University of Portsmouth:

Co-creation to improve student engagement and outcomes

The University of Portsmouth has created genuine partnership with its students and used innovative solutions to improve the experience and outcomes of its diverse student body. This approach was recognised as outstanding by the TEF panel.

At the University of Portsmouth, inclusivity is a principle that guides its approach to education. The university believes in recruiting a diverse range of students based on their potential rather than their prior achievement, in listening to its students and in tailoring its approach to reflect their differing backgrounds and needs.

The university and ​its​ students' union have worked collaboratively to create a framework that promotes inclusivity and supports the success of all students. This collaboration has led to ​an ​agreed set of values and behaviours and a principles-driven approach to blended and connected learning, teaching and assessment.

The University of Portsmouth is proud of its diverse student population, which includes 30% black, Asian, and minority ethnic students, 20% mature students, and 45% of students from low-income households. Additionally, half of students have non A-level qualifications.

The challenge for the university is to fully understand ​this diverse​ student body and tailor its offering to their specific needs​, so that every student is supported to reach their potential.​ The university does this by working with its students and the students’ union, in genuine partnership.

The ​university​ was developing its distinctive 'Blended and Connected' approach to learning and teaching when the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020. To meet the needs of ​all​ students, particularly those that were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, ​the university​ had to accelerate its work and launched two key initiatives.

Blended and Connected learning is a student-centred educational approach which prioritises student engagement and promotes the development and application of subject knowledge, professional skills, and digital literacy. Two key elements of this approach are the EnABLe initiative which focuses on curriculum design ​and the '7S programme’ created for students by students​ in partnership with staff​.

The EnABLe ​process ​​ ​

EnABLe is a versatile, scalable and fun team-based approach to learning design through engagement with a series of structured workshop activities. It brings together academic teams, learning technologists and students, with workshops facilitated by an expert in curriculum design called a Learning Designer. EnABLe’s key deliverables include the course blueprint and storyboard, student-centred activities and aligned assessment instruments. It is based on the following principles:​ ​

  • design, with students, for student-centredness and participation: course teams and student representatives collaborate with the Learning Design team to reflect on what ‘designing well for teaching well’ looks like in the context of each course or module
  • context over content: what matters is what students do with content, how, why, when and with whom, rather than the content itself
  • consistently good teaching: good teaching takes multiple forms across disciplines and modes of study. The university uses an evidence-to-practice approach and disseminates best ‘niche’ practices into the mainstream
  • tutor engagement for student engagement: tutors are active, visible and engaged - synchronously and asynchronously, in and out of class - and set clear expectations for student engagement.

One successful example, as reported by students and staff, was the introduction of a scheme in one school which replaced standard lectures for 430 students with small, interactive workshops. These workshops are further supported by tailored online learning, providing a dynamic and engaging educational environment as opposed to the traditional lecture format.

Co-creation of the ‘7S programme’

The ‘7S programme’ is a professional development initiative for students, designed to enhance their employability skills. The programme takes students on a seven step journey to enhance their employability skills, within and beyond the curriculum. It helps students recognise and develop key skills required for their chosen area of specialism. The process of focussing on employability skills during their time at university enables them to better articulate their abilities to prospective employers.

The extensive work done to develop the thinking around Blended and Connected ​learning​ was crucial in its rapid online deployment during the coronavirus pandemic. At this time, the university further supported students by offering funding for long-term laptop loans and internet access, recognising that digital poverty was a concern for many students

The success of these co-created ​approaches​ to teaching and learning is evident through improved​ internal and external​ metrics, including positive National Student Survey (NSS) feedback and graduate outcomes. ​Individual student feedback on the '7S programme' reinforces these positive metrics.​ For example:

  • a final-year forensic psychology student stated, ‘It was positive to reflect on my work and skills whilst also considering how they will aid my path to clinical psychology’
  • a final-year law student reflected on their extracurricular role as a campus ambassador for a well-known law firm, saying ‘I have enhanced my creativity and ability to think outside the box by using innovative ways to increase brand awareness at the university’.

The TEF panel found the university’s teaching, feedback and assessment practices and its approach to student engagement to be outstanding.

The university and its students’ union have committed to embedding collaboration and co-creation into policy and practice at all levels; ranging from regular students’ union meetings with the vice-chancellor to ongoing collaboration by course teams and students through the EnABLe process.

To further support this commitment, the university has invested over £400,000 in a 'Better Student Outcomes' project, led by the students' union. The '7S programme' has been scaled up and is now delivered across the entire university and has an award element attached to it for successful completion.

The university will continue to actively co-create with students and the students' union on a range of projects and initiatives, and this collaboration will be the starting point for developing new initiatives to ensure it continues to support its students to achieve their potential.

Learn more about this provider’s TEF outcome and the initiatives described above.

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