A welcome website for the newborn National Network of Teaching-Focussed Academics by Rita Balestrini and Chiara Cirillo

The Teaching-Focussed Academic Staff Network, whose inaugural conference was hosted by the University of Durham on 16th and 17th July, now has a dedicated website.

When we read the call for papers of the conference, entitled ‘Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship’, we realised that besides providing an opportunity to share innovative scholarly activities across disciplines for the enhancement of student learning, the conference also intended to address the issue of the career progression of staff on teaching-focussed contracts. Quoting a study by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the call for papers drew attention to the ‘predominance of teaching-only contracts among part-time academics’ and the existing ‘gap between policy and implementation regarding promotion policies’ in UK universities. It also stressed the importance of raising the profile of teaching-focussed academics in order to enhance teaching and the scholarship of L&T across the HE sector.

In recent years, contributing to raising the profile of language L&T at the University of Reading  has been one of our objectives and, together with colleagues of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies (MLES) and of the International Study and Language Institute (ISLI), we pursued this aim in various ways. For this reason, we decided to participate in the conference and give a presentation on the place that the scholarship of language L&T can have, and should have, in British universities. We addressed some issues specific to the tradition of languages as a university subject which hinder the scholarship of language L&T, and affect the academic identity and career development of language professionals on teaching-focussed contracts. We talked about the organisation of the discipline around  binary divisions such as ‘language’ and ‘content’, ‘language skills’ and ‘cultural knowledge’;  we illustrated the multifaceted nature of language teaching and the theoretical and practical competence it requires. We ended our presentation by pointing out the lower status and casualisation of language teachers in higher education as acknowledged and lamented by several authors (Coleman, 1999; Gieve and Cunico, 2012; Klapper, 2005; Quist, 2000; Worton, 2009), but we also highlighted the beginnings of some positive changes.

In general, from the plenary talks and the sessions we attended (‘Embedding and Enhancing Scholarship’, and ‘Career Pathways for Teaching Focused Academic Staff’), it emerged that there is still a way to go to transform the current hierarchy between teaching and research into a balanced relationship, although some progress has been made. The teaching-only academic role, in fact, seems to be still characterised by a lower status, a high degree of casualisation, and a gender imbalance (with more women in teaching-focussed roles, compared to teaching and research roles and more women on the low grades of the teaching-focussed roles).  It has been stressed that fellowships and awards are not sufficient recognition in themselves, and that a better way to enhance teaching in HE is to create a credible career path based on promotion criteria which actually reward excellence in teaching.  The lack of transparent criteria for progression seemed to be a common issue, and the need for a review of teaching roles undertaken by a national body was highlighted.

In our view, one of the most thought-provoking aspects of the talks we attended was the reflection on the necessity of a reconceptualisation of teaching and research in relation to each other which goes beyond the current perceived hierarchy. The idea of a learning culture in which the student researcher and the learning teacher are both submerged was offered as a possibility, together with the notion of ‘research’ as part of a wider concept of ‘scholarship’. The need for a re-imagined academic role appeared as a running thread in many presentations. In this sense, important innovations mentioned at the conference were the introduction of a ‘Study leave’ and a ‘Personal Scholarship Plan review’ for teaching-focussed academics already embraced by some enlightened institutions.

As was noted, ‘faculty-based cultures’ differ slightly. It seems, for example, that among STEM disciplines, the role of the teaching-focussed academic is more established.  There seems to be a higher awareness of the value of the scholarship of L&T and, in some cases, career progression is more likely to occur. For example, at one Scottish university, Teaching Fellows recruited by the School of Biology are now attaining senior positions not just at School, but also at Faculty and University level. In general, across the sector, the support of PVCs and senior managers and the creation of local networks of teaching-focussed academics have proved to be enabling factors for the recognition of the scholarship of L&T and for the establishment of a successful promotion culture.

Where do we stand at the UoR? Does our research-intensive University promote and support the scholarship of L&T and parity of esteem and opportunities for the staff delivering teaching excellence?  The current University Learning and Teaching Strategy suggests a positive answer, with ‘scholarship’ and ‘staff recognition’ stressed as a key priority.

It is also encouraging to see an active and growing Community of Practice of University Teaching Fellows (UTF), ‘teaching enthusiasts who are not only committed to teaching innovation and excellence, but to continuing professional development of themselves and their colleagues’ (see ‘University Teaching Fellows – A Growing Community‘ blog)

The University clearly recognises and rewards staff for their outstanding contributions to L&T through a number of schemes. However, in our view, even more could be done. For example, the career progression of Teaching Fellows could be better supported. At the moment, in the University Framework of Academic and Research (A&R) Role Profiles, * Teaching Fellows are placed on grade 6 regardless of their academic background and level of expertise. They are included in the A&R job family for illustrative purposes, but this does not make them ‘academics’. The ‘proper’ academic role profiles start at grade 7 and include both T&R activities, while the profile for grade 6 is split into Research Fellow and Teaching Fellow roles. Rather than delving here into the implications of this approach with regard to career progression of Teaching and Research Fellows, we refer to two documents. The first is a recent report of the HEA, ‘Rebalancing promotion in the HE sector: is teaching excellence being rewarded?’, which critically analyses promotion policies in British universities; and the second is the ‘National Library of Academic Role Profiles, set up by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) – of which the UoR is a member – that outlines  five levels for the teaching-only career path**.

We wonder if, at the UoR, alongside a Community of Practice of University Teaching Fellows (UTF), there might also be the need for a similar – informal, loosely structured – yet wider and open network of colleagues with teaching-focussed roles interested in not only enhancing student learning through excellent teaching and sharing of good practice, but also in discussing and developing the concept and the practice of ‘scholarship’, including its operationalisation and recognition, and the role of teaching-focussed academics at the UoR. This local network could link up with the wider national network that has emerged from the Durham conference and would naturally be an interlocutor for those engaged with L&T at strategic and operational level. We trust that our initiative would receive support from our senior colleagues, as this would be a further demonstration of the University’s commitment to L&T.

To learn more about the Teaching-Focussed Academic Staff Network, visit:  http://community.dur.ac.uk/teachingfellow.network/

If you are interested in joining a Teaching-Focussed Academic Network at Reading, contact: r.balestrini@reading.ac.uk or c.cirillo@reading.ac.uk


* These role profiles were created by the UoR in 2014.

** The ‘National Library of Academic Role Profiles is part of the 2006 Framework  Agreement for the Modernisation of Pay Structures, agreed by the Association of Universities and Colleges Employers, and Associations of Universities and Colleges Unions.

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University Teaching Fellows – A Growing Community by Helen Hathaway

As the new academic year starts it seems a good time to focus on the Community of Practice of University Teaching Fellows (UTF). It is a growing community of teaching enthusiasts who are not only committed to teaching innovation and excellence, but to continuing professional development of themselves and their colleagues.  As incoming chair of the UTF Community of Practice, I am looking forward to continuing the theme of mentoring which developed under Richard Mitchell’s leadership, and especially to encourage others in support roles to consider themselves as candidates to become a UTF.  Michelle Reid, a Study Adviser, and I are currently the only UTFs working in an academic support and development directorate and we would welcome others.

One of the strengths of the community is the ability to draw on knowledge and experience across the University by networking in an informal, though structured, way. In the coming year the areas of excellence and good practice about which I would hope to encourage discussion and development are embedded academic skills. For an example of a current project where this is already happening in a tripartite partnership see http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/engage-in-teaching-and-learning/2015/06/05/mind-the-skills-gap-auditing-and-embedding-information-literacy-skills-development-across-the-curriculum-by-jackie-skinner-and-helen-hathaway/

Other ways in which the Community can contribute to the development of teaching – especially important in the context of any emerging Teaching Excellence Framework – are in offering its breadth of expertise of teaching matters on University strategies and plans, and to disseminate good practice.

If you are thinking of applying to be a UTF, my advice would be to look at the criteria now as it is likely you can plan your teaching for the Autumn and early Spring terms to strengthen any areas where you feel less confident of completing all four sections of the application. Most importantly it gives time to reflect on your teaching and achievements. No need to wait for the award to be launched in March with its strict deadline: start now to think about how to present your experience and expertise. You may also get double duty if you have already applied, or are considering applying, for Senior Fellowship of the HEA via the FLAIR CDP route: the necessary analysis of your teaching philosophy, looking at the UKPSF (UK Professional Standards Framework)and the reflection on the wider impact of your activities will also help in your UTF application. A mentor is the best possible support you can have in the process – everyone I have spoken to says so. Come and join us! Please contact CQSD or me for an informal discussion or to be put in touch with a potential mentor.

Congratulations to the new University Teaching Fellows 2015-16:

  • Dr Tabarak Ballal, School of Construction Management & Engineering
  • Dr Richard Harris, Institute of Education
  • Dr Karsten Lundqvist, School of Systems Engineering

Details of the 2016 scheme will be announced in the new year.

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Introducing inclusive design to our new typography students by Jeanne-Louise Moys

Breaking down Barriers has kicked off the academic year with a workshop in inclusive design with our new Part 1 typography students. Today we had our first session for the BA Graphic Communication Integrated Design Methods module. The students engaged with the new SEE-IT sight exclusive prototype for assessing visual inclusion/exclusion (currently being developed by the University of Cambridge as a new addition to their inclusive design toolkit). Working in pairs, they measured visual inclusion of typographic elements in business cards, leaflets and mobile apps.

The workshop was an engaging way of introducing typography students to the task-based learning approach used in this module. It also provided an effective introduction to inclusive design and the kinds of factors designers need to consider in their decision-making. The module focuses on user-centred design applied to a range of genres including: editorial design (‘design for reading’), pictograms and wayfinding, and digital design.

