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:  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:

Reading list with links to scans:

Reading lists set out in weekly sections:

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:

To find out more about the Talis system and what it can do for you and your students, go to: and  or contact Kerry Webb, the Library’s Course Support Co-ordinator, email:

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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 or for more detailed information on some of the case studies visit

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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)

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 (

Keenan, 2014, Mapping Student-led Peer Learning in the UK. Higher Education Academy (

M. Ody & W. Carey, 2009, Demystifying Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS): What …? How …? Who …? Why …? (

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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

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 ( 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’  ( 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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Talking Feedback: Using video to radically change essay marking by Emma Mayhew

On this day, exactly two years ago, I sat in my study staring at Blackboard. 212 little green symbols were showing in Grade Centre. 212 3,500 word essays needed to be marked in the next three weeks. And they didn’t just need marks. Each of them needed a page of rich, detailed feedback, often crucial to student attainment and important to student satisfaction. In the HE sector higher student numbers and increasing student expectations look set to intensify further the pressure to deliver numerous pieces of outstanding feedback within an increasingly tighter timeframe but a tiny number of us are looking at this differently. After years of marking over 200 essays at Christmas and over 200 at Easter I finally decided to radically change the delivery of feedback to students. Encouraged by the work of the ASSET project, a few pioneers in the sector and the success of my own screencast suite, I turned to screen capture technology. In December 2013, 25 students on one of my Part 3 modules didn’t get their normal A4 feedback sheet on Grade Centre. Instead they received their own individual 6-10 minute MP4 file via Blackboard. Each video showed my face and my cursor circling essay text as I talked through their coursework in detail…


…and follow on questionnaires revealed overwhelming student support. From 20 respondents, 18 said that video feedback was better than written feedback and 17 said they would prefer video feedback next time. At least two key themes emerged from student feedback:

Clarity-Students see markers highlighting specific sections of text as they comment while face to face contact reduces scope for misunderstanding and increase the sense of individual attention.

Depth- It takes me one hour to mark and provide written feedback on a 3,500 word essay. Video feedback didn’t actually save me any time. I still spent one hour on each essay but here is the difference-my written feedback contains an average of around 350-400 words. My video feedback contains an average of around 170 words per minute so that’s around 1,360 words in a typical 8 minute video feedback recording. This is 3 to 4 times more than students would normally receive and explains why 18 questionnaire respondents said that they received much more detailed feedback than they typically would via written comments.

OK I can’t mark in my pyjamas anymore but I’m willing to sacrifice this because my small scale study suggests that using simple screen capture software to create video feedback does allow us to give much more in-depth, personal and very specific feedback at no extra cost to staff time.

For further information on how to use free and simple screen capture software to create video feedback please click on my 90 second screencast (, part of a range of 1-2 minute ‘How to’ videos on the Reading GRASS screen capture website (

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HOT TIP: What do we know about the ‘attainment gap’ between Black and minority ethnic students and white students at the University of Reading by Dr Paddy Woodman

This is not a topic that has had much airing within the University and so it may not be well known to many. However, we have just completed a substantial project exploring the issue at Reading and are set to do more work in the near future in preparation for submitting an institution-wide application for the Race Equality Charter Mark ( I wanted to use this blog to share the key findings of the project with you.


The national picture

There is a long-standing national disparity in attainment at Higher Education. The proportion of white UK-domiciled students who graduate with first class or upper second class degrees is significantly higher than the proportion of black and minority ethnic (BME) students achieving the same classifications. The sector-wide attainment gap increased from 17.2% in 2003/04 to a peak of 18.8% in 2005/06 and now stands at 17.7% (ECU 2013). Although attainment levels for all students in the UK are rising, the gap between white and BME students is not closing, it hovers stubbornly around 18%.

What do BME students say about their experience of Higher Education?

Three key points emerge from NUS research (Race for Equality 2011)

  • Ethnic minority students report that they do not feel well prepared for University.
  • The narrative of not “fitting in” is strong amongst the UK’s BME students. This is attributed to a range of factors including: the low numbers of BME staff; the perception that they are expected to leave their identity at the classroom door, or that their lecturers are blind to their colour; the view that the curriculum does not reflect their diverse interests; the misaligned mutual expectations between staff and students particularly prevalent for students from under-represented groups in HE.
  • Issues to do with assessment and feedback are particularly keenly felt by BME students – primarily around transparency of expectations and perceived fairness in marking.


Findings from other research projects

Significant research has been undertaken to determine whether the disparity can be attributed to other factors, such as previous academic attainment. However, the results show that ethnicity is a significant factor in degree attainment even when a range of other social factors are controlled for (Broecke & Nicholls 2007). Meaning that there is something about the higher education experience that isn’t working as well for BME students as it is for white students.

However, it has proven difficult to identify specific causal factors, beyond the issues that BME students themselves raise (e.g. those cited above). In fact much research has concluded that the casual factors are diverse and complex reflecting the heterogeneous nature of BME students and the wide variety of potential influences on attainment.

There is further agreement that many staff lack confidence in supporting ethnically and culturally diverse students. Furthermore, it has been observed that the predominant model of student support, i.e. open door to be sought out by students, does not function well for the greater diversity of students in HE today. On the positive side though the most effective interventions are agreed to be mainstream initiatives that are accessible by all students and not ring fenced by ethnicity or any other demographic criteria. 


