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: http://goo.gl/Wom15).A 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: rebecca.thomas@reading.ac.uk.

 

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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.

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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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The evolution of bioscience horizons, an international student journal by Professor Julian Park

Given the focus on the research-teaching nexus within the University at present I thought it would be useful to post a short video on the University’s involvement in an international journal that only publishes student research. Bioscience Horizons was established about 8 years ago, with Reading as one of the consortium members. The link below is to an MP4 that briefly describes the evolution of that journal.

https://db.tt/qE6ow8OY

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Multiple identities – student or teacher? by Catherine Foley

Background
Students on the BA (QTS) in Primary Education juggle conflicting roles right from the beginning of their programme. On the one hand they are undergraduate students with all that entails – getting to grips with being away from home, managing their social lives and budgets, learning how to become academically independent. On the other, they are expected to be professional at all times – becoming a trusted member of a primary school’s staff whilst on placement, being a role model and working towards professional standards. Whilst they study their specialist subject (art, English, music or mathematics) at honours level, they also have to develop subject and pedagogical knowledge across the entire primary curriculum as well as psychology, child development and difficult issues such as safeguarding. Tutors on the BA Ed have long been aware of these tensions and the challenges they present for students, and the students themselves echoed these difficulties through their programme feedback and the Staff Student Liaison Committee. One of the challenges for staff is that, like any University programme, the tutors don’t ‘live’ the whole programme – it is only the students who really experience the programme and in particular the transitions from one phase of the programme (University-based sessions, school placements) to the next.

 PLanT Project
With this background, we leapt at the opportunity presented by the CQSD/RUSU Partnerships in Learning and Teaching Projects Funding Scheme. These are small-scale initiatives addressing the enhancement of teaching and learning priorities as identified by students and staff. After discussions at SSLC meetings and via email, a volunteer group of students currently in Years 2, 3 and 4 of their degree met and put together an application. As well as the tensions outlined above, they were particularly interested in the profile of their degree across the University and of teacher training more widely, and how to communicate the high level of academic rigour and professionalism involved.

The students have led the project from the outset, planning and carrying out the data collection and analysis. My role has been to meet with them from time to time to support their discussions, book rooms for focus groups, and provide a sounding board for their approaches and evolving findings. They have carried out focus group meetings with all four year groups and kept photo-journals to illustrate the varied demands of the programme. The funding has been used mainly for their time, and partly to fund refreshments for the focus groups.

Although funding for this academic year’s projects is now closed, with claims being made by the end of May 2014, further details of this year’s application process can be found at http://www.reading.ac.uk/cqsd/FundingOpportunities/TLDF/cqsd-PLanTProjectsScheme.aspx and our experience would suggest it is well worth looking out for such opportunities in the future!

Partnership in teaching and learning conference
Being involved in the RUSU conference on Tuesday 18th June allowed the students to present the initial stages of their project to academic staff nominated under the Excellence Awards, other students from across the University and Student Union Officers. My role in the conference was minimal, allowing the students to share their passion and enthusiasm for their degree as well as the project itself. Particularly impressive was the fact that two of the students came straight from their school placements where they had been teaching all morning, perfectly illustrating the tensions explored within their project. Further information about the conference, joint funded by a project involving the HEA and NUS, can be found at http://www.rusu.co.uk/news/article/6001/Partnership-in-Teaching-and-Learning-Conference-a-Success/.

 Next steps
Having gathered their data, the students are currently analysing results to draw out themes and put together a report for the programme management team and the Institute of Education’s DTL. They will be providing materials to be shared with prospective students at Open Days to ensure they get a full picture of the nature of the programme, and presenting their results at SSLC. We hope that their findings will impact not only their own programme and other programmes at the IoE, but more widely across the University – in particular on those departments running vocational programmes which might share some of the tensions.

One of the real pluses of the project for me as a lecturer has been the opportunity to work closely with a group of students across different year groups on a common theme, an approach we aim to build upon in the future. We are looking forward to getting their final recommendations as they pull the project together.

As they complete this stage of their project the students aim to summarise their findings for this blog, so watch this space! They will also be presenting at the T&L Showcase on the 17th June, 1pm-1.50pm.

