Curriculum Transformation: Discover the proposed teaching framework

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The Curriculum Transformation Project has been working with colleagues across the University to co-create a new framework for teaching that will better serve students.

Bulletin speaks to Dr Jon Turner, Curriculum Transformation Project Lead, and Professor Mary Brennan, Dean of Education at the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, to find out more about the proposed framework and how it will change the student experience.

Photograph by Douglas Robertson


To understand how the curriculum should evolve, the team developed the Edinburgh Student Vision, which sets out what students should gain from their time studying at the University. The vision was developed by looking at changes already being made across the University, exploring what other institutions are doing internationally, and consulting staff, students, recent alumni, and employers.

Dr Turner explains: “We’re creating a curriculum structure that supports strength, depth and rigour within a particular discipline or degree programme together with space for students to study other topics and to study with students from other disciplines, cultures, and backgrounds.

“We’re also using that structure to look at how we support and scaffold the development of students as learners so that they’re ready for whatever change, uncertain situations, or circumstances they’ll face beyond graduation.”

To enable these ideas, the Curriculum Transformation team have proposed that two types of course become mandatory for all undergraduates: experiential learning and challenge courses.

Experiential learning

Experiential learning – learning by doing – is a key part of the proposed new curriculum framework and encompasses several types of learning.

Dr Turner adds: “It’s all about the focus on learning from the process and that’s important within a discipline. That’s the place where you really start to build a sophisticated sense of understanding of how the world works through that disciplinary lens.

“Being able to be creative and responsive, and to learn from that experience, is critical in whatever you go on to do in life. We have fantastic examples of experiential learning in many programmes across the University at the moment. This is about increasing those opportunities.”

For Professor Brennan, experiential learning allows students to learn more about themselves as people and encourages them to be more self-reflective.

She says: “Students don’t recognise how their university experience is impacting other activities, nor how those activities are impacting their student experience. You’re learning about yourself professionally and personally in terms of strengths and weaknesses, areas that are really capturing your imagination, and particular tasks or activities that you really do or don’t take to.

“There are aspects of experiential learning happening in the University, but it’s not necessarily being assessed or rewarded with credit. By having this as a compulsory part of the programme, you give all students the opportunity to learn about how you connect learning and practice through a lens of self-reflection.

“This really powerfully helps them understand the full package of who they become as a result of the four years they’ve spent going to university.”

Photograph by Lottie Cripps

Challenge courses

Challenge courses will allow students from different disciplines to come together to learn about some of the big global challenges facing the world today; the themes connected to the University’s research priorities. Students will bring their individual expertise and experience together and engage with the topics through a multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary lens.

Dr Turner explains: “Areas like the climate emergency, data science and artificial intelligence require contributions from many different disciplines and perspectives. Students will have a chance to begin to understand how they can respond to some of these big questions and themes.

“We’re looking at ideas that colleagues are coming up with for new challenge courses, and at some of the courses already being run that can become challenge courses. The topics are fascinating and every time I look at them, I think I’d really like to take that course.”

Professor Brennan explains the courses won’t expect students to come up with solutions, but to experience working with other disciplines that are coming to an issue from a totally different perspective.

She says: “Different disciplines have different insights and contributions. What one discipline thinks is important, might be completely different to what another discipline thinks. Students will need to get comfortable with complexity and uncertainty. The evidence might say one thing, but when you weigh up the social, ethical, and moral issues you might decide to say, ‘actually we’re not going to follow the scientific recommendations’.”

The Curriculum Transformation Project team is currently working with colleagues from across the University to fully understand the consequences of introducing the proposed framework.

Find out more

Curriculum Transformation Hub