Back in December Selina (Jobson) and I thought we’d try and get to grips with the latest educational acronym ‘TEF‘ and find out what on earth its all about. Spoiler alert – there are a quite a few acronyms coming up! We attended a briefing event in London at which representatives from the Dept. of Education (DofE), the Higher Education Academy (HEA), and the National Union of Students (NUS) explained what TEF is, how it will operate and what it’s meant to achieve. The day also included presentations from two University administrators on how their Institutions are preparing for TEF, a presentation from the Vice Chancellor of the University of Greenwich and a general discussion.
So… what is TEF?
It’s a scheme introduced by the government with the aim of measuring the quality of teaching at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Universities will be given a rating to indicate the level of teaching quality they provide and as the scheme moves forward it will cover teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels and then move on to give subject /discipline level ratings. There are three areas (criteria) against which Universities are rated – Teaching Quality; Learning Environment and Student Outcomes & Learning Gain - which then produce one overall rating. The ratings will be Gold, Silver and Bronze. This year it’s a voluntary scheme but the vast majority of HE Institutions have decided to participate (299 in total).
The government’s aim is that TEF will be used to:
- Provide clear information to students about where the best provision can be found
- Encourage providers (i.e. Universities) to improve teaching quality to reduce variability
- Help drive UK productivity by ensuring a better match of graduate skills with the needs of employers and the economy
- It will also be used as a mechanism to allow Universities to raise the level of tuition fees charged to students (more on this later!) and to promote quality, choice & greater competition.
How will it work?
TEF ratings will be mainly assessed by metrics – what are those I hear you cry? Metrics are large sets of data and statistics which Universities already coordinate and provide to bodies such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). It will also be important that all academics involved in teaching have recognised Teaching Qualifications – here at Bath there is likely to be a major push to ensure this happens. Three years-worth of metrics will be used for TEF and they are
- National Student Survey (NSS) - for info on students’ perceptions of the quality of teaching, assessment, feedback, academic support
- Destination of Leavers from HE (DLHE) – the annual survey of recent graduates which provides info. on what our graduates are doing e.g. are they in ‘graduate’ employment or further study or unemployed!
- Higher Educations Statistics Agency (HESA) data – the annual return which is prepared by SREO and which covers recruitment and retention (in broad terms the number of ‘student bums on seats’)
- In the future TEF might also include additional metrics e.g. Longitudinal Earnings Outcome (LEO) data (what type of employment graduates have 5 years after graduation).
Each University also submits a written report (limited to 15 pages – the font and margin sizes have also been specified). This written report should explain or comment on any anomalies in the metrics (contextualise the data) but primarily focus on the impact and effectiveness of teaching. The ‘student voice’ is also supposed to be clear within the written report. Ultimately each University’s written submission will be published.
The metrics and written submission are then considered by the TEF Assessment Panel, chaired by Prof Chris Husbands, VC at Sheffield Hallam University (appointed by the government for 2 years). The TEF Panel will announce the outcomes and award Universities Gold, Silver or Bronze ratings which are valid for 3 years. If a University has been awarded a ‘bronze’ it could choose to reapply to TEF in subsequent years to try and raise its rating but otherwise you keep your rating for three years.
What’s the timeline?
We’re in the first ‘proper’ year of TEF (elements of the process were kick-started in 15/16 TEF year 1 which is why 2016-17 is referred to as TEF year 2).
The University submitted its written report at the end of January, the TEF Panel will now start reviewing all the metrics and reports from all participating Institutions and the outcomes will be announced in late May. We’ll find out whether we’ve got GOLD!!
Next year (2017-18) the TEF approach will applied to subject level pilots and in the following year (2018-19) taught postgraduate programmes will be included.
Not surprisingly there’s a lot of discussion and debate about TEF. Here’s a potted summary of views and opinions about TEF,
- There’s a general welcome for the focus on teaching and the quality of student’s learning experience, as it’s considered to be long overdue.
- There are hopes that the esteem and profile of teaching will be raised (compared to research).
