Working collaboratively with students to design lectures the way they want them – By Dr Wing Man Lau

Have you ever had to deliver lecture materials so cognitively challenging and dull at the same time, that your students either become utterly befuddled or fall asleep before you finish delivering them? I have.

The conundrum

I am the Module Convenor for a pharmacy practice module that focuses on pharmacy laws and regulations relating to medical prescriptions. Materials covered to this module are absolutely fundamental to the students’ future career, since legal and ethical considerations underpin the day-to-day decisions that pharmacists make. It is therefore essential that our pharmacy students have a thorough understanding of the topic to safeguard public and patient safety. However, students have always perceived the topic to be dull and clinically irrelevant. Thus, the principal challenge in teaching pharmacy laws and regulations has always been making the learning environment interesting and engaging. Traditionally, pharmacy law education has relied heavily on lectures, yet lectures alone often fail to engage students effectively to facilitate deep learning. Teaching on the module currently runs as a 2-hour lecture followed by a 2-hour workshop where dispensing activities take place based on materials covered in the lecture. The dispensing activities provide students with opportunities to apply knowledge that they have gained in the lecture. However, since the students find it difficult to engage with the lecture materials in the first place, they are often unable to apply the knowledge in the dispensing activities.

How do you make a seemingly dull topic engaging and captivating to students, such that they are able to effectively absorb, retain and apply the knowledge?

Like most colleagues, I use module feedback, regular informal feedback, peer observation as well as self-reflection to improve my lectures accordingly. Year on year, I collate all feedback and devise creative strategies accordingly to present my lectures, e.g. by adding quizzes, practical examples, interactive exercises to make them more relevant and interactive. Even though I get better feedback each year, I still fail to capture all students’ attention throughout the entire 2-hour lecture.

What else can I do?

The collaborative approach

Our students learn in very different ways, and when it comes to teaching approach, one size clearly does not fit all. I knew from student feedback that the students were not fully engaged or were unable to grasp the content of a lecture, but I usually did not know why. In trying to improve the lectures, I presumed certain reasons based on my own interpretations and perspectives. I have come to realise recently that those presumptions may have been misguiding the ‘improvements’ that I was making to my lectures. Little surprise then that I did not find a solution to the problem. Perhaps, instead of presuming anything, could I ask the students to incorporate improvements into my lectures in a way that they would find engaging instead?

So, this year I have decided to collaborate with my students in re-designing my lecture. The project aims to bring student perspectives to designing a lecture that not only will be engaging to students, but also create an active learning environment that suits their various learning styles. This will hopefully enable the students to gain, retain and apply the knowledge. I have recruited three pharmacy students (Ohn You Kim, Jakub Zurek and Tanzeela Hussain) to re-design a 2-hour pharmacy law lecture that I gave in the autumn term. The students have led the project from the outset in planning and designing the lecture. My role has been to meet with them from time to time to support their discussions, and introducing them to the University Technology Enhanced Learning Team to see how they can incorporate technology effectively. The students have decided to use a range of different delivery platforms within the lecture. They have suggested the use of Prezi, Quizizz, scratch cards, Metimeter and prescription scenarios using the ‘think, pair, share’ approach. They are currently in the final stage of the re-design. I will be using their design to deliver the lecture again to the same cohort of students and gauge their feedback.

I am already excited about what has been happening thus far. I am eager to see and deliver the final design of the lecture. After collating the feedback on the new design, the students aim to write about their design and summarise their findings for this blog, so watch this space!

 

 

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How would you describe our students? By Ellie Highwood

At the Curriculum framework conference on 25th January 2017, it was a delight to present with Sed Joshi, Diversity and Inclusion Sabbatical officer from RUSU on the topic of “How well do we know our students?” We gave staff a quiz, presented facts and figures about our students from the Annual Diversity and Inclusion Report, and discussed what we are doing to try to make our staff body look more like our student body. Video testimonies from students told us why this was important and also what made them feel included.

But it’s always good to try new technology, and we decided to adopt something I learnt from the Association of Science Educations conference – an evolving word cloud. So, we asked 73 participants for 3 words they would use to describe our students, and via Mentimeter, got this (Size of words indicates how many times that response was made):

 

Perhaps given that we were primed by being in a session about diversity it is not a surprise that the largest word is diverse! What would you add?

 

 

This was originally posted on the University’s Diversity and Inclusion blog created by the Deans for Diversity and Inclusion, Ellie Highwood and Simon Chandler-Wilde.

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Engaging Everyone – reflections on Wednesday’s D&I-themed T&L Conference – By Simon Chandler-Wilde

I was blown away by Wednesday’s teaching & learning conference “Engaging everyone: addressing the diversity and inclusion expectations of the Curriculum Framework“. This was lead-organised by my CQSD colleagues, especially Nina Brooke, but as a collaborative effort across the T&L patch, working with the T&L Dean Elizabeth McCrum  and others, and with the RUSU Education and Diversity Officers, Niall Hamilton and Sed Joshi. The venue – the large Meadow Suite in Park House – was excellent – and full to the brim with staff and students from across the University, including regular academics, many from the “Leadership Group”, and very many of the School Directors of Teaching and Learning who have to lead – and cajole –to make change on the ground.


 

 

 

 

 

My jobshare Ellie Highwood will blog separately with her take,

Including local data on attainment gaps, and gaps in BAME representation between the student body and the staff side, that she presented with Sed in their highly interactive presentation in the morning.

I’ll focus myself on the sessions run by the conference Keynote speaker, Professor Gurnam Singh, Principal Lecturer in Social Work at Coventry University and Visiting Professor of Social Work at Chester University.

In his afternoon workshop on “Transformative Pedagogy in Action” Gurnam revealed more of his background: this something he advocated, for connecting to the learner, humanising relationships, and sharing vulnerabilities. He described his (extraordinary) academic journey from UFD (his O-level grades) to PhD (Social Studies at Warwick) and beyond, starting with his early rebellious school career in Bradford, truanting in Bradford Central Library (where much of his education happened), the one bright (and memorable) spark at school the lunchtime lectures in Sophocles and classical architecture from “Mr Mitchell” whose passion for teaching and his subject has had a lasting impact.

Talking about research vision on his website Prof Singh describes himself “as an academic activist in that what inspires me both in my teaching and research is the desire to transform individuals and society”. This perspective and motivation came through strongly in his morning Keynote on “Understanding and Eliminating Disparities in Degree Awarding: Challenges and Perspectives“,

 

 

 

 

 

 

drawing on his extensive research (and research funding) in this area, including his substantial 2011 Higher Education Academy Report “Black and minority ethnic (BME) students’ participation in higher education: improving retention and success“.

This keynote was a wide-ranging and comprehensive account of the problem and possible solutions. In part it was a (welcome) call to arms and polemic, asking which side of history are we on, urging us to work for a different history, that we can be part of the change. He was scathing about a certain sort of (white upper class) elitism, a “particular kind of superiority, not excellence, something else”, the sort we associate with the Bullingdon Club, and about the impact of Trump in legitimising racism and misogyny (while noting that to many Trump had been the social change candidate), and (very much correctly) observed that “we need more in the academy of my sort”.

In this initial part of the presentation he urged work to diversify the academy – with a BME focus but also commenting more broadly – from a variety of perspectives, reminding us that  from an international legal perspective education is a fundamental human right, of our legal obligations under the equality act, of the moral imperative to act in response to inequality, and of the (neo-liberal?) commercial imperative, reminding us of the business benefits of diversity and the widely-cited McKinsey report, and memorably remarking that his own institution “would not exist as a White university, except as a senior management team”. (Of course, this applies equally at Reading.) These are all potential levers for change. Gurnam cited also the TEF (with its promise of  ‘incentives that reward institutions who do best at retention and progression of disadvantaged students through their college years’) as another key lever. (In this space Prof Singh was part of the Academic Reference Group feeding into the October 2016 report “Working in Partnership: enabling Social Mobility in Higher Education” from UUK.) In summary he noted that, through these various drivers disparity in attainment was moving to the top of the agenda – this was certainly true in Wednesday’s conference and in the associated work that has led to our new Curriculum Framework.