Typography lecturers Rob Banham and Jeanne-Louise Moys facilitated the workshop. We hope our students will continue to use inclusive design tools to support their decision-making in practical projects throughout their degree. It was also a great way to enrich the student experience with technology-enhanced learning.

Our thanks to Joy Goodman-Deane and Sam Waller who introduced us to the tool at Include2015 and gave us permission to use their prototype in our teaching.

To find out more about our Breaking down Barriers project visit the blog


Typography students Theo and Stephen team up to measure the ex/inclusivity of leaflet designs.

Typography students Theo and Stephen team up to measure the ex/inclusivity of leaflet designs.







Typography student Polina setting up to measure ex/inclusivity in cover design.
Typography student Polina setting up to measure ex/inclusivity in cover design.








Typography students Kash and Kundai calibrating their phones to measure visual inclusivity.
Typography students Kash and Kundai calibrating their phones to measure visual inclusivity.







Typography students Amber and Orla evaluating the visual ex/inclusivity of capitalised letters on business cards.
Typography students Amber and Orla evaluating the visual ex/inclusivity of capitalised letters on business cards.










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Deepening Reflective Inquiry in Higher Education by Dr Geoff Taggart

Consider these classroom examples. In an architecture class, students are invited to spend time examining natural materials they have found and to use their forms as the basis for a structural design. In a module on the philosophy of mind and how it interacts with the body, tables are pushed back and undergraduates engage in body awareness exercises. Mathematics students experience a peaceful workshop on origami to explore theoretical principles of geometry. Outside on campus, students in a botany class are asked to peg out a square foot of ground and do nothing for the first ten minutes but look more and more closely at it, so as to overcome engrained ‘plant blindness’. Politics students are cutting up Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’ and using extracts to make their own ‘found’ poems. Students training to be lawyers are engaged in an activity to increase awareness of their own automatic thoughts and the way these strengthen snap judgements and biased perceptions. Trainee economists discuss the relative rationality of their own desires and wants to interrogate the notion of ‘rational choice’ in the market. On an afternoon visit to an art gallery, fine art students are asked to spend time with only 3 pictures. Novice food chemists are asked to defamiliarise themselves from everyday tastes and flavours by using colours and analogies to describe them.

These pedagogical approaches were discussed during a weekend workshop I attended on the subject of deepening reflective inquiry in HE. A popular metaphor used to describe the approach was that of ‘slow food’. That is, learning which is deep and reflective is like eating a meal which has been lovingly prepared for hours using nutritious ingredients and sharing it in a convivial atmosphere.  By contrast, many students will have received a ‘fast food’ experience at school in which the culture of high-stakes testing has informed much of their learning. The idea of learning as purely instrumental and outcome-oriented has rarely been challenged. In my view, universities should (at least be free to) offer a richer and more sustaining dietary regime and teaching for deep reflection can help disrupt this engrained assumption.

PBL and ‘active learning’ of all kinds, especially where it makes use of learners’ own experience, is already known to bring about more secure and meaningful understanding than traditional didactic methods.  The ‘extra ingredient’ in the practices described above is the facilitation of deep reflection, often involving the ‘non-rational’ (but not irrational) language of imagery and feeling. The purpose of all of them is three-fold. The first intention is to make full use of the students’ learning resources. The popular idea of intelligence (endorsed by shows such as Mastermind) is based on factual knowledge combined with speed of recall. Yet, as successful innovation and entrepreneurship show us, original insight seems to involve something more. The educational psychologist Guy Claxton contrasts the ‘hare brain’ of the outcome-driven, Mastermind intelligence with the ‘tortoise mind’ involved in rumination and reflection.  Where space and time are allowed for the latter, creative responses and novel interconnections emerge. The unconscious is no longer seen as some kind of Freudian dungeon but as a useful assistant in effective learning.

The second purpose is to produce graduates who are not just knowledgeable but, having disturbed their own assumptions, are more confident in being able to justify what they know. The chemist Michael Polanyi famously argued that what we can explicitly claim to know in propositional terms is the tip of the iceberg, supported by accumulated ‘tacit knowledge’ held in our unconscious, feelings and bodies. Drawing upon and articulating this tacit knowledge in relation to new fields of study at university can help students ‘know that they know’ the material being presented to them and render their understanding more secure.

The third purpose is to deepen and focus attention in the face of mounting technological distractions. In order to solve a complex problem or devote time to honing a skill, one has to have the capacity to delay gratification, to ignore what is irrelevant or extraneous. One also has to acknowledge that what happened in the previous lab session or archaeological dig may not simply be reproduced in this one. Whether it is an engineer faced with a non-functioning machine, a lawyer with a fresh brief or an artist faced with a potential subject,  skilled and knowledgeable professionals do not begrudge the time spent simply looking at –‘beholding’ – the challenge that confronts them since they know that, whilst they are well-prepared for it, this particular challenge may have something new to teach them. Attention has a delicate quality to it therefore: we know something of our field but in order to be open to learning and/or professional development, we need to put this discursive, formal knowledge ‘on hold’ and allow time for the precise circumstances or features of the new material to reveal themselves to us.

I’m interested whether colleagues may already be experimenting with deepening reflection or may be interested themselves in doing so. In my own work at the IoE, one of my favourite activities for those who want to work in pre-schools is to give each student a basket of stones and ask them to tell me a story with them. The silent, absorbed and reflective atmosphere which follows, as they lay their stones out on the carpet, teaches them the value and meaning of play in children’s learning far more effectively than a lecture on the subject. We all had these learning experiences as children and some of our most transformative and memorable ones were characterised by these same qualities of sustained attention, beholding, rumination and openness to figurative, metaphorical forms of explanation. Even nowadays we often revert to this approach, such as when buying a new and unfamiliar mobile phone: why don’t we, as adults, instinctively start by working our way through the manual? The answer is because we know that learning flows when it attentive, embodied, playful and deeply reflective. This is not a capacity we need to lose on entering university.

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Student-led Peer-assisted Learning (PAL) starts at Reading by Caroline Crolla

Readers of this blog may recall Dr Patricia (Paddy) Woodman’s “Hot tip: Student-led peer learning: a win-win for everyone” posted on January 2015.  She wrote then that “The University of Reading is about to appoint a peer assisted learning co-ordinator and launch a number of trial schemes in 2015/16.”  Happily, I am that peer-assisted learning coordinator and I took up post on 22 June 2015. I would like to take this opportunity to describe how the implementation of peer-assisted learning is going so far at the University of Reading.

What is PAL?

As Paddy explain in her January blog: PAL is a framework that fosters cross-year support between students on the same course. Students work in regularly scheduled groups supporting each other to learn through active discussion and collaboration under the guidance of trained students, called PAL Leaders, typically from the year above.

Fact-finding visits

In June and July 2015, I visited other universities and attended national conferences on peer-led learning.  I quickly discovered that there exists a vibrant academic peer-learning community who are very welcoming and generous to a “new implementer” representing the University of Reading.

I visited three universities where PAL is very well-established across all faculties and schools and who have been running PAL – sometimes also called PASS (Peer-assisted Study Sessions) – for decades.  Colleagues at the University of Manchester, University of West England and Bournemouth University were particularly helpful in sharing their resources and experiences.

Reading’s early PAL adopters

During July and August, I met with colleagues in Mathematics, Psychology, Economics, English Literature and Systems Engineering.  I am pleased to say that five academics already would like to ‘pilot’ peer-assisted learning in specific 1st or 2nd Year modules or units that are cognitively challenging and in which students are known to struggle.

It has been a real pleasure to start collaborating with Tristan Pryer in Mathematics, Tom Loucas in Speech and Language, Pat Parslow in SSE and Simon Burke in Economics.   Each of these Academic Contacts is looking at the possibility of setting up regular, timetabled PAL sessions within these modules, as well as inviting successful and willing 2nd or 3rd Year students to agree to be trained as PAL leaders and run the PAL sessions.

As it is now September, the timing for implementation is tricky in some cases, so some academics like Rachel Pye, Jayne Freeman and Lesley Tranter in Psychology are considering implementing PAL in September 2016 in their Introduction to Neuroscience unit, which allows more time for timetabling, PAL recruitment and PAL Leader training.  Additionally, Cindy Becker and Nicole King are discussing how they might incorporate the support of two graduate interns in establishing PAL in English Literature.

How will PAL work at Reading?

PAL will be “discipline owned, student led, and centrally coordinated”.  Different Schools or departments may vary their offer where appropriate, but PAL will have recognisable features which will be consistent:

  • the School selects the module or unit which will have PAL integrated in the term it is taught
  • the School timetables and the PAL sessions
  • the PAL Coordinator will liaise with and support the Academic Contact/module convenor
  • the PAL Coordinator will train all PAL Leaders, and will assist with recruitment and monitoring student attendance at PAL sessions
  • experienced and successful students are trained in facilitation as PAL Leaders and then work in singly or pairs to:

a.  devise a structured approach to each session using their understanding of the material in conjunction with guidance from the Academic Contact

b. run the group sessions encouraging active discussion and collaboration amongst a group of between 5 and 15 students.

  • being a PAL Leader is voluntary, and the students who agree to become Leaders will be recognised and rewarded through the RED Award, inclusion of their participation on transcripts and in references and for some training activities Campus Card credit. We are also developing a credit-bearing module in coaching and mentoring to which PAL Leaders can apply.

What’s in it for…?

PAL participants

The students who attend PAL sessions regularly become part of a team who studies smarter. They share knowledge, experiences, and strategies with peers, helped by the PAL Leader.   PAL sessions offer a safe, friendly environment to revisit learning, compare notes, and ask questions. Participating in PAL sessions deepens students’ understanding of academic material by sharing problems and finding solutions.  PAL sessions can help develop confidence, independence and self-direction, communication skills and social skills further in participants.