Key findings from within the University of Reading

  • In 2012/13 78% of white University of Reading graduates achieved a 1st or 2.1 in comparison to only 56% of our BME graduates.    
  • A key observation is that race is not something that has been discussed at Reading.
  • During the project few Schools reported an existing awareness of attainment disparity between BME and White students on their programmes.
  • Schools do recognise issues around supporting international students but few reported awareness of issues concerning BME students. This reflects a broader institutional tendency to focus on international students as a proxy for ethnic diversity
  • Many UoR staff felt that there was discomfort around discussing issues of race that often lead us to be silent on the matter, for fear of offending.
  • There is little diversity training (and little take up of what does exist) specifically relating to teaching and learning either for established or for new staff, yet there is anecdotal evidence that many staff feel ill equipped to support ethnically, racially and culturally diverse students.
  • Our internal monitoring processes do not assist us in identifying differential attainment by demographic group, which explains why many schools are unaware of the issue. 
  • Much of the visible and explicit activity that exists to actively foster a multi-cultural environment in the University is provided by RUSU (e.g. student societies, One World Week).
  • The University has two strategic agendas leading to the increasingly diversification of the student population within the University: “Internationalisation” is one and “Widening Participation” the other. There is no clear interface between the two agendas and, by and large, they operate independently of one other.


Patterns of attainment amongst Reading’s BME students

There are many challenges to undertaking robust quantitative statistical analysis of attainment in relation to ethnicity. The most significant are the comparatively small numbers of students that would recognise themselves as coming from the same ethnic group, but the issue of insectionality(1) is also important. Nevertheless Dr Karen Ayers applied her considerable statistical skills to the problem and devised an approach of ‘stacking’ UG leavers across the three years (increasing the population sizes). The resultant analysis showed:

  • that a similar attainment gap for UK BME students as exists for non-UK BME students.
  • The existence of attainment gaps for each of the Asian, black, Chinese, mixed and ‘other’ ethnic groupings
  • The existence of an attainment gap for all but two subjects in the University. 
  • That there is no obvious pattern in relation to the proportion of BME students or whether the subject is a more science/quantitative in nature
  • As has been demonstrated with national datasets, analysis of the UoR leavers dataset reveals that although there are a number of factors that are correlated with attainment, ethnicity was shown to be a significant and consistent factor for most schools when other factors (such as gender, disability, socio-economic status, age and previous educational attainment) were controlled for.
  • A detailed and innovative statistical case study undertaken with data from one school (using ‘Part’ and modular level results over a three year period) revealed an interested pattern of variable disparity in attainment for different modules. Furthermore it revealed that, for this School, Part 1 BME students displayed similar levels of attainment but a gap opened up and expanded in subsequent parts. (NB. This may not be the pattern across all schools)

An over-arching conclusion is that the observations and patterns revealed by this project have strong resonances with research carried out at a national level and at a number of other institutions (not necessarily similar HEIs). This does not let us off the hook, rather it emphasises the obligation for all universities to reflect on current practice both inside and outside of the classroom in order to better support, challenge and equip our BME students.  

The project report has been considered by the University Board for Teaching and Learning, the Widening Participation Group and the the University Equality and Diversity Committee. They will consider a range of proposed recommendations that aim to achieve five key objectives:

  • raise awareness of the attainment gap, both generally at an institutional level but also to ensure its visibility in regular monitoring and review processes at School and service level.
  • effect change in a number of targeted subjects likely to have impact on the largest numbers BME students
  • develop staff confidence and skills in supporting an ethnically and culturally diverse student community
  • strengthen ethnic minority student voice/representation
  • inform the work of the UoR Race Equality Charter Mark team

A group has been established to oversee the implementation of recommendations from the BME attainment project, however each and every one of us has a role to play in addressing this issue. If you have a teaching and learning role you can make a start by taking the following three steps that will have immediate benefit for BME students, but actually all of your students will benefit. 

1) Get to know your students – if you have a small group this might mean talking to them about what they are finding rewarding and what they are finding challenging. With larger groups you might need to depend on data about the cohort. Get to know the recurring trends in your student population and spend an hour researching the challenges encountered by the various student groups.

2) Identify aspects of the curriculum where you can incorporate opportunities for all students to bring their diverse cultural perspective to bear. Minority groups should not feel they have to leave their identities at the classroom door. 

3) Considering that BME students nationally report feeling ill prepared for HE, consider how you can ensure that each and every student has a good understanding of your expectations of them – how can you be really explicit? BME students are more likely to come from families with little HE experience, they are also more likely to enter the university with qualifications other than the traditional A-level.   

Inclusivity whether regarding race, gender, religion, disability, age, nationality, socio-economic background etc, is set to be a growing issue in Higher Education. As our student population becomes more diverse we must shift our institutional culture from regarding some students are having needs beyond the ‘norm’ to recognising that the student population is diverse and that our ‘normal’ teaching, student support and generally our ways of working need to cater for a wide range of needs. This is easy to say but a huge aspiration to deliver!


 ECU (2013) Equality in Higher Education Statistical Report 2013

NUS (2011) Race for equality: A report on the experiences of Black students in further and higher education. London: National Union of Students. Available from: 

Broecke, S. and Nicholls, T. (2007) Ethnicity and Degree Attainment, DfeS Research Report (RW92), DfES


  1. Intersectionality – the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
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Goodbye Word; hello floating islands, dolphins and rainbows by Dr Emma Mayhew

So you’re a lecturer at Reading and you find yourself going over and over information in handbooks, course outlines, books and journals with students-anything from tricky academic concepts to essay writing and ECFs. Of course it’s difficult in an age of information overload. Really important stuff gets lost and sometimes it’s hard to make our voice heard amongst all of the noise surrounding students. What’s the solution? Maybe written information isn’t the only vehicle of choice. We know that students respond brilliantly to visual information. A few of us at Reading have been focusing on exactly that. We’ve started using incredibly simple and entirely free ‘screencapture’ software, like Jing, to record what we’re doing on our screens. We’ve added audio to these short videos and occasionally even webcam footage of our Emma Mayhew1faces. Some of us have even moved beyond PowerPoint and had a huge amount of fun (yes….fun!) with new, massively eye-catching and versatile presentation tools like Prezi (and this is where the floating islands, dolphins and rainbows come in) or Powtoon-and the makers really aren’t overselling their product when they describe it as “awesome”.