 

 

 

 

 

Prof Singh then talked quantitatively about the BME attainment gap, particularly % difference in attainment of a “good degree” (2.1 or 1st) between BME ethnicities and white students. He emphasised that significant attainment gaps remain once differences in prior qualifications are factored out, using graphs (see latest available figures above: 2013-14 graduates) published by HEFCE: see Annex G of the September 2015 report. In terms of causes and solutions, he was wide-ranging. I’ll edit this blog and add more once I have Gurnam’s slides in my hand (I have my eye on his “jigsaw” picture summarising all suggested possible actions from his research). But in terms of causes he touched on:

  • lack of role models and “people like me” for BME students across the academic staff, particularly the scandalous position at the most senior levels;
  • white-centric curriculum design and content;
  • drip-drip effects of micro-agressions;
  • issues with assessment, ranging from lack of clarity favouring those with larger social and cultural capital, with the resources and networks to find out what the assignment really means, to suggestions that we abandon degree classifications altogether (as we have at PhD level);
  • structural disadvantages: socio-economic, living a precarious existence, impacts of large commuting distance.

He finished his keynote with a call to arms that was really the theme of the whole day; that inclusion and social justice are not just desirable but an absolute moral and economic necessity, and this means we have to mainstream our efforts in attacking attainment gaps  – precisely the point and spirit of our new Curriculum Framework.

This was originally posted on the University’s Diversity and Inclusion blog created by the Deans for Diversity and Inclusion, Ellie Highwood and Simon Chandler-Wilde.

 

 

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Reading Academy at NUIST: busy colleagues undertake staff development By Angela Buckingham (Academic Developer)

On a chilly week mid-November, Clare McCullagh and Angela Buckingham headed out of Heathrow to fly fifteen hours east to reach the ancient city of Nanjing in China. Colleagues at Nanjing University of Information, Science and Technology (NUIST) were waiting for us to deliver the Teaching and Learning Development Course, contributing to the University of Reading Recognised Teacher Status for staff within the NUIST-Reading Academy. The cohort consisted of teaching staff from China, Russia, Egypt and Britain.

Globalisation, the internationalisation of the curriculum and cross-cultural development are key themes in the Higher Education sector currently and so, after three days of collaboration, sharing ideas around pedagogy and implementation of effective classroom practices, we thought it would be interesting here to share our underlying Five Principles (after Chickering and Gamson’s Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education1) for implementing effective training in an overseas context, with an illustration of what this looked like in practice.

Our hope is that some of these principles may be a helpful for you in your teaching and learning context.

Five principles for successful training

1 Develop rapport and know your learners (this may be even more important with a mixed nationality group)

We used a variety of ice breakers, warm up activities and numerous opportunities for personalisation to ease our teaching colleagues into a comfortable ‘stretch’ zone where they were happy to reflect upon current practice and discuss ways to implement change effectively.

Example: Icebreaker, Day 1 Suitcase Activity– what are you bringing to the course? What are your areas of expertise? What are you good at? What are you hoping to take away?:- otherwise known as a rough and ready Needs Analysis

day 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Change the classroom layout (and focus on creating a Positive Learning environment)

This was essential, in order to model ways in which different interaction patterns could easily be encouraged, moving the focus away from a teacher-led transmission model to a facilitation one, (away from the ‘Sage on the Stage’ to a ‘Guide on the Side’), acknowledging that the participants’ own experiences and views were not only valid but welcome. This was an area that was much commented on in the initial evaluations following the course.

Example: Day 3 Team building: table group work to create physical models of a teaching theory – using whatever resources they could find in the room (this included paper cups, chairs, post-its and even an umbrella)

day 3

 

 

 

 

 

3 Model the method, encourage Active Learning

One of our guiding principles when working with educators is to provide training with a practical focus, which will save busy lecturers time when they come to prepare future sessions. In this way, there is a good deal of linking theoretical models to actual classroom practice.

Example: Reflective logs, daily: at the end of each day, we invited lecturers to spend 15 minutes in quiet reflective time, to identify what their key learning outcomes were for each session from the workshops and how they could be applied in their own teaching and learning context.

4 Use the Three Ts – topic, task and time

Following on from the previous principle – educating teachers and aiding their development is complex and involves discussion, examination and time in order for teachers to construct meaning for themselves. We provided a wide range of learning tasks and activities, with plenty of support given to enable the participants to make the links between methodology and practice for themselves.

Example: Peer learning: comparison of teaching policies at the University of Reading and NUIST.

5 Training is a two-way process (in other words, be prepared for two-way learning – be ready to learn from the participants)

We travelled to NUIST knowing that the starting point for all discussions around teaching and learning do not take place in a vacuum, but are highly personal and situated in a particular context and that the person who knows the most about what happens in your own classroom is you. Teacher development provides the opportunity and space for educators to step back and examine their own teaching stories and by sharing these, continue the cycle of reflection and development.

Example: Teacher Hat, Student Hat: lecturers shared ways that they could apply activities in their context by discussing in pairs questions such as – Could you use this in your classroom? What adaptations would you need to make?

Clare

 

 

 

 

 

After three days of intensive training, it was time to fly back home. We left behind the lecturers at the NUIST-Reading Academy motivated and energised, ready to face their classes on Monday with new perspectives and ideas developed from their collaboration with colleagues – and also with the beginnings of a new community of practitioners to draw upon for development and support. We brought back with us a deeper understanding of the challenges our counterparts at NUIST face, and new shared perspectives on ways to continue our own learning journeys.

Clare McCullagh and Angela Buckingham are Academic Developers in the Centre for Quality support and Development (CQSD). They visited the Reading Academy at NUIST from 15th-21st November 2016.

1 Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson (1987) “Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education” American Association of Higher Education Bulletin vol.39 no.7 pp.3-7

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University Teaching Fellows aim to raise internal profile of T&L with PVC support, By Dr Katja Strohfeldt-Venables

On the 10th November the University Teaching Fellows (UTFs) came together for their termly Community of Practice meeting. As chair of the Community for 2016/17, I welcomed all UTFs and outlined my focus for this academic year: “Raising the profile of UTFs”.

It was our great pleasure to welcome Prof Gavin Brooks to this meeting. Gavin gave an overview of current T&L projects within the University and acknowledged that it is important to utilise the UTF community for the wealth and diversity of experience it represents. He highlighted in particular, the upcoming review of the University’s Teaching and Learning Strategy in the spring and summer terms, to be ready for launch in 2018; an area where the views of the UTF Community would be extremely welcome. All members enjoyed a really positive discussion about the status of the UTFs and how the University values this community.

Additionally we discussed how the University could potentially support this community. It was very interesting and encouraging to hear that dissemination of T&L projects and sharing of good practice were on top of the list and important to all UTFs present. This includes dissemination within the University and outside. However, we also recognised that effective sharing of good practice seems to become more and more challenging as we face a myriad of commitments. If you have any ideas for how we can share good practice in T&L within the University more effectively and/or how the University can support us – I would love to hear from you. Just drop me an email: k.strohfeldt@reading.ac.uk

 

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Collaborating across the country (and beyond) with Collaborate by Dr Mark Shanahan

10 Days before the US election, almost 40 students and four academics from across England came together to debate the Trump v Clinton fight for the White House, using Blackboard’s Collaborate platform, writes Politics & IR Director of Teaching & Learning, Mark Shanahan. I’d first come across collaborate at a TEL Showcase event, and had discussed its potential use with colleagues from other universities at the British International Studies Association’s Teaching and Learning conference at Newcastle University in September. When the university was looking for innovative Week 6 events, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to land on the political theme of the day and get students and lecturers from a range of universities talking – all without the need for anyone to book a room or a coach…or even (in theory) get out of bed.  

The benefit of using Blackboard’s Collaborate tool was the relative ease with which we could bring academics from Reading, Manchester, De Montfort and Huddersfield Universities together both with their students and a US-based journalist for 90 minutes’ discussion of the US elections. The sound and picture quality wasn’t always perfect – but that was probably more down to user equipment than the tool itself.

Allied to the video content, we had a live chat stream which was incredibly popular. There was a constant flow of questions from students for the academic participants and comments and responses between the students themselves. There was actually so much chat going on that it wasn’t always able to quite keep up with the flow and bring it into our video/audio. We started early with a pre-chat, and ended up running well past our planned hour. We learned a lot. Between myself and Senior TEL advisor, Adam Bailey, we agreed it would have been great to capture both all the chat for future use (we got some), and more so to use screen capture technology to keep a record of the event. We also realised early on that we needed a chair/moderator to keep the event in shape – and I fell into that role.

The response from both students and academic participants after the event was very positive. All the students who responded to a brief Surveymonkey questionnaire after the event want to do more of these link-ups via Collaborate – and want them to be longer. Equally, my colleagues Pete Woodcock, Head of Politics at Huddersfield, Alison Statham a Senior Lecturer in Politics from de Montfort and Howell Williams who’s at Manchester are all keen to get in front of a webcam again – perhaps to pick over the bones of the US election, and definitely to look at other politics subjects where we can share our views and expose our students to opinions beyond their own institutions.

