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Christopher Douce

Curriculum continued

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A recent blog post I wrote about curriculum highlighted the concepts of programmes and qualifications. This blog post is a continuation of that earlier article, but introduces the various components that makes up a module. 

This article has been written for tutors who might be new to the university, but also might be useful for students too. For those of us who are experienced with OU teaching and learning, much that is presented here will be familiar.

After beginning by introducing some key concepts, I’ll talk through the ‘unboxing’ of four different modules. What is important to remember is that every OU module is slightly different, due to the role it plays with a programme or qualification.

Module components

Every module has an accompanying module website. Some modules will be presented entirely online, which means that all the module materials will need to be accessed through a computer, or a mobile device, such as tablet computer.

Other modules have a module mailing, which means there will be a package of materials that are delivered to students in the post. In some cases, a module mailing will include a number of printed books. These books might include module blocks (I’ll introduce the concept of a block in a moment) and a set of materials that must be read or studied. Sometimes, there might be other resources, such as audio CDs or DVDs, but increasingly audio and visual materials are available through the module website.

Guides

Every module contains three really important guide documents that you should read, and guide students towards:

  • A module guide offer a module specific summary of its most important elements and resources a module contains. 
  • An assessment guide offers a summary of what is assessed, and how it takes place. This can typically be found in the assessment section of the module website, but it can also be sent to you as a separate mailing.
  • An accessibility guide offers guidance for students who might need to access the resources, assessments and resources of the module in different ways.

Module calendar

A really important element of a module is the module calendar which defines the study tempo of the module, highlighting what needs to be studied and when. The module calendar also highlights when the key points of assessments are to take place. The calendar lies at the heart of the module website, and students are also typically sent a copy if it in their module mailings.

Using the module website, students are encouraged to tick off each of their study weeks. In return, they will see how much of a module they have studied, and how much further they have to go. Tutors should, of course, encourage students to regularly refer to their module calendar to make sure they are on track. You could also refer the calendar during tutorials, and within assessment feedback. 

Module books, blocks, and units

Modules are typically divided into blocks. Blocks can be thought of as a significant section of study that addresses a set of related subjects. Blocks contains numbered units, which can be thought of as topics for study.

An OU published book might be an entire OU block, or it might collate a number of related subjects together. For some modules, a block can be thought of approximately 10 points of study, but in other modules, a different structure may be used where chapters (or units) are the dominant component.

Units and chapters contains a number of important elements that tutors need to be aware of. They are typically studied at a particular time, as defined within the module calendar, and typically begin by highlighting a set of learning outcomes. These unit or chapter learning outcomes can, of course, be traced back to module level learning outcomes. It is a good idea to highlight these unit and chapter learning outcomes to students, since they are directly related to assessments.

Units and chapters also contain numbered learning activities. Although these can be easily skipped over by students, these activities are linked to the learning outcomes, and are also implicitly linked to any forthcoming assessments. The aim of the activities is simple: to give students some practice in developing the skills and knowledge that they will need to apply when they get to completing their assessment. Tutors should highlight these activities to students. They may also be useful to mention, and to draw upon, when preparing for tutorials.

Assessments

There are two main assessment components that OU tutors need to be aware of: continual assessment, which takes place during a module presentation, and the examinable component, which takes place towards the end of a module presentation.

Continually assessment takes the form of tutor marked assignments (TMAs) and interactive computer marked assignments (iCMAs). Tutors mark and to provide feedback on student TMAs, and offer help to students who might be stuck on any iCMA questions. Each TMA must be submitted by a student on a fixed date, which is known as a cut-off date. There will be other blogs about what it means to mark TMAs and to provide teaching comments.

The examinable component is either an equivalent of a written exam, or it is something called an End of Module Assessment (EMA). Think of the EMA as an extended assignment, or essay. It differs from a TMA in a few ways: it is longer, it usually accounts for a larger part of the overall module results, and it marked to higher standards than the TMAs. An EMA is typically marked by two tutors.

An OU exam used to be a written exam that took place in a physical examination hall. Due to advances in technology and changes in examination policies, an OU exam is sometimes an assessment you can complete remotely, at a set time, over a set duration.

