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Course Organisation Case Studies

Responding to student views on assessment:    Sarah Cooper

I joined BSc(Hons) Photographic Journalism in May 2013 as its course leader, and it became clear very early on that the students were lacking a sense of identity with the course. Many considered themselves as a student in Leeds, rather than a Photographic Journalism student at Leeds Beckett. This became the crux of the course planning and management: enhancing the students’ sense of autonomy and strengthening their relationship with the course and institution.

Strategies included appointing student reps as early as possible in the semester - usually week one - and meeting with the reps on a fortnightly basis. Any feedback from them was acted upon, and relayed back to them to communicate to the rest of the group. This increased their sense of autonomy and that they were being ‘heard’. One such piece of feedback highlighted that there was a lack of clarity with regards assessment criteria and that occasionally the students felt that lecturers had ‘favourites’ and that this was reflected in the marking. Certain measures were introduced to tackle this. For instance, all module leaders provided their module handbooks in the given template format, and these were distributed both online and in an A5 printed version. That printed version had a sense of permanence (ie: the assessment criteria was set) and also gave the students a sense of autonomy of their own learning materials - most would scribble and make notes on their printed version, thus tailoring the handbook to suit their own assessment ideas.

The assessment criteria were redeveloped to be as comprehensive as possible and also included formative assessments with deadlines. These mini deadlines facilitate formative feedback which clarifies the student’s progress and gives a clearer idea with regards to their expected grades. I also showed the students the university’s taxonomy of assessment domains, so they could see process behind developing the criteria. In addition, two-hour team meetings occurring fortnightly throughout the year - both during teaching and the summer - ensured that each module leader was able to gain a sense of the ‘bigger picture’, and how their module fitted into the overall structure. A key strength of the degree is the team, and this has been particularly exceptional, bearing in mind the hourly paid status of the majority of the team. A key part of the management of a successful team is knowing that everyone is working from the same page, and are open to managerial Feedback.

NSS Qu 8. The criteria used in marking have been clear in advance.

NSS Qu 25. It is clear how students’ feedback on the course has been acted on.

Developing greater coherence in learning through improvements to curriculum provision and structure : Stephen McKeown

Stephen McKeown IMG_0755.jpg This case study outlines how the development of learning  pathways, additional worked based learning opportunities and  an enrichment programme,  have all contributed to a significant  improvement in overall NSS student satisfaction from 68-89%.  These changes were made in response to a significant  increase in student numbers over the last five years  accompanied by a threefold increase in staffing.

Learning pathways 

Sports Coaching Pathways were implemented in 2015 at Level 5 with 2015/16 being the first year that pathways were delivered at Level 5 & 6. Pathways include Youth Sports Coaching, Coaching Science and Sports Development, which result in module electives based on the selected pathway. These provide students with more available options based on their areas of interest and future career directions and allow more flexibility within our placement opportunities.

Work based learning opportunities

An Employability Co-ordinator has been appointed, increasing the number and quality of our placements with a number of our students now undertaking placements in professional sports clubs.

Enrichment programme

For students at all levels, these have ranged from practical sessions with primary school children, child protection and first aid qualifications to personal tutor sessions at Level 4, CPD workshops, multilevel assessments and a national roadshow at Level 6. Feedback has been very positive and further enhancements are to include:

●     Enrichment week embedded in semester 1

●     Further opportunities for students from all levels to coach children on campus

●     Level 4 students to shadow and support L5 students on placement

●     Change4Life workshops for all Level5 students

The existing programme created a stable platform for a very successful course revalidation, which seeks to develop further graduate attributes while reducing the number of theories and concepts students are required to learn and apply. A uniform assessment for learning policy has also been implemented to improve student engagement and attendance

NSS Qu 15. The course is well organised and running smoothly.

The timetable works effectively for me : Lorna Campbell

Lorna Campbell.jpg

 In our BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy Course both the academic    timetable and the bigger picture of balancing clinical placement and  university based learning blocks are important and ultimately impact  on students’ responses to this question which we feel also impacts  other areas of the NSS.

 We aim to schedule teaching time to meet the different needs of  each cohort level.

At level 4 we aim to support transition into higher education, scheduling taught sessions over 4 days to help build belonging and course identity.

At level 5 our timetable delivers focused full day sessions in 3 core areas of physiotherapy. This ensures that all students have transferable clinical reasoning skills and are confident in embarking on their placement learning regardless of the clinical specialism to which they are allocated. Interspersing blocks of placement learning with university based learning provides opportunity for collaborative learning as students share their experiences with staff and peers.

This pattern of integrating placement and university based learning continues at level 6 with students returning for a final university block to complete their dissertation module and a leadership and management module. The higher level of independent learning and autonomy within these modules continues to develop students graduate attributes and provides focus on preparing for employment.

