How Curriculum Tools Can Help

In the era of subject-level Teaching Excellence Framework

The ongoing pilots preceding the introduction of subject-level TEF are a hot topic.

Although the Government consultation response, published in October, made great strides in deciding the format and methods for this new level of TEF, the second year of pilots and upcoming statutory independent review mean it’s going to be widely discussed for a while yet.

The final design, to be fully implemented from academic year 2019/20 will include the findings of the second pilot and the review.

Whatever the final outcome, the burden of work on institutions is going to be considerable and the results will significantly affect the way potential students choose where they’d like to study.

Is there any way curriculum tools such as Sofia can carry a little of the burden and also help to boost student satisfaction results in advance of these changes?

The move to consistency

Applying a consistent, nationwide measure of excellence is part of a general move towards standardisation in education, giving ‘students as consumers’ the ability to make more informed decisions about their education choices.

Universities that can demonstrate an up-to-date attitude to this – an indication that they’re moving in the same direction as the prevailing wind – is an important signal that they too put students at the heart of their thinking.

Sofia’s powerful curriculum review capability shines a light on every corner of a programme and prompts valuable discussion. By ensuring consistent standards across faculties, it works together with other tools and measures to give students a level playing field.

Grade inflation

Linked to this is the issue of grade inflation. The government has clearly stated that this second pilot will crack down on this trend, with data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealing that 26% of graduates were awarded a first class degree in 2017-18, up from 18% in 2012-13.

TEF assessors will investigate the percentage of firsts and 2:1s and will downgrade a university’s rating if it thinks it’s been excessive. At the same time, other studies are looking into the issue and will put forward recommendations to address it.

Universities that have carried out thorough curriculum reviews are more likely to have that consistency across programmes and faculties. And because Sofia gives external accreditors a better handle on exactly what’s being taught, there’s more evidence to back up the grades given, if they’re challenged.

Subject classification clarity

One of the suggestions that came out of the government review was that some students might not understand how courses are mapped to subjects under the Common Aggregation Hierarchy (CAH2).

Although CAH2 will be more widely used by the time subject-level TEF is introduced, it was suggested that it needs to be made very clear how subject ratings are communicated to students.

Sofia gives students a bird’s eye view of their curriculum, allowing them to track topics and specialities throughout the programme and delve deep into it by slicing it in different ways.

That level of understanding of a curriculum is unprecedented and gives the student the power to really understand how those ratings apply to their courses.

The student voice

TEF’s latest refinements include bolstering the student engagement element in rankings and including two new core metrics from the National Student Survey (NSS) about the ‘student voice’ and ‘learning resources’.

These changes came about from suggestions from student panellists feeding into the government consultation, which also highlighted to the decision-makers how important it is to include student panellists in the TEF assessment process.

With learning resources jumping out as an important factor for students when they’re deciding where to study, Sofia’s student-facing interface gives universities using it a valuable advantage.

Student satisfaction scores are better with this curriculum mapping tool. It links curriculum content to learning outcomes and thanks to Sofia’s graphic display, they can understand even the most complex specialities at a glance.

They can track domains, look ahead to future modules and follow signposts to revision tools. Assessment and revision can be collected into one space – and they can do all this via their existing single sign in. A valuable learning resource to add to the list.

Benchmarking and accreditation

In the consultation, about 66% of respondents agreed with the proposal to retain voluntary declaration of professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRB) accreditation and reference to Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Subject Benchmark Statements in submissions. They felt providers should be able to decide what evidence to include in their submissions.

Respondents recognised that PSRB accreditation is vital in some subjects, it’s not necessary in others.

But in subjects where it’s crucial, Sofia can help by giving external accreditors clearer sight of the curriculum and therefore the university can lend that accreditation with extra confidence.

A bright future

Some respondents were worried that TEF might stifle innovation but Sam Gyimah responded saying TEF ‘is not prescriptive but aims to shine a light on excellent teaching wherever it is found’.

The idea is that the expertise of the panel will mean innovation is spotted and celebrated. Like Sofia, creating a clear picture means the best (and the worst) is easier to spot and either celebrate or amend.

Keeping Everyone Happy