1.3 Centralisation of the course design process
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Centralisation of the course design process often helps in the coherence of the final programme structure. In the case of single honours degrees, having one person or a small team of people within a department who consider the syllabus, map course–unit or course–module links, identify learning outcomes, etc. ensures consistency both within the degree structure and across existing degrees. In the case of joint honours degrees, the centralisation process becomes even more important.
In addition to the issues related to single honours degree programmes, joint degrees, whether intra-faculty or cross-faculty, come with additional pitfalls. Learning outcomes for both subject areas need to be clearly defined and properly linked so that the marketing aspects of the course are convincing. Greater attention needs to be paid to the mapping of curriculum and key skills to ensure that there is balance between the two subject areas. Also, assessment patterns often emerge within a single department that complement the programme in which the units/modules naturally sit. Thus, over time, the assessment patterns for units/modules taught in the economics department have been amended to provide students with a balance of assessment that works well within the constraints of the academic year. Combining units/modules from an economics degree with those from another faculty or department that has its own successful assessment pattern may, initially, provide students with an unbalanced schedule of assessment in their programme. Thus the teaching of key skills, the assessment patterns and the balance of units/modules offered at each stage of the programme need to be carefully considered by those who can oversee the whole process to ensure consistency and balance.
In the case of joint degrees it is also necessary to consider the issue of course management. While one department will own and administer the degree, the input from the other department is essential for the smooth running of the programme and to ensure that students on the joint degree feel properly informed and managed. All too often the management of a joint programme is not clearly defined and students on the course lack the sense of belonging and support that is provided to single honours degree students. This problem can persist from the initial induction phase through to the provision of information, timetable arrangements where travel is required between two or more sites, and the degree of interest that students sense from the staff who are participating in, but not administering, the degree course. Where the degree is a collaborative effort between departments there may be less enthusiasm by staff to engage in the student learning experience outside of the lecture theatre or seminar sessions.
To escape this pitfall it is important that, when the degree is introduced, the course administrator has a liaison person from the joint department involved who can participate in student support, contribute to the induction programme, advise students on academic issues and be consulted for further information about programme issues where necessary. This sounds logical, but it is worth noting that it is often difficult to sustain interest and support from a department participating in a joint degree if it is not immediately responsible for the administration of that course. Ensuring that someone is assigned to this task and takes ownership at an early stage in the course design process is essential for successful course management.
Top Tip: Greater commitment by staff and more effective course management may be achieved by linking the programme to processes employed by each department for the monitoring of standards and quality. Thus including these programmes in both Boards of Studies will encourage all staff to identify and engage with the programme.