Developing a deeper understanding of course content

John Kelly

John Kelly is a Business Lecturer at West College Scotland. He has worked in the sector for over 30 years, having initially trained as a Business Studies and Economics Secondary school teacher. He has a wide range of experience in delivering Business, Economics and IT learning, including full-time, part-time, commercial and digital courses.

John used the additional teaching and learning time created by not needing to include exam preparation in his course to introduce his class to a new concept based on his professional learning. He developed a deeper understanding of the topic of “Doughnut Economics” through additional research and reading, and applied this understanding when creating lessons for his Business and Economics students.


What was the main focus of your professional learning?

During the lockdown, my focus with students shifted from assessment to learning. As a result of the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s (SQA) decision that we should grade classes based upon professional judgements, the time I would have spent on examination preparation and integration of learning could be filled with additional teaching and learning for students.

This provided opportunities to explore the outer fringes of the curriculum and introduce students to some topics and areas of study which they would not normally have the opportunity to experience.

My professional learning in this instance involved me developing a deeper understanding of some of the topics we investigated. One such example was the use and application of “Doughnut Economics” in times of crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The focus of my professional learning in this example initially involved me reading Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics: 7 ways to think like a 21st-Century Economist.

Why did you decide to engage in this professional learning?

I began with an online discussion with a colleague who taught on the same course as me. We discussed how this learning could be a relevant topic within our HNC Business Graded Unit and Economics Units.

Our discussion ranged from my interest in the topic and my view that it was relevant to the Economics element of the course, to the particular relevance of the topic for Business students living through the Covid-19 lockdown, and how they could learn from the experience.

I was familiar with the work of Kate Raworth and had been thinking about finding an appropriate section of the curriculum to slot this learning into for some time.

How did you plan for your professional learning?

I was already familiar with the Doughnut Economics model from reading Raworth’s paper A safe and just space for humanity a few years ago.

However, due to time restrictions within our courses there had been little opportunity to spend any great deal of time introducing the topic in a meaningful way to students.

I purchased the book and read it. Kate Raworth’s blog and chat provided useful ideas for incorporating the model into my teaching.

How did you use this professional learning in your practice?

The PL led to the creation of two online sessions based around using Doughnut Economics to support business in the world of Covid-19.

Students were introduced to the topic, and early discussion took place based on a series of graphics and videos taken from Raworth’s website.

"The lessons went well. Students engaged with the learning and were able to explain the model, its potential applications and the need for more alternative economic thinking in the post-Covid-19 world."

Following a brief illustration via the graphical representation of the model and student questions, students were tasked with viewing a series of short videos (each less than 2 minutes long). Again these videos came from Raworth’s site and illustrated in simple terms the key ideas behind the model.

Attached to the activity was a series of short answer questions that students completed after viewing each video.

Following this task, students then returned to the key Doughnut graphic which illustrates the model and discussed its application in the real world.

The focus for the student here was the impact of Doughnut economics on dealing with the Covid-19 crisis and accompanying issues for business.

An illustrative example from The Guardian was used to show how local authorities in Amsterdam are working with businesses and Raworth, to plan for a post-Covid-19 recovery using the Doughnut economics as the basis for that recovery.

Discussion took place with students working in groups to provide their views on what the model had to offer businesses in Amsterdam.

A further activity based upon a task available on the TUTOR2U website allowed the students to study the Doughnut model, and consider its potential role in solving the Basic Economic Problem and how this has to be balanced with the long-term needs of the planet.

The lessons went well. Students engaged with the learning and were able to explain the model, its potential applications and the need for more alternative economic thinking in the post-Covid-19 world.

What was the impact of your learning, and which next steps do you plan to take?

I certainly gained a deeper understanding of the issues which Raworth has been seeking to bring to the forefront of business and government planning for a number of years.  I am also more aware now of the need to investigate the outer reaches of the curriculum in a more structured way, ensuring that students are regularly introduced to alternative ideas in economic thinking.

My students now have an awareness of the model and its significance.  In addition to an understanding of the model and how it operates students were also exposed to the operation and application of the model in a real-life scenario (Amsterdam local authorities are using the model in planning for post-COVID 19 recovery).  This knowledge and understanding allowed the students to “think outside of the box” by gaining an understanding of, and awareness of alternative models to mainstream economic models.  By considering alternative models these students now had a broader outlook on economic thinking.  A major criticism of economics teaching in recent years has been that courses focus too much on mainstream thinking and do not expose students to alternative thinking and models.

"I plan to lead a session with other staff on the model and hope to spread the message across other disciplines that Doughnut Economics can be key to our recovery from COVID-19."

The relevance of the topic also led to a deeper understanding of the part that economics plays in business decision making.  For those students progressing on to HND study, this deeper understanding of economics has assisted them in their further studies of economics at HND level.  Had it not been for lockdown it is unlikely that we would have found the time to build this learning into our course.

Colleagues are very aware of my views on the outer limits of our courses and the need to ensure that we expose students to at least a sample of the alternatives to mainstream thinking out there. There may be opportunities in other sections of the HN Business course to consider alternative theories and models in other subject areas. This thinking has led to alternative models being embedded in new unit specifications produced within the new HN Business framework published by SQA.

I plan to lead a session with other staff on the model and hope to spread the message across other disciplines that Doughnut Economics can be key to our recovery from COVID-19.

In my role as a Qualifications Development Specialist for the SQA, I would hope to embed such learning in some Unit Specifications.

Professional Standards for Lecturers in Scotland’s Colleges in action

1.1. Students at the centre – Students and their learning have been at the heart of this PL.  

1.2. Leadership of Learning – This standard requires that we embrace and embed sustainability in our learning and teaching. Raworth’s model has this principle at the core of her model. Students will be more likely to embrace sustainability having seen real-life examples of this at work.

1.3. Continuous professional improvement – Identifies the importance of embracing change and emerging practices and developments. I am certain that this PL illustrates this well.

2.2. Learning, teaching and assessment theory and approaches – expects us to understand and embed a range of digital tech to enhance learning. This PL provides evidence of using Zoom, websites, video and online group work in a context that enhances learning.

3.3. Creates innovative curriculum design and learning and teaching – This element of the standard requires that the design of our curriculum provides our students with useful learning which among other things prepares them for a dynamic labour market. This PL certainly exposes students to ideas that will become mainstream in business very soon.

Read the Professional Standards for Lecturers in Scotland’s Colleges