PAL Leaders

PAL Leaders develop skills in facilitating learning and coaching other students, and their ability to tailor communication to different audiences. Leading PAL sessions helps develop time management skills, to plan and to problem solve.  These “soft skills” are valued by many employers.   PAL Leadership shows an employer that the leaders have gone above and beyond their degree and that they have been interested in contributing to the wider university community.  PAL Leaders get to know fellow students and develop a wider community of practice in their discipline. PAL Leaders have the opportunity to review and deepen their own understanding of their discipline, when they support the students who follow them in their learning.


Peer-assisted learning uses the talents many of your students already have to develop more independent learners who are self-directing their learning from where they are to where you would like them to be in terms of success. PAL has been shown to foster communities of learning where students learn more with and from each other.   PAL sessions provide students with additional structured learning time, independent of academics, although sessions are most successful when Academic Contacts provide guidance on the subject matter to the PAL Leaders.  In turn, the PAL Leaders can provide a rich source of immediate feedback to module convenors and to Schools about student learning.  PAL can only be developed in partnership with Schools and Schools identify and select content or modules deemed conceptually difficult.   Finally, offering PAL sessions on your course can develop altruistic and committed students who can help promote the course and meet with internal or external reviewers. Academics involved in PAL report that the scheme enhances a sense of School or Department community and identity.

Next steps

  1. Implement, evaluate and report on the five PAL “pilots” both from the students’ and Academic Contacts’ perspectives (watch this page)
  2. Promote PAL further with students and staff within selected Schools
  3. Extend provision of PAL across at least 5 more Schools in the light of experience of the pilots
  4. Have regular scheduled PAL Leader training sessions and in June / September / November
  5. Come to a Teaching & Learning Open programme session on “Another Student-led Scheme? How Peer-assisted Learning Raises Student Grades” on Wednesday 25 November 2015 from 14:00 – 15.00. Details are available at http://www.reading.ac.uk/cqsd/TandLEvents/cqsd-ComingSoon.aspx

If you are an academic interested in adopting PAL for one or more of your modules or you would like to find out more, please contact: Caroline Crolla, PAL Coordinator, c.s.crolla@reading.ac.uk or phone 0118 378 6593.   I work in the Student Success Team which is located in Blandford Lodge, G17, Whiteknights campus.

For examples of PAL / PASS at other institutions, please view:

https://youtu.be/95QLTaWLSuE  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UERuCYeSzcw

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Open Access to Languages (OpAL) presented at The Twenty-second International Conference on Learning in Madrid by Enza Siciliano Verrucio and María Pilar Gray Carlos

The Twenty-second International Conference on Learning was held in Madrid on 9th-11th July 2015. It attracted over 300 delegates from the academic and professional arena across the world: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UK, United Arab Emirates and USA.

The theme for this year’s conference was “What counts as learning? Big data, little data, Evidence & Assessment”, a title that covered 10 different themes: Pedagogy and Curriculum; Assessment and Evaluation; Education Organization and Leadership; Early Childhood Learning; Learning in Higher Education; Adult, Community, and Professional Learning; Learner Diversity and Identities; Technologies in Learning; Literacies Learning; Science, Mathematics and Technology Learning.

Under such a variety of themes, presentations offered a multifaceted, multicultural and multidisciplinary view on the latest projects and research undertaken around the world. The University of Reading was represented at this year’s conference by a project led by Dtt. Enza Siciliano Verruccio (Department of Modern Languages and European Studies) and Ms. Maria Pilar Gray Carlos (Institution Wide Language Programme).

The theme Technologies in Learning focused on exploring the influence and impact of technology on areas such as “human values: learning through and about technology”; “access to learning in, and about, the digital world”; “new tools for learning: online digitally mediated learning”; “ubiquitous learning”. This formed the perfect platform for Enza and Pilar to present their project on “OpAL: Open Access to Learning”, a project that commenced towards the end of 2013. The project was partly funded by Routes into Languages, the Teaching and Learning Development Fund from The University of Reading, the International Study and Language Centre and Partnership in Learning and Teaching also from the University of Reading.


Why OpAL?

The aim of OpAL is to break down barriers to learning modern foreign languages. In order to achieve that aim we count on involving our students actively in the creation of materials. The materials created will be in turn available to the student community in the form of OERs (Open Educational Materials). The idea of the project came as a response not just to the language tutors’ experiences in language teaching in the higher education classroom, but to a clearly perceived difficulty of learning a second language by the students. These perceptions are evident in a national survey shown below which was carried out by The Guardian on 1001 students aged 14 to24 years old across the UK.

T&L Blog - Pilar







OpAL intends to encourage change in the UK language learner. It is inspired by two essential pillars of adult learning. The first is David Kolb’s learning theory (1984) on experiential learning or learning by doing. Our students explore areas of language on which they work to produce and test materials that at a later stage will be offered via the Web as OERs. The second is Alexander Astin’s and George Kuh’s work on Student Involvement (Astin, 1984; Kuh, 2009), that explores and explains how the involvement of students in co-curricular activities has a positive impact on student satisfaction and retention.

By engaging students in the OpAL project, they not only gain a deep learning of the subject studied, but they also become change agents in dispersing the fears and taboos related to language learning and, project an outward image that the higher education institutions are eager to portray: that of constructive change in the culture and nature of the relationship between students and the academic community within which they learn.

For further information on this year’s conference please visit http://thelearner.com/the-conference-2015/program-and-events/schedule-of-sessions.

If you are interested in attending or presenting at the Twenty-third International Conference on Learning, under the very suggestive theme of “Education in the Age of the Anthropocene” please visit http://thelearner.com/the-conference.


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The PLanT Project and ‘Core Issues in English Language Teaching’ by Jess Fullam, Emily King, Daria Pominova and Megumi Kuranaka

PLanT stands for Partners in Learning and Teaching. The project allows students and teachers to work together in order to improve a module using a small pot of money to fund meetings, focus groups and equipment. As a small group four of us (Jess, Emily, Daria and Meg) worked with our lecturer Clare Wright in the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics to make some improvements to the module ‘Core Issues in English Language Teaching’.

Why we decided to take part:


The PLanT project was a brilliant opportunity for me to put into practice what we had learnt in the module “Core Issues in ELT” as some aspects directly related to the thinking behind the improvements we formulated for the module. It has been a really interesting experience and I’m delighted to be able to make a lasting difference to benefit more students at the university.


I decided to take part in the PLanT project because after learning about teaching practices in the Core Issues module I was keen to put my learning into practice in a real setting and see how we could improve what was already a brilliant module.

Daria (from Germany)

I decided to take part in PLANT project after taking the course “Core Issues in ELT” and learning about different approaches to language teaching. As an exchange student from a country where a very different approach to teaching foreign languages is taken, I became interested in the modern techniques and methods of ELT and took the opportunity of putting them into practice straight away by introducing some changes to the CIELT module as part of the PLANT project. While participating in the project, I also learned a lot about the use of IT in a language classroom.

Meg (from Japan)

What made me enthusiastic about this project was that it can provide me with the precious opportunity to integrate different ideas to come up with a new curriculum. Taking one module about English language teaching before my joining the project, I was amazed by my professor and other students because they were interpreting the same subject in a totally different way. I imagined if those who had different backgrounds and opinions could cope with each other and combine their thoughts, a brilliant curriculum must be brought which would be reasonable for all students. In addition, the project can contribute to not only improving a module curriculum but also developing ourselves. During the project, I was always inspired and excited to hear other members’ voices which I really appreciated. What is more, considering what can be done to enhance students’ motivations and autonomies in the language class should make what we learnt in the module more realistic and progress my career. Through the project, I experienced what are required as a prospective English teacher and how enjoyable to engage myself in the language education.

The PLanT Process:                        

We met up on several occasions to discuss what we had enjoyed about the module and how we thought we could improve it. The course aims to provide a summary of the main teaching practices and how these are affected by different factors as well as discussing the role of the teachers and learners. The course itself ran with one lecture and a seminar where the lecture material was discussed and activities took place based on the previous learning.

To begin with we found it very difficult to think of a way to improve the module as we felt in many ways it was already excellent. We had all participated in the course and had really enjoyed the seminars and felt that the level of interaction planned in the seminar tasks could be really good, as it meant that we could really get involved and enhance our knowledge. The class itself was reasonably large and a mix of part 2s and 3s, and we could see that not everyone engaged fully with the tasks. So we wanted to find a way to check everyone’s learning progression that was engaging for everyone to enhance engagement and help students to build their skills. We concluded that by integrating more technology into the seminars, we could really improve interaction between the students and help them learn about how to include technology into presentations, vlogs or quizzes to provide them with the skills that employers are looking for.  So Clare introduced us to the TEL team, part of Reading University’s enhanced IT support initiatives, which have been working with staff to include more IT in their teaching, to see what we could do for students.

Some of our original suggestions in this area included multiple choice tests with clickers in the seminars or small presentations using platforms like Camtasia (one of several platforms suggested to us by the TEL team). We also revised the structure of the module according to the relevance and importance of the topics. New tasks and types of group work were introduced in order to ensure active participation of the students and more interaction between them. The division of tasks between Part 2 and Part 3 students taking the course was discussed and how they could be encouraged to interact more in class. We held a focus group part way through the process in order to see how students felt about the changes we might make, and they were well received by all which allowed us to steam ahead with confidence to putting our plans into action.

In March we presented our work at the RUSU awards and received a very positive response from other members of staff and students. After this presentation we continued to have a further meeting with the TEL team to discuss other ways to integrate technology whilst having a bit of fun in seminars. Some of these suggestions included platforms like ‘Kahoot’ and ‘Nearpod’. The latter allows students to interact to questions on the board using their mobile phones or other mobile devices. We found that this was a fun and innovative option as a replacement for multiple choice clickers which had the potential to be expensive as well as technically difficult with regard to matching the software with what the university already has set up.

