Accessibility statement

Good Practice in Programme Design

The University’s approach to programme design is built around five key principles and incorporates five strategic priorities. These are outlined below with links to supporting resources.

Modularisation and semesterisation

From the academic year 2023-24 onwards, the majority of programmes at the University will be structured into two semesters per academic year.  They will also (with the exception of dissertation/project modules) be made up of 20-credit modules taught within one semester.

Information and guidance on the process and planning for this can be accessed via the Modularisation and Semesterisation project website (UoY Google log-in required).

Key principles

1. Programme leadership

Overview

Effective programme design requires a clear framework of programme leadership and team-working.  This ensures that the design and assessment of individual modules makes the most effective contribution to learning in the context of the programme. All staff who teach should contribute to the design of learning and teaching, but for every programme of study there should be a named individual who has primary responsibility for the programme as experienced by students.  Every programme will have a single leader, although a single person can lead more than one programme. The programme leader will be a departmental appointment and should be supported in their role by a programme team comprising appropriate teaching and support staff.

The programme leader will be invested with the authority to fulfil responsibilities in the following areas: 

  • overall programme design;
  • ongoing programme design, maintenance and improvement;
  • monitoring of the programme in operation;
  • coordination of the programme team

Guidance for Programme Leaders

2. Statements of Purpose, Programme Learning Outcomes and Programme Mapping

Overview

One of the main predictors of educational engagement and significant learning gain is the degree to which students understand the coherence of their programme and have clear objectives. Thus, programme Specifications at the University require a concise Statement of Purpose and a focused set of 6-8 Programme Learning Outcomes (PLOs).  

This clarity of purpose and manageable set of outcomes enables shared understanding of the focus of each programme and allows staff to communicate clearly how each programme is designed to support the progressive achievement of its intended outcomes.  Shared understanding of the relationship between a programme and its modules can be strengthened through programme maps, providing information on how assessment, student work and contact time with staff are organised within and between modules to achieve development towards the PLOs.

Guidance on how to write Statements of Purpose and Programme Learning Outcomes is provided on the Programme Design page. 

Research and associated materials

The following articles and reports provide guidance on key overarching considerations in designing and mapping programmes:

  • Dissertations and Capstone Projects: A Selected Bibliography (Mike Healy)
    This is a comprehensive, HEA sponsored study of the value of Final Year Project and Dissertations (FYPDs) and how they can be incorporated into undergraduate degree programmes.  This book raises key issues about the defining characteristics of higher education, how the final-year curriculum should exemplify these through the design of FYPD and illustrates innovative and creative ways of developing FYPDs through 70 case studies.

  • Pedagogy for employability: (Higher Education Academy)
    This is a resource for teaching staff to review and develop their own understanding of employability. The material could be used to provide a springboard for development by looking at the pedagogy of employability in terms of curriculum design, delivery and assessment, with examples and case studies (particularly Section 5).

3. Summative assessment

Overview

Assessment remains located within individual modules but effective programme design aims to ensure that summative assessment is designed coherently and collectively across the whole programme. Summative assessment of modules should reflect the stage of development of the Programme Learning Outcomes (PLOs) through each year of study, capture learning and support students’ progressive achievement of these concepts and skills in the most effective way. This means that the assessment is:

  • effective in supporting and measuring students’ progress toward the achievement of programme learning outcomes;
  • ambitious enough to challenge and stretch our students to the highest standards at every stage;
  • efficient in terms of workload for both students and staff.

Programme teams need to ensure their summative assessment practices align with the PLOs, the designed Student Work and the agreed Staff-Student Contact pattern. For example, the nature and timing of assessment should be designed to evaluate and make the most effective contribution to student learning at that particular point in the programme, in relation to the progressive development of programme learning outcomes.  

The ‘assessment and feedback’ page provides an overview of resources. The programme design page also includes ideas for how programme-level assessment can be developed from modular assessments such as Final Year Projects and Dissertations (FYPDs) and portfolio assessment.

Research and associated materials

ASKe - the Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange - Pedagogy Research Centre

ASKe  was established as a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) based at Oxford Brookes University Business School. ASKe has produced significant research in the area of HE assessment, marking and feedback and numerous resources.