The key differences between the continually assessed component and the examinable component is that the TMAs are sometimes though as formative assessments (where the assessment is used to facilitate student learning), and the exam bit is a summative assessment (where the assessment is used to determine what has been learnt). 

In the OU, TMAs can be both formative and summative, in the sense that although they are primarily about learning, the results that students gain from completing them also contributes to their overall score.

To pass a module, students need to technically pass both the continually assessed component and the examinable component. Just to add to the richness of this picture, there is also something called the single component assessment (SCA) module, where TMA results and exam results all combine together to form one score at the end. If single component assessment isn’t use, the student’s results is limited to whatever their highest score is across each of those two main components. Typically, the exam scores are slightly lower than the TMA score.

When it comes to module materials, tutors need to be aware of two key documents or resources that are usually found within the module website: the assignment booklet (which is a version of what tutors can see under the assessment bit of the module website), and the assessment handbook. The assignment booklet summarises the TMA, and the assessment handbook tells everyone what the assessment strategy for a module is. 

It is important that tutors know what the assessment approach for their module is, and how it works, since this is something that students will ask about, and this is something that you can mention during an introductory tutorial.

Module website

A module website is accessed through a student’s StudentHome page. The module website presents the module calendar. In turn, this provides clickable links to materials that should be studied and activities that need to be completed. 

The module website is designed to be used alongside any printed materials a student has received. Sometimes there are extra materials on the website that are not in the module materials. The exact balance of what is available online, and what is provided through printed material depends on the module. Typically, the module team uses the module website to share learning materials that are likely to change regularly.

The module website presents five clickable headings: assessment, tutorials, forums, resources and news. There is also a useful search tool which enables students (and tutors) to search for texts and terms that are used, defined and referred to in the module materials. 

Assessment

This takes students (and tutors) to pages where the TMAs and iCMAs are presented. This section also shares any additional supporting materials which students might need to complete the assessment, the module assessment strategy which students need to be aware of, and accompanying academic conduct policies. There is also information about the exam and associated revision materials. Do encourage students to look through this section, paying particular attention to deadlines.

Tutorials

This section is about online tutorials. It serves a couple of purposes. It is the route through which students access online rooms to attend online tutorials. There are different online rooms for different purposes, which will be explained a bit later on. The tutorial section also allows students to watch tutorial recordings. Tutors should encourage students to this page to attend online tutorial, and also to listen to past recordings. There is also a link between this section and the tutorial dates section of a student’s StudentHome page through something called the university Learning Event Management system.

Forums

Forums can be through of an online noticeboard where discussions can take place. The university provided online forums before the emergence of discussion and sharing spaces that are now available on social media platforms. A number of different forums can be found on a module website: there are tutor group forums, module wide forums, and even assessment specific forums. There also may be forums used to facilitate online group work. 

The exact choice and use of the forums will depend on the module team. Tutors should make use of their own forums, and encourage students to subscribe to updates. More about forums will be covered in a later section. 

Resources

The resources section enables students to access the materials that are shared through the module calendar. In addition to module materials, the resources section shares the following:

  • Guides: module guides, accessibility guides and any software guides.
  • For level 1 modules, there might be ‘getting started’ guides. These couple of pages highlight how to login to Student Home, the importance of the module website, and the study calendar.
  • Links to subject or discipline websites.
  • Useful module resources, such as indices and glossaries.
  • Links to online software tools that might be needed as a part of module study.
  • If appropriate to a module, information about how to download software and tools that students might need during their study.

At the time of writing, the module resources page offered two buttons: a download button, and a library resources button. 

The Downloads button takes students to a page where they are able to download learning resources in a number of different formats. There are typically Microsoft Word versions, different types of ePub files (which are used on e-readers), and PDF files. The reason for these formats is simple: in some circumstances, and for some students, some formats work better than others. Word versions, for example, can work well with different types of assistive technologies used by students with disabilities. Tutors should encourage students to use the different formats that are available to them, to find a study approach that meets their needs.

The Library resources page shares a set of articles that have been curated by both the module team and the library. This might include additional reading, such as academic articles, which complements the module materials.

It is worth nothing that glossaries serve a very practical purpose: they share official definitions of concepts and ideas from the module team. If an exam question asks for a definition of a term, the module team is invariably asking a student for a definition which is similar to the one that is defined in the module glossary. 

