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Solent’s curriculum framework builds on our unique, creative and applied approach to teaching. The transformation of students’ lives is at the heart of our mission as a university, and our curriculum – informed by the latest theory – reflects this shared educational vision.

Solent's real-world curriculum

We are driven to continue improving and innovating through our curriculum framework, part of Solent’s strategy to go for Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) gold.

This curriculum framework – which informs and drives our approach to teaching – consists of six paired ‘dimensions’. And at the heart of this framework is the concept of ‘personal knowing’.

Graphic showing the Solent curriculum framework, made up of the following 'dimensions': Critical, creative, applied; Intellectually simulating for life; Social and personal growth; Inspiring research and inquiry; Authentic, engaging assessment; Outward facing; which all intersect for the concept of 'personal knowing'

What is ‘personal knowing’?

Personal knowing is about students gaining knowledge and wisdom for themselves, and being changed through the process of studying at university. Gaining knowledge is important, yet it is not enough for students simply to know about a subject. Instead, personal knowing is about students realising how knowledge is formed and applied, and beginning to piece together the jigsaw in their own subjects.

It moves students from simply knowing about a subject to knowing as insiders, changing students’ views of knowledge from fixed and absolute to fast-moving and fluid, and open to interpretation.

Students learn how to evaluate knowledge and explore different perspectives, dealing with the discomfort of not necessarily knowing what is valid or true. This journey of personal knowing enables students to take greater ownership over their subject knowledge, and to become creators of new knowledge.

The six dimensions

Critical, creative and applied

Our curriculum will challenge students to be critical and creative, and to apply theory to practice. Students will learn to critically evaluate knowledge, weighing up and questioning evidence to make informed judgements.

Students will become perceptive consumers and trustworthy producers of both applied and theoretical knowledge. We will challenge students to go beyond simply reproducing knowledge to building on existing knowledge, critiquing it and applying it to the real world in inventive and creative ways.

In 2017/18, BA (Hons) Product Design students had the opportunity to join MA Creative Direction for Fashion and Beauty students on a collaborative project with IBM Design Studio – tasked to think speculatively about how internet-of-things (IoT) and cognitive technology could be harnessed within the area of fashion and beauty.

Students pitched and then developed prototypes for utilising these technologies for fashion and beauty products, thinking creatively across dramatically diverse subject areas, and applying their knowledge.

The project was inquiry-based and required the students to undertake primary and secondary research using methods that are integral to IBM design thinking. The students were supported in their projects by the IBM Design Studio through workshops, site visits and individual mentoring, as well as through an online slack forum.

Aligned with two units of study, and drawing on theory by Meyer and Land, this trans-disciplinary activity was designed to provoke critical thinking and the acquisition of a Threshold Concept: a transformed way of understanding or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress. (2003:1).

Inspiring research and inquiry

Our curriculum will inspire students to ask questions, investigate problems, propose solutions and create new knowledge. We will empower students with the tools, methods and thinking processes to read and evaluate current research, stimulating curiosity about research topics of their choice.

Working with academics who are engaged in research and inquiry and/or creative and applied projects themselves, our students will learn to conduct their own research and create new knowledge.

With the support of the course team, final-year fitness and personal training students have had the opportunity to build their CV by taking their research projects all the way from data collection, write-up and academic submission through to professional peer-review and ultimately publication in an academic journal.

More than twenty undergraduate students have already collaborated on a similar number of projects, either co-authoring multiple articles or collaborating on a single publication.

This has developed a research ethos within the wider health, fitness and sport science courses which promotes excellence in student-led research not only at an academic level, but beyond.

These publications also highlight to current first- and second-year students the possibilities that spring from a good research project, and the importance of scientific rigour.

As well as encouraging further development of their own research skills, this shows that our students are seeing research as a tool to enhance their own experiences, build the habits of life-long learning and develop their career – often going on to master’s level or even PhD programmes.

Many of these students have also presented research at national conferences – both generic and subject-specific – developing essential public-speaking skills, creating valuable networking opportunities, and once again providing a way for their research to enhance their CV and career prospects.

Outward facing

Our curriculum will challenge students to contribute their knowledge, time and talents to the community in ways appropriate to their subjects, and as part of their social responsibility. Students will learn to work with industry professionals, and to link theory to practice in familiar and unfamiliar settings.

We will encourage employers to shape the curriculum and help students create networks beyond the university. Students will encounter global theories, develop a global outlook, and interact with local and international experts as part of their student experience.

Since 2007, Solent Productions has been an outward facing enterprise centre, winning paid professional media commissions and generating a yearly average of 15,000 hours of real-world experience for our students.

These are real-world media projects, with students, graduates and staff working and learning from each other to deliver professional-quality work for clients such as the BBC, Glastonbury Festival and Sony.

In an innovative teaching approach which has been nationally recognised as an example of Best Practice in Media Education, students create videos, animations and media content that is assessed inside the curriculum, or occurs alongside their studies as formative assessment and invaluable professional practice.

Take BA (Hons) TV Production. The core unit Television Business and Practice tasks second-year students to work with Solent Productions and win a commission to create short videos for in-house web channel Solent TV. The students are then matched with external clients such as the NHS, Nuffield Theatre, Rowans Hospice or Southampton City Council.

