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Learning and Teaching Handbook

3.4.6 : Potential modes of learning, teaching and assessment


1. Selecting the modes of learning, teaching and assessment that are used in a module or programme is one of the key elements of curriculum design:  ensuring that these modes support students in developing and demonstrating the knowledge, skills and attributes embodied in the intended learning outcomes is essential to providing students with the high quality educational experience to which Durham is committed.

2. To support academic staff when designing their modules, this guidance sets out a list of typical modes of learning, teaching and assessment that are used in degree programmes.  The majority of the content in the paragraphs that follow is quoted directly from the recent QAA publication Explaining contact hours:  Guidance for institutions providing public information on higher education in the UK (see Annexes 2 and 3).  However, the list is regularly reviewed to include additional modes of learning, teaching and assessment not listed by QAA but which are in use at the University and have been identified by the University as being particularly effective and/or innovative.

3. This list is not intended to proscribe or prescribe particular modes of learning, teaching and assessement.  Instead it is provided as a reference point that academic staff may find helpful when designing modules or programmes.

Modes of learning and teaching

4. Lecture

A presentation or talk on a particular topic.

The term 'lecture' covers everything from the traditional model, where a single member of the institution's staff or an affiliate introduces ideas or delivers facts to a group of students, to approaches that might be much more interactive, involve a variety of contributors, make use of a range of media and technologies, and take place virtually as well as in person. Lectures are assumed, in general, to involve larger groups of students than do seminars and tutorials but size will vary depending upon the nature of what is being taught, the size of the overall student cohort, and practical concerns.

5. Seminar

A discussion or classroom session focusing on a particular topic or project.

Seminars are defined as sessions that provide the opportunity for students to engage in discussion of a particular topic and/or to explore it in more detail than might be covered in a lecture - the extent of interaction will depend on the delivery method. A typical model would involve a guided, tutor-led discussion in a small group. However, the term also encompasses student or peer-led classes with a staff member or affiliate present. As with lectures, use of technology means seminars may take place virtually. Seminars are assumed in general to involve smaller groups of students than lectures, but size will vary depending upon the nature of what is being taught, the size of the overall student cohort, and practical concerns.

6. Tutorial

A meeting involving one-to-one or small group supervision, feedback or detailed discussion on a particular topic or project.

Tutorials may be distinguished from seminars for the stronger emphasis that they place on the role of the tutor in giving direction or feedback. Tutorials can happen virtually as well as face-to-face.

7. Project supervision

A meeting with a supervisor to discuss a particular piece of work.

The term 'project supervision' is used to refer to the meetings that a student or group of students would have with a supervisor, to plan, discuss, and monitor progress on a particular piece of work, such as a dissertation or extended project. Meetings can take place virtually or in person. The size of a project supervision meeting will depend upon the number of students involved in the work concerned and the nature of that work but supervisions will frequently also take place on a one-to-one basis.

8. Demonstration

A session involving the demonstration of a practical technique or skill.

Examples might include the demonstration of laboratory skills, clinical skills, performance art or fieldwork techniques. Demonstrations can take place virtually or in person. The size of a demonstration is likely to depend upon the number of students involved in the work concerned, as well as the nature of that work, but could also take place on a one-to-one basis.

9. Practical classes and workshops

A session involving the development and practical application of a particular skill or technique.

Examples are wide ranging and could include a laboratory class, recital, artefact handling/identification, language conversation, sports match and so on. Practical classes and workshops might incorporate elements of teaching or guided learning, and they are at least likely to be supervised or observed. These sessions are more likely to take place in person but, depending on the nature of the subject, may also be conducted remotely.

The size of a practical class or workshop will depend upon the nature of the activity. Workshops are likely to involve at least a small group of students but practical classes could take place on a one-to-one basis.

10. Supervised time in studio/workshop

Time in which students work independently but under supervision, in a specialist facility such as a studio or workshop.

Examples might include time spent in an art or design studio, or in a rehearsal space. It could be timetabled or take place on an ad hoc basis. Peers as well as staff or affiliates may be involved. Due to the nature of the activity, it is unlikely to take place virtually. Supervised time in a studio/workshop might involve a group or individual.