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Event report: Towards a Postcolonial Pedagogy: Engaging with literary representations of “race”, racism and ethnicity by Dr Nicola Abram

Background
Folders3 - Nicola AbramThere’s a lively community of academics researching postcolonial literature, both across the UK and internationally. Many of us also enjoy the privilege of teaching these texts at undergraduate and postgraduate level, often on increasingly popular courses. Here at Reading, that includes modules on ‘Black British Fiction’, ‘Nigerian Prose Literature’ and ‘Writing Global Justice’ in the Department of English Literature, and ‘The French Caribbean’ in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies. But, to date, there have been few opportunities to discuss the problems and pleasures particular to this endeavour.

The ‘Towards a Postcolonial Pedagogy’ workshop was intended to begin this conversation, offering a space for dialogue, debate, and perhaps even productive disagreement about how to teach what we teach. Organised by Dr Nicola Abram, it took place at the London Road Campus of the University of Reading on 29 April 2014, with funding from the Higher Education Academy Arts & Humanities workshop and seminar series 2013/14 and the School of Literature and Languages at the University of Reading. The workshop built on the previous successes of a one-day training event for AS/A-Level teachers of English Literature, which was held at the University of Reading in October 2013. And it looks forward to establishing a network of academics and administrators committed to widening participation in the arts and humanities.

The delegate list proved the urgent need for this discussion forum, quickly growing from a few teachers of Literature to include people working in Classics, French, Philosophy, Politics, Sociology and Theology, representing all stages of the academic career, and from institutions as diverse as the University of Johannesburg, the National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad, the University of Tasmania, a further education college in London, and universities across England.

The day itself
The workshop programme boasted an array of engaging and enterprising researcher-teachers. Professor Alan Rice (University of Central Lancashire) began with a presentation on ‘teaching black Atlantic presence in a world of amnesia’. A varied series of case studies followed, giving an insight into four teaching professionals’ approaches to their different classroom contexts. Professor Susheila Nasta (Open University) spoke first, on teaching Sam Selvon’s classic 1956 novel about post-war migrants, The Lonely Londoners. Next, Dr Sarah Lawson Welsh (York St John) tabled her approach to an intersectional pedagogy, drawing on her experience of introducing ethnicity into a compulsory first year module that announces itself as primarily concerned with writings about gender.

Dr Shirin Housee

Dr Shirin Housee

After lunch – and a few words from Dr Nicole King, Discipline Lead for English, Creative Writing and English Language at the HEA – Dr Shirin Housee (University of Wolverhampton) shifted the disciplinary focus of the day to Sociology, with a presentation on anti-racist pedagogy. Giving the final of the four case studies, Dr John Preston (University of East London) raised some important points about the intersections of class and ethnicity, and offered creative suggestions for destabilising white supremacy while avoiding the unproductive phenomenon of white guilt.

The afternoon placed delegates in a simulated classroom environment, encouraging participants to reflect on the experience of being students again before articulating the application of the day’s content for their own specific classroom contexts. Short stories by James Baldwin and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and poems by John Agard, Roger McGough, Jackie Kay and Chinua Achebe, all prompted lively discussion as well as providing material for delegates to use in future teaching sessions.

A final plenary session, framed by Professor Alison Donnell (University of Reading) and Dr Julia Waters (University of Reading), consolidated the day’s events.

I’m grateful to the seminar leaders, plenary session facilitators and case study presenters, who responded so generously to my invitation. But I’m particularly pleased that the conversations after presentations, between sessions, and across coffee proved so rich in suggestions – from insisting on comparative analytical approaches to using cartography (and colouring in!) to engage students in discussing colonialism and its consequences. The workshop was intended as an opportunity to consider the poSeminar 3 - Nicola Abramwer dynamics at play when teaching texts concerned with global inequalities. So, it seems fitting that its greatest asset was the quality of collaboration, dialogue, and energy among the delegates.

What happens next?
Although this particular workshop is over, the conversation is far from finished. Some ongoing questions include:

  • How can we address students’ preconceptions responsibly and sensitively?
  • In increasingly international and intercultural classrooms, how can our conversations engage diverse student populations equally?
  • How far should we police the vocabulary of the classroom?
  • Which specific texts or critical approaches might develop students’ awareness of global justice, (trans)national identity, and local community cohesion?
  • Where should this material be placed in our curricula?

I do hope that conversations on these topics will continue beyond the workshop. I’d particularly like to hear from anyone interested in joining a network around widening participation in the arts and humanities. Please email me (n.l.abram@reading.ac.uk) to sign up to an informal mailing list and be among the first to hear about future events.

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Group work: sure, but what about assessment? By Heike Bruton (a TLDF project)

Group work has many well-documented benefits for students, but it also provides considerable challenges. A frequent complaint from students is that differences in contributions are not recognised when everyone in the group receives the same mark – the free loader issue. However, when students are working unsupervised, it is very difficult for the tutor to gauge who contributed to what extent. This is where peer assessment of group work can be a key part of the assessment framework.

