Clearing up confusion surrounding reforms

As Head of the English Department, I would like to reply to Nouse‘s recent coverage of the curriculum reform taking place in my department.

The fact is, contact time in the English Department has been increased by 136 per cent for first years. Students will be taught in workshops, but they will also get more seminars. In the period modules, where most of the historical coverage is achieved, students will get twice the number of seminars they had in the past.

The confusion arose because the Department had a lively debate on whether the workshop method should be discontinued. The decision to retain workshops was supported unanimously by the student representatives on the Board.

Why did the decision go this way? Unfortunately, we were forced by timing restrictions into considering the issue before workshops had been given a proper trial. The debate was called by staff who haven’t taught many workshops, but an equal number are committed to them (including several who have won university teaching awards) , not just as an economy measure but because they facilitate innovative teaching.

discontinued workshops would have made a significant change

The student representatives agreed with the decision because they felt that that before changing the curriculum already in place, it should be allowed to settle down.

Moreover, if we discontinued workshops we would have made a significant change without having the benefit of the customary end-of-term student evaluations.

Clearly, when news of the decision reached the student press, it touched a raw nerve. Understandably. Students want more contact time. But it would have been far more helpful to the cause of curricular reform if someone had resisted the knee-jerk reaction and looked at the workshop decision in the round.

The Department of English has used the university-wide modularisation exercise to re-shape its Undergraduate degrees profoundly in response to student feedback. Contact time has more than doubled; there is a more varied assessment system, more feedback at crucial stages of the degree; and combined courses have been re-organised to make them more interdisciplinary.

Thanks to a radically improved student representative system there is more direct engagement, and the needs of second and third years are also being taken into account. They will now benefit from lecture programmes; additional tutorials in special modules; an increased number of annotated essays; and more staff open hours.

In short, English has been working extremely hard to address student concerns. It would be nice if the student press got behind this endeavour.

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