But will students engage with information delivered in this way? Yes they will and I know this because last Autumn I made a suite of ten 3-5 minute screencasts using Prezi on a whole range of topics-writing a great essay, marking criteria, academic and pastoral help, pre-arrival information and more. They have been viewed over 2,300 times by our students and I’m not even counting my staff training screencasts, one minute module summaries, animated quizzes, video essay feedback and conference paper summaries which bring my views to nearly 4,000 in the last 12 months…and it’s not just me! Cindy Becker and David Nutt have also seen a great response.

We’re so passionate about screencapture that the three of us have just launched the TLDF funded ‘GRASS’ project to support colleagues who would like to try this out for themselves. If you’d like to know more please click on the floating island below to watch our 90 second clip, visit or subscribe to our new website which is full of examples and ‘how to’ videos , come along and see us all speaking at the CQSD showcase on 19th November at 13:00 but most importantly, book on our first ‘Lunch and Learn’ session via Employee Self Service on Friday 28th November at 13:00 in Palmer 103. We’ll be outlining our experiences and offering training at this event which includes a free buffet lunch and range of our own HOMEMADE CAKES! Goodbye Word and hello exciting, creative possibilities.

Emma Mayhew2

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Flipped learning in a team-based situation with a dash of TEL by Dr Cindy Becker

This is my new recipe for extending the academic year and helping to welcome our new students. As with any new recipe, some bits of it went really well and some aspects of it were less impressive – and there was one moment when I was in danger of failing to cook up any learning at all.

Along with my colleague Mary Morrissey, I have been working this year to introduce our new module EN1PW: Persuasive Writing. We have been ridiculously excited about the chance to share with our students all that we firmly believe they need to know about how to write practically and persuasively. We have devised a plethora of assessment tasks via blackboard (with help from Anne Crook and our other colleagues in CQSD) but I wanted to go one step further and use technology to enhance the learning experience even before our students reached the lecture hall or seminar room. Aware of the university’s desire to produce a more structured and active Welcome Week for our newcomers inspired me to create a quiz using screencasts, in the hope that students would feel part of our department’s community of learning from the off.

That was my first mistake. Because optional Part 1 modules are allocated to students on Friday of Welcome Week, I was not able to send out the quiz to the relevant students in enough time for them to use it prior to our first meeting. Lesson learned – this recipe would work better for a compulsory module.

Undeterred (I had by that time spent ages on my computer) I gave them the details of the quiz by sending out a document to them on Monday of Week 1, asking them to work through it prior to our first seminar in Week 2. (Richard Steward and I had worked hard to try to make this a bb quiz, but we could not guarantee that the screencasts would play reliably on every device a student might use, so a word document it had to be.)

The quiz consisted of 8 questions, all asking about aspects of writing with which new students struggle each year. The quiz was designed to go further than immediate learning: my idea was to use each question as a springboard to discuss other aspects of writing style. I was also keen to have them work in teams. In the seminar I asked them to get themselves into groups of four – they will remain in these groups for the rest of the term, for a variety of group-based tasks.

I went through the quiz, asking them to recall their individual answers (most had written these down on the sheet) and then decide on a group answer. That was my huge mistake: I just had not thought through in advance how to do this. Should I run through the whole quiz first, asking them to make their group choices, or run through the screencast for each question and then ask for their answers one at a time? I mistakenly chose the former option and ended up realising, too late, that it would have been more effective to have taken the latter approach. This was made more difficult because I had not thought to put the subject of each question on the question sheet, so it would have been easy to get lost had the student beside me not written the topics on her question sheet.

So, things went wrong from time to time, but generally I was pleased with the experience. I found that some of them had shown the quiz to their new flatmates, who I gather were impressed that they had been given a ‘fun’ task before the first seminar. Some of them had called home to discuss the questions. In the seminar it worked really well as a team-building task: they were so busy arguing over possible answers that they forgot to be strangers. I also realised that there were some things I would have assumed they would know which they did not. I am not sure, for example, that I would have found out that some of them were confused by prepositions if we had not been having such a free ranging discussing as a result of the quiz. I think that using animated screencasts really helped in this respect. Seeing a set of cartoons in a seminar set a tone of relaxed, discussion-based learning, which was just what I wanted to achieve.

It was all that I hoped it would be in terms of learning, and with the glitches now fixed on the question sheet I feel more confident about the teaching. I learned more about screencasts using ‘Powtoons’ software too – like the fact that each screencast will publish with a screenshot of exactly what is on the screen at the moment you press the ‘publish’ button. It took some time for me to go back and finesse all of the screencasts in the light of this, and even now I realise that I could have done it better by including an initial title screen. Still, that is the pleasure of teaching, learning and technology: there is always the next thing to learn, the next challenge to face. It is nice to think that I am learning just as hard as they are.

