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JISC Cluster C curriculum design baseline reports

Helen Beetham provides feedback on OU, Strathclyde and Ulster baseline reports, 11 November 2009

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Gráinne Conole
11 November 2009

This cloud summarises the discussions at the JISC Curriculum Design Cluster C meeting in Milton Keynes on 11th November 2009. Cluster C consists of:

  • The Open University - JISC-OULDI
  • Strathclyde Univers ity - Principles in Patterns
  • Ulster University - Viewpoints

Cluster C – meeting 11th November 2009

Helen Beetham – Baseline report

  • Has read all three baseline reports and looks for common themes and differences

Questions to focus on

  • What is the state of play of learning design and what are the opportunities for individuals  - what do we have in common and how do we differ?
  • What externally facing outcomes can we bring forward to help other institutions use learning design approaches more effectively
  • Focus of the cluster could be deemed to be around learning design
  • Might want to consider producing a joint report from the cluster
  • Three things
    • Commonalities
    • Differences
    • Outputs
    • A particular approach to curriculum design, based around learning design


  • Curriculum design as a series of linked decisions – design as multidimensional, design as a series of decisions informed by educational theory
  • Focus on pedagogical aspects of those decisions
  • Attempts to ensure learning/pedagogical design is given due importance, time, representation etc within curriculum processes
  • Interest in representation and sharing of good designs
  • The value in 'patterns', 'designs', 'principles' or otherwise abstracted representations of good design practice
  • The specific benefits of visual representations (again this as a research issue as well as an implementation agenda)
  • Institutional restructuring, linked to streamlining/efficiency in curriculum process
  • Interest in points of intersection between institutional policy (or large-scale statements of educational good practice) with the pragmatics of design – how are they mutually informed?
  • Developing practical design tools that are integrated into current curriculum processes
  • Ensuring information, advice and guidance about design practice are available and useable at key decision points.
  • A clear differentiation of issues at task, module and programme level (see e.g. PiP's tables)
  • Thesis that a focus on learning tasks would support a more learning-centred design process (focus on what learners will actually be doing as they learn will enhance the learning experience).
  • An interest in actual design practice as a research issue (see OU table of design representations from baseline report)

Questions for discussion

Do we have an overarching theory or research question?

Do we have an over-riding priority for institutional development?

Do we have a shared vision of what success looks like?


  • Perhaps we need to have a more clearly articulated vision for the work of each project and over
  • Interest in learning and teaching and how learning design can improved that
  • Have to accept that this is multi-levelled and need to take account of the different aspects
  • Also about the mapping out the approval process shifts the emphasis to design decisions.
  • What is the state of play of learning design as we understand it – in reality in most institutions its around approval and it’s a more administrative process than pedagogically driven. The real design is a software more tacit process
  • Is learning design a noun or a verb?
  • What does a good pattern look like that others can copy – LD as noun and then there is a the practice of using it , the process/practice of design - LD as a verb
  • There are lots of uses of the word tacit in the reports which point to this type of behaviour
  • There are lots of different interpretations of learning design
  • Is there a thing as a unified entity that is being represented in different ways or are there simply multiple representations?
  • There may be difference amongst the projects in terms of how designs get represented and shared?
  • The common problem: there is a mismatch between the formal and informal aspects of design or the business /educational aspects of design.
  • Informal/educational designs are fairly poorly represented. A lot of innovation may go on under the institutional radar. One solution is to say this is ok, educational design is tacit and professional. Would be good to represent the informal design more clearly and then share that.
  • Representing the process may be problematic, whereas capturing the output would be good.
  • Stakeholders are being asked to make decisions on the pedagogical validity of courses where they don’t have any details to help them do that
  • Research interests of the cluster are about how you represent designs and how you share them? Viewpoints projects tools are a way to do that, PiP’s thinking about the process teachers go through.
  • There is no similar process for different course teams and development
  • Output from the cluster – describing the educational thinking would be really useful
  • Our view as a cluster is that the process of educational design is to be principles rather than constrained 


  • Different institutional missions and priorities (obviously), e.g. Strathclyde: technology, research mission, links to business and local communities, international recruiting profile, Ulster: flexibility, innovation, creativity in curriculum design; coordinated first-year experience; Somewhat different focus for transformation arising from these differences, e.g. Strathclyde: assessment and feedback; Ulster: first-year programme design; The OU would seem to provide a unique case, for several reasons many deriving from the integral role of technology in managing distributed course teams, centralised control, and the sheer economies of scale. Though interesting that the 'reflections' at the end of the report record similar problems to other institutions e.g. version control, over-complexity, lack of ownership of parts of the process
  • However, I'm interested that the OU has been particularly successful at developing a quality enhancement approach that brings together business-related factors  (opportunity review and the business case) with academic questions (learning outcomes, teaching and assessment strategy), within a policy framework (OU Futures), with reference also to educational research/evidence base. The OU curriculum strategy also requires all staff to have or develop skills in teaching online and in learning design. Could these approaches be replicated in other institutions? What would that look like
  • Issue of design(er)’s ‘distance’ from the learning event: how far is it helpful to understand design as a distinct process from the implementation and enactment of the learning activity?
  • Question: what is the real value of case studies to designers? OU and Strathclyde staff have reservations: what kinds of representation are accessible, 'trusted', pragmatically actionable? There are different views in terms of the value of case studies
  • Changing roles – there are some tensions and differences between projects
  • How is educational thinking represented to students?
  • What is the role of designers and how much are they embedded?


