Appendix 1. Case Studies of SEI-Like Initiatives
Duration of initiative: 2016-2025 (intended)
Case study written: Summer 2018
Imperial College London is in the early stages of a 10-year investment in building a culture of continuous educational improvement. This initiative is tied to a comprehensive Learning and Teaching Strategy which has been adopted across the institution as a whole. The Strategy relies heavily on team-based curricular review across all departments to support meaningful conversation and action around pedagogical improvement and student learning. The Imperial College London approach relies heavily on equitable participation across multiple stakeholders, including staff, students, and instructors. Imperial is also providing substantial resources to support the labour required for change through funding for educational experts, supporting professional development and community for these experts, and making available substantial, non-competitive funding avenues for implementing change.
What is the context of the initiative?
Imperial College London
Institution type: Imperial is a global, top 10 university with a focus on science, engineering, medicine and business—an education environment unique to the UK.
Size: ~9,800 full-time undergraduate students, ~7,300 full-time postgraduate students, and ~7,640 staff (including ~3,700 academic and research staff; note for North American readers: this group would typically be referred to as “faculty” in the North American context).
Departments involved in the initiative
Eligible departments: all academic departments with undergraduate programmes are engaged in review of their curricula with a view to roll out revised curricula to new students from the academic year 2019/20. All departments (including Imperial College Business School) will also review their postgraduate curricula, aiming to have this work completed across the institution by 2021/22.
Participating departments: all departments have interacted with the Learning and Teaching Strategy through at least one of the strategy’s 4 pillars. Additionally, 16 proposals for pedagogy transformation have been funded so far. These proposals have been received from 10 different departments and also include 2 cross-Faculty proposals.
Learning and Teaching Strategy
Imperial embarked on its transformation of education in 2016, when the College announced its intentions to generate an institution-wide strategy related to education and launched a wide-ranging consultation exercise with staff and students. The resulting Learning and Teaching Strategy launched in 2017 sets out an ambitious programme of work aimed at establishing Imperial as a global leader in innovative, evidence-based education. It represents a commitment to a comprehensive and holistic transformation of the college’s curricular and pedagogical approaches.
Implementation of the Strategy will be underpinned by an understanding that change will take significant time, collaboration, and effort. As such, the Strategy involves a significant new investment in education, which will create more time for staff to deliver transformative work and innovation; enable an infrastructure for future educational development; and improve educational research capabilities so that the impact of these efforts may be measured.
The Learning and Teaching Strategy has four pillars of activity:
The Strategy commits to supporting departments in a review and redesign of undergraduate and postgraduate taught curricula and assessment. As the college’s curricula have often developed organically in response to disciplinary changes, changing faculty expertise and interests, and pragmatic management of resources, curricula are not always sequenced in the most logical way of learning.
A review of the College’s curricula also aims to give students the chance to broaden their knowledge beyond their own subjects. Students will be offered a choice from a range of new for-credit modules that offer broader, integrative activities, providing opportunities for them to apply disciplinary knowledge in a new context, driving transformation of their understanding and identity.
The Learning and Teaching Strategy aims to create a 21st century pedagogy, one which invests in and develops concepts which go beyond retaining information. By employing an evidence-based approach and drawing on effective practices already in use, the Strategy will invest in a transformation of its pedagogy to make learning more interactive, more supportive, and more challenging.
3. An inclusive and diverse culture
Crucial to the college’s strategic plan is the fostering of an environment where differences in student background and cultures are cherished and celebrated. Evidence increasingly shows that teaching is not a ‘one size fits all’ process. However, in teaching ‘by discovery’, differences between students can provide unique solutions to problems. A strong sense of community not only aids learning, but also contributes to positive wellbeing. The focus on group work aims to develop soft skills and seeks to address a results-focussed, competitive culture.
4. Digital content
The College’s vision is to develop and deploy cutting-edge technology which transforms the learning and teaching experience. Digital and online technology will be employed to foster a sense of collaboration and community, enhance interactive pedagogy, and expand possibilities in reaching an even more international audience.
