Launching the FLAIR CPD scheme at the University of Reading Malaysia – By Dr Eileen Hyder

One of the highlights of 2017 for me was launching the FLAIR CPD scheme at the University of Reading Malaysia. A substantial part of my role involves talking to colleagues about their work to help them to develop ideas for their FLAIR CPD application. These conversations give me wonderful snapshots into the fantastic work happening across our institution. This is such a privilege and is probably what I love most about my work. I knew I would find it fascinating to talk to colleagues at UoRM and to learn more about the work they are doing in such a different context. However, the conversations I had there were not just fascinating but a real eye-opener for me.

One aspect of an application for Associate Fellowship or Fellowship is to write 600 words on designing and planning learning. Because the sessions/modules delivered in Malaysia have often been designed at Reading, this raised questions about whether colleagues at UoRM would be able to demonstrate this type of activity. However, the discussions that took place in the workshops threw out many examples that quickly showed us that any concerns we had were misplaced.

One example that sticks in mind came from a colleague in Psychology. He explained to us that some Psychology students at Reading will have studied the subject at school and he added that, even those who haven’t, will more than likely be aware of some key figures and concepts included in the university curriculum. However, because Psychology does not feature on the school curriculum in Malaysia and because awareness of figures like Freud or concepts like psychoanalysis cannot be taken for granted, he needs to reflect carefully on what has been designed at Reading UK to ensure it can be delivered effectively at UoRM.

Another colleague explained to us that modules at UoR UK are sometimes designed around the research interests of staff. In a case like this, the module might be taught by a team of as many as eight colleagues, with each person delivering a session built around their area of expertise. However, the same module will be delivered by only one tutor at UoRM. While I have had experience of delivering sessions designed by someone else, I have never been in a position like this. I knew I would be conscious of the limits of my expertise compared to the experts at Reading UK and be anxious about whether I would be able to provide an equally high quality learning experience for my students. I felt huge respect for the way colleagues at UoRM take responsibility for designing sessions that do this.

Through these conversations and others we quickly came to realise that we had been naive in thinking it might be difficult for colleagues at UoRM to write about designing/planning learning. We realised that far from being passive deliverers of material designed at Reading UK, they work very hard to translate and customise learning for the UoRM context. This means exercising professional judgement and skills to make learning relevant and accessible to their students.

One of the things I love about my role is how it enriches my own understanding of teaching and learning. Working with colleagues at UoRM certainly broadened my understanding of what counts as designing/planning learning. The Curriculum Framework is leading to exciting discussions about how our curricula are designed. My experiences at UoRM have led me to think that we should involve as wide a range of colleagues as possible in these discussions. Just because someone might not have had autonomy in the original design of a module does not mean that they have no agency. The Curriculum Framework is an important catalyst for discussions around curriculum design and around the global relevance of our programmes/modules. Involving colleagues who take something designed in one context and deliver it in another could add richness and value to these discussions.

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Forecasting, Feedback and Self-reflection by Dr Peter Inness

Overview:

Each year a group of part 2 students from Meteorology make their way across campus to the Minghella Building to film weather forecasts in the professional “green screen” studio. As well as improving their forecasting ability this module also helps students to improve their presentation skills – a key employability attribute in many careers.

Objectives:

During the module students will;

  • make short video weather forecasts in a professional studio
  • receive feedback on performance in order to improve on the quality of the work
  • give peer feedback to fellow students in order to develop this useful life skill
  • reflect on their performance and consider how they can use the feedback to improve future performances.

Context:

Presentation skills are a crucial aspect of many jobs, whether it be in front of a camera or face to face with an audience. Lecturers in Meteorology may not always be the best people to coach these skills so we draw on experience in a School where performance and presentation is at the heart of everything they do.
Students spend 4 sessions in the TV studio, working up to the filming of a “live” TV weather forecast. After each rehearsal, students receive detailed feedback on their performance from staff and also from their fellow students. Crucially they are also asked to reflect on their own performance and how they might improve it. This self- reflection aspect is something we would like to encourage across the Meteorology department as it is a skill which perhaps doesn’t come naturally to a scientific discipline in the same way as it does in a performance related discipline such as film and theatre.

Impact:

Students are very appreciative of the high level of feedback on performance in this module, as evidenced in module evaluation questionnaires. The feedback also has a massive impact on improving the students’ performances across the module, resulting in some near professional standard performances by the end.

It is obvious that the encouragement to reflect and take on board feedback is a major driver of improved student performance in this module.

Reflections:

Working in an environment in which feedback and self-reflection are built into the activities has made me as a module convenor in a science department realise that this is something we can use more effectively across many of our other modules, not just those which involve presentation.

Self-reflection and peer feedback have a clear impact on performance in this module and we need to find ways to incorporate more of these activities into the rest of our taught modules.

I am now actively looking at ways that we can make reflection an integral part of how our students approach their learning.

 

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Supporting Diversity through Targeted Skills Development: Helping Students to Speak a New Language by Alison Fenner SFHEA (Institution Wide Language Programme, ISLI)

Context

As the student population becomes increasingly international, the IWLP language class cohorts are becoming ever more diverse. It has become evident to tutors in IWLP (as throughout the University) that the linguistic, educational and cultural aspects of a student’s background can play an important role in their language acquisition, often helping some aspects while hindering others. In language learning, they may experience varying success in the development of the four language skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing, performing well in some skills while experiencing difficulty in others.

The Language Learning Advisor scheme and the development of a PLanT project

With this in mind, in the Autumn Term of 2016 I successfully applied for PLanT (Partnerships in Learning & Teaching) funding to provide targeted support sessions in oral work and pronunciation for those students who found these areas more challenging. The aim of the project was to improve their performance, motivation and, crucially, confidence. PLanT funding is awarded by CQSD and RUSU for projects involving both staff and students, and I invited three Language Learning Advisors (two undergraduates from the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies and one multi-lingual undergraduate from Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences) to deliver the sessions. Since these sessions had a particular focus, they were delivered on a small-group basis rather than the one-to-one basis more usual for Language Learning Advisors. They were delivered to students studying German at beginner level.

The three Language Learning Advisors were part of the peer-to-peer Language Learning Advisors scheme, which I have run since 2012. In the scheme, I train students who are successful language learners (usually languages undergraduates in the DMLES or students from the higher stages of IWLP) to advise their peers in DMLES and IWLP on the acquisition of effective language learning strategies, including the development of particular language skills and independent learning. The Advisors help students to develop effective self-evaluation, to reflect on their learning styles and to set achievable long-term and short-term goals in their language learning. Students also benefit from the support and encouragement offered by their Advisors in the continued dialogue of follow-up sessions in which progress is monitored.

Before the PLanT-funded sessions began, I and the Advisors discussed the needs and strategies involved. I monitored the progress of the sessions, and at the end of the academic year the Advisors submitted records of activities completed and materials used, and reflections on their experience. Two Advisors worked with me on preparing a presentation for the LTRF (Learning and Teaching Research Forum) of the International Study and Language Institute in June; the third had already left the University by then but helpfully recorded her contribution on video. The presentation met with a positive response and was a valuable experience for the Advisors, enabling us to inform a wider audience about the PLanT project and about the Language Learning Advisor scheme in general. It also gave the Advisors the opportunity to present at a staff forum.

Project outcomes

This project was a very positive experience. I was able to harness the enthusiasm and creativity of the three Advisors to develop a new student-based initiative which, in at least one case, confirmed an Advisor’s choice of teaching as a career path. The students receiving the support benefited through increased fluency, improved pronunciation and greater confidence; this was clear from their feedback comments, which included: ‘The small-group oral session is helping me a lot, [X] is very kind and patient’, ‘The [tutor] is very friendly. There is an obvious improvement in my pronunciation.’

I intend to continue to run these small-group skills-based sessions in future years, since I believe that they address a clearly-perceived and increasing need. The experience gained this year, together with the Advisors’ reflections and information about materials and activities employed, will be of great value in achieving this end.

