THE 4 WEEK CHALLENGE: A CASE STUDY
University of Central Lancashire (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2012 Proceedings
Publication year: 2012
Conference name: 5th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 19-21 November, 2012
Location: Madrid, Spain
Abstract:This paper depicts a large-scale intervention within a 1st year Computing undergraduate university cohort. The course is a full 20 credit, Level 4 module comprising of 120 1st years studying at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). The students are from all manner of academic backgrounds. Many have studied either Computing or IT at school or college, whilst others have not undertaken any previous or formal qualifications in the subject.
An Action Research study was organised and the content of the first module was redesigned to take students through a challenging (yet highly-scaffolded) project. The aim was to show them where their course could take them as the year progresses This first module is scheduled to run full-time during the first four teaching weeks of the semester and became known as The 4 Week Challenge or 4WC. The structure of delivery of the whole year needed amendment so the 1st year was remodeled such that the 4WC module could be delivered full-time over these first four weeks. This acted as an introduction to university life and the course in general. The rest of the modules followed on after this initial module finished, and was delivered in the more traditional long and thin mode.
The motivation for this study was to improve the student experience generally – whilst specifically targeting issues surrounding student engagement and retention in the 1st year. Additional aims were also to help students make the transition from school to University so that they will be better prepared to enter the 2nd year of their degree.
Delivering the first module as a block enabled a small team of staff to work closely with students, building strong relationships at the start of their degree. This meant that students could be carefully monitored and supported at this crucial time. The experience of other universities has shown that by structuring the students’ first few weeks in this way, student expectations of being at University and of their course, in particular, can be managed more effectively.
The restructuring of the content of other modules builds upon the positive experience of the first four weeks, whereby students can appreciate how each module fits into a more integrated whole. The contents of several other modules have also been reorganised and updated so that they amalgamate more explicitly, enabling students to see and make connections between subjects more easily. This also resulted in teaching activities being used to exploit these connections in a more engaging way.
The implementation of the 4WC has shown an improvement in student marks and student retention. The response to this intervention has shown that students have been enthused by the early results and are clearer about what they are going to study in depth later on. Consequently, students are more committed to the course, and retention rates have improved quite dramatically. In addition, students should be able to make better-informed choices about their future course options, having had exposure to the products on some of the different courses.
Keywords: Curriculum design, computing, retention, block teaching.