Centre for Learning and TeachingStudy PackModule Design2014 edition

ContentsModule design. 2Introduction . 2The module design process in outline . 3Level descriptors . 4National subject benchmarks . 51.Level and credit rating of the module . 52.The underpinning educational ‘philosophy’ or values . 63.The module focus and aims . 64.The content . 65.The intended learning outcomes . 66. The most appropriate formative and summative assessment activities, criteria andforms of feedback . 67.The most appropriate teaching and learning strategies . 68.Learning support . 79.Resources . 710.Evaluation . 7Activity 1 . 7The potential students . 8Generating interest . 8Educational ‘philosophy’ or values . 8Aims and outcomes . 8Learning and teaching strategies . 8Assessment . 9Content . 9Coherence or ‘alignment’ .10Diversity . Error! Bookmark not defined.Activity 2 .10Activity 3 .11Concerns about modularity .11Activity 412References .151Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

Module designIntroductionThe main aim of this study pack is to enhance your understanding of the general principles,processes and decisions involved in the design of modules. This enhanced understanding willsupport your professional development in several ways. It is common practice now for modulesto be evaluated after each iteration, often as part of the course review or Academic HealthReport processes. Following your work on this pack you should be able to make an enhancedcontribution to evaluative reviews of this kind. Moreover, the adaptation of established modulesand the creation of new ones are such frequent occurrences now that it is very likely you will beinvolved in one or other of these activities quite soon, if you are not already. Furthermore,because most courses now comprise a large number of modules, even lecturers who are quitenew to teaching are often asked to take on the role of module leader. You may already have thisresponsibility. If you don’t, you probably will before very long. Having worked on this pack, youshould be able to undertake these activities and responsibilities in a more confident, competentmanner.Most undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the UK are now ‘modularised’ and in mostcases modules will be designed according to the general principles and processes discussed inthis pack, some of which derive from the national higher education qualification frameworkdeveloped by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). However, it is important to note two points.Firstly, there are often subtle differences in the ways in which particular universities implementthese general principles and processes. To evaluate existing modules or design new ones in afully informed manner, we therefore need to be familiar with all the relevant institutional andlocal (Faculty/ School/course) regulations and requirements – especially, perhaps, those thatrelate to assessment. The materials in this pack deal mainly with the general principles andprocesses, so you will probably also need to ask colleagues about specific institutional and localdetails. The University’s General Examination and Assessment Regulations (GEAR) areavailable on staffcentral at shtm. Secondly,some people in higher education express serious concerns about the principles and proceduresconsidered below, and a summary of these concerns will be offered in the final section of thepack.This pack, then, has been designed to help you to:1. enhance your understanding of the general principles, processes and decisions involvedin the design of modules2. evaluate the design of current modules, and identify potential improvements3. contribute to the design of new modules (including: writing clear educational aims andunambiguous learning outcomes appropriate to a specific academic level, and selectingappropriate teaching, learning and assessment strategies).The pack is organised into four sections, as follows:1. a brief overview of the module design process2. two specified readings, both brief, the first by Susan Toohey, the second by Raf Salkie.3. a set of activities4. a brief summary of concerns about the principles and processes discussed in the pack.2Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

We recommend that you work through these sections in this order.Finally, we should point out that, although this pack is concerned with the design of modules,much the same principles, processes and decisions are involved in the design of courses orprogrammes, and also individual teaching sessions. If you would like practical advice about thedesign of the latter, there is a supplement to this pack in the studentcentral folder which youmay find useful.The module design process in outlineFig 1: some key factors in the design of modules1level and credit rating of themodule210Institutional & coursecontext:curriculumphilosophy or ‘philosophy’ or values93resourcesmodule focus andaimsKnowledge of thepotential students84learning supportQAALevel descriptorscontentSubject benchmarks7the most appropriateteaching and learningstrategies56the most appropriateformative and summativeassessment activities,criteria, forms of feedbackintended learningoutcomes3Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