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Involving students in the appraisal of rubrics for performance-based assessment in Foreign Languages By Dott. Rita Balestrini

Context

In 2016, in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies (DMLES), it was decided that the marking schemes used to assess writing and speaking skills needed to be revised and standardised in order to ensure transparency and consistency of evaluation across different languages and levels. A number of colleagues teaching language modules had a preliminary meeting to discuss what changes had to be made, what criteria to include in the new rubrics and whether the new marking schemes would apply to all levels. While addressing these questions, I developed a project with the support of the Teaching and Learning Development Fund. The project, now in its final stage, aims to enhance the process of assessing writing and speaking skills across the languages taught in the department. It intends to make assessment more transparent, understandable and useful for students; foster their active participation in the process; and increase their uptake of feedback.

The first stage of the project involved:

  • a literature review on the use of standard-based assessment, assessment rubrics and exemplars in higher education;
  • the organization of three focus groups, one for each year of study;
  • the development of a questionnaire, in collaboration with three students, based on the initial findings from the focus groups;
  • the collection of exemplars of written and oral work to be piloted for one Beginners language module.

I had a few opportunities to disseminate some key ideas emerged from the literature review – School of Literature and Languages’ assessment and feedback away day, CQSD showcase and autumn meeting of the Language Teaching Community of Practice. Having only touched upon the focus groups at the CQSD showcase, I will describe here how they were organised, run and analysed and will summarise some of the insights gained.

Organising and running the focus groups

Focus groups are a method of qualitative research that has become increasingly popular and is often used to inform policies and improve the provision of services. However, the data generated by a focus group are not generalisable to a population group as a whole (Barbour, 2007; Howitt, 2016).

After attending the People Development session on ‘Conducting Focus groups’, I realised that the logistics of their organization, the transcription of the discussion and the analysis of the data they generate require a considerable amount of time and detailed planning . Nonetheless, I decided to use them to gain insights into students’ perspectives on the assessment process and into their understanding of marking criteria.

The recruitment of participants was not a quick task. It involved sending several emails to students studying at least one language in the department and visiting classrooms to advertise the project. In the end, I managed to recruit twenty-two volunteers: eight for Part I, six for Part II and eight for Part III. I obtained their consent to record the discussions and use the data generated by the analysis. As a ‘thank you’ for participating, students received a £10 Amazon voucher.

Each focus group lasted one hour, the discussions were entirely recorded and were based on the same topic guide and stimulus material. To open discussion, I used visual stimuli and asked the following question:

  • In your opinion, what is the aim of assessment?

In all three groups, this triggered some initial interaction directly with me. I then started picking up on differences between participants’ perspectives, asking for clarification and using their insights. Slowly, a relaxed and non-threatening atmosphere developed and led to more spontaneous and natural group conversation, which followed different dynamics in each group. I then began to draw on some core questions I had prepared to elicit students’ perspectives. During each session, I took notes on turn-taking and some relevant contextual clues.

I ended all the three focus group sessions by asking participants to carry out a task in groups of 3 or 4. I gave each group a copy of the marking criteria currently used in the department and one empty grid reproducing the structure of the marking schemes. I asked them the following question:

  • If you were given the chance to generate your own marking criteria, what aspects of writing/speaking /translating would you add or eliminate?

I then invited them to discuss their views and use the empty grid to write down the main ideas shared by the members of their group. The most desired criteria were effort, commitment, and participation.

Transcribing and analysing the focus groups’ discussions

Focus groups, as a qualitative method, are not tied to any specific analytical framework, but qualitative researchers warn us not to take the discourse data at face value (Barbour, 2007:21). Bearing this in mind, I transcribed the recorded discussions and chose discourse analysis as an analytical framework to identify the discursive patterns emerging from students’ spoken interactions.

The focus of the analysis was more on ‘words’ and ‘ideas’ rather than on the process of interaction. I read and listened to the discussions many times and, as I identified recurrent themes, I started coding some excerpts. I then moved back and forth between the coding frame and the transcripts, adding or removing themes, renaming them, reallocating excerpts to different ‘themes’.

Spoken discourse lends itself to multiple levels of analysis, but since my focus was on students’ perspectives on the assessment process and their understanding of marking criteria, I concentrated on those themes that seemed to offer more insights into these specific aspects. Relating one theme to the other helped me to shed new light on some familiar issues and to reflect on them in a new way.

Some insights into students’ perspectives

As language learners, students gain personal experience of the complexity of language and language learning, but the analysis suggests that they draw on the theme of complexity to articulate their unease with the atomistic approach to evaluation of rubrics and, at times, also to contest the descriptors of the standard for a first level class. This made me reflect about whether the achievement of almost native-like abilities is actually the standard against which we want to base our evaluation. Larsen-Freeman’s (2015) and Kramsch’s (2008) approach to language development as a ‘complex system’ helped me to shed light on the idea of ‘complexity’ and ‘non-linear relations’ in the context of language learning which emerged from the analysis.

The second theme I identified is the ambiguity and vagueness of the standards for each criterion. Students draw on this theme not so much to communicate their lack of understanding of the marking scheme, but to question the reliability of a process of evaluation that matches performances to numerical values by using opaque descriptors.

The third theme that runs through the discussions is the tension between the promise of objectivity of the marking schemes and the fact that their use inevitably implies an element of subjectivity. There is also a tension between the desire for an objective counting of errors and the feeling that ‘errors’ need to be ‘weighted’ in relation to a specific learning context and an individual learning path. On one hand, there is the unpredictable and infinite variety of complex performances that cannot easily be broken down into parts in order to be evaluated objectively, on the other hand, there is the expectation that the sum of the parts, when adequately mapped to clear marking schemes, results in an objective mark.

Rubrics in general seem to be part of a double discourse. They are described as unreliable, discouraging and disheartening as an instructional tool. The feedback they provide is seen as having no effect on language development as does the complex and personalised feedback that teachers provide. Effective and engaging feedback is always associated with the expert knowledge of a teacher, not with rubrics. However, the need for rubrics as a tool of evaluation is not questioned in itself.

The idea of using exemplars to pin down standards and make the process of evaluation more objective emerges from the Part III focus group discussion. Students considered pros and cons of using exemplars drawing on the same rationales that can be found debated in scholarly articles. Listening to, and reading systematically through, students’ discourses was quite revealing and brought to light some questionable views on language and language assessment that most marking schemes measuring achievement in foreign languages contribute to promote.

Conclusion

The insights into students’ perspectives gained from the analysis of the focus groups suggest that rubrics can easily create false expectations in students and foster an assessment ‘culture’ based on an idea of learning as steady increase in skills. We need to ask ourselves how we could design marking schemes that communicate a more realistic view of language development. Could we create marking schemes that students do not find disheartening or ineffective in understanding how to progress? Rather than just evaluation tools, rubrics should be learning tools that describe different levels of performance and avoid evaluative language.

However, the issues of ‘transparency’ and ‘reliability’ cannot be solved by designing clearer, more detailed or student-friendly rubrics. These issues can only be addressed by sharing our expert knowledge of ‘criteria’ and ‘standards’ with students, which can be achieved through dialogue, practice, observation and imitation. Engaging students in marking exercises and involving them in the construction of marking schemes – for example by asking them how they would measure commonly desired criteria like effort and commitment – offers us a way forward.

References:

Barbour, R. 2007. Doing focus groups. London: Sage.

Howitt, D. 2016. Qualitative Research Methods in Psychology. Harlow: Pearson.

Kramsch, C. 2008. Ecological perspectives on foreign language education. Language Teaching 41 (3): 389-408.

Larsen-Freeman, D. 2015. Saying what we mean: Making a case for ‘language acquisition’ to become ‘language development’. Language Teaching 48 (4): 491-505.

Potter, M. and M. Wetherell. 1987. Discourse and social psychology. Beyond attitudes and behaviours. London: Sage.

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AN ‘APPY CHRISTMAS IN AGRICULTURE: SHARING OUR TEACHING AND LEARNING EXPERIENCES By Dr Alice Mauchline & Prof Julian Park

During December 2016, we had the chance to share our teaching and learning experiences here at the University of Reading with thousands of other educators around the world by providing a case study for a seasonal online course called ‘The 12 apps of Christmas’.