You can find the revised document here: EN1PW introductory quiz(2)

Posted in Assessment & Feedback, Latest News, Student Engagement, Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Are you interested in biological recording & monitoring with your students? By Dr Alice Mauchline

KS logo small scaleThe University of Reading now has ‘KiteSite’ – a free, bespoke mobile app for biodiversity recording on the Whiteknights campus. KiteSite has been designed as a generic tool to support field training in biodiversity and taxonomy at the University and it can be used in any module for field data collection. There is a supporting website available

KiteSite was developed in 2014 by a multidisciplinary team of undergraduates and staff with funding from the University’s Teaching and Learning Development Fund. It is available for Android devices from the Play Store and the iOS version is available through the host app EpiCollect. Full instructions on how to download and use the app are available on the project website along with links to online identification guides and ideas of how to use KiteSite to support teaching activities.


IMG_0122 (640x480)KiteSite automatically records time, date and geolocation data; meaning that the first piece of data captured is a photograph of the specimen. The subsequent data headings can be filled in to the level of knowledge known about the organism (Organism group, Common name, Species name). They can be completed with all known information if the recorder has some idea of the identity of the organism or left blank if the organism can’t be identified. A confidence rating is asked for at the end of the data sheet which can be used for confirmation of correct identification. A notes section has also been included to provide a space to record any further information about the sighting.

Two sections of the data form have been customised to allow for groups to add their ‘Project Code’ and for individual recorders to identify themselves with a unique ‘User code’ (e.g. their student number). This allows for easy data extraction from a single teaching excursion and for students to submit their own data for assessment.

Data storage

IMG_0111 (800x600)The data are stored in a central database which is publically available and constantly updated. These data can be used in a multitude of ways to support teaching & learning; for example, they can be analysed to ensure that the students made correct species identifications; time series data can be examined for temporal patterns; spatial data can reveal species movements across campus; phenology data can be examined etc.

As the database grows, these data will become a valuable record of campus biodiversity. The records will supplement the activities of the Whiteknights Biodiversity Blog which collates records of all organisms found living on campus.

Mobile devices available

Several field-ready mobile devices (10 iPad minis and 4 Google Nexus 7s) are available to borrow to support the use of this app in fieldwork teaching. Please get in touch if you would like to borrow these devices or if you’d like to discuss ways to integrate the use of this app and the database in your teaching. I would also be very interested to hear via email (, Twitter @UniRdg_KiteSite or via the Whiteknights Biodiversity Blog of your experiences of using KiteSite in teaching & learning activities on campus.

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HOT TIP: What is the number one factor behind student success? By Dr Patricia (Paddy) Woodman

There are many things that spring to mind as influencing student success, but did you know that research carried out across 21 UK universities (under the auspicious of the HEA, HEFCE, Action on Access and the Paul Hamyln Foundation) determined that the number one factor is that students need to feel a ‘sense of belonging’.

“In place of the received wisdom of the importance to students of choice and flexibility, is the finding that it is a sense of belonging that is critical to both retention and success. It is the human side of higher education that comes first – finding friends, feeling confident and above all, feeling part of your course of study and the institution – that is the necessary starting point for academic success”[1]

From this report and other literature I have distilled the following key points:

  • A sense of belonging is important not only for retention but also for success (i.e. academic attainment)
  • Students who are fully engaged in the life of the university are more successful
  • Both the social sphere and the academic sphere are important for belonging
  • Students primarily expect to feel a sense of belonging and engagement within their subject community
  • Effective learning involves a social dimension
  • Support is most often sought from friends (and family) followed by academic staff
  • Some demographic groups feel less of a sense of belonging than others
  • International students frequently report that integrating into student communities is difficult

When we stop to think about it, if we don’t feel that we belong, feel that we don’t fit in, that we are alone and ‘different’ to others, or even that we have no right to be somewhere, we are hardly likely to thrive – so it is really not surprising that a ‘sense of belonging’ is so important. However what may be more surprising is that at Reading we have a high proportion of students who may be more susceptible to feeling that they are ‘different’ or don’t belong for one reason or another. International students are an obvious example but there are also several other groups such as: disabled students, students from families or communities with little tradition of HE, non-white and non-Christian students, mature students, part-time students students living at home. Together these group constitute in excess of 60% of our UG population. 

So what can we do to actively foster a ‘sense of belonging’?

Things that you might already do but maybe haven’t particularly thought about as fostering belonging

  • Small group teaching, seminars, group work – students engaging with their peers on a common endeavour can bond as a group
  • School/dept social events – subject based societies for example
  • Relationship building between personal tutor and tutees – a sense of belonging can be fostered by developing relationships with staff
  • Transition mentoring/buddying – help new students navigate the university and let them know they are not the only ones adjusting to life at Uni

The findings of the ‘What works?’ research provides some good strong pointers to how we can actively foster this sense of belonging. I can recommend the ‘What Works? Student Retention and Success Project Report ( It is long, but packed full of excellent initiatives from universities around the country.  

Some general points on the common attributes of effective interventions are that they [2]:

  • are situated in the academic sphere
  • start pre-entry
  • have an emphasis on engagement and an overt academic purpose
  • develop peer networks and friendships
  • create links with academic staff
  • provide key information
  • shape realistic expectations
  • improve academic skills and develop students’ confidence

We can add to this, are:

  • pro-active and developmental
  • Tailored, flexible and relevant

 Specific actions that are known to be effective include:

  • pre-entry engagement – particularly for certain demographic groups
  • Effective induction – engaging all students in both the university community broadly but also the subject community, transition mentoring, activities that allow students to get to know staff as well as their peers. Induction to learning is also part of this, a dialogue about mutual expectations is important to set students off on the right foot.
  • scaffolding the development of academic skills – as opposed to dropping students in the deep end
  • effective personal tutoring – with a focus on developing a coaching relationship (i.e. where students retain responsibility for themselves but personal tutors ask the questions that prompt them to reflect and take action)
  • Peer assisted learning – has tremendous benefits for all involved. It develops deep understanding, independence, confidence, integration etc etc. And it has actually been proven to improve attainment.

and the list goes on …

The observant amongst you will notice that Reading contributed to this influential body of work through a joint project with Oxford Brookes on ‘Comparing and evaluating the impacts on student retention of different approaches to supporting students through study advice and personal development’. Take a look for yourself, but be warned you might find yourself wanting the implement some new initiatives!

