Not just the ‘rules police’
Jo Hicks is Teaching and Learning Manager in the Division of Teaching, Learning and Student Development (TLSD), with responsibility for our University quality framework and matters concerning Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) guidelines. In this blog she explains the potential for quality to be far more exciting than that makes it sound, and highlights some of the great practice in Faculties over the last year. She also explains the photo.
Frequently – and, I like to think, affectionately – the work that goes on in my area is described in terms of being some form of ‘rules police’. A significant part of my role is indeed about managing processes to assure our regulatory compliance obligations, and for CMA. My ambition, however, is that our quality function is more than this, and becomes an embedded culture of what we collectively view to be excellent at the University of Manchester, and a drive to continually enhance teaching, learning, and the student experience.
This partnership between assurance and enhancement was never more apparent than through an exercise I supported recently alongside my colleague Daniel Bayes and in partnership with Simon Merrywest (Director for the Student Experience) and David Horan (Solicitor – University Matters and Employment). Originally initiated as a regulatory requirement by OfS (as they do!) we needed to audit the 1,200 plus taught programmes running throughout last year– after all, we didn’t have much else on! This exercise was to provide assurance that our students received a comparably equivalent quality of teaching and learning during the pandemic as before. However, this became one of the most heart-warming and touching projects I have supported during my three-and-a-half years in this role. I’m a people person, and I’ve struggled at times to find the human element in quality, but this exercise changed that and gave me a real sense of pride to be a part of the team at this University.
The success of this audit simply would not have happened without the tremendous support from faculty and school colleagues, both PS and academic, for which a huge measure of gratitude is owed.
Great practice in Faculties we found out about
As part of the audit, we asked every programme team to reference some of the innovative, inclusive and accessible teaching and learning activities which they employed to provide students with a high-quality experience during the lockdown. The modesty with which academic colleagues described their work was amazing. The examples offered included not only transitioning to what we now commonly describe as ‘asynchronous’ and ‘synchronous’ activities (which were unfamiliar even as terms to many last March), using digital platforms such as Zoom, Padlet, Piazza, Softchalk, and Discord, as well as more specialist tools such as Audiometry, which were employed to engage students interactively by simulating clinical lab work, and Turning Point in MACE, used to poll students live through PowerPoint to provide instantaneous formative feedback.
Digital platforms have also been used widely to secure contributions from subject experts and alumni not otherwise able to travel to Manchester, who have engaged and inspired our students. In May, our BA Social Sciences programme used this advantage of flexible learning to its fullest by arranging an inspirational talk to students by Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, and on the MA Social Work programme a Consultant Psychiatrist from an early interventions mental health team in Hackney, London, delivered an excellent Q&A session to students – from the comfort of their own home!
‘Beacons of light in a dark period’
We also heard about ‘movie-style’ welcome videos and guided talks used by various programmes as part of induction activities. These were used alongside such things as blended learning digital accessibility checklists, captioning tools and VoiceThread, breakout rooms, and Blackboard discussion boards to facilitate as authentic a student experience as possible, and to maintain a strong sense of learning community and attentiveness to staff and student wellbeing, accessibility and inclusivity issues. Colleagues on the BSc Speech and Language Therapy programme commented that ”the whole experience has arguably strengthened our already close-knit community of practice”, and like many other programmes, feedback from students indicated how impressed they were with all of your collective efforts to ‘go above and beyond’. At a LLB (Hons) Bachelor of Law SSLC, when conveying their thanks to the School, a student representative notably commented that staff were ”beacons of light in a dark period”.
And then there were the stories of SALC colleagues spending evenings on Zoom performing Japanese cook-along socials, or the live programme-related film screenings in Criminology where afterward, two activists who featured in the film were invited to a student Q&A session, and all complemented by a popcorn competition with a £20 prize for the student who produced the best popcorn on the night. On the MRes in Reproduction and Pregnancy, there was even a charity ‘professor headshave’ during lockdown! It was truly inspirational and a pleasure to read each and every one. Thank you.
This blog post could not possibly do justice to all of the wonderful examples shared as part of this OfS exercise, but it does provide a platform to be able to celebrate some selected highlights. Some of these examples will be appearing on TEA in the future, and the fabulous work of colleagues is already being fed into the Flexible Learning Programme to make sure the practice revealed in this quality exercise is being joined up with the consultation and engagement work underway as we shape our flexible and blended learning future.
Transforming Teaching Together
Not everything worked as anticipated, but that was equally to be celebrated. The significance has been as much about how our learning has developed by taking those risks, in order to begin our transformative journey, and how we measure quality around a curriculum in a way that offers the best of all modes to our students.
I am fortunate to be working alongside Professor Judy Williams (AVP for Teaching, Learning, and Students and Director of the Institute of Teaching and Learning) to refresh our quality framework, and I’ve been given the exciting opportunity to enhance our current framework, processes, and quality measures. The ambition is to develop a framework that makes us transformative in approach, and that continually drives positive change in teaching and learning as much as it ensures we comply with requirements, and to focus on areas that need more work to get them right.
Our vision is encapsulated in the project title ‘Transforming Teaching Together’, and our mission is to create an inclusive, values-based, and enhancement-led approach to quality activity, which recognises the unique features a taught programme at Manchester can offer to its graduates, supporting curriculum development to reflect these from programme inception to ensure accessibility for all. Pivotal to the project’s success is its partnership with students, through student representatives past and present; current and future UMSU Education Officers; and our Educational Engagement Manager at UMSU. The contribution from staff too – PS and academic – will be invaluable in collectively identifying the values that define Manchester teaching excellence. Alongside establishing a task-and-finish group, we are creating groups where colleagues can contribute their perspective and knowledge asynchronously via Teams, without a fixed time commitment. We are keen to engage as widely as possible to have insight into the most up-to-date pedagogic expertise from across the university.
Remaining closely linked with the Flexible Learning Strategy and Graduate Attributes strategy (to name but two), this exciting project will identify the hallmarks of Manchester excellence and consider the data we use to measure high-quality teaching and learning, including the development of a new student survey and feedback strategy as one of the key measures we use to judge the quality of our students’ learning experiences.
The photo – and now we’re cooking with gas
So back to the photo. A wise woman (you will know who you are!) said to me recently that excellent teaching and learning is a journey, and not a destination. For Line of Duty fans out there, and those of you who have (fondly?) compared quality activity to rules policing, then “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and the wee donkey”, let’s serve a Regulation 15 notice on seeing quality as only something we have to comply with, and tolerate. I’m interested in “one thing and one thing only”, and that is continual enhancement and working in partnership to drive positive change.
I hope you enjoy reading about our colleagues’ wonderful work as much as we have.
If anyone wants to share a cup of coffee over Zoom to find out more about Transforming Teaching Together, Jo is always happy to chat and can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would be interested in contributing to the Transforming Teaching Together project by joining an academic and PS staff consultation group via Microsoft Teams, please contact Daniel Bayes for further details, by email at: email@example.com.