The free, open, short, online Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course was run for the third time by the Dublin Institute of Technology. The programme released ‘an app a day’ for the first 12 weekdays in December and over 3,000 participants logged in to get quick outlines of different ways in which they could integrate mobile learning into their teaching and learning practices. The aim was to raise awareness of the benefits of mobile apps and technologies, to provide upskilling for educators and to help expand their personal learning networks. The course was a collaborative effort with case studies from Ireland, UK and the USA and now that it has finished, the site has been left online as an open resource for all to use. It is available here: https://the12appsofchristmas2016.wordpress.com/

The case study was produced in collaboration with colleagues at the Universities of Sheffield and Chester as a dissemination activity for the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning (EFL) project.  The EFL team have been working together to research and share innovations in field teaching and learning with a particular focus on the use of mobile technologies.

The app we focused on for the case study was ‘Geospike’; this app allows instant location recording using the internal GPS of a mobile device, to which photos, videos and field notes can be attached. This functionality means the app can be used as a georeferenced field notebook. The pedagogic case study we wrote described how we used the app to log field sampling sites in Iceland with Final year undergraduates from the University of Reading and the University of Akureyri, Iceland on a joint Microbiology field-based module led by Prof Rob Jackson (School of Biological Sciences).

Photos from the Iceland fieldtrip showing students using the iPads to log their sampling locations in GeoSpike (we gratefully acknowledge the Annual Fund for their support in purchasing a set of iPads to support field learning at Reading)

The experience of sharing our pedagogic innovations through the 12 apps of Christmas provided us with the opportunity to interact with educators, students, librarians and learning technologists across the globe. The cohort included people with a multitude of different subject backgrounds and experiences which led to very interesting conversations through Twitter and exchanges of comments on the website.

Frances Boylan @boylanfm A map of #12appsDIT followers (https://twitter.com/boylanfm/status/808324692109119488)

Several other apps with similar functionality to Geospike were discussed along with many suggestions of alternative, innovative uses of this kind of app in teaching and learning activities. Our favourite feedback was on Twitter from @LeithaD “#12appsDIT Really love the case study for GeoSpike. A nifty app is one thing, but a well-constructed learning activity is even better!”

Learn more:

Enhancing Fieldwork Learning https://enhancingfieldwork.org.uk/

12 Apps of Christmas https://the12appsofchristmas2016.wordpress.com/

Take part:

DIT aren’t running the 12 Apps of Christmas in 2017 but there are a couple of others to try this year:

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Reflections on university transition from a new staff member By Dr Alana James

I started university this year, or at least it feels like I have upon starting my new job as a Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences (PCLS). Every face around me is unfamiliar, the campus seems an unnerving maze, and simple processes have become logic puzzles. Oh the joy I felt at using a printer successfully (let’s not mention the attempts at scanning a document). There are many enjoyable aspects – meeting lovely new colleagues and joining in the School’s coffee mornings for example – but the transition is more disorientating than I expected. At the end of my first week I was grateful for some downtime at home, and found myself reflecting upon how my experience compares with the transition to university for new students.

New students face the same challenges I am but may also be living independently, away from their support network, for the first time. Many go home each day to a new place and have to figure out new washing machines and cookers never mind printers, as well as try to get along with housemates. For those commuting there are other challenges, including being at the mercy of traffic or public transport, and trying to forge friendships between classes. I have worked in universities before, and am able to draw upon previous experience; many new students arrive without having spent much, if any, time in a higher education environment. We know that factors such as being the first in your family to go to university or having a disability can make the transition even harder.

My own disorientation in these first days at the University of Reading has reminded me how all-encompassing the transition to university can be. As an academic my focus is often upon ensuring my new students have the academic skills needed to be an independent learner, but it’s important to be mindful that this is just one aspect of the overall transition experience. It’s easy to forget that the initial onset of new faces, places, and challenges can be mentally and physically wearing as well as exciting. When I meet my new students at the start of the next academic year I will try to recall how I felt when I joined the UoR.

One of the influencing factors in my decision to join the UoR was its commitment to student support, particularly mentoring. Harnessing our students’ potential to support each other through mentoring can ease mentees’ transition into university, whilst developing the mentors’ own skills and experience. I have previously run a scheme where psychology students mentored A-level pupils, giving them an insight into what university life is really like, and found that the mentors also benefited in terms of developing transferable skills and ideas about careers. Some recent research with my collaborator found that specialist mentoring, between qualified staff and mentees, is an effective form of support for students with mental health conditions and autism. I will certainly be encouraging my future students at the UoR to make the most of the STaR mentoring scheme and the mentoring connected to the Study Smart online course, first as mentees and later as mentors.

As for me, I am very much looking forward to the meetings with my staff mentor.

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A letter to my pre-UoRM self about teaching international students By Dr Dan Jones

Dear pre-UoRM Dan (circa 2015),

So, you’re looking forward to going to the University of Reading Malaysia (UoRM) soon, right? Slightly daunting I’m sure, but you’ll be telling yourself that the UK campus already has a large international cohort and that teaching in Malaysia won’t be that different to what you have already been doing, right? Well, not quite. Therefore, I thought I’d take a moment to write you this letter to give you a few snippets of advice…

It wasn’t until I started at UoRM that I came to realise what diverse teaching needs were; a classroom on the other side of the world, a different continent, with a highly international cohort, a diverse educational background, and almost all with English as a second language. Immersed in this setting I was suddenly rather outnumbered by the local knowledge and experience of the classroom. I learned quickly that to engage these students I had to reflect on my current teaching practices. To quote from the curriculum framework, I had to “adapt to students’ needs rather than expecting students to adapt to me.”; some of my rigid expectations did not fit with this context, some assumptions were unfair. Over two years I picked up many tips for teaching international students, however, for ease of digestion, I thought I’d focus on five key points. I think an awareness will help with your transition, and could even be used at UoR before you go!

  1. Assumptions and expectations of roles: the role of a student and a staff member at university needs to be set out and understood, by both parties, early in the course. I found that international students start university with a range of educational, and cultural, backgrounds. If students and staff are not on the same page when it comes to what is expected from them in their degree, confusion and uncertainty arises. Acknowledging this difference, and laying out expectations clearly, was the most important lesson I took from UoRM, enabling me to maximise the effectiveness of my teaching.
  2. Adapting to students’ requirements: new skills may need breaking down, defined, and the basics taught before building upon foundations. The student must play their part by working hard to learn a new skill, we do not want to end up spoon-feeding students. However, an educator can also facilitate such a transition, learn to acknowledge differences in backgrounds, and help students adapt to different environments.
  3. Instilling confidence: many challenges I first had were related to confidence in the classroom: the culture I was in implicitly discouraged students to answer, or ask, questions. Schools often utilised embarrassment or peer pressure in the classroom, leading to an underconfident and passive cohort. I introduced ways to make the environment more accepting and friendly: electronically answering questions, using post-it notes to discuss, encouragement, light-heartedness – small things that added up to make a difference; by second year the difference in confidence was discernible.
  4. Providing a new/different context: particularly in psychology, many examples and theories are Western-centric, something I did not acknowledge before. It was a case of contextualising, to make the content more accessible for students, which led to a greater inclusiveness, and subsequently better engagement.
  5. Using simpler language: a practical issue that one must be aware of. The language I used was occasionally too advanced for the audience, and could benefit from additional explanation or simpler language. I was aware not to ‘dumb-down’ lectures (this is higher education after all), however, it is likely to be beneficial for all (including those with English as a first language) for the teacher to acknowledge the type, and level, of language that they are using.

Of course, a stipulation to this is that these points have arisen from my own experiences, and I can hear you now, “…well Dan, this is all very well, but where is the evidence? You are just relying on anecdote, can we really generalise from this?”. Yes, you’re right in your thinking, but, the changes in students’ approach to my classes was striking; confidence grew, participation improved and students were engaged. Nevertheless, as the scientist is exclaiming in you, that same scientist is exclaiming in me. Consequently, I, in collaboration with colleagues in the UK, Japan and Malaysia, am currently investigating whether cultural factors could explain the use of critical thinking in higher education. Data has been collected and analysis is underway…

Although realised and formed at UoRM, they are as applicable to the UK. UoR has almost 4,000 international students across all programmes and although we want to give international students the British education experience, I think it’s important to acknowledge differences and be aware of cultural challenges. Feel free to share this letter with colleagues at UoR and UoRM; these may not be the ‘best’ techniques, but, at the very least, may increase the discussion around multicultural learning, which can only benefit staff and students alike.