- However there’s concern that the metrics themselves don’t actually tell you how ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ a University’s teaching is and in any case no-one really seems to be able to define what ‘Teaching Excellence’ is (although apparently everyone knows it when they see it). What for example can the metrics on post University destinations and employment tell us about the quality of teaching a student received?
- TEF ratings (gold, silver etc.) will be directly linked to the level of fees a University can charge its students. From 2018-19 those Universities with a gold or silver rating will be allowed to increase undergraduate fees at a higher rate than those Universities with a bronze rating. Over time this will lead to a widening gap between higher and lower fee charging Universities. The NUS is particularly unhappy about the link between TEF and fee levels and has voted to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) in protest. As the NSS scores are one of the key TEF metrics it’s not entirely clear what impact the boycott will have.
- The NUS is also concerned that the reliance and focus on metrics will drown out the ‘student voice’
- There are significant reputational implications for Institutions awarded a bronze or even a silver award. Who wants to go to a University that’s not got gold?
- Subject level TEF will be a whole new challenge – what happens if at a subject level you’re rated bronze but at a university level you're rated gold (already being referred to as medal clash)?
What’s been happening here at Bath
The University’s written report went in to the TEF Panel at the end of January. I don’t know what went into the report or who was consulted but I should think the Students’ Union was involved. There’s a real drive towards getting all academic staff involved in teaching to have formal Teaching Qualifications, which you may have heard discussed in various fora. The Bath branch of the NUS is formally participating in the boycott of NSS (more details can be found here: https://www.nus.org.uk/Documents/Boycott%20the%20NSS%20Flyer_.pdf.
And if you’re interested in finding out more…
Come and have a chat with me (Rachel Summers) or Selina - we most definitely do not have all the answers but might be able to point you in the right direction to find them.
Do you remember what you were doing on October 27 2016? I do. It was the day we launched our new Faculty of Engineering & Design web pages. This made us the first of the four faculties/school to publish its section on the new Bath website (sorry Science).
The ease with which our pages went live was testament to the months of preparation and hard work put in by Beth and me in our team, my fellow editors from other faculties and the digital team. Since then, we’ve taken every opportunity to spread the word about our new pages and encourage feedback. So far the response has been positive and it’s proven a good opportunity to discuss the thinking behind the new look.
Reasons to be cheerful
Some people I've shown the new pages to have looked a bit shocked at how different the new design is to the old site. But there are good reasons for this.
All our new pages adapt to the size of the screen they are displayed on. If you've ever tried to look at our old pages on your mobile, you’ll recall the good old squint and pinch action required to change the view from silly to sensible size. A bit of delving into analytics shows that people are using different devices to view our pages more each year. In 2011, 3.66% of users were accessing our engineering pages from a mobile device. This figure has risen year on year to 17.82% for 2016. So making our web pages responsive reacts to the shift in how people use the internet. It puts our users and their experience first. It also neatly coincides with Google's work last year that saw new search algorithms rolled out to boost rankings for mobile-friendly sites.
An uncluttered page makes for a better user experience. It's easier on the eye and allows visitors to scan for salient content. It also addresses the design preferences of our core audiences. User research by the Nielsen Norman Group suggests that young adults prefer minimalist and flat designs as they let them scan content quicker.
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, once said:
"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
Our design and content choices are made with W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in mind. This means we're trying to make sure that everyone using our pages can get to all the information they need. This echoes something especially important to me: our values and duty as a university to promote inclusivity, equality and diversity.
Finally, something I can take some credit for! With clean designs and an easy-to-use content publisher, we can focus on producing quality content that people want to read.
What's in the box?
So I’ve talked about what you see when you access our pages but not so much about what we (editors, authors, contributors) see when we input content. The new content publisher replaces OpenCMS as our content management system. If, like me, you've had the pleasure of using OpenCMS, you probably won't be too sad to say goodbye to it. You may miss me apologising to you for what I've often optimistically called its 'random quirks'. But maybe not too much.
My favourite bits
Structured content. There are 12 content types in the content publisher. Every time we create a page, we choose an appropriate template to match the content e.g. project, event, case study or announcement. The beauty of these templates is that they are straightforward and easy to use with a clear purpose that focuses on the user need. We also use markdown so there is minimal formatting needed.