What’s this project all about?
Cathy Hughes from Real Estate & Planning has developed and implemented her own online system of peer assessment of group work, and has given presentations about it at various T&L events. With the help of an award from the Teaching and Learning Development Fund, Cathy appointed me as Research Assistant. Our hope is to find a sustainable system for those colleagues who wish to use it. This may mean developing Cathy’s system further, or possibly adopting a different system.

What peer assessment systems are staff currently using?
The first step of the project was to find out what peer assessment (PA) of group work tutors at the University of Reading are currently using. We conducted a number of interviews with colleagues who are currently using such systems, and we found a variety of systems in use (both paper-based and digital).  Most systems seem to work well in increasing student satisfaction through the perception of fairer marking, and encourage reflection. However, all such systems require quite a lot of effort by those administering them. While lecturers are unanimous in their estimation that peer assessment of group should be done for pedagogic reasons, unsurprisingly they also say that a less labour-intensive system than they are currently using would be highly desirable.

What peer assessment systems are out there?
Cathy and I investigated available peer assessment systems. After examining several digital tools, we identified one system which seems to tick all the boxes on the wish list for peer assessment of group work. This system is called WebPA. WebPA is an open source online peer assessment system which measures contribution to group work. It can be used via Blackboard and seems to be very flexible.

Where to go from here?
You can try out a stand-alone demo version here: http://webpaos.lboro.ac.uk/login.php. This site also contains links leading to further information about WebPA. We are currently putting our findings together in a report, and we will disseminate the results throughout the University.

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Towards a Postcolonial Pedagogy by Dr Nicola Abram

Engaging with literary representations of ‘race’, racism and ethnicity
This workshop offers university teachers of literature a forum to reflect on texts that enquire into the construction of ‘race’, the practices of racism, and the representation of ethnic difference.
Delegates will articulate the ethical value of such teaching and evaluate relevant practical approaches, working together towards a ‘postcolonial pedagogy’.
This workshop is free to attend but booking is essential as numbers are limited. To register, visit: www.heacademy.ac.uk/events
For further information, contact Dr Nicola Abram: n.l.abram@reading.ac.uk
Workshop venue: Room G01, Building L033, London Road Campus, University of Reading, RG1 5AQ
Tuesday 29 April 2014
10am – 4pm

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Engaging large student lecture groups using Facebook by Dr Alastair Culham

Facebook can be a distraction to learning but it can also be an aid. I believe strongly that lecturers should do their best to make their subject interesting to students.  It can be an uphill battle.  However, this year’s experiment in using Facebook as a student engagement technology with a first year Photosynthesis class of 300 was a great success (measured by student response) and this is how I did it.

1) Set up a closed and secret Facebook group

For this you need a Facebook account and a Facebook friend who is willing to be signed up to the group.  Log in to Facebook, select ‘Groups’ and then click the +Create Group button.  Choose a sensible name for the group.  You will need to add one friend to allow the group to be created.

2) Add some content

To help the students understand what is needed add a short welcome message – “This closed Facebook group is to allow me to run quick quizzes during the photosynthesis teaching. Sign up now but there is nothing you need to do in this group until the lectures are due.”

3) Invite the class the join

The initial Facebook group setup is simple to complete and people can easily join following a request.

The initial Facebook group setup is simple to complete and people can easily join following a request.

You can invite students by inputting their email addresses: click on the ‘Invite by email’ link then paste in the comma separated list of addresses.  You can also email the link to the group via Blackboard and ask them to request to join.  It is important in the covering email to explain the purpose of the request and that you are not asking, or needing, them to become a Facebook ‘friend’.  Many students use Facebook for their private lives and it’s not appropriate for staff to have access to that in most circumstances.  Also ask that they bring an internet enabled device to the lecture – phone, tablet or portable – it doesn’t matter which.

4) Monitor the joining requests

Make sure you add people quickly once they have requested to join.  You should check at least once per day.  If the proportion of the class joining is small to start with you will need to send a reminder round, however once some people are signed up it’s likely their classmates will get on with it.  Don’t expect to get 100% sign up – some students don’t have a Facebook account.