This is the first of a series of ‘Hot tips’ postings that aim to bring some insights from recent research right to your screen.


[1] HEFCE/Paul Hamyln Foundation ‘What works: Student Retention and Success Report. July 2012

[2] Building Student Engagement and Belonging in Higher Education at a Time of Change: Final Report from the What Works?: Student retention and success programme July 2012 ((


Paddy Woodman, Director of Student Development and Access

Posted in Latest News, Student Engagement | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Online peer assessment of group work tools: yes, but which one? By Heike Bruton (a TLDF project)

A short while ago I wrote the post “Group work: sure, but what about assessment? This outlines a TLDF- funded project in which Cathy Hughes and I investigated tools for the peer assessment of group work. Cathy and I have now produced a full report, which is available for download here (Cathy Hughes and Heike Bruton TLDF peer assessment report 2014 07 02), and summarised below.


Aim and methods

The aim of the project was to evaluate available online systems for the assessment of students’ contribution to group work. In order to establish our criteria for evaluation of these systems, we conducted a series of interviews with academics across the university. This allowed us an understanding of how peer assessment (PA) is used in a range of subjects, and what the different perspectives on the requirements for a computer-based system are.


Systems in use and evaluation criteria

Among our eleven interviewees we found five different separate PA systems (including Cathy’s own system) in use by six departments. Notably, Cathy’s tool appeared to be the only entirely computer-based system. Based on the insights gained from the interviews, we developed a set of criteria against which we evaluated available PA systems. These criteria are pedagogy, flexibility, control, ease of use, incorporation of evidence, technical integration and support, and security.


Available online systems

We identified three online tools not in use at the university at the moment, which implement PA specifically to the process, not the product, of group work. These three systems are iPeer, SPARKplus and WebPA. In addition we also critically assessed Cathy’s own system, which is already being used in several departments across the university. After investigating PA systems currently in use at Reading and applying the above-named criteria to the four PA system under investigation, we came to a number of conclusions, which resulted in a recommendation.



There is a strong sense of commitment among staff to using group work in teaching and learning across the university. PA can serve as a mechanism to recognise hard work by students and also to provide feedback aimed at encouraging students’ to improve their involvement with group work. Whilst any PA system is simply a tool, which can never replace the need for active engagement by academics in their group work projects, such a tool can make PA more effective and manageable, especially for large groups.



Our recommendation then is that WebPA should be considered for use within the university. Our research suggests that it could be adopted with relative ease, particularly given the strong and active community surrounding this open-source software.   While it may not be appropriate for everyone, we believe it could be a useful tool to enhance teaching and learning, potentially improving the experience of group work assessment for both staff and students.

Cathy and I will be delivering a number of Teaching and Learning seminars on PA of group work in the near future. To download the full report, click here (Cathy Hughes and Heike Bruton TLDF peer assessment report 2014 07 02). To try out a stand-alone demo version of WebPA, follow this link:

Cathy and Heike will be presenting their project in a TEL Showcase event in the spring term. Please check

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Croissants and Coffee: Engaging students and building a sense of community in the Department of Politics by Emma Mayhew

Last year I wrote all about the pedagogical value of cake in my seminars. This year I want to extend this notion and talk about the value of croissants and coffee as a means to encourage student engagement and develop further a sense of community in the department.

I knew from my experience with cake breaks that most students have a view on all aspects of their university experience-how their degree programme works, module choice, content, assessment, feedback, teaching and resources. I wanted to find more ways to get to these views because I wanted to understand the student experience more deeply from part 1 all the way through to the postgraduate level.

Politics Breakfast JanuarySo, together with part 3 student Florian Marcus, I decided to run a series of ‘breakfast liaison clubs’ within the department. Of course they weren’t really ‘breakfast’ clubs- they started at either ten or eleven in the morning- but we did provide free croissants, Danish pastries and orange juice. Because this was a joint staff-student initiative focused on finding out what students thought and engaging them in curriculum design, we were able to attract funding from the CQSD/RUSU Partnerships in Learning and Teaching Projects Scheme (PLanT).

We quickly learnt a number of key lessons-mini chocolate croissants are far more popular than plain croissants or jam Danish pastries but more importantly than that, even when you provide free food and drink not all students will turn up and those that do are typically highly engaged, high achieving and satisfied with their programme anyway.

The students who came did give us some great feedback that we could work with, mainly on contact hours, the nature and amount of assessment, e-submission and assignment feedback. These students did report that breakfast clubs were a great opportunity to talk to lecturers in a more informal setting, to get more advice on dissertations, on postgraduate studies and future careers. Florian and I were able to report all of our experiences at the first RUSU sponsored Partnership in Teaching and Learning Conference in March while Florian took the lead presenting at a PLanT T&L showcase in June.

Great, we thought, but there was something else that we needed to reflect on. We had identified early in the project design process that a useful offshoot might be that these kinds of events would be feeding into a sense of community within the department but actually, what was initially an accidental consequence, grew in importance as we moved through the project. By the end the importance of community building became as, if not more important than the idea of listening to students and engaging them in curriculum design. So as a result of this project we started to think about more natural, organic community building and the benefits that a stronger sense of community brings to all students, particularly those who need stronger support systems around them.