This year has proved challenging with many timetable clashes within the clinical suite classrooms. The uncertainty both delays the preparation of teaching and at times requires changes to teaching content and delivery when specialist rooms are not available. We have resolved these clashes to continue to ensure an appropriate timetable and excellent student experience but it is a time consuming process.

Our main challenge over the coming years is the sustainability of timetable as we manage increasing student numbers with limited specialist clinical teaching area capacity.

NSS Qu16. The timetable works efficiently for me.

Use of VLE Groups on My Beckett to facilitate effective communication across Pre - Registration Nursing Programmes : Janine Lee

Janine Lee Pic.jpgOn our pre-registration nursing programmes students will spend 50% of of their time on practice placements.To achieve a degree and professional registration eligibility, students need to have access to a wide range of professional, academic and practice information.Approximately three years ago, the course leader for adult nursing piloted two methods of sharing this information with the aim of making materials more accessible, usable and visually appealing than the course handbook. The outcome of the pilot was that the students found MyBeckett groups easier to access than Google Groups and this system for sharing information has been developing ever since. The MyBeckett Group is set up with key information in several folders

Benefits to students. One of the main benefits reported by students is that information and announcements are visible to all three years with announcements titled with the year they are aimed at. This however, does not preclude students from other years accessing this information and many students have reported that having access to all years’ announcements helps them to have an overview of the full programme rather than just their year. When changes are made as a result of student feedback, for instance remodelling of the assessments schedule, students can see that their feedback has been actioned and this change maintained even when they move on to another year.

Moving onwards. Qualitative feedback from the NSS this year includes feedback that the different fields’ information was not always consistent for mental and adult nursing. The course team has therefore combined the group to include both fields of nursing and we anticipate that this will streamline communication and ensure more consistent messages to the students.

NSS Qu 17. Any changes in the course or teaching have been communicated effectively


Question 26 is not just about the Students' Union: why we need to engage, support and promote more effectively together : John Goodwin

John Goodwin.jpgThe introduction of Q26 to the 2017 NSS, which focuses specifically on how well Students’ Unions represent students’ academic interests, has opened up a can of worms for Unions and institutions alike. Although not directly comparable to the previous Q23, which asked a broader question about the entire range of services and opportunities provided by Unions, the sector has seen a dramatic fall in the average scores between the two questions, with Leeds Beckett dropping from Q23 71% in 2016, to Q26 59% in 2017.

There is solid evidence, borne out of HEFCE’s own cognitive testing as well as a recent piece of research[1] that sought the views of over 17,000 students, that students do not understand the question they are being asked when we talk about ‘academic interests’.

Let us compare Leeds Beckett’s Q26 score with the rest of the questions in the Student Voice bank, in which the institution scored a respectable 75% average across Q23, 24, and 25 – although a significantly lower score of 62% for Q25 also points towards students not being aware of how the feedback they have given has been used.

We should all be concerned about this disparity, given the partnership approach favoured by both the University and Union to effectively facilitate and act upon student feedback – why, despite this, are many students seemingly not recognising the role that the Union plays?

This is partly about how well we train, support and utilise our network of student reps. They should be the most visible source of representation for our students’ academic interests – not just for how they engage in course-level committees and enhancement processes, but also for the important role they play in ensuring that Students’ Union elected officers are well informed, and with a reliable evidence base of student opinion, when they influence decision making at high level University committees.

Perhaps most importantly though, we all need to play a much bigger role in communicating both the outcomes and impacts of improvements made through student feedback to the entire student population – including the role that the Students’ Union has played in this.

[1] http://alterline.co.uk/nssq26/

NSS Qu 26. The students’ union ( association or guild) effectively represents students’ academic interests.

Making it personal: The NSS preparation strategy adopted by BA Journalism at Leeds Beckett University : Karl Hodge

karlhodge.jpgBA Journalism has had seven years topping the tables in terms of NSS results. In particular, the topline metric of “Overall Satisfaction”. In 2012 and 2013 our score was 93% and 94% respectively. Between 2014 and 2016, we scored 100% three years in a row.

It has not always been that way. In 2011, in our very first NSS, our overall satisfaction rating was 40%.

The course had something of a rocky beginning, running a patchwork of modules from multiple subject areas. The core team was not consistently staffed, with tutors joining and then leaving the course rapidly during its first three years.

One of our first practical steps after that early NSS shock was to take as much of the module delivery “in house” as possible - not because collaboration across schools is in any way intrinsically bad or that the delivery had been poor. In some areas the module delivery had been excellent - but the course itself was in crisis.

We needed to make sure that everyone involved in managing delivery was invested in its success. This part is key.

Secondly, the faculty sought to build a consistent staff team to deliver the module and, although our staff/student ratio is still quite a bit lower than many other journalism courses, succeeded in doing so.

Thirdly, under the course leadership of Sean Dodson we began a programme of student preparation for the 2012 NSS. This approach was adopted (and adapted)  by the subsequent Course Leader Jenny Kean and her successor (me).

