Norwich University College of the Arts

Selected Units

At Norwich University Colleges of the Arts (NUCA) four existing course units have provided a stable platform for adjusting learning, teaching and assessment strategies to offer increased opportunities for all learners to engage with an inclusive agenda for learning.

What has happened at NUCA so far?

Year 1: 2007 - 2008

  • BA (Hons) elective Critical Studies unit, Level 1 - Clothing Cultures
    Unit Leader: Felicity Booth

  • Year 2: 2008 - 2009

  • BA (Hons) Textiles, dedicated Critical Studies, Level 1 - Textile Futures
    Unit Leader: Felicity Booth

  • MA elective unit - Career Development in Art and Design
    Unit Leader: Tony Brown

  • FdA/BA (Hons) Games Art and Design, embedded academic writing unit, Level 1
    Unit Leader: Christopher Lowthorpe
  • francishouse_1_full-2-final.jpg

    Institution resources and papers:

    NUCA have developed the follow documents, papers and presentations as part of the InCurriculum project.
    NUCA Assessment Handbook - Key sections [pdf]


    This action research project builds upon the results of the AchieveAbility National Network, as well as research undertaken by NUCA tutors - Felicity Booth, Tony Brown and Christopher Lowthorpe.

    AchieveAbility – one of the underlying questions researchers are addressing on the InCurriculum project is:'Are the recommendations of the AchieveAbility project transferable to HE?’. Detailed information on this project is available on the AchieveAbility page. Based on these recommendations, at NUCA we have been pursuing the following critical questions:
  • Is a strategy for reflective learning a key tool for dynamic learning and formative assessment?

  • How can learning styles theory be use to shape teaching strategies that motivate students and create opportunities for active and deep learning?

  • Do multi-mode assessment methods that recognise diversity, improve opportunities for student attainment while maintaining standards?

  • Academic staff have investigated areas of particular interest to them which stem from their own specialist areas in teaching and research, informed by observation and case studies. Through dialogue and exchange of ideas with the wider InCurriculum team the University College have developed a series of learning and teaching methods which we have called “tools for dynamic learning”.

    NUCA’s contribution to the overall project will be a conceptual and technical ‘tool box’ of ideas that will feed into to curriculum and course design, assessment design, teaching methods (especially the use of innovative IT solutions) and learning materials.

    Research by NUCA InCurriculum tutors is profiled in the following sections. Bibliography [pdf]
    The following two films are examples of the type of information that will be included in the final output for the project. Aimed at tutors, they are helpful hints and ideas for inclusive teaching practice.<

    Screen capture software:
    How screen capture software can be used to encourage students to use 'always-on-learning'.

    FB vid diary 3 - screen capture films from incurriculum on Vimeo.

    Encouraging discussion:
    One idea for encouraging discussion in seminars.

    FB vid diary 4 - encouraging discussion from incurriculum on Vimeo.

    Felicity Booth (Senior Lecturer and InCurriculum Institutional Co-ordinator):

    Research builds upon work undertaken while studying for a PGCE (post-compulsory education). Initially focused upon dyslexia, motivation for the study stemmed from the experience of teaching elective Critical Studies units to groups of students in which up to one fifth of the class might have a SpLD. At NUCA, Critical Studies comprises the compulsory theoretical or critical component of an otherwise studio-based undergraduate degree. The challenges presented by these academic units to SpLD students, who have difficulty learning from a traditional reading-lecture-discussion-based approach to academic teaching, prompted research into methods that might be more conducive to effective learning.

    InCurriculum provided the opportunity to put this theoretical research into action and expand it to include improved learning opportunities for all-ability learners. Initial research suggested that the following aims should be pursued:
    • To maintain staff/student enthusiasm and motivation at the highest possible levels
    • To enable active learning
    • To enable deep learning
    • To develop self awareness in learners of their own learning journey
    • To address all learning styles
    • To reduce anxiety levels in learners and teachers
    • To increase levels of self esteem and self confidence in learners
    • To provide more subject-orientated learning support
    • To continue to take account of the challenges faced by SpLD learners in encountering study skills