 5) Prepare your question and answer set

Think carefully about which points are important in your lecture, which are amenable to simple question and answer, and which issues can be chosen to give a spread of questions over the whole 50 minutes.  Facebook surveys allow a question and then any number of answers but it’s best to keep the choice simple – anything from 2-6 works well.  Don’t put the questions in Facebook yet – once they are there they are visible to the students and they can start answering them.  Prepare a simple text document (I use Notepad but any text editor will do) and save the question and the answer set.

6) One day before the lecture

Remind students to bring internet devices.  Explain to those without them that you will use a show of hands for them when voting is happening.  Remind them that there is still time to join the group if they haven’t yet got round to it.

7) The lecture begins

A simple question to allow the students to adjust to this approach and check they are technically able to interact with Facebook.

A simple question to allow the students to adjust to this approach and check they are technically able to interact with Facebook.

Welcome the students, put Facebook on the screen and post a simple question related to the lecture topic.  This gives those signed up a chance to vote and also encourages those that haven’t joined to join.  This also gets the students used to the idea they are going to be interacting with you and the information you provide.

8) Question breaks

Over a double lecture period I posted 5 series of questions, roughly one set every 15-20 minutes.  Interspersing the standard lecture delivery with these short changes of style and a request to think about what has been taught helps all the students to keep up and gives chance for peer learning via the Q&A exercises.  In a class of almost 300 students it took 2-5 minutes to deal with each Facebook question and the accompanying discussion.  While those with IT chose their answers I did a show of hands for the rest of the class.  If you have only a maximum of 50 hands to cope with out of a class of 300 it’s quicker and easier to count.

9) After the lecture

The Facebook group is set up so students can use it for post lecture Q&A.  Do let them know how long you will monitor it on a regular basis.  If you are a regular Facebook user you will see if there have been any new posts.  If you are using Facebook just for this, do make sure you log in periodically in case any questions crop up.  Any questions that come up can be dealt with and the record is there for all students to see again at revision time.

Is it a good idea to encourage students to log on to Facebook during a lecture?

Student feedback on the experiment was favourable both during and after the lecture.

Student feedback on the experiment was favourable both during and after the lecture.

There is an obvious risk that encouraging students to log in to Facebook will simply distract them into checking their timeline.  However, if the student has bothered to turn up for the lecture there is the opportunity to keep them engaged with the content through the mini lectures followed by highly interactive Q&A sessions.  Experience this year suggests to me that the students find the approach engaging and highly educational.  Certainly the module feedback from several students picked out this lecture from the rest of term as a successful approach to teaching.

Students can ask questions about the quiz as well as simply selecting from the given answers.

Students can ask questions about the quiz as well as simply selecting from the given answers.

Large first year classes can be difficult to engage during lectures.  Students are new to University, often unwilling to stand out from the crowd and feel hidden amongst a large group.  This is challenging for the lecturer who is trying to judge whether their lecture message is hitting home, whether they have paced their lecture at the right speed and whether the content of the lecture complements the background knowledge of the students.  It is also challenging for the students who will become bored if the teaching material is pitched at the wrong level, delivered at the wrong pace or just find the content irrelevant.  Interaction with the Facebook quizzes allowed the students to see the answers their peers were giving, allowed me to identify and discuss areas of misunderstanding and even to challenge the depth and confidence of understanding by setting the occasional question with no correct, or multiple correct, answers.  In the case of no correct answers the students could query the options and offer a correct one.  In the case of multiple correct answers the class could soon see that it was split over more than one option.

At approximately 6 million tonnes The Great Pyramid is often cited as the heaviest man-made object. [By Nina (Nina) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons]

At approximately 6 million tonnes The Great Pyramid is often cited as the heaviest man-made object. [By Nina (Nina) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons]

There are plenty of amazing facts to throw at students about photosynthesis – plants produce 42000 times the weight of the great pyramid in sugar every year, half our drugs are based on products of plant chemistry and the oxygen we breathe is a waste product of photosynthesis.  However, this does not necessarily impress 200 first year students – available oxygen, food and medicines don’t seem to engage the imagination – they are just things that are there.  The challenge was to find something interactive, that would work at this scale, that was not stupidly expensive to run, that didn’t need lots of equipment to be carted around campus and that the maximum proportion of students could relate to.  That ruled out PRS systems (heavy to carry around and unfamiliar to students), twitter needed commercial software to gather data in a useful way live and the dominant demographic of those on Twitter is a rather older age range than our first year students.  The obvious choice was to engage with Facebook.  Student responses suggest this was a worthwhile experiment but I will only be sure when I have this year’s exam results to compare with last year’s.

