The value of selective 'Technology-Enhanced Learning' (TEL) tools in evidencing Conformity, Creativity and Criticality in the provision of 'high-quality' education as required by the Student Contract to educate (SCTE) in a new era of accountability in the UK higher education. Can conformity be a catalyst for creativity and criticality?

Dawn Story, Annie Mccartney, Clare Kell, Darren Evans

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Background and Context

    This paper will aim to answer key questions on the capability of selected TEL tools (and the digital evidence generated by them) to demonstrate that education of ‘high-quality’ has been made available to all students, however flexibly they choose to learn. Education of ‘high-quality’ is an implicit requirement of the SCTE and there is increasing demand for credible and reliable evidence that this is being provided to all students (S. Stevens 2017) . Recent higher education case law both national and international also shows increased legal attention being shone on the quality of academic provision .

    Conformity as a term naturally aligns with complying with standards and laws and for the purposes of this paper discussions will focus on complying with the standards and laws that need to be met in discharging the SCTE (D. Palfreyman 2017) and, specifically, delivering education of ‘high-quality’ . The requirement to deliver education that conforms to standards of ‘reasonable skill and care’ will be given a priority in this paper as S.49 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 requires that consumer contracts such as the SCTE meet and conform to this standard of performance. The paper will also address the different approaches to ‘quality’ and ‘standards’ in the context of the SCTE when viewed through legal and educational lenses.

    Contractual promises made to students that educational provision will be of ‘high-quality’ need to be honoured but articulating what this complex term means is challenging (E. Hazelkorn et al 2018) and there remains little consensus in the sector on how it should be defined or measured (E. Hazelkorn et al 2018) . The paper will however argue that criticality (G. Gojkovab et al 2015) and creativity are essential features of ‘high-quality’ academic provision for today’s students across all disciplines and that these skills are vital to underpin graduate preparedness for the 21st century workplace (S.Norton2018) . Therefore, providing education that is of ‘high-quality’ could act as catalyst for ensuring that essential skills of creativity and criticality are part and parcel of such ‘high-quality’ delivery. It will be important that accurate definitions of ‘creativity’ and ‘criticality’ are provided in this paper and in the context of the SCTE. The paper will also address the difficulties for students in enforcing contractual promises where provision falls short on expectations of ‘high-quality’ by virtue of the doctrine of judicial deference to academic judgment(D. Palfreyman and T. Tapper 2014) .

    The paper will carefully balance the opposing views of academics who consider that strict adherence to rules and standards in education can undermine the development of skills in criticality and creativity compounded by TEL, which for some has the potential to threaten academic freedom (B. Johnston et al 2019) and spontaneity in teaching (L. Tett and M. Hamilton 2019) in what is perceived as an increasing culture of ‘surveillance’(M. Spooner and J. McNinch 2018) .

    UK higher education finds itself in a highly changed and ‘compliance driven’ environment which not only seeks to hold key stakeholders (HEI, academic and student) accountable for the quality of the academic provision at the ‘classroom coalface’(E. Hazelkorn et al 2018) but demands are also being made for reliable and trustworthy evidence that this is happening in this local environment (T. Strike et al 2019) . This shift to focussing on what happens in this local environment (seeking to hold actors accountable for their part in what transpires here) could be said to represent a new era of accountability in UK higher education. It will be important in this paper to track the evolution and development of this new era of accountability and what this new face of accountability looks like and for immediate purposes why discussions on ‘conformity, creativity and criticality’ are highly relevant. Accountability and ‘high-quality’ are inextricably linked in this research and being clear on how both terms are defined for the purposes of this research is carefully reviewed in this paper (F. Brill et al 2018) .

    The selective TEL tools reflect a broad range of educational tools from MCQ assessment, to lecture capture and collaborative learning tools (Appendix 1). The paper will assess the extent to which individually and collectively they can scaffold and support ‘high-quality’ provision. The importance of appropriate underlying chosen pedagogy enabling the development of critical and creative skills is fully explained and the extent to which the TEL tools support chosen pedagogical models specially selected for this task (T. McCowan 2019) . (Please see Appendix 2).

    Research on the value of the selective TEL tools to evidence compliance with the terms and conditions of the SCTE was carried out at USW over a ten-year period. However, for the purposes of this paper the research will focus upon the findings from a special case study (L. Ashey 2017) on ‘high-quality’ conducted in 2019 and how well the TEL tools and the digital evidence generated by them evidence that ‘high-quality’ education has been provided. This case study combined both secondary and primary data in the form of a mini literature review on ‘quality’ and its educational counterpart ‘standards’, supported by a semi-structured questionnaire that was completed by a range of senior education professionals, government and students as well as a semi focus legal group to gauge their respective viewpoints on how ‘high-quality’ might best be judged in terms of legal liabilities and duties of the stakeholders. The legal opinions from legal professionals who took part in the semi-focus legal group demonstrated that the terms ‘quality’ and ‘standards’ could be used interchangeably especially in relation to ‘high-quality’ teaching which is at odds with educationalists who view the terms distinctly and separately.(D. Palfreyman and P. Temple 2017)

    A list of common markers of ‘high-quality’ provision was circulated to key stakeholders to assess the feasibility of a ‘common approach’ to high-quality provision across the disciplines and to act as a benchmark by which it could be fairly evaluated. These markers were then presented and discussed at an open forum workshop at the USW annual learning and teaching conference in June 2019. The findings show that whilst individual disciplines will have their own specific ‘high-quality’ requirements there was agreement on commonality of some of key markers as being feasible and workable across disciplines.

    The judge in the case of Siddiqui v University of Oxford [2018] stated that resolving disputes about educational provision will come under the spotlight given the costs of tuition and that resolving such disputes via litigation should be the last resort. Used effectively and transparently, TEL tools can provide admissible and relevant evidence for HEIs, academics and students alike of the entire activities of the classroom . The paper will also conclude on the findings of an independent report by USW on the value of the TEL Tools to defend against standard mock complaints and disputes by students on quality of provision and their effectiveness in avoiding and amicably resolving disputes for all stakeholders. USW will also be used as a case study to show how recordings from lecture capture enabled a tracked and transparent account of what took place at the classroom chalk-face that facilitated swifter resolution of disputes related to academic provision.

    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2019
    EventSHRE International Conference on Research into Higher Education - Celtic Manor, Newport, United Kingdom
    Duration: 11 Dec 201913 Dec 2019


    ConferenceSHRE International Conference on Research into Higher Education
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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