Based on the Ultraversity Project, this collection of patterns identifies the key innovations developed to teach an undergraduate programme of some 300 student researchers, supported entirely online and having collaboration between learners as a central component.
The Essence of the Problem
With learners studying in a diverse range of work-contexts there is a requirements to personalise the learning. A mechanism is required that allows for a negotiation between the University and the student researcher to ensure that the planned learning activities will satisfy university and workplace requirements. The essence of this problem is how to enhance the quality of self-directed, work-focused learning.
The Problem in Detail
In enrolling students onto programmes of study, the University is contractually and morally obliged to develop support mechanisms that give the best chance possible of learner success. The nature of online supported, inquiry-based, work-focused learning requires the development of particular approaches to meet this obligation. There are many parameters within which personalised undergraduate study has to operate consequently module resources and student activities can be underpinned by a high degree of complexity. Particular issues that need to be addressed are:
- variety of interpretations of module requirements by student researchers;
- ethical considerations of planned action-inquiries;
- adequate workplace and university student support is in place to enable student success;
- pace of study will enable timely submission of assessment products.
A learning contract is an agreement between the student researcher and the university detailing the activities that will be undertaken for a particular module. It is a working-document that ensures clarity and alignment of expectations between the student researcher and the University and that the planned learning is authentic, ethically sound and describes an appropriate approach to meet both University and workplace needs.
1. the student resarcher reads the module instruction;
2. online discussions lead by the learning facilitator elaborate the module requirements, clarify expectations, and address issues raised by students;
3. student researchers draft a learning contract and share key elements in their learning set for peer review and critical feedback;
4. student researchers red-draft and improve their proposal;
5. student researchers check that the proposed activities will meet with workplace approval making changes as necessary;
6. final draft of learning contract is shared with learning facilitator who accepts the proposal or advises on necessary revisions.
Nadine is works as a housing officer for a housing association in the West Midlands. She is preparing to study an action-inquiry module and her first stap is to read the module resources. In discussion with her colleagues at work she identifies the handling of the complaints procedures as a potential issue she could explore as it has wider implications for improving practice accross the department. In a community discussion Nadine asked “I am wondering about the boundaries of my inquiry, that is to what extent should it be purly about my own working practices or can I look at the way we handle complaints across the whole department?” a reply from fellow student researcher said “This was an interesting point raised in one of the hotseats. My interpretaion of this is that there are different views as to how inquiries should be framed. But what was clear was that you need to be realistic in what you can achieve withing the contrainst of just one module”. A learning facilitator joins the discussion, “Looking at the practice across your department will be good reconaisance for your inquiry and could provide you with ideas as to how you improve your own practice. When your inquiry is completed you could share your improved practice across the department extending the impact to achieve organisational change.”
With this and other advice Jane constructs her draft learning contract and shares it in her learning set for critical feedback. She comments on fellow student reserachers prposals and incorporates what she has laerned form their comments into her contract. Finally Jane shares her draft learning contract with her learning facilitator who approves it but with just a few minor suggestions about how she might evaluate her action and reminds her to share with her workplace advocate.
Reflection on use
Learning contracts are an essential component of this approach to learning. However, there are challenges about getting student researchers to engage in systematic planning activities in any depth. This is not a particular reflection on the group of student researchers we have worked with, but more about the enthisiasm to get on with concrete tasks that feel rewarding and valuable. In order to address the issue of motivation to plan we have explored potential models that integrate the learning contract into assessment however we have not yet arrived at a satisfactory solution.
1.1 Organise learning places
1.2 Team Teaching
1.3 Exhibition for Dissertation
1.4 Workplace advocate
1.5 Action Learning Set
1.6 Patchwork ‘Media’
1.7 Personalised Learning Contract
1.8 The ‘Hotseat’ expert guest
1.9 Nurture Online Community of Inquiry