Polytechnic University of Valencia Congress, Fifth International Conference on Higher Education Advances

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Adapting conventional delivery to cope with large cohorts: turning seminars into workshops and changing assessment
Simon Sweeney

Last modified: 25-06-2019


Teaching a popular postgraduate political economy module to around 50 international business and environment students (mainly Chinese) had always gone well. Delivery consisted of lectures and seminars with assessment via a 3,000-word essay. But with a three times larger cohort in 2017 things went wrong. The response from the teaching team was twofold. First to replace seminars with team-taught 2-hour workshops, to provide fewer targeted readings accompanied by specific questions for groups to answer, plus a redesign of the assessment, introducing a shorter more issue-specific approach based on short (500-word) answers to five questions chosen from ten, all tied to module learning outcomes and content. How did all this go? The paper highlights problems with the traditional approach and offers an initial evaluation of the changes introduced in 2018. Ultimately the paper addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the before and after and relates this to the changing demands placed on tutors charged with teaching large cohorts in a department going through rapid expansion. The case highlights the critical balance between volume and quality and asks difficult questions about the student experience and how universities respond to an increasingly marketized higher education sector.


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