Developing on-line materials to support progression from FE to HE English Programmes

E-Learning, HE in FE, Student experience, Student recruitment / Retention

blackpoolfyldeThis project forms one of a number of discipline-based projects forming part of the ‘Discipline-focused Learning Technology Enhancement Academy 2010’. The underpinning model for the programme has been informed by successful outcomes from the Academy/JISC Benchmarking and Pathfinder programmes and the Academy’s acclaimed Change Academy to enable project teams to identify how they can maximise the benefits of the use of technology to enhance learning, teaching and assessment in their subject departments.

The English Subject Centre have a second project running as part of this programme in Creative Writing at Bath Spa

Team members

  • Candice Satchwell, Blackpool & the Fylde College
  • Ashley Lister, Blackpool & the Fylde College
  • Michelle Hayward, Blackpool & the Fylde College
  • Eileen Norris, Blackpool & the Fylde College
  • Hilary Thomas, JISC RSC NW representative
  • Anita Dewhurst, student, Blackpool & The Fylde College
  • Critical Friend – Bob Thackeray

English Subject Centre Project contact

Brett Lucas

Project vision, objectives and rationale

Blackpool & The Fylde College has an excellent record in students progressing from FE onto HE programmes incorporating English. The college has delivered a BA (Hons) English Language, Literature and Writing programme for over 10 years, and more recently has developed a BA (Hons) in English: Communications at Work, and a Foundation Degree in Writing and Media Production. All of these courses are validated by Lancaster University.

Many of the students in HE progress from within the college, through the Access to HE programme, or directly from A levels. Others join HE programmes with non-traditional backgrounds and qualifications, after being assessed as having the ability and potential to succeed.

Although the college is clearly successful in encouraging students to progress, there are still issues which present problems in relation to progression, particularly from level 3 to level 4, and from Foundation to Honours level. The team has an understanding of what these issues are, and recognise that the issues are common to many HE in FE institutions. However, the college has not yet developed a comprehensive means of addressing the problems in a practical sense. The vision is for online materials to be developed and made available for students throughout their time at the college, but targeted at problematic transition periods in their learning career. Materials are being written by subject specialists from the college, who have an understanding of the students’ difficulties, supported by teaching and learning specialists and learning technology experts from the college and JISC.

For example, for students who lack an English language/linguistic basis at level 3, we will provide supporting materials to provide a bridge into English language study at level 4. Similarly materials will be developed for those who have studied English language but not English literature, or for those who have not studied Creative Writing previously. For some students this may comprise a compulsory unit to be completed before the course begins; for others it could be an optional revision activity.

Other more generic examples would be practical exercises in recognising and avoiding plagiarism, in referencing correctly, and in other study skills such as constructing essays, developing analytical skills, and research techniques. Some of the generic materials can be made accessible to other subject areas across the college, while subject-specific materials might be shared with other institutions once developed.

The development of these materials will be an investment for the college and will fit with the college’s strategic priorities of developing HE programmes and supporting progression and transition from FE to HE. It will also support the college’s values, the first of which is to “place the learner at the heart of all we do”.

In alignment with HEFCE’s Enhancing Learning and Teaching through the use of Technology strategy, the intervention will improve efficiency in addressing specific problems met by students in a more sustainable and time-effective way; while also improving existing processes by developing materials which specifically address those problems.

The consultancy offered by this project enables the team to develop the most appropriate content along with the most effective modes of delivery, using both technology and other means. For example, some innovations will be based around collaborative working online; while others will be to do with creating alternative means of assessment on the programme itself. The project has begun by carrying out focus groups and other activities with students to ascertain their preferred modes of accessing information, both in relation to college work, and in the rest of their lives. An enhanced understanding of students’ practices, alongside their attitudes and beliefs, will enable us to address the problems students face at critical points of transition in their academic careers in the most effective ways.
The team is currently developing:

  • ‘Taster’ activities in the three areas of English Language, English Literature, and Creative Writing. These activities will be accessible through dedicated web pages.
  • An online activity addressing difficulties in referencing and constructing bibliographies, directly related to the first assignment in Year 1 of the degree.

Later we intend to produce a more substantial bridging programme from level 3 to level 4 in English Literature, English Language and Creative Writing. This will include modules in grammar and syntax, and academic writing style.

Stages of development

At present the college has an understanding of the issues which students have difficulties with. We have begun by refining this understanding through consultation with focus groups of students to identify specific areas which can be addressed through the proposed project. From May 2010 we are researching appropriate modes and content of materials, drawing on existing materials where appropriate. We would expect to have a clear set of materials planned and partly produced by end of June 2010. After that time we hope to pilot some of the materials with existing students, enabling us to refine the design and content, to be ready for full implementation by December 2010.

At stages throughout the project, and particularly on completion, our team member from JISC RSC NW will provide means of dissemination of the work to other colleges and relevant institutions.

The benefit to students

The project is based on the assumption that students would benefit immensely from the provision of materials which can be accessed as and when they are required, but particularly just before embarking on an HE programme. Progression within the college would be improved, and issues which at present are dealt with on a time-consuming one-to-one basis would be addressed more productively through tailored materials which will be made readily accessible.

We do not intend to use online materials as a substitute for the small group face-to-face work which characterises our HE in FE approach, and which we recognise as having a positive learning outcome. Rather, we will complement this approach with the use of online materials which target specific issues which we recognise as recurring in our students’ experience.
The action research project referred to above has found that a critical aspect of student support materials is that they should be available at the time at which it makes most sense to the student. Through liaison with tutors and learning support mechanisms, the relevant modules can be accessed at the time most appropriate to individual students.

At present we have examples of students who have progressed from GCSE in Blackpool & The Fylde College to BA (Hons) English at the same institution. However, we also have examples of students who have failed to overcome obstacles at transition points, meaning that they either delay their progression, or do not progress at all. We expect the project to enhance the experience of students on English courses at the college; the numbers of students progressing from one level to the next; and the standards of achievement at each level.

Support

The HE management team and the Academic Studies school at Blackpool & The Fylde College fully support this project, recognising that the modelling of the process and the implementation of the materials will have longstanding benefits to the students and the college. Team members from the college will be encouraged to convey the knowledge they have gained through participating in the programme to the wider HE in FE sector of the college, and support will be provided to facilitate this. The commitment of the college to progression and transition issues is evidenced by their continued support of the Access to HE programme, which had previously been to enable FE students to progress to other HE institutions, but increasingly now is providing HE students within the college.

The college has recently been involved in an action research project with Health and Child Care students, entitled ‘A collaborative approach to Information Literacy from Level 3 to Level 6’. This project had the aim of investigating information skills needs from Level 3 through to Level 6, and giving students the tools to become independent and information literate lifelong learners. The development of English-based materials would draw on the experience and findings of this project, particularly through the team member Eileen Norris, who took part in the action research and will be released to take part in this project.