It’s quick, easy and free to set up.  I realise it’s not for everyone and will not suit all styles of lecture however there’s little lost by trying this approach once, it may suit your teaching and deepen student engagement.

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Flipping assessment?! by Dr Karen Ayres

Like many colleagues, I have attended a number of interesting talks on the ‘flipped classroom’ approach, whereby, in a role reversal, the main delivery of information takes place outside of the classroom, and the contact time is used instead for reinforcing learning. I haven’t quite identified yet how I can make use of this approach in my own teaching, but I have been inspired to try ‘flipping’ an assessment in one of my modules. Admittedly this may be the wrong terminology to use here, but what I mean by this is a role reversal when it comes to assessment. In one of my modules this year, instead of asking students to produce a guide on using a statistics computing package, which I would usually then assess for clarity, accuracy and effectiveness as a training resource, I instead provided students with a piece of work I had created (with deliberate errors and other problems!) and asked them to assess it as if they were the lecturer.

The approach of engaging students in marking is of course not new, since peer marking is used by many lecturers. However, this was not a standard peer marking exercise, because I did not provide them with a marking scheme, nor a set of solutions to use. I left it to the students to decide how they wanted to split up the 100 marks, and what they wanted to award marks for. By doing it this way, my aim was to see whether they knew what the key elements of an effective training guide was, by showing how they thought one should be marked. They were also asked to provide effective feedback on the work, on the understanding that feedback should be constructive and should benefit learning, and that the feedback should justify the mark they awarded (I didn’t use the term ‘feed-forward’, but did ask them to consider what they would find useful if the work being commented on was their own). My aim here was to determine whether they understood how the key elements of an effective training guide should be put into practice, and also to see if they were able to identify technical inaccuracies in the work. It is this last point which I feel the flipped assessment approach may be particularly beneficial for. Often students may misunderstand something but not include it in their own piece of work, meaning that this misunderstanding escapes identification. By asking that they mark work which includes errors, and by requiring that they give feedback about why it’s an error, I feel that I’m demanding a deeper level of subject knowledge from them than I would be doing in a traditional assignment. Of course, it’s then important that I go through these errors with them afterwards, to make sure that no misunderstandings have been created!

I’m pleased to report that I was very impressed with what my students did on this assignment (obviously I had to assess their assessment!). It was a group assignment, and all groups produced a very detailed marking scheme, in a grid layout – I hadn’t given them any pointers on this, so the fact that they decided to do it like this was encouraging. The written feedback that they provided on the script they were given was similarly impressive, and in some cases of the same standard that my colleagues and I routinely provide. What was more interesting was the fact that alongside their various annotations on the script, they provided a separate, very detailed, document listing errors and issues with the work, including further feed-forward comments. If students all expect this multiple level of detailed feedback on their own work as standard, this might explain why some are unhappy with the (still reasonably detailed) feedback they do receive!

In summary, my aim in designing an assessment in a ‘flipped’ way was to encourage a deeper level of thought, and to assess a deeper level of understanding, than I felt was achieved by the usual approach. I feel that those who are tasked with assessing the knowledge and learning of others need to have a deeper than usual understanding of both the technical and communication sides of the discipline (certainly in mathematics and statistics). After the success of this trial run I will definitely be looking at how else I can use this different type of assessment in my other modules. My next step is to consider how to use something like this for a quantitative assignment, for example by asking them to both produce their own set of solutions with marking scheme, and then to use them to mark my piece of work that I submit to them for assessment!

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Linked Academic Placements: solving a problem by Dr. Cindy Becker

In the Department of English Literature all of our Parts 2 and 3 modules are available as placement modules, allowing a student to identify (with our help) a suitable placement provider and work with the module convenor and me to craft a placement project or activity which links to the learning on their chosen module. The placement report then replaces one element of the assessment (usually the assessed essay) for the module. This seemed to us to be a neat way to embed placement learning within our curriculum and to ensure that students were offered the widest possible range of placement experiences.

We had, however, overlooked one factor: students vary. Whilst the system works for many, some students are hugely ambitious and so try for placements with highly prestigious providers, who can take weeks to reply to every query; others are late bloomers and only think of a placement several weeks into a module. This caused some nasty glitches in the system. We require students to confirm their placement by Week Five of the term in which the module is taught, but we found that some students were missing that deadline and so could not carry out an embedded placement as part of the module assessment (indeed, some were unable to confirm a placement until several weeks after the module had completed). We also realised that students who were keen in the first week or so of term would assume that they had ‘missed the boat’ by Week Four and so simply gave up.

