Connected Curriculum at the University College of London
by Susannah McGowan
The Connected Curriculum represents the University College of London’s (UCL) values-based approach to connecting its excellent reputation for world-renowned research to educational practices across the institution. European theoretical underpinnings of the initiative emphasize development of dispositions, talents, and character within curricula (Gadamer, 2004; Fairfield, 2012). The emphasis is not only on providing a relevant education; there is also a strong emphasis on citizenship within this global university. This initiative’s intended scope and ambition are significant: UCL enrolls 33,880 students (17,640 undergraduates, 16,240 postgraduates), 840 professors, and approximately 6,000 academic and research staff. The urban, international campus is situated in the heart of London.
The Connected Curriculum initiative will infuse the UCL curricula with research-based practices, meaning the aim of every department is to engage students in some form of inquiry and/or research project. You might find many examples of engaging in disciplinary research scattered throughout UCL; yet this initiative intends to embed undergraduate research in some form in every department by 2021. The Connected Curriculum initiative, designed by Dilly Fung, director for the Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching (UCL CALT), consists of six, interconnected dimensions to support research-based education and showcase the potential for a multitude of connections to be made within and among programs. Each dimension focuses on student learning, putting students at the heart of any curricular endeavor.
|Dimension 1: Students connect with staff (faculty) and their research.||Do their courses and the wider activities and events in their department enable them to meet, learn from and even challenge researchers and scholars?|
|Dimension 2: A throughline of research activity is built into each program of study.||Is there a connective storyline of enquiry, for example in the pattern of learning/research activities and assessments, which helps students to build their own coherent learning narrative through their studies?|
|Dimension 3: Students make connections across subjects and out to the world.||Can students connect outwards from their immediate subject(s) of study and learn to analyse and tackle multi-layered challenges using different ‘knowledge lenses’?|
|Dimension 4: Students connect academic learning with workplace learning.||Can they make and articulate conceptual and practical connections between their academic learning and the lifelong learning needed for employment and for their future lives?|
|Dimension 5: Students learn to produce outputs – assessments directed at an audience.||Are some assessments of student learning outward facing, directed at an identified audience, giving students a voice beyond the class?|
|Dimension 6: Students connect with each other, across phases and with alumni.||Are alumni actively engaged in the learning and research community, for example by enriching the curriculum with their expertise, contributing to mentoring schemes or working with departments to enhance their educational provision?|
Fung, writing in a forthcoming article in CUR Quarterly, states, “‘Good’ education here is about enabling students to develop themselves, both individually and in communities, through dialogue and through active, critical engagement within and across subject fields.” Fung and the Connected Curriculum team pay close attention to making the goals of the Connected Curriculum as clear and jargon-free as possible to ensure its uptake across the 11 different schools within the university. The important connections here are to make the discipline real and relevant for students and connect it to their pursuits beyond the classroom and beyond their studies.
What it looks like in practice
The Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching (CALT) centralizes the initiative’s efforts led by a dedicated team of senior teaching fellows. CALT launched the initiative at the annual Teaching and Learning Conference in 2015 attended by over 500 faculty members. Since then, the Connected Curriculum team created working groups to develop strategies and materials for redesigning curricula through facets such as Liberating the Curriculum (questioning Eurocentric, male-dominated curricula not representing the international student body), Assessment and Feedback (promoting sound methodologies to assess and evaluate connections), and Digital Education (use of appropriate tools for knowledge production).
As the Connected Curriculum centers around student learning, a related but separate program, UCL ChangeMakers, directly solicits students to engage in small-scale research projects to explore issues in education at UCL. Currently, over 20 grants are underway this term such as one graduate student exploring accessibility issues for students in Moodle, the learning management system used at the school. Example of last year’s projects can be found here.
In addition to the internal working groups and ChangeMakers, there is also a series of “master classes” involving external professors coming together to work with students on small-scale enhancement projects on research-based education to promote the emphasis on creating external connections around research. Resulting projects from this series will be featured in an online publication later in the year.
It is still too early to assess the initiative even though evaluation plans are in place to determine the impact and the reach of the project. Yet there is considerable energy and productive collaboration among multiple support units at the university as seen in a meeting earlier this week. The working group – consisting of staff from CALT, the Institute of Education, The Digital Education team, and other departmental representatives – met to develop a benchmarking tool for faculty in departments to determine to what extent they are engaging in the six dimensions of connectivity. Within the space of an hour and half, the group drafted a rubric to chart a continuum for demonstrating evidence of students’ making connections. Further tools and examples of how departments interact with the initiative will be made available on the web site.
This is definitely an initiative to keep an eye on in the next two years.
Fairfield, Paul. (ed.) 2012. Education, Dialogue and Hermeneutics. London: Continnuum-3PL
Fung, Dilly. 2015. UCL Connected Curriculum: A Distinctive Approach to Research-based Education. London UK: University College London Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching. Accessed 03 December, 2015. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/connected-curriculum/CC_Brochure__for_online_viewing_.pdf
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2004. Truth and Method. 2nd revised edition. Translated by J. W. Marshall. London: Continuum.
Featured Image: Wilkins Building, UCL. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Susannah McGowan works as a visiting teaching fellow in the Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching(CALT) at University College London. Most recently, she contributed to a Higher Education Academy (HEA) report on SoTL practices in the UK. Research interests include threshold concepts, SoTL, effective technologies for learning.