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What students learn to be revealed

Leading: Dr Sherria Hoskins

Leading: Dr Sherria Hoskins

The University of Portsmouth has won a major grant to study how university students’ beliefs about themselves, their ability to learn and their employment prospects develop over the course of their degree.

The Portsmouth grant is part of a wider project by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) in which £4m has been given to 12 universities to pilot and evaluate how learning gains in higher education might be measured.

The studies will last for three years and the results will be made public in order to help all UK universities better understand how learning takes place, what barriers individuals face and, crucially, to improve learning and teaching practice for the benefit of students.

Dr Sherria Hoskins, head of Department of Psychology at Portsmouth, is leading a cross-faculty team from four universities. Her group was awarded £268,772 to examine students’ personal development and readiness for employment.

She said: “We were delighted to have been selected from stiff competition to study important underlying factors, such as what sort of teaching and learning leads to more resilience or flexibility. Discipline-specific skills and knowledge are assessed via grades and final degree results, but it’s important we look widely at what factors are helping or hindering students’ development and growth.

“Assessing what higher education might achieve for students is a major project and the results could eventually inform a new Teaching Excellence Framework, like the Research Excellence Framework.”

Dr Hoskins’ team includes Dr Carolyne Jacobs, Dr Valerie Anderson, Dr Peter Starie, Professor Andy Thorpe, Dr Sasa Batistic, all at the University of Portsmouth, Richard Sant, Solent University, Dr Michael Tomlinson, Southampton, Dr Diane Bray, Roehampton, and Dr Arnaud Chevalier, Royal Holloway.

They will examine 3,000 undergraduates studying a wide cross-section of subjects in four universities at four points in their period at university.

The students’ previous attainment, social economic status, ethnicity and gender will be recorded to see if those factors influence the new measures of learning gain.

Parents, university staff and employers will also be interviewed.

A scale already developed by Dr Hoskins will be used to measure whether the learner is focused on mastering their topic, which can be seen by if they embrace challenge or persist after failure, or if they focus on appearing to perform, which can be seen by whether they avoid challenge or choose to stick with those things they know they can do well.

Vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth Professor Graham Galbraith said: “It is excellent news Portsmouth has been chosen to lead this important research, which puts us at the heart of any future debate on the Teaching Excellence Framework.”

The Higher Education Authority’s UK Engagement Scale (UKES) will be used to measure student engagement with learning opportunities.

The Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: ‘This research shows there is a wide range of approaches to measuring learning among students in higher education. Understanding the methods and the results from these pilots will help assess teaching quality and excellence and ultimately provide better value for all students.”

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