Case Study 03: Activity Led Learning (ALL) for Master’s Project, Engineering, University of Coventry
The ALL for Masters Project was funded by a Higher Educational Academy Teaching Development Grant and operated from 1st January 2012 until 31st March 2013. The project investigated how Activity Led Learning (ALL) could be incorporated into postgraduate taught programmes in the Engineering Management department of the Faculty of Engineering and Computing at Coventry University.
- Explore views of different stakeholders about benefits and disadvantages of applying ALL to PGT programmes
- Pilot and evaluate ALL for some programmes and modules
- Propose a framework for implementing and integrating ALL across PGT programmes
- Revise PGT programmes and monitor
PGT, Activity Led Learning (ALL), PBL, graduate employability, International students, Part-time students
Describe, briefly, the activity/initiative/practice
The starting point was to look for answers to the following questions:
- Does the one-year study interval for full-time PGT students provide sufficient time for adaptation of students’ learning styles to ALL?
- Will international students and part-time UK students find an ALL experience appropriate?
- Can we devise a standard framework and structure for the faculty’s subjects?
- Would pre-publicity of an ALL approach be seen by prospective students as a positive reason (USP) for applying to CU?
- Could we integrate UG and PGT programmes using ALL?
- Could integrative ALL activities be designed for individual PGT courses, across PGT programmes and disciplines? Would this be a useful experience for students?
- Do employers and companies see ALL potential for improving employability?
To find evidence to answer the above questions the team analyzed documentary evidence about PGT curricula and pedagogy conducted student questionnaires at different stages during the study, targeting different cohorts; conducted focus groups and interviews with different categories of students, academic staff, representatives from local industry, academics from outside the department and internationally; designed the curriculum, assessment and delivery methods for one new PGT programme to incorporate an ALL approach, piloting and monitoring from autumn 2012; revised and adapted a part-time operation of a module to incorporate ALL, piloting and monitoring from autumn 2012; Trained student employees (advocates) undertook most of the student-facing research work.
Based on the amassed evidence a report was produced that set out a series of recommendations and proposed a framework for revising PGT programmes to incorporate ALL.
What is the background/context to the activity/initiative/practice?
Since 2007 the Engineering and Computing Faculty at Coventry University has transformed the way undergraduate students learn by developing and implementing a faculty-wide Activity Led Learning (ALL) approach. This has led to improved retention and engagement of students and enhanced student employability. In September 2012 the faculty moved to a new building (ECB) that had been purpose-designed for ALL. The development of ALL and the design of learning spaces was evidence-led, building on good practice observed and studied elsewhere across the world, for example in Problem and project based learning, CDIO and similar approaches.
The ALL for Masters project aimed to extend the good practice to the PGT students in the faculty, but first it was necessary to investigate whether it was feasible to implement ALL for PGT programmes and if so, how should this be adapted to meet the different needs of the PGT student population.
What made/makes it “masters” level?
ALL requires a discovery approach to learning, leading to acquisition of deep and sustained knowledge and understanding. This ethos is particularly pertinent to master’s studies with learning outcomes and assessment criteria drawing on the higher level characteristics of analysis, synthesis and critical evaluation (Bloom’s Taxonomy).
A few words from academic staff about ALL for Master’s:
- “They love it! They enjoy it! It encourages deeper sense of learning”
- “They appreciate its interactive nature. Some students (especially Chinese) find it difficult, but when they get used to it, it’s beneficial for them”
As the second quotation suggests, the mixture of about 75% international full-time PGT students, with many mature UK and international students bringing wide ranging work-place experiences, demands a careful approach to changes that impact on the student experience. Prior to beginning their PGT programme, many students have only experienced learning by rote and memorisation of facts for examinations and some have not been in education for many years. ALL can be an extremely challenging experience, but if done well, this approach brings with it great rewards to the learning potential of students.
ALL encourages module leaders and programme directors to devise innovative and inspirational assessments, often involving industry and external contacts.
Although this approach has been successfully implemented at undergraduate level, the maturity and experience that the PGT students bring to the table makes it work very effectively in the courses where we have piloted this approach so far.
What challenges were encountered/overcome - in terms of mastersness - and what lessons were learned that would be helpful to others?
At the outset of the project some PGT module and programme leaders believed that many PGT students would not accept an ALL approach, because their background led to expectations of passive learning, but this proved not to be the case. In fact introducing ALL led to opportunities for integrative and holistic learning. The student respondents talked about developing transferable skills and acquiring contextual knowledge that brought together the broad range of subject knowledge
ALL is often but not always team-based learning, which for different reasons can be seen as problematic by many PGT students, UK, EU and non-EU. Some interesting experiences and ideas emerged from the research about how to manage groups in diverse PGT classes.
There are specific challenges relating to PGT international students:
The short time to adapt to a completely new culture of study before the first assessment is due International students enrolling late because of visa problems can be very disruptive to ALL teaching. Some students arrive with weak English language skills and a small number with weak IT skills
Preparation, induction and support systems need to be put in place to address the above challenges. A small number of students find ALL not suited to their learning style, but almost all students can adapt and find this way of learning fulfilling and very rewarding.