News

It is important to occasionally review the news section, and also encourage students to do so. It offers mix of helpful announcements from the university, which might be pointers towards university wide study events, and module specific announcements. A module chair and curriculum manager might use the news section to remind students about module wide lectures or tutorials, or to let students know about any issues, such as TMA or module material corrections.

Activity 1

Look through the resources section of your module website. Take a few moments to familiarise yourself with all the resources that can be accessed through the page. Click on the Downloads button. What different filetypes can you identify? How do you think you might make use of these resources with your own teaching? What might you tell students about the different types of resources that are contained within the downloads section? 

Exploring module resources

Each module uses a unique combination of resources and materials. This section takes you through a non-exhaustive list of some of the different types of resources that may be introduced to students through the module guide.

Software

Sometimes students are required to download, install, and use bits of software. For computing modules, this might include programming tools and network simulators. Design students might need to download mind mapping tools which are used to express their design thinking. Students studying electronics might need to download circuit simulation software. There is, of course, an expectation that students will be able to write their assignments using a Microsoft Word compatible word processor and submit them electronically through the eTMA submission system.

Online tools

In many cases the software that students need is available entirely online. Design and Computing students are likely to use something called Open Design Studio, which enables students to share their work with other students as a part of group projects. Computing students may use programming notebooks and reserve time to remotely configure physical networking equipment that is located on campus. Science students will be directed towards online laboratories which are made available through the Open STEM Labs. Depending on what they study, science students may also have access to virtual microscopes.

Library resources

The university library, which is accessed entirely online, is an amazing resource. Through the Library resources link, module teams may direct students to articles that are made available through the library. For arts modules, for instance, students can be directed to video archives, such as Drama Online, where they may access plays and films. Students in computing modules might be directed towards online versions of popular computing textbooks. Through the library, students can also access well known external resources, such as the Oxford English Dictionary. The library also provides access to digital versions of textbooks. If students are encouraged to carry out wider reading, do direct them towards the library.

Readers and other books

Sometimes module teams might collate resources together into a book or booklet, which may be included within a module mailing. The module materials will refer to sections in the reader, and may be used as source materials for assessments. In some cases, a published textbook will play an important role within a module. If this is the case, these textbooks will be sent as a part of the module mailing. It is likely that only certain parts of these textbooks will be used; always be directed by what guidance is offered in the module materials.

Set texts

Some modules need students to buy some additional books. This is typically the case for literature modules, where there is a reading list. Some good advice for students is: don’t buy everything in one go, since the module materials might use some books for one presentation, and a different set of books for another.

Print on demand materials

Different students have different study preferences. In the case where a lots of study materials are provided through a module website some students might be content access material directly through the module website. Other students, however, may much prefer to work with printed versions.

If a printed copy of some module materials is required, students can easily get a printable version of learning materials by clicking on a ‘view as single page’ link, and print out what they need. If someone hasn’t got access to a printer, and would prefer to get a printout of the study materials that are available through the module website, the university provides a ‘print on demand service’ where students can pay an additional fee to get a neatly printed version of the materials that are available through the module website.

Module accessibility

Accessibility is a term that can be understood in different ways; it can be understood in either a practical sense, or a technical sense. 

For a module to be accessible, students must be able to attain the learning aims that are expressed through its learning outcomes. In some cases, students might need additional support or technology to access, participate in, and contribute to learning activities.

Accessibility is a topic all of its own, and will be addressed in another section. Before this is explored in greater depth, it is important to highlight that each module has an accessibility guide. This offers practical (and technical) advice to students. To help students, tutors should also take the time to review the module accessibility guide.

Activity 2

Find the accessibility guide for your module by going to your module website. Is there anything specific to your module? If your module uses software or online tools, what does it say about them, and what elements might you have to help students with? Does the guide highlight different formats of module materials?

Examples

In this section, we look at some modules. Although these modules may be unfamiliar to you, there should be similarities with the modules that you are tutoring.

Example 1: A111 Discovering the arts and humanities

Using a university fee waiver, I studied A111 Discovering the arts and humanities, which has been produced by the Faculty of the Arts and Social Sciences. For students who are studying the humanities, this will be their every first OU module.

