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TEF results, a wake-up call for HE

Can third party content and solutions help? Asks Andrew Robinson, Director of Higher Education, Cengage EMEA

The results of the Teaching Excellence Framework came as a wake-up call to many of the UK’s top universities who failed to achieve their predicted grade in this controversial monitoring and assessment programme introduced by the government to measure the quality of teaching at higher education institutions (HEIs). Of the 134 universities and specialist higher education institutions that were given ratings, 32% (43) scored gold, 50% (67) silver and 18% (24) got bronze. 

So what can be done? I believe that one of the biggest challenges facing institutions today is the real-time monitoring and tracking of student engagement. For many young entrants to higher education, the transition from school to university is a difficult one, as is the case for mature students who may need to juggle family commitments, work and study. For universities it is essential that the relevant intervention programmes be put in place to identify students who are not fully engaged and falling behind in their studies. It is here that technology can play a vital role. 

Another issue highlighted by students in the recent NUS survey was a lack of detailed feedback on assignments – a challenge for time strapped lecturers and again something that can be quickly and efficiently addressed through the provision of technology that helps to make this process quick and efficient. 

Cengage has been working alongside universities to do just that either helping them to enhance the delivery of content on their existing learning management systems or installing new platforms designed to develop critical thinking, confidence, support independent learning and work-ready skills. 

Solutions designed to elevate student thinking and to foster a deeper understanding of concepts include its MindTap interactive learning platform, now incorporating over 600 courses and Aplia real world interactive homework assignments. Solutions designed to enhance employability include SAM, developed to help students master Microsoft Office concepts essential to their academic and career success, and Pathbrite, a cloud-based portfolio used to showcase graded work and highlight specific skills, knowledge or competencies when applying for jobs or furthering their education. Accessible to users any place any time, it allows students to take control of their professional life at university and beyond.

Over the last two years we have had much improved success rates, with fewer than 10% failing their first year Microeconomic course, compared with around 30% previously

Ulster University ranked within the top 3% of universities in the world with its 6,000 students and140 academic staff – not included in the initial TEF pilot – is a great example of a university that increased student engagement and improved pass rates using Cengage technology.

Commenting on the technological solutions installed, Dr David Duffy, lecturer in Economics, The Ulster University Business School, said: “The results were stunning. In my first semester course attendance rates improved and failure rates dropped. Over the last two years we have had much improved success rates, with fewer than 10% failing their first year Microeconomic course, compared with around 30% previously. It is not possible to say that this is entirely due to the resources we installed, as we have taken several actions to improve student engagement and success, but I think it is part of the story. Being able to check students’ progress weekly provides me with information on those who are not progressing as they should on the course, and combined with lecture attendance records gives me useful information to help students to improve their study habits well in advance of end of semester exams.

“I think the most obvious day-to-day benefit of using such solutions is that students like it – and I say that with certainty,” continued Dr Duffy. “Consistently on end of semester module feedback forms students say they are satisfied with the course and many students report that the best element of the course is our digital solutions. Indeed for students who answer the question ‘What did you feel was particularly good about this module?’ 70% of the responses mention precisely that.”

A Gold rated HEI is defined as ‘delivering consistently outstanding teaching, learning and outcomes for its students’. Universities are developing their own digital solutions to achieve the Gold or Silver ratings, but not all HEIs have the resources to invest in the lengthy projects required to remain competitive on a local and global level. Perhaps a proven and established learning solution, in tandem with universities’ own solutions can provide what is needed to quickly improve learning outcomes.