Finally, do make the most of your Malaysian adventure, it’ll be great. You’ll learn lots and be regularly challenged, but come back more culturally aware and open-minded than ever! Oh, and don’t forget to send a postcard…

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Facilitating student reflection on learning in the Great Hall by Rev Dr Geoff Taggart

The Great Hall is the jewel in the crown of the London Rd campus and its cavernous interior gives it a unique atmosphere, ideal for reflective kinds of learning. I was fortunate enough to teach a session there in October and its dramatic, imposing space was a key pedagogical tool. The session lasted two hours and involved 50 2nd year students training to become primary teachers through the BA Primary Education (QTS) programme. Although the focus of the session was the teaching of religious education in school, it did not involve any teaching about specific religions at all. This is because a key aspect of RE in school is ‘learning from religions’, not about them. In other words, the focus is upon the pupils’ own developing sense of purpose, sense of identity, meaning and belonging.

I am writing this since such a session would seem useful to undergraduates on all programmes since the development of self-awareness, goal-setting and clarification of values are skills needed by all students. There is also a growing need to find new ways to sustain student wellbeing.

Once the students were seated, I told them a little about the space they were seated in, about when the hall was built and what it is used for. Talking about all the graduation ceremonies which are held here, I expressed the view that, for about 100 years, the hall has been the ‘symbolic heart’ of the university since it is probably the one room in the whole institution which most students, on all UK campuses, have passed through at least once. I told them what happens at graduation and role-played walking in at the back and up to the stage to shake the VC’s hand. I asked them to do a piece of writing for themselves, in silence, stressing the fact that this was not an assessment and would not be handed in. On a handout, the prompts for writing were:

  • List all the important events which will happen for you between now and graduation day (e.g. birthdays, holidays etc).
  • What are the important things you will need to do between now and graduation day?
  • Are there things which have happened which you already know will become permanent memories of your time at university?
  • Which aspects of yourself need to be nurtured and cultivated before graduation?
  • Are there any aspects of yourself to which you need to say goodbye before graduation?
  • Who will you invite to your graduation?
  • What is the link (if any) between these people and the memory you wrote about at the start of the day?
  • What would you like to say to these people/person?
  • Is there anything particular you want to do today as a result of this writing?

I stressed the fact that students could spend as long or as short a time on the activity as they liked but, if they wished to stop, they should leave the hall and meet up with friends later, rather than disturbing them. There were other activities they could go onto. Over the previous few weeks, Mark Laynesmith and I had been fortunate enough to borrow a canvas labyrinth to use with students. This was set out in the hall. I explained that the centre represented graduation day and they could ‘take a stone for a walk’, reflecting on the actions and changes that need to happen as they get closer and closer to it. I also had large carpet tiles and baskets of different shaped stones. I explained that, if they wanted, they could extend their reflection by creating a picture out of stones which represented their life at the current time.

I asked students to complete an evaluation form before they left. One of the things I wanted to know was whether students felt that this kind of exercise was legitimate and worthwhile on a degree-level programme. All fifty students agreed unanimously that it is ‘a good thing for universities to have space on their courses for students to reflect on their aims and values in life’. One student acknowledged that ‘there are courses/societies where you can reflect but it is hard to allow/give yourself time to go to them. This is why it is very good to incorporate it into lectures.’ One student commented that ‘we need this time to just be calm and think without things like technology getting in the way.’ Another said that ‘being a student is daunting because you are working for your future while trying to fit in. Reflection helps with mental state [sic] and could prevent students from getting bogged down.’

I was also curious whether students would have preferred to clarify values and shares their goals in group discussion, rather than in solitary writing. Although seven students would have preferred this, the vast majority agreed that the silent reflection exercise was better in this regard. One student commented:

 ‘I think the quality/depth of my reflection has been much better by writing it as (1) it is harder to come up with words on the spot in conversation to describe things and (2) I feel I can express more when I know only I am going to be reading it.’

Six students felt that both solitary and group work could complement each other and this remark was typical:

 ‘I feel if reflecting with others they may help to remind you of events you may have put to the back of your mind but on the other hand silence was very nice to just sit and reflect.’

Overall, the comments from the students were overwhelmingly positive. These are some examples:

  • ‘It has allowed me to stop and think about where I am in my life and where I want to go.’
  • ‘I very much enjoyed the reflective session. It has benefitted me in many ways by putting my personal and university practices into perspective.’
  • ‘It made it clear to me how important family are in your life.’
  • ‘I was able to let all my feelings out on paper that I wouldn’t normally feel comfortable doing’.
  • ‘I have become more aware of my personal goals and who/where I want to be at the time of my graduation.’
  • ‘I found it really useful to think about what aspects of myself I want to change/develop before graduation day.’
  • ‘The Great Hall reflective writing experience was one of the most beneficial activities I’ve ever done in a lecture.’
  • ‘Today has made me think about my life in lots of ways – emotional but helpful.’
  • ‘I almost feel uplifted after reflecting upon myself and others.’
  • ‘I hadn’t realised how many good memories I had from only one year of uni.’
  • ‘Slowing down today has had a huge positive affect’
  • ‘The first thing I’m going to do when I leave is call my family and thank them for supporting me on my journey through university.’
  • ‘Very helpful in understanding where my head is at mentally and grounding as I was able to list the most important things that matter to me.’

 

This exercise brought home to me how valuable the scale and atmosphere of the Great Hall can be as a resource in promoting a deep level of reflection and how it could contribute to all kinds of ‘contemplative pedagogy’.

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What are the benefits of Study Smart? A student perspective By Tom Wise (Part 3, Psychological Theory and Practice)

Being a student mentor for the Study Smart online course for Part 1 undergraduates has offered me an opportunity for personal development, through examining the perspectives of upcoming students to the University. It has allowed me to reflect on my university experiences, and develop further skills in communication. These are areas particularly important to me, as through reflecting on my experiences it has enabled me to understand my personal best practises, and supporting others to find their own. In addition, I have learnt to engage and effectively communicate with new individuals, about topics which are both basic and complex. Although with hindsight a topic (such as referencing) may now seem like second nature, for those initially transitioning to university, it can be extremely complex and daunting. Through developing this understanding, and through personal reflection and guiding others, it has really shown me how important a positive and supported university transition can be.

This course clearly can reduce student anxiety about coming to a different academic environment, made clear by comments during the course. However, there are other subtler benefits of this program, as this course can normalise and provide the understanding that “you are not alone”. When combined with other university wide programs, such as STaR Mentoring, it can provide a fully supportive, but not condescending transition; ensuring students enjoy the university experience for what it is.

Although there can be seen to be these higher-level benefits, Study Smart allows students to really utilize the university resources from day one. The course breaks down these resources, which can be worked through at the student’s own pace, before or during the first weeks at university, rather than being dumped onto them during Welcome Week, which can often leave students feeling very overwhelmed. This can mean that every student is able to receive uniform support into university.

Finally, I have enjoyed being a mentor on this program, as it has allowed me to give back to the University community. This has led me to some further questions which would be interesting to peruse further critically around how this course may impact on a student’s first term at the University, specifically their first formative assessment mark (in areas covered within this course) as well as their levels of anxiety. It would be interesting to evaluate whether students who have completed the course do feel less anxious than those who have not; this could demonstrate even further the benefits of Study Smart.

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A Language Teaching Community of Practice: Collaborative development of expertise and scholarship By Jackie Baines (Dept. of Classics), Rita Balestrini (MLES), Sarah Brewer (ISLI), Barbara King (IoE), Regine Klimpfinger (MLES), Congxia Li (IWLP), Sarah Marston (IoE)

Over the course of the last academic year, the idea of creating a Language Teaching Community of Practice (LT CoP) has taken shape and developed as part of the University strategy to support and promote language learning and expertise in foreign languages teaching. A number of colleagues involved in language teaching or teacher education from the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, the International Study and Language Institute, the Institute of Education and the Department of Classics, have agreed to meet informally and contribute, from their different perspectives, to the implementation of the project.

As a core group, we began our work with a critical discussion of the idea of CoP itself, its evolution and its adoption as an organisational tool. We discussed the range of functions that, as a cross-institutional LT CoP, we would like to have (sharing practices, responding to needs, mentoring, influencing policies, bidding for funds etc.) and key issues that we consider relevant to our interests and needs as language practitioners working in different  contexts. We agreed that one of our defining aims will be to deepen knowledge, promote reflection and stimulate in-depth discussion around themes relating to our professional practice at the UoR. Therefore, we have decided to focus on one main theme in each academic year. In 2016-2017, we began to share and discuss some aspects of our assessment practices and we intend to continue exploring this theme in 2017-2018.

