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Designing Programmes for Learning: Foundations and Aspirations

A University of Nottingham conference exploring the design of curricula and assessment at programme level.

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Dates: Tuesday 11 January and Wednesday 12 January 2022
Location: Online on Microsoft Teams
Cost: Free to attend (no fee)
Intended audience: Anybody (internal and external to the University of Nottingham) who has an interest in the design of programmes of study in Higher Education.

Student learning and student experience are directly related to the design of programmes of study. Over the past 15 years, there has been increasing interest in design of curriculum and assessment at programme-level, resulting in a number of initiatives across the sector. It is now timely to share some of the progress that has been made and consider how to effect institution-wide transformation.

This conference offers a platform to share progress at different institutions. We will consider both the foundations of programme-level design and also the institutional aspirations. The conference will include a variety of session types, ranging from keynotes from experts to inspire and educate us, through to localised cases of good practice and experiences of leading institutional change.

Register for the conference

Registration for the conference is now open, you can register for the event using this Microsoft Form linked below:

Sign up for the Designing Programmes for Learning Conference 

Who do I contact?

  • For questions about this webpage or administrative enquiries for the conference, please contact Matthew Watts Email .
  • For questions about the overall Programme Design project at the University of Nottingham, the conference programme and sessions (including if you’d like to get involved in delivering a session*), please contact Carmen Tomas Email.

*There is still time to get involved. Whilst the agenda is packed, we would like to hear about other cases of improving programme level design of curriculum and assessment.

Conference programme

A full programme for the conference will be available in December 2021, but we have included preliminary details for each day below.

Day 1 - 11 January 2022
Foundations of programme level design of curriculum and assessment

Day 1 covers the fundamentals; giving insights into what we mean by programme level design of assessment, why we need it and possible institutional approaches towards achieving it. 

Sessions will include:

  • Keynote session by Professor Cees van der Vleuten: Programmatic Assessment.
  • Progress in programme-level design of curriculum and assessment at the University of Nottingham.
  • Case studies from Medicine and Health Sciences, Science, Arts, Engineering and Social Sciences.
  • Student co-designers sharing their experiences on being involved in programme design.
  • The role and impact of the Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment (TESTA) project to promote change across the sector.

Keynote 1 - Programmatic assessment, Professor Cees van der Vleuten, Maastricht University


Cees van der Vleuten is a Professor of Education at Maastricht University, Department of Educational Development and Research in the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences.

You can find out more, including past publications at his website:

Keynote Abstract:

Programmatic assessment

In the last 50 years the field of assessment of professional competence has seen remarkable progress. Developments in assessment technology have taken place across all areas of professional competence, ranging from cognitive to behavioural and emotional aspects of competency. This has been accompanied by extensive research. In order to make assessment more meaningful for learning, however, we need to change our thinking around assessment. We need to move from assessment of learning to assessment for learning, from individual assessment methods to a systems approach of assessment, from cross-sectional assessment to longitudinal approaches to assessment. This presentation will give an account of such a holistic approach to assessment, called programmatic assessment. This approach to assessment will be explained and illustrated with an existing assessment practice.


Day 2 - 12 January 2022
Aspirations: values, institutional transformation and data

The second day looks at a range of aspirations for the sector. We start the day thinking about embedding values in the curriculum. This will include insights from experts and a discussion of practice.

  • Keynote session by Dr Jan McArthur:  Aspiring through Assessment - Rethinking the role of assessment in programme design and student achievement.
  • Embedding values in the curriculum: How can we approach this in practice?

We end the conference with roundtable discussions, inviting leaders from across the sector to discuss their experiences of:

  • Institutional transformation to enable effective programme design.  Cases will include: Brunel University, University of Sheffield, Nottingham Trent University and others.
  • The role of data in understanding and managing programmes. What are the ideal programme level analytics to support best practice? What developments have there been in practice? Cases include the University of Hertfordshire, a Jisc funded project at the University of Nottingham and others. 
  • Keynote 2 - Aspiring through assessment: rethinking the role of assessment in programme design and student achievement, Dr Jan McArthur, Lancaster University



Jan McArthur is Senior Lecturer in Education and Social Justice in the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University

Keynote Abstract:

Aspiring through Assessment: Rethinking the role of assessment in programme design and student achievement

This keynote builds on my work on Assessment for Social Justice, a concept which is itself based upon assessment for learning.  Given what we know about the powerful role of assessment in shaping what and how students learn, can we extend this to consider how assessment can contribute to broader aspirations, such as greater social justice within and through higher education?


Thinking of assessment at programme level provides a wonderful opportunity to consider the developmental role it can play in students’ engagement with complex knowledge, development of disciplinary/professional identity and their development as members of society.  From my own critical theory perspective, individual and social wellbeing are mutually dependent.  Therefore we need to create opportunities within the programme curriculum for students to develop a sense of socially-based achievement: a sense that they are doing something that contributes to the wellbeing of others.  Without this, their own individual wellbeing is necessarily truncated.  This broader, aspirational approach to assessment does not deny that sometimes it is about the building blocks of disciplinary knowledge and small, discrete tasks.  But at some point in the programme students must have an opportunity to do more, and to be recognised as having more – on that social level – to offer.  This form of achievement can never be captured in the empty signifier of a grade or degree classification.  Such an approach also enables meaningful engagement between assessment practices and other urgent issues relating to EDI, decolonisation and the climate emergency.

  • Documentation and video captures from the event

The event will be recorded, and relevant materials will be made available afterwards.


If you are a member of University staff and have any problems or queries relating to this page, please email Conference's lead organiser  Email.
This page was last updated on 23 November 2021 at 09:43 (GMT)