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)

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The findings of the ‘What works?’ research provides some good strong pointers to how we can actively foster this sense of belonging. I can recommend the ‘What Works? Student Retention and Success Project Report (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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In July we set ourselves the challenge of combining technology enhanced learning, with a field trip to Iceland to sample ‘extreme’ microbes, with 34 students, many of whom had very little field experience. Also mix a multi-national environment with students from Belgian, German and Icelandic universities and you can see why we wanted to develop an effective online learning environment. The field trip had taken place previously in 2012 (see:http://ow.ly/A0EBo) and 2013, but this was the first year with so many nationalities involved. Our general objectives were to bring this diverse community together to teach them about microbiological techniques and processes, and to introduce them to environmental microbiology, by taking them into the extreme environments of Iceland to collect their own samples.

Group photo at Aldeyjarfoss waterfall

Group photo at Aldeyjarfoss waterfall

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Students using iPads in the field

Students using iPads in the field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

As part of the assessment for the Reading students we set them the task of writing a short blog post about the benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multi-national setting. They also produced short videos to demonstrate the process of collecting their samples through to their lab work. They created these entirely on their iPads and the results are really impressive. If you are interested then the blog posts are available here: http://ow.ly/A0OrW and we are currently organising a TEL showcase where we will discuss this project more, later in the new academic year.

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

Delivering the APP in Malaysia by Clare McCullagh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges of Web Residency by Dr Becky Thomas

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

To kick off the project we attended the first introductory HEA workshop in London where we were introduced to the basic idea; that the way people use the internet can be categorised into either a ‘visitor’ or ‘resident’, although in reality these categories are more of a spectrum. The visitor uses the internet as a tool, accessing it for information when it is needed and logging off without leaving any real trace, whereas the resident lives a proportion of their lives online, using the internet in most parts of their lives often socialising and leaving a digital trace. (Further information here: http://goo.gl/Wom15).A second, interesting dimension is to consider how the internet is used differently in our personal life compared to institutional contexts and how this can be important for professional development.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Colleagues of this University,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://db.tt/qE6ow8OY

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Multiple identities – student or teacher? by Catherine Foley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Shirin Housee

Dr Shirin Housee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Towards a Postcolonial Pedagogy by Dr Nicola Abram

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

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Engaging large student lecture groups using Facebook by Dr Alastair Culham

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

1) Set up a closed and secret Facebook group

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

2) Add some content

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

3) Invite the class the join

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

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

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

4) Monitor the joining requests

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

 5) Prepare your question and answer set

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

6) One day before the lecture

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

7) The lecture begins

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

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

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

8) Question breaks

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

9) After the lecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flipping assessment?! by Dr Karen Ayres

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

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

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

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

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