Thames Valley University - LLIDA
Outcomes and outputs from the Jisc LLiDA project on Learning Literacies in a Digital Age led by Glasgow Caledonian University
digital literacy, learning literacy, digital capability, literacy frameworks, learning, higher education, further education
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Thames Valley University

‘We get it wrong – this helps us fix it’

(Quote from a student)

Type of snapshot

  • policy or strategy for learning literacies
  • provision in the curriculum: skills/literacies addressed in topic module
  • learner-led’ provision, e.g. formal and informal mentoring, buddying, skills sharing

What was the context for this snapshot?

Project BL4ACE (JISC fuded) has re-purposed learning objects into an existing module to specifically underpin learning literacy development. The module has demonstrated improvement and accelerated learning gain of students in skill areas of academic competence and critical enquiry. The module selected is an enquiry-based module where current research of student success shows significant student learning gains. Based on research findings and in response to student feedback, tutors elected to extend support for students’ activity through strengthening the scaffolding for learning through the introduction of learning objects. We were in a position to undertake this work due to a particular learning strategy deployed and evaluated within the selected module, delivered across three subject areas.

What kind of learners were involved in accessing this provision or support?

Originally delivered to JACS M Law Level 3 of a four year Law course (12) JACS N Business and Administrative Studies Level 3 of a four year BA Business Studies and BA Accountancy courses it additionally served from September 2008, JACS B Subjects allied to Medicine; currently delivered as a level 4 module (Systems and Scientific Thinking) for students enrolled on the Pre-medical Option and three science BSc (Hons) programmes (Human Sciences, Forensic Science, Health and Exercise) as Learning Skills Support.

What skills or literacies were particularly being addressed?

Students are placed in a ‘Learning Development Pathway’ (LDP) made up of two distinct components. Firstly; engagement with a strategy to ensure that on completion of the taught component learners are able to address a given question and produce within a two week timeframe a 1,500 word essay which conforms to all requirements of the course teams’ definition of academic competence for essay writing. Secondly and an equally important aspect of the LDP is students being supported in recognising they are becoming members of an academic community with expectations of them.

Embedding learning-objects across the whole learning design requires coverage of each academic competence e.g. literature search, Harvard referencing, etc. The design links each enquiry-based formative learning activity to learning objects from JISC and other sourced materials supporting each of the three Subject/curriculum contexts thus differentially scaffolding student content experience and learning.

Who provided the support? How was support provided?

In the original learning design an assumption was made that students should be taught the required ‘learning how to learn’ skills through a structured approach (Harvey and Knight 1996). We recognised our academic world as a complex and connected activity system (Cole 2005) which we should make visible for our students at point of entry. Using Vygotsky’s ‘zone of proximal development’ (Cole 2005) to inform our curriculum design, critical academic competence activity is made explicit and practised by the learner. This strategy is delivered through a transparent, shared and jointly tutor/student owned Learning Development Pathway (LDP) delivered in a core, assessed module taken by all students on the course.

In their first semester students enter the LDP, designed to ensure effective engagement and deep learning of skills required to underpin critical enquiry and effective academic writing. Students are introduced to a critical skill that they are required to deploy independently within a subject based activity. The activities are linked and developmental. Students are supported to a level of deep understanding through timely and appropriate educational interventions given by the tutor and peers as formative feedback. Students are challenged on superficial and weak learning habits and required to re-deploy the critical skills in a new activity. Previous findings indicated that while students understood these critical skills at the time of explanation, they faced challenges in subsequent independent applications. RLOs were introduced as a mechanism for addressing this problem.

The LDP assumes that linked technical skills underpin an ability to identify the relationship between procedural and declarative knowledge and to undertake the cognitive shift to conditional and functioning knowledge (Biggs 2003). The acquisition of academic competence does not necessarily guarantee an ability to critically enquire, however, the lack of certain technical and process skills and an understanding of the links between them will seriously impede progress and ability. The repeated developmental activities build links between key academic competencies, and thus encourage deep learning.

Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Berkshire: Open University Press 2nd Ed.

Cole, M. (2005). Putting Culture in the middle. In Daniels, H. ed. An Introduction to Vygotsky. 2nd Ed., Routledge, London.

Harvey, L & Knight, P. (1996). Transforming Higher Education. SRHE/Open University Press, Buckingham.

Benefits, outcomes, and lessons learned

The assessment strategy took three years of development, evaluation and adjusting to ensure that the learners complete all the sequential learning literacies. Research evidence shows to date that student who participate in only some of the learning activities miss out on important skills that underpin successful engagement with the subject curriculum. If adopting and adapting the module learning strategy it is important to ensure the completion of formative assessment acts as a prerequisite to submission of the final summative portfolio of evidence.

Learner-led provision, Policy or Strategy for Learning Literacies, Provision in the curriculum – topic module
academic literacies, assessed, business studies, health, higher education, law, science, undergraduate students