Therefore, after this experience we all felt that we have learnt volumes about ways to enhance teaching in the classroom with technology in a fun but informative manner and we are very grateful to the TEL team for that.  We have all really enjoyed working towards this and are incredibly proud of what we have achieved and hope that at least some of our ideas about using IT in seminars will be well received by next year’s cohort of students.

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How online reading lists can help academic, information and digital literacy development. By Dr Kim Shahabudin, Kerry Webb and Helen Hathaway

Online reading list systems can be seen as an easy win for the lazy student: ‘spoon-feeding’ them with the sources they need rather than encouraging them to develop their independent research skills. However, we believe that the new online reading list system at Reading will offer opportunities for tutors to boost their students’ independent skills at a number of levels.

– There will be benefits for the less able student by making it easier to find evaluated, recommended resources, avoiding the pervasive practice of ‘just Googling it’.

– There will be benefits for the more able student by making it possible to direct them to databases and other search strategies to train them in expanding their research.

– There will be benefits for all students in the capacity for tutors to add clear annotations for suggested use of sources and further reading.

– Tutors will be able to easily set exercises to advance and enhance student research skills, demonstrating good pedagogic practice and adding to learning outcomes for modules.

The online reading lists implementation project is well underway and Library staff have already uploaded 65% of the reading lists identified for Phase 1 of the project on to the system, ready for review and publication by module convenors. Training sessions are also being offered throughout the summer, to help familiarise you with the new system. If you would like to attend one of these, just let us know. Already training sessions have seen some exciting ideas suggested by tutors to make the most of the new system.

To show how the lists can help academic, information and digital literacy development, we have created an example list, which including a skills mapping note at the end of each section. We are aware that tutors at Reading are constantly involved in developing innovative teaching practices, and hope to keep sharing good practice and new ideas. Please do send any examples, case studies, or just off-the-cuff thoughts to Kerry Webb. We will collate them for further blog posts.

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Internationalization: Assessing the Impact on Students By Dr Philippa Cranwell and Dr Elizabeth Page

In Autumn 2014, the Department of Chemistry welcomed their first cohort of final year students studying for the [3+1] BSc Applied Chemistry course from NUIST, China. By January, we could already see that there were some valuable lessons that we could learn from these students. We decided to carry out a review, asking all students involved for feedback on the year. So we could reward them for their time and input we applied for PLanT funding and were successful.

This PLanT project was in collaboration with Shuwen Ma (a student from NUIST), Kirsten Hawkins (a third year home student) and Amie Parker (a second year home student), all from the Department of Chemistry.


Aims and Method

Our objectives were to: (a) determine the impact of the cohort of students from NUIST on our current third-year home students; (b) find out what preconceptions our second-year students had; (c) determine the parts of the year the students from NUIST found the most challenging and what we could offer to support future students. In order to achieve this, we organised three separate working lunch sessions with each of the three peer groups (second year/third year home students and the NUIST students) led by the students named in the PLanT proposal. During these lunches there was a brain-storming session where students were asked their opinions on a variety of topics and then wrote their notes on giant post-its.



This approach was extremely informative with regards to the home students. The students from NUIST were less forthcoming with information, so in the end in addition to the working lunch we sent them questionnaires that they returned anonymously.

Analysis of the results showed that there was one main overriding theme between all three cohorts, namely the importance of English language skills. In the case of the home students, the level of English was important from a day-to-day perspective. The second years, with whom the next cohort of NUIST students would be integrating in 2015/2016, were concerned that the NUIST students would not be able to communicate effectively therefore there would be minimal integration so classes might become segregated, something they wanted to avoid. The third year students who had experienced mixed classes with the NUIST student in 2014/2015 said that the language barrier was not an issue in lectures, but made things difficult in practical classes due to the communication required between students and staff.

The NUIST students themselves also said that language was an issue and that although they had learnt English in China and had fulfilled the University’s requirements for English, they struggled due to the big difference between day-to-day English speaking and the technical language required for completing the degree course. However, the students all agreed that the help offered by the ISLI was invaluable. The English courses in the Autumn term were extremely helpful and that their English skills and confidence had dramatically improved over the year.

Additionally the students from NUIST were very worried about their final examinations, even though part of their final year grade was based upon coursework. We attributed this to two main reasons; the first came down again to lack of confidence with the English language, and the second was the difference in the education systems between the UK and China.

Written examinations in China differ significantly from UK style exam questions. In the UK students are required to recall information and apply it in unfamiliar situations, whereas in China many exams involve simple knowledge recall. Throughout the year the Chinese students completed tutorial questions of a style similar to the examination questions at the end of the year, to prepare them for the different assessment approaches. Our international support tutor provided additional classes and made video recordings of lectures. The English language tutor analysed our exam command words and trained the NUIST students in understanding the different requirements of words such as ‘explain’, ‘describe’ and ‘analyse’. However, the students were still concerned that they would not understand the questions they were being asked and they would be slower at the exams due to the language barrier, so might run out of time. Although we had anticipated that English language would be a problem and had tried to put support mechanisms in place, such as translating key chemical vocabulary, we were not fully prepared for the impact of this.

Future work

The information we have gained from all year groups has been extremely useful and will definitely be used to help future cohorts of students settle into University life. In terms of new initiatives for next year, we will try to implement the following:

  • A “buddying system” where current third year students act as guides to the new NUIST students.
  • Additional exam-style questions for the students to use a practise once they are in the UK
  • Contribute UK style examination questions to examinations set and sat in China so students are better prepared for their examinations in Reading.
  • Organisation of laboratory classes to promote cross-cultural exchange but avoid handicapping home students.
  • A greater emphasis on the technical language required for chemistry
  • Informal drop-in sessions where students can come and ask for help if they need it
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Interactive Web Pages help make MOOC a success by Dr Richard Mitchell

On June 15th, Begin Robotics began – the second massive open online course (MOOC) from Systems Engineering running on the FutureLearn platform. One of its aims is to interest potential students in the areas of robotics, cybernetics, artificial intelligence and electronic engineering – following the success of Begin Programming, which we know has attracted students to do Computer Science at Reading.

A key novel feature of Begin Robotics is its use of interactive web pages both as exercises and to illustrate key principles – such as how a signal from a computer which can have a high or a low state only, can be used to set any integer speed from -40 to +40 using so called pulse width modulation. These pages build on work I have done and reported on the GRASS project blog:


There are two exercise pages each week, and those in the first week have proved to be very popular: for instance, Ed Ashby posted : “I thought the simulations were a fantastic way for distance learning, great to see instant results from our control inputs.” and  Ann-Kristin Abel commented : “Great course so far! Loved the simulations, as they really help me understand the movement of a robot. Looking forward to next week.”

In the first exercise, the participants are shown a simulation of a two wheeled robot and have to enter the speeds of the motors driving each wheel. They then experiment with these working out how to make the robot move forward or turn at different speeds.

In the second exercise, they have to define what the speeds should be for each of four actions: going forward, turning to the left, to the right and going backwards, and they then command the robot to do each action, watching the robot move around the arena provided. Having done so, they select a race track in place of the arena, and have to steer the robot round it as quickly as possible.


Second Exercise with the Race Track shown
Second Exercise with the Race Track shown








To prepare for these exercises, I recorded screencasts explaining the tasks, demonstrating the web pages and for instance showing me steering the robot round the track in around 15 seconds.

There have been many enthusiastic posts responding to these web pages. These included one learner commenting that he had steered the robot round the track in about 12 seconds, but his six year old grandson had, after just three attempts, done it in only 7 seconds!

In addition, a teacher doing the course asked if these simulations could be made available outside the FutureLearn platform as he thought they would be useful for his key stage 3 and 4 students. This we are doing, so for instance the two exercises are available at



The demonstration of pulse width modulation is at


Interactive page demonstrating pulse width modulation

Interactive page demonstrating pulse width modulation





Although it has required much effort to first produce these web pages, and then to make them compatible with the FutureLearn platform, the very positive reaction to them from learners and FutureLearn is very encouraging, so the concept could be utilised both in other MOOCs as well as in other teaching.

The two Systems Engineering MOOCs, which are both running in June 2015, and which will run again later this year associated with the BBC’s Make it Digital campaign this summer, can be found at














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Working in partnership… by Dawn Willoughby

With ever-increasing speed it seems we have reached that time of year again when teaching is finished, exam results are calculated and our thoughts start to turn from the current academic session to planning for the next one. This offers some time to reflect on successes and think about the areas of teaching where we would like to make changes. The “stand-out” feature of my module portfolio in 2014-15 has been the increased level of working in partnership with colleagues to teach and support our undergraduate students. Six of the seven modules I delivered this year were co-taught, an approach which has brought some challenges and plenty of rewards.


… with PhD students

In the Henley Business School, I am fortunate to work each year with a small team of PhD students who are responsible for supporting the delivery of lecture material in Statistics through weekly tutorials for undergraduates. This partnership provides an important opportunity for PhD students to strengthen their transferable skill set and become more effective facilitators; I have seen them gain a clearer understanding of pedagogy and an increased level of confidence. Similarly, there are benefits here for our undergraduates: they receive more individualised support for their taught course and they can also gain an appreciation of how their learning relates to the research undertaken in the School. And for myself, my motivation is improved by the enthusiasm of the PhD students and their “get-involved” attitude towards the programme delivery.