 

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Actively using the Student Charter with your tutees By Helen Bilton and Michelle Reid

Student Charter ActivitiesStudent Charter ActivitiesHave you heard of the University of Reading Student Charter? Have you used the Student Charter with your students? Although many colleagues can recall it being launched a few years ago, fewer staff and, crucially, even fewer of our students are really aware of what the Charter is, or how it can be used to encourage engagement in Reading’s learning community. This is why we have developed some short activities to help explore the meaning of the Student Charter. These activities focus on different aspects of the Charter such as independent learning. They can be adapted to suit, and they only take a few minutes to run. We designed them particularly for use in personal tutor meetings, but they can also be used effectively in staff training.

Student Charter Activities

The need for the activities came from work we have been doing as a follow-up from the Student Charter Working Group. Helen Bilton chaired the group to respond to a 2014 RUSU survey of student and staff views of the Charter, and to re-examine the Charter’s content for changes or updates. The Working Group carefully examined the wording of the Charter and found that (with some debates about content) it was fit for purpose. Student responses to the Charter were high and very positive, but the main concern was the lack of awareness and publicity. Therefore, we felt one avenue for promoting the Charter to students was through the Personal Tutor system. Likewise there was a good response to the questionnaire from staff with lots of positives but again a concern that it was not visible enough.

We trialled the activities at Personal Tutor briefing sessions in the Institute of Education and in Food and Nutritional Sciences in September. The tutors had a chance to try out some of the activities themselves which produced interesting responses and sparked discussion on how they might use them with their tutees. The feedback from tutors was very positive. Comments included how useful the activities were at starting conversations about what it means to be at University. Tutors also felt the Charter was an effective external and non-personal way of broaching potentially difficult issues of engagement and expectations with students. It has led to one programme embedding the activities within one particular year long module, so that student engagement can be revisited regularly. In another instance some of the Student Charter activities were used alongside the taught component of the module and interwoven, whilst still ensuring each aspect was transparent. With full time Masters students, the activities enabled students from all over the world to discuss and understand the important elements of being a student at Reading.

With Week 6 approaching and many Personal Tutors arranging time to meet with their tutees, we hope the activities will give you some ideas of how you might open discussions about participating in our learning community here at Reading.

If you want to talk to us about the Charter, have any comments to make or feedback about how you are using the Charter please contact Helen Bilton h.o.bilton@reading.ac.uk or Michelle Reid michelle.reid@reading.ac.uk

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InFormal Reflections by Amanda Fava-Verde, Mark Peace, Aaron Woodcock and Mariama Sheriff (ISLI)

Introduction

In July this year, four members of teaching staff from the International Study and Language Institute (ISLI) headed up north to this year’s InForm Conference.  InForm is a journal published by ISLI and widely read by international foundation programme professionals across the UK.  Its annual conference this year was held at Durham University and its theme was Working with Words: Supporting understanding of disciplinespecific vocabulary in IFPs (International Foundation Programmes).  Delegates were a mixture of subject-specialists (e.g. Chemistry), English for Academic Purposes (EAP) specialists and Applied Linguists, their common factor being that they are all involved in some way (directly or indirectly) with the teaching and learning of international students on foundation degree programmes.  Amanda, Mark, Aaron and Mariama each share their own reflections on the day’s events.

Does teaching discipline specific vocabulary work?

Two thought provoking presentations had me questioning whether teaching discipline specific vocabulary at Foundation level was something of an impossible ideal – both proposing that foundation level students should rather be guided to develop the skills and strategies needed to empower them to go out there and cultivate their own lexicons and mastery of their own subject specific styles. Both these presentations favoured teaching the broader concepts of academic discourse rather than the specific disciplinary nuances, taking the longer term view that our role is to open these students’ minds to global citizenship rather than close them in to specific academic communities.

Mike Groves of Birmingham University, playing devil’s advocate, questioned whether a focus on subject specific vocabulary teaching in the foundation EAP classroom might even be damaging, suggesting we run the risk of placing our students into ‘linguistic silos’  by doing so.  While not criticising subject specificity in general, he argued that it might be more helpful to exploit the fact that foundation year students spend half their academic lives being taught the very subjects that we are preparing them for, and that they already have access to rich, subject specific discourse through their content modules.   Far better therefore, to encourage them to explore the myriad of online tools available to them (such as Lextutor, word clouds etc.) and use them in informed and disciplined ways.

Elwyn Edwards and Dr Lucy Watson of the University of Southampton had also come to the conclusion that a subject-specific approach doesn’t work; foundation year students are studying too many different subjects to group them usefully in discipline-specific groups.

They have found a novel way around the problem through a new content-based ‘Global Society’ module which aims to teach students to become academically literate and critical thinkers by engaging them in discussions they find interesting and relevant to their lives as global citizens. The module focusses not on teaching specific lexis but rather on teaching key conceptual vocabularies – cross disciplinary concepts such as sustainability, globalisation, capitalism, human rights and development, drawing attention to the ideologies which underpin them.  The approach will allow students to function across a broad range of academic discourses (and undergraduate courses) and later in the global marketplace.

By Amanda Fava-Verde, Programme Director, International Foundation Programme, ISLI

Teaching discipline-specific vocabulary can work

What caught my attention most was how crucial discipline-specific vocabulary is to academic success and how expertise in both language teaching and the subject specialism are needed to teach this vocabulary effectively. Many of the talks were by subject-specialists involved in language teaching or language teachers involved in teaching subject-specific English (sometimes referred to as ESAP). One such talk was by Dr Simon Rees of Durham University. Rees is a chemist who has been collaborating with English language teachers to produce an online chemical language test that has produced very encouraging washback effects on chemistry-specific vocabulary acquisition and academic success in Chemistry.  Students take this test at the beginning and end of their Foundation course, and poor language test scores were found to be a predictor of poor academic achievement in Chemistry.  The test provided a framework for teaching and learning chemistry-specific vocabulary, and it was found that explicit teaching of this vocabulary could enhance both their language test scores and their academic achievement in Chemistry.

Our own experience here at Reading within ISLI and other departments supports these findings. On our English Language for Chemists and English for Science modules, we’ve found that the explicit teaching of discipline-specific lexis has had a positive impact on academic achievement in Chemistry and Food Science.  And undergraduate HBS students on our Academic Skills & Language for Finance course (part of the Academic English Programme embedded provision) have responded extremely positively to a strong focus on discipline-specific vocabulary development.  Perhaps these findings are not very surprising, but they confirm that teaching discipline-specific vocabulary has enormous potential in helping students access their subject and achieve their full academic potential.  They also demonstrate the importance of utilising joint expertise in both language and the target subject.  Let’s hope for more such cross-disciplinary collaborations in the future!

By Aaron Woodcock, Teaching Fellow in English for Science and EAP, ISLI

Let the data do the talking

The InForm conference has always been an active forum for sharing ideas and opinions, but I was particularly delighted this year with the number of talks that openly shared data, results and feedback. In some cases this showed clear trends, in others interpretation was open to discussion and in all cases sharing of data provided additional insight.

In his opening keynote, Associate Professor of Linguistics Michael McCarthy presented analysis of the high frequency keywords ‘point’, ‘terms’ and ‘sense’ in discipline-specific sub-corpora. This showed differences in academic language used by lecturers in different disciplines and clearly illustrated the potential for using spoken academic corpora analysis for tailoring English teaching material for specific disciplines.

Hannah Gurr from the University of Bristol shared student feedback on her foundation English Link class for Mathematics. After hearing of her innovative approach to teaching the course, which involves plenty of interaction including online quizzes and videos, we might expect a rave response from the students to all aspects of the course. Hannah presented the responses in their raw form, and while largely positive, some students still would rather more academic teaching and seem not to value the additional English teaching as much as we might expect. This is something many of us find when teaching our International English or Academic Skills modules despite trying to make it relevant to the student’s subjects, and Hannah’s open sharing of feedback was very welcome in enabling discussion on this.

Sandra Strigel from Newcastle University gave an interesting presentation on raising linguistic awareness of teachers through Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). The intended outcome is often to make sessions more interactive; moving away from extended periods of one-way presentation of information from tutors to students. The feedback that Sandra presented certainly showed that teachers adopting this approach became more aware of language issues and the student experience, as well as being more reflective. What was equally interesting was the information that was missing, and Sandra openly highlighted that the long term impact of this approach on student attainment has not yet been looked at in the studies she’s aware of. So, while it may be relatively straightforward to evaluate different teaching methods in terms of student experience, perhaps the real challenge is evaluating in terms of attainment.

