Dynamic Curriculum Design: Leaving Space for Students to Live, Love and Learn

I was very honoured to be asked to deliver a keynote presentation for the BLASTER International Symposium at the University of Warwick.

Organised to showcase the work of the Erasmus+ funded BLASTER (Best in Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Expanded and Reinforced) research group of six institutions, the symposium had both student and staff participants from the UK, Slovakia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Germany. The symposium shared the results and outputs of the research group, but also looked at future avenues for exploration and practical ways to promote undergraduate research within the curriculum. As well as representatives from the participating institutions, there were also many attendees from other institutions, showing the reach and relevance of this work to the wider sector. Additionally, while the focus of the work was looking at liberal arts education, there was also room to explore this type of work in other settings, such as my own at Imperial College, where I work to deliver non-disciplinary educational experiences that broaden the standard education of our undergraduates.

My presentation focussed on the integration of both library and empirical research into undergraduate teaching, alongside an exploration of some key skills that drive the ability to  engage with an authentic research mind-set. A fundamental component of this is the ability to recognise the available options, review them and make appropriate choices. For this reason, the Live, Love, Learn approach promotes dynamic curriculum design that allows students to make a significant number of choices about their own learning and work. We discussed how this can be practically integrated into a defined course module (with the example of The World Today, Global Challenges module). We also explored how undergraduate curriculum can be designed to be a ‘safe’ space for students to take risks, make choices – and even make mistakes. Authentic learning is not about making a series of ‘perfect’ choices, it is about exploring the meaning(s) of different choices, seeing what happens for yourself, refining your choices and moving forward a stronger learner.

We also discussed some examples of different skill types that are critical to becoming an independent learner/researcher and how these might be defined in collaboration with students, allowing students to become more reflective and resilient about their own abilities and progress.

Finally we explored how the design of Live, Love, Learn curricula makes the learning and teaching experience explicit – meaning that some exciting, real-time and intensely rich qualitative evaluation can be carried out. I introduced my own ethnography of a particular course, and we reviewed some of the findings (expected, unexpected and otherwise curious). The evaluation is incredibly ‘light-touch’ because of the explicit nature of what is being evaluated, and can therefore easily be integrated into either an action-research cycle to refine the course over successive iterations, or to deliver the dynamic aspects of the course on a session by session basis. Using classroom observation (participant observation) we can tailor the learning experience to each particular cohort as the course progresses – highlighting areas of interest or need for particular students. We try not to carry our own preconceptions of the students into the classroom, but react to the students and their work as they present to us during the sessions and in our online collaboration space.

My slides are below and I would be very happy to discuss any points of interest further – please get in touch. The slides are broken into four sections – there is no significance to this, it is just a file size issue.

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Finally, I would like to thank Professor Cathia Janainati for inviting me to present at this event, and the participants who were very generous in their reception of the presentation and participated in great discussion about the issues that emerged.

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