In Figure 1 above, we have tried to provide a simple model of the module design process. SeeToohey chapter 2 for other models. We suggest that, in designing and evaluating modules,these factors should be considered in a logical sequence. However, it is important toacknowledge that the model is not definitive. It can be plausibly argued that the factors shouldbe considered in a different order and that additional factors should be included. This sectionprovides a brief commentary on the various factors in the model. The two specified readingsdiscuss these factors in more detail.Institutional & course context: curriculum, philosophy or values, constraintsKnowledge of the potential studentsQAA Level descriptors and Subject benchmarksThe three boxes in the centre of the model are intended to remind us that the design of amodule should take full account of the institutional and course contexts in which it will belocated; the characteristics of the students who are likely to study the module, including anyspecific needs they may have; and also the relevant QAA level descriptors and subjectbenchmarks.However, the University offers the following advice concerning subject benchmarks:“The University views subject benchmarks as representing the distillation andsummary of major academic debate within subject communities. However, in aUniversity where the great majority of provision is subject to professional orstatutory accreditation, or strongly vocational, it is essential that many coursesmeet a required national standard of ‘fitness to practise’ which may not always beidentical to the QAA benchmark. Subject benchmarks are nevertheless expectedto be a matter of discussion at validation and internal subject review, where therole of the panel is to examine the quality of the debate and rationale for theposition adopted rather than to seek to enforce compliance. The aim isthen to ensure debate and reflection rather than unquestioning conformity to thebenchmark.”University of Brighton Self Evaluation Document, para. 16.3, p55In the specified reading, Susan Toohey expands on the first and second of these matters. TheQAA levels and benchmarks are explained below.Level descriptorsThe QAA (Quality Assurance Agency – see hasrecently (2008) updated the set of qualification level descriptors /Framework-Higher-Education-Qualifications08.pdf ), which apply to Higher Education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland(there are separate ones for Scotland, available from the relevant section of the QAA t.aspx ). These identify five levels of highereducation qualification and describe in general terms what is expected of students at thedifferent levels.The levels are: Certificate of Higher Education (now referred to as level 4; roughly equivalent to one yearof full-time undergraduate study)4Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

Foundation degree (now referred to as level 5; roughly equivalent to two years of full-timeundergraduate study)Bachelors degree with honours (now referred to as level 6; roughly equivalent to threeyears of full-time undergraduate study)Masters ( Level 7)Doctorate (Level 8)Some schools in the University also use the credit level descriptors developed by SEEC (theSouthern England Consortium for Credit Accumulation and Transfer). These are similar to theQAA’s qualification level descriptors (see level-descriptors-2010 ).To gain a particular qualification, students are usually required to complete a specific number ofunits or modules at the requisite level(s). Consequently, course handbooks increasingly oftenprovide students with an explanation of the system of levels.National subject benchmarksThe QAA National subject benchmarks set out in detail what students might be expected to knowand be able to do in order to gain an Honours degree in a specific subject. They can beaccessed from the following page: . There is a separate benchmarkstatement for Foundation degrees (also available from the above page). These are a part of thewider UK Quality Code for Higher Education (the Quality Code) that “sets out the Expectationsthat all providers of UK higher education are required to uality/quality-code/Pages/default.aspx). Fromthe academic year 2012-13, The UK Quality Code replaces the previous QAA nationalreference points which were known as the Academic Infrastructure. The Code is divided intothree parts:Part A: Setting and maintaining threshold academic standardsPart B: Assuring and enhancing academic qualityPart C: Information about higher education provisionFor more details, visit: ualitycode/Pages/default.aspx.The QAA website also has an Information and Guidance section, where the latest publicationsare listed uidance/Pages/default.aspx) – itis useful to check these regularly.1. Level and credit rating of the moduleEach module should be located at a particular level of study and the intended learningoutcomes should be consistent with the descriptor for that level.The module should also have a specific credit value attached to it. In the standard national HEalgorithm, 1 credit is equivalent to 10 hours of notional student learning time. A 10 credit moduletherefore assumes 100 hours of student learning. However, do note that the actual number of‘taught hours’ per module (in which the student is in contact with a lecturer) can vary widely. Forexample, in a 10 credit module where students carry out an individual project, each student may5Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