It’s exciting to hear of the research that’s happening. The frank and open presentation and discussion of findings is of great value to the IFP community, particularly as it enables individuals to draw their own conclusions.

By Dr Mark Peace, Senior Academic Tutor IFP, ISLI, Chair of InForm Editorial Board

Using learning technologies can boost academic success

A number of presenters at the conference showed how using learning technologies effectively can enable students to learn discipline-specific vocabulary in order to overcome language barriers that can prevent them from understanding taught content. Moreover, learning technologies also prime students to employ study skills and criticality (transferable skills which facilitate learner autonomy and ultimately foster wider academic success).

Teaching discipline-specific vocabulary characteristically involves helping students notice the meaning, use and form of language then record and memorise it effectively; here, I felt the conference presenters provided a broadening outlook on how learning technologies can facilitate the learning of vocabulary and encourage proactive, reflective and motivated students. Hannah Gurr from the University of Bristol showed how the online tool Quizlet was notable for the way in which it helps her and, more importantly, how it can enable students themselves to tailor the learning of vocabulary to individual needs. Moreover, it gives students the scaffolding they need to prioritise what to learn and to break learning down into manageable chunks.

Corpus websites are not often designed with lower level language learners in mind, and so it was good to hear about more student-centred online platforms that can help students analyse language patterns specific to their chosen discipline. Dawn Knight (Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of Cardiff) has co-created WordWanderer, which promises to be a user-friendly way for students to examine different aspects of discipline-specific vocabulary. Visual learners in particular are likely to find it helpful. Megan Bruce of Durham University demonstrated how centres that build a corpus based on academic texts written within their own institutions can then create tailored corpusbased teaching and learning activities, which can help students focus on the key features of subject-specific academic writing. This also lends well to giving students a sense of belonging to their academic community. Both sessions, like many others, helped to frame stimulating discussions on how to give students more meaningful practice as well as a sense of ownership over their learning both in and outside the classroom.

By Mariama Sheriff, EAP Pre-sessional Tutor (ISLI, summer 2016) and Foundation Tutor at the University of Oxford Brookes.

Conclusions

It may seem, on the surface at least, that there’s little consensus on how best to support the learning of discipline-specific vocabulary. However, lack of consensus tends to lead to diversity of opinion, experimentation and debate, as illustrated by this blog post. As long as this is open, evidence-based and T&L-driven (which it was at InForm 2016), IFP students here at Reading and around the UK can only benefit.

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It’s time! Viva Day – By Heike Bruton, Research Assistant and PhD Researcher

There can’t be many more nerve-wracking oral exams than the PhD viva. A several-year build-up –and then… what? To give research students an impression of what’s it actually like on the day, Dr Carol Fuller from the Institute of Education has produced a short, entertaining and informative video. Using some Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF) money, Carol, who is Director of the Institute’s EdD Programme, has teamed up with film maker Henry Steddman – a UoR alumni — to provide reassurance to potentially anxious candidates. Starring some IoE colleagues as well as professional actors, the video thankfully stays clear of vague and meaningless advice often found in self-help type viva-survivor tips, such as ‘just be yourself’ (which is fine if your self is a confident academic on top of your game, not so much if it’s a nervous wreck. As Father Ted says to Dougal: never be yourself! That’s just something people say!)

So how should you be, then? First, let’s remember the cornerstones of the situation you’re in here:

  • You’re the expert on your thesis
  • The examiners have read your work thoroughly…
  • ….and they’re keen to discuss it with you.

On viva day:

  • dress smartly
  • refer to your thesis
  • keep eye contact
  • if unsure, ask questions
  • stay hydrated
  • ….try to relax!
  • at the end, if you’re asked whether you’d like to add anything, take the opportunity.

Then, you’ve done all you can for now, and there’s no more to than just wait, until… it’s time!

Hopefully, you’ll get the desired result, and will be awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy! Congratulations!

If UoR PhD’ers and EdD’ers find the video useful, Carol is keen to hear their feedback – via any means possible, be it the YouTube comment box, on Facebook or twitter, or via email.” It’s a good way to give students access to an easy-to-use resource”, says Carol. “If students tell us they like this video clip, we can make the case for funding to make more such short films, for example on epistemology or methodology.”

What do you and your students think of Carol’s video? Have a watch here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3hnu2aq8P4

post authored by:

Heike Bruton | Research Assistant and PhD Researcher | University of Reading, Institute of Education, London Road Campus, building L33 room 115, 4 Redlands Road, Reading, RG1 5EX | + 44(0) 118 378 2645 | h.bruton@reading.ac.ukhttp://germanintheuk.com/about/  | https://twitter.com/HeikeBruton

Posted in Latest News, Student Engagement, Student support | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Improving student engagement with resources using online Reading Lists

Students engagement with recommended academic resources is key to developing a deeper understanding of their discipline and, ultimately, a more satisfying and stimulating educational environment. Seamless access to resources cited on reading lists has been much improved over the last 14 months with further investment in Library e-resources and the implementation of the Talis Aspire Reading Lists system across the University. But access to resources does not necessarily equate to improved engagement with them. So how can we improve student engagement with scholarly resources? Additional functionality within Talis Aspire lists may offer solutions for both students and staff.

We now have over 2,200 lists on the system from 2015-16 and 2016-17, representing 1,400+ modules taught across the University. Over 128,750 items have been linked to these lists (79,000 of which are cited on published lists). With such a vast amount of materials recommended to students, learning how to manage academic reading, develop effective note taking and time management techniques are key to effectively and meaningfully engaging with a wide range of resources to support their studies.

Making use of the additional functionality offered by Talis Aspire offers students the opportunity to:  Additional list functionality

  • prioritise reading order (by sorting items by ‘importance’, where they have been marked up as ‘essential’, ‘recommended’ or ‘further’ reading by the module convenor/list publisher)
  • allocate a ‘read status’ to items (e.g. ‘Have read’, ‘Will read’, ‘Reading now’, ‘Won’t read’)
  • make notes – accessible only to them  – on the resources they have read (see screenshot, right)

Encouraging your students to use their reading lists in this way will not only encourage the development of key study skills but will also enable tutors to address any issues or concerns arising at point of need, via the dashboard facility.

The dashboard provides academic staff with an overview of student ‘read statuses’, the number of notes made against each resource and provides a summary of page views (number of times your list has been viewed in total), number of ‘clicks’ (number of times a students has clicked through to an item on the list), number of annotations (what read statuses have been used or notes made (though the content of these notes remains accessible only to the note maker).

The advantages of this are:

  • tutors can see at a glance which resources have been viewed most frequently on the list
  • potential issues relating to resources marked as ‘won’t read’ or those infrequently viewed can be addressed at point of need, e.g. if a resource needs further explanation this could be incorporated into the next seminar/meeting with your students Dashboard for staff

Screencasts are currently in development for both students and staff to assist with using these additional functions.

If students are encouraged by their tutors to make greater use of this additional functionality, the analytics which can then be drawn from this activity will help inform the way certain resources are presented within your modules and, it is hoped, encourage students to engage further with the cited resources, whilst developing key study skills.

Study Advice have produced a guide on managing academic reading and effective note taking, which can also be promoted to students to help develop these skills.

For further information about all aspects of the implementation of Reading Lists, please email Kerry Webb, Talis implementation project manager.

Posted in Research and enquiry, Student Engagement | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

University Teaching Fellows – Reflecting on the community by Katja Strohfeldt

With the start of the new academic year it is always a good idea to reflect on current practices and plan the year ahead. As the incoming chair for the Community of Practice (CoP) of University Teaching Fellows (UTF) I found myself reflecting on the identity and the purpose of this group.

What is the Community of Practice of UTFs?

It could be summarised as a growing community of staff members (academic and non-academic) who are enthusiastic about varying aspects of teaching, innovation and excellence. The University recognises each year a number of staff members for their excellent work in the area of T&L by appointing new UTFs.

Many congratulation to the new University Teaching fellows 2016-17, who recently joined the community:

  • Dr Laura Bennett – School of Law
  • Dr Philippa Cranwell – School of Chemistry, Food & Pharmacy
  • Dr Andrew Charlton-Perez – School of Mathematical & Physical Sciences
  • Dr Rhianedd Smith – University Museums & Special Collections Services
  • Dr Rachel Pye – School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences

I was actually thinking back to the time when I joined the group and we started having regular CoP lunch meetings, where there were only a handful of us meeting for a sandwich lunch (yes I am so long at the University already). It makes me feel very proud being part of a community which has grown quickly – in number and reputation. One of the strengths is its community spirit – everyone is able to draw on each other’s knowledge and experience from areas across the University. We meet in an informal setting and it is a great way to meet new people from across the University and make contacts.