The Learning and Teaching Strategy is funded at the College level and is led by Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Provost (Education), and Professor Alan Spivey, Assistant Provost (Learning & Teaching).
How is the initiative structured?
Using an evidence-based approach which suits the College’s research-intensive environment, we will identify the most effective pedagogies and assessment methods to suit specific learning outcomes and particular disciplinary needs. We will also adopt a subject-specific approach in innovation, recognising that best practice often depends on disciplinary context. The strategy allows for variation depending on the starting point, and so departments will determine the implementation approach that suits them best. Staff will have the autonomy to set their own priorities, and we will encourage departments to collaborate on building success.
The initiative supports team-based, college-wide review of curricula and assessment
An initial focus for the College’s Learning and Teaching Strategy has been to spearhead a process of curriculum review, designed to reduce curriculum content and the volume of assessment. The College aims to develop curricula that delve more deeply into subject matter and use more authentic assessment. The College will use this transformation to empower students to use their learning experiences to be leaders in an ever more diverse and interconnected world, and to share their knowledge in the process.
Departmental curriculum review teams have been established to take a hands-on approach to delivering a thorough review of programme and module learning outcomes and assessment to embed activity for the development of broader skills, rather than the simple memorisation of factual information. Through the process of curriculum review, departmental teams will map their entire curriculum, capturing its current content as well as the ways in which it develops and assesses skills development, with the aim of showing alignment for all possible learning pathways.
The curriculum review also presents an opportunity to review programme structure and to adopt a modular approach to learning. This will enable our students to have greater choice and flexibility within their programmes, and have the potential to access learning from other disciplines.
The initiative supports educational experts in leading curricular review: Strategic Teaching Fellows
The process of curriculum review is understood to be labour intensive, given the careful thought, effort, and collaboration required. To support departments in this intense activity, they have been given access to funding to employ new posts or back-fill existing staff to allow a focus on reviewing curricula. Funding is also available to back-fill the time of departmental Directors of Studies, ensuring that time is made available to deliver projects within agreed deadlines.
We will initially create a large community of Strategic Teaching Fellows, educators who will drive change, learn together, and develop a sustainable culture for others who follow. We have put in place a job family and promotions framework which reflects the esteem that our educators deserve.
The initiative supports a team approach to curricular review, including staff and student voices
Curricular review will be a collaborative process led by academic staff and facilitated by the active engagement of our students. Throughout the process curriculum review teams will have the opportunity to share their work and ideas with their peers and specially commissioned curriculum review reference panels. These panels will be convened by senior academic and teaching staff, experts in pedagogy, and quality assurance professionals, who can offer guidance, inspiration, and a friendly, critical eye to ensure that curriculum and assessment plans are high quality, sustainable, and in keeping with the Learning and Teaching Strategy.
The Learning and Teaching Strategy is centred on the understanding that our students work most effectively when they feel part of a collaborative community. Therefore, it is essential that we work in partnership with students in the review of our curricula. Curriculum review teams are required to engage, consult with, and draw upon the voice of their student cohort in reviewing curricula and assessment. The College has also established the new StudentShapers programme which will provide funding for students, enabling them to work with staff and each other to identify priorities for change, to design and recommend improvements, and to implement change within their departments.
Particular effort has also been made to mobilise staff who have engaged in the specialist training and support for the development of teaching and learning from the College’s Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship (CHERS). This group of staff is uniquely placed to help embed evidence-based approaches within disciplinary curricula, drawing upon both their disciplinary knowledge and their exposure to cutting-edge innovations in pedagogy. By inviting staff to take part in the reference panels, we also intend to provide a development opportunity for staff to develop knowledge and expertise in quality assurance, a prerequisite for participating in institution-level academic governance.
The initiative provides professional development and community-building to support innovation in education
With the understanding that the best work is rarely achieved in isolation, the College’s Learning and Teaching Strategy commits to supporting staff and building a community driven to improve teaching and learning in a number of ways. An aim of this approach is to embed teaching best practice in all that we do, ensuring that the quality of our teaching has the same prestige as the quality of our research.
