Aberystwyth University has been providing post-graduate education for those starting careers as archives and records professionals since the mid-1950s, the normal route into the profession, with a dedicated master’s course located in the Department of Information Studies (DIS) since the early 1990s. The current MA in Archives and Records Management (ARM) is offered both full-time on campus and by distance learning for those already in paid or volunteer roles in a relevant organisation. The course is accredited by both the Archives and Records Association of UK and Ireland (ARA) and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

This MA ARM was first offered to full-time students in September 2020, having been completely redesigned. The redesigned distance-learning version of the course was offered to new entrants in September 2021. The redesign started in May 2018, with the full-time version taking 28 months and the distance learning version a further 21 months.

The redesign’s aim was to ensure that the overall curriculum aligned more closely with current archives and records practice, and workforce skills requirements, than that offered by the previous version, to continue to ensure the employability of our graduates in the changing demands of the job market. This required all core topics – those which all students must study to achieve their degree – to be realigned to a format neutral pedagogical underpinning which demonstrated greater clarity around the need for the modern recordkeeping professional to deal seamlessly with records in all formats and at all points of the records continuum. Therefore, the skills required for the digital creation, management and long-term preservation of records and future archives were integrated into the course across all topics.

The design of a master’s course is a complex interplay between the learning outcomes required from the course, and how the curriculum is divided into individual topics that will develop the full range of both subject specific and transferable skills. A career orientated master’s degree must also keep abreast of professional developments while ensuring compliance with the requirements of the professional body.

Incremental changes to topics taught on a master’s degree, to take account of any new developments, are often made, but a wholesale redesign is a major undertaking, requiring a comprehensive reworking of the scope, structure and content, a rigorous internal paperwork and approval process, verification by external examiners, and re-accreditation by professional bodies. It also requires support from across the University to ensure adequate library resources, space, and equipment for its delivery.

Over 28 months the course redevelopment team, led by Jennie Hill, as Department Director of Learning and Teaching:

  • Redefined the overall curriculum, learning objectives and structure for the scheme

  • Developed a suite of 80 credits of new core modules including their learning objectives and topics covered, ensuring digital management of records and archives was integrated throughout

  • Ensured internal, external examiner and accreditation bodies’ approval of the redesign

  • Ensured adequate teaching and library resources, and space and equipment for delivery

  • Ensured update of all relevant informational and advertising material for the course

  • Developed new lecture material and assessments for full-time students

From September 2020-June 2022 the team also:

  • Developed new learning materials and assessments for 80 credits of core modules for distance learning delivery

The redesign was guided by the following generic subject statements:

It was also guided by the more digitally specific competencies defined by:

The redesign took a large amount of the working time of the core team and relied on staff across the University to ensure it could be rolled-out on time for the 2020 cohort. The development process was hampered by home working, and the course’s roll-out by the sudden requirement to redesign planned classes for online teaching.

TC AU teaching team

The Aberystwyth University Teaching Team

The course redesign has achieved its stated aim, with digital recordkeeping now integrated as a core concept throughout the course and the management of digital material treated as ‘business as usual’ alongside more traditional ways of working in the foundational modules Recordkeeping Theories and Contexts, and Recordkeeping Process and Practice. A key outcome has been the repositioning of the topic of digital preservation as part of the core module Collections Care, so that all students are obliged to study it. In the previous version of the course this crucial issue for modern recordkeeping was only offered as an optional subject, reaching around a third of all full-time students and a fifth of all distance-learning students. The skills learned in Collections Care are further reinforced in the Practical Project module which offers group work processing hybrid collections. In 2021 this included oral histories and associated collections from the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff, in 2022 students worked with both paper and obsolete digital media to document the historical programming at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
The assessed work of the 1st cohort of full-time students, who completed their degrees in September 2021, showed a more rounded view of modern recordkeeping, as a discipline that requires knowledge of both traditional and digital formats, than previous cohorts. An assessment for Recordkeeping Process and Practice which asked students to specify recordkeeping software requirements showed 87% performing to merit or distinction level. An assessment for Collections Care, which requires students to design a digital preservation strategy for a given scenario, showed 62% achieving merit or distinction level. Distance learning degrees take 5 years – so the improvements have not yet begun to show for these students.

Despite completing their studies during the COVID-19 lockdowns, with many of their classes delivered online, the first cohort performed well in the job market, with a higher percentage than normal gaining employment immediately after completing the course.

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