We would now like to widen participation and invite colleagues who have an interest in foreign language pedagogy to join us in termly meetings. The first meeting will be held on 13th November, from 1-2 pm (Carrington, Room 101) room tbc) and will focus on marking criteria, rubrics and grading scales used to assess speaking and writing in a foreign language. We invite interested colleagues to give short presentations on these topics (10-15 minutes). For organisational purposes, we would like to receive a short abstract/summary (approximately 100 words) of the presentation by Friday 27th October at the latest. This should be sent to r.balestrini@reading.ac.uk

As is the nature of a CoP, our structure and plans will remain flexible and we will respond to the needs and interests of our members. Therefore, the direction in which the discussion will continue in the spring and summer meetings will emerge from this first event in the autumn term.

If you plan to join us at our Autumn meeting on 13th November, please register your interest in participating at the following link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/autumn-meeting-of-the-language-teaching-community-of-practice-lt-cop-tickets-38351139290

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Launch of the Large Class Education Toolkit By Dr Katja Strohfeldt

With the start of the new term most of us will focus once again on one thing: How can we offer the best teaching to all of our students? Many of us will also face a very similar challenge: Class sizes are getting bigger and the student cohort is becoming increasingly diverse.

Some of you might recall the University kindly funded our research into large class size teaching with the special aspect of diversity through the TLDF. One of the main objectives of this project was to develop a toolkit, which provides easy access to tools and tricks to help with large class size teaching.

I am delighted to let you know – the toolkit is finished – thanks to the support of so many colleagues around the University!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And just to add – what a large class size is really depends on your individual experience. For some of you a class of 40 students feels large because all your previous teaching was designed for 20 students. Some other colleagues are faced with 300+ students. However, you will find you face some common issues independent of the actual class size. And the toolkit hopefully provides ideas suitable for most class sizes.

The idea….

The aim of this toolkit is to provide real-life ideas around teaching large classes at HE level in an easily accessible manner. There are several books and publications out there, which describe large class size teaching, However not everyone has the time to find these publications, read them and then apply them to the environment, which we have available at Reading.

Therefore it was important to us to collect real-life examples. Many colleagues (all from within the University) have contributed ideas and case studies to this toolkit. They have kindly agreed to act as champions for the various ideas – it might be a good idea to get advice of our champions if you plan to introduce something new. It was important for us that there is an evidence-based approach to the case studies, where possible.

We also wanted to make it visually attractive. I am delighted that two Typography students took on the project to create a great design for the toolkit (I hope you will agree) as part of the “Real Job Scheme”, which the department runs. They created a printed version in form of a folder and it brief stipulated that we wanted a colorful, visually attractive folder, which can just sit on your desk or shelf and reminds you of some of the wonderful ideas colleagues use. Each idea is summarized on one card.

However, we are aware that some of you will prefer a digital version. The typography students have kindly agreed to also produce an interactive pdf, which can be found on the CQSD webpage under funding opportunities – internal funding – current funding holders. Or simply here…

V4_Interactive_Education_Toolkit

The Toolkit…

The toolkit consist of approximately 40 case studies from colleagues at the University. We have divided the toolkit into three sections – illustrating how much time you need to approximately spend to include these ideas into your next teaching session.

The first section (5-10 minutes) gives you quick ideas about how to reduce anonymity, to make a good start and finish, encourage engagement and improve accessibility amongst many other aspects.

The second section (30-60minutes) illustrates real-life examples, which actively help to engage students. The very practical guide includes ideas such as the use of poling software, quizzes, social media, screencasts and other case studies. As previously mentioned each case study has a “UoR Champion”, which is actively using the described approach.

The third section (60+ minutes) describes approaches, where you apply more significant change your teaching style and pedagogic. Again, we have focused on ideas practiced at Reading, e.g. problem-based learning, team-based learning, enquiry-based learning, blended learning, flipped classroom and many others.

Each case study contains an introduction to the case study or pedagogic used. This is followed by a case study, where our “UoR champions” describe how they have adapted their approaches so it is suitable for our teaching environment. And last but not least, there is a list of “Top tips” as a really useful resource.

Quo vadis?

This is a good question. First of all I would to encourage everyone to have a look at the toolkit. Have a look at the toolkit online, come to the CQSD session in October or email me if you want to get your hands on one of the folders.

If there are ideas within the folder you find especially useful for your work – why not take them out of the folder and leave them clearly visible on your desk to remind you?

I hope I will see many of you at the CQSD session in October. If you have any questions in the meantime, please email us (k.strohfeldt@reading.ac.uk) or follow us on Twitter @largeclassHE.

 

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Building Student Resilience: THE POSTIVE MINDS PROGRAMME By Dr Paddy Woodman

In Spring 2017 the Student Success & Engagement Team partnered with Positive (and the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust (CWMT)) to develop and deliver the Positive Minds pilot programme to 150 university students. The programme provided students with evidence-based cognitive and behavioural tools and techniques to manage pressure and build psychological resilience. The programme’s aim was to support students’ transition from school to university, help them to manage the pressures of university life, and develop the skills required to thrive in today’s workplace.

Benefits for students:

  • They learnt a range of adaptive psychological techniques and coping strategies that can help them to fulfil their potential, manage periods of pressure and decrease the likelihood of psychological ill health.
  • They acquired their adaptive life skills that can be used to better manage transitions and uncertainty.
  • They developed their emotional literacy to reduce stigma and shame associated with psychological ill health 
Introduction – This session introduced the importance of psychological wellbeing for sustaining high performance, presenting tools and techniques that could help students manage periods of stress, pressure and change. 500 students attended an introductory talk supported by the Positive App in October 2016. Following this, 150 students volunteered to attend a four-module programme from January to April 2017. 
Focus Deeper – Improving attentional focus is a crucial factor in achieving academic and career success; this session focused on being mindful and separating ‘useful’ and ‘useless’ worries. 
Connect Better – This session introduced the knowledge and tools designed to increase positive emotional contagion and communication, enhancing trust, compassion and understanding. 
Read the detailed outcomes and how students felt before and afterwards here [link to PDF], but some key highlights are:89% of students surveyed said that, as a result of the Positive Minds programme, they had better levels of controlling unnecessary worries. 70% of students surveyed said that their ability to deal with pressure and setbacks at university has improved as a result of the programme.
  • The Student Success & Engagement team are currently exploring how to extend the Positive Programme further, so watch this space
  • 63% of students surveyed said that their ability to focus on their academic work has improved with Positive Minds.
  • Think Brighter – This session demonstrated how adopting a flexible cognitive style can enable more optimistic, positive patterns of thinking and behaviour.
  • See More – This session looked at ‘emotional literacy’ – understanding why and how we react to situations, particularly stressful ones.
  • The Programme Outline:
  • Introduction – This session introduced the importance of psychological wellbeing for sustaining high performance, presenting tools and techniques that could help students manage periods of stress, pressure and change. 500 students attended an introductory talk supported by the Positive App in October 2016. Following this, 150 students volunteered to attend a four-module programme from January to April 2017.See More – This session looked at ‘emotional literacy’ – understanding why and how we react to situations, particularly stressful ones.

    Focus Deeper – Improving attentional focus is a crucial factor in achieving academic and career success; this session focused on being mindful and separating ‘useful’ and ‘useless’ worries.

    Think Brighter – This session demonstrated how adopting a flexible cognitive style can enable more optimistic, positive patterns of thinking and behaviour.

    Connect Better – This session introduced the knowledge and tools designed to increase positive emotional contagion and communication, enhancing trust, compassion and understanding.

    Read the detailed outcomes and how students felt before and afterwards Reading_Evaluation_Report_June2017, but some key highlights are:

    89% of students surveyed said that, as a result of the Positive Minds programme, they had better levels of controlling unnecessary worries.

    63% of students surveyed said that their ability to focus on their academic work has improved with Positive Minds.

  • 70% of students surveyed said that their ability to deal with pressure and setbacks at university has improved as a result of the programme.The Student Success & Engagement team are currently exploring how to extend the Positive Programme further, so watch this space

     

     

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Leaner, Cleaner, Greener: How Reading’s assessment data is changing for the better:

Leaner, Cleaner, Greener: How Reading’s assessment data is changing for the better.