The PASS Project (Programme Assessment Strategies)

Funded by the HE Academy's NTFS project strand, this project aimed to confront the fundamental issue of how to design an effective, efficient, inclusive and sustainable assessment strategy which delivers the key course/programme outcomes.

Sustainable Assessment and evaluative judgement

The concepts of sustainable assessment and evaluative judgement are based on the proposition that assessment must support learning. More than this, it must support the processes of learning that students need beyond the point of graduation. This means that our conception of assessment needs to move beyond that of testing what has been taught, or measuring learning outcomes, to encompass one that builds the capacity of students to be effective assessors for themselves and for others.

  • Ajjawi, R., Tai, J., Dawson, P. and Boud, D. (2018) Conceptualising evaluative judgement for sustainable assessment in higher education in D. Boud, R. Ajjawi, P. Dawson and Tai, J. (Eds.), Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Boud, D. (2000) Sustainable Assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society, Studies in Continuing Education, 22:2, 151-167.

Re-Engineering Assessment Practices in Scottish Higher Education (REAP) 

  • A website produced by the Universities of Strathclyde, Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian, with funding from the Scottish Funding Council. The project piloted the redesign of formative assessment and feedback practices in large-enrolment first-year modules and developed strategies for embedding new thinking about assessment into institutional policies and processes.

Shared Understanding and Assessment Literacy

  • Carless, D. and Boud, D. (2018) The Development of Student Feedback Literacy: Enabling Uptake of Feedback. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 43 (8): 1315–25
  • Rust, C., O’Donovan, B., and Price, M. (2010) A social constructivist assessment process model: how the research literature shows us this could be best practice.  Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. Oxford Brookes University, UK.
  • Roediger, H.L., Smith, M.A., Putnam, A.L., (2012) Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice. In Mestre, J, Ross, B.H., Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Sand Diego: Elsevier Academic Press.

4. Designing student work: independent study and formative work

Overview

Putting student work (both individual and group) at the centre of effective programme design identifies student activity as the defining process of learning, rather than classes or summative assessments. This approach is inspired by educational research which shows that increasing student time on tasks and active student engagement in their learning maximises educational gain. Effective programme design should give explicit attention to all aspects of student work which supports learning, ie independent study as well as contact with teaching staff. 

Research shows that the effectiveness of student private study is correlated with learning gain, highly variable between students, and often capable of significant improvement, even for the best students. Students often use inefficient private study methods such as re-reading and massed practice. By contrast, carefully-designed student work can yield deep learning by demanding sustained effort, spaced and interleaved practice, retrieval of previously-learned material, structure building (extracting salient ideas and constructing a coherent mental framework), collaboration and development of transferable skills (Gibbs, 2007; Roediger et al, 2012). With sound learning methods embedded in student work, students who study for longer learn more. In addition, forms of student engagement such as peer tutoring, peer assessment, planned debate tasks and problem-based learning can facilitate the type of cooperation highlighted as one of the seven principles of good quality higher education (Chickering and Gamson – see Resources). 

Designing student work therefore involves designing independent study and formative work which demands engagement of a high standard and draws on appropriate resources to propel student learning to the achievement of the PLOs. 

Research and associated materials

Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles of good quality higher education

  • This summary gives an overview of the seven principles and what they can mean for programme development.

Freeman et al - Active learning - student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics

  • The studies analysed here by Freeman et al document how active learning can lead to increases in examination performance that raise average grades.

Effective practice design for directed independent learning

  • This study, commissioned by the HEA and the QAA, focuses on directed independent learning practices in UK higher education. It investigates what stakeholders (including academic staff and students) have found to be the most effective practices in the inception, design, quality assurance and enhancement of directed independent learning and explores how best to promote effective practice to stakeholders.

Ken Bain (Author) - What the best college teachers do

  • A study of over 50 highly-regarded college lecturers which aims to capture their collective scholarship and approaches to teaching and learning

Roediger, H.L., Smith, M.A., Putnam, A.L., (2012) Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice. In Mestre, J, Ross, B.H., Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Sand Diego: Elsevier Academic Press.