    Pilot Units ~ Year 1: Critical Studies unit, Level 1, Elective Option: Clothing Cultures
    This unit was constructed to vary the pace of learning and to move away from routine workshop/lecture and reading-based personal study assignments. The unit included:
    • Developing self-aware learners: Individual Learning Plans; SWOT analysis; learning styles questionnaire
    • Providing resources and materials to accommodate all learning styles – handouts, lecture notes and presentations
    on VLE, film resources
    • Negotiated components/self-directed learning – choice of subjects; choice of essay subjects to encourage active
    • Collaborative learning in workshops – strategies to involve all learning styles
    • Assessment – included a formative and summative assessment with improved feedback opportunities

    Over the course of six weeks, content-led sessions were interspersed with study skills sessions focused on the unit’s assessments (two short essays), with the aim of reducing assessment-related anxiety and improving confidence in learners’ ability to achieve. Through small group work, study skills were also integrated into the content sessions to allow collaborative learning of, for example, note taking and summarising skills. Essay assignments were negotiated to enable students to maintain motivation by writing about subjects they were personally interested in. The tutor also read a draft of each students’ first essay and fed comments back to students in an individual tutorial.

    Year 2 Units: Critical Studies unit, Level 1, Textiles BA: Textiles Futures
    Building on the evaluation of Year 1, the second pilot module radically challenged the established structure of Critical Studies units. The unit aimed to achieve the following:
    • Maintain student motivation by running a dedicated unit where issues discussed were more directly relevant to students’ studio subjects
    • Grow opportunities for developing self-awareness in learners
    • Vary the pace of learning through tasks that encourage deep learning and increase opportunities for active learning
    • Recognise budgetary constraints by reducing tutorial time and assessment time in comparison to Year 1.

    The seven-week unit took the form of two intensive workshop sessions to introduce the subject areas. These consisted of a learning styles quiz, short lectures, discussions, group work and film clips that aimed to stimulate and motivate students giving them sufficient information and direction to embark on a course of self-directed study. The subsequent four sessions were dedicated to peer review of the ongoing patchwork text assignment, and preparation of the group project assignment. Group projects were presented to the whole group in week 7. A reflective text was also required as part of the assessment. The aim of the group project was for students to:
    • Share their individual research for the patchwork text through collaborative work
    • Promote deep learning of the material through actively using their research to build a website, leaflet or similar

    Here are three examples of group project work: leaflet [pdf], postcards [pdf] and the website page opposite.
    Evaluation of this unit is still ongoing, but student focus groups and reflective texts indicate a very positive response to the patchwork text with students planning to adopt a patchwork strategy for future essay assignments. There were mixed reactions to the group work but also acknowledgement that it provided opportunities to effectively learn from each other, develop secure peer working relationships (that reduce anxiety) and enable an active approach to learning.

    Two key observations by the tutor include:
    • Student enthusiasm for the subject matter contributed to high levels of motivation for self directed learning
    • Linking content and assessment throughout the course seemed to contribute to good attendance rates and high
    levels of engagement during workshops.
    Tony Brown(Course Leader, MA Managing Creative Enterprise, NUCA)

    This unit provides an opportunity for MA students from any discipline to focus on how they will project themselves and their work with a view to sustaining the opportunity to undertake/make the sort of work which is important to them.
    It was run as a pilot unit for InCurriculum in the Spring semester 2009 with a cohort of 14 students from five different MA courses. Most participants did not know each other, and at the start of the unit the tutor had little knowledge of a group diverse in terms of learning styles, background, experience, artistic development, ambition, maturity and self-confidence.

    The underlying and explicit intention of the unit is for students to develop greater confidence which grows from and feeds into their ability to articulate that which is valuable and distinctive in their work. This is a marketing exercise which draws on the established practices of marketing communications. On one level, the intention is generic. However, the ‘product’ is in each case unique, made up of the creative work and the aspirations, temperament and insecurities of each individual. The unit offers a set of generic inputs (‘here is a framework you might all usefully apply to promoting yourself and your work’), which is designed to be accessible and applicable to a diverse group.

    Teaching Methods
    In contrast to previous years, text-based content was deliberately minimised with only one reading assignment and approximately five A4 pages of bullet-pointed notes. In addition, students were offered a number of diagnostic or self-assessment tools (mainly self-completion questionnaires). These could be submitted to our Careers Advisor for analysis and/or used by individual students to promote reflection and self-awareness.