have a total of only 3 hours contact with a lecturer. The remaining 97 hours will compriseindependent study of various kinds. Many universities have decided that a standardundergraduate module is worth 20 credits. Very often, only the undergraduate Level 3 (or finalyear) project/dissertation is worth 40 credits. An undergraduate degree therefore oftencomprises about 30 modules.2. The underpinning educational ‘philosophy’ or valuesOften overlooked, this is a commitment on the part of the module planners to a set of‘educational’ beliefs and values. The underlying philosophy will often be influenced by thesubject, discipline or field of study. It will frequently inform the choice of learning and teachingapproaches, the roles accorded to the student and teacher, and the assessment practices. SeeSusan Toohey for a discussion of these matters.3. The module focus and aims4. The content5. The intended learning outcomesBriefly, aims are statements of broad educational intent, indicating the purpose(s) of the module.Learning outcomes should state unambiguously, and in language the student understands, whatit is intended the student will know, understand and be able to do at the end of the module.Outcomes should also indicate the nature and level of the learning that should take place. It is amain principle of module design that we should clearly articulate for ourselves and for studentsthe aims and intended learning outcomes of the module. In the specified reading, Raf Salkieexplains the advantages of doing so and also offers detailed guidance about how to write clear,coherent aims and outcomes in the forms usually expected by validation panels. There shouldbe a consistent, coherent relation between the aims, intended learning outcomes and content.6. The most appropriate formative and summative assessment activities, criteria andforms of feedback7. The most appropriate teaching and learning strategiesIt may be helpful to rehearse here the distinction between formative and summativeassessment. In general, summative assessment is carried out at the end of a process or stageof teaching or learning – e.g. at the end of a module, term, semester, or year of study. It isdesigned to assess whether or to what extent learning outcomes have been achieved.Formative assessment is typically carried out in the interim and is designed to assess progresstowards the overall learning outcomes. Formative assessment may not contribute to thestudents’ formal submitted marks for the module or course; summative assessment almostalways does.Another main principle of module design is that there should be a clear, logical, coherentrelationship between each of these elements: educational philosophy or values module aims intended learning outcomes content teaching and learning strategies formative and summative assessment activities, criteria and forms of feedbackPut another way, these elements should be ‘aligned’ (Biggs & Tang, 2007), so that each isconsistent with and supports the others. For example, the content needs to be organised andintroduced in a logical, integrated sequence which relates clearly to the stated aims and6Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

outcomes, and the assessment strategy. Similarly, assessment activities should provideopportunities for students to demonstrate that they have achieved the learning outcomes of themodule. The ways in which they do this should be consistent with the other elements in themodule design, so that assessment is an integral part of the learning process.8. Learning support9. ResourcesThe learning support and resources provided should be clearly consistent with the precedingconsiderations and decisions.10. EvaluationIt is important that we evaluate the effectiveness of our modules and courses, and it is generallyargued that views need to be sought from all 'stakeholders'. This information can then be usedto inform decisions regarding changes and improvements. Increasingly, Faculties and Schoolsuse standard evaluation procedures for all modules and courses. However, these need notpreclude lecturers from also developing their own procedures.Begin your engagement with this study pack by reading the references below.1. Chapter 2, The course design process, in Susan Toohey's Designing courses for highereducation. Although this chapter is concerned with course design, the principles andconsiderations also apply to module design.2. The extracts from How to design world class modules by Raf Salkie. This guide isavailable from the CLT webpages at /.Activity 1This activity is designed to enable you to evaluate the design of a module, drawing on theideas in section 1 of the pack and in the specified readings referred to in section 2. Havingcarried out the activity, you should also be able to contribute effectively to the design ofmodules. We recommend that you evaluate two modules:one module on which you teach. (You may find you are able to be more objective in this caseif you evaluate the other module first.)one module from a subject, discipline or field that is quite different from your own. If you areparticipating in the PGCert or MAAP you will probably find one of your co-participants isteaching on such a module and can provide the documents you need. If so, we suggest it willbe valuable to discuss your evaluation with her or him, once you have carried it out. You could,of course, do the activity in collaboration. Alternatively, modules from a variety of courses canbe accessed on the intranet via studentcentral.Continued .7Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