What is my steer for the coming year?

Following on from my excellent predecessor Helen Hathaway – Helen thank you very much for being an excellent chair to the community – I decided to have an overarching theme for this academic year. I would like to explore further how the University utilises their UTF community and how we can give the group more of an identity and input in strategic areas. For this reason I have invited Prof Gavin Brooks (PVC for T&L) to our first meeting in the autumn term in order to give us a platform to discuss how the Senior Management Board sees our role. I hope that more detailed plans come out from this meeting, but the spring term meeting certainly sees the launch of the new UTF application process, with the summer term meeting welcoming our new colleagues.

Are you interested in becoming a UTF?

If you are interested in applying to the UTF scheme than I would suggest that you plan ahead. Have a look at the application form and identify areas where small tweaks might make a great impact. At this time of the year, you might be able to adjust your teaching or achievements in a way that you can apply to the UTF scheme with confidence. I suggest you get in touch with CQSD sooner rather than later and see if you can be matched with a mentor – this is another great way to meet new people. The new scheme will start off with a showcase lunchtime session, but I suggest you start thinking about it now and you are always welcome to also contact me.

Details of the 2017 UTF scheme will be announced in the new year.

Posted in Continuing Professional Development, Employability, Latest News, Rewards and Recognition, University Teaching Fellows | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“Does size matter” or “how large is large”? by Katja Strohfeldt

Teaching of large cohort sizes is becoming more and more prominent at Universities. Many colleagues will have experienced this and also faced the challenges which come with teaching large class sizes. I am delighted that the University decided to support our research into large class size teaching with the special aspect of diversity. Rachel Pye (Psychology) and myself (SCFP) busily started to gather data and information. There was one question I raised quite early after starting this Teaching and Learning Development funded project: “How large is large?” Looking back at my own experience of being an undergraduate student in Germany, I attended my Part 1 lectures with around 800 other students. Is this a large class size? One aspect of these lectures became quite clear to me: Whilst we certainly started with 800 students at the beginning of the semester, by the end only a fraction were regularly attending lectures.

Objectives:

  • What are the students’ expectations on class size at University?
  • Explore the students’ experience within large class sizes especially in diverse cohorts.
  • Develop a toolkit, which provides easy access to tools and tricks to help with large class size teaching.

How large is large?

Everyone will have their own opinion on how many students you would expect to teach in a large class size at the University. This is probably very much dependant on your own experience and your subject area. I would suggest you think for a moment about your own experience before continuing to read this blog…

We wanted to know what the students think, especially from those who had just newly started the University. We have surveyed around 800 students in our first year of the project. The Part 1 students were asked to fill in the questionnaires shortly after they arrived at University, Part 2 and 3/4 students followed. We also run some focus groups with Pharmacy and Psychology students, as both courses have a very interesting diversity profile.

It was very interesting that the Part 1 student gave very similar answers, independent of their course. Part 1 students defined a large class size with around 100 students. In contrast to this our focus groups showed that small classes were expected to accommodate around 6 students, similar to their A-level teaching groups. It is very interesting to see that Part 2 and 3/4 students consistently gave a lower answer for large class sizes. The more experienced students defined a large class size accommodating around 80 students. Again, this number was independent of the course the students were studying.

In summary, it was interesting to see that Part 1 students expected a higher number of students in their large class size teaching, than Part2/3/4 students. We hypothesize that experience of the latter group of students at University level being exposed to seminars, tutorials etc influenced their perception.

Does size matter?

The answer is probably yes and no. Our preliminary data has clearly shown that students expect being taught in large lecture theatres with many others when they come to University. Even looking at diversity as a factor does not change this expectation significantly. This would mean size doesn’t matter. Nevertheless, our preliminary data has also shown that size matters, in regards to teaching styles. Investigating expectations, anxiety levels and other aspects, indicate that students are prone to disengage easier in large classes. Students feel less noticed, more anonymous and have less of a chance to ask questions. Understanding and acoustics can also be a hurdle.

Quo vadis?

The next steps we have planned is to undertake interviews with staff members and undertaking the questionnaires with students in Parts 1, 2 and 3/4, especially focussing on students from the previous cohort who entered Part 2 now and expanding the study to other courses. The main aim is to develop a toolkit, which will be easily accessible to everyone.

More information will follow shortly. No doubt we will be in touch with many of you again and really hope you can support us. If you have any questions in the meantime, please email us (k.strohfeldt@reading.ac.uk) or follow us on Twitter @largeclassHE.

Posted in Dissemination, Funding Opportunities, Latest News, Student Engagement, Teaching approaches | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Take Home Exam by Dr Stuart Lakin, School of Law

This post has been uploaded to the T&L Exchange, and can now be found at:

http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/t-and-l-exchange/take-home-exam/

Posted in Assessment & Feedback, Continuing Professional Development, Diversity and inclusion, Employability, Internationalisation, Learning design, Research and enquiry, Research informed teaching, Student Engagement, Student support, Teaching approaches, Technology Enhanced Learning | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Exploring value co-creation (CCV) in the Law Feedback Project at ESLTIS 2016 by Imogen Moore and Laura Bennett, School of Law

Introduction

As joint staff leaders (together with Dr Nora Honkala) on the current Law Feedback Project, we recently presented a paper exploring aspects of the project to the second annual Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship Conference, held at University College London on 28-29 June 2016.  This blog post explains a little about the Law Feedback Project, how (and why) value co-creation principles were incorporated within it, and what we found useful at the 2016 ESLTIS conference.

The Law Feedback Project and Value Co-Creation

The Law Feedback Project was set up in September 2015, in response to Periodic Review recommendations and student feedback in the NSS and elsewhere, which while generally positive, indicated some room for improvement. Periodic Review had recommended involving students in development of feedback (and other) strategies, and this provided us with the impetus to put students at the heart of the project, supported by our Head of School, Professor Susan Breau. Rather than simply seeking student views on assessment and feedback in a way potentially driven and limited by staff preconceptions and preferences, we set up the project drawing on principles of value co-creation, as espoused by writers such as Catherine Bovill and Alison Cook-Sather (Bovill et al, 2012 & 2014; see also McWilliam, 2008; Mihans et al, 2008;  Tabrizi & Ackfeldt, 2013) .

CCV envisages students acting as partners in learning, moving beyond a consumer-oriented role, and has been successfully used with a wide range of teaching and learning projects. For the Law Feedback Project this would mean involving students from the start and throughout the project – in scoping, designing and running the project, and ultimately creating and implementing changes to policies and practice. Students were recruited on a voluntary basis, via the SSLC, to co-lead the project working group (alongside the three staff members). Additional students participated in focus groups which explored more widely and deeply the issues identified within the working group.

Our primary aim in using CCV was to lead to more meaningful assessment and feedback practice that better met student needs, while still recognising system and staffing constraints. The project showed that students had quite clear views on what they needed and what they liked and disliked. While often their views matched staff expectations, this was not always the case. Fears of some staff that students will always demand more feedback were somewhat unfounded – quality and specificity were favoured over quantity (although quantity mattered too). Importantly the project indicated that students did not always understand and share the language of assessment and feedback, suggesting student dissatisfaction with feedback is sometimes due to miscommunication rather than deeper failings. Involving students through CCV will assist in finding a common language for our discourse with students and allow us to identify ways to improve their assessment literacy.

ESLTIS Conference 2016

The paper was well received at the ESLTIS conference, and was followed by some interesting discussion relating to our experiences and the challenges and benefits presented by CCV. It was valuable to have the input of fellow teaching-intensive colleagues from a wide variety of institutions and disciplines, in such a supportive and thoughtful atmosphere. In total the conference was attended by well over 100 teaching focused staff from institutions across the UK and further afield, with representation from all career levels.

There were two excellent keynote speeches. The first was given by from Dr Dilly Fung of UCL, who spoke around her recent HEA publication ‘Rewarding educators and education leaders in research-intensive universities’. Her vision of what education means – and its depth and breadth beyond ‘just’ teaching – was particularly interesting. Professor Carol Evans of the University of Southampton gave the keynote address on the second day: ‘Developing and implementing holistic assessment practice’. Professor Evans looked at bringing together different aspects of good assessment practice, including the importance of students understanding the assessment and feedback – something with obvious links to our own project. The rest of the two days offered a multitude of papers under themes of assessment and feedback, scholarship of teaching and learning, supporting students, and the role of teaching-focused academics – so many stimulating ideas and new approaches to old (and new) problems. We were also treated to an entertaining panel discussion which gave insights into different institutions’ attitudes to teaching-focused staff.