  • Are our projects different parts of the same picture – is there a bigger picture about learning design that the projects are addressing different aspects of?
  • Or are there tensions and issues within our overall theory/vision, which it might be productive to explore through the different projects trajectories?
  • There are differences given the missions, but underneath there is a lot of similarities. All the clusters reference the learning and teaching strategies and similar terms such as enhancing the student experience
  • Distance can both be about physical distance and temporal. Design for a year later will be very different. Also distance in terms of involvement – designers who may be little involved in the actual running of the course.  People delivering courses are interested in how to actually instantiate at the task level, they are having to interpret the designers intentions
  • There is an interesting issue in terms of how much the academic is the actual designer?
  • Can technology collapse some of the distances of time, space and role that occur in the design process? One of the other projects is looking at use of the e-portfolio system, Mahara
  • Are there ways in which aspects of the design can be left open? How might this be represented
  • Gap between those who design and choose the resources and those who teach
  • Actually exciting to think about the idea of thinking ‘distance from the learner’ rather than ‘learner-centred’ as an either/or, how far from the learner are decisions about design being made
  • What is it that each stakeholder will need from each of the different representations
  • We need a small number of killer questions that get to the heat of the course team’s educational thinking. Are there diagnostic of an educational design team need to think. Strathclyde 12 principles for assessment.
  • Question of value – how you address that? Difference between immediate and longer term value
  • There are a different set of value representations/ways of sharing practice – need to identify this, see when they are useful and by whom
  • Purpose and solution “I want case studies’”- actually means “I want to be told what to do” People are looking for specific things for a specific purpose. Parallel with students wanted ‘worked example’
  • Mod4L project did a lot of work looking at different forms of presentation in an earlier JISC project

Key outputs suitable for external communication

  • Strathclyde's design 'tables' (pp 17-21 of baseline report)
  • Strathclyde's REAP assessment and feedback principles
  • OULDI's guidelines on various aspects of learning design
  • OU business models: OU classic, Wraparound, Brought-in, Disaggregated Assets (Learning Objects), Empty-box and web 2.0.
  • OU survey of staff attitudes to use of technology, to visualisation of the curriculum, and to current design practices/representations (of general interest – though unclear how OU-centric these attitudes are)
  • Viewpoints diagrams (process framework, reference information, process support, and outputs), anonymised, for a range of curriculum design processes – x-ref with Strathclyde's 'tables'???
  • Notion of a 'complex gateway' (Strathclyde) and a 'stage gate' (OU) – useful for thinking about the design process? Can we define some of these in inter-institutional terms?
  • Analysis, evaluation and other representations (walk throughs, guidelines etc) relating to specific applications e.g. cloudworks, compendium LD, viewpoints course tools

What else is there?

  • What are credible indicators of transformation in the direction of the articulated vision, this evidence will be a highly values outcome!
  • What other types of outcome will be valued by our own and other institutions?
  • What could we be producing now to articulate the vision beyond this cluster

Extra content

Moderator (Peter Bullen): we are going to start - Grainne is introducing th e session

Moderator (Peter Bullen): yes fine

Moderator (Peter Bullen): not everyone has seen the reports

Moderator (HelenB): I think the focus on activity and learner-centredness rather than on tasks may be the key thing.

Moderator (HelenB): I am taking my own notes and will feed back to you later.

Moderator (HelenB): How do I signal to you that I'd like to speak??

Moderator (HelenB): So we need to capture the educational rationale for design decisions more clearly.

Moderator (HelenB): We need to capture and share 'educational thinking'??

Moderator (HelenB): The cluster wants the process of educational design to be 'principled' rather than 'constrained'??

Moderator (HelenB): Temporal distance is a really interesting one - most modules take from 1-4 yrs from design to delivery (finding of the baseline reports). What does that mean for educational relevance?

Moderator (HelenB): Can technology collapse some of the distances of time, space and role that occur in the design process?

Moderator (HelenB): I am actually quite excited about the idea of thinking 'distance from the learner' rather than 'learner-centred' as an either/or.

Moderator (HelenB): I missed a lot of that - can someone repeat it for me?

Moderator (HelenB): We need a small number of 'killer' questions that get to the heart of the course team's educational thinking.

Moderator (HelenB): I seem to have lost sound

Moderator (HelenB): Great session, thanks for a good discussion and I will circulate my notes. Also really look forward to hearing your thoughts about this last slide. H

Rebecca Galley
14:49 on 11 November 2009

Embedded Content


Gráinne Conole
3:12pm 11 November 2009

Great session - thanks to Helen Beetham for a very insightful overview of our baseline reports.

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