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About this book

Masters level study requires a distinct set of approaches to teaching, learning and assessment, yet there is often little discussion of these issues, or support for staff. This much needed handbook redresses that balance by providing targeted support for those working with academic, professional and applied Masters programmes.

Ideal for newly qualified and experienced staff alike, this book covers everything you need to know to develop effective practices in Masters teaching, including designing, managing and reviewing a curriculum, and delivering effective student support. The text brings together contributions from a wide range of academics who have extensive practical experience of teaching at Masters level nationally and internationally.

Through sharing examples of innovative practice and student-centred learning advice, this book provides thought-provoking support for all those working to develop and enhance Masters programmes.

Table of Contents

The Master’s experience


1. Master’s perspectives

The theme that most often emerges from research with those teaching at Master’s level is the pleasure and challenge that these students bring to the classroom experience; with students the research often surfaces tensions and concerns that they seek to hide. In this chapter, two authors reflect on their experiences as teachers and students. It is vital to remember that at M-level student diversity is huge (McEwen et al., 2008; Waller, 2006) and there is no ‘right’ approach to student support. While many students are content with their courses and experience, in 2014 the UK Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) of taught Master’s students studying in 100 UK higher education institutions (HEIs) found that ‘almost 25% were not happy with the support they have received for their learning from staff members on their particular course’, and concerns around assessment and feedback, indicating there is opportunity for reflection and sharing of M-level practice (Soilemetzidis, Bennett and Leman, 2014, p. 29).
Bill Lindquist, Valerie Huggins, Louise Winfield, Sue Mayo, Katharine Low, Pauline Kneale

2. The diversity of Master’s provision

The style and delivery of taught Master’s programmes varies widely both within and between countries and disciplines. This section introduces the position in different international settings, focusing on marketing, course styles and qualifications, drawing on observations and data from the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, China and the USA.
Pauline Kneale

3. Aspects of mastership

The four pieces in this chapter demonstrate in different ways the diversity of provision: three-year courses in China, one-year intensive teaching in the UK, students employed as part of their degree experience in Canada, and advice for those tutoring those negotiating the pitfalls of part-time study.
Danqing Liu, Jinghua Liu, Celia Popovic, Ana Baptista, Ana Cabral, Julie Anderson, Valerie Huggins, Louise Winfield

Transition matters


4. Transition issues for course Designers

Transition into university life and its teaching ethos can be challenging. Students are negotiating their way into a new culture of learning. At M-level they appreciate that greater learner autonomy is expected, but can find it difficult to understand the process and boundaries. The resilience that students acquire across a three-year or longer undergraduate programme is less easily acquired during a one-year intensive programme. Allowing students to raise issues to allay their concerns from the start is crucial, as is providing opportunities for students to network with all the course students and tutors. Many concerns arise from worrying about one’s personal performance in discussion, writing and where it is appropriate to ask for additional support. Providing opportunities for excellent communication to develop between the course team and the students is crucial, so equally is being clear where boundaries lie, and where ‘tough love’ is exemplified by expecting students to work independently to a high, professional standard.
Jane Tobbell, Victoria L. O’Donnell, Julie Rattray, Jan Smith, Michelle Reid, Sonia Hood, Kim Shahabudin, Pauline Deutz

5. Effective induction Activities

A cross-cutting theme of the four parts of this chapter is students working together with their programme team to understand the expectations and standards required for study. Firstly, Sutcliffe and Matheson describe the use of the Belonging Cube, which is deceptively simple in concept but a superb ice-breaker and networking tool. Cross discusses the value of writing for formative assessment as a critical element of the induction experience. The writing skills theme is then further developed, placing the focus on induction and skills support for international students. Huang and Orsini-Jones, writing with two of her students, both work with Chinese students transitioning to the UK for Master’s study. Huang’s action research project explores the experience of Chinese students who are grappling with the concept of critical thinking during an induction week activity. This enables her to make evidenced recommendations to support students in understanding the academic approach expected in the UK. Finally in this chapter, Orsini-Jones has the delightful example of students reading a skills text in both their own language and in English, to tackle the nuances of meaning and expectations of study.
Mark Sutcliffe, Ruth Matheson, Ruth Cross, Rong Huang, Marina Orsini-Jones, Ying Zhao, Xuemei Wang

Effective experiential learning


6. Supporting international postgraduate learners across a business school

Moving from undergraduate to Master’s degree programmes can involve a significant leap in academic skills practices. For mature and international students this leap may be greater where there are substantial differences between their prior learning experiences and the teaching and learning style and expectations in their new higher education institution (HEI). This chapter discusses some of the learning needs associated with transferring to a new academic culture and offers pedagogical interventions which will enable students to adapt to the new environment.
Gillian Byrne, Halina Harvey

7. Writing matters

Understandably, writing at Master’s level (M-level) requires sophisticated approaches. For example, the Australian Qualifications Framework criteria (2014) require students in their assignments to be able to:
  • ► analyse critically, reflect on and synthesise complex information, problems, concepts and theories;
  • ► research and apply established theories to a body of knowledge or practice;
  • ► interpret and transmit knowledge, skills and ideas to specialist and non-specialist audiences.
While such advanced academic skills are sometimes expected from students in the final stages of an undergraduate programme, Brown (2014) suggests it is the scale, scope and extent of mastery of such skills that distinguish higher level writing expectations from those at lower levels, as is apparent in the first example in this chapter.
Clare Furneaux, Jane Ching, Emily Beaumont, Ken Gale

