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 ( 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 Guide to Writing Feedback for Undergraduates: By Academics and Students

Top ten tips

I ran a session at the LDC conference last week called ‘an undergraduate guide to feedback’.  I showed a few of the different ways in which we deliver feedback to students in the School of  Social Sciences.  This included using Wiki’s for continuous feedback, using the quiz tool in moodle to deliver operational feedback to students, and paying PhD students to write a guide to feedback for undergraduates with the purpose of providing students with a clearer idea of what we expect them to do with their feedback, and PhD students a more comprehensive idea of the types of feedback they should be giving undergraduates when they are marking.

I then opened the topic up to the floor for debate, first we discussed the different types of feedback that others were using in their Schools, and this ranged from using video and audio to providing group feedback for assignments.

We also had some students in the audience so I asked them to think of the most useful and productive feedback they had received as students and they came up with the following list of feedback preferences:

  • General points delivered to the entire class before they received their grade
  • Feedback that is delivered electronically as they often have difficulties deciphering handwriting
  • Lessons learned from previous years students
  • The option to discuss feedback with a tutor or module leader specifically in the first year
  • Voice recording (Audio Feedback)

We then moved the session on to try and write a series of tips for academic staff writing feedback for undergraduates.  The audience was made up of Academics, Support Staff and Students who all helped input into the following list of tips/ideas:

  • Consider giving general feedback across the class before grades are released so students engage.
  • Stay away from Jargon and ensure students understand the language you are using i.e. critical discussion
  • Criteria specific – link your feedback to your assessment criteria
  • Don’t hand write – consider electronic feedback (moodle?) or typed cover sheets, students have problems with handwriting.
  • All feedback needs to be appropriate to the type of assessment – one size does not fit all!
  • Suggest solutions, don’t just point out errors!
  • Make sure you let the students know when you are giving feedback – flag it as feedback!
  • Be creative consider audio, peer assessment and other innovative forms of  feedback.

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.