… with industry-based professionals

For my module in the School of Systems Engineering, there can be no doubt that engaging with IT professionals enhances the employability skills of our undergraduate students. In this case, the programme involves a group-based web development project for which employees of a local web design company act as the client. Developing this working relationship over the past few years has provided an extra dimension to my teaching. In recent discussions it has become clear that the company also values their involvement: “It offers an opportunity to gain skills and experience that simply would not be available to most of our staff members in their usual roles within the business. It has also afforded us an opportunity to give something back to the community by sharing our expertise – something we feel strongly about.”


Engaging in team-based teaching presents challenges especially in maintaining seamless delivery and providing consistent information to students. Sometimes there can also be logistical and communication problems associated with bringing together a diverse set of people with different working practices and other research-based or commercial objectives. However, all of these difficulties can be overcome when an inclusive environment is created in which open discussion is encouraged. From my experience, I have also learnt the importance of devising and sharing formal documentation to ensure consistency in assessment and provision of feedback to students.


When I first started working at the University, I expected teaching in higher education would be a rather solitary experience providing very little opportunity for interaction with colleagues. Ten years later, I can testify that this is certainly not the case as I work on a variety collaborative teaching and learning projects with colleagues from several Schools and Departments. It may be true that team-based teaching requires some additional commitment and effort but in my opinion this approach can bring benefits to University staff and students, and to external partners. And so, as planning gets underway for the next cohort of students, I would encourage consideration of team-based teaching as an option for module delivery.

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Education online en-masse: Lessons for teaching and learning through MOOCs by Clare Wright, Clare Furneaux and Liz Wilding

On 24 April, 2015: 40 academic educators from 19 institutions came together to discuss key issues in MOOC design and implementation. The one-day workshop, hosted and funded by the University of Reading, a leading member of the FutureLearn MOOC consortium, offered the opportunity to evaluate practical lessons in designing and delivering MOOCs, particularly in relation to academic skills development. The focus was on problem-based discussion of approaches to teaching and learning and of the extent to which MOOC learning outcomes can be defined, measured, or achieved.

Education online en-masse

There were four presentations, each of which explored a particular issue related to the central theme, followed by group discussion around questions suggested by the presenters.



  1. Dimensions of MOOCs: Shirley Williams (University of Reading) gave us an overview of some MOOC statistics and taxonomies, and highlighted some MOOC issues viewed from the ‘outside’ and from the provider’s view. As follow-up, she asked us to extend her list of MOOC dimensions, discuss how we should be measuring success, and consider whether and how we should compare courses.
  2. Pedagogy as a service: lessons and challenges from the perspective of the platform: David Major from FutureLearn led us through some key lessons – and challenges – and asked us to discuss two major questions: Are MOOCs platforms for content and courses, or platforms for learning and pedagogy? How can we coalesce individualism from the view of courses, platform, educators and learning?
  3. Repurposing MOOCs for language learning purposes: Liam Murray (University of Limerick) shared the results and recommendations of a team who evaluated a number of MOOCs to determine their potential to be repurposed for second language acquisition. Liam suggested that we consider two aspects of MOOCs in our groups: specialisation and adaptability.
  4. Designing assessed group work for MOOCs: Marion Waite, Elizabeth Lovegrove and Abigail Ball (Oxford Brookes University) shared their experience with group work on the TOOC15 MOOC. They proposed we discuss why we assess in a MOOC and how we should do it. They also had us consider the issues and practical challenges associated with grouping students and peer review.

It’s hard to summarise the lively and far-ranging discussions that took place, but the round-table at the end of the day (shown in the picture above) helped establish some key lessons learned, some useful tips, and challenges to explore further.

Some lessons learned:

  • There is a longish history of en-masse online learning behind MOOCS (starting with Usenet groups), so it’s important to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
  • Initial MOOC-hype is dying down, but interest is still growing, as seen in takeup of repeat MOOCs.
  • MOOC measurement is best avoided, especially if superficial, e.g. if they are only about numbers signing up
  • MOOCs are a good way of marketing – a shop window – so need institutional support.
  • The learners you get may not the ones you expected, so keep assessing your learning goals.

Best practice tips from the day:

  • Keep your eyes open , e.g. educators can benefit from enrolling on other MOOCs as learners.
  • Keep talking to each other. It’s important to have Communities of Practice.
  • MOOCS should draw on best practice in T&L. Let pedagogy lead!

MOOCs – where next?

  • ‘The walls of the institution are coming down to the level of the learners’ – there will be an opening up of practice in range and aims of MOOCs.
  • Types of MOOC will include:
    • Tasters for University courses
    • Retirees taking MOOCS for interest/enjoyment
    • MOOCs embedded in f2f courses (eg basic Maths)
  • A lot could be presented as REF case studies, so reliable research context is vital.
  • MOOCS will get more specific/specialised as the market place gets more crowded…
  • but there will still be value in ‘Introductions to….’ MOOCs.
  • There will be more mixed x- and c-MOOCs.
  • There will be more training/professional MOOCs, but many people will still do academic MOOCs for enjoyment.
  • MOOCS will get better at delivering pedagogic aims.
  • There will be a wider range of stakeholders (e.g. employers).
  • Do MOOCs need to be assessed? If so, assessment must be paid for.
  • How can participants demonstrate what they have learned in non-traditional forms of assessment?

Overall, the workshop allowed presenters and delegates to share questions and lessons learned, and to consider how to take forward best practice in online en-masse learning. We very much hope to keep the dialogue going in the future.

Feedback from delegates:

‘Inspiring!’  ‘Constructive.’

‘Definitely worth travelling 600 miles for.

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PLanT Project: TypoResources by Peter Loveland, Melissa Towriss, Hannah Tollett


URL: http://peterloveland.com/development/plant/

The PLanT project is a University funded programme that is designed to get students involved with the design and delivery of strategies regarding teaching and learning. If an application is successful, the group is rewarded £500 to see the project through.

We as a group, applied for one of these grants, using the idea of a web-based learning resource for the typography department, and were successful with this application.


Our application was based around the fact that we collectively do a lot of online research in relation to many aspects of our course, for example, learning software, or getting design tips. Currently our department is lacking in any such centralised bank of resources, and we felt that it would be useful for subsequent year groups to have something like this. We therefore created a questionnaire that asked other undergraduates on our course opinions on the current provision of resources and communication methods within the department. Below asked the questions we asked…

From the questionnaire, we learned that students felt like the department relies heavily on social media, because students opinions of BlackBoard is less than complimentary. The other main result of this questionnaire, was discovering that students were strongly in favour of an online resource bank. This therefore became the foundation for our proposal and the rest of the project.


Discussion of ideas

With the funding in place, we met to discuss the preliminary research that we had attained, revisiting these results from the questionnaire, to work out what exactly would be useful for the department. As the research outlined, students seemed in favour of having the online resource bank. We therefore compiled a list of ideas of what we felt this system should have and be able to do. Ideas included:

  • a provision for submitting work for feedback
  • anonymous questioning to department staff
  • a bank of good previous work, curated by lecturers
  • a bank of resources
  • a collaborative online working space.


After discussions with departmental staff, and our supervisor for the project, it became apparent that due to department rules, it would be better to refine the ideas into one more focussed, ‘online resource’, that performed the following tasks (condensing some of the ideas above):

  • Examples of previous student work
  • A collation of internet based design resources
  • A collation of user created resources (both by staff and students)
  • We proposed the above online resource to other students on the course to gain feedback, and further our ideas. The general idea was received very positively. During this research phase, we were given access to BlackBoard, to determine the limitations, and capabilities of the resource, so that we were able to not only make something that does things BlackBoard is unable to, but also not designing a system that simply replicates aspects of BlackBoard.

Response to research

With all the prior research and market research in mind, we began to design the system. From research, we realised that one of the main problems with the previous methods of handling information, i.e. Facebook and BlackBoard, was that the navigation and user interface was not specifically tailored to what we wanted it to do. We looked at existing methods of navigating information heavy websites, such as Pinterest, observing their filtering system. We felt that this system, which uses a collection of ‘visual cards’ would be an extremely efficient and successful method for our new system.

We began wireframing based on these ideas:

TypoResources 4

We made the system capable of browsing resources through different facets, such as course modules, but also through more specific key word searches. Once these wireframes were established, we developed the website, integrating it with WordPress so that we could easily manage and search the resources, using it to rapidly accelerate the development process. With the first prototype in place we began user testing.

Using the money from the grant of £500, we set up a focus group where we could interview undergraduates from the department. We spent £70 on food and drinks to help entice students to take part. The focus group asked students to have a look through the website which we had created, we asked them some questions after giving them a chance to explore it themselves.

The responses from the students were very positive and they also provided us with some more feedback. We also got staff to try out the system who were able to provide feedback from their perspective. Staff suggested that they would like to see the option of navigating the system via different categories rather than specifically across year groups in order to make the system more useful for the course.

Our lecturers were impressed with the work we had done to aid the teaching and learning resources for future years and are excited to see continual development and for the site to be live. It was at this point, that the name of the resource bank should be typo resources to encompass it within existing services provided by the department.

Presenting our system

After the focus group we attended a presentation where we discussed what our project was and why we wanted to do it. More importantly for us, it was a chance to present our hard work. We created a keynote that explained the research and the process that we employed during the project. The presentation took place in 3sixty, the centre of campus, in front of around 100 people, most of whom were members of University staff. This was a great opportunity and again, we received a positive response from the audience.

Next steps

Unfortunately as we are graduating this year we are unable to continue developing this system. However, because the PLanT scheme involves our supervisor, and is for our course, the department is backing the continued development. This means our next step is to recruit other students who are as passionate about this project as we are.


Through participating in the PLanT scheme project we gained valuable experience in team work and research of user experience. We benefitted from discussion and collaboration with department staff, particularly our supervisor Jeanne-Louise Moys, which helped us to gain an understanding of the system and practices as they currently exist, as well as to gain useful insight into the considerations of staff.

