“Connected Curricula”: Connecting students, staff and employers together for shaping the future of learning

We recently ran two workshops at ALT-C 2015 in Manchester, entitled:

…. which drew on our “Technology for employability” study as well as two other Jisc-funded projects:

  • Auto Share & Learn: the development of an online Portal to support Jaguar Land Rover and its supply network companies to improve collaboration in skills development supported by educational providers.
  • Change Agents’ Network: activities to extend staff-student partnerships and students as change agents’ initiatives to include employers (see can.jiscinolve.org).

A key theme that we explored in the workshops is the idea of the “connected curricula” which builds on a range of approaches such as UCL’s “Connected Curriculum” initiative, the University of Greenwich “Greenwich Connect” initiative and David Nicol’s principles of good assessment and feedback.

We believe that there are three essential elements for “connected curricula”:

  • T-Profile curricula (for a digital world)
  • Employer engagement (including digital engagement)
  • Assessment for learning (discipline and employability)

… which, if implemented appropriately, will lead to digitally literate students capable of:

  • Self-directed learning
  • Self-regulated learning
  • Self-directed employability

Our “Technology for employability” study details 20 case studies, many of which support this idea of the “connected curricula”.  For example, the University of Edinburgh’s Student-Led Individually Created Courses (SLICCs) exemplify such connected curricula approaches through employer engagement and including employability in learning outcomes (typically at the programme level) and in both formative and summative assessment and feedback. Another example of such integration is Manchester Metropolitan University’s “Employability Curriculum Framework”.

T-Profile curricula (for a digital world)

T-profileCombining employability with discipline learning in learning outcomes and assessment is often metaphorically described as a “T-profile” where the vertical bar represents depth of discipline learning and the horizontal bar represents a broad range of employability capabilities that loosely defines the degree of student flexibility and adaptability.

Our studies have revealed that institutions interpret “employability” in many different ways so we have created the following map of what a “generic employable student” might look like – bringing together a range of views from different education and employer bodies.

Employable student V2 for report

(click on the map to view it in high resolution)

The map does not include digital literacy/IT skills – it is our thesis that these should be integral to / embedded within each of the map elements e.g. digital skills to support team-working should be articulated in terms of team-working skills, experience, expertise and practices.

Assessment for learning (discipline and employability)

As well as embedding employability into learning outcomes and assessment, the idea of “connected curricula” is predicated on “assessment for learning” approaches, which typically feature:

  • Re-balancing assessment to place greater emphasis on formative assessment.
  • Longitudinal approaches throughout a programme to formative and summative assessment.
  • Students expressing the assessment criteria in their own language.
  • Strong emphasis on dialogue and action on feedback (& follow-through of actions on feedback).
  • Inclusion of self-assessment and peer assessment/feedback approaches.
  • Adoption of “principles of good assessment and feedback” (see Jisc Assessment and feedback principles overview).


The “connected curricula” concept is highly predicated on programme-wide (longitudinal) approaches to student development right from the commencement of a programme (& even pre-induction) and focusing on both discipline and employability learning (“T-profile”). This perhaps reflects the need to re-visit the typical modular programme structure where, in many instances, programmes have become a series of linked modules without too much of a programme wide approach to student development, assessment and feedback that builds on each successive module. Modular structures offer a high degree of flexibility of course, but do not easily support David Nicol’s “principles of good assessment and feedback”.

PDCAStudents are not necessarily effective in reflecting on and expressing their learning and employability skills. A key part of the formative “assessment for learning” cycle is therefore to require students to continually reflect on and express their learning and employability skills throughout a programme as part of formative assessment, and dialogue and action on feedback.

Some VLEs can be used to support longitudinal development e.g. The UCL Institute of Education developed a Moodle plugin to allow listing a student’s submission/feedback history for Moodle and Turnitin assignments. Many VLEs also have an e-portfolio function (though it is unusual for students to be able to access the VLE following graduation). Many institutions choose to use a separate and dedicated e-portfolio tool which is controlled/owned by the students and which is used for planning personal/professional/academic development, recording, evidencing and reflecting on learning/employability and supporting dialogue and engagement of students with a range of stakeholders such as employers, tutors, mentors and peers – all of which is student-centric.

E-portfolios therefore present a highly attractive technology-base to support “connected curricula” and student-centric learning. However, they have yet to achieve their full potential in UK higher and further education as learner-owned learning spaces.

It is therefore our thesis that “connected curricula” approaches are essential for driving forward the use of learner-centric technologies such as e-portfolios in a sustained manner.

Employer engagement (including digital engagement)

Engaging employers in curriculum delivery is a key element of our “connected curricula” concept and this can be achieved in a range of ways e.g.

  • engagementEmployers setting challenges for students (inc student cohorts) to address and collaborating with them in addressing the challenges. FE placements follow this model.
  • Employers and alumni acting as mentors to students and providing feedback on work/learning from an employer perspective.
  • Employer bodies setting sector/profession challenges for students/student cohorts.
  • Staff-student initiatives set-up to offer authentic services to employers e.g. technology consulting, business consulting, media/IT developments. This could even extend to consumer services e.g. the University of Greenwich Virtual Law Clinic.
  • Employers bringing business premises into college buildings and working with students directly.

Our “Technology for employability” study has highlighted the many ways that technology can be used to underpin such collaborations between employers, staff and students, providing considerable efficiencies in working/learning and enabling engagement with a much broader range of employers e.g. globally and including employers other than large companies such as SMEs, voluntary organisations and even supply chains of companies.

Wikis: Student cohorts working with employers to collaboratively develop knowledge bases that help to address real employer issues e.g. business students at Glasgow Caledonian University developing their employability skills through collaborating on problem-solving with employers on real issues

Simulations, games and “real” environments: Creation of online simulations, games and “real” environments (such as workshops, garages) that represent authentic working environments which support students in practising their employability skills and which help to overcome issues such as health and safety and large costs issues of authentic learning e.g. Birmingham City University adopt online simulations and games for development of employability skills in health students.

Specialist systems: Specialist online systems that support engagement between employers, students and the wider community e.g. the University of Greenwich has developed a Virtual Law Clinic e.g. the University of Southampton’s Mission Employable project in Humanities uses a range of social media (e.g. LinkedIn) to connect students with employers and alumni.

VLE, cloud collaboration tools and social media: Use of a variety of online tools to support collaboration, communications, document management and project management for authentic learning experiences.

There are of course, many barriers and challenges involved in implementing connected curricula – we will explore these in a future blog post which will include drawing on the feedback we received at our ALT-C workshops.

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