Dr Emma Mayhew (EMA Academic Director), Dr Madeleine Davies (EMA Academic Partner), Kat Lee (Project Manager, External)

The Electronic Management of Assessment (EMA) Programme has been created to deliver the University’s long-term vision for online assessment while improving the underlying processes and supporting systems. The reduction in manual assessment recording is at the heart of changes being delivered this autumn by one of the Programme’s workstreams, Core Systems, which is making headway towards the ultimate aim of being able to integrate Blackboard and RISIS assessment information and marks.

The challenge for Reading is that sub modular marks calculation in RISIS needs to have full information about all assessments contributing towards an overall mark, and this is currently stored in Excel. LOTS of Excel. The biggest problem with spreadsheets is often the isolation from the rest of an organisation, making collaboration tricky: data cannot be automatically or easily incorporated into other processes or systems. UoR is not exempt from this challenge that causes multiple requests for the same/similar information on modules and assessment information throughout the academic year. This can give rise to frustration from all colleagues involved in the process and it leads to difficulties in accessing information quickly.

Over the last three months, programme administration colleagues across the University have been supporting the transition to sub modular marks by creating the starting point for detailed assessment information for UG modules running in the 2017/18 academic year. It has been a significant task, focused on the aim to create lean, green and more streamlined approaches for managing assessment and marks data.

We are now able to announce the following improvements that we are delivering for the Autumn Term:

1)      Module Convenors From the beginning of term, all module convenors for UG modules will be able to view sub modular assessment information held in RISIS for their modules. This will allow them to track their modules and to identify any problems at an earlier stage of the academic year. It will also be a one-stop resource for all module information so that queries can be answered quickly and easily simply by accessing this screen.

2)     Mark Entry Programme Administrators will be able to enter sub modular marks into RISIS for UG assessment from November onwards (where already submitted/marked). Corresponding grades will be able to show where penalties such as late deductions have been made. This allows Programme Administrators, Exams Officers and Senior Tutors to drill down into the details of students’ grades, to check the history of marks more easily, and to diagnose problems quickly.

3)     Personal Tutors

Building on the existing Tutor Card area of RISIS, additional information will be available to show the breakdown of individual, sub modular assessment marks for tutees during the course of the academic year. Previously, many colleagues had to wait until the end of the academic session to access this information and even then they may only have been able to access overall module marks. The new screen will provide current information and greatly enhanced detail (see image).

 

 

 

4)     Reporting

As well as being able to download information where required, a number of pre-defined reports will also be available to schools, providing assessment information such as submission dates and assessment types. SDTLs will, for example, be able to identify where assessment bunching occurs.

The goal is to produce a ‘cleaner’ system that is intuitive and responsive to staff and student needs. The team is working with a gradate student representative and with RUSU to obtain student perspectives on the upcoming changes and to work towards enabling a consistently good student assessment experience.

To help you find out more about the immediate benefits going live this term, the EMA Programme is running a webinar to highlight some of the changes and new RISIS screens on Monday 11th September. If you would like to sign up for the webinar, please contact the EMA team at ema@reading.ac.uk

More broadly, the team working on the EMA Programme would like all our colleagues to feel that they can share any good ideas with us and discuss any thoughts they have about the programme. If you would like to contact us, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please do e-mail EMA Academic Director Emma Mayhew (e.a.mayhew@reading.ac.uk) or Academic Partner Madeleine Davies (m.k.davies@reading.ac.uk).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Applying Flipped Learning to an IWLP Italian Stage 3 module: creating a deep learning environment By Daniela Standen FHEA

For the past four year I have incorporated Flipped Learning into my teaching. Flipped Learning started in the United States in secondary education (Bergmann & Sams, 2012) and it has been expanding into higher education. The principal premise is that instruction moves outside of the classroom and class time is freed up for practice and application.

To start with it, adoption of Flipped Learning, was a response to a perceived lack of time in class both from my point of view and the students’, and Flipped Learning seemed to provide the answer to stretching time. However, after a while I realised that the potential for this pedagogy could be much greater and that it could create a learning environment that could lead students to learn deeply: i.e. going beyond recalling facts, using instead their underlying knowledge and applying it to problems and situations, to understand the bigger picture (Biggs and Tang, 2011:26-31; Brinks Lockwood, 2014).

In the last year I had the opportunity of reviewing IWLP Italian stage 3, a module that had not been taught for a few years. I chose Flipped Learning as a pedagogy and used Exploratory Practice (Allwright, 2003) as a research framework to understand if Flipped Learning could indeed deliver an environment that encourages deep learning and a teacher focused on making students independent learners, but most importantly if the students perceived these changes.

If you are interested in knowing more about how I got on and what I found out, here is a short video:

References and useful websites:

Allwright, D. 2003, Exploratory Practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching, Language Teaching Research vol. 7, no.2, pp.113-141

Bergman and Sams 2012. Flip your classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education.

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. 2011. Teaching for Quality Learning at University. 4th Ed. Maidenhead: Society for Research in Higher Education and Open University Press.

Brinks Lockwood, R. 2014, Flip It! Strategies for the EFL Classroom. /uSA: The University of Mitchigan Press.

www.flippedlearning.org

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Supporting Inclusivity and Diversity in Language Teaching and Learning at the University of Reading Authored by Laura Brown, Regine Klimpfinger, Daniela Standen and Enza Siciliano Verruccio

Language learning and disability: how to avoid the ‘avoidance’?

When the university disability office was approached in 2003 by a new member of staff for guidance on the assessment of a dyslexic student enrolled on a language module, the reply was that students with dyslexia are better advised to avoid foreign language courses. Fast-forward to 2017, and issues of ‘course substitution’, or ‘avoidance’,[i] when it comes to the study of foreign languages and learning difficulties, are still emerging today, as anecdotally reported by prospective secondary school applicants to this university.

When the principles of inclusivity and diversity, fresh from the new University of Reading Curriculum Framework, were chosen as the focus of this year’s university Teaching and Learning conference (January 2017), the discussion and thinking it provoked pointed clearly towards the need – within our institution and within our discipline in this institution – for a thorough reflection on how our current language teaching practices, our language curricula, and the general university procedures can best support students with disabilities who do not wish to avoid learning a foreign language.

Reflecting on disabilities and language teaching and learning practices: a workhop

This is when the idea of the Disability and Language Teaching & Learning Workshop was born. On 18 May, 22 language teaching practitioners from the Institution-Wide Language Programme (IWLP), the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies (DMLES), the Department of Classics and the Institute of Education gathered to explore and discuss experiences and practices of, as well as aspirations to, inclusivity and diversity in language teaching and learning here at Reading. They were guided by Laura Brown from the university Disability Office, with the support of Regine Klimpfinger (DMLES Disability Officer), Daniela Standen (International Study and Language Institute Disability Officer), and Enza Siciliano Verruccio (DMLES Language Coordinator).

The workshop consisted of a blend of theory and practice, with a strong focus on group discussion and activity, given the collaborative approach we wanted to engender. We set the scene with Enza recounting the experiences described above. To further examine the kinds of assumptions we may make about certain disabilities, the group then engaged in a ‘Fact or Fiction’ exercise to indicate whether statements were true or false, unearthing potential stereotypes and preconceptions, such as ‘Students with Asperger’s Syndrome can’t do group work’.

In smaller groups, participants then prioritised skills and attributes needed to learn languages, such as phonological processing skills, memory, curiosity and motivation, using a pyramid shape to indicate the most important at the top ranging to least important at the bottom (Picture 1). Skills and attributes were discussed in terms of how disabilities can affect those skills and attributes, for example the advantage of extroversion in acquiring spoken fluency and how this can be impeded by severe social anxiety. This led to a broader presentation on the experiences that disabled students may have in relation to the four key aspects of language learning – speaking, writing, reading and listening – looking both at barriers and strengths that disabled students may experience in relation to various elements of a languages course, such as oral examinations, classroom conversation exercises, timed translation examination papers, etc.


 

 

 

 

 

  1. Groupwork: prioritised language learners’ attributes and skills

The group were then subjected to an impossible memory test and a note-taking exercise using their non-writing hand. These gave them a feel for what it can be like for disabled students to try to fit in with traditional assessment and teaching methods which are unsuited to their learning style.