11. Fieldwork

Practical work conducted at an external site.

Examples of fieldwork might include survey work and other forms of data collection, excavations and explorations. The work might be unsupervised or supervised, and supervision could be provided by staff or appointed representatives. Some fieldwork may be conducted virtually. Fieldwork might be conducted in groups of various sizes, or by individuals, depending on the nature of the work involved.

12. External visits

A visit to a location outside of the usual learning spaces, to experience a particular environment, event, or exhibition relevant to the course of study.

Examples are wide ranging and could include a visit to a business or industrial site, built environment site, museum or collection, to attendance at a performance or exhibition. These visits might be unsupervised or supervised, and supervisors could include staff or appointed representatives. Site visits may be carried out in groups of varying sizes, or by individuals, depending on the nature of the visit and the location.

13. Work-based learning

Learning that takes place in the workplace.

The term covers any learning that takes place through an organised work opportunity, rather than in a university or college setting, and includes managed placements. Some supervision or monitoring is likely be involved, and may be carried out either by a member of staff or a mentor within the host organisation. Due to the nature of the activity, work-based learning is unlikely to take place virtually. Students might undertake work-based learning individually or in groups, depending on the nature of the workplace and the learning involved.

Modes of assessment

14. Written exam

A question or set of questions relating to a particular area of study.

Written exams usually occur at the end of a period of learning and assess whether students have achieved the intended learning outcomes. They may be 'seen', where the student is aware in advance of the question(s) they are expected to answer, or 'unseen', where the questions are only revealed 'on the day'. In an 'open-book' exam, a student is allowed to use a selection of reference materials during the assessment. The questions asked as part of a written exam may be essay, short answer, problem or multiple-choice. Written exams usually (but not always) take place under timed conditions.

15. Written assignment, including essay

An exercise completed in writing.

Written exercises that typically have deadlines attached but which are not carried out under timed conditions. A well-known example is the essay, where students are required to write about a particular topic or answer a question in depth. Other examples include written briefings on particular topics.

16. Report

A description, summary or other account of an experience or activity.

There are many different kinds of report - often students are required to produce a report after participating in a practical activity such as fieldwork, laboratory work, work experience or placement. Reports typically have a prescribed format.

17. Dissertation

An extended piece of written work, often the write-up of a final-year project.

A dissertation is a substantial piece of writing deriving from research that a student has undertaken. Dissertations are the result of a student's independent work, carried out under the guidance of a supervisor. Different subject areas may follow different conventions in relation to the production of dissertations. (Note that other outputs from projects are listed separately.)

18. Portfolio

A collection of work that relates to a given topic or theme, which has been produced over a period of time.

Typically, a portfolio contains a number of pieces of work, usually connected by a topic or theme. Students are usually required to organise the collection of examples and the portfolio often includes some reflective accounts (diaries/logs). Examples include, in education, that students may collect in a portfolio essays around particular teaching methods, lesson plans, teaching materials that they have developed and a report about the teaching experience itself.

19. Project output (other than dissertation)

Output from project work, often of a practical nature, other than a dissertation or written report.

Students are assessed on the output of a period of project work (other than in the form of a dissertation or written report). Examples are diverse and include the staging of a play or other performance, a piece of artwork, a new product or a poster.

20. Oral assessment and presentation

A conversation or oral presentation on a given topic, including an individual contribution to a seminar.

Examples of oral assessments and presentations might include conversations, discussions, debates, presentations, individual contributions to seminars and oral examinations.

21. Practical skills assessment

Assessment of a student's practical skills or competence.

Practical skills assessment focuses on whether, and/or how well, a student performs a specific practical skill or technique (or competency). Examples include clinical skills, laboratory techniques, identification of or commentary on artwork, surveying skills, language translation or listening comprehension, and so on.

22. Set exercises

Questions or tasks designed to assess the application of knowledge, analytical, problem-solving or evaluative skills.

Examples might include data interpretation and data analysis exercises and problem-based or problem-solving exercises