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Institutional Story



Project Information 

Project Title and Acronym  Personalised Curriculum Creation through Coaching (PC3) 
Start date: 1.9.2008 End date: 31.7.2012
Lead Institution  Leeds Metropolitan University 
Partner Institutions  None 
Project Director  Janet Finlay 
Project Manager and contact details 

John Gray, johnrichard.gray@gmail.com

Main contact now: Janet Finlay, janetfinlay@mac.com

or Dawn Wood, mail@dawnhwood.co.uk

Project Website  http://www.pc3.org.uk 
Design Studio Page 


http://jiscdesignstudio.pbworks.com/w/page/29224117/Personalised Curriculum Creation through Coaching %28PC3%29 project

Programme Name  Curriculum Design 
Programme Manager Sarah Knight/Lisa Gray






















This institutional story provides an overview and summary of the main activities, findings and outputs of the  Personalised Curriculum Creation through Coaching (PC3) project. For more detail on the evaluation of these activities, please see the Evaluation Report.


PC3 originally aimed to develop a process, together with supporting technology structure and necessary regulatory change, to allow students to design their own curriculum, based on their learning needs, supported by coaching. The original vision was to do this through a centralised “shell” course structure, into which students could “drop” the curriculum elements that they needed to meet their particular learning needs.


However, seismic changes in institutional management from almost the start of the project, meant that we were unable to get support to introduce a cross-institutional course of this type, so we tested the concept of coaching to support curriculum choice, by developing a module within the Carnegie Faculty, with a small cohort of school leaders. Although the coaching element was very helpful to these students, the personalisation of their curriculum proved difficult for them. Further institutional changes meant that we were unable to recruit a second cohort to this, and instead we started to work with staff to embed coaching within their programmes. We have worked with staff in five different areas but the most substantive has been a 3-year intervention with Sports Management students, where coaching has been introduced incrementally into all three levels of their employability strand. Evidence from both students and staff is that this has been very beneficial in terms of student performance, self development and confidence. Overall approximately 420 students have been through a coaching-supported curriculum supported by the project. We have provided introductory coaching training to 150 of these as well as to more than 60 members of staff. In depth coaching training has been given to 11 members of staff and 8 students. Coaching resources have been offered to all academic staff. 


We also shifted our emphasis from an institutionally driven intervention to engaging students themselves as agents for curriculum change, recruiting student coaching ambassadors to contribute ways of promoting the use of coaching among their peers. They have proposed both a modular approach to coaching, focusing on introducing coaching early in the curriculum, as well as using the university’s volunteering programme to support a coaching “office” run by students for students.


We are developing a Coaching Toolkit to support students, staff, course teams and institutions interested in applying coaching to their curriculum, which includes models of coaching for learning, module resources, sample contracts and templates for coaching conversations, staff guides, ePortfolio resources, staff and student workshops (structures and resources), a business case for coaching, three large and three mini case studies and a collection of digital narratives on the impact of coaching.


We have demonstrated that coaching is a highly effective support process for students, particularly in the areas of self-assessment of competencies and personal development planning. We have tested and developed models to introduce it into the curriculum and resources to underpin training for both staff and students.


What are the headline achievements of your project?

PC3’s achievements are not those originally planned and anticipated. The project was forced to change course and emphasis on a number of occasions due to repeated changes in the context of the university. However there are five things that we are particularly proud of, which have either led to genuine improvement in the experience of both staff and students at Leeds Met or that have the potential to help other institutions.


  1. Development and testing of a number of models for the use of coaching within the curriculum, including a module-based approach and cross-course peer coaching.

The project has developed a number of models for using coaching within the curriculum. The most successful of these has been the use of staff-student and peer coaching to support an employability strand for a full programme at all levels, for a cohort of around 250 students. This has proved to be highly successful in terms of improving student performance and confidence as learners and helping them to set and achieve goals. The evidence for this is included in a case study (Sports Management Case Study). Other models, such as using coaching to teach (Media Studies Mini Cases and embedding coaching through a module-approach (PLC Case Study), have been used with smaller groups. The use of coaching is now being adopted in three further discipline areas at Leeds Met (Health, Media Studies and Fine Arts) and has been embedded into the staff development support for the curriculum refocus. It is an area that has enormous potential both within and outside the institution and this Toolkit is offered to assist other institutions who wish to explore this potential.


  1. Development of extensive coaching resources, including a coaching module and staff development resources [Toolkit]

The project has developed a Toolkit of coaching resources, case studies and documentation, to support students, academics, course teams and institutions, wishing to introduce a coaching approach. The Toolkit is wiki-based and contains learning materials, outlines for a module, staff and student workshop series, contracts, case studies and a business case. There are different paths through the Toolkit to help different constituencies make best use of it. This is one of our main deliverables which is designed for the wider sector as well as Leeds Met. (Note: this report is now embedded within the Toolkit itself).