Such a unique project came with its own challenges and rewards. Our work on the presentation, although very well received, did have some setbacks, in terms of coordinating the demonstration of the live system on a large-scale screen with all equipment located off-stage. We may have benefited from more practice or potentially creating a short video of the system in use that could have been used. Through this experience of presenting work to a large audience, however, we have gained useful experience of public speaking and organisation. There was also the issue of justifying the creation of a system that could have been seen as overlapping with the provision of Blackboard, so we worked hard to ensure that what we were creating offered ‘unique selling points’ that would be of value to students within the department, and more widely applicable throughout the university when developed further.

Being given the opportunity to work on something that will benefit students in further years has been a very rewarding experience for the whole group. We are proud to have worked on something that will remain after we have graduated, with the potential to improve students’ experience of communication and independent learning, especially as department staff and other students can be involved in developing and refining the idea further.

Melissa Speaking at the Showcase Event

Melissa Speaking at the Showcase Event

Hannah Speaking at the Showcase Event

Hannah Speaking at the Showcase Event

Peter Speaking at the Showcase Event

Peter Speaking at the Showcase Event






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Spin-Off, Remake, Pop-up: Using a Research Exhibition to Showcase Undergraduate Research on Television in FTT by Dr Simone Knox

Earlier this summer term, the Minghella Building hosted a lunchtime pop-up research exhibition under the theme of ‘Screen Relations’, which featured the research undertaken by Film, Theatre & Television students as part of their final assessment for the Part 3 module Television and Contemporary Culture. Led by myself as the convenor, the Spring term of the module explores the intertextual dimensions of television, such as spin-offs, remakes, prequels, sequels and other kinds of adaptations and textual relationships. For their final assessment, I offered my students the choice between an essay on a self-chosen topic, a production file for which they propose a new spin-off/remake/or similar (complete with intended casting, production crew, promotional campaign, etc.), or a short filmed project. With all my students this year choosing the practically-inflected assessment types that would be bound to yield innovative ideas and interesting audio-visual material, an opportunity to show this work to the wider student body and staff proved irresistible.

the ‘Screen Relations’ pop-up research exhibition

the ‘Screen Relations’ pop-up research exhibition

the ‘Screen Relations’ pop-up research exhibition

the ‘Screen Relations’ pop-up research exhibition

So, my students and I held a pop-up research exhibition, for which the students devising production files selected materials such as images of their intended cast and promotional posters to display on the walls and proposed soundtracks to play on laptops around the Minghella Green Room area, where visitors could mingle and talk to the production file students in an informal manner about their work. Those students undertaking filmed projects screened rough cuts of their programmes (or selected extracts thereof) next door in the Minghella Cinema, and the event was brought to a close with a Q&A with the directors. I want to add that what was important to me was that participating in the exhibition would not add a burden to my students’ workload at a busy time of their degree (the final term of their final year, no less) or their finances: from the very beginning, the intention was that they show materials that they are already working on, without the need for additional preparation as such, and I provided the colour printing.

Olivia Jeffery presenting her project Mum’s Army

Olivia Jeffery presenting her project Mum’s Army

With such reassurance given, the exhibition gave my students the chance to use and hone their presentation skills developed in earlier parts of their degree, and to get an experience of curating by having to carefully think through what materials to select and how to display them most effectively within the given space. They also got to share and engage in a dialogue about their imaginative work with more people than they otherwise would have (mostly myself, via tutorials), gaining valuable feedback from and being able to test out ideas (e.g. potential titles for their proposed programmes) on the exhibition’s visitors for their work-in-progress. My students’ feedback on the pop-up research exhibition was unanimously positive, and the experience was described as ‘incredibly helpful’ in our most recent Student-Staff Liaison Committee.

a promotional poster for Sarah Foster-Edwards’ British Back to the Future project

a promotional poster for Sarah Foster-Edwards’ British Back to the Future project

However, this benefit to my students had not been my only hoped-for outcome of this event: just as much as I wanted to give my students a further opportunity to develop their ideas, I also thought that it would be interesting and stimulating for the exhibition visitors, which included staff, fellow undergraduates, Masters and PhD students, to see the products of my final year students’ research skills and the diversity of projects, approaches and ideas. And who would not be interested to find out more about projects such as these (and I am going to limit myself to four, much as it pains me): Mum’s Army, a spin-off of (yes, you’ve guessed it) Dad’s Army, featuring the wives and girlfriends of the characters of the beloved BBC sitcom, imaginatively proposed by Olivia Jeffery – you can listen to the intended theme tune here. Sarah Foster-Edwards rightly decided that the time has come for a British television remake of cult blockbuster Back to the Future, proposing to replace the DeLorean time machine with a Mini Cooper. Girls: UK, a transatlantic remake of Lena Dunham’s Girls filmed by Ciara Durnford, Lottie Gilbourne, Daisy Hampton and Kat Newington, addressed the HBO show’s politics of representation. Finally, filmed by Sam Elcock and James Cross, Norman saw iconic character Norman Bates running a B&B in Sonning, with a use of style that engages meaningfully with Alfred Hitchcock. With so much on offer and a nice ‘buzz’ on the day, the exhibition served as a(n albeit ephemeral) resource for visitors to see how my talented students deploy their intellectual interests and research skills for projects that ask them to bring together industry analysis (e.g. target demographics, channel brand identity) and creative decision-making.

a promotional poster for Girls: UK and a still from Norman, two filmed projects screened as part of the exhibition

a promotional poster for Girls: UK and a still from Norman, two filmed projects screened as part of the exhibition


a promotional poster for Girls: UK and a still from Norman, two filmed projects screened as part of the exhibition

a promotional poster for Girls: UK and a still from Norman, two filmed projects screened as part of the exhibition

Overall, I am very pleased with how the event went and am planning to repeat it next year. I found the combination of a particular assessment type (production file/filmed project), forum (pop-up research exhibition) and space (Minghella Building) particularly effective – if you have been to the Minghella Building, you will know that it is a space designed to facilitate dialogue about creative practice. That said, using a pop-up exhibition is a flexible and effective forum that can, of course, be reproduced and adapted for any type of discipline, space, assessment type and occasion. With the scope for using as many or few resources as required or desired and much practicality – our event literally popped up and down within 90 minutes – there is great potential for further uses of research exhibitions to promote and value student research and demonstrate how this builds on and enriches the student experience.

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Mind the skills gap: auditing and embedding information literacy skills development across the curriculum by Jackie Skinner and Helen Hathaway

Academic staff acting as Library Representatives for their school or department, other teaching and learning experts, and Library staff came together over lunch recently for their fifth annual Community of Practice meeting. Its theme was skills development within the curriculum and showcased collaborative work in one department to establish information literacy levels required at each undergraduate stage. One definition of information literacy is ‘knowing when and why you need information, where to find it and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner’ Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

Information literacy skills audit: Food case study

Jackie Skinner, Liaison Librarian for Food Studies spoke about a skills audit she Professor Bob Rastall speaking atthe skills audit Community of Practiceundertook in close collaboration with Food and Nutritional Sciences Programme Directors to identify what skills are required or assumed of students at different stages of their academic development and where these were taught (or not). The audit consisted of an online survey which was completed by all module convenors. The results revealed a disparity between academics’ expectations of students’ skills, and the opportunities students had to develop those skills. The first step in addressing this disparity was to develop a skills framework outlining which skills students should have acquired by the end of each Part. Mapping these skills onto individual modules is currently under discussion, along with other means of enhancing student development, such as the use of personal tutorials. Providing a means for students to assess their own skills competencies and confidence is also under investigation.

Study Skills Adviser, Michelle Reid gave some background on the ANCIL framework which formed the basis for the audit. ANCIL (A New Curriculum for Information Literacy) aims to help undergraduates develop an advanced, reflective level of information literacy which will enable them not just to find information, but to evaluate, analyse and use academic material independently and judiciously. The ANCIL framework is already being used by 12 other UK universities to develop their information literacy skills training.

Professor Bob Rastall added his perspective as Head of Department. This included some interesting insights into some unintended consequences of the audit, such as skills development forming a positive discussion topic with parents at UCAS days.

As well as providing an outline of the audit, the results and subsequent actions, the presentation gave a clear appraisal of the benefits of the process for all participants. It was followed by discussion and questions.

Anyone interested in using the same approach to identify any information literacy skills development gaps in their own areas should contact their subject liaison librarian.

Getting the Community spirit

The annual Library Representatives’ Community of Practice events are arranged by the Helen Hathaway introducing theskills audit Community of Practice - presenters Michelle Reid andJackieSkinnerLibrary’s Helen Hathaway, Head of Academic Liaison and Support to enable cross-faculty discussion, sharing good practice and the exploration of new ideas and solutions to Library issues on an informal level. Departmental Library Representatives are the appointed academic staff who provide a formal channel of communication between their School or Department and the Library.

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Tailored formula sheets – the ‘cheat sheet’ idea by Dr Karen Ayres

About 10 years ago I was intrigued when a colleague described taking exams at an Australian university, where he was given a blank sheet of paper on which he could write anything he wanted to take into the exam. He referred to this as a ‘cheat sheet’. I was familiar with both open and closed book exams, and their pitfalls, and also with providing a formula sheet to students in an exam. But this idea was something completely different, being an individualised exam accompaniment. I was even more intrigued to hear him say that the benefit of this sheet was that he had been forced to properly revise the material in the module so that he could work out what to include – there was no point wasting precious space writing down things he would be able to remember, but it was very important to write down things which he was afraid he would forget.


This memory stayed with me, and I always wanted to try out the idea myself, but couldn’t see how it could be implemented that easily in a centrally-administered exam. But then this year, as a way of creating a faux semester system for our finalists, we replaced the summer term exam with a department-administered class test in January for two modules. One of these was my final year statistics module on Multivariate Data Analysis, and so I seized my chance!


