Teaching Council Policy Guideline: Flexible study opportunities at the University of Tampere

The Teaching Council has approved this document on 13 April 2015.

This is a summary of the guideline. Whole document can be found from the page Teaching Council Policy Guidelines in intra.

NB: This is an unofficial translation. In the event of any discrepancies between the Finnish and English versions, the original Finnish version shall prevail.

Background and objective of the guidelines

According to section 40 of the Universities Act, “the university must arrange teaching and study guidance so as to enable full-time students to gain their degrees in the normative time”.The University executes the arrangement of instruction and academic counselling required by the Universities Act primarily through systematic curriculum design. Curriculum design is the most important method for ensuring and improving the quality of instruction, learning and competence, and is also used to fulfil the University’s duty to evaluate and develop degrees, studies and instruction. In the University’s strategy, one of the central education-related duties is that instruction is planned and organised in a way that enables the students to complete their studies within the set target times. Promoting flexible study opportunities and year-round education in curriculum design are methods that can help to ensure that students can smoothly progress in their studies and complete degrees.

Curriculum design is an on-going process that is linked to the values, principles and culture of the field of study and degree programme in question, as well as to the nature of the relationship that university studies have with the surrounding world, society and working life. Curriculum design should predict and take into account the changes occurring in science, society and the world, as well as in learning processes and future skills needs. In recent years, the world has witnessed – and will continue to witness in the years to come – major changes in skills needs as well as in learning techniques and learning environments.

To support the smooth progress of studies and, secondly, to respond to the challenges set by the new and changing learning techniques and skills requirements, there is a need to use and develop diverse methods for instruction, learning and assessment that support the achievement of the desired learning outcomes. Instruction and skills assessment should exploit various learning environments and flexible modes and times of study that enable the smooth progress of studies for diverse types of learners in different life situations.

According to the results of the student surveys of the University of Tampere (2006–2014), almost 30 per cent of second-year students, nearly 40 per cent of third-year students and approximately a half of all fifth-year students feel that work along studies slows down their progress in university studies at least to some degree. Also the Education and Research 2011–2016: Development Plan compiled by the Ministry of Education and Culture mentions work along studies as one of the factors slowing down students’ studies. Work along studies, however, has also been shown to enhance studying and, in particular, to help in finding employment after graduation. Nevertheless, other hindering factors mentioned in the Development Plan speak perhaps more strongly in favour of improving flexible study opportunities than of working along studies: “inadequate student and career guidance, inflexible teaching arrangements, and problems with study skills and motivation” (Ministry of Education and Culture 2012, 45).

According to student surveys, the lack of academic advising and student counselling hinders the progress of studies for approximately 35–50 per cent of the respondents to at least some degree. The difficulties relating to academic counselling increase as the studies proceed. Hindering factors that are connected to instruction arrangements and completion of courses are, judging by the responses, linked in particular to the overlap in course schedules and availability of course literature: approximately 70 per cent of the respondents feel that these factors hinder the progress of their studies at least to some degree. In addition, almost 50 per cent of the respondents see that the difficulties to get accepted onto courses slow down their studies at least to some degree. Problems with motivation and commitment to studies, in turn, are less of a problem according to the responses, although 30–40 per cent of the respondents do see these factors as problematic. Hindrances relating to study motivation and commitment have, however, decreased over the last two years.

Approximately 30 per cent of the respondents struggle with problems relating to study techniquesthat slow down studies. The purpose of this policy guideline is to support and guide the faculties increating flexible study opportunities in curriculum design, as well as to provide various examples ofhow flexible study opportunities can be implemented in practice. In addition, this policy guideline describes actions that can be taken to support the promotion of flexible study opportunities at the University.

Flexible study opportunities: Guidelines and examples

The basic values of the University are academic freedom, creativity and social responsibility. This means that everyone has an equal right to learn, to acquire knowledge, to participate and to make an impact on society. […]

Teachers will be encouraged to use methods which motivate students to good and ethically sustainable, multicultural learning. Open learning environments will also form part of student education. From the beginning, students will be guided towards applying their critical skills in the search and assessment of information and knowledge and in their use and construction of their acquired knowledge

Promoting and developing flexible study opportunities can prevent and reduce problems relating to academic advising and student counselling, instruction arrangements and to students’ motivation, ability and commitment to study. The following section describes methods for implementing more flexible study opportunities with the help of the curriculum, teaching schedules, learning environments and

Flexible study opportunities in the curriculum

A competency-based curriculum is a tool for designing instruction and courses, as well as for study planning and for academic advising and student counselling. With the help of a curriculum, education is formed into a target-oriented entity, from which redundancies in the courses are removed. The curriculum is also used to demonstrate interconnections between different courses and modules. Additionally, a curriculum includes essential information pertaining to courses, academic advising and student counselling, students’ personal study plans and the smooth progress of studies, as well as to skills assessment and registering completed coursework, theses etc. The curriculum helps to ensure that all students are treated equally as learners. Equal treatment can be promoted by taking into account different learning styles and the challenges of learning, as well as by designing the curriculum in a way that the need for special arrangements in assessing individual students can be avoided. An essential aspect in the curriculum design is to ensure that students can smoothly progress in their studies and complete their studies within the set target time.