  1. Promotion of self reflection within the institution leading to the adoption of an institution-wide ePortfolio system

Coaching encourages personal reflection by examining goals, actions and options and uncovering potential blocks to progress. This can be supported through tools such as ePortfolios that allow students to assess their progress and gather evidence to demonstrate they have met their goals, as well as recording the process of personal reflection. From the start the project team have been closely involved in a small group, developing a case for an institutional ePortfolio to support this process, collecting evidence of need and value, assessing alternative solutions and supporting staff wishing to use ePortfolios with students, particularly for personal development planning and reflective practice. The university eventually committed to procure an institutional ePortfolio and in the end decided to adopt and extend our instantiation of Pebblepad for this purpose. We were therefore able to support this process, particularly with staff development support.


  1. Engaging students as agents of change

The project has established a group of student “coaching ambassadors” who are working on ways of introducing their peers to coaching across the curriculum. These students are developing a plan for extending and sustaining the use of coaching within Leeds Met, including introducing coaching in a Level 4 module and developing a coaching “office” as part of the volunteering programme, through which students can support students. Full details of this initiative, including the processes used and the benefits observed are included in Case Study 3: Coaching Ambassadors.


  1. Facilitating transformational change in individuals involved

This is an achievement often overlooked in evaluating the impact of projects, but is among the most significant in this case. The project has brought about significant personal development for the people involved in the project, including the project team, the course team and other staff we have trained and the students (over 70 staff and 420 students have benefited from coaching through the project). Reported benefits include increased self-awareness, better listening skills, new opportunities for learning, changes in focus and removal of blocks to development. Some of these personal stories are captured as digital narratives in the Toolkit.  For example, students report benefits to their study motivation and planning as well as career benefits, helping them to prepare for job applications and interviews by clarifying their goals and objectives. Students also report coaching other students and presenting coaching training as part of their assessment for another module. All five members of the original project team have moved on to new careers facilitated by their involvement in the project. Three of these are establishing a company, Coach to Learn, to facilitate the use of coaching in higher education, as a direct result of the project.


What were the key drivers for undertaking your project?

The idea for PC3 arose from discussions between Margaret Christian, then responsible for Carnegie Leaders in Learning development programme for aspiring head teachers, and Janet Finlay, of the university’s newly established Technology-Enhanced Learning team. In the months following the publication of the Leitch report (Leitch, 2006) Margaret was looking for a flexible, technology-supported framework to facilitate the growth in part-time, work-based learners that the report encouraged. The learners she worked with were busy professionals within education, with a wide range of different skills and prior experience, who needed to be able to choose appropriate development opportunities, rather than a “one size fits all” offering. They are also geographically dispersed and have many personal and professional pressures on their time. Coaching, as a personal, non-directive form of personal development support, was already familiar to these students in their professional context. What started as a discussion on possible technical infrastructures to support a particular group of learners, quickly developed into a proposal to support flexible curriculum using coaching, supported by technology.


At the time, coaching was a core strategy at Leeds Met, with a commitment at the top level to developing a coaching culture within the institution (Ashton, 2008) and the Assessment, Learning and Teaching conference the year before had had coaching as its theme. So there was a growing awareness around the university of the power of coaching for personal development and the potential within teaching and learning.


In addition, there was a new institutional focus on flexible learning. Colleagues in registry had just completed a HEFCE-funded project on flexible learning (Stinson, 2008), which had led to changes in university regulations to allow more flexible study patterns. More agile curriculum development structures were also being used, particularly within our Regional University Network (RUN), which had validated “shell” courses, where the structure was validated, allowing particular instantiations of this structure to be created rapidly through minor modifications, in order to be responsive to the needs of industry. In other areas of the university the Research Training programme, previously a taught Postgraduate Diploma, was being reconstructed as an individualized programme, based around a learning contract. There was an emphasis in the institution, particularly after Leitch, on increasing postgraduate provision and doing so in a way that enabled flexible learning. A proposal had been made to create a “Graduate Faculty” which would allow students to access graduate learning in one place rather than dealing with what were often seen as artificial Faculty boundaries. Documentation supporting this specified that students in this Faculty would be offered “learning through coaching” (Leeds Met, 2009a). There was also a recognition that the university needed to consider untapped postgraduate markets including leisure markets (Leeds Met, 2009b) .


The university already had an IPOS (Individual Programme of Study) programme in place but it was only being used in one of the six Faculties. However it was widely seen as problematic in a number of key areas. Firstly, it was felt that students on the programme did not have enough support to make sensible curriculum choices that would lead to a coherent programme of study. There was a distrust of encouraging what was seen as a “pick and mix” approach to curriculum design. There were also both pedagogical and financial complications where students wished to take modules from different Faculties – how would prerequisite learning be dealt with and how would funding be distributed? Finally there were technical issues arising from the Faculty-centric nature of university systems – if they were studying across Faculty where was their “home” within the virtual learning environment and other student data systems?


Within the context of wanting to grow part-time work-based and postgraduate student numbers, was it possible to support a process of personalized curriculum design by learners using coaching, while also addressing the pragmatic issues associated with flexible programmes, such as having flexible supporting technologies and dealing with funding? This was the driver which led to the PC3 project. Its main aims were to use coaching to support individual pathways of study without leaving students in the lurch and to introduce a genuinely supported individualized programme. The vision was that students would sign up to the PC3 programme and, through a process of self-assessment and coaching, populate a “shell” course structure with a curriculum suitable to their individual needs. They would then be able to follow this curriculum either face-to-face or through distance study and in part-time as well as full-time mode.


