Module level design
Structuring a module
While many lecturers will be involved in designing and developing entire programmes, many more will find themselves responsible for individual modules. As always, taking a holistic approach to design, keeping your end point in sight, will help you to avoid getting lost in the detail.
Below is a staged process you might use to work systematically through each element of module design, adapted from the ABC approach to learning design, developed at University College London. This approach draws on the idea of constructive alignment to ensure that intended learning outcomes, assessment and teaching and learning activities are all aligned and working to the same end.
1a. The Steps Involved in the Module Design Process
1b. Considering External and Internal Factors in Module Design
Course Design Process (Stefani 2008:51)
2. The Steps Involved in Designing Your Module
2a. Write your module description
- Use the information you already have (programme info, module approval form etc)
- Consider the module as a whole.
- Place it in context: how does it relate to other modules in the programme? What are its unique features?
- Try to describe it without including any of the words in the module title
- Keep it brief (no longer than a tweet!)
2b. Decide on the learning mix
- Students will need to engage in different types of learning throughout their programme. What types will your module need to include?
- Reviewing the module’s aims and learning outcomes to ensure they are constructively aligned will help you decide on what types of learning to prioritise.
- Useful tools to help with this include Laurillard’s six learning types, and Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning
2c. Decide on the learning sequence
- What types of learning will students need to do, and when? How often?
- Which learning methods will need more or less emphasis?
- Think in broad terms here – don’t try to map out specific activities yet.
2d. Decide on learning activities
- What activities will be best for each different type of learning?
- When will you use face-to-face activities?
- When will digital activities work best?
2e. Decide on assessments
- You should already have some ideas here – especially if you have already received initial approval to develop and deliver the module.
- What formative and what summative assessments will students undertake?
- Which of the learning activities you’ve decided upon will have assessments attached to them?
- How will you integrate feedback and feedforward?
- For more ideas, see Assessment and Feedback: the essentials.
2f. Create a timeline
- Collate all the activities that students – and you – will undertake during the module
- Structure them into a timeline, broken down by each week of the module, with clear categories for each type of activity
- Use the timeline to create module information for students (such as a module guide or handbook), structure the associated VLE course, and produce planning documentation that everyone involved in delivering the module can use
2g. Develop content
- Now you can write the week-by-week content, populate your VLE course, and develop the specific details of each learning activity and any wraparound support and resources your students might need.
3. Who Else Can Assist and Contribute to the Design and Development Process
- Get advice on how to incorporate digital learning activities and managing online assessment and how to meaningfully design with these in mind from the QMUL elearning team
Book an appointment with a QM Academy teaching specialist for support with the practicalities of curriculum design – even if you simply need a sounding board for an idea that’s already well-developed.
- Work through the process systematically – if possible, get started while you’re also working through getting formal approval for your module.
- Bring together everyone involved in delivering the module to input into the design.
- Try not to think in terms of module chronology. It can be easy – and tempting – to fall into the trap of planning and writing content in the order you’ll be delivering it. Keep in mind your holistic overview – start broad, and gradually map out the module in increasing depth. Even if you’re up against it when it does come to writing session content, a clear overview, broad plan and mapped out timeline will help you to stay on track.
4. Points to Reflect on as you Design your Module
- Don’t front load all of your skills support. Students can be easily overwhelmed by too much information. They need time and space to absorb, reflect and consolidate their understanding.
- If using Turnitin for marking assignments, use QuickMarks to provide specific skills feedback and signposting to additional services and support if needed.
- As a programme or module team, consciously map out the ‘skills mix’ for the course: which elements might you include as credit-bearing or 0-credit taught activity? Will you incorporate one-off events? How will you build in support for students to take up relevant extracurricular activities? What activities take place at each level of study?
- Incorporate skills acquisition and development into programme, module and level learning outcomes to ensure they form an integral part of the course and are taught, supported and assessed accordingly. You may find the QAA's FHEQ descriptors useful for this.
- Build assessment literacy activities into the course. Tasks such as peer assessment and peer critiquing, and activities that ask students to ‘unpick’ marking criteria can aid understanding of assessment but also promote students developing explicit awareness of the skills and attributes they will be developing in their curriculum, and how these integrate with other aspects of their programme.
- ‘Authentic’ and applied learning activities allow students simultaneously to engage deeply with course content and develop graduate attributes. These often involve external partners and stakeholders.
- When designing your course, try to integrate iterative opportunities for students to develop reflective skills, and articulate their learning, progress and skills development. Students’ ability to reflect will vary greatly according to discipline, educational background, past experience and personal circumstances or need – many will need structured support in understanding what reflection means, how to do it effectively, and how it can aid them in their continuation along the academic journey.
5. Student engagement in Module Design
Students can be powerful contributors to the design of your curriculum (Students as Partners; Students as Co-Creators).
The diagram below illustrates four stages of student engagement: Consultation, Involvement, Participation and Partnership.
Taken from: Curriculum Design - The Essentials. The University of Sheffield, ELEVATE, Learning and Teaching Essentials. Accessed
from:https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/staff/elevate/essentials/curriculum-design-3 Accessed on 20th April 2021.
Each stage of engagement involves increasing time and planning on your part, and greater levels of involvement from students, with consultation being relatively undemanding. Cultivating, maintaining and making good use of partnerships can be complex and time-consuming, but the effort can be worth making. Seeing programmes from a student perspective is a key part of taking a programme level approach and developing meaningful partnerships between departments and students is a vital part of this.
‘Student engagement’ can have many meanings – delivering engaging learning, teaching and assessment activities, providing opportunities for subject-based research and inquiry and involvement in the scholarship of learning and teaching (SoTL), and involving students directly in curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy (Healey, Flint & Harrington 2014).
Curriculum Design - The Essentials. The University of Sheffield, ELEVATE, Learning and Teaching Essentials. Accessed from: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/staff/elevate/essentials/curriculum-design-3 Accessed on 20th April 2021.
Healey, M., Flint, A. & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: HEA. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/engagement-through-partnership-students-partners-learningand-teaching-higher-education
Stefani, L. (2008), ‘Planning teaching and learning’, in Heather Fry, Steve Ketteridge, and Stephanie Marshall (eds.), A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education, London, New York: Routledge: 40-57.