Ongoing and proactive support is supplied for curriculum review teams by CHERS, working alongside the Centre for Languages, Culture, and Communications (CLCC), the Centre for Academic English (CfAE), and the Careers Service. As well as close collaborative working, this support has also manifested in CHERS’s development of a Teaching Toolkit. The toolkit offers staff an online resource of easily-digestible guidance, exemplars, and case studies related to pedagogical concepts and practices, such as guidance in forming effective Intended Learning Outcomes and practical introductions to research methods in education.
Curriculum review workshops
A series of curriculum review workshops have also been arranged. These are structured around themes of change and enhancement that curriculum review teams are working to embed. Topics have included embedding academic literacy in the curriculum, modular curriculum design, and inclusivity. Practical workshops are also offered to support departments in the writing of quality assurance paperwork and in evaluating change. The curriculum review sessions also offer a surgery-style opportunity for curriculum review teams to ask questions of their colleagues and to receive guidance and support in developing their ideas.
Support for Strategic Teaching Fellows
In recruiting Strategic Teaching Fellows to support the development and embedding of new curricula, there is opportunity to foster and develop a community of expertise. With the professional development of the Strategic Teaching Fellows in mind, we plan to establish an online collaboration space for them to discuss approaches, build networks, and deploy innovative projects.
In keeping with the efforts of the Strategy to share best practices and innovative approaches across the College, a series of ‘Talking Teaching’ seminars are held on a monthly basis. These informal, information-sharing and discussion-based events offer individuals and groups of staff a venue to share their ideas, and are open to anyone with an interest in education.
Talking Teaching has featured diverse range of speakers, ranging from the College’s Advanced Hackspace—offering students the opportunity to access a unique suite of prototyping technologies—to novel approaches used to ensure that our postgraduate medicine students are offered a strategic approach to developing professional skills.
The initiative provides funding for pedagogical improvements
Aligned with the curriculum review, a fund has been established to support departments (and other groups of staff) who support projects aimed at making learning and teaching more innovative and interactive. The fund is not competitive, and funding is available to support all high-quality bids. The process of bidding is designed to ensure that funding is made available based on commitment and support from the senior leadership within departments.
Departments will be encouraged to work together on bids in pairs or small clusters. In doing this we will learn from approaches that have been successfully implemented elsewhere. A holistic approach is expected to combine changes in teaching with the use of technology and the transformation of teaching spaces.
In delivering a digital education, the College is aware that the ‘classroom of the future’ will be an interactive and collaborative space, highly influenced by digital technologies developed between educationalists and technology experts. To exploit this opportunity, the College is working in partnership with staff and students to innovate cutting-edge ideas.
The College has consulted extensively on the facilities that are required to deliver truly transformational pedagogy. It is clear that we need teaching spaces with state-of-the-art digital capabilities and flexible, modular designs. As such, the College is delivering a series of classroom redesigns and renovations over the coming years which will revolutionise the way teaching is carried out. This investment will result in staff having the necessary tools to deliver the new curriculum in full. As one of the more physically tangible aspects of the Learning and Teaching Strategy, new teaching spaces will also underscore the College’s commitment to improving the student experience.
Early indicators of engagement
The Learning and Teaching Strategy is a 10-year investment in building a culture of continuous enhancement in education at Imperial. While still in the early stages, we look to the following indicators as measures of engagement with and investment in the College community:
- Engagement with curriculum review—all of the College’s academic departments have engaged with and are actively working on reviewing their curricula and assessment for their programmes.
- Pedagogy transformation investment—£7M committed so far to successful bids under the Pedagogy Transformation Fund.
- Attendance at Workshops/Talking Teaching—curriculum review workshops and Talking Teaching events act as a marker of engagement with the Learning and Teaching Strategy.
- Curriculum review workshops drew an average attendance of 33 members of staff across 10 events in 2017/18.
- Talking Teaching seminars drew an average attendance of 50 members of staff across 6 events in 2017/18.
How do I get more information?
Contact: Hailey Smith, Project Manager (Learning and Teaching Strategy): firstname.lastname@example.org.