Institutionally PC3 was seen as particularly valuable in developing an infrastructure to support the “long tail” of the educational market, where the emphasis is on selling unique and personalized items to many individual customers, rather than the traditional academic model of selling a particular item (i.e. a course) in quantity.  It was hoped that it would allow the university to provide flexible, anytime, anywhere study for non-traditional learners (Leeds Met, 2009b).


What was the educational/organisational context in which you undertook your project?

Leeds Metropolitan University is a large post-92 institution with a focus on teaching and learning and student experience. It currently has 29000 students and 3000 staff across two campuses. It also has a strong network of partner colleges. While these elements have remained fairly constant, the organizational context in which PC3 took place is a tale of two halves and, as a consequence, so is the project. Roughly half way through the project the organization changed dramatically, seeing a complete change in management, a restructuring of Faculties and a change in policy and direction.


When the project started in 2008, coaching was a core principle at Leeds Met, and there was a policy in place to develop the university into a coaching institution. A new national coaching centre had just been established and coaching was being promoted as a model for engagement with students, through the assessment, learning and teaching team. The university was established as a centre for the Institute of Leadership and Management in order to offer coaching qualifications and leadership training for managers included coaching.


PC3 was located within the Technology Enhanced Learning team, a central university academic team promoting the appropriate use of technology in assessment, learning and teaching, as part of the Office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor for assessment, learning and teaching. As such it had central support at the highest level within the institution. As well as the original stakeholder group of Carnegie Leaders in Learning, several other Faculties and groups had committed to working with the project on a range of programmes. These included professional courses in the Faculty of Health, leisure courses in the Institute of Northern Studies and professional development courses for the Regional University Network.


Our initial baselining activity (Baselining Document) analysed the current state of play relating to flexible learning within the university. A recent HEFCE-funded project had reviewed and adjusted the university regulations to make flexible learning more feasible. However, PC3 did not simply want to allow flexible study patterns. The vision for the project was to allow a student to come into the university and design their own programme of study from available modules across all the Faculties, based on their own assessment of their learning needs, and supporting this process through coaching. There were a number of points where the regulatory, practice, financial and system contexts mitigated against this. Firstly, although more flexible, students still had to be enrolled on to a specific course within a particular Faculty in order to begin their studies. There was no mechanism for them to be able to engage in coaching towards planning their curriculum, without first being enrolled on a course.  Secondly, an analysis of the level of sharing of modules across the university indicated that module sharing tended to be quite parochial – within Schools primarily, with some sharing across Schools within the same Faculty but very little sharing across Faculties. There was a sense of protectionism within many Schools about their modules, with concerns about inadequate pre-requisites, costing issues and ownership common when the possibility of cross-Faculty sharing was raised.


In addition, although the regulations had been updated to make flexible learning more feasible, there were still potential stumbling blocks for introducing fully personalized learning, including appropriate benchmarking, naming of awards, maximum periods of enrolment. There were also pragmatic, administrative issues such as how students would be represented on examination boards and where their records would be held (all Faculty-centric) as there was no precedent for a non-Faculty-based programme of study. Student-support systems in the institution, including the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and student record system (Banner) had been set up to reflect this, but in doing so also reinforced this position: students were attached to Faculties and to modules on courses. Access to modules elsewhere in the institution or enrolling students centrally was not facilitated by the technology as it stood. These were the issues we were working to resolve in the first part of the project (see section 5 for how we did that). 


However, in January 2010, the appointment of a new vice-chancellor, began a process of change that had a huge impact on the project and the extent to which it could continue to pursue its original vision. The period prior to this had brought a lot of uncertainty within the university, from the departure of the previous vice-chancellor in January 2009, through an inter-regnum year of care-taking where it was difficult to affect change, through the appointment of the new vice-chancellor. Once in post, the new vice-chancellor instigated a process of restructuring of the Faculties, reducing them from six down to four, and, in the process, disbanded one of the stakeholder groups we had identified (Institute of Northern Studies). A new group of Deputy Vice Chancellors were appointed, and there was a complete change in the Deanery.


The project team was also relocated after a long period of uncertainty. The Office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor was closed and the Technology Enhanced Learning team was disbanded in 2010, to be replaced by a Centre of Learning and Teaching. However this was not fully functioning and staffed until well into 2011.


Over the year that followed it became clear that the plans initiated through PC3 were no longer a priority for the university. Although a full undergraduate curriculum refocus was initiated, the proposals that the project made to embed coaching within this process were judged unfeasible within the timescale. Coaching, although still offered on a one-to-one basis was no longer a central priority of the university: the university Coaching Forum and the ILM coaching qualifications were shelved in 2011. It is possible that there is some political “baggage” associated with coaching as it was strongly promoted by the outgoing management team.


The curriculum refocus focused on reducing the number of modules and courses rather than increasing flexibility. However the introduction of a set of required graduate attributes (including employability) and a collection of curriculum principles, offered the project an opportunity to contribute to the process, with examples of coaching to support employability, and guidance in how to use coaching to provide personalized student support (one of the curriculum principles).