The group reflected, via Mentimeter, on their experiences of students on their modules who, despite adequate intelligence and effort, struggled with aspects of language learning due to disability (Picture 2). This led to consideration of techniques that can be applied to enhance accessibility and inclusivity in language teaching, across the three core areas of curriculum design, delivery and assessment (Picture 3). The challenges and limitations in applying these techniques were acknowledged as well as the benefits.

 

 

 

 

2. Workshop attendees report own experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Laura Brown from the university Disability Office leads the discussion on embedding inclusivity and diversity in the language curriculum

Case study examples of disabled students successfully studying languages were presented, highlighting particular aspects that helped them to achieve – this led to one of the key messages from the day in the plenary discussion, that small changes can make a huge difference. We also emphasised how people are not on their own in supporting disabled students and that the day’s collaborative approach provided a platform for further building support networks.

Moving forward

The workshop left the participants with solid advice on how to support students as individuals, but more importantly with ideas and possibilities to explore to make the curriculum more inclusive.  From the feedback received there is a clear need and willingness to push these conversations forward. Many expressed the need for more specific information and a forum to share practical ideas and good practice about language teaching and disability, and felt it was paramount to do so collaboratively across departments in order to implement and embed changes. So, keep a look out for the Special Interest Group on disability coming to ISLI and DMLES soon!!

[i] DiFino, S. M. & Lombardino, L. (2004), Language Learning Disabilities: The Ultimate Foreign Language Challenge. Foreign Language Annals, 37, 3, pp. 390-400

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Commercial Law LLM Programmes – Engaging PGT Law students as equal partners in the redesign of a core programme module with the support of a UoR T&L grant By Dr Despoina (Deni) Mantzari (School of Law)

Introduction: Students as Partners

In recent years, there has been an increased appetite in higher education to explore and enhance the ways in which students can become more involved in the design and delivery of their own learning experiences. A prominent way of doing so is engaging students as equal partners in a range of practices and pedagogies. Dubbed as ‘Students as Partners’ (‘SaPs) in the academic literature, this specific practice, or, perhaps, better put ‘ethos’, embraces students and staff working together on teaching and learning in higher education.

Context

The re-design of the LLM in International Commercial Law, in which I was actively involved, presented an excellent opportunity to explore in further detail the usefulness of this practice. Hence, in June 1016 I was awarded with a small UoR Teaching and Learning grant (£250) with the objective to involve a group of ten PGT students from the School of Law as equal partners in the process of redesigning the curriculum of a core PGT module. The PGT LLM module is entitled LWMTAI-Advanced International Commercial Law Issues (20 credits), and is one of the core mandatory modules of the new ‘LLM in International Commercial Law’.

Motivation

What motivated me in particular was the need to listen to the ‘student voice’ by actively and directly engaging students in the design of the curriculum. So far, ‘student voice’ is largely heard ex post; following the completion of the taught component of the module, e.g. on a Module Evaluation Form. I wanted to go beyond existing practice and listen to the ‘student voice’ ex ante; before delivery, by proactively engaging students/learners as equal partners in the redesign of the module. This does not only reflect a current, strategic Teaching and Learning Enhancement Priority of the University, but it is also vital to the success and effective delivery of the module and subsequently to the new LLM Programme. The broader aim was to promote partnership in teaching and learning, building a collective vision of the future of PGT commercial law subjects and programme.

Implementation

Both current and revised MDF forms of the module were circulated to a group of ten PGT students in the School of Law along with a questionnaire. Five of them were students that had completed the module in its pre-revised form and five were students that were not enrolled on the module. The latter group of students was valuable in offering a ‘naïve perception’ to the design of the module. Students were asked to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the module, as reflected in the MDF forms. Their answers to the different questions posed, along with other concerns/recommendations they wished to share, were discussed in a two-hour event, open to all staff involved in PGT Law teaching. Each participating student to the project was paid with vouchers that could be spent in in the Blackwell bookstore on campus.

Currently, as part of my EDMAP 3 project, I have extended the scope of this project by involving currently enrolled PGT Law students, who were the first to be taught the module in its revised form.

Beneficiaries

There are several beneficiaries of this project; direct and indirect. The project delivered considerable benefits to the students who took part in the process; they gained a better understanding of the teaching and learning process, and, furthermore, engaging students as equal partners fostered a sense of belonging and promoted inclusive learning. Secondly, future students will also benefit from a module that has been partly redesigned by students-partners. Thirdly, the insights gained through this project, and shared in the two-hour event, may potentially inform the design and delivery of other, future or existing, PGT modules. Finally, it is hoped that the project will inspire and motivate all staff involved in teaching and learning to think beyond the limiting ‘customer satisfaction’ model that tends to dominate Higher Education nowadays and towards a more challenging and rewarding relationship with our students based on genuine cooperation and trust.

 

 

 

 

 

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Our new undergraduates will be Studying Smarter! By Dr Paddy Woodman & Dr Michelle Reid

Anticipation and nervousness, with a hint of bewilderment and panic – we’ve all seen these looks on our new Part 1 undergraduates. As established members of Reading’s academic community, we often forget what it feels like to step into an unfamiliar learning environment. Our increasingly diverse undergraduate intake means that we must recognise the diverse educational cultures experienced by different students prior to taking up their studies at Reading. We are also becoming more aware of the widening gap between expected approaches to learning at school/college and at University. All of this means that we need to be more pro-active in supporting our students’ transition to learning in HE.

To ease this transition, all our Part 1 students need a shared understanding of the principles and expectations of studying at university, and a welcome into our learning community at Reading. Study Smart: Your Essential Guide for University is a new online, pre-arrival course uniquely available to Reading students, which aims to fill this gap.

The Study Smart course will be launched in August 2017 for all new Part 1 undergraduates, with a three ‘week’ structure covering essential aspects of university study:

1) Academic Integrity

2) Communicating at University

3) Independent Learning.

Students will complete a series of steps including activities such as videos, articles, discussion boards, or quizzes. Course content is being developed by the Study Advice team (drawing on their experience advising new students across the University), in partnership with the Reading MOOC team, and the Student Development and Access team, overseen by Paddy Woodman.

The course will combine academic content with student-preferred delivery to encourage engagement. For instance, focus groups have shown that students like a mixture of film overlaid with animation to make key principles more memorable and ‘friendly’. We are working with Final year Typography students to create short animated films and a visual overlay style to make the lecturers that we film literally more ‘animated’. Students and student experiences will also feature in the videos, and student mentors will help facilitate course discussion boards.

Study Smart will be hosted on the FutureLearn platform which has already proven successful for the University’s popular external MOOCs. It will be suggested that students complete the course before they arrive, capitalising on anticipation and excitement at starting here at Reading. Each ‘week’ of the course will take roughly three hours, but content will be made available in one go so students can pace themselves or complete it in a single burst. They will be able to continue to complete the course during Welcome Week and up to Week 6.

We hope that Study Smart will also prove useful to academic staff by providing a shared start point for conversations with their Part 1 students about taking responsibility for their own learning. Completion of the course could provide a useful indicator of student engagement with self-development and independent study, enabling early light-touch intervention to avoid the need for more time-consuming support later. There is no final assessment, but students are encouraged to think about areas where they might need to find out more.

As we continue to develop course content over the next few months, we will keep you updated with our progress. Watch out for:

– a course teaser trailer

– staff information sessions

– a guide for Personal Tutors (http://libguides.reading.ac.uk/studysmart)

In the meantime if you have questions, or would like further information, please contact Paddy Woodman (p.e.woodman@reading.ac.uk) or Michelle Reid (michelle.reid@reading.ac.uk)

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launch of new research network on politics in the Americas at Reading By Dr Mark Shanahan

On May 2, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Reading, Sir David Bell, will formally launch ‘The Monroe Group’ a new interdisciplinary research group at the university focused around the politics and political history of North America and the Caribbean. I’m proud, alongside my colleague Dr. Maddi Davies from our English Literature Department, to be part of the triumvirate spearheading this new initiative, but all credit for this first event has to go to History’s Dr. Mara Oliva who first came up with the idea of the research group and has driven it from its genesis to near-launch with passion and determination few can match.