We had a few ideas on this but the introduction of Enhancement Week gave us the space in the academic calendar to actually do something. We’re delighted that we have been able to fully fund a number of trips next year to Parliament, the National Portrait Gallery and to the Imperial War Museum. In addition our new Part 1 students will enjoy six hours of team-building events, three of which will be run by a former military figure in the grounds surrounding HUMSS. And we’ve had lots more ideas. These, together with the continuation of our now famous seminar cake breaks, should all feed into an environment of student engagement and an even greater sense of supportive community within the department in the new academic year.

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Facebook, iPads and ‘extreme’ microbes in Iceland by Dr Becky Thomas, Dr Alice Mauchline and Dr Rob Jackson

This post relates to activities carried out on the EU ERASMUS Intensive Programme grant awarded to University of Reading to fund 10 students from each of Belgium, Germany and the UK, plus 5 staff in total from the three countries, to travel to Akureyri in Iceland. Once there, the grant funded a 2-week residential field course, including Icelandic students and staff, plus other lecturers from Reading, Iceland and Spain.

In July we set ourselves the challenge of combining technology enhanced learning, with a field trip to Iceland to sample ‘extreme’ microbes, with 34 students, many of whom had very little field experience. Also mix a multi-national environment with students from Belgian, German and Icelandic universities and you can see why we wanted to develop an effective online learning environment. The field trip had taken place previously in 2012 (see: and 2013, but this was the first year with so many nationalities involved. Our general objectives were to bring this diverse community together to teach them about microbiological techniques and processes, and to introduce them to environmental microbiology, by taking them into the extreme environments of Iceland to collect their own samples.

Group photo at Aldeyjarfoss waterfall

Group photo at Aldeyjarfoss waterfall







We chose Facebook as our platform for an online learning environment as we had experience in using it in previous modules, and with 1.23 billion active users, we hoped it would be something that many of the students were already using! We created the private group in February, and invited the students to join (making it completely voluntary). Initially we wanted to use it as a way to prepare everyone for the trip, posting relevant information and encouraging the academic staff who were involved in the trip to participate so that the students had a way of getting to know them before their arrival.

In the next stage we wanted to see whether we could use this Facebook group as a way of getting students to feel comfortable in preparing and posting a reflective blog post about their experiences on the trip. To do this we staged their learning, asking them to add short reflective posts within the private Facebook group, which could include photos and links. Not all of the students did this at first, but by the end many of them had done, or had at least commented on other peoples posts. The group also became useful for so many other aspects of the course. Simon Clarke ran a seminar, where students broke out into small groups and answered questions within this group by posting on the Facebook page. Simon was then able to discuss each group’s answers with the class, leading to some very active discussion. We also posted ‘breakfast quizzes’ which again lead to some very interesting discussion between the academic staff and students.

One element that worked very well was the use of iPads on the trip. We benefitted from investment made by the School of Biological Sciences into purchasing iPads, so that we were able to provide each student with their ‘own’ iPad facilitating many aspects of the field and lab work. For example we geo-logged each sampling location enabling students to record the conditions where their samples were taken, which helped when they came to interpret their findings.The iPads also meant that the Facebook group remained inclusive, not disadvantaging anyone who hadn’t brought along their own laptop, smartphone or tablet device.

Students using iPads in the field

Students using iPads in the field








At the end of the trip we ran focus groups with the students and staff to evaluate their perceptions of the use of the Facebook group during the trip. We are still going through all of the results, but the feedback was generally positive from both sides. The students and staff created their own safe learning environment, enhancing the experiences of both groups and enabling a different kind of learning which we couldn’t achieve otherwise.

As part of the assessment for the Reading students we set them the task of writing a short blog post about the benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multi-national setting. They also produced short videos to demonstrate the process of collecting their samples through to their lab work. They created these entirely on their iPads and the results are really impressive. If you are interested then the blog posts are available here: and we are currently organising a TEL showcase where we will discuss this project more, later in the new academic year.

Posted in Fieldwork, Student Engagement, Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Delivering the APP in Malaysia by Clare McCullagh

Some of the APP participants in UoRM. (Back: Clare N, Clare M, Jerome, Kenneth, Tilo, Pejman, Esther. Front: Carmel, Sam and Cecilia)

Some of the APP participants in UoRM. (Back: Clare N, Clare M, Jerome, Kenneth, Tilo, Pejman, Esther. Front: Carmel, Sam and Cecilia)

I’ve just returned from a visit to the University of Reading Malaysia where I was delivering the first half of Module 1 of our new APP (Academic Practice Programme) to members of staff over there. (Sam Weston posted a blog message here about this after our first day). It was a fascinating visit for me and a wonderful opportunity to see the beginnings of such an ambitious venture – and yes, I did get to see the new campus building, which is an impressive ‘work in progress’, complete with two giant cranes.

The small but friendly team of teaching staff over there have, between them, a diverse range of international work and teaching experience which made learning from each other during group tasks all the more possible, and helpful. Group discussions were also enriched by contributions from Sam Weston, Carmel Houston-Price and Clare Nukui who stepped in as facilitators and I greatly appreciated their time and support.

I’m sharing the photos I took whilst I was there with my CQSD colleagues in Room 44 in HumSS on Wednesday at 1.00. If any of you are curious to learn more about UoRM, you’re more than welcome to drop in, with your sandwiches, and join us for a short session!

