It has been the biggest change to the University’s curriculum in three generations – an enrichment programme that has moved the institution to a semester system and created new modules designed to better immerse students in their studies.
“What we’ve been working towards is the creation of a more immersive and inclusive learning environment for our students,” says Professor Pauline Kneale, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, of the fundamental curriculum changes rolled out across the University at the start of the academic year. “It’s about helping them to adopt good study habits, and to really engage them with the University, their course, and their colleagues.”
The move to a semester system means the University will use the summer term more effectively, with assessments spread more evenly across the year, and crucially, earlier assessments as well. Then there’s the introduction of an intensive four-week module to immerse new students in their course and university life. And at the start of the second semester, those first-year students will work with contemporaries from other courses through the ‘Plymouth Plus’ module, which will use problem-based learning to work on practical, real-world issues.
As with any change of this magnitude – the first of its kind for 30 years – it has not come without its challenges, but as Debby Cotton, Professor of Higher Education Pedagogy, says, with the Teaching Excellence Framework on the horizon, it has been crucial that the University has been proactive in implementing new methods that will address not only teaching quality, but student support, satisfaction and retention.
“The enrichment programme has at its core a focus on reducing that element of confusion for undergraduates,” she says. “If you have 12 different modules all starting at once, with no assessment until June, then it’s perfectly understandable that students might struggle in those formative weeks. By intensifying the experience, it helps students see ‘how to learn in higher education’ and make that transition from the school environment.
“And that’s especially true for those students who come from international or widening participation backgrounds. From the feedback we have received, especially from those who came through the pilot phase last year, it’s having a major impact on the way students live and learn at Plymouth.”