As well as changes in the institution the project saw some significant changes in the team over the course of the project, with one core member leaving, one having a period of long term sick leave, one changing role and a new member joining. These changes also influenced how the project has developed and redefined itself over time.


What was the technology context?

One of the initial drivers for the PC3 project was the need for a flexible technology platform to support part-time work-based learners. The initial framework for PC3 was designed in conjunction with Carnegie Leaders in Learning, our first stakeholder group, and made use of a combination of existing and new technologies. The framework had five core elements, illustrated below (Figure 1):

  • Carnegie Coaching Lab. This was the core of the PC3 Framework, the point of entry for learners, and was to facilitate access to all other elements. The coaching lab would enable enrolment on individual curriculum pathways, through open awards (validated via learning outcomes rather than specific content), personal learning contracts and/or accreditation of work-based learning. It would provide training procedures for both staff and students to make best use of coaching. It would offer media-rich communication, self-assessment and review of practice and offer initial access to learning, using existing video conferencing technologies amongst others.
  • Health Check. The health check was to enable learners to assess their current achievements and identify skills and knowledge gaps, using online diagnostics, self-assessment tools, audit functions, and competency frameworks. These tools would be drawn from professional bodies, academic and employability sources.
  • Learning Bank. The Learning Bank was to give the learner access to resources to support their study, from complete module provision to individual learning objects on relevant subjects. With support from their coach, the learner will identify the resources they need to meet the learning outcomes they are trying to address. The Learning Bank was based on the existing university repository, with an intention to provide routes through this space to enable its effective use. The Learning Bank would also contain modules on coaching and related topics, produced by the project as Open educational Resources (OER). 
  • Studeo.  This was the learner’s personal space where they can organize, reflect on and develop evidence for their learning. It was to incorporate an e-portfolio system and would allow the learner to create shared learning spaces, for interaction with coaches, colleagues, employers or other groups, where co-construction of learning can take place.
  • Commons. This was to provide a facility for mutual support through a private social media space, using existing tools, initially Google-based.


Initially the university had some, but not all of the technology in place to support this. The university repository existed, although it was mainly, at that point, focused on research outputs (it had been designed to enable sharing of learning resources and this phase was taking place alongside PC3). Some work had been done on diagnostic frameworks, mainly through the HEFCE-funded CETL Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings (ALPS) though there was no central technology available in the university to support this. The university had instigated a trial of the Elluminate web conferencing software and this was accessible both from within and outside the virtual learning environment (VLE). Strategically, however, technology-enhanced learning had a high profile. The university had just established a central, academic Technology-Enhanced Learning team, which was actively promoting appropriate use of technology in learning. A “minimum expectation” for the VLE was introduced, and support was given to staff to ensure that all modules had at least a minimal presence on the VLE, although the VLE (Web CT Vista at that point) was still very module-oriented and did not promote cross-sharing or non-traditional course structures.




Figure 1: Initial PC3 technology framework


We were therefore initially strongly committed to developing the PC3 platform to be outside of the VLE, though making use of it to deliver content, and anticipated that a key technology would be an ePortfolio, with built in self-assessment tools, to support the Health Check and Studeo elements of the framework at least. At the time the project started there were a number of groups using project-funded ePortfolio tools for specific purposes, as well as creating ePortfolio functionality out of more general tools (such as blogs, wikis and podcasting tools). However, there was no institutional ePortfolio in place.


Early in the project we were therefore active in the process of acquiring an institutional ePortfolio, and two team members were among a small group within the TEL team who initiated an ePortfolio review process, with the aim of assessing the institutional need for an ePortfolio and making recommendations to the institution. This group recommended the purchase of an ePortfolio to support core activities in 2010, but due to the institutional changes no action was taken. PC3 decided to use Pebblepad with a limited number of licences to support the project, and this instantiation was finally officially adopted by the university and extended to cover all students and staff, in 2011.


As the project progressed, however, and it became clear that a module-based approach as going to be necessary for at least the pilot phase (see section 6), we decided to implement the framework within the institutional VLE in order to ensure compatibility with other systems. This proved to be quite feasible by embedding links to PebblePad and Elluminate, while using built in functionality from Campus Pack to give shared wiki space and forums. The advantage of this approach was simplicity - we were using mainly familiar tools for staff and students and delivering them through a common, supported platform. The disadvantage was that this approach still restricted delivery to a particular cohort attached to a module within a Faculty.


When we trialled this with our first cohort, they found the use of multiple technologies confusing. They were part-time work-based students so were not all familiar with the VLE, which didn’t help matters, and they found learning multiple tools, with multiple sign-ins difficult (at this stage PebblePad was not integrated with the VLE - since then it has been formally adopted and has a single sign-in with other institutional student-facing systems). This was less of an issue with later groups who had already been inducted into Leeds Met’s systems.


The other significant technology area was the use of technology to support the coaching itself. Initially, we had anticipated using Elluminate or Skype to support one-to-one coaching but the initial cohort were generally reluctant to use these. Instead they opted for face-to-face or telephone coaching. However, later we have trialled video conferencing technology for coaching with one or two coachees. The quality of the image and the audio is sufficient to support development of rapport and the additional whiteboard tools in Elluminate make it possible to use a range of coaching tools within the process. We developed a set of templates for these for use in Elluminate-based coaching and these are available in the Toolkit.


