Active Collaborative Learning Project
Between March 2017 and February 2019 NTU led the 'Scaling up Active Collaborative Learning for Student Success' Project, in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Bradford. The Project investigated institutional barriers to the widespread adoption of active learning and evaluated the extent to which, active, collaborative learning can reduce disparities in non-continuation and attainment.
Scaling up Active Collaborative Learning for Student Success
Entitled Scaling up Active Collaborative Learning for Student Success, the Project was one of 17 national collaborative projects selected for the HEFCE Catalyst programme Address Barriers to Student Success (ABSS).
The Project focused on two active, collaborative learning approaches; the first in SCALE-UP (Student-Centred Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies) which had been widely adopted across a diverse range of disciplines at NTU. The second was Team-Based Learning (TBL), an active, collaborative learning approach that shares many common elements with SCALE-UP and was used by both Anglia Ruskin and the University of Bradford.
A key factor in the Project's approach to implementing active, collaborative learning was to change the curriculum while avoiding the need to add bolt-on intervention activity that many other institutions prescribe.
The value of active collaborative learning approaches are widely recognised. Evidence in wider literature and an earlier institutional pilot at NTU showed that active, collaborative learning might be beneficial in closing the unexplained gaps in student success. However, it has proven challenging for HE institutions to adopt such types of learning strategically across courses and at the institutional level.
The closure of gaps in student success also helps address challenges that the Office for Students has set all institutions in improving attainment and continuation rates for students from widening participation backgrounds.
The aims of the Active Collaborative Learning Project were threefold:
- increase the extent and quality of adoption of defined active collaborative learning pedagogies;
- test whether benefits for student success continue to be realised when these pedagogies are used at a large scale; and,
- identify conditions needed for even greater institutional adoption
Delivery was completed in two strands. The first was a focus on academic support: working with academic colleagues, particularly module and course leaders, on embedding the approach into their course design.
Initially, at NTU, SCALE-UP was delivered by our innovative early adopters, but this more recent phase has seen a larger cohort of academic colleagues engage with this style of teaching. This was hugely successful as SCALE-UP has now been implemented across the University.
The second strand of the Project was an extensive evaluation. This involved generating a rich data set consisting of surveys, focus groups and interviews with staff and students. The collation and analysis of a substantial quantity of institutional data focused on student engagement, satisfaction, failure rates, module and course grades, and comparing active, collaborative modules against non-active, collaborative modules.
The impact the Project can now evidence is due to the scale of its work, which is both larger and more rigorously evaluated than similar learning and teaching initiatives elsewhere in the sector.
The Project demonstrated that both SCALE-UP and TBL are associated with reduced non-continuation and attainment gaps between groups of students, as well as improvements in attendance and engagement.
We can illustrate the importance of the initiative by considering our BME students. Historically this group has not fared well in Higher Education, with an average national attainment gap of 25% between white and black students. Recognising this, the Office for Students, through its Access and Participation Plan (APP) Guidance, has set targets on removing the unexplained attainment gap for black students by 2024/25.
For BME students who had the opportunity to engage in three or more SCALE-UP modules in the year, the non-continuation gap almost disappeared. The attainment gap was reduced by 4.2 percentage points, and BME attendance improved in the 90%-100% category by 13 percentage points, compared to those who did not take any SCALE-UP modules.
Other equality groupings that have benefitted from the Project include those from lower socio-economic groups where the gap in non-continuation was eliminated, and attainment was again increased by 1.7 percentage points. With outcomes that enable more BME and lower socio-economic students to complete their degrees and realise their full potential, we are proud to support NTU's pledge to further social mobility through education. Also, our disability gap, another grouping given strategic priority by Office for Students, reduced by 3.3 percentage points respectively.
In 2019, NTU received the Guardian University Award for Course and Curriculum Design for the achievements of SCALE-UP in reducing gaps between groups of students.
We believe that our findings offer a valuable contribution to the sector and beyond in support of social mobility.
We continue to build on and extend our practice in active, collaborative learning across the institution, including SCALE-UP; and to welcome colleagues from across the sector to NTU to learn about SCALE-UP. We have made available the Project's full report and guide for adoption.