Almost all module leaders who were initially sceptical about ALL at PGT level are now more confidently implementing some elements of ALL in their modules, as evidenced from the student and staff feedback captured towards the end of the project. It is possible that this transformation was assisted by the inclusive, non-judgemental approach to the capture of evidence from academic staff, coupled with positive student feedback.
Where to next - in terms of mastersness – if anywhere?
The 15-month project timeframe was insufficient time to fully implement it across the department. A PGT framework for ALL programmes as been designed and a consultation about implementation across the faculty is beginning.
The research revealed some excellent practice already in place in parts of the faculty, generating exceptionally good student feedback. However the research also highlighted a few examples of poor practice, that will now be addressed. The big challenge is now to ensure that the recommendations are followed through to enhance the quality of learning for all students in the faculty and beyond.
Journal papers are being prepared about the research and the team would be delighted to have opportunities to disseminate more details about the findings from this project.
This is a bibliography rather than a reference list. ALL for Master’s Website.
- Bretag, T. (2007) The Emperor’s New Clothes: Yes, there is a link between English language competence and academic standards, People and Place, vol 15, no 1 pp 13-21.
- Booth, G. and P. White (2008), Innovative Curriculum Development within the Motorsport BEng course at Coventry University, proceedings of Engineering Education 2008 International Conference on Innovation, Good Practice and Research in Engineering Education: EE2008, Loughborough University, 14-16 July, accessed 10 September 2009.
- Caspersen, S. 2007. Preface, in Kolmos, A., Fink, F.K., and Krogh, L. (Eds.), The Aalborg PBL model - Progress, Diversity and Challenges, (pp 7-8), Aalborg: Aalborg University Press.
- Cooke, G., Lewis, P., Moron-Garcia, S. (2011) “Passport” to learning: An international Student Perspective, 3rd International Research Symposium on PBL, Coventry University.
- Cooke, G., Lewis, P. (2012) Assessment for ALL: an international student perspective, EE2012 Conference proceedings, September 2012 at Coventry University
- Davis, T. and J. Davies (2008), Using part-time students to improve the student experience, proceedings of Engineering Education 2008 International Conference on Innovation, Good Practice and Research in Engineering Education: EE2008, Loughborough University, 14-16 July, accessed 10 September 2009.
- Dunn, I., White, P., Farmer, R., Lawson, D., Patel, D. (2009) Developing learning spaces to support Activity Led Learning, 2nd International Research Symposium on PBL, Victoria University Melbourne, December 2009.
- Gibbs, G.(2010) Dimensions of Quality, Higher Education Academy.
- Glendinning, I., Michalska, A. (2012) ALL for Masters: Exploring effective delivery of Activity Led Learning for taught postgraduate students, EE2012 Conference proceedings, September 2012 at Coventry University
- Graham, R,. (2010) UK Approaches to Engineering Project-Based Learning, White Paper sponsored by the Bernard M. Gordon‐MIT Engineering Leadership Program, available at: [accessed 04/04/13].
- Graham, R. (2012) Achieving excellence in engineering education: the ingredients of successful change, The Royal Academy of Engineering,
- http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/struggling_economy.pdf [accessed 04/04/2013]
- Lambert, C., Basini, M., Hargrave, S. (2008), Activity Led Learning within Aerospace at Coventry University, proceedings of Engineering Education 2008 International Conference on Innovation, Good Practice and Research in Engineering Education: EE2008, Loughborough University, 14-16 July, [Accessed September 2009].
- Lewis, P., Cooke, G. (2012) International Students: One size does not fit ALL, proceedings of 1st Annual Conference on the Aiming for Excellence in STEM Learning and Teaching, Imperial College 12th and 13th April 2012.
- Magdar, A., Robinson-Pant, A. (2010) International Students: Reflections on PhD supervision, Centre for Applied Research in Education, University of East Anglia.
- Ramachandran, J., and Haas, O.C.L (2010), Improving the learning experience for the first year engineering students using technology enabled activity led learning, proceedings of Engineering Education 2010 International Conference on Inspiring the next generation of engineers: EE2010, Aston University, 6-8 July, [accessed 16/04/12]
- Robinson-Pant, A. (2009) Changing Academies: exploring international PhD students’ perspectives on ‘host’ and ‘home’ universities, Higher Education Research and Development, vol 28 (4) pp 417-429
- Vyakarnam, S., Illes, K., Kolmos, A., Madritsch, T. 2008. Making a difference- A report on Learning by Developing, Laurea Publications B.26, [Online]. Available: [accessed14/05/2012]
- Wilson-Medhurst, S. (2008) Towards Sustainable Activity Led Learning, Innovations in Teaching Learning and Assessment [accessed 20/04/2012]
- Web site Higher Education Academy’s Teaching International Students Project (2011) http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/internationalisation/Introduction_to_project.pdf
Author's name, contact details and institution
Irene Glendinning, Coventry University, Faculty of Engineering and Computing, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gill Cooke, Coventry University, HEA England
Phil Lewis, Coventry University
Anna Michalska, Coventry University