Activity 1 (continued.)In carrying out this activity, it is probably best to use the module description provided tostudents. This will usually be found in the Student Course Handbook, or in a separate modulehandbook. You will also need access to the QAA level descriptors and subject benchmarks.The hyperlinks for these are given above.We also recommend that, if possible, you should discuss your evaluation with the moduledesigner(s) once you have completed it.Once you have the various documents you need, we suggest you work your way through thefollowing questions, making brief notes as you go.The potential studentsAre you able to discern ways in which the design of the module has been influenced byknowledge or assumptions about the potential students in terms of :1personal characteristics - for example, age; gender; life experience; ethnic identity;life circumstances and commitments; aspirations; motives for study?2prior learning and educational experience?Generating interestIs there an indication of: how the module may be relevant to the students’ wider studies and aspirations? how the module will generate their interest and commitment?Educational ‘philosophy’ or values are you able to discern the educational philosophy or values which underpin the design ofthe module? If so, make brief notes describing these.Aims and outcomes Does the module have clearly stated aims and intended learning outcomes? Are these written in the way suggested in Raf Salkie’s booklet? If not, does it matter?Are they expressed in language the students will understand? If not, can you rewritethem so that they are? Can you discern how the intended outcomes take account of the relevant leveldescriptors and subject benchmarks?Learning and teaching strategies Is there a clear indication of the learning and teaching strategies to be adopted? Is there an indication of how much student time should be allocated to:- Contact- Private study- Assessment- ‘Specialised’ time – e.g. lab time, IT access, field work?8Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

If not, are the students provided with any other clear indication as to how much timethey should devote to the module and the activities this should include? Do you judge that the learning and teaching strategies are likely to encourage a deepapproach to learning?(If the term ‘a deep approach to learning’ is unfamiliar, see Appendix 1) Could any of the teaching and learning activities have potentially adverseconsequences for people with learning difficulties or disabilities – e.g. dyslexia?Assessment is there a clear description of the formative and summative assessment methods? Do you judge that the assessment activities or tasks are likely to encourage a deepapproach to learning?(If the term ‘a deep approach to learning’ is unfamiliar, see Appendix 1) Could any of the assessment activities or tasks have potentially adverse consequencesfor people with learning difficulties or disabilities – e.g. dyslexia? If there is more than one assessment task, is it clear how they will be weighted? Is there an indication of when and how students will be introduced to the assessmentcriteria and standards? Is there an indication of the kinds of feedback students will receive? does the credit value of the module seem commensurate with the effort required ofstudents to study the module and do the assessment tasks?ContentIn principle, the selection of content should be consistent with the: credit value of the module level of the module course aims and outcomes module aims and outcomes. subject benchmarks Are you able to discern that this is the case?Continued .9Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

Activity 1 (continued)Coherence or ‘alignment’ Are you able to discern a clear, consistent and coherent relationship between all ofthese elements:- the educational philosophy or values- the aims- the learning outcomes- the content- learning and teaching activities- the assessment activities or tasks, and criteria? Could you explain this relationship to a student or colleague?Diversity Students at the University of Brighton are increasingly diverse in many respects. Giventhis diversity, could any of the aspects of the module listed below be a concern:o the overall subject mattero a focus on particular perspectives or approacheso the choice of teaching and learning activitieso - the teaching and learning materials or resources (are they likely to displayracial, gender or other forms of bias?)o -the assessment methods If the module requires particular abilities of students, are these indicated and is therean explanation of the support that will be available to those who need it?Activity 2Drawing on Susan Toohey’s chapter and the questions, and using the notes you havemade under Educational philosophy or values in Activity 1: Compare these with your own philosophy or values. Are they compatible? If not, inwhat ways do they differ? How would the module need to be adapted to make itcompatible with your philosophy or values? If you teach on a module which appears to embody a philosophy or values differentto your own, what might be the consequences of these differences for yourstudents, your colleagues or you? How might you respond to the discrepancies?10Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