One surprising element for us came when the Sports Management cohort were given free choice as to tools they could use to support their peer coaching and several groups chose to use Blackberry Messenger and even private Facebook groups. Our preconceptions about the coaching process would have precluded such tools as losing too much in terms of tone of voice and expression but the students found them valuable ways of coaching each other at a distance and even asynchronously. Although clearly a different style to face-to-face coaching, they were still able to use coaching principles to challenge, reflect back and support each other, through these familiar technologies.


Further details of the technologies used and considered by the project can be found at http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/pc3


How did you approach the project?

PC3 has always been on the boundary between the Curriculum Design and Curriculum Delivery programmes, since our focus was on the student experience and our aim was to allow learners to specify their own curriculum rather than streamline processes for staff to develop and validate new curriculum. However since this required a cross-curricular approach, we needed to address challenges at an institutional level.   We therefore had strong connections from the beginning with our Assessment, Learning and Teaching team (later Centre for Learning and Teaching) as well as administrators, managers and, of course, students.


Our initial plan was to work iteratively through four case studies representing students in Education, Health, Northern Studies and the Regional University Network, starting with Education, through Carnegie Leaders. For the first iteration a basic platform would be developed, with constrained choice, but the aim was to develop this, with each iteration, to broaden the available choice and eventually develop a cross-institutional shell course, into which students could “drop” their chosen curriculum.


We consulted academic and administrative stakeholders very early in the project, through a launch event in September 2008, following this with regular consultations through staff development events, project presentations and consultations with relevant special interest groups, such as the flexible learning group, the personal tutoring network and the coaching forum. Our consultation with students was initially through consultation with specific cohorts but in the latter part of the project has been largely through the student ambassador initiative.


The launch day consultations [Launch Day outcomes] and our baselining exercise [Baseline document], where we examined existing university regulations and systems to identify where our proposals might require changes, between them raised a number of issues that we needed to address, including integration with existing systems, managing student and staff expectations, developing students and staff as coaches, managing and sharing resources and dealing with cost and regulatory issues. We have dealt with several of these in the course of the project, with others being overtaken by wider events in the university.


Our first challenge was how to implement the PC3 approach to allow us to establish “proof of concept” without having to address all the regulatory, cost and module sharing issues first. The concept of a cross-institutional course did not exist – all courses were “owned” by a Faculty. However feedback from our stakeholders suggested that the perception that a course was owned by one Faculty, was a potential barrier to adoption by other Faculties – “not invented here” had the potential to be significant issue for us. However, getting the regulatory and administrative changes required to have a genuinely cross-institutional course, would be time consuming and, in the context of the changing management of the university, not something to which anyone was prepared to commit at that point.


The way the student record system (Banner) and the VLE (Blackboard) was set meant that it was not possible to give a student access to any university services without them being enrolled on a course of some kind. We therefore selected the smallest such course – the module – and decided to develop a module that would give students access to the coaching and self-assessment elements of the PC3 framework and support them in making their curriculum choices. Since modules had to be owned by Faculties, we validated the module initially within the Carnegie Faculty as part of the Leadership Pathways programme, with the intention of creating a module that could be adapted to each Faculty’s needs. This was undoubtedly a compromise from our aim of a centralized programme but it allowed us to progress the concept within the uncertain context of change within the institution.


The module approach allowed us to introduce coaching for curriculum personalization into a programme in a way that could be costed and administered, but it also introduced some changes from the original plan. The coaching became “front-loaded” rather than being available to students throughout their study. The curriculum choice also had to be made “up front”.  Our initial plan to develop a bespoke, ePortfolio-based platform to support PC3 was postponed, due to the university launching the ePortfolio consultation – we didn’t want to progress with a particular application that might not be the one selected by the university as this would lead to sustainability issues. We therefore purchased temporary ePortfolio (Pebblepad) licences for the cohort and utilized existing technology, including the VLE, Elluminate and Google groups. This allowed us to set up the necessary functionality, within a framework that was sustainable within the institution, while waiting for the decision about the ePortfolio to be made.


The module was designed as an M level, 20-credit module, based around reusable learning objects, on coaching, self-assessment, curriculum choice and personal development planning, supported by regular one-to-one coaching. The assessment was designed for two purposes: for the student to identify their learning needs and propose a curriculum to meet them, and for the student to reflect upon the process, the technology platform and their coaching experience. The former was to provide the student with a plan on which to select their curriculum choices (40% of the Leadership pathway could be personalized), the latter to give us evaluation data from this pilot scheme.


As part of this process we felt it was important that the core team were actively developing as coaches, so we all enrolled (alongside members of Carnegie Leaders in Learning) in a year-long Level 5 coach development programme, accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management. All five original members of the core team were therefore able to qualify as coaches as part of the project. Two members of the team went on to complete Level 7 accreditation, an advanced coaching programme. This gave us confidence both to coach our students and to develop and offer coaching training for staff.


