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

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

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

 

Aims and Method

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

 

Results

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

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

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

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

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

Future work

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

  • A “buddying system” where current third year students act as guides to the new NUIST students.
  • Additional exam-style questions for the students to use a practise once they are in the UK
  • Contribute UK style examination questions to examinations set and sat in China so students are better prepared for their examinations in Reading.
  • Organisation of laboratory classes to promote cross-cultural exchange but avoid handicapping home students.
  • A greater emphasis on the technical language required for chemistry
  • Informal drop-in sessions where students can come and ask for help if they need it
Posted in Latest News, Ongoing T&L projects | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Interactive Web Pages help make MOOC a success by Dr Richard Mitchell

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

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

http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/grass/blog/2015/01/30/screencasts-demonstrating-web-page-programs-for-tl/

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

http://www.reading.ac.uk/UnivRead/vr/OpenOnlineCourses/Files/robot3.html

http://www.reading.ac.uk/UnivRead/vr/OpenOnlineCourses/Files/robot4.html

The demonstration of pulse width modulation is at

http://www.reading.ac.uk/UnivRead/vr/OpenOnlineCourses/Files/desmoPWM.html

Interactive page demonstrating pulse width modulation

Interactive page demonstrating pulse width modulation

 

 

 

 

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

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

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/begin-robotics

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/begin-programming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Latest News, Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age | 1 Comment

Working in partnership… by Dawn Willoughby

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

 

… with PhD students

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

 

… with industry-based professionals

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

 

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

 

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

Posted in Assessment & Feedback, Latest News, Student Engagement | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Education online en-masse

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

 

 

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

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

Some lessons learned:

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

Best practice tips from the day:

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

MOOCs – where next?

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

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

Feedback from delegates:

‘Inspiring!’  ‘Constructive.’

‘Definitely worth travelling 600 miles for.

Posted in Latest News, T&L Events, Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

Intro

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

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

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


Proposal/Application

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

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


Process

Discussion of ideas

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

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

Research

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

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

Response to research

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

We began wireframing based on these ideas:

TypoResources 4

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

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

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

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

Presenting our system

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

Next steps

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

Reflections

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

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

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

Melissa Speaking at the Showcase Event

Melissa Speaking at the Showcase Event

Hannah Speaking at the Showcase Event

Hannah Speaking at the Showcase Event

Peter Speaking at the Showcase Event

Peter Speaking at the Showcase Event

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Latest News, Ongoing T&L projects | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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

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

the ‘Screen Relations’ pop-up research exhibition

the ‘Screen Relations’ pop-up research exhibition

the ‘Screen Relations’ pop-up research exhibition

the ‘Screen Relations’ pop-up research exhibition

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

Olivia Jeffery presenting her project Mum’s Army

Olivia Jeffery presenting her project Mum’s Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Posted in Latest News, Student Engagement | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

Information literacy skills audit: Food case study

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

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

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

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

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

Getting the Community spirit

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

Posted in Latest News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Posted in Assessment & Feedback | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://readinglists.ucl.ac.uk/lists/28940452-8182-68BC-70AC-08123F69353F.html

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

Find out more

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

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

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

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

Posted in Latest News, Student Engagement, Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Conference Updates, Latest News, Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

They:

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

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

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

Paddy Woodman 21-01-2015

What are the benefits?

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

Paddy Woodman 21-01-2015 table

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

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

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

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

Why is it all the rage?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Posted in Latest News, Student Engagement | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

But, and this is a BIG one,

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

The answer is

A: by adopting an inclusive approach to all our teaching

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

But first, what does inclusive pedagogy mean?

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

Three practices that will enhance the inclusivity of your teaching

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

1. Foster a sense of belonging

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

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

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

3. Accommodating diversity in assessment

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

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

Posted in Assessment & Feedback, Latest News, Student Engagement | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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…

TalkingFeedbackEmmaMayhew

…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 (http://www.screencast.com/t/mUy4dDHFdnyv), part of a range of 1-2 minute ‘How to’ videos on the Reading GRASS screen capture website (http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/grass/).

Posted in Assessment & Feedback, Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

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 (http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/staffportal/news/articles/spsn-585983.aspx). 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: http://www.nus.org.uk/PageFiles/12238/NUS_Race_for_Equality_web.pdf 

Broecke, S. and Nicholls, T. (2007) Ethnicity and Degree Attainment, DfeS Research Report (RW92), DfES http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/35284/1/Ethnicity_and_Degree_Attainment.pdf

 

  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.
Posted in Latest News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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 http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/grass/ , 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

Posted in Latest News, Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

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 at:www.reading.ac.uk/herbarium/kitesite

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.

Features

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 (a.l.mauchline@reading.ac.uk), Twitter @UniRdg_KiteSite or via the Whiteknights Biodiversity Blog of your experiences of using KiteSite in teaching & learning activities on campus.

Posted in Fieldwork, Latest News, Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 (https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/node/2932). 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 ((https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/node/2932))

 

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

 

Recommendation

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: http://webpaos.lboro.ac.uk/login.php

Cathy and Heike will be presenting their project in a TEL Showcase event in the spring term. Please check http://www.reading.ac.uk/cqsd/TandLEvents/cqsd-ComingSoon.aspx.

Posted in Assessment & Feedback, Latest News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Latest News, Student Engagement | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment