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Sustaining curriculum change

Christina Smart
Last modified 19 May, 2010
Published 18 May, 2010
Unlike the political turmoil at Westminster there was an atmosphere of consensus at the Curriculum Delivery Programme meeting in Birmingham last week. The consensus emerging was around how best to sustain and embed project outputs after funding has ended. Here are my reflections from the day.

Sustainability is a perennial problem for JISC funded projects, and as the Curriculum Delivery projects move into their final six months they need to start to consider how to make sure their hard work of the last two years doesn’t get forgotten [1].

It was May last year when I last encountered these projects. At that stage, only a few months into their projects they were base lining activities so they could measure change during the life time of the project [2]. One year on the projects have lots to say about what they’ve done and what they’ve learned.

Lisa Gray, JISC Manager for the programme began by outlining the main aim for the day “to discuss and share good practice around sustainability and embedding and to draw on good examples from previous programmes.” She went on to give a quick update on the recent activities of the e-learning programme including the recent OER phase 2 call.

Project Market Place

The market place activity allowed the 15 projects to showcase their work to each other. There isn’t space here to give details of all the projects, but a couple caught my eye. It was hard to miss Curriculopoly, a curriculum game based on monopoly has been developed at Kingston College and has proved really useful as a way of getting academic staff talking about the options available to them [3]. Dynamic Learning Maps at Newcastle University is gathering course information from institutional systems and representing it as a dynamic searchable map. Using the system it is possible to search across courses to see where particular concepts are being taught across the university [4].

Sustainability examples

Peter Chatterton is one of the critical friends for the programme and he offered his thoughts on sustainability and embedding. Projects should think about people, processes, tools and resources when thinking about embedding he said. Importantly sustainability isn’t necessarily about maintaining all activities but choosing the most important to maintain. He asked projects to find the X-factor that would convince colleagues in the project’s home institutions to adopt their outputs. Thinking more widely “what would the X+ factor be for adoption in the sector as a whole?” Peter asked. Key factors for convincing others were, providing evidence of change, identifying benefits, embedding developments into strategy, finding institutional champions and developing a vision for where you want the project to be in 5 years time.

Funding for the TAG (The Alternative Guide) project at the University of Central Lancashire finished a year ago and Lucy Warman described how the project team had gone about convincing the university to sustain the project [5]. The project has produced a web site for new students written by current students, with reflections on university life. The web site is designed and developed by the students themselves and the work is in some cases assessed as part of courses. Towards the end of JISC funding the team presented four options for sustaining the web site ranging from minimal support to full support and evaluation. Convincing the Deputy VC was key to getting continuation funding, and Lawrie Phipps the JISC programme manager came to the meeting with the Deputy VC to help make the case for sustaining TAG. The team were also careful to demonstrate how the project supported the university strategy in key areas such as student retention.

The TESEP (Transforming and Enhancing Student Experience through Pedagogy) project was originally a SFC funded project, but funding finished in 2007 [6]. Andrew Comrie from the project identified three TESEP X factors the project had developed,

  1. A set of principles based around social constructivism 2. A pedagogical framework 3. Learner centred Staff development

Andrew went on to describe four key sustainability actions that TESEP used:

Action1: Link to institutional change

Action2: Creation of advocate networks

Action3: A focus on continuing professional development

Action4: Keeping others interested – conference papers etc.

Some of these actions came up again in the Dragon’s Den session.

Dragons’ Den

In the next session projects came with prepared 5 min pitches about how they were going to sustain their work beyond the life of the projects to a panel of two (relatively tame) dragons (programme critical friends). It was another opportunity to see the diversity of projects in the programme. The session I went to included the MoRSE project at Kingston exploring using mobile devices for field trips [7], The CASCADE project at Oxford developing an assignment handling module for Moodle [8], The Making Assessment Count project at The University of Westminister [9], St George’s Generation G4 project on the problem based learning case studies [10] and The Information Spaces for Collaborative Creativity project at Middlesex University [11].