We recruited 10 students, all aspiring head teachers to the module, with their module fees paid for by via a grant to Carnegie Leaders in Learning. The students knew that the module was new and experimental, and would be delivered online with personal coaching, and agreed to take part. The PLC module was piloted as a distance learning module with 10 aspiring head teachers, joining the Leaders in Learning programme. The module operated over two semesters in 2010. Of the 10 students who signed up for the module, only two completed it to the point of assessment. Although there were several students with unforeseen personal, family and health issues, all the students had problems with the personalised curriculum area. The coaching element was much appreciated and the students were able to reflect on their personal development needs, but taking this reflection to the next stage of constructing an appropriate curriculum to meet these needs was difficult even for those who completed. In addition there was unexpected issues of digital literacy, with several students not engaging with the technology to the point of not reading email more than once a fortnight. As a result of the problems with what should have been an ideal learner group (education professionals at M level used to the concepts of coaching and personalisation in their professional context) we reviewed the module approach. Our experience with this module reinforced our confidence in the efficacy of coaching but made us realise that we needed to find alternative ways of delivering this, through existing programmes. 


During this period we continued our discussions with staff on how to support personalisation through coaching, and offered a number of staff development opportunities to interested staff. Through this process, we began working with a team led by course leader, Nick Halafihi, who wanted to embed a coaching thread through their undergraduate Sports Management degree, to support the personal development activity. This gave us an opportunity to examine a different model, integrating coaching into existing programmes, to offer both staff and peer support to students through coaching, helping them to undertake appropriate personal development planning. Nick later joined the PC3 team and the experience of embedding coaching into a full programme is included as a case study in the Toolkit.


Due to changes in the institutional context we were no longer able to pursue the module concept in other areas (see Section 4). The change of management led to a focus on restructuring rather than personalising the curriculum. The new university priority was a complete refocus of the undergraduate curriculum to move from 15 to 20 credit modules and to introduce core “shell” modules across all courses. The intention of this was to reduce the number of modules, the amount of assessment and the amount of duplication across courses, releasing staff to spend more time with students. We made an initial proposal for aligning PC3 with the new priorities, in particular the planned curriculum refocus. This included using coaching with staff as part of the change management process for curriculum refocus (a process that is being completed within an 18 month time frame to take effect in September 2012), including coaching as part of staff development for student engagement, and including coaching in the Personal development and employability strands of the curriculum. The first of these was judged to be impractical in the time frame so we concentrated on the second two. Working with the Centre for Learning and Teaching, we developed a handbook to support staff in using coaching for personalised student support, which was delivered to all staff as part of the staff development resource pack underpinning the undergraduate refocus (also available in the Toolkit). We have run several iterations of a coaching for learning training programme and through this have worked with a number of other colleagues, exploring coaching in different areas of the curriculum, including media studies and health. These are recorded as case studies in the Toolkit. Staff are continuing to approach us with regard to coaching, and we have found that colleagues who took part in staff development early in the project lifetime, who are now in a position to introduce coaching into their curriculum up to three years on. We are also contributing to staff development on using the ePortfolio, particularly as part of our research training programme (for PhD students) and our induction programme for all new staff.


We decided to build on the work done within Sports Management, by getting students who had benefited from coaching to promote its use with their peers outside the project. We launched the student ambassador programme in September 2011 and have recruited 8 students who have received further coaching training and are exploring ways of promoting the coaching process to their fellow students. This represents a shift in direction from an institutionally-driven approach to an attempt to introduce innovation by engaging students as agents of curriculum change.


Finally, we have drawn together all our resources and experience of coaching in the curriculum into a wiki-based Toolkit, to support students, academics, course teams, and institutions who are interested in how a coaching approach might work in their context. This was launched at our Coaching to Learn conference at the end of May 2012.


A timeline for our project can be seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Timeline for PC3 project


What benefits has your project delivered and who are the beneficiaries?

The project has delivered a number of key benefits to different stakeholders, adapting our approach and outputs to meet the changing needs of the institution. These include students, academic staff, the institution, external stakeholders and the course team. What has been particularly interesting is that many of these benefits have been intensely personal: changing perspectives and behaviour of individuals who have engaged with the project, rather than more formal policy changes. However, these individual changes have had a significant impact on others through their subsequent activities.


The first group to have benefited is students. More than 420 students have benefited from coaching at some level through the project, with over 150 receiving significant coaching training. Evidence from the Sports Management module indicates an improvement in the quality of the assessment in the year that coaching was introduced [Staff interview - PDPST005]. Staff also noticed students becoming more engaged in their learning and, as a result, increasing their grades [Staff interview - PDPST007]. Students were asked to use coaching to support each other as they developed their assessed learning outcomes. Less outgoing students were able to participate in the coaching, allowing them to be more active and engaged [Staff interview - PDPST005, Staff-sport interview]. Initially the students focused only on these learning outcomes but later they started to apply the approach to the whole module [Staff interview - PDPST005; student ELESIG presentation] and then to other modules [Staff-sport interview]. Several groups developed their peer support to other areas of the curriculum and to other life events, for example, going for interview [Staff interview - PDPST005; Student ELESIG presentation; Staff-sport interview]. The students themselves reported that the process helped them to “self-coach” in other situations - that they began to ask themselves questions as they were learning [Student ELESIG presentation]. They have noticed a change in the way they interact in class, making them more reflective than they had been previously [Student Ambassador Digital Stories].One student has chosen to do a dissertation on the impact of coaching; others have included it in assessments in other areas (for example, one groups of students did an assessed presentation on a different module on how coaching could be implemented in other areas of the curriculum [Staff-sport interview].   This is also supported by feedback on coaching on the PLC module, which was described as being empowering and increasing confidence [Student PLC Assessments]. One student took the model further and introduced it in their school as a way of helping staff support each other [Student PLC Assessments].


