The DVC’s Blog

Tom Ward, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Education), gives a topical and informative view of what’s happening across the Student Education community at Leeds for SEB.

Welcome to the first fully online edition of the Student Education Bulletin.

When the young people who’ve recently taken to the streets demonstrating about climate change reach university age, they will rightly expect to find us treating carbon emissions, potable water, paper, and many other things as precious limited resources to be used with great care, and this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Thank you

As usual I would like to start by thanking everyone for the effort, creativity, and care brought to our educational mission, and most recently for the heroic effort that went into our subject-level TEF pilot submission.

Once again the close partnership working with Leeds University Union (LUU) allowed for a strong and genuine student voice to be part of the submission, and this will also feature in our internal lessons learned exercise.

Despite some of the frustrations, we are already seeing some valuable insights coming out of that process, and are definitely much more prepared for the real thing as a result.

Appointments

In February we welcomed Christina Edgar as the new Director of Student Opportunity, and Tina Overton as the new Director of the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence.

I hope most of you will have met them by now, and will share my excitement at how their leadership will continue to develop the excellent work done by the heads of service in Student Opportunity and by Kelvin Tapley and the staff in LITE over 2018.

Student success

I was reassured to be told recently that the so-called complexity agenda is now firmly on people’s minds (“heartily sick of” was the exact phrase from one of the pro-deans!) as they develop educational plans, and so feel liberated to talk about some other things that are emerging for us.

We are all trying to get a better understanding of the significant rise in non-continuation rates over the last two years.

Some excellent analytical work has been done on this, and Louise Banahene is taking a lead on developing appropriate responses.

Some of this will involve better use of learning analytic tools, how we develop them and what use we make of the data and flags flowing from them.

Inclusivity

We are also going to be talking about how we can continue to make the educational environment more inclusive of an increasingly diverse student body.

None of this is easy, but the openness with which we listen to students from diverse backgrounds about their experiences, sense of being included, and challenges will of course be vital.

The last LITE board saw some excellent presentations of LITE-funded projects, and the ensuing discussions highlighted both the complexity and the possibilities of making education more inclusive.

Among many striking questions and observations, one stood out for me particularly: Is it reasonable to make “reasonable adjustments”?

That is, how often do we end up carefully devising an alternative and separate assessment method for one student with a specific need without testing if that alternative (or some version of it) might just open the way to a better and more inclusive method for everyone?

Never a simple question of course, but a useful provocation.

Some excellent work has already been done on the Leeds Expectations for Assessment and Feedback, and on Inclusive Learning and Teaching, with more detailed guides on Inclusive Teaching available as a resource.

As we continue to diversify and internationalize, these ideas will become more and more important.

Digital education

Assessment is a vital part of the educational project: it often shapes how students feel about their experiences; it takes up a huge amount of staff time and effort; it is capable of supporting and enabling learning or doing the opposite.

Senate has now endorsed a 3-5 year project to explore and then move to electronic marking and feedback, and finding out the best way to do this will be a significant part of discussions for the next few years.

As usual with digital education, the real wins come from using the opportunity to rethink how we do assessment, rather than simply taking existing assessment regimes into an electronic format.

Future view

The Student Lifecycle Programme is now fully launched, with a commitment of the main funding agreed by the University Council.

The scale of the programme were outlined in a For Staff article, and if you are not familiar with that overview do have a look.

In particular, the Student Lifecycle Programme is not simply about IT, it is a much wider transformational “initiative to ensure end-to-end processes, systems and ways of working that support the student education lifecycle, from prospect to graduation”.

The external environment – from Brexit to the Augar review to the Office for Students – is so turbulent and fast-changing that comment is impossible.

All I can say is that whatever 2019 holds for Higher Education in the UK, the world and the country certainly needs dedicated and brilliant people working in partnership with bright committed students to provide research-based education of high quality to diverse groups of students.

Our task is to not let the tumult deflect us from that mission.