The dragons (Peter Chatterton, Andrew Comrie, Gill Ferrell, Peter Hartley, Lawrie Phipps, and Malcolm Ryan) were able to offer quite specific advice about how projects might work towards sustainability. During the plenary feedback after lunch the Dragons identified a number of sustainability ideas and themes:

  • Make yourself indispensible,
  • Demonstrate clear value for money,
  • Develop a vision for what embedding will look like,
  • Align projects benefits to institutional and national strategy,
  • Focus on mechanisms for “transferring trade craft”,
  • Liaise with key staff,
  • Endeavour to move ownership from project staff to institutional staff,
  • Embed outputs/outcomes into Staff CPD processes and qualifications,
  • Provide evidence of benefits.

Project Outputs

Next up Helen Beetham, consultant to the Design programme, looked at what makes outputs useful. Outputs should be accessible, relevant, and support educational decision making, she said. Particularly useful are outputs that either paint a rich description of the project, or “just in time” guidance with the tips and tricks that people can pick up and use very quickly, Helen explained. The detailed process maps produced by the COWL (Coventry Online Writing Laboratory) project are a good example of a detailed description output [12]. Just in time resources already produced by the projects include Lewisham College’s Moodle tips [13] and the Open University’s Atelier D project’s set of video walk throughs [14].

Sheila MacNeill from JISC CETIS asked projects to think about how people might find their outputs. There are a range of places to consider putting resources she said which may include an institutional VLE or repository, but projects might also consider JorumOpen. It is also important for projects to think about what potential users might be looking for so a well thought through set of tags would help.

Eddie Gulc from the HE Academy drew attention to a new resource for evidence based research [15].

Towards the end of the afternoon projects were able to choose from a number of parallel session surgeries. There were surgeries run by programme consultants on case study templates, Learning design and curriculum structures, or evaluation, where teams could discuss their particular issues.

Cost versus Impact

The last activity of the day led by Alejandro Armellini from the Leicester DUCKLING project [16] refocused back on sustainability and value for money. Alejandro asked projects to locate their project outputs on a simple cost versus impact matrix. Projects added their outputs as post-it notes on the grid. Confidence in the room was clearly high, since most projects felt their work was in the low cost and high impact quadrant. There was some discussion about whether the matrix is over simplified as cost particularly varies over time (a project is usually much more expensive in the beginning). However it is a simple way of getting projects to start thinking about the cost benefit arguments they will need to make in their institutions.

Speaking to Lisa Gray after the event she said “It is great that projects are now starting to consider the costs and benefits of their projects and are developing robust and evidenced arguments for sustainability”.

Twitter thoughts

Through-out the day people posted their reflections on Twitter using the #jisccdd tag. A few are below:

timku: Cost benefit activity to place project innovations on a quadrant. 90% of innovations placed in the low cost high impact quadrant! #jisccdd

Paulbtlw : #jisccdd Learning loads of useful stuff at the curriculum delivery meeting today. Very effective in generating new ideas to take back to BCU

sarahknight: Wonderful examples of student created resources for community music which are continuing to embed the TESEP principles #jisccdd

Lawrie : #jisccdd A key success strategy for sustainable projects are ones which align with the work that the university wants to do! e.g. retention

marianneshepp: importance of developing sustainability and embedding vision - envision success. #jisccdd

Final thoughts

For me the quote of the day came from Peter Chatterton talking about how useful video interviews with staff could be for convincing others to sustain projects:Videos often capture passion, and passion is important and infectious”, he said. If passion alone were able to sustain these delivery projects their job would be done.

Sustainability is the theme for the JISC innovation Forum meeting in July [17] and the JISC is developing a sustainability toolkit which will be useful for all JISC projects. The presentations from the day will soon be available at:

Other Resources

Dragons Den videos:

Gill and Peter H

Peter C and Lawrie

Malcolm and Andrew


[1] Transforming curriculum delivery through technology

[2] Transforming the Curriculum, an article on e-Learning Focus

[3]Kingston Uplift for Business Education project

[4]Dynamic Learning Maps

[5] The TAG project

[6] TESEP project

[7] The MoRSE project

[8] The Cascade project

[9] Making Assessment Count

[10] Generation G4 project

[11] Information Spaces for Collaborative Creativity project

[12] The COWL project

[13] The Making the New Diploma a Success project

[14] The Atelier-D project

[15] Evidence.Net

[16] The DUCKLING project

[17] JISC Joint Innovation Forum


Supported by JISC Supported by CETIS
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