Developing Students' Higher Level Abilities

19 June 2000
Location: Dundee

This conference was intended for teaching staff and those who support learning, whether directly or indirectly, for example as staff developers, academic advisors or careers advisors and was attended by over 50 delegates from institutions all over Scotland. Workshop sessions through the day enabled participants to learn about development of personal and professional abilities through studying specific subject disciplines and through a variety of learning processes and contexts.




Arrival and refreshments



followed by:

Opening Plenary

Professor Phil Race, Higher Education Consultant




Parallel Workshops:

Workshop 1 – Personal and Professional Capabilities Within the UHI Curriculum: Teaching for Capability in Practice

Dr Elizabet Weedon and Linda Wheeler, University of Highlands and Islands Project

This presentation explains the rationale for embedding personal and professional capabilities within programmes of study and describes the approach taken by degree development teams in the University of the Highlands and Islands Project. With reference to the wider academic forum, the objective has been to bring about a transition from traditional, often passive, styles of education to a more active style of learning. The means are outlined by which students are helped to take increasing responsibility for their own learning through the habit of reflection, articulation of ideas and explication of emerging capabilities.

The strategic aim of the University of the Highlands and Islands Project to develop innovative approaches to learning and teaching sets the context for a paradigm shift from knowledge based teaching to empowerment for lifelong learning. Case studies are used to demonstrate students’ achievement of twenty-four separate capabilities, grouped into five categories. Their experience will inform the further development of levels of capability and personal profiling.

This presentation outlines the implementation of a curriculum where personal and professional capabilities are an integral and integrated part and concludes by commending an initiative which demonstrably increases confidence and self-awareness, provides a structure for career planning and enhances the appetite for future participation in learning.

Workshop 2 – Developing Student Centred Teaching and Assessment for Bioethics

Henriikka Clarkeburn, Glasgow University

University of Glasgow has integrated ethics into the undergraduate bioscience curriculum. Ethics was introduced to 13 biology degree courses in third year. The new ethics teaching aims at developing moral decision-making skills and is designed to relate directly to the science curriculum. Ethics is taught in structured discussion groups and ethics Problem Based Learning exercises. The student-centred approach to ethics teaching is followed by assessing PBL in learning logs. The success of the ethics courses has been evaluated by a moral development questionnaire including a three story Defining Issues Test, Osgood scale Perry statements, and free answer moral sensitivity question.

This talk will outline the teaching approaches chosen, provide samples of the material developed, and discuss the assessment method adopted.

Workshop 3 – New Medical Curriculum At the University of Glasgow: Developing Higher Level Abilities

David Lloyd and Christine Macpherson, Glasgow University

This session will give attendees the opportunity to hear about the changes which have taken place in the undergraduate medical course at the University of Glasgow, as an example of a problem-based, student centred, self-directed curriculum. We will describe how the design and implementation of this innovative curriculum assists students to develop their higher level abilities.

A background to the changes and an outline of the new course will be given, paying attention to particular aspects of the curriculum, mainly problem-based learning, aspects of group work, the role of Special Study Modules and the forms of assessment utilised within the curriculum.

Delegates will then be shown a short video showing a PBL group working on a typical scenario. Higher level abilities important to our curriculum will be identified and discussed in relation to the course and the individual as well as in the wider context of professional development, given the career paths of our students. An interim report will be given describing the extent of evidence and experience in encouraging higher level activities amongst the students. Finally, prior to the discussion being opened to the floor, areas where improvements might be made will be addressed.

Workshop 4 – Open Space Session

Each participant attending this session will give a brief (2 minutes) overview of what experience they have in the area of developing students high level abilities and what they would like help / ideas on. After everybody has had an input, a way forward can be worked out. This may involve more than one activity taking place if necessary.




Parallel Workshops:

Workshop 5 – Promoting Independent Learning in the Early Stages of Higher Education

Moira Fraser, University of Aberdeen

This workshop will present a range of ways in which students have been encouraged to develop skills to become more independent and effective learners. The underlying principles are that, in first and second year courses:

self-direction in learning should be encouraged and courses should inspire students’ curiosity in their academic subjects;

developing a range of transferable skills as an integral part of courses enables students to more effectively manage their own learning;

developing the ability to reflect is a crucial part of becoming a more effective independent learner.

Participants will have the opportunity to discuss the process of revising courses, possible methods of assessment, and examples from their own and other institutions.

Workshop 6 – Developing a Reflective Approach to Higher Order Learning: the use of problem based learning and electronic reflection journals

Professor Ray McAleese, Heriot Watt University

Reflection journals used within a PBL approach to learning enables learners to become more aware of their skills and competencies. The experience of an undergraduate credit bearing module on Problem Solving suggests that learners can acquire and develop reflective observation within an experiential learning module. Using the Kolbian experiential learning framework to structure the module, undergraduate students can be helped to become more aware of experiences, to conceptualise these experiences within a problem solving context and to test what they come to know in problem solving exercises. While most learners become more aware of experiences and reflect on them – some seem to be “cue blind”. Why?

Workshop 7 – Abilities Developed Through Working While Studying

Melissa Highton, Napier University

Napier University offers a range of personal development modules providing students with structures through which to plan, evaluate and reflect upon the skills they are developing outside the University. Three modules cater for different kinds of work experience: volunteering in the community, working as a classroom assistant in a school and making the most of part-time term-time paid work. Each module is based on the completion of a reflective diary, setting personal goals and plans and a range of reflective tasks, helping learners to recognise and value core skills and take control of their own learning through the development of critical self-awareness. In each module students reflect on situations in which they have had to develop effective interpersonal relationships and make value judgements. Their diaries show clear evidence of self analysis.

The development of these modules over 7 years has produced a range of successful learning materials which support and encourage reflection and skills development in context. Feedback from students indicates that they find these modules enjoyable and valuable.

This workshop will offer participants an opportunity to find out more about these modules, browse through some of the materials produced by students and discuss the ways in which this kind of reflective writing can be assessed.

Workshop 8 – Open Space Session




Closing Plenary

Dr Ray Land, University of Edinburgh