Students receive a client brief, develop a creative approach, pitch the idea, win the commission, incorporate feedback, produce the final content and even become involved in exhibition or distribution.
Students are also required to write a reflective essay and graded for their on-going professionalism, the end quality of the product and their ability to work with client feedback.   

This professional experience has a remarkable transformative effect on students’ learning, and gives them a strong basis for entering the world of work. One recent graduate, now working for BT Sport recalls his experiences at the Glastonbury Festival:

I had never directed such a large production before. My own performance over the week improved considerably as I settled in, I was making faster decisions, calling out shots and lining the cameras up to offer a smoother, more professional broadcast. I have learnt that by stepping out of my comfort zone and challenging myself has enabled my skills in team management, multi-tasking and overall confidence to grow.

Even during the summer break, Solent Productions remains extremely busy at a range of music festivals and other events. In 2018 the BBC commissioned Solent Productions to make a documentary exploring the national Pride celebration on the Isle of Wight – and the resulting ten-minute film, Island Pride, was transmitted on BBC1 three months later.

These flagship projects all have a positive impact on Solent’s reputation for real world learning and further opportunities are always being developed, empowering students to work and learn in this outward facing dimension of the curriculum framework.

Social and personal growth

Our curriculum will help students to develop personally and socially. Students will grow in confidence and self-awareness as they reflect on and learn from their successes and failures. They will be challenged to develop socially, as they learn to listen and to speak out, and to develop empathy, respect, and the emotional side of learning. Students will use theory and knowledge to deepen their understanding of the challenges facing the world. Their intellectual growth will help them to question assumptions and to make well-reasoned choices.

The PR in the Community unit of our PR courses gives students the opportunity to apply their experience and understanding of PR and communications to the voluntary or not-for-profit sector, developing their empathy and understanding along with their professional skills.

Where money is in short supply, public relations may be the best, most efficient method for social entrepreneurs to communicate with their public – and a restricted budget often encourages creativity and innovation. The unit considers some unusual and inspiring community projects, and investigates how PR has or could add value.
Students work with real clients, analysing their needs and then creating a PR plan for them. They then go on to develop materials to support the plan, such as articles, press releases, social media posts and blog posts.
Previous clients for the student groups include Solent Mind, The Prince’s Trust, Age Concern, Mencap, Blue Cross and Portsmouth Community Football Club. This unit gives students the chance to demonstrate their creativity, flexibility and professionalism, as well as to engage with their local community.

Authentic and engaging assessment

Our assessment will mirror disciplinary practices and real-world contexts, preparing students for the challenges of independent and team work, and developing skills that will help them to succeed in the workplace.

Students will experience creative, engaging and meaningful assessment tasks which contribute to their formation as critical thinkers and as life-long learners. Assessments will build on each other and grow in complexity, enabling students to see the connections across modules and years, and to think outside of the module box.

Working with organisations such as Marwell Zoo and P&O Cruises as case studies, business students are tasked with critically evaluating the strategic positioning of the organisation and identifying choice and actions, using relevant theoretical models.

The student groups initially visit the organisation, and the subsequent simulation runs over an intensive three-day period. Commencing with a strategic briefing by the CEO and senior vice-president, the simulation requires students to work to in a pressurised environment to defined deadlines.

Further realism is embedded in the assessment experience as on day two the students are given a ‘curve ball’ announcement of a new and situation-changing incident, which forces students to make quick judgements and decide a course of action – and then justify their choices.

These authentic assessments allow students to engage with relevant professionals and undertake a meaningful real world tasks. In completing these assessments students are required to demonstrate their knowledge and the development of their skillset in helping to solve relevant problems in, or informed by, the real world.

Intellectually stimulating for life

Our curriculum will inspire a love of learning that continues beyond university. It will develop curious habits of mind, crossing subject boundaries and engaging students in debates and conversations which carry on beyond classes and extend into homes, workplaces and cultural spaces.

We will inspire students to value learning for its own sake, personalising learning so that they are able to draw links between knowledge and their own development.

While today’s technology needs to be understood, students also need the skills to develop tomorrow’s technology. Throughout their career, they must develop their own knowledge and understanding, becoming their own teacher as they explore new technologies and developments.

Staff from across our engineering courses are active members of their professional bodies, drawing on these and other connections to arrange guest lectures and technical visits – bringing together students and industry right from the start.

During 2017/18, students on the BEng (Hons) Yacht And Powercraft Design and BEng (Hons) Yacht Design and Production degree courses were able to attend the evening lecture series of the Southern Joint Branch of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) and the Institute of Marine Engineers, Scientists and Technologists (IMarEST).

Topics included the technology and operations related to LPG gas on vessels, current and future developments in regulations covering the ability of vessels to survive damage, the engineering of dynamic position systems, improvements in sensor measurements from ships, and new fuel technology.

Events like this encourage Solent students to engage with the topics which are shaping those industries, developing a passion for lifelong learning – and building the essential professional connections which will allow them to grow as professionals, broadening their knowledge with the latest thinking and disseminate their own expanding knowledge base to industry peers.

What is blended learning?

Course Leader, Claire Hughes and Instructional Design Manager, Dr Carina Buckley talk about blended learning and how Solent is embedding this into the learning experience for our students.

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