Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses (SLICCs): Learning and teaching beyond disciplinary silos

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As an institution, interdisciplinarity is something we strive for, and as a reflection of this, it was a theme for discussion in a recent Senate. However, with teaching resources and budgets tight, there are challenges to conduct genuinely interdisciplinary teaching between and across our existing structures of colleges, schools, deaneries, and centres.  Who ‘owns’ and is responsible for an interdisciplinary course or programme?  How are school teaching staff and resources supported and managed to enable interdisciplinary teaching to occur?  How can use of these resources be recognised, managed and transferred to reflect the teaching delivery?  In comparison, the challenges for conducting interdisciplinary research seem to be at a lower level, for instance with the funding of a research grant, or as a student project – they are discrete and have clearly defined objectives.  Furthermore, those resources of money and researchers, act as great enablers.

Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses (SLICCs) are tackling some of the challenges above.  The SLICCs initiative provides a flexible, reflective, framework which represents an opportunity to enable interdisciplinary learning and teaching.

This framework:

  • can be applied across the whole spectrum of experiential projects, tasks and opportunities;
  • is based around an e-portfolio of evidence, reflective blogs and reports;
  • can work across academic fields, with individuals or groups of students, even in different years, and in single- or inter-disciplinary ways across centres, programmes, schools and colleges;
  • enables students to better recognise and articulate their development through experiences, and boost their learning and assessment literacy; and
  • can either give students the agency to propose their own learning experience, for example activity in a profession or organisation, or the learning experience may be designed by staff and lie within existing programmes.

SLICCs are currently being used to reward extra-curricular projects and experiences over the summer with academic credit. More information can be found on the SLICCs website. In the summer SLICCs students gained academic credit for a wide range of experiences, including work placements, internships, academic summer studentships, expeditions, cultural exchanges, volunteering and self-directed research.

The SLICC framework

In the SLICC framework, students propose their own plan around a chosen project.  They start to define their anticipated learning based on five generic learning outcomes (LO) that address ‘analysis’ (LO1), ‘application’ (LO2), ‘skills’ (LO3), ‘mindsets’ (LO4), and ‘evaluation’ (LO5), re-interpreting these in the context of their own learning experience.  These learning outcomes are aligned with our institutional graduate attributes.  At this early stage, the student receives feedback from their SLICC staff tutor, who offers them guidance on how they may gain greater insight during the learning experience and maximise the available opportunities.  Students engaging with their anticipated learning before the experience has begun is a key step in the SLICC framework, enabling them to better recognise the extent of their learning throughout.  The student then undertakes their project, frequently reflecting on their learning in a regular blog, together with collecting evidence of that learning in their e-portfolio.  This evidence can be varied, creative and extensive, exhibiting profound breadth and depth of insight.  Students are provided with formative feedback on an ‘Interim Reflective Report’, where the students reflect on their learning and their progress towards achieving their personalised learning outcomes.  This SLICC ‘Interim Reflective Report’, and feedback on it, then forms the basis of the final summative ‘Final Reflective Report’ of their learning journey and achievements.

SLICCs are developing momentum and becoming embedded within existing programmes of study.  A full set of resources have been developed to support staff and students to undertake SLICCs from foundation, through undergraduate and into postgraduate study (SCQF levels 7 to 11), in both groups.  Within existing programmes, the SLICC learning experience may develop a portfolio of learning around a series of smaller tasks or course contributions arising in labs, workshops or for tutorials.  Alternatively, the learning experience may be a project that produces a substantial report or output (e.g.  Honours or MSc projects), or takes a reflective portfolio overview of a whole programme.

An important element of the SLICCs reflective learning and assessment framework and pedagogy is that it develops students’ learning and assessment literacy.  It strongly values the significant learning opportunities that come from dealing with problems, challenges or even mistakes.  These are often essentially ‘penalised’ by our existing assessment methods.  If the student clearly articulates and evidences how they have taken full advantage of the learning opportunity, successfully navigated through and learned from the experience, and indicated a change in their future approaches, this can be strongly and positively recognised in the summative SLICC assessment.

The approaches offered by SLICCs can allow responses to the recent Learning and Teaching Strategy, to enhance and offer flexibility in curricula, supporting and working in partnership with our students, in our research-rich environment. Now mainstreamed following successful pilots in summers 2015 and 2016, SLICCs have gathered significant interest internally and externally.  The scope for student agency is significant, with students defining their own unique learning experiences.  These may be within and beyond their own disciplines with the potential for both inter- and multi-disciplinary foci.  The opportunities offered by SLICCs are only starting to be uncovered.  Exciting times lie ahead…

More information can be found on the Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses webpages and in the blog posts below:

Jonny Ross-Tatam’s Teaching Matters: Let students lead their learning, Feb 2016

Fiona MacKay’s Teaching Matters: Student-led learning: a Head of School’s perspective, Aug 2016

Simon Riley

Simon Riley is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Student Selected Components in the undergraduate medical curriculum at the Edinburgh Medical School based in the Centre for Reproductive Health. His main teaching interest is in experiential learning at the research-teaching nexus, which he is currently exploring in a secondment to the Institute for Academic Development. Simon is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He found the process of reflecting on his teaching when applying for this really insightful. He is currently undertaking the Edinburgh Teaching Award towards Principal Fellow.

Gavin McCabe

Dr Gavin McCabe leads the University’s Employability Consultancy. With a background in statistical epidemiology, international development, careers advice and higher education projects, he is now responsible for supporting institutional strategy and initiatives relating to students’ employability, development and graduate attributes, as well as fostering associated local-level activities and enhancements. Current areas of responsibility include: the Edinburgh Award, SLICCs (Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses), Making Transitions Personal and the Development Hub.

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