5. Planning staff-student contact

Overview

The quality of contact between academics and students is a key factor in supporting learning. Traditional ‘contact hours’ in lectures, seminars and labs, and asynchronous interaction, eg through electronic forums, all have their place, but timely and targeted close contact, for example to give feedback on student work, is particularly effective as this is associated with greater educational gains independent of class contact hours (Trigwell, 2003). In addition, the majority of student time is spent outside of contact hours (Brennan et al, 2009) so it is vital that these contact hours are designed to encourage, inform and propel students’ work through which they will learn.

Effective programme design seeks to maximise the value of students’ ‘contact time’ with staff (which may be face-to-face, virtual, synchronous or asynchronous) through more effective design of contact events, independent study, learning resources, student assignments and feedback, and the alignment of all of these with programme learning outcomes. This will also enable more efficient and productive use of staff time.

For example, some material could be covered outside scheduled events, perhaps supported by online resources or asynchronous activities, to enable different types of interactions in class which are more engaging for students and staff. There may also be ways to enhance students’ ability to optimise their use of supervision and other sources of personal support. This will ensure that students’ independent study is directed to maximise its contribution to effective learning. 

Research

Brennan, J., Patel, K. and Tang, W. (2009) Diversity in the student learning experience and time devoted to study: a comparative analysis of the UK and European evidence. Bristol: HEFCE. 

  • This is a HEFCE commissioned report from the OU which examines international differences (especially in respect of European higher education) in the student experience, based both on a review of literature and on the reanalysis of existing data on students collected as part of two recent studies. The initial focus was on the hours students devote to study activity, but this was subsequently broadened to take account of other factors and different ways of conceptualising the student experience.

Pascarella, E.T. and Terenzini, P. (2005) How college affects students 

  • In How College Affects Students, the authors synthesise the most recent body of research that addresses the question ‘What works?’ in terms of higher education.

Trigwell, K. and Ashwin, P. (2004) Undergraduate students’ experience of Learning at the University of Oxford. Oxford: Oxford Learning Institute. 

  • This is research undertaken concerning Oxford students’ perceptions of their learning environment with a particular focus on the power of the tutorial.

Strategic priorities

The University has identified the following priorities for programme design:

1. Employability

Ensuring effective opportunities for all students to develop the skills they need for employment and further study.  Embedding employability in the curriculum means that all students have equal access to support and development opportunities.

Careers and Placements 

Recommended employability activity for integration with curriculum

2.Inclusive Learning, Teaching and Assessment

Inclusive teaching, learning and assessment is an approach which recognises, reflects and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences and identities of our student body. It gives all students the opportunity to fully take part in the University of York community, and to flourish in their academic studies. This includes designing an inclusive curriculum and inclusive assessment approaches; with consideration of how to create a sense of community and belonging for all students as part of teaching and learning.

The Inclusive-Learning @York web pages cover five thematic areas related to inclusive learning, teaching and assessment as follows:

Inclusive Curriculum; Inclusive Learning and Teaching Approaches; Accessibility of Learning, Teaching and Assessment; Academic Communities of Staff and Students; Co-construction, Students as Partners and Student Voice.

The pages provide guidance and reflective questions related to each theme and are a useful source for programme, module and assessment design.



3. Interdisciplinarity

Interdisciplinary modules can be informed by themes of social justice and inclusion. Interdisciplinary modules enable students to explore different perspectives, based on their own areas of interest.

4. Assessment approaches

Inclusive teaching, learning and assessment is an approach which recognises, reflects and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences and identities of our student body. It gives all students the opportunity to fully take part in the University of York community, and to flourish in their academic studies. This includes designing an inclusive curriculum and inclusive assessment approaches; with consideration of how to create a sense of community and belonging for all students as part of teaching and learning.

The Inclusive-Learning @York web pages cover five thematic areas related to inclusive learning, teaching and assessment as follows:

Inclusive Curriculum; Inclusive Learning and Teaching Approaches; Accessibility of Learning, Teaching and Assessment; Academic Communities of Staff and Students; Co-construction, Students as Partners and Student Voice.

The pages provide guidance and reflective questions related to each theme and are a useful source for programme, module and assessment design.



5. Environmental sustainability

Decolonising and diversifying the curriculum offers the opportunity to recognise and explore global issues of environmental and social justice, for example by recognising the disproportionate impact of climate change on the global south.