We found one solution to the problem earlier this year, when we relaxed our rules to allow students to undertake placements before a module has begun: working with convenors, they could then arrange a placement in the vacation before the module was taught. This allowed students to begin thinking about a placement months before they would undertake it, solving the problem of students starting to plan a placement too late. What it did not solve was the problem of placements which, sometimes unexpectedly, take an age to arrange. Continue reading

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Making American Government a social experience by Mark Shanahan

Getting young people to engage in the political process appears to be a problem all across western democracies. Politics and politicians seem remote from the young and the gap between the Baby Boomers and Generation X figures holding the reins of power and the Millennials now making their way through university appears ever wider.

This year, I’m convening a second year undergraduate module introducing the system, processes and key themes of American Government to a group of 71 Politics and International Relations students – with a sprinkling of historians, and language students. This could be particularly dry: there are any number of books and learned papers on the theory and practice of politics in the US of A and this could easily become just another module where students stand on the shoulders of scholarly giants regurgitating the same arguments that have held sway for decades.

Luckily my predecessor had already opened the door to some new methods of teaching – her lectures featured plenty of small snippets from US TV, while the seminars have been set up to be highly interactive and built around core themes in the American psyche – issues such as gun control, religion and the media. That works for me since it’s the world I’ve come from (the media, that is – not so much the other two…). I’m a late entrant to the world of HE teaching, having spent more than two decades in journalism and, latterly, corporate communications. In my working world, it has been my practice to seek out my subjects and talk to them – not to read about them in academic literature. I’ve tried to bring a little of this into the lecture theatre and seminar room.

The American system of government, from local, through State to national level, and then focused on the triumvirate of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary is complex and could be quite daunting. So my focus has been to bring it to life by focusing on interesting people and ‘live’ events. We spent a session looking at Cory Booker’s recent Senatorial election, focusing on how he – a rising star of the Democrats – engaged with the media throughout his campaign. It raised questions around the role of broadcast media; the cost of getting elected and the interest groups that largely met that cost. But towards the end of the Autumn term we stepped up that engagement in the political process in action by engaging – albeit vicariously – in a race for a Congressional seat in Massachusetts.

For one seminar, I split my groups of 18 or so students into two teams – Republican and Democrat. I gave each a sheet with a few details of Massachusetts District 5 where there was a special election brought about by the sitting Representative winning a seat in the Senate that had been vacated by John Kerry when he was appointed Secretary of State. Each sheet had the bare social media details of the competing candidates – their Facebook page; Twitter and You Tube links plus the email address of their campaign headquarters. The goal for our teams was to find out about and build a profile of their respective candidates: Katherine Clark for the Democrats and Frank Addivinola for the Republicans; to find out what were the burning issues for Mass District 5 and to formulate questions that young voters in the District would want answers to. Nothing particularly new at this stage. But then I asked my students to use their social communication tools to engage directly with the campaign: to follow the candidates on Twitter; to like their Facebook page and to start posing some of the questions raised in class themselves.

The real breakthrough – the real eureka moment that directly connected the students to what American elections are all about – came when Frank Addivinola tweeted back in the middle of the seminar. The twitter feed was up on screen so everyone saw it. It was immediately galvanising, adding new energy to the session. Suddenly this wasn’t about books and theory. Instead, the students were communicating directly with a real politician in a real race that really mattered.

Over the subsequent four weeks up to the special election, we’ve kept up with the race and have had sporadic feedback from the candidates. We’ve learned that they will comment on postings to their Facebook pages and will answer individual questions raised in Tweets. Despite promises to the contrary, neither candidate responded to the batch of questions collated by the seminar groups that we emailed to their campaign HQs. We’ve learned that the race was one-sided from the start and even to win the equivalent of a UK MP’s seat in, effectively, a one-horse contest, the winning candidate, Katherine Clark, had to raise and invest over $1 million. We’ve learned, by following and engaging with a couple of Boston political journalists,that the race garnered little conventional media interest, but that both candidates were active in social media, often bypassing the traditional outlets to get their points of view out to a demographic largely engaging with the process online.

The fact that my students, digital natives all, and for whom my life events such as the end of the Cold War, are just history, are growing up in an age where social communication is the norm, made it easy to engage them in the political process using social tools.

It has been a learning experience for me too. I had no idea if the candidates would take any notice of a group of students who were thousands of miles away and wouldn’t be voting in the election. But social media brings immediacy to communication and shrinks distances rapidly. I certainly plan to use it more in future modules dealing with contemporary issues. 140-character messages are a powerful means to engage.