Working within NSS rules

The regulations for promoting the NSS are very clear. They say that:

  • Students are targeted equally so that each eligible student is given a chance to express their views on the student experience.

  • Students feel free to give honest feedback about their experiences without their responses being influenced by their institution.

  • Students must not be asked to complete the survey while a member of staff is overseeing their responses, or be made to feel that their responses are being monitored.

  • Students must not be encouraged to reflect in their answers anything other than their genuine perceptions of their experience.

  • Any allegations of inappropriate attempts to influence the outcomes of the NSS are taken extremely seriously by the funders of the survey. This is to ensure that the integrity of this essential part of the Quality Assurance System is maintained.

The regulations also say:

“Academic staff are often the best positioned to speak about the benefits and importance of the survey. They can communicate directly with students about how the results will be used by prospective students and how they will be or have been used to improve the student learning experience at the institution more generally.

It is crucial that academic staff stress objectivity in speaking about the NSS because of the way the results will be used by prospective students, institutions, SUs, and other stakeholders.”

We used these words as our guide, devising an approach designed to accomplish the following objectives.

We try to make sure that students are:

  • Targeted equally in the process.

  • Appraised of the benefits and importance of the survey.

  • Aware of how prospective students might use results

  • Aware that we had a duty to be objective when speaking about the NSS because of the way results were used by institutions and other stakeholders.

  • Drawing their own conclusions from the data presented to them.

Our solution was a two step approach. In step one we brief students on the NSS and its benefits. This takes place in the 9th or 10th teaching week of semester one. In step two, we set aside time during academic delivery for students to complete the NSS. This takes place in semester two.

Step one: small group briefings - semester one

We print out data from Unistats, detailing our own NSS results for the previous year and historical results from the Leeds Beckett website. This detail is crucial. It demonstrates that all of this data is public.

Using Unistats, we are also able to print out comparative tables, showing our NSS performance next to that of our closest competitors.

We divide our cohort into small groups of about six and schedule a series of discussion sessions with those students. In doing so, we try to identify natural friend groups as much as possible to ensure that those groups turn up and turn up together. We are also looking for groups who will want to discuss the data we show them.

The discussion takes about twenty minutes and is facilitated by two members of staff where possible.

In these meetings we explain to students what the NSS is, using the NSS website’s own description. We talk about our history with it and how our results have improved over the years. We draw a reasonable correlation between NSS results and the continued resourcing of the course.

We demonstrate that the data is public and that prospective students might use results to make decisions about their own futures. We then use the tables to show students how our rivals have fared.

In this process, we show students how to access Unistats and filter the data themselves. We invite them to do so after the session so that they can see that the data we have shown them is verifiable and public. There are usually one or two students who have seen Unistats before, who are able to talk about their experience with it.

Our students have previously worked with data, creating data driven news stories at H5, so they are familiar with simple interpretations of comparative statistics. They naturally discuss the statistics themselves and we encourage them to look for patterns in the data.

Finally, we tell students that as a course we prefer to complete the NSS as quickly as possible so that it does not disrupt their final year in any way. They are informed that they will have an opportunity to complete the survey together early in the New Year.

Staff make a note which students have not attended a briefing session and invite them to come to a“mopping up” session to ensure that all students have been targeted equally.

The sessions use team labour and resources, but not prohibitively. In our small cohort of around 40 students at each year, we devote between five and six hours to these briefings which initially take place over two days, with a final day to “mop up”.

Step two: NSS completion session - semester two

In the first week back of semester two, we allocate the first hour of a timetabled lab session to the NSS. We do this rather than book a special session for a specific reason. Our students are used to producing practical work in labs so they are using familiar technology in a familiar environment. The guidelines issued on the NSS website also suggest administering the survey during a regularly timetabled session.

If the Business School is offering incentives for completion of the NSS (t-shirts, gifts etc) we make sure students are aware of that and, if possible, distribute them there and then.

In the first 15 minutes of the session the course leader reminds students of the key points we spoke about in our small group sessions and then prompts students to complete the survey within the next 45 minutes. The tutor leaves the room before students begin.

In the years we have been using this model, the course has frequently been among the first to reach the threshold for completion of the survey - which is one compelling reason to persuade students to do this in an early, timetabled session.


Our approach to the NSS has been more than just a process. It is part of holistic strategy that includes:

  • Delivering programs that are accredited by two professional bodies, the PPA and BJTC

  • Being responsive to module evaluations and student feedback

  • Identifying problems in delivery early on and dealing with them locally and quickly

  • Fostering a sense of community within the course through our delivery and social media presence

  • Taking ownership of the course within a core team

  • Module leaders taking full responsibility for the administration and delivery of their own modules

  • Academic advisors actively seeking at least one face to face contact with their students every semester, rather than waiting for students to make appointments

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