Debating our achievements

One of the activities that took place at the last programme meeting was a debate on the topic:

This house believes that this programme will not actually change the pedagogic practice of curriculum design’’

The debate took place under the Chatham House Rule but, by popular demand, we have been persuaded to bend the rules slightly and summarise some of the points made for and against the motion.

The debate took a slightly different slant to that which might have been expected and concentrated more on the value of undertaking these activities as part of a formal programme as well as looking at whether the changes made to institutional processes did or did not change pedagogy. It was an interesting and heated discussion and these are just a few of the key points.

Points for the motion:

  • Change only happens when real pressure builds up and this has little to do with either institutional strategy or funded initiatives.
  • The changes so far have been organisational and structural but we are not yet seeing systemic and transformational change that leads through into a different student experience.
  • The ‘engine room’ for curriculum change is not in the formal policy making bodies that exist in the sector.
  • We can’t really tell how many of these changes would have happened anyway and what extra the programme added.
  • Projects who started from a principled pedagogic stance have had more disappointments than those who started by looking at institutional processes.
  • Better forms filled in online are not enough to improve pedagogy in themselves – we still need to address poor course design.
  • We started with some naïve assumptions about institutional change.

Points against the motion:

  • Turmoil presents open doors that we can push against. Everyone now accepts that the status quo cannot go on so the external environment offers fertile ground in which to effect real change.
  • It was a masterstroke that the requirements of the programme obliged us to spend a long time in reviewing the existing baseline. This meant we arrived at solutions people were already signed up to.
  • The timing was exactly right – had we started any later we would have been too far into the problem zone and less ready with solutions.
  • We had a situation where people wanted to change and needed to change and the programme provided the opportunity to change.
  • The programme has impacted 25% of HEIs and about 20% of the overall student body and we are seeing some real cultural shifts such as academics ranking learning design tools in the top five things they wanted to learn about.
  • Changing process isn’t enough but it changes the rules and people have to respond to that.
  • The programme offered more than money – it was a licence to work in ways that weren’t just bottom up. The intervention speeded the process up and amplified the results.
  • Better designed processes can lead to better courses.
  • We may not have had a credible theory of institutional change at the start but what JISC set up was a fantastic living laboratory.

The result:

The motion was defeated by a significant majority although a slight shift in opinion shows that the team in favour of the motion did make their case very well and raised some important points that need to be considered when communicating the work of the programme.

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