Staff using coaching within their curriculum saw better engagement with students [Staff interview - PDPST007] and a reduction in the time they personally spent supporting students, as the peer coaching became established (PDP005). Even staff who felt they needed more expertise in coaching, felt the approach had huge potential [Staff interview - PDPST006]. However, the initial investment of time in coaching Level 1 students was significant though worth the effort for the benefits seen [Staff-sport interview].


Staff development events have introduced more than 70 members of staff to coaching principles.  The project has worked in more depth with 11 of them to make use of coaching in some way. Some staff have also gone on to undertake more in depth coaching training outside the project. Those who have used coaching with their students report very positive results [Staff-Health interview, Staff-MediaStudies interview, Staff-sport interview].


Although the institution has not adopted the personalised curriculum process originally planned by the project, it has also benefited directly from PC3 in a number of ways, both strategic and operational.  We were instrumental in embedding coaching in its assessment, learning and teaching strategy (this has since been superceded) and in driving its decision to adopt an ePortfolio. We have contributed coaching to the central university staff development programme for the past 3 years and have provided online resources, handbooks and materials for staff use, including materials supporting the undergraduate curriculum refocus (Coaching for Personalised Student Support). These have also been beneficial outside the institution, with external requests to use our materials in other coaching programmes, and 27500 views of PC3 materials on Youtube (as of July 2012), most of these coming from four learning resources on coaching and adult learning (http://www.youtube.com/janetfinlay). The course team have also contributed to the university’s ongoing individual coaching programme.


Overall, the project has developed and trialled a number of models for supporting student learning and curriculum planning with coaching. These include a module-based approach (PLC Case Study), with a full module available to be adopted or adapted to other contexts; a fully integrated model of using peer coaching across a three year programme (Sport Management Case Study); and a number of other smaller interventions for different contexts (including the Media Studies mini case study). Interestingly a number of staff who took part in staff development up to 3 years ago, are now approaching us to develop coaching with their course teams, including in Fine Arts. This suggests that this level of paradigmatic change happens very gradually, over a longer period of time than even this extended programme can support.


Finally, the project has been of significant benefit to the course team, who have all learned new skills around coaching and undertake transformational personal development, which has changed the way that they work with students and colleagues. All of these staff (from the original team) have left or will be leaving Leeds Met and following new opportunities more aligned to coaching, with three of them establishing a company, Coach to Learn, offering coaching facilitation and training to institutions, groups and individuals in the higher and further education sector, including colleagues at Leeds Met who have been introduced to coaching through PC3.


What outputs has your project produced?

We are collecting together the primary tangible outputs of the project into this Coaching for Learning Toolkit, which will be freely available to the sector. This Toolkit will provide resources to support the adoption of a coaching approach by an individual student or member of staff, a course team, or an institution. Some of these are resources that we have developed and used during the project to support students and staff and include:


A collection of models for introducing coaching into the curriculum, including a module-based approach to coaching to support personalised curriculum design; a cross-course structure for peer coaching; a framework for using coaching in one-to-one student support. Reflections on the use of different modalities and technologies for supporting coaching. 

A full set of online learning resources to support introducing a module-based approach to personalised curriculum design, including online coaching and personalisation materials, assessments and activities.

Important for the adoption of coaching at departmental or institutional level, these documents outline the expectations and responsibilities of all parties, whether in two-way coaching (coach-coachee), three-way coaching (coach-coachee-university) or four-way coaching (coach-coachee-university-employer).

These give examples of the sorts of questions to use to structure common conversations that occur in one-to-one student support situations.

Self contained staff guides on how to introduce coaching principles into personalised student support.

Online tutorials in the use of ePortfolios for self-reflection and self-assessment.

Structures and resources for staff development workshops in coaching and for student training.


Other resources have been developed through our activities and are offered to provide context and to share the findings of the project. These include:


A business case for introducing coaching within a university context, including a review of relevant literature.


Short videos by both staff and students highlighting their experience of how coaching has helped learning.



Has delivering the project brought about any unexpected consequences?

There is a sense in which most of the most successful outcomes of the project are unexpected consequences, insofar as they were not anticipated in the original bid. We had originally intended to develop a centralised model and supporting technology structure to support personalised curriculum choice across the institution, through a coaching-supported version of an IPOS programme. We actually delivered a number of models for embedding coaching in the curriculum, all of which are adaptations of this original vision.


Our first approach of supporting PC3 through a module was triggered by problems of getting institutional buy in for a cross-university programme at a time of unexpected change for the university. This approach was initially planned as an interim measure to test the concept but by the time the pilot had completed, the changes in institutional policy and priority meant that we were unable to resume our original plan.