Posted in FLAIR, UoR Malaysia | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Challenges of Web Residency by Dr Becky Thomas

We are living in an increasingly digital world; many of our students grow up immersed in this way of life, having access to a wealth of information online, often accessible wherever they are. But how do they use this appropriately in their learning, and how do we help them harness all of this information? These are some of the questions that Alice Mauchline, Alastair Culham, Mark Fellowes and I had when we applied for the HEA funded ‘Challenges of Web Residency’ project. All of us are interested in the use of various digital technologies, especially in their use for fieldwork, but we want to know more about how we can improve our practice in this area.

To kick off the project we attended the first introductory HEA workshop in London where we were introduced to the basic idea; that the way people use the internet can be categorised into either a ‘visitor’ or ‘resident’, although in reality these categories are more of a spectrum. The visitor uses the internet as a tool, accessing it for information when it is needed and logging off without leaving any real trace, whereas the resident lives a proportion of their lives online, using the internet in most parts of their lives often socialising and leaving a digital trace. (Further information here: second, interesting dimension is to consider how the internet is used differently in our personal life compared to institutional contexts and how this can be important for professional development.

How is this relevant to us as academics? In our first workshop we were asked to make our own maps and the intricacies of the idea began to make sense. Although many of us and our students use Facebook on a regular basis, if our profiles are private then our digital trace is restricted to those who we allow access, or our ‘friends’. This means that for most people Facebook would appear in between visitor and resident, along the spectrum. The other consideration is whether our use is personal or institutional; I use Facebook for my work (to communicate with students) and as a way of keeping in touch with my friends, so it appears all along this horizontal axis. I use Twitter in the same way, but it’s much more public, so appears closer to the resident side of the spectrum.

‘Visitor and Resident’ map that I produced in the first HEA workshop

‘Visitor and Resident’ map that I produced in the first HEA workshop

In order to explore this within a teaching context, we ran a workshop in early March 2014 at the University of Reading with 35 Biological Science undergraduate and postgraduate students, asking them to complete their own maps and the results were really interesting. Many of them are ‘resident’ internet users, but the postgraduate students seemed to use this to their advantage by residing more in the institutional area (so they are increasing their online profile to benefit their future careers).

‘Visitor and Resident’ map produced by a postgraduate student in the workshop we ran at Reading

‘Visitor and Resident’ map produced by a postgraduate student in the workshop we ran at Reading

The mapping process was useful for the students and staff, forcing us to think more about our web presence (or absence!).  It was also evident that the majority of students use the web for personal purposes much more than for their learning (upper half of all diagrams was more densely filled than the lower half).  We did see a progression among students from year to year in their academic life towards more ‘resident-institutional’ web use, but how should we support this transition? We feel that we need to have a discussion with our students about their web identity and build this into the routine of student education with emphasis on employability. This is something that we have begun to explore on a recent residential microbiology field trip to Iceland (another post to follow soon).

Another interesting element was discussed at our final HEA workshop – with ever increasing class sizes, applications like Twitter and Facebook, could be used as a way for our students to ‘get to know us’ on a more personal level, which also opens up a discussion about whether staff have considered the implications of students ‘following’ them on Twitter or becoming ‘friends’ on Facebook.

We are discussing the idea of running a workshop early next year, to facilitate discussion across the University about digital literacies of our students and how we communicate with them following our participation in the project. If this would interest you then get in touch:


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Day one of the APP workshop at University of Reading Malaysia by Dr Samantha Weston

Today in Johor Bahru, academic staff from University of Reading Malaysia embarked upon Day 1 of the first module of the Academic Practice Programme, being delivered by Clare McCullagh from the UK campus. All began well, despite jetlag and complications with fonts conspiring to throw her off-stride!

Photo: APP students Ester, Canny, Tilo, Pejmen, Jerome, Kenneth and Cecilia with Clare McCullagh and Carmel Houston-Price working on Day 1 of Module 1 of the programme.

Photo: APP students Ester, Canny, Tilo, Pejmen, Jerome, Kenneth and Cecilia with Clare McCullagh and Carmel Houston-Price working on Day 1 of Module 1 of the programme.

The day began with an introduction to EDMAP1 and some of the educational theory underpinning learning theory and how students learn. Students on the programme spent their working lunch investigating learning theory before presenting back to their colleagues and moving on to unpacking the UK Professional Standards Framework. Facilitators, Carmel Houston-Price (Psychology), Clare Nukui (Foundations programmes) and Sam Weston (Pharmacy) worked with APP students to unpack Areas of Activity, Core Knowledge and Professional Values in small groups, before Clare went on to discuss resources available on Blackboard and through the library, for APP students to access both on and off-campus.

The end of the day saw the students heading off to celebrate Hari Raya with colleagues, and take advantage of a day or two to complete some investigations of resources and prepare for Day 2 next week.

The second half of the module will be running in November, delivered by Dr Nina Brooke, with an opportunity for new members of UoRM staff to catch up with Day 1 before joining colleagues on Day 2 of the course.

Posted in Academic Skills, FLAIR, UoR Malaysia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Advances regarding human action and learning with an inter-disciplinary research lens by Dr. Kleio Akrivou

For colleagues who may be interested in current research advances which may affect how we understand and practice learning and the role of agency and community in the class (involving all co-participants as a human community of practice), this inter-disciplinary theoretical conception may be informative. The problem which may be relevant to any settings of structured social organisation (a classroom, an organisation, a group) is that there most of our action is based on habits, which were seen in sociology as automatically reproduced, learnt responses, which do not bear a potential to critically change a practice (for the better) or allow individuals to engage in moral reflection of how to improve a practice. Instead, more or less we are inclined to act in ways which reproduce our past habits. This may mean that within a classroom learning can be viewed in a deterministic way, i.e. not bearing a dynamic possibility to enable further moral and cognitive development of both the learners and the lecturers.