The idea of being able to take into the test an A4 sheet on which they could write anything they wanted to was well received by the students when I first announced it – it automatically relieved some of the pressure they felt about having to memorise formulae, or all steps in a proof. In terms of the effect on how I wrote the exam, this was no different really than writing an open book exam – there needed to be more emphasis on questions which applied the methods, or were open ended in what they were asking for, rather than requiring the statement of a formula or reproduction of a basic proof. However, this didn’t actually require much adjustment to my style of writing questions. Implementing the idea was also fairly straightforward. The module finished in the final week of the Autumn term, and the students handed in their ‘cheat sheet’ on the first day of the Spring term for me to photocopy onto coloured paper (to prevent any additional sheets being smuggled in!), and distribute at the start of the test. The (named) sheets were thrown away at the end of the test, to ensure they were not attached in any way to the anonymised answer booklets.


I’m pleased to say that the ‘cheat sheet’ idea was an unmitigated success. Although it is impossible to quantify its effect because of cohort effects, and the fact that the test was now in January rather than in the summer, feedback from the class about the idea has been positive and the marks were a little higher than in the past. The most gratifying thing for me though is hearing many students say that they didn’t actually need to look at their sheet in the exam, because they had spent so much time writing and rewriting the sheet to make sure it included everything they wanted it to, that they ended up learning and remembering all of the material anyway! So I seem to have educated my students by stealth!  But all joking aside, I think that the ‘cheat sheet’ idea has benefits across the board and particularly when viewed from a diversity perspective. Different students will struggle with different things for different reasons. Letting them help themselves by constructing their own formula/information sheet which is tailored to their strengths and weaknesses acknowledges that diversity, and is one way to put students even more in control of their learning and also their attainment. I definitely encourage others to try this idea!

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Reading Lists at Reading: improving the student and staff experience by Kerry Webb and Helen Hathaway


The University is investing in an online reading list and digital content management system from Talis Aspire. Implementation at Reading begins at Easter 2015. This initial phase will involve Library staff transferring all 2014-15 reading lists (which have existing copyright cleared scans associated with them) on to the new system, ready for review and revision by the list owner, following training provided by Liaison Librarians. These lists and more if time allows, will be available to students in September 2015. If any departments not included within this initial phase would like to become early adopters, please contact Kerry Webb, the Library’s Course Support Co-ordinator (email: readinglists@reading.ac.uk).  After this initial phase, we will then work with a wider range of academics to gradually integrate more lists. Our aim is to upload 75% of reading lists by 2016/17.

Academic tutors will be able to create online reading lists within a single interface, linked to from Blackboard. Using a simple bookmarking tool you will be able to link to items on the Library catalogue, items from our e-journals and subscription databases, external web pages and embedded multimedia. You will also be able to provide guidance to your students on approaches to specific resources, and will gain a faster, easier scanning request process incorporating assured copyright compliance. Automated checking of Library stock against your online lists will ensure faster ordering and more efficient library budget management.

Students will benefit from engaging with online reading lists providing real-time information about Library print material availability, direct links to our online resources and scans requested by academic staff through the Library’s scanning service, plus links to any other relevant resources and any guidance provided by you through annotations added to your lists.

The following are examples of lists produced using the Talis system (clicking on the title of a resource provides availability information):

Reading list with tutor annotations: http://readinglists.anglia.ac.uk/lists/8C8785CB-C465-298E-EB9D-91E170E4E600.html

Reading list with links to scans: http://resourcelists.stir.ac.uk/lists/28233A26-4435-71AF-5A2C-01FE1900C876.html

Reading lists set out in weekly sections: http://myreadinglists.kcl.ac.uk/lists/390BE867-9105-46F1-0EA7-4904093D94DE.html


Support will be provided in several ways: through online guides and screencasts, one-to-one, drop-in and bespoke training sessions, and making use of existing networks to assist colleagues with getting started on the system.

Find out more

Briefing sessions about the new system will be held at the end of the Spring Term, on Tuesday 24th and Friday 27th March, 1-2pm, in S@iL 107 (Library, 1st Floor). These are open to all staff involved in the creation of reading lists on Blackboard, no need to book.

We hope that as many of you as possible will be able to see for yourselves what the system will be able to do for you and your students. These sessions will provide an opportunity to see how the system works, and members of the implementation project team from the Library will be on hand to answer any questions you might have about online reading lists.

Or, book up to attend the CQSD T&L session, ‘Online reading lists: TEL to improve student engagement’ on Wednesday 22nd April, 1-2pm. For details of how to book, see: http://www.reading.ac.uk/cqsd/TandLEvents/cqsd-ComingSoon.aspx.

To find out more about the Talis system and what it can do for you and your students, go to: www.talis.com/reading-lists and http://www.talis.com/digitised-content/  or contact Kerry Webb, the Library’s Course Support Co-ordinator, email: readinglists@reading.ac.uk

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10th LLAS e-Learning Symposium: looking back and looking forward on technology enhanced learning for languages by Pilar Gray-Carlos

LLAS (Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies) recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the annual e-Learning Symposium at Southampton. During the past 10 years the e-Learning Symposium has provided an area where academics and educators in the field of linguistics and languages have had a common place to share innovation, creativity and results of the use of new technologies applied to teaching and learning languages.

This 10th anniversary has provided an opportunity to briefly pause to look back and reflect on how we have tackled the challenges and opportunities in the past years. A reflection particularly highlighted by Marion Sadoux, (Director of the Language Centre, University of Nottingham, Ningbo) in her key note: “10 years on, challenging 10 venerable Assumptions about Languages and e-Learning” where she provides her experience on challenges, ideas and beliefs, that technology enhanced learning has brought to the language community. As key notes go, it is also worth mentioning both the opening key note on a very much in vogue area, MOOCs, given by Sara Person and Chris Cavey (British Council); and the closing key note: an account of a personal journey through digital and networked technologies, shared by Benoit Guilbaoud (University of Manchester).

Contributors to this 10th edition presented a wide range of projects. There were projects based on collaboration (Collaborative productions of learning objects on French literary works using LOC software, Christian Penman, Edinburgh Napier University; Identity and participation in telecollaboration, Francesca Helm, University of Padova Italy); projects for student mobility, (ICTell Project: virtual exchanges to prepare for student mobility, Marta Giralt and Catherine Jeanneau, University of Limerick); and projects that explore the use of mobile apps such as WhatsApp to prepare for year abroad (Isabel Cobo-Palacios, Billy Brick and Tiziana Cervi-Wilson, Coventry University) or twitter both for language boosting (Alessia Plutino, University of Southampton) and as a community of practice tool for language learners (Fernando Rosell-Aguilar, Open University). Together with a variety of papers on the use of wikis and blogs, reflection on MOOCS, blended learning, etc.

The symposium also offered the opportunity to participate in workshops such as the use of digital video and online discussions; blended learning techniques to maximise lexical retention; tips for telecollaboration with VLEs and using free  digital tools (SpeakApps) for encouraging speaking and learning.

The world has become a bigger place, access to information is faster and varied, and the demand to respond to new tools for and manners of delivery is here to stay, so will the LLAS e-Learning Symposium be. It will continue to help us to stay connected, to explore, and to share our ideas with our colleagues not only in the UK but across the world.

Watch the recording of plenary sessions at https://www.llas.ac.uk/livestream or for more detailed information on some of the case studies visit http://research-publishing.net/publications/10-years-of-the-llas-elearning-symposium-case-studies-in-good-practice/

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HOT TIP: Student-led peer learning: a win-win for everyone by Dr Patricia (Paddy) Woodman

Student-led peer learning or peer assisted learning (PAL) is popping up in all sorts of universities up and down the land and is gaining momentum as a global phenomenon. It has been in an existence in the UK since the early 1990s and has been described as a win-win for everyone involved. The University of Reading is about to appoint a peer assisted learning co-ordinator and launch a number of trial schemes in 2015/16, so I thought it would be good to pave the way by wetting your appetite with a brief overview: What exactly is PAL, how does it work, what are the benefits and why is it all the rage?

What is it?

PAL is a framework that fosters cross-year support between students on the same course. Students work in regularly scheduled groups supporting each other to learn through active discussion and collaboration under the guidance of trained students, called PAL Leaders, typically from the year above. 

PAL leaders do not “teach” and they do not help with assignments, rather, they facilitate group activity that help students think through what they have already been taught and to discuss the material with their peers in order to deepen understanding. 

There are different model of PAL but all are based on the principles of SI (Supplementary Instruction) an academic support model developed by Dr D. Martin at the University of Missouri-Kansas in 1973. PAL schemes now exist on all continents of the globe and there is at least one example of peer assisted learning already underway at Reading in the Department of Classics.

How does it work?

The Mapping Student-led Peer Learning in the UK report (Keenan 2014) published by the HEA notes that although there are wide-ranging approaches to the organization and operation of peer assisted learning scheme they all follow similar principles and guidelines


  • support student learning;
  • foster cross-year support for students, facilitated by more experienced students, usually from the year above, who are trained to provide a point of contact and support the learning of new, or less experienced, students;
  • enhance students’ experience of university life;
  • are time tabled and participative – students work in small groups, engaging in discussions and a variety of interactive learning activities;
  • encourage collaborative rather than competitive learning, active rather than passive;
  • address both what students learn and how they learn;
  • create a safe environment where students are encouraged to ask questions and receive guidance from other students about the course and its content;
  • use the language and terms specific to the subject discipline;
  • help students gain insight into course requirements and lecturers’ expectations;
  • assists students develop positive attitudes towards learning, keep up with their studies and complete their course;
  • retain confidentiality within the PAL group;
  • benefit all students regardless of their current academic ability and provide opportunities to improve academic performance;
  • offer students place and time to practise the subject, learn from mistakes and build confidence;
  • create opportunities for PAL leaders to revisit and consolidate their prior learning.

