Designing student work

Overview and Expectations


Putting student work (both individual and group) at the centre of the York Pedagogy 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. 

Expectations for change

The York pedagogy requires programme design to give explicit attention to all aspects of student work which supports learning i.e. 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.  



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 - 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



The ProPEL team can help you to explore the issues arising from this theme.  For example, we can run workshops on:

For further support on the use of learning technology, please see: E-Learning Development Team’s Professional Development Opportunities



It may help to start by considering:

  • Can the tasks for student independent study be improved to ensure that they make the best contribution to learning?  (For example, there may be scope to introduce more engaging tasks for independent study, and/or make more use of online resources, which may also incorporate opportunities for formative feedback).
  • Is the nature, level of challenge, volume and timing of formative work/feedback within individual modules clearly aligned to programme learning outcomes so that students can see how the latter are being developed progressively, and their learning is maximised?
  • Are there opportunities for further learning from work-based placements, simulations or other employment-related experiences?

Research and Inquiry

Restructuring the Curriculum to Engage Students in Research and Inquiry (MS Word , 941kb) - a presentation by Mike Healey (Higher Education Consultant and Researcher),;

The material in this handout has been developed over several years with Alan Jenkins, Professor Emeritus, Oxford Brookes University; Further quotes, discussion of conceptual elements and more detailed case studies, including institutional and national examples, references and a list of useful web sites may be found at:

Active Learning

‘We must teach more effectively : here are 4 ways to start’

As research on how people learn shows that teaching using active learning is more effective than just lecturing, this article outlines four concrete ways instructors can begin to apply active learning in their teaching: backward instruction design; expecting students to learn more than facts; posing “messy” problems for students to solve; and expecting students to talk, write, and collaborate.

Technology-enhanced Learning Handbook

In particular:

Blended learning resources

Problem-based learning

Traditional teaching involves a build-up of knowledge through the transmission of information. Problems are used to ‘test’ how much knowledge has been acquired and how well it is applied.  Problem Based Learning (PBL) places the student at the centre of the learning process as discussion and analysis of a problem starts the process of learning.

PBL is a key feature of programmes in the York Law School,
and in HYMS,

An Introduction to Problem-Based Learning for Law Students– a guide for students to give an understanding of the use of Problem-Based Learning within the York Law School:

Blended Problem Based Learning – Supporting collaborative, unguided group research with Web 2.0 tools.

Bringing Peace to Yorkania – An example of suing problem-based learning from the Department of Politics - encouraging independent learning and creativity among students through self-directed research tasks and Problem Based Learning scenarios.