However, my view is more optimistic, insofar as we consider a revised view on habits, which would bring Aristotle closer to sociological thinkers, mainly Bourdieu. This opinion article critically analyses Bourdieu’ s concept of habitus as unconscious action seen to be blocking human freedom and learning which reproduces  social bonds rather than frees the person to learn and practice new habits responsibly based on their evolving biography and social responsibilities and phase of cognitive development. The main concern with Bourdieu’s sociological origin of habitus brought forth in this short theory article published in a journal with a focus on inter disciplinary research advances in human neuroscience, is that despite its merits, it views human action mainly driven by an outside-in internationalisation of learnt habits unreflectively (despite our cognitive illusion that we act thoughtfully and reflectively). Perhaps this explains indeed why the entire social world has not been able to abandon the idea of war as a means of solving disagreements between human communities despite the traumatic experiences of humankind along centuries, especially the 20th one, so this perspective would force to take for granted that we cannot change much in the students moral development within the classroom or through a degree programme. Even when Bourdieu argues his theory is not presuming action as purely reproductive of a certain given (current)  status quo, it still considers that individual habitus is “an active residue of (one’s) past” (Swartz, 2002: 63S).

The problematic consequence is that it theoretically misses to account for the possibility for human freedom -which can be appreciated by reference to Aristotle, for example, although explaining Aristotle is outside the scope of this article.  To help address this limitation in Bourdieu’s understanding of habitus, this article tries to show here that, in the frame of a dialogical conception, and supported by psychological findings, habitus can be compatible with the social basis of human freedom and learning.

Full reference:  Akrivou, K. & Todorow L. (2014). A dialogic conception of Habitus: Allowing human freedom and restoring the social basis of learning; Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8: 432.  Published online, 17 June 2014,  doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00432

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TLDF-funded project gets off to a flying start… by Dr Cindy Becker

The GRASS (Generating Resources and Access to Screen capture Software) project aims to enable, enhance and support access to screen capture technology across the University. It is a Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF) maxi-project which will run for two years and, although the official launch is in September, we are already excited by what is happening. We have produced this newsletter to give you an idea of how things are likely to develop…watch this space! GRASS newsletter pdf #1 June 2014

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Inter-disciplinary Research Applied Ethics, Economic History and Social and Moral Psychology by Dr Kleio Akrivou

Dear Colleagues of this University,

I thought it may be worthwhile sharing via our blog the news on an exciting inter-disciplinary research in Henley Business School’s Centre of Social and Organisational Studies (CSOS) in association with the Centre of Economic History of the University.  Specifically on June 17, 2014 I organised an international academic symposium titled “The Challenges of Capitalism for the Common Good”.  The symposium, linking business and applied ethics, economic history and moral/organisational psychology was very successful and stimulated inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional research relations, with 62 academics from Reading, other UK universities, Spain, Austria, France and other European and US universities.  Reading Academics with key part besides myself, were Professors Marc Casson and Joel Felix, and Dr Lucy Newton, while among the prominent international research cutting edge research leaders who gave talks were Professor Agustin Enciso (Spain) and Alisdair Dobie (UK), and Professors Daryl Koehn (Minnesota, USA), Alejo Sison (Spain), and Ron Beadle (UK), and Geoff Moore.

The symposium line of enquiry examined the evolution of ethics and morality from the Aristotelian conception of virtue, prosperity (eudaimonia) and citizenship in the classic Greek network of inter-dependent political communities of city-states (polis), through pre-modern and medieval times in Europe.  The second part of the symposium examined the evolution of ethics and morality of self-interest and rationality in the modern wage labour capitalist economic and social organisation, with a focus on the problem of definition of the common good in economy, society and the firm, and the enquiry on the moral and human psychology which may support virtue ethics within a utilitarian capitalist commercial sphere of exchange and work.

We all loved the insights, the opportunity to share critical informed perspectives and visions for the future, as well as the conversational space allowing shared reflection and research enquiry in the community of participants and the speakers. It was an exciting and very successful event and there is ongoing research synergy now being built across HBS and the Humanities / Social Sciences on this topic. A great thanks to all who contributed and kindly assisted me in the organisation of this conference!

Kleio Akrivou, Associate Professor of Business Ethics and Organisational Behaviour, Henley Business School.

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Inaugural Writer’s Retreat for finding your FLAIR by Dr Sam Weston

On 4th June at London Road, CQSD ran their first writing retreat for UoR staff embarking on the pilot FLAIR CPD programme, to document their previous teaching experience and apply for HEA recognition at Associate Fellow, Fellow, Senior Fellow and Principal Fellow status.

The day began with a tag-team presentation from Clare and Nina outlining the plan for the day and reminding participants of what they were expected to do over the next few hours. The session included short warm-up exercises reminding us all of UKPSF descriptors and suggestions of examples for each of  the Areas of Activity, Core Knowledge and Values – more of a challenge than expected – and revealed a competitive nature in some participants! It did, however, help to explain the cross-over nature of many of the participants’ evidence samples.

Once the workshop and presentation was over, participants scattered across Building 22 into dedicated writing rooms, allowing them to really spend quality time working on their submissions, with drop in access to CQSD experts all day.

The day was a huge success for staff from CQSD and participants; the ability to come and talk things over with experts, who made themselves available for the whole day, and spent dedicated time talking the anxiety out of many of the participants was an invaluable resource when trying to complete the template for submission.

I can honestly recommend this writer’s retreat to anyone embarking on the FLAIR route for HEA recognition. The process was both light-hearted and gently teasing whilst reflective, reassuring and supportive in equal measure.

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