A111 is a 60 point module. The point scheme is explained later, but essentially 60 points means that it is worth half a year of full time study, when compared to a face-to-face university. A111 starts once a year, in October.

When opening the module mailing, I found the following items:

  • Quick start guide 
  • Welcome Letter
  • Book 1: Reputations
  • Book 2: Traditions 
  • Book 3: Crossing Boundaries  

The quick start guide is four sides of A4, which has the bold title: Read me first. It mentions the student’s university login code, provides an address to the Student Home website, and highlights the module website. It then goes onto mention many of the elements highlighted in this guide: the module calendar (which is known as a study planner), forums, the assessment guide, learning events (tutorials) and, of course, the role of the tutor.

Rather than being organised in terms of blocks, this module is divided into three sections, each of which relate to each of the published books that have been sent to students. The study is divided into weeks, where students are directed to carry out reading and complete activities to help them to prepare for the tutor marked assessments. During their study, they need to refer to chapters within the book, and the material that accompanies each study week.

Depending on their path through this module, students may need to buy up to three set texts, of which, only a relatively small element of each of the books are needed. During the module, students will be also directed to listen to some audio recordings, and watch some recordings of some plays through a service called Drama Online, which is provided by the university library.

Students need to complete 6 TMAs, which is typical for 60 point modules. Rather than having an end of module assessment (EMA), A111 has something called an emTMA; an end of module tutor marked assessmens. Each TMA, including the emTMA, contributes between 10 and 20% of the overall module result. There are also a series of iCMAs, interactive computer marked assessments. To pass A111 students need to gain a combined score of 40% or over across all the TMAs and must get an overall score of over 50% on the iCMAs.

Students can gain one of three different results from level 1 modules: distinction, pass, or fail. Students are awarded distinctions if they gain an overall score of 85%, but this exact score can vary slightly, depending on whether any statistical adjustments are made to ensure consistency between student groups. Since level 1 modules are all about the development of skills, all a student needs to do to progress to the second level, is to pass A111.

Example 2: TM112 Introduction to Computing & IT 2

TM112 Introduction to computing IT 2 has been produced by the School of Computing and Communication, which is based in the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Unlike A111, TM112 is a 30 point module. Students typically study TM112 after having studied TM111 Introduction to Computing and IT 1, which is also a 30 point module.

Like A111, TM112 students are sent three books. These are imaginatively titled: Block 1, Block 2 and Block 3. These blocks are not named, since this module structured around three repeated themes: essential information technologies, problem solving with Python, and information technologies in the wild, which are featured within each of the block.

The module website is split into weeks. Each week has a summary of online activities. These may involve reading some materials, completing quizzes, or watching video materials. Students may also be directed toward programming tasks and exercises.

Since one of the aims of this module is to introduce students to computer programming, students are provided with some quick start guides to help to get them started. There are also some additional materials to help students who might struggle with numeracy. TM112 tutors should be able to direct students towards these different resources.

Since TM112 is a 30 point module, students need to complete 3 TMAs; one for each block. To pass the module, like A111, students need to get an overall score of at least 40%. The first TMA accounts for 15% of the overall score. TMA 2 accounts for 35% of the overall score, and the final TMA accounts for 50%. An additional complication is that students do need to gain a score of at least 30% in TMA 3 to demonstrate they have met all the module learning outcomes.

Like A111, TM112 uses interactive questions, but uses them in a slightly different way. Unlike the A111 iCMA question results, which feed directly into the module results, students are asked to provide evidence of answering some of the questions in their TMA answers. Also like A111, students can gain the overall results of distinction, pass or fail, from studying TM112.

Example 3: M250 Object-Oriented Java Programming

M250 Objects First with Java is a 30 point second level Computing module. Some students who find their way to M250 have previously studied TM112. Since M250 is a second level module, module results directly contribute to a student’s degree classification. In other words, the scores they gain in this module begin to matter.

M250 students are sent a textbook: Objects First with Java. This book is well known by Java educators and is used in many other universities. Rather than having any OU published books, all the module materials that students need are presented through the module website.