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Creating a campus biodiversity recording app by Dr Alice Mauchline

IMG_2897 (2)There is an on-going multi-disciplinary, student-led project at the University of Reading to create an app for recording biodiversity sightings on the Whiteknights campus. This project was funded by the Teaching & Learning Development Fund and is currently engaging students, staff and external natural history groups alongside design and technology experts to create and customise an app for data collection on smartphones and other mobile devices in the field.

The biodiversity data records will be stored in a central database which students and staff can analyse to e.g. monitor long-term changes in the local environment. It is anticipated that this dataset will develop over time and that the app will be used to support curriculum teaching and other research projects at the University including those that are coordinated through the Whiteknights Biodiversity blog: http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/whiteknightsbiodiversity/.

One of the main aims of this project is to ‘engage students in research and enquiry in the curriculum’ which is one of the University’s T&L key strategic priorities. The multi-disciplinary team of students will have first-hand experience of developing a data collection tool that can be used for research projects in the curriculum across several Schools. The future availability of this app has already prompted both staff and students to think of ways that it could be used in teaching and research and it is hoped that it will help to ‘evolve our approaches to teaching and learning’ – a second T&L priority – and to support Technology-Enhanced Learning in fieldwork.

The team comprises six student champions: Liz White (Biological Sciences), Liam Basford (Typography & Graphic Communication), Mark Wells & Stephen Birch (Systems Engineering), Jonathan Tanner (Geography & Environmental Science) and Phillippa Oppenheimer (Agriculture). They are supported by a member of staff in each of these Schools; Alastair Culham, Alison Black, Karsten Lundqvist, Hazel McGoff & Alice Mauchline. The student champions are currently working together to gather information from staff in the relevant Schools about how this app could be useful in their teaching. They are also scoping other external projects and mobile recording apps to provide a basis for our design. The name, logo and branding of the project is also in development and the team held a recent Hack Day to decide on the basic functions for the user-centred app.

The team will soon have a prototype app for trialling and testing on campus and the student champions will be recruiting volunteers to help test the app for collecting biodiversity records. So keep an eye out for them and there will be further updates on this blog as the project progresses.

Please get in touch if you would like further information as we’d like to involve as many people in this project as possible! a.l.mauchline@reading.ac.uk

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Making Screencasts: It’s enormously fun and rewarding! by Dr Emma Mayhew

Screencasts 2 20.11

http://www.reading.ac.uk/spirs/Screencasts/spirs-screencasts.aspx

Have you ever wondered if students actually read their handbooks? Many probably don’t get all the way to the end and miss out on crucial information. If handbooks aren’t always delivering then how can we communicate with our students in a more engaging, captivating and accessible way?

One solution is video. It’s much, much, easier to make your own videos now than it was even five years ago. A whole range of software has been developed and made absolutely free on the internet.

So I started to use this software. And I had a lot of fun. I made 10 short screencast videos using really eye-catching graphics where the viewer zooms around a full body x-ray, a huge wave, a gigantic iceberg and a row of coconut macaroons. Viewers hear my voice talking them through the extenuating circumstances process, sources of pastoral and academic support, wellbeing within my School, the Student Charter, how to write a great essay, essay marking criteria, plagiarism and referencing, pre-arrival information for first year undergraduates, a rough guide for MA students and dissertation writing within the department. They all sit together in a prominent section of the department’s webpage and have been widely publicised to all of our students.

I’m not just blandly repeating information that’s already accessible. I’m adding to it-my highly detailed ‘How to write a great essay’ is a good example. But I’m also responding to new issue areas. The clarity of essay marking criteria was highlighted by the National Student Survey so now we have a five-minute screencast where we zoom around the human body outlining the 5 key criteria we’re looking for when we mark and detailing exactly what a high first looks like, a low first, a high 2.1 and so on.

Students can watch these screencasts exactly when they need them. They can access ‘How to write a great essay’ when they are actually writing their essay. They can access ‘Extenuating circumstances within the School’ when they are ill at 2 a.m. the night before an exam. They can watch ‘Student wellbeing’ if they are experiencing a crisis on a Sunday afternoon. Students can pause, rewind, watch again and click on embedded links within the screencasts for more information. And they are watching-the screencasts have recorded over 700 views over the last few weeks.