No more broken code! The way the templates are built means that you can't accidentally break any HTML, which was a recurring problem for users in OpenCMS. The time I would have spent seeking out and fixing rogue divs can now be better spent working with subject matter experts (you lot) to craft engaging content.
Empowerment and education. Because the content publisher is easy to use, it's also easier to train people. This helps us devolve responsibilities and roll out access to more users. It also means we can focus on the important stuff; namely, good content! We can spend more time looking at how to write better content as well as share skills and best practice. We already have clearer guides on:
My hope is that this new approach to web content will ignite a positive culture shift to more collaborative working between requesters and creators.
But how did we get here?
In September 2015, Beth and I spent a week in Digital Basecamp working on transitioning Faculty content. We had already audited all our existing pages and chosen an action (e.g. major edit, split, merge, archive) for each page. At this stage, it was decided that recruitment content would remain out of scope until the new 'course search' app was built. This is why you can still see our old Graduate School pages.
We wrote user needs for all the content we wanted to transition and assigned them a content type. We used Trello to track the progress of the sprint. We created cards for each piece of content to transition and ranked it in terms of difficulty using the Fibonacci sequence. Each piece had to go through a series of editing, reviewing, fact-checking and proofing before it reached the 'ready for live' stage.
During the sprint and in the following weeks, we transitioned the agreed existing Faculty content as well as creating some new. So we were ready to publish, right? Wrong. Transition came to a halt for reasons beyond our control and probably best not to dwell on now.
Skip to a year later and we were back in Digital Basecamp reviving the Trello board and dusting off our not-so-new content. The problem with time is that it keeps changing things. We couldn't simply publish the content that we'd created the year before because a lot of it was now out of date. We spent another week and a half reviewing, updating and creating content before I could rejoice in the fact that we were ready for final sign off. And that brings us back round to 27 October 2016 when I celebrated launching our new pages by making a plastic dragon roar.
I'm not going to lie; at times, transitioning this section has felt more like a marathon than a sprint. But it has been worth it. I've learnt a lot about content over the past two years: how to audit content, how to better structure and write content, and how to think about its value to our audience. These are things I want and hope to share with others.
So what next?
Although signing off the Faculty section felt momentous, we still have a way to go before we can burn OpenCMS. Four departments, a new course search app for undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and a multitude of research centres are all banging down my door. At the front of this queue is Electronic & Electrical Engineering content. We are going to spend a week in April working with Ann and Cassie to transition the department content for elec-eng. I'm confident that the work we've already put in on this and the lessons we've learnt along the way will make for a smooth transition sprint.
If you have any questions about transition, please email email@example.com. If you've seen the new faculty content and want to feedback, you'll find a 'suggest an improvement' link on the bottom right of all pages.
The Task List function in Confluence is useful in its basic form (as a 'tick box') but if it is used to its full extent (i.e. including a name and a deadline with each task) it can be used to help keep track of tasks and produce personalised reports.
Task Report is a macro that produces an up to date list of tasks (i.e. what is written after a Task List 'tick box') which can be filtered on a range of attributes, enabling you to quickly survey progress on single or multiple projects.
Task Report has the following function:
- allows you to create a dynamic list of tasks from the spaces/pages of your choice, filtered by whether they are complete or incomplete, who they are assigned to, who created them, etc.
How to add Task Report
Firstly, make sure you have tasks recorded on Confluence, beginning with the Task List 'tick box' followed by the Confluence username of the person assigned the task, a brief description of the task and the deadline for the task, e.g. Then...
- Place you cursor where you want the Task Report macro to appear
- Click on Insert (in the tool bar above) then Other Macros from the drop-down menu
- In the pop-up window, type task report into the search box
- Set the variables up as you wish (say, whether you want to list tasks that are complete or incomplete)
- Click Save
How to use Task Report
Task Report can help users monitor their own tasks across multiple spaces; allow project managers to survey progress across all aspects of a project; support managers monitoring the workload of individuals etc.
Additionally, recording tasks in this way (with the username and deadline) means that an email will go to the user mentioned to inform them that this task has been assigned to them and when it is due.