Like the other modules, M250 has a clear study calendar. What differs from other modules is that students are directed to carry out reading and activities from the set text using materials which are known as chapter companions. The companion documents can be through of as an equivalent of an OU lecturer taking students through the bits of the text that they need to be familiar with.

The module and set text makes use of a bit of software called BlueJ, an integrated development environment (IDE) that has been designed for students who are learning the concepts of Java and object-oriented programming. During the course of the module, students will need to spend a lot of time using BlueJ, where they will get to solve programming puzzles and, of course, make mistakes.

The set text makes use of external resources, such as YouTube screen sharing videos, where students are shown how BlueJ and the Java programming language works. The idea is that students should be able to copy what is done in the videos to help them to develop knowledge, skills and understanding. In addition to each of the chapter companions, are required to complete a number of iCMAs. These iCMAs test understanding of key terms, and understanding of concepts that are introduced by the set text chapter, and accompanying chapter companions.

A difference between M250 and other modules is that students can submit bits of programming code to be evaluated by the module website before they officially submit section of their work through a tutor marked TMA. Students can, in turn, get an indication about whether fragments of code are likely to be correct, allowing students to build up their confidence. There are also some resources and guides that are not found in other modules, such as a software guide, and a Java language guide.

Like other modules, M250 applies a single component assessment strategy, which is summarised an M250 Assessment Strategy document which can be found under the assessment bit of the module webiste. The TMAs account for 50% of the overall module result, and the exam accounts for the other 50%. TMA 1 accounts for 15% of the whole module result, TMA 2 accounts for 15%, and TMA 3 accounts for 30%. Students must submit an exam and gain at least 30%, and an average score of 40% overall to pass the module. Curiously, at the time of writing, TMAs are marked out of a score of 150, which is converted to a percentage. The module iCMAs are formative and do not contribute to an overall module result.

Example 4: TM354 Software Engineering

As the module code suggests, TM354 Software Engineering is a level 3 module, which means that it is equivalent to final year study at a brick university. Like other computing modules, TM354 is a 30 point module.

The module is divided into three blocks, which are also printed books. Version of these printed books are also available through the resources section on the module website. The module blocks are organised into sequential themes. The first block is entitled ‘from domain to requirements’, the second ‘from analysis to design’, and the third is called ‘from architecture to product’. Each block is divided neatly into 4 units, or sections.

This module requires students to make use of a programming tool, but one that is different to the one that is used with M250. It also asks students to use something called a ShareSpace, an online tool where students are to share some of their software designs with other students, and comment on the work of others.

Like all the other modules, TM354 has a very clear study calendar, which is divided into weeks. For every week, there is a study guide, which refers students to sections of the printed text, but also guides students towards readings which have been made available by the module team and the library. All the units that are provided within the printed module materials are also available through the module website.

Students need to complete three TMAs, one for each block, and sit an end of module exam. Unlike the other modules mentioned here, TM354 does not use single component assessments. Students need to gain an average of 40% in both the continually assessed components (the TMAs) and the examinable component (the exam). The overall score is limited by the lowest score of these components.

Activity 3

What have you received in your module mailing? Open up your view of the module website and look at the module calendar. Can you see how the different components you find relate to the module calendar? Click on the resources link on the module website, and identify where you can find electronic versions of the module materials.

Activity 4

Find the assessment guide. What are the main assessment components for your module? What contributions do each of these components make? What would you say is the largest component? What does a student have to do to pass the module? Does your module apply a single component assessment strategy? Do your students need to submit their final assessment?

Reflections

This blog is one of a short series that introduces curriculum. Before this one, there was a blog about qualifications, and what these are. I do expect to be writing another one at some point. Eventually I’ll collate all these together into a bigger resource.

I’m always struck by how many resources there are on a module website.

When beginning to teach on a new module, I’m often very strategic in terms of what I look at. I make sure I know what the key dates on the module calendar are. I would then have a good read of the module guide, read through the accessibility guide, and then have a read through the assessments. This will, of course, primes my reading for when I get to the module materials. I also get printouts of these guides so I can scribble on them. A lever arch file is my friend.

As well as there being a module website, which is student facing, every module has a tutor website which is for tutors and the module team. They key elements of the tutor’s website will be the focus of another blog.

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