer school or a year abroad illustrating the increased confidence to apply their language learning further.
They also see the extrinsic value of having language skills to make strategic choices in their career destinations.
So far in the analysis, employers recognise the value of Broadening as they look for graduates who, amongst a range of attributes, are able to demonstrate a wider knowledge and skill set beyond their core discipline.
Good examples include prior work experience and volunteering, alongside developing attributes such as emotional intelligence, integral to creating their own individual ‘brand’ and key to the complex challenges of the workplace.
In addition, acquiring new languages is desirable, where linguistic skills are perceived as an asset, for example in communication, though not essential to the organisations we interviewed.
The project has been carried out collaboratively with three undergraduate researchers, Akeisha, Chandni and Robert.
In a joint statement, they said:
“Apart from our keen interest in the findings, we’ve developed a variety of knowledge and skills as an evaluation team and have experienced the benefits of co-creation on our collaborative project.
“These include researching the relevant literature and learning how to gather and analyse interview data, and experiencing project management first-hand.
“These are all skills which we will draw on when executing our final year projects.
We have also upskilled in the area of co-creation – the absence of any hierarchy means that together we have planned how the project will be delivered and we share the responsibility of delivering the outcomes, whether that’s giving a presentation or producing the final report.
“We have even been asked to mentor UG research students on another LITE project.
“This opportunity will prove invaluable to our future. Not only is it preparing us with an excellent set of transferable skills but we are also really enjoying working together.
“The project will have been a significant part of our experience at Leeds.”