Top Ten Tips for writing module / programme specification documents

Top ten tips

If you are involved in putting in a proposal for a new module or programme or amending an existing module or programme, you will need to write or update your specification documents. Here are some tips to help you along the way. Well written documents may also help profile raise your programme.

1.  There is a purpose for specification documents. They are intended to provide students and lecturers with a transparent outline of a particular module or programme using a structured, common template. If they are kept up to date, they should be a helpful and time-saving device for all.

2.  We use specification documents at two levels: module level – which provide information about individual modules; programme level – which provide information about full programmes. There are occasions in which programme and module specification documents for a programme need to be amended at the same time.

3.  If you are writing or amending one for the first time, why not contact your Learning Development Centre School Liaison Officer. For the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences, that’s Patrick Baughan (p.baughan@city.ac.uk). Patrick can provide a handbook, examples, advice and help to get your own specification document ready. Help can be offered on a one-to-one basis or as a workshop for larger groups.

4.  If you are writing or changing a specification document, plan ahead. You may need to have your specification document(s) ready for various School and / or University level committees. Try to allow time to write it, get some feedback from your LDC School Liaison Officer, and modify it if necessary.

5.  Make it ‘student facing’. All specification documents now have to be written to the student, as they are primarily intended for the student. Thus, write it to the student in the second person and try to make the document as readable and engaging as possible. As a secondary role, a specification document summarises and sells your module or programme, so writing them well will be beneficial all round.

6.  Keep it up to date. Details including reading lists should be updated regularly. This can be undertaken quickly and easily. Similarly, other changes such as the refinement of an assessment method may mean you need to ‘tweak’ the document.

7.  Understand what the learning outcomes are for.  This is a central part of the document in which you succinctly document: knowledge and understanding; skills; values. A few bullet pointed items under each of these will normally suffice. They capture the key characteristics of your programme or module.

8.  Learning, assessment, feedback: You’ll see from the form that summary explanations are needed about teaching strategies and methods; assessment (how you undertake formative and summative assessment); and feedback. This information is important and valued by students.

9.  Other sections – There are one or two other sections as well, so remember to provide information in response to these. For example, any professional accreditation for the programme and career development opportunities. Don’t leave these blank (as some people have done) as you will be asked to fill them in.

10.  Look at examples: Check out some examples of specifications, ideally in your own school – though it can be helpful to look at examples from other schools too. Again, your School Liaison Officer can provide suggestions.

A case study: Moodle quizzes

Multiple choice question in Moodle quizMoodle’s quiz function allows you to create a range of questions including multiple choice, matching, true/false, short answer and essay formats. They can be an effective tool for formative or summative assessment as questions are saved in a bank to allow you to reuse them, and feedback can be given for each answer.

Dr Victoria Serra-Sastre from City University’s Department of Economics has been using Moodle quizzes with her Masters students and second year undergraduates. In this interview she shares her experience of using this tool.

How often do you set quizzes for students?

I have set quizzes once or twice per term, depending on the module taught. Quizzes on Moodle have been used in addition to other assessment tools like mid-term tests and take-home exercises. I have been using quizzes as the first assessment exercise that students had to face.

How have you done this in the past?

We piloted the use of Moodle for an UG course in second term of academic year 2009/2010. We received the support of the Educational Support Team who helped us through the process of setting up the first quiz. Once the first quiz is designed and uploaded on the system, it proves a very easy tool to use.

Why did you decide to use the Moodle quiz tool?

As I first learned about the online quizzes there were practical reasons to test it. Although the uploading of the questions is time-consuming, once the quiz is set up Moodle will mark it automatically and therefore the time saved on marking outweighs the time taken to post the quiz online.

What feedback have you had from students?

Positive feedback from students. They have access to questions and answers to the quizzes that help them to prepare for mid-term test and for final exams. It is also a very helpful tool as students are required to keep up to date with the material covered during the lectures

Will you continue to use Moodle quizzes in the future?

Yes, I will use them as part of assessed coursework. They are extremely useful and simple to use tools to assess students’ progress. Since I first used a quiz, the functioning of quizzes has been improved and adapted to the needs of students to facilitate their learning process.

What advice would you give to someone who was considering setting a quiz in Moodle?

At first you may require some time to train how to use quizzes but once learned it is a very helpful for students and for lecturers. In case of questions or problems in setting up the quiz lecturers always have the support of Educational Team. Also, Moodle quizzes are quite flexible as to accommodate the different needs of different module types.

Top ten tips for Moodle course design

Top ten tips

Top ten tips

I attended a session on Moodle course design at the MoodleMoot 11 conference. One of the speakers, Michelle Moore, Chief Evangelist for Remote-Learner, gave some excellent dos and don’ts for effective and user-friendly Moodle course design which I have summarised below.

1. Don’t use more than three font styles per page. This includes different font size, colour, style etc. Research has found that it increases the cognitive load for your learners. Ensure you maintain consistency so it’s the message and not the busyness of the page that the learner takes away.

2. Don’t use the course page for content i.e. giving all your course material on the Moodle page using labels etc. Use the course page as a launchpad for links to your course content.

3. Don’t be the one doing all the work! Let students create the glossary, quiz questions etc. Encourage students to participate and collaborate in Moodle, for example by using discussion forums and wikis.

4. Don’t forget the value of the report logs. You can check student usage of Moodle by accessing the reports in the administration block. If you add weblinks to labels in Moodle the activity doesn’t get logged so add links as a resource.

5. Do keep activity names unambiguous and short (also important for Moodle 2 as the breadcrumb trail is more complex).

6. Do use labels to guide students to the activities and resources.

7. Don’t make your course cluttered. You can add line breaks in labels to increase the amount of white space between activities and resources.

8. Do consider simplifying delivery of the material e.g. through using book or lesson.

9. Don’t be afraid to branch out. Pick one new tool and try it out.

10. Do use relevant rss feeds so there is always new content in the module when a student logs in.

If you are a member of Staff from the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences at City University London, please do contact the Education Support Team for guidance and training on any of the above.

esthelp@city.ac.uk