Conclusion

The experience of running the project, and presenting at the conference, has been very rewarding. Following a CCV approach has taken us out of our comfort zone and added another dimension to our teaching and learning, and it was interesting to explore with others how to successfully involve students further in teaching design. As far as the project is concerned, it is hoped this will continue into 2016-7 (with some change of membership due to staff changes and student graduations), to develop and implement policies and assessment criteria in partnership with students. As for ESLTIS – well, the next conference, which is organised through the Teaching Focussed Academic Network, will be held in Newcastle in the summer of 2017; hope to see you there!

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Group work: students’ solutions to the challenges by Sonia Hood

Group work is an integral part of assessment at university but students rarely arrive equipped with the skills, experience and knowledge to deal with the challenges they face when working in groups. This can be a cause of anxiety for students and also a time consuming intervention for lecturers.

Henley Business School approached Study Advice for help in supporting students with this form of assessment. It was felt that students needed help navigating the wide range of resources available to them. In addition, in order to offer effective support, we felt we first needed to understand the challenges students face, how they have/intend to overcome these and how best they would like to be supported in doing this. A project was set up and we received TLD funding to investigate this further.

The project had two main aims: the first to create a bank of resources that students working on assessed group work could be directed to. The second was to recommend some interventions to support students with the challenges they faced when working in groups.

The research

A student researcher was employed to evaluate the wealth of group work resources openly available. This resulted in a folder of group work resources being created and uploaded onto Blackboard.  In addition a pack containing key resources was compiled and handed out to part 1 REP students when commencing their first group work project. We were able to evaluate the effectiveness of this pack within this research.

A range of focus groups and in-depth interviews were conducted with Real Estate and Planning students, and HBS staff , over the past year. They explored both the perceived challenges to group work and the proposed solutions to these challenges. This qualitative data was then analysed and a number of key challenges, possible solutions and recommendations were presented to Real Estate and Planning teaching and learning staff.

What students want

The interviews and focus groups revealed the complex challenges associated with group work, supporting previous research into this area. Solutions varied between the PG and UG students, though both recognised that effective teams take time to get to know each other informally. Students suggested that informal events could be organised as part of their course to help them through this ‘forming’ stage. PG students also asked for careful consideration of how the mark for group work is allocated (with a higher proportion allocated to individual work) and for a penalty to be imposed, as a last resort.

More support was requested in dealing with conflict and difficult team members, and the need for more self-reflection from everyone within the group was identified. There are also some simple things we can do to help students with the practicalities of group work, like timetabling group work sessions and  booking rooms at set times for students to use. In terms of tutor support, it was recognised that their time was limited; when it comes to personal issues within a group, speaking to a mentor (like a part 2 student) who could offer confidential, impartial advice would be a preferable option for UGs.

Resources for your students

We now have a bank of resources to support students with group work, available on Blackboard, which can be copied into any course. The resources are clearly divided into folders and contain a mixture of: video tutorials; advice on dealing with challenging situations; self-reflection tools and group assessment questionnaires. The initial pack handed out to part 1 students proved to be useful for UGs, mainly as an aid to focus early group discussions. It contained some forms to record minutes, ground rules, contact details and roles, as well as offer advice to the common issues experienced within groups

Work continues on this project, as at present we are only just starting to disseminate the findings. Whilst the recommendations might not be relevant to all engaged in group work, a number of themes and challenges are shared across a variety of disciplines. We would welcome speaking to anyone who is interested in finding out more about this project and how they might benefit from this research.

Posted in Assessment & Feedback, Student Engagement, Student Group Work | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Power of Collaboration: Reflections on St Andrews EAP conference by Bruce Howell & Aaron Woodcock (ISLI)

In February 2016, we presented at a one-day English for Academic Purposes (EAP) conference at St Andrews University, showcasing Reading’s ‘English Language for Chemists’ module, a collaboration between the International Study & Language Institute (ISLI) and the Department of Chemistry.  As it turned out,  collaboration between EAP and subject study departments, and its power to enhance teaching and learning (T&L), was key thread running through all the presentations we saw that day.

About the conference

The conference is an annual event for professionals working in EAP in English language departments and units across the UK and further afield, who undertake activities similar to ISLI’s Pre-Sessional English (PSE) and Academic English Programme (AEP). There are in fact a number of such conferences each year in the UK, and many attract participants from abroad. It is increasingly recognised that there is a need to support students whose first language is not English who arrive in the UK as a full time student, or (increasingly) as part of a Trans-National Education (TNE) programme. One question many leaders of T&L are asking is how to incorporate EAP into existing degree teaching – should it be extra-curricular or should it be integrated into the degree itself? The conference theme attempted to tackle this challenge: ‘Finding the balance: language and content in EAP’, and thus provided an ideal opportunity for us to share ISLI’s experience of collaborating with Chemistry.

Our presentation: ‘Designing a subject-specific EAP course for Chemists’

We outlined the content of the module, showing samples of teaching materials, and explained the story of the module’s creation. We emphasised the central role collaboration had to play in the creation and running of the module: both collaboration between the University of Reading and Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology (NUIST), and collaboration between ISLI and Chemistry. The latter in particular was central to delivering a module that teaches English that is both relevant and achievable. The collaboration ultimately won ISLI/Chemistry a University Collaborative Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teaching and Learning (2014-2015).

The ‘English for Chemists’ module (CH3ENG) was created for the 2014/15 session onwards as a result of forward planning:

  • Chemistry staff members visiting NUIST and meeting Applied Chemistry students as well as their lecturers
  • Chemistry staff members discussing any ‘gap’ of attainment likely when the 3+1 students arrive for Part 3 (thereby recognised that EAP support would be a necessary component)
  • Chemistry working with ISLI to create 20 credits’ worth of study designed uniquely for the NUIST  students arriving for Part 3.

Two types of essential skill were identified as areas which would normally have been covered or developed during Parts 1 and 2:

  • language functions, such as explaining chemical reaction processes, clear pronunciation, effective speaking in groups in labs
  • important Chemistry skills, such as safety regulation awareness, Chemistry-specific IT, generic study skills.

The decision was therefore made to create two 10-credit modules, the former delivered by ISLI (CH3ENG), and the latter by Chemistry (CH3NUI), requiring further joint planning to take place, ensuring the modules complemented each other but did not overlap. An example of this would be ‘avoiding plagiarism’, which could equally be considered ‘language’ (ISLI) or ‘general study skills’ (Chemistry). In order to avoid repetition and retain a balance the ‘avoiding plagiarism’ objective was placed within the CH3NUI module. Close monitoring has taken place during the first 2 years, and gradual developments are ongoing, for example a greater emphasis on writing short examination-type responses will be given in CH3ENG.

Presentations from other universities

EAP taught on its own as a subject, as in most Pre-Sessional English courses, usually results in a ‘generic’ form of English teaching, i.e. activities which require academic skills such as structuring writing, using references, presenting clearly, and contributing to seminar discussion. Topics and formats tend to be closer to social science(s) than pure sciences because of the likelihood that the topic areas are ‘common knowledge’. Generic EAP would involve studying texts and writing essays on ethical business, education approaches, employment patterns, and the like.

Contributions to the conference made it clear that ‘imbedded’ In-Sessional English is a fast-growing area of interest for many EAP professionals, and this conference gave an opportunity to share best practice in giving English language support to students learning specific subject areas. For instance, colleagues from the University of Manchester presented on two projects: a masters level ‘Principles of Scientific Writing’ for Chemistry, and the challenges of providing English language support for mathematicians. Colleagues from the University of Edinburgh posed interesting alternative views on to what extent Academic English lecturers can or should comment on the content of students’ writing, and colleagues from the University of Leeds are launching a brand new discipline-specific Pre-Sessional English programme, which has involved close collaboration between the English language centre and subject departments across the university.

Common sentiments expressed were:

  1. a) collaboration between English language and subject experts is vital
  2. b) a ‘blinkered’ subject focus is not enough (as with many professional roles these days): EAP lecturers need to have some interest in or knowledge of specific academic subjects, while subject lecturers need to have some interest in or knowledge of the language issues of international students
  3. c) teaching and learning leaders in UK universities often do recognise – though could perhaps recognise more – the importance of integrating language and study skills support into TNE programmes, rather than offering ‘extra-curricular’ opportunities
  4. d) ideally, staff in both EAP and subject departments should be involved in planning and delivery of certain modules, even at times ‘team teaching’ or ‘team marking’, though this clearly has resourcing implications (utilising PhD students as tutors can be a good solution).