Our launch event is a one-day research conference – Trump’s First 100 Days – which will look at a unique 100 days in the life of America from both political and historical perspectives. The conference is free to University of Reading staff and students, with a small charge for visitors from elsewhere.

Here’s how the day shapes up:

TRUMP’S FIRST 100 DAYS
May 2, 2017, University of Reading

9.30-9.45 University of Reading Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, launches new research
centre for the study of politics in the Americas and introduces keynote address

9.45-11.00 Keynote Address: Professor Andrew Rudalevige – Bowdoin College

11.00-11.30 coffee

11.30-13.00 Panel 1: The first 100 days in historical perspective

Mark Shanahan (Reading): Dwight D. Eisenhower & Trump
Mark White (Queen Mary, University of London): JFK & Trump
Iwan Morgan (UCL): Reagan & Trump

13.00-14.00 lunch

14.00-15.15 Panel 2: Political thinking and Minorities
Eddie Ashbee (Copenhagen Business School): The Trump administration and the contemporary
populist surge
Kevern Verney (Edge Hill University): ‘Bad Hombres’: The Trump Administration, Mexican
Immigration, and the Border Wall
Richard Johnson (University of Oxford): White Flight from the Democratic Party: Explaining
Trump’s Victory in the Midwest

15.15-15.45 coffee

15.45-17.00 Panel 3: 100 Days of Donald Trump: Devil, Detail and Domestic Policy
Lee Marsden (East Anglia University): Pushing Back the Obama Legacy: Trump’s First 100
Days and the Alt Right – Evangelical – Catholic coalition
Clodagh Harrington (DeMonfort University): Pushing Forward, Rolling Back: The Fate of
Reproductive Rights in the Trump Era
Alex Waddan (Leicester University): President Trump and Social Policy

17.00-18.00 Foreign Policy Roundtable
Jacob Parakilas (Chatham House), Maria Ryan (Nottingham), Darius Wainwright (Reading), (Mara Oliva (Reading)
18.00 – 18.10 Closing Remarks

The event is free but booking is essential, please follow the link:http://www.store.reading.ac.uk/conferences-and-events/faculty-of-arts-humanities-social-science/department-of-history/reading-interdisciplinary-research-network-for-the-study-of-political-history-politics-in-america

Dr Mark Shanahan , Department of Politics and IR (m.j.shanahan@reading.ac.uk)

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The ‘Gender, Sexuality and Identities’ Student Forum: Including UofR students in extra-curricular platforms By Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

The inaugural ‘Gender, Sexuality and Identities Student Forum’ met on the first day of the summer term, launching a new initiative aiming to create extra-curricular platforms for student debate.

I organised this new Forum to respond to our students’ expressed desire to extend conversations about the persistence of binary thinking and inequality beyond the immediate speaking spaces of International Women’s Day debates and Programme modules. The well-attended and lively IWD debate in March persuaded me that our students have a genuine desire to discuss with us and with their peers the issues of inequality and discrimination that disturb them.

In terms of UofR initiatives, this Forum connects with the Curriculum Framework in its emphasis on inclusion, engagement and experience. In my interpretation, the Framework need not refer only to Programme design and implementation – its principles can be extended more widely.

The new Forum is a student ‘safe space’ for discussion of gender inequality, LGBT+ rights, racial discrimination, and other topics associated with contemporary socio-cultural and political impulses and current affairs. Students can present papers or simply contribute their responses to news stories dominating in the Press and then discuss them with their peers.

At the first meeting, I outlined some guidelines about what ‘freedom of speech’ means (and what it does not mean), and I stressed the importance of generating courteous, inclusive conversation. Following this introduction, I made it clear that students will lead these sessions though I will continue to arrange them and attend as many as I can. The Forum will meet twice termly and it is available to all UofR students and colleagues.

The first meeting produced informed, nuanced debate about the ‘language’ of discrimination and there was a particularly interesting conversation about the use of the word ‘tolerance’. Members of the Forum pointed out that the implications of the word tend towards ‘noble and grudging accommodation’ rather than towards uninflected inclusion. There was also a fascinating discussion about the ‘tragic trajectory’ of narratives involving gay protagonists, and plenty of examples of this trajectory were supplied and then analysed in terms of their implications.

Teaching may be assessment driven, but we all agree that learning should not be confined to this structure. Students seem to recognise this and their involvement in new platforms such as this Forum challenges lazy narratives about student disengagement. It also connects with T&L values of developing criticality and encouraging reflective practice, and it embeds non-credit-bearing opportunities for dialogue, inclusion and collaborative exchange.

 

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Five ideas on how to use Chromebooks in the Classroom By Daniela Standen FHEA

As part of my quest to encourage students to learn broadly as well as encouraging them to engage with Italian deeply (J. Biggs, 2003), I have experimented with using the Chromebooks, which have been recently purchased by ISLI (International Study and Language Institute), in the classroom. Chromebooks are a great tool: they are quick to set up, instinctive to use and create an immediate buzz in the class.  If you don’t have Chromebooks available, these activities can also be done by asking students to bring their own laptops.

I have been using them with my IWLP Italian stage 3 class (students transitioning from A2 to B1 Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) and my stage 1 (complete beginner class).

I found that through this work students were pushed to explore language away from their comfort zone and to apply language to practical purposes. More generally though, students worked collaboratively and reflected on own and fellow students’ work.

Read on for 5 suggestions on in-class activities with Chrome books. They are specific for language learning but could be adapted easily. Most are quick to prepare as it is the students that do the work, others require more preparation:  for example the creation of a class google account.

Really good learning came out of these activities and students found them interesting and engaging. I’d be interested to hear from you if you decide to try/adapt some of these activities in your classes d.standen@reading.ac.uk


Activity 1: Working together / Peer learning

Topic:    Preparing a set of common questions for an interview

Procedure:         Students develop a common set of questions to interview native speakers individually.  Students share the results of interviews and draw conclusions. In pairs, working from the class google account, students work on a different aspect of the interview. Students then read through the questions written by the other pairs and give each other feedback on accuracy and content.  A final set of question is agreed.

Learning outcomes:        Formulating questions, proof reading, giving and receiving peer feedback.


Activity 2: Using Tutor Feedback to improve writing skills

Topic:    Replying to a question on an on-line forum

Procedure:         Decide on the question you want to ask. Students work individually. Using Chrome books and the class google account.  Students start working on their answer, the teacher also logs into the account from the main computer. The teacher can access each student’s piece of work and using the ‘suggesting tool’ can make suggestions onto the student document in real time.  Work can be flashed on the smartboard to highlight common errors or share good work.  Students continue working on their piece from home and demonstrate how they have used the feedback to improve it. Students have access to each other’s documents and can also learn from looking at each other’s work.

Learning outcomes:        Writing (replying to a forum), improving work following feedback 


Activity 3: Using software in a foreign language

Topic:    Advertising an event

Procedure:         Decide on the type of event.  Students work in groups to gather information and make decisions. Using Chrome books and the class google account, which had been set up to be in Italian students create a poster using ‘google slides’ student create a poster.  All the commands within google are in Italian and students have to navigate the software in the target language.  While working on the poster, students compile a glossary of the various commands and create a Quizlet set. As the students are creating the posters, the teacher also logs into the google account and can flash the posters on the Smart board suggesting corrections and showing good examples of work. Students present their poster to the class.

Learning outcomes:        Developing vocabulary relating to operating software, agreeing and disagreeing, expressing a point of view, IT literacy and employability 


Activity 4:  Fact finding

Topic:    Music.

Procedure:         Before working on a song give the Chrome books to the students, and ask them to work in pairs to find some specific information about the song and the singer. Suggest a couple of websites but leave them free to choose other sources so long as they are in the target language.  Students share with the class the information they have found.

Learning outcomes:        Reading to find specific information, summarise, speaking, peer learning 


Activity 5: Fact finding

Topic:    Applying for a volunteering position.

Procedure:         Find a website with volunteering opportunities. Give the Chromebooks out and ask the students to find an opportunity they would like to apply for.  Students discuss why they have chosen that opportunity; complete an application form; and role play interviewing for the role.

Learning outcomes:        Reading skimming and finding specific information, talking about interests and their own abilities, completing forms, development of pragmatic skills, employability


 Presented at the ISLI Technology Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group 14th March 2017

 

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