Enabling student autonomy and co-creation during Covid-19 lockdown – Summer SLICCs

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Image Credit: Graphic Design by Joe Arton

In this post, Simon Riley Professor of Student Experiential Learning, Gavin McCabe who leads the Employability Consultancy in the Careers Service, and Claire MacGregor the lead administrator for the SLICCs, describe the pedagogical foundations of Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses and how this agile learning and assessment framework has responded rapidly and effectively to a changing teaching and learning environment…

SLICCs (Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses) offer a reflective learning and assessment framework that has evolved over several years, uses an e-portfolio, and provides academic credit for experiential learning.  Students define their own learning experience, and use a clear structure to co-create their own learning outcomes, supported from the outset by their SLICC tutor.

The framework is based on a stratified series of five common learning outcomes, from SCQF Level 7 (foundation) through pre-honours, honours, and masters, to SCQF Level 12 doctorate. These learning outcomes are supported by a structured workbook, and a range of generic resources, including the Reflection Toolkit. In addition, the SLICC Team offer full training and support for tutors and administrators (more information available at www.ed.ac.uk/sliccs). SLICCs are now becoming well-established – there are currently more than 20 different courses on the DRPS, spread across all three colleges, that use the SLICC framework.

In January 2020, well prior to the arrival of the first wave of Covid-19, Summer SLICCs for year 1 and year 2 undergraduate were already being advertised (course information on the DRPS).  However, in March 2020 change was upon us…

With the uncertainty as Covid-19 exerted its impact, bar a few exemptions, all first- and second-year courses were halted, students were heading home, their assessments were being reviewed, and exams cancelled. In these rapidly changing circumstances, the SLICC Team consulted widely, and agreed that as an online course for on-campus students, and with students having faced upheaval in their academic experiences and restrictions in most parts of their lives, Summer SLICCs remained a feasible and valuable opportunity to continue to offer. There were some important aspects to address, including risks to consider and permissions to secure. Students would start at the beginning of June, so there was no overlap with exam and semester time.  When defining their experience for their SLICC, students were required to consider their personal, professional and academic circumstances, and local government guidelines and restrictions. Did these restrictions limit our students? We don’t think so…

Our students are highly motivated learners. For many, their best-laid and eagerly-anticipated summer plans – for employment, work experience, volunteering, and internships – were at best uncertain, but often sadly fading fast.  With this as a backdrop, our students were also trying to be positive and were looking for opportunities. For some students, their plans were largely unaffected due to local circumstances. For others, alternative formats and experiences were being offered online, but for a great many their plans were being cancelled.  Despite all the uncertainty, it was clear to many that they suddenly had free time which represented an opportunity to grasp – to undertake something a bit different, to be creative, develop a new skill or consolidate and develop an existing one.  Students used the prompts and ideas that we pulled together to identify ways that they could use their summer.  Perhaps even more importantly, they told us they were considering their own wellbeing and their personal circumstances of lockdown – engaging themselves with something they found meaningful and purposeful.

The exceptional circumstances of Covid-19 last summer really exemplify the value of the flexibility and fully online mode of delivery of SLICCs.  We had 150 first- and second-year students successfully complete their SLICC for 20 academic credits at SCQF Level 8.  The variety of experiences undertaken was striking from multiple aspects, including the incredible range of topics and subjects, but particularly the interdisciplinarity – applying their blossoming disciplinary understanding in an interdisciplinary way.  Summer SLICCs increase students’ motivation and ability to get the best from these experiences, supported by their university, and valued and recognised through the award of academic credit.

We would agree with Cathy Bovill, in her introduction to the theme for this month, that co-creation in the curriculum IS indeed disruptive, but it motivates, engages, and is highly rewarding for our students (and indeed our staff – please ask around and speak to someone who has been a SLICC tutor!).

We’ve seen SLICCs grow from strength-to-strength, and respond flexibly and rapidly to changing circumstances.  Students from every school have taken part, and last year students from all bar three schools completed a Summer SLICC.  We’re not sure if there has been a course that has concurrently had a student from every school complete it, but it will be interesting to see what happens this coming summer – a student representing every school, participating in the same year?

What is certain is that if we give them the opportunity, structure, and support, our students accomplish amazing things and will inspire us.

Simon Riley

Simon Riley is Professor of Student Experiential Learning, and Director of Teaching for the Deanery of Clinical Sciences in Edinburgh Medical School.  This work to develop SLICCs institution-wide has been supported by his secondment to the Institute for Academic Development.

Gavin McCabe

Dr Gavin McCabe leads the Employability Consultancy in the Careers Service.  The team supports institutional strategy and initiatives relating to students’ employability, development and graduate attributes, as well as fostering associated local-level activities and enhancements.

Photo of the authorClaire MacGregor

Claire works in the Careers Service’s Employability Consultancy and is responsible for supporting a variety of projects and initiatives that the Consultancy manages, in particular the Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses (SLICCs) and the Edinburgh Award.  Claire is the lead administrator for the SLICCs and works closely with the SLICC Team to develop the summer course each year.

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