Activity 3In Appendix 1 there are descriptions of the characteristics of educational environmentswhich are said to encourage a surface and a deep approach to study tasks (also refer tothe materials from the Learning & Teaching study pack) . We recommend that you readAppendix 1 before you do this activity. Use the questions above and the materials in Appendix 1 to help you evaluate the‘educational environment’ of the module. In what ways does the module encouragestudents to adopt a surface or deep approach to their study tasks? Are there ways in which the module might be revised to make it more likely toencourage a deep approach?Concerns about modularityConcerns about modularityAlthough most undergraduate and postgraduate courses in most HE institutions now adopt amodular structure, ‘modularity’ is not universally approved. Some of the more commonlyexpressed concerns and objections are summarised below.1. Modularity leads to the ‘parcelling-up’ of knowledge and learning into ‘bite-sized chunks’.When this is combined with opportunities for students to take modules from severaldifferent degree courses, sometimes in quite different fields or disciplines, theprogrammes of study followed by individuals may lack coherence and depth or, putanother way, they may be fragmented and superficial. As a result, students may know alittle about a lot of discrete topics, but fail to develop an integrated, detailedunderstanding of a recognised subject, discipline or field of study.2. A related concern, or perhaps a different version of the same concern, is thatmodularisation encourages students to ‘compartmentalise’ their learning. That is, itinhibits their ability (and their motivation) to make connections between their learning indifferent modules of their course. On much the same theme, some people argue thatmodularity leads students to develop a ‘done and dusted’ mentality. Once they haveengaged with the themes of the modules and ‘been assessed on’ these, they have atendency to think the themes are ‘done and dusted’, and can be put to the back of themind - or out of it altogether.11Produced by the University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching 2014-15

3. Some people (and some institutions) insist that each module should have distinctintended learning outcomes which must all be able to be learned and summativelyassessed within the ‘lifetime’ of the module. This insistence leads to the neglect of aimsand intended learning outcomes which require a lengthy, complex process of maturationand thus are only achieved over periods of time longer than the ‘lifespan’ of singlemodules, often because they require the integration of experience, knowledge andabilities gained in several modules.4. The precise formulation of intended learning outcomes and the requirement that theydetermine teaching, learning and assessment strategies is highly prescriptive. It deniesstudents a meaningful role in the direction of their own learning and the allocation ofattention. Moreover, if learning occurs which is not specified in the intended learningoutcomes, this receives little acknowledgement or support.5. The requirement that intended learning outcomes are framed in terms of demonstrablebehaviour encourages us to commit what Derek Rowntree (1987) calls the ‘Macnamarafallacy’. That is, it encourages us to focus on the things which are easily identified,articulated and measured, and to give these a high value. Instead, we should be trying toidentify, articulate and find ways of assessing the things which are really valuable, butelusive.6. The insistence that all intended learning outcomes must be summatively assessed withinthe ‘lifetime’ of the module, combined with the large number of modules many studentsstudy, leads to a situation where the ‘assessment tail’ comes to ‘wag the learning dog’.Consequently, students tend to be over-assessed, to the detriment of their learning.It is usually easy to find modules and courses which appear to bear out these concerns. But it isoften just as easy to find others where the potential pitfalls seem to have been adroitly avoided.It may be possible to refute all of these objections; nonetheless, they refer to matters whichrequire serious consideration when we are evaluating or designing modules and courses.Activity 4Consider the concerns summarised above in relation to a module on which you teach.Does your experience bear out any of the concerns? If so, does this poin

the academic year 2012-13, The UK Quality Code replaces the previous QAA national reference points which were known as the Academic Infrastructure. The Code is divided into three parts: Par