Typically experienced students are trained in facilitation and then work in pairs to a) devise a structured approach to each session using their understanding of the material in conjunction with guidance from the course/module teacher, and b) run the group session encouraging active discussion and collaboration amongst a group of between 5 and 15 students.

Well established schemes such as those at Manchester University have evolved a pyramidal support structure with experienced student leaders performing the role of student co-ordinators who support the student leaders running weekly debriefing sessions and helping them to develop their facilitation skills and resolve issues. The co-ordinators are in turn supported by a central faculty intern role who has oversight of all peer learning. Student leaders are therefore well supported and the framework is sustained without relying entirely on busy module teachers.  

Paddy Woodman 21-01-2015

What are the benefits?

Publications on peer learning are unanimous in concluding that there are tremendous benefits to be gained. PAL schemes are often introduced with the specific aim of raising attainment. Time and again quantitative studies reveal increased pass rates, lower failure rates and high retention rates (e.g. Burke da Silva & Auburn 2009, Ody & Carey 2009), however, the benefits are even greater than this and felt by all stakeholders: participating students, peer leaders and institutions/subject communities.

Paddy Woodman 21-01-2015 table

It is worth expanding on the benefits experienced by participating students based on the findings from the Mapping Student-led Peer Learning in the UK Report (Keenan 2014).

  1. Improved engagement, motivation, grades and retention – The combination of students spending more time and being more active in their studies through PAL sessions has a catalytic affect of enhancing engagement and motivation which is known to have a direct link to attainment and retention.
  2. Confidence, independence – PAL sessions offer safe spaces for students to explore their understanding and build their confidence on specific subject matter. The fact that the group have only themselves to draw on (i.e. no teacher to tell them the ‘right’ answer) develops their independence and confidence further – they have to devise other ways of filling any gaps.
  3. Social and academic integration and sense of belonging – the small and informal nature of the PAL sessions provide for learning in a more social environment, which enhances social interaction between participants spilling over into other activities. It also provides all participants with opportunities to work with students from backgrounds with which they may not be familiar and students who perceive themselves to be in a minority to forge relationships thereby enhancing integration all round. Developing relationships with students in other year groups further enhances the sense of being part of the subject/school community.
  4. Transition to HE – many of the points above on confidence, independence sense of belonging and integration are essential components of a successful transition to HE, but a further dimension is the effectiveness of peer learning in helping students to manage expectations of HE, both their own expectations of study in HE (i.e. what they need to do as students) and HE’s expectations of them (i.e. what will be asked of them). The informal environment, safe space and proximity of the PAL leaders (in age/experience) all help student to set and understand expectations.

The benefits to PAL leaders and to subject communities and institutions are also huge and powerful but if I start to go into them this blog will be never ending!

Check out what students themselves have to say about PAL (also known as PASS in some universities) http://www.pass.manchester.ac.uk

Why is it all the rage?

If you are still reading, you already know why peer assisted learning is “all the rage”. The table above is an attempt to present the impressive and wide-ranging benefits for the different stakeholders. However, breaking the benefits down in this way obscures the holistic impact not just on students as whole individuals but on the University as a whole. Widespread student-led peer learning brings the notion of engagement and partnership with students to a new level. Students engaged in peer learning take real ownership of their own learning but also have an active role in the learning of their peers. It blurs the boundaries between teaching and learning in, what I think is, a very helpful manner, it also breaks down the distinction between teacher/facilitator and learner. Student leaders can become pivotal members of Schools/departments providing valuable insights into T&L as a result of their unique positions being students themselves and having close relationships with new students, but on the other hand also facilitating learning and therefore seeing the challenges of teaching and learning from both sides.

We often talk about universities being learning communities and one of the reflections from schools that have really engaged with PAL is that it is a powerful way of bringing that learning community to life

Student-led peer learning could be the catalyst for significant attitudinal not to say culture change amongst your students. How often have you moaned that students need to take more ownership of their learning? BUT beware it will also require some culture change on behalf of staff.    


More information will be available later this term on the expansion of student-led peer learning at Reading.

Burke da Silva & Z. Auburn 2009, The development of a structured “Peer Assisted Study Program” with required attendance (http://www.fyhe.com.au/past_papers/papers09/content/pdf/9D.pdf)

Keenan, 2014, Mapping Student-led Peer Learning in the UK. Higher Education Academy (https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Peer_led_learning_Keenan_Nov_14-final.pdf)

M. Ody & W. Carey, 2009, Demystifying Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS): What …? How …? Who …? Why …? (http://documents.manchester.ac.uk/display.aspx?DocID=7418)

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HOT TIP: Three steps towards inclusive teaching by Dr Patricia (Paddy) Woodman

How many times have you heard people say that the Reading student population is becoming more diverse? But what do they mean and what are the implications? Often they mean that they/we are struggling to cope with what feels like the ever increasingly list of different needs for different ‘types of students’. Any quick skim through the diversity and inclusion literature reveals that there is a long list of student ‘types’ that are known to have specific requirements that we do not think of as ‘the “norm’. 

  • Disabled students – physical, mental, learning
  • Widening Participation students – first generation HE students, students from low HE participation areas, low income households
  • International students
  • Non-white and non-Christian students
  • Students living at home
  • Mature students
  • Part-time students
  • Male students in female dominated subjects and female students in male dominated subjects

In comparison to many other universities we might not always think of Reading University as having a tremendously diverse student population, however, I estimate that the above students represent in excess of 65% of our UG students and probably significantly more of our PG population. This means that supporting students with needs outside ‘the norm’ actually needs to become ‘the norm’. Accommodating diversity is no longer about accommodating the few it is catering for the majority!

But, and this is a BIG one,

Q: how can we possibility support so many different needs and still remain sane?

The answer is

A: by adopting an inclusive approach to all our teaching

There is much literature out there on inclusive pedagogy and what the challenges are for different types of students – it can be a little daunting to say the least. I therefore wanted to identify just THREE relatively straightforward things that will take us a long way towards inclusive teaching.

But first, what does inclusive pedagogy mean?

“Inclusive practice is an approach to teaching that recognises the diversity of students, enabling all students to access course content, fully participate in learning activities and demonstrate their knowledge and strengths at assessment. Inclusive practice values the diversity of the student body as a resource that enhances the learning experience”. (Equality Challenge Unit http://www.ecu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/external/e-and-d-for-academics-factsheet-inclusive-practice.pdf)

Three practices that will enhance the inclusivity of your teaching

An important note – the three practices advocated below will actually benefit ALL of your students, and they certainly won’t have an adverse affect on any. To put it bluntly adopting them will not only help your students to ‘cope’ they will actually help them to learn and hopefully to attain higher grades – and, after all, isn’t that the objective?

1. Foster a sense of belonging

This has been found to be a key factor in student retention and success (http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/engage-in-teaching-and-learning/2014/10/16/hot-tip-what-is-the-number-one-factor-behind-student-success-by-dr-patricia-paddy-woodman/). As lecturer/teacher it is our responsibility to develop a ‘sense of belonging’ in our classrooms. This is done is many ways: a) through how we behave towards students – recognising the value that every student brings to the classroom, through valuing contributions equally, even when the quality is variable, through evenly distributing opportunities, b) providing opportunities for students to interact with each other and develop a sense of belonging to the group, c) through our choice of curriculum content – balancing the requirements of the subject with the interests (cultural, religious, generational, national, socio-economic) of students, ensuring our curricula are representative, encouraging opportunities for all students to bring their own perspectives to bear on learning.

2. Providing appropriate (and timely) materials to support your teaching

Providing handouts 3 or 4 days before your class is an easy yet powerful way of enhancing the inclusivity of your teaching. It helps international students, dyslexic students, mature and part-time students, students with disabilities that affect their concentration and many others. Equally providing your reading list in advance of the start of the course is effective for a similar group of students not to mention providing an opportunity for those super keen students (of any “type”) to get stuck in and motivated about your subject. I recognise that things like handouts and reading lists can be very different for different subjects and even for modules within a subject, however the principals can still apply. If you don’t want to ‘give away the answers’ in advance in your handouts, leave that section blank in the pre-class publication but follow up with full set after the class. If it is a discussion based session, you can indicate what your will be discussing and how the discussion will be tackled (sub questions/topics etc, is there any pre-reading?). For interactive classes, e.g. flipped learning, seminars, group discussion etc – it is important to provide students with a summary of key learning that emerges. This is essential in terms of inclusion for any students who may have either missed the class or for one reason or another (language, concentration, etc.) found it difficult to grasp what can sometime be a fast paced discussion. Could you ask for volunteers or create a rota for students to assemble such a summary?

3. Accommodating diversity in assessment

Recognising that different students have different strengths and that different forms of assessment develop different skills, why not consider whether it is appropriate to offer a choice of forms of assessment. For example, although the final-year projects and dissertations are firmly embedded in the tradition of Higher Education there are increasingly examples of variations on this theme. The HEA’s publication ‘Developing and Enhancing Final-year projects and Dissertations’  (https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/projects/Developing%20and%20enhancing%20undergraduate%20final-year%20projects%20and%20dissertations_0.pdf) makes the case that all of the academic attributes of these assessments can be preserved in a more diverse range of ‘capstone’ projects. The same principals can be applied to smaller pieces of coursework.

I recognise that the last action is the most challenging and perhaps controversial of the three, but well worth pausing to consider. The other two actions however, are ‘no-brainers’. If you aren’t already doing these things now is the time to adopt them and ensure that the majority of students can fully access your teaching!

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