Aca­demics ‘fear they will be judged on learn­ing gain data’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - So­phie.inge@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

At­tempts to roll out the col­lec­tion of data on stu­dents’ “learn­ing gain” could be ham­pered by aca­demics’ fears that it will be used to judge their per­for­mance, a con­fer­ence heard.

The Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Fund­ing Coun­cil for Eng­land is in­vest­ing £4 mil­lion in a drive to mea­sure the change in learn­ers’ knowl­edge, skills and val­ues over the course of their de­gree, but Claire Gray, who is lead­ing one of 13 pilot projects, said that lec­tur­ers were con­cerned that re­sults could be used to de­velop met­rics for in­ter­nal as­sess­ments or the teach­ing ex­cel­lence frame­work.

“[ Aca­demics start to think] about how this data could be used to make judge­ments on in­di­vid­u­als, on co­horts, on pro­grammes and on in­sti­tu­tions,” Dr Gray, part­ner­ships de­vel­op­ment co­or­di­na­tor at Ply­mouth Univer­sity, told He­fce’s Na­tional Con­fer­ence on Learn­ing Gain on 7 Fe­bru­ary.

Many aca­demics hope that learn­ing gain data can be used to drive im­prove­ments in ped­a­gogy and to give greater recog­ni­tion to the progress made by stu­dents dur­ing their time study­ing.

But an­other con­cern among mo­d­ule lead­ers was that the data would be used by univer­sity man­age­ment to tell them what their cur­ricu­lum should be, Dr Gray said.

“Even though we did our ut­most to ex­plain what we’ve got per­mis­sion to use it for…staff were very keen to ex­press the real con­cern that if this starts to be­come cen­trally im­posed and is not con­tex­tu­alised to the cur­ricu­lum and to the teach­ing and learn­ing that they de­liver then it might be sub­verted in some way,” she said.

As­sur­ing staff and stu­dents that there was no hid­den agenda was “ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal for mak­ing learn­ing gain hap­pen and mak­ing it have some im­pact”, Dr Gray said.

“We are do­ing this very clearly be­cause we want to use it to in­form the in­ter­ven­tions which will sup­port im­prove­ments in teach­ing and learn­ing,” she ex­plained. “That was the very sim­ple take we had on it, and we thought we were be­ing very clear, very ex­plicit and very open about this.”

How­ever, not all the staff in­ter­viewed as part of the eval­u­a­tion of the Ply­mouth-led pilot had con­cerns.

“The pos­i­tive [re­sponses from staff] were all about the ben­e­fits they saw when they started to work with the stu­dents in us­ing this tool, and when they started to talk about and iden­tify the ways it could be used as part of an in­ter­ven­tion,” said Dr Gray.

Stu­dents them­selves gave pos­i­tive feed­back, with one com­ment­ing that it gave them the con­fi­dence to go on to post­grad­u­ate stud­ies, and an­other say­ing that it gave stu­dents an op­por­tu­nity to re­flect.

The con­fer­ence also heard about the chal­lenges of get­ting stu­dents to en­gage in learn­ing gain ac­tiv­ity when it did not con­tribute to their fi­nal de­gree clas­si­fi­ca­tion. Some uni­ver­si­ties have used in­cen­tives such as Ama­zon and drinks vouch­ers.

He­fce’s pi­lots in­clude projects

that test stu­dents, ask them to com­plete sur­veys, or com­pare data on their grades. A na­tion­ally ad­min­is­tered stan­dard­ised test is also be­ing tri­alled.

Yvonne Hawkins, He­fce’s di­rec­tor of uni­ver­si­ties and colleges, told the event that the fund­ing coun­cil would draw on the pi­lots to cre­ate a learn­ing gain “tool­kit” for uni­ver­si­ties to use, which would be re­leased next year.

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