Within the framework of the curriculum, the smooth progress of studies can be ensured by:

  1. including alternative modes and forms of study for course units and other parts of study modules and degrees
  2. ensuring that the curriculum does not include any restrictions that would hinder the progress of studies, such as unnecessary compulsory prerequisites, overlap or other inconsistencies
  3. ensuring the diversity and variety of instruction and assessment methods as well as modes of study on the level of instruction planning
  4. ensuring that students have the opportunity to complete an internship and the internationalisation module without hindrance
  5. increasing the freedom of choice between study modules in selecting course units and by promoting cooperation that overcomes boundaries between degree programmes, faculties and higher education institutions when designing free choice studies
  6. securing that the degree programme offers a sufficient number of courses that support study skills and methods as well as skills for lifelong learning and that the competence in these skills increases with clear goals throughout the degree programme.

Flexible study opportunities in the teaching schedules

In the teaching schedules for each academic year, courses and learning assessment must be organised in a way that enables the students to pursue their studies effectively and in a purposeful order within the time frame specified as the normative duration of studies in the Government Decree on University Degrees and Specialist Education (794/2004). The faculties monitor the productivity and effectiveness of their programmes and develop the quality and quality management of instruction, studying and academic counselling.

Within the framework of the teaching schedules, the smooth progress of studies and development of flexible study opportunities can be secured by

  • evenly distributing the hours of instruction and the strain put on instructors and students through
    • more even distribution of classes over the entire week
    • more even distribution of classes over all teaching periods and the entire academic year
    • summer classes and studies
    • Open University studies
    • evening classes
  • using and developing various methods of instruction and assessment through
    • blended learning
    • inquiry-based learning
    • problem-based learning
    • online learning
    • distant learning
    • peer learning
  • utilising and developing electronic services in various and systematic ways through
    • Moodle and other digital learning environments
    • the timely acquisition of learning materials and the use of electronic materials
    • opportunities for video recording and distant instruction
    • electronic exams.

Flexible study opportunities in the learning environment

Learning environment is a diverse, multimodal and comprehensive physical, mental, social and digital entity. The learning environment is not restricted to the campus area but instead extents far outside it in space and time. The learning environment is always connected to diverse social, cognitive and cultural interaction, which is context-specific.

Within the framework of learning environments, the smooth progress of studies, development of flexible study opportunities and achievement of the learning outcomes can be guaranteed by

  • constructing an environment that promotes learning, ability to study, community spirit and a good atmosphere
  • creating spaces where the scientific community can meet and interact as well as learn together and participate in common activities
  • taking into account the diversity, flexibility, ergonomic aspects and attractiveness of physical spaces
  • providing quiet spaces for students to retreat to
  • providing students with the opportunity to use their own devices and equipment in physical spaces
  • taking into account the accessibility and openness of the learning environment
  • utilising and developing digital learning environments and new educational technology.

Flexible study opportunities in academic counselling

Academic advising and student counselling systematically promotes the processes of studying and learning. The purpose of academic counselling is to support the students’ agency, i.e. their ability to plan, steer, implement and assess their own processes. Students carry the ultimate responsibility for their own learning processes, including the goals and the choices related to them. Academic counselling helps students to find and utilise their resources in a manner that enhances their independence and clarifies their possible ways of action.

Within the framework of academic counselling, the smooth progress of studies and development of flexible study opportunities can be guaranteed by

  • ensuring the availability, sufficiency and timeliness of academic counselling from the beginning to the end of studies, enabling the students to progress in their studies in accordance with the curriculum and complete their studies within the proposed time
  • supporting systematic and target-oriented studying especially with the help of personal study plans (HOPS) and the development of expertise especially in class
  • taking into account different types of learners and life situations in academic counselling, particularly in counselling related to the personal study plan (HOPS)
  • streamlining the recognition and accreditation of prior learning and securing that sufficient academic counselling supporting the smooth start of studies is also available for those students who have a considerable amount of previously acquired skills and knowledge when they begin their university studies.

Measures to enhance flexible study opportunities

Degree programmes

  1.  Encourage and teach students to learn in a responsible way through inquiry-based methods from the outset until the end of their studies.
  2. Take into account different and changing learners and learning techniques in instruction and academic counselling as well as in planning and developing these.
  3. Collect and utilise feedback on instruction, learning and the learning environment in diverse ways.
  4. Encourage students to take advantage of the flexible study opportunities and guide them to recognise how the difference between various forms of instruction and learning affect their own skills; this could be done, for example, with the help of learning outcomes and assessment procedures.
  5. Actively engage students in the planning of flexible study opportunities.

Faculties

  1. Ensure that the instructors possess sufficient instruction skills and the ability to apply different solutions in the learning environment to enhance students’ learning.
  2. Provide instructors with time to develop their competence by, for example, ensuring that there are periods without instruction.
  3. Regularly assess and evaluate the quality of education provided by the faculty and systematically develop it with the help of feedback and other information.

University

  1. Support the development of instructors’ expertise by providing education in university pedagogy.
  2. Support the faculties in planning their instruction and in developing, using and distributing varied and diverse methods of instruction and assessment.
  3. Develop the physical, mental, social and digital learning environment and ensure its accessibility.
  4. Secure sufficient and accessible electronic services for learning, studying and instruction.
  5. Ensure the sufficiency and accessibility of up-to-date and relevant study materials by further developing electronic materials and their possible applications.
  6. Formalise the existence of a working group for the development of learning environments and create a plan for improving the learning environment.