PT3

http://www.screencast.com/t/NgPHSoxy9

This is great but I didn’t stop there. I started to use screencasts in other ways. I sent out a ‘lecturer update pack’ to all politics staff in September. As colleagues zoomed around the world in this screencast I updated them on feedback turnaround times, NSS results, TURNITIN and our T & L priorities. ‘Unravelling the mysteries of the personal tutorial system’ allowed new staff to tumble around a giant Crystal ball covering key aspects of the role. No narration this time-they simply enjoyed a mystical soundtrack instead.

But I didn’t stop there. I made a 2 minute promotional screencast in 2 hours in September for use at our Open Day talks. I used more captivating graphics to highlight all the things we do well as a department and this is all set to rather catchy ukulele music.

I’m now using the same screen capture software to record video feedback on Part 3 essays. My students don’t get an A4 feedback sheet. They get an MP4 file via the Blackboard. They see my face, hear me speaking and watch me scroll through their essays in real-time, circling areas that I want to draw their attention to. The feedback from this has been fantastic.

There is a real potential here to use free, user-friendly technology to enhance the way that we deliver information to students, staff and prospective undergraduates. This is really fun, we can be really creative and we will be pushing forward technology enhanced learning.

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Developing highly employable pharmacy graduates by Dr Samantha Weston

In an effort to rise to the challenge of increasing the employability of graduates, staff from Reading School of Pharmacy worked in a cross-faculty collaboration with colleagues in Henley Business School to develop the UK’s first Post-Graduate Certificate in Business and Administration available to undergraduate MPharm students. This clearly fits with the 2013-15 teaching and learning enhancement priority relating to developing highly employable graduates.

The concept behind the development of the programme came after discussions with stakeholders from community, hospital and industrial sectors outline weaknesses in management and leadership in pharmacy graduates throughout the UK. Although all pharmacy undergraduate programmes nationwide teach management and business skills, all stakeholders felt that extra training in this area would enhance the employability of graduates, and allow them to develop and thrive more effectively in their pre-registration training year and beyond.

We believe that the introduction of this course will lead to RSOP attracting and recruiting the most competitive and ambitious UK and international students who will become the leaders of the future within the NHS and the Healthcare and Healthtech industries. The project will further differentiate our Pharmacy graduates from those from older, long-established Schools of Pharmacy.  This innovative and unique new course will run alongside the current MPharm Pharmacy programme, and be aimed at the highest achieving students who have an ambition to follow a leadership career path in industry, commerce, academia or the NHS, and who may also want to go on to complete a full MBA in the future.

Although the proposed course is innovative and unique in the UK and worldwide, it is analogous to joint MB /PhD courses for Medics wishing to become Researcher-Physicians, and would compete with well-established postgraduate dual Pharmacy/ Management courses in the US which have already been shown to increase graduate earning potential.

The course runs for its first cohort in the summer of 2014, and the course developers are currently in discussions with other Schools and Faculties to discuss how the programme can be adapted to provide a specialist focus for their own discipline. If colleagues would like further information about the initiative then please contact either Samantha Weston or Al Edwards in Pharmacy or Lynn Thurloway in HBS.

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Preparation for phonetic transcription: an exercise in student engagement by Professor Jane Setter

As a recipient of funding under the PLanT (Partnerships in Learning and Teaching) scheme (PLANT Projects Scheme), I am delighted to be able to report on the project – which is still a bit of a work in progress.  The PLANT awards are aimed at facilitating projects which get students involved with staff as partners in aspects of T&L at Reading, which is an excellent idea, as students have a unique perspective which can often take lecturing staff in directions they’d not thought about before.

This post looks at how students in the second year of their BA programme in English Language became involved in the support of first year students’ transition to the more demanding second year module in English Phonology (LS2EP). Continue reading

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Seneca on Higher Education in the Arts and Humanities by Professor Peter Kruschwitz

Seneca the Younger (4 B.C. – A.D. 65) was a famous Roman statesman and stoic philosopher. As the young Nero’s tutor, he at some point was de facto Rome’s Emperor by all but the title. His Epistulae Morales (‘Moral Letters’) constitute a major part of his philosophical work. The 108th epistle of that collection provides remarkably relevant food for thought for the Higher Education landscape. The following text is my (reasonably faithful) translation of the opening of Seneca’s epistle, without omissions or adaptations; the subtitles, however, are my own.

Reading List Enquiries

The topic, about which you enquire, is one of those, which deal with knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Yet, because it relevant, you rush and do not wish to wait for the books which I am busy to arrange, covering the whole area of moral philosophy. I will send them in due course, but let me write this in advance, how your very desire to learn, which I see burning in you, needs structure, lest it proves to be an obstacle. Continue reading

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