8. Integrating university-wide Support

While the preceding chapter focused specifically on approaches to writing, this chapter explores the value and processes involved in providing broader central support across the university to foster self-efficacy and high achievement. In the first of two accounts, Ramkalawan and Danvers discuss supporting dissertation students throughout the process which many students find intimidating. This cross-disciplinary approach provides an opportunity for students from many disciplines to co-learn, and complements the support offered within their discipline.
Tina Ramkalawan, Emily Danvers, Debbi Marais

9. Problem-based learning in Practice

Problem-based learning (PBL), generally acknowledged to have originated in the higher education (HE) environment, specifically at McMaster Medical School in Canada, provides students with the chance to learn through the experience of problem-solving, and is therefore a valuable approach for Master’s level (M-level) learning, since a high proportion of such programmes are orientated towards professional practice. Savin-Baden (2003) argues that ‘at the heart of this approach lies the development of important abilities, such as flexibility, adaptability, problem-solving and critique’ (p. 13) At its best, PBL with its focus both on collaborative and self-directed learning can be dynamic, energising and flexible, fostering independence of thought, resilience and the kind of autonomy in practice that many professions require. Here we explore the conditions necessary to make PBL effective.
Chris Beaumont, Kevin Petrie, Andrew Livingstone, Jeffery Sarmiento, Cate Watkinson, Joanna Drugan



10. Assessing well at Master’s level

The Assimilate UK National Teaching Fellowship project was conceived in 2009 to address a perceived gap in understanding about M-level assessment and, in particular, anecdotal suggestions of a much narrower range of types of assessment methods and approaches in use than found on undergraduate programmes globally. The three-year project, extended for a further year to disseminate outcomes, did indeed discover relatively fewer types of assessment in use, but also located examples of diverse and innovative usage in eight nations, which were compiled into a compendium (Brown et al., 2012).
Sally Brown

11. Creative assessments

If, as argued in the previous chapter, we need to find better and more creative approaches to Master’s level (M-level) assessment in order to help students develop transferable skills at the right level, demonstrate that they can deal with complex and unpredictable problems, tackle and solve problems under their own initiative and work with incomplete data, simultaneously developing the capability to act autonomously and independently as lifelong learners, then we need to look beyond traditional assessment formats. The following examples propose authentic, practical and viable approaches to M-level assessment, using appropriate technologies and fresh assessment instruments which are designed to build self-efficacy, enable students to work both independently and in conjunction with one another, and to ensure that assessment is for not just of learning (Sambell, McDowell and Montgomery, 2013). The first exemplifies how students from very diverse backgrounds can benefit from communal formative feedback.
Emma Bond, Stuart Agnew, Laura Ritchie, Sue Palmer-Conn, Chris Garbett, Mark Sutcliffe, Ruth Matheson, Adam John Ritchie, Emma Plugge

Curriculum design


12. Curriculum design to provide learning as a social practice

The context for this case study was the MA Education programme which is a flexible part-time Continuing Professional Development (CPD) award aimed at practitioners in any sector of education. The majority of participants are teachers in schools and colleges looking to extend their skills and understanding of education and learning. These participants are always challenged by the time demands of their professional roles and the demands of the programme, so the more flexibly we can work together, the easier it can be for them to find the motivation and time to work with us. In this context we designed an online module to provide flexibility and challenge some of the assumptions made about learning online.
Andrew Cramp

13. Lessons learned from distance learning

There is growing interest in setting up distance learning programmes, prompted by reductions in higher education (HE) funding, and the opportunities to reach a wider market. There are many perceptions about distance learning, including that it involves less, or more efficient, teaching and that it is a source of easy revenue generation. This chapter reflects upon the issues and lessons learned through setting up and running an MSc in Geographic Information Science (GIS) by distance learning over ten years. To produce a successful distance learning programme, we consider particular consideration is needed in: structuring the administrative systems to support learners; creating effective communication routes; addressing the need for formative feedback; and managing academic staff buy-in. The chapter will also cover educational partnerships issues because this is a collaborative programme between three higher education institutions (HEIs). This collaboration has great advantages in terms of brand coverage and variety of modules on offer, but makes administration incredibly complex.
Helen Durham, Linda See

14. Curriculum opportunities

In this chapter the authors call on their experience to comment on design and delivery in a range of disciplines and settings, starting with Lisewski who provides a valuable insight into teaching university teachers to teach in the context of fashion Institute professionals and the importance of managing the tensions between tutor-practitioners, professional practice needs and the understanding they should have of higher educational teaching processes and standards.
Bernard Lisewski, Muireann O’Keeffe, Roisin Donnelly, Chris Lukinbeal, Janice Monk, Iris Patten, Janet Strivens, Ian Willis

15. Rethinking Master’s level design and support

For those either designing a new programme or refreshing an established one, this chapter proposes a checklist of potential ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. The aim is to stimulate thinking around the many dimensions of a programme addressed in this book to create a programme ethos including:
  • ► support for students built in from the planning stage;
  • ► recognising the importance of building students’ confidence, ameliorating anxiety and creating networks of learners within a programme to enable effective learning;
  • ► thinking through induction processes, and ongoing learning styles, activities, assessment and support;
  • ► issues for part-time, professional, face-to-face and distance learners;
  • ► recognising that new technologies and approaches arrive every year (NMC, 2015) and students’ expectations change.
Pauline Kneale, Sally Brown, Phil Race

16. Afterword

The standards of learning required at Master’s level (M-level) are set by national qualifications frameworks. The two criteria above encapsulate some of the challenges that authors have discussed through the book. This text has in essence captured two overarching themes to be considered when working at M-level: students are not always as happy as they might wish to appear to those teaching them, and there are challenges in providing a university experience that is at the mastery or expert level.
Pauline Kneale, Sally Brown
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