Reflections and follow-up

ISLI at Reading already has an expanding range of subject collaborations as part of the AEP programme, with an increasing number becoming credit-bearing. Food and Nutritional Sciences has a long-standing 2+2 arrangement with Henan University of Technology central to which is an embedded credit-bearing EAP module, while Reading has plans to expand its 3+1 provision with NUIST in other subject areas. This seems to be in step with other UK universities, and there will be more of such possibilities growing in future.

Meanwhile, ISLI are currently looking into developing a more subject-specific PSE programme, and will therefore be closely watching developments of the new subject-specific Pre-Sessional English programme at Leeds.

Perhaps the most significant expansion of this type of activity will be seen at the Malaysia campus, where students will benefit from carefully planned English language and study skills input both before and during their degree courses, and will feature inter-campus as well as inter-departmental collaboration.

Posted in Academic Skills, Conference Updates, T&L Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peer Assisted Learning: how did the PAL pilots go in 2015-16 at Reading? by Caroline Crolla

I’ve gained more knowledge regarding the module & find it easier to ask for help. (Maths PAL participant)

[PAL] is a more interactive way of working, more group work, some sharing about 4th year placement and the usefulness of this module for next year (S&L Therapy PAL participant)

It’s great to see people leave sessions feeling like they understand what they were struggling with. (PAL Leader, Creative Writing)

It’s great, [PAL] really helps with understanding work. (PAL Leader, Art)

Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) was introduced at the University of Reading in 2015-16 in a few departments as pilot schemes, with the longer term aim of establishing the scheme across the university. Five departments took part in the first pilot which ran from November 2015 to May 2016.  The pilot schemes have now been evaluated and here are some of the findings.

Participating departments in 2015-16

Economics

Mathematics and Statistics

Speech and Language Therapy

Fine Art

English Literature: Creative writing

What is Peer Assisted Learning?

Peer Assisted Learning is a scheme where students in the same subject learn together with their peers. PAL sessions are run by experienced student who have been trained as facilitators, also known as PAL Leaders, who are regularly debriefed by programme academics.

HEIs with experience of PAL have found that the scheme contributes to improved retention, engagement and performance through shared learning, engendering stronger links between academics and students as well as providing an additional form of feedback.

The principles underpinning Peer Assisted Learning include:

  • the PAL scheme should target high risk modules or courses, not high risk students
  • student participation should be voluntary and it should supplement not replace core teaching
  • student PAL Leaders are facilitators and not quasi-lecturer

What are PAL positives?

Academics reported that introducing PAL was not time consuming but that they did need to endorse and promote their PAL scheme more in order to increase attendance of at PAL sessions. All academics involved in PAL described how the scheme influenced their pedagogy.  They mentioned how much the PAL leaders had developed in the process.

Nothing additional to prepare; I am developing my teaching material because I have changed aspects of the module and my prep is being helpfully informed by having the two PAL Leaders and their sessions in mind.

I have had to think about my teaching materials more closely, because I have PAL in mind. I have reviewed what I am putting in the lectures and what not; what I want the PAL Leader to have or do, or not. This has been good for me…and the students I hope.

I am very impressed with [the PAL Leaders].   I think they are doing so well and really benefiting. 

To maximise effectiveness

The pilots have flagged up three key factors that influence the effectiveness of PAL

Attendance

To maximise attendance Departments need to ensure that PAL sessions appear on students’ timetables and are roomed and timetabled at appropriate times within the module so that participants can attend. PAL is voluntary and for students to benefit from attending sessions access needs to be made possible.

PAL Leaders and participants understand the benefit of collaborative learning

Leaders, participants and academic staff need to be clear about the benefits of working collaboratively on cognitively difficult material. Peer assisted learning is a structured way of peers learning together.  It is not remedial support. One hour of PAL can equal to three hours of working alone.

Increasing engagement by academics

If peer assisted learning is part of a subject’s offer, then it needs regular endorsement by academic contacts and the PAL leaders need regular reviews with the academic contact throughout the term. Increased publicity and visibility of the PAL sessions within departments will help with attendance.

What next?

  1. In 2016-17, more modules will be supported by Peer Assisted Learning sessions in Psychology, Classics as well as in Art, Speech and Language Therapy, English Literature and Mathematics.
  2. From the 14 PAL Leaders who trained to facilitate learning of their peers in 2015-16, 34 prospective PAL leaders will be trained in 2016-17 to support a range of modules.
  3. Academics in Mathematics, who have been enthusiastic early adopters of PAL, have decided to offer PAL in Mathematics as an optional Part 3 module and 9 students have been successfully selected to become PAL Leaders to support the Part 1 core module ‘Real Analysis’.

Would you like to get involved?

PAL at Reading had a great first year because of the enthusiasm of staff and students who had a deep commitment to learning and who saw the positive and holistic benefits of PAL. However, there is a lot more scope to deploy peer assisted learning in many contexts, so if you are an academic interested in adopting PAL for one or more of your modules or you would like to find out more, please contact: Caroline Crolla, PAL Coordinator, c.s.crolla@reading.ac.uk  | pal@reading.ac.uk or phone 0118 378 6593.   I work in the Student Success Team which is located in Blandford Lodge, G17, Whiteknights campus.

Posted in Academic Skills, Student Engagement | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Are we doing enough for our BTEC entrants? Authored by Dr Michelle Reid (Study Advice)

Transition to university is often geared towards students from an A-level background, so are we doing enough for students with vocational qualifications starting at Reading?

Recent research from UCAS shows that one in four university entrants has done a BTEC (Havergal, 2016). Issues such as culture shock, work/life balance, different assessment methods, and the perception that A-level entrants may be better equipped to study at university are some of the concerns BTEC students can have when starting their degree (Clark, 2011). As Study Advisers, we observed similar concerns when working with former BTEC students here at Reading, particularly in relation to learning from lectures and taking exams, as these are not teaching and assessment methods used on BTEC courses. With these transition issues in mind, and also in light of the increased focus on widening participation, we conducted a short survey to gauge the views of current Reading students with BTEC qualifications on their readiness for university. We wanted to assess whether it would be beneficial to host a pre-entry event for BTEC entrants before they start here in the autumn, following the model of our well-established and successful pre-entry day for mature students.

We sent the questionnaire to all current Reading undergraduate and taught postgraduate students who had taken a BTEC (over 800 students) and received 173 replies. The results confirmed the previous research and our own observations. 45% of respondents described themselves as ‘fairly well prepared’ for university. However when this was explored further, 41.8% also felt that studying at university was ‘fairly different’ to the style of learning they were used to with the main difference being the style of assessments. Respondents pinpointed referencing, preparing for exams and academic reading as the areas they most wished they had known more about before starting university, again reflecting a concern with assessment and the style of academic learning at university. Similar to more general research findings (Clark, 2011; Reidy, 2015) our own former BTEC students identified their studying strengths as coursework, independence, subject knowledge and motivation. This suggests that BTECs give a good foundation in independent learning and indicates that students are likely to be motivated to attend a pre-entry event. However, the results also suggest there are gaps in transition guidance, especially around some assessment methods. Indeed, it is concerning that a wider HEA study has shown that students who went to university with vocational qualifications were less likely to achieve a first or 2:1 (Havergal, 2016). This indicates that we should be doing more to prepare BTEC students for the culture of HE assessment and to foster the potential of BTEC students.

Based on the survey findings, Study Advice is now investigating the possibility of hosting a pre-entry event for BTEC students this summer. We would be very interested in talking to others looking at transition and support for BTEC entrants.

 

References:

Clark, W. (2011). ‘Transitions in action? Exploring vocational learner progression into and out of higher education’. Educational Developments, 12.2, pp.9-12.

Havergal, C. (2016). ‘One in four university entrants has a BTEC, Ucas study finds’. Times Higher Education, 28 January 2016. Online at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/one-in-four-university-entrants-has-a-btec-ucas-study-finds  Accessed 05/04/16.

Reidy, T. (2015). ‘Will taking a BTec help or hinder your university application?’ The Guardian, Education section, 21 July 2015. Online at http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jul/21/will-taking-a-btec-help-or-hinder-your-university-application  Accessed 05/04/16.

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A welcome website for the newborn National Network of Teaching-Focussed Academics by Rita Balestrini and Chiara Cirillo

The Teaching-Focussed Academic Staff Network, whose inaugural conference was hosted by the University of Durham on 16th and 17th July, now has a dedicated website.