The work we have done with the Sports Management team and their students arose from a staff development event but its centrality to the project grew as the team extended their use of coaching throughout the 3-year programme. This also led us to work with students more directly, through the Student Ambassador programme, which again was not anticipated but has been very productive. Interestingly, the students’ conclusion from their investigation into how to embed coaching across the institution is to develop a module - so we come full circle. The module originally developed for PLC has been deconstructed and the resources made available for adoption and adaptation in different contexts, including use by the student ambassador group.


Another unexpected outcome is the development of the Toolkit, which was never anticipated, but is designed to help others make best use of the outputs and lessons of the project.


The final unexpected consequence of the project is the personal impact on the team members, with all moving on to new responsibilities, four of the six outside of the institution. The project has been extremely beneficial in developing the staff involved and it is expected that this will have wider benefits to the sector in the future.


How will the project be developed further/sustained?

By the end of the project none of the original team members will still be at Leeds Met, with Nick Halafihi being the only team member remaining, based in the Carnegie Faculty. Nick will continue to develop the coaching for learning strand with his students and is considering studying this area further as a PhD. The intention is to change from Year 3 students coaching Year 1, to Year 3 coaching Year 2, with Year 1 as observers, at the suggestion of a student. This is intended to provide all students with significant exposure to coaching from the start of their studies, relatively efficiently. All students and staff involved in the course will continue to be offered coaching training, either through the university’s People Development team and through the PC3 team via Coach to Learn. There is growing interest in using coaching from people who have attended earlier staff development events and have now decided that it is time to try these techniques with students. It is hoped that these will be able to use the Toolkit and work with Nick to achieve what they want to do.


The ePortfolio has been successfully adopted by the university and is now available to all staff and students. It is being rolled out for research students and the PGCHE (without coaching at present) so this will continue, as it is now under the auspices of the Learning Support team.


Three members of the team leaving Leeds Met are establishing a company, Coach to Learn, to provide coaching facilitation and training to institutions in further and higher education. The intention is that this will allow the outputs of the PC3 project to be more widely adopted within the sector.


The student ambassadors have proposed a number of ideas for sustaining and expanding the reach of coaching, after the project end, which are discussed in detail in the Coaching Ambassador case study. One is to establish a Level 4 module to introduce coaching as part of personal development planning from the start of a student’s university career. Unfortunately it seems unlikely that this suggestion will be adopted in the institution in the current climate. However resources and a module structure are available in the Toolkit. A second suggestion is to establish a coaching “office”, run by students for students, where students can drop in if they need coaching support. Helping support such an office would be counted as part of a student’s volunteering activity and would therefore receive credit.


Summary and Reflection

Due to the extensive institutional change that has happened through the life of the project, we were not able to deliver to the original plan and the subsequent impact on formal curriculum design processes within the institution has therefore been indirect. However the project has had a significant impact on the students who have been through the coaching process and on the staff who have delivered this. The project has developed a number of models for embedding coaching in the curriculum and has produced a toolkit to help institutions, course teams, individual academics and students make use of them.


The project was operating during a period of unprecedented change at the university. Almost from the outset (the changes started January 2009) the project was dealing with the uncertainty of an interim management which hampered progress since wide-ranging decisions were delayed. This was followed by policy and priority changes brought in by the new management team. Although the team had been through a process of risk assessment when preparing the project plan, changes on this scale and with this impact were not envisaged. The project’s experience highlights one of the serious risks of long term projects but also the need for flexibility in project planning.  Facilitated by flexibility from the JISC programme team, we were able to adapt our goals, while remaining focused on the core principles of our proposal - the use of coaching to support learning. As a result, we have been able to produce some significant outputs and impact upon the learning experience of students.


As it became clear that changes in institutional priority meant that we could not pursue our original plans, we sought opportunities to introduce change “through the back door”, working directly with course teams, offering staff development opportunities, and, wherever possible, aligning our priorities with those of the institution. This allowed us to contribute to the undergraduate review by aligning with the principle of personalised student support and the graduate attribute employability, as well as to influence decision making in procurement of an institutional ePortfolio, which will facilitate the self-assessment and personal development planning that we are promoting. Innovating organically in this way, has allowed us to continue to pursue our core goals, through both the relative vacuum of interim leadership and the very controlled priorities of the new management team. Although this has been frustrating at times, as proposals have been rejected and our activities sidelined, we have been encouraged by the enthusiastic response of students and by staff approaching us, in some cases two or three years after first attending a staff development event with us, wanting our help to introduce coaching into their curriculum. 



Leitch (2006) The Leitch Review of skills, Prosperity for all in the Global Economy – world class skills, available at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/leitch_finalreport051206.pdf


Ashton, K (2008) Workplace Coaching strategy for Leeds Met (v2 October 2010). Available at http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/Workplace_Coaching_Strategy_Oct_2010.pdf


Stinson (2008) Flexible Learning Developments in Leeds Metropolitan University, December 2008 , Flexible Learning Pathfinder Pilot Project.


Leeds Met (2009a) Graduate School Vision v2 (internal document)


Leeds Met (2009b) Flexibility in Postgraduate Study - Traditional vs Personalised Study. Internal minutes. 


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