    Emphasis was placed on discursive and experiential learning. From the first 10 minutes of contact, students were engaged in various processes of presenting/introducing themselves and their work. Contact time was used as a practical opportunity to explore ways of talking and presenting. As many students/artists are initially uncomfortable in doing this it was important to establish an environment which minimised risk and made equal or fair demands on everyone.

    The student group was generally unselfconscious about Learning Styles. As students on arts-based courses, they reflected some resistance to what they saw as overly ‘academic’ approaches they had experienced elsewhere. One student articulated a view frequently heard by tutors in the context of ‘challenging,’ or ‘theoretical’ texts. She found tackling these was at the same time ‘the most difficult’ part of her MA but in some ways ‘the most rewarding.’
    In general, students were happy to be challenged if they felt that ‘support’ was available either face-to-face or by e-mail from the tutor or on occasions from fellow students and tutors. This desire for support leads to a general, if unoriginal observation that it takes time (i.e. finances) to support the individual needs of diverse students. Student-centred support was found to be valuable in terms of the motivation and achievement of students. However, alternative approaches to tutor time need to be developed to make this approach viable. One avenue might be collaborative learning and (informal) student support networks.

    In order to recognise that different students have different strengths and that there is not ‘one right way’ to develop a career in art and design, an integrated approach to assessment was adopted. This meant that student performance in relation to learning outcomes was assessed in a variety of ways. Evidence was sought that students understood and were able to put into practice appropriate methods for planning and promoting their career aspirations through:
    • contributions in class
    • a planned, timed presentation
    • the collation and commentary on a research or resource portfolio to support presentations
    • a critical review of learning from the unit

    It is recognised that some people excel when standing in front of an audience, but others feel inhibited or intimidated. The variety of assessed elements (in the course) was designed to give all students, whatever their natural strengths, the best opportunity to do justice to the quality of their work.

    Responses from two interviews and a group discussion with five other participants endorsed the learning and assessment process in terms of learning opportunities and outcomes. Confidence levels have improved significantly and participants agreed that all MA (and perhaps all undergraduate) students should have access to learning opportunities of this kind. At the suggestion of these respondents, a similar process is planned for next year.
    Chris Lowthorpe (Tutor, FdA Games Art and Design, NUCA):

    Work with InCurriculum during the Spring 2009 semester focused on making the classroom a more open, inclusive, and participatory space for all students, especially for those learners with SpLDs. The entry profile for many students on FdA/BA Games Art and Design means there are often relatively high numbers with SpLDs - many undiscovered - and these students have traditionally struggled with Critical Studies units. Introducing the project and conducting Learning Style quizzes in class and on-line created a space for discussion of learning-related issues whilst also encouraging students with suspected SpLDs to seek support.

    In class, the sessions have become more focused upon key introductory content coupled with increased student participation, and there are plans to increase this element in 2009/10. Perhaps the most important and successful innovations have been the introduction of multiple assessment models governed by global learning aims and outcomes - particularly blogs - and the utilization of Social Networks to provide 'always on' learning support from myself and between students themselves. These have been embraced by students; the blogs have been especially popular, particularly with SpLD students who enjoy the non-linear nature of organization and assignment submission. This growth of an informal peer-to-peer learning and support network/culture has also been encouraging. In addition, custom-built websites that employ a more graphical user interface than the University College's current text-heavy Moodle system to hold lesson and unit content have been well received by students. Students have been able to download content from these websites and communicate on them through a central blog.

    The plan for 2009-10 is to expand innovations that make the classroom a more participatory space, and 'always-on' learning through utilizing current Web 2.0 technologies augmented by new applications as they come on-line. Sessions will resemble lectures less and will develop into guided participatory explorations of subject areas. Feedback will be downloadable from an on-line hub in video form, and iTunes U will be utilised if authorised. The experience of this semester demonstrates that thoughtful deployment of new technologies is a new and exciting methodology in creating an inclusive and successful classroom; one that emphasises excellent pedagogical practice, empowers all students to achieve their potential, and aids student retention.

    Evaluation of this unit is ongoing. However, assessment has produced a 100% pass rate with some with SpLD students, who failed marginally at the last assessment point, achieving substantially improved marks. Student feedback has identified 'the freedom to chose' from submission range of assessment modes as key in this improvement, and in particular the introduction of the blogs.

    The following addresses contain example student blogs. Some of the students have SpLDs.