When we read the call for papers of the conference, entitled ‘Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship’, we realised that besides providing an opportunity to share innovative scholarly activities across disciplines for the enhancement of student learning, the conference also intended to address the issue of the career progression of staff on teaching-focussed contracts. Quoting a study by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the call for papers drew attention to the ‘predominance of teaching-only contracts among part-time academics’ and the existing ‘gap between policy and implementation regarding promotion policies’ in UK universities. It also stressed the importance of raising the profile of teaching-focussed academics in order to enhance teaching and the scholarship of L&T across the HE sector.

In recent years, contributing to raising the profile of language L&T at the University of Reading  has been one of our objectives and, together with colleagues of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies (MLES) and of the International Study and Language Institute (ISLI), we pursued this aim in various ways. For this reason, we decided to participate in the conference and give a presentation on the place that the scholarship of language L&T can have, and should have, in British universities. We addressed some issues specific to the tradition of languages as a university subject which hinder the scholarship of language L&T, and affect the academic identity and career development of language professionals on teaching-focussed contracts. We talked about the organisation of the discipline around  binary divisions such as ‘language’ and ‘content’, ‘language skills’ and ‘cultural knowledge’;  we illustrated the multifaceted nature of language teaching and the theoretical and practical competence it requires. We ended our presentation by pointing out the lower status and casualisation of language teachers in higher education as acknowledged and lamented by several authors (Coleman, 1999; Gieve and Cunico, 2012; Klapper, 2005; Quist, 2000; Worton, 2009), but we also highlighted the beginnings of some positive changes.

In general, from the plenary talks and the sessions we attended (‘Embedding and Enhancing Scholarship’, and ‘Career Pathways for Teaching Focused Academic Staff’), it emerged that there is still a way to go to transform the current hierarchy between teaching and research into a balanced relationship, although some progress has been made. The teaching-only academic role, in fact, seems to be still characterised by a lower status, a high degree of casualisation, and a gender imbalance (with more women in teaching-focussed roles, compared to teaching and research roles and more women on the low grades of the teaching-focussed roles).  It has been stressed that fellowships and awards are not sufficient recognition in themselves, and that a better way to enhance teaching in HE is to create a credible career path based on promotion criteria which actually reward excellence in teaching.  The lack of transparent criteria for progression seemed to be a common issue, and the need for a review of teaching roles undertaken by a national body was highlighted.

In our view, one of the most thought-provoking aspects of the talks we attended was the reflection on the necessity of a reconceptualisation of teaching and research in relation to each other which goes beyond the current perceived hierarchy. The idea of a learning culture in which the student researcher and the learning teacher are both submerged was offered as a possibility, together with the notion of ‘research’ as part of a wider concept of ‘scholarship’. The need for a re-imagined academic role appeared as a running thread in many presentations. In this sense, important innovations mentioned at the conference were the introduction of a ‘Study leave’ and a ‘Personal Scholarship Plan review’ for teaching-focussed academics already embraced by some enlightened institutions.

As was noted, ‘faculty-based cultures’ differ slightly. It seems, for example, that among STEM disciplines, the role of the teaching-focussed academic is more established.  There seems to be a higher awareness of the value of the scholarship of L&T and, in some cases, career progression is more likely to occur. For example, at one Scottish university, Teaching Fellows recruited by the School of Biology are now attaining senior positions not just at School, but also at Faculty and University level. In general, across the sector, the support of PVCs and senior managers and the creation of local networks of teaching-focussed academics have proved to be enabling factors for the recognition of the scholarship of L&T and for the establishment of a successful promotion culture.

Where do we stand at the UoR? Does our research-intensive University promote and support the scholarship of L&T and parity of esteem and opportunities for the staff delivering teaching excellence?  The current University Learning and Teaching Strategy suggests a positive answer, with ‘scholarship’ and ‘staff recognition’ stressed as a key priority.

It is also encouraging to see an active and growing Community of Practice of University Teaching Fellows (UTF), ‘teaching enthusiasts who are not only committed to teaching innovation and excellence, but to continuing professional development of themselves and their colleagues’ (see ‘University Teaching Fellows – A Growing Community‘ blog)

The University clearly recognises and rewards staff for their outstanding contributions to L&T through a number of schemes. However, in our view, even more could be done. For example, the career progression of Teaching Fellows could be better supported. At the moment, in the University Framework of Academic and Research (A&R) Role Profiles, * Teaching Fellows are placed on grade 6 regardless of their academic background and level of expertise. They are included in the A&R job family for illustrative purposes, but this does not make them ‘academics’. The ‘proper’ academic role profiles start at grade 7 and include both T&R activities, while the profile for grade 6 is split into Research Fellow and Teaching Fellow roles. Rather than delving here into the implications of this approach with regard to career progression of Teaching and Research Fellows, we refer to two documents. The first is a recent report of the HEA, ‘Rebalancing promotion in the HE sector: is teaching excellence being rewarded?’, which critically analyses promotion policies in British universities; and the second is the ‘National Library of Academic Role Profiles, set up by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) – of which the UoR is a member – that outlines  five levels for the teaching-only career path**.

We wonder if, at the UoR, alongside a Community of Practice of University Teaching Fellows (UTF), there might also be the need for a similar – informal, loosely structured – yet wider and open network of colleagues with teaching-focussed roles interested in not only enhancing student learning through excellent teaching and sharing of good practice, but also in discussing and developing the concept and the practice of ‘scholarship’, including its operationalisation and recognition, and the role of teaching-focussed academics at the UoR. This local network could link up with the wider national network that has emerged from the Durham conference and would naturally be an interlocutor for those engaged with L&T at strategic and operational level. We trust that our initiative would receive support from our senior colleagues, as this would be a further demonstration of the University’s commitment to L&T.

To learn more about the Teaching-Focussed Academic Staff Network, visit:  http://community.dur.ac.uk/teachingfellow.network/

If you are interested in joining a Teaching-Focussed Academic Network at Reading, contact: r.balestrini@reading.ac.uk or c.cirillo@reading.ac.uk

 

* These role profiles were created by the UoR in 2014.

** The ‘National Library of Academic Role Profiles is part of the 2006 Framework  Agreement for the Modernisation of Pay Structures, agreed by the Association of Universities and Colleges Employers, and Associations of Universities and Colleges Unions.

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University Teaching Fellows – A Growing Community by Helen Hathaway

As the new academic year starts it seems a good time to focus on the Community of Practice of University Teaching Fellows (UTF). It is a growing community of teaching enthusiasts who are not only committed to teaching innovation and excellence, but to continuing professional development of themselves and their colleagues.  As incoming chair of the UTF Community of Practice, I am looking forward to continuing the theme of mentoring which developed under Richard Mitchell’s leadership, and especially to encourage others in support roles to consider themselves as candidates to become a UTF.  Michelle Reid, a Study Adviser, and I are currently the only UTFs working in an academic support and development directorate and we would welcome others.

One of the strengths of the community is the ability to draw on knowledge and experience across the University by networking in an informal, though structured, way. In the coming year the areas of excellence and good practice about which I would hope to encourage discussion and development are embedded academic skills. For an example of a current project where this is already happening in a tripartite partnership see http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/engage-in-teaching-and-learning/2015/06/05/mind-the-skills-gap-auditing-and-embedding-information-literacy-skills-development-across-the-curriculum-by-jackie-skinner-and-helen-hathaway/

Other ways in which the Community can contribute to the development of teaching – especially important in the context of any emerging Teaching Excellence Framework – are in offering its breadth of expertise of teaching matters on University strategies and plans, and to disseminate good practice.

If you are thinking of applying to be a UTF, my advice would be to look at the criteria now as it is likely you can plan your teaching for the Autumn and early Spring terms to strengthen any areas where you feel less confident of completing all four sections of the application. Most importantly it gives time to reflect on your teaching and achievements. No need to wait for the award to be launched in March with its strict deadline: start now to think about how to present your experience and expertise. You may also get double duty if you have already applied, or are considering applying, for Senior Fellowship of the HEA via the FLAIR CDP route: the necessary analysis of your teaching philosophy, looking at the UKPSF (UK Professional Standards Framework)and the reflection on the wider impact of your activities will also help in your UTF application. A mentor is the best possible support you can have in the process – everyone I have spoken to says so. Come and join us! Please contact CQSD or me for an informal discussion or to be put in touch with a potential mentor.

Congratulations to the new University Teaching Fellows 2015-16:

  • Dr Tabarak Ballal, School of Construction Management & Engineering
  • Dr Richard Harris, Institute of Education
  • Dr Karsten Lundqvist, School of Systems Engineering

Details of the 2016 scheme will be announced in the new year.

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