Classics Special Options: research-led teaching

Dr Katherine Harloe, School of Humanities
k.c.harloe@reading.ac.uk

Overview

11671All options in Classics Special Options (CLMSO) are research-led and arise directly from current research projects of academic staff. Students greatly enjoy learning about topics of current research within the subject, and members of staff report that they find teaching on their specialised topics of research interest very rewarding.

Ojectives

  • Utilise current research within the Department of Classics to offer students topics that are at the forefront of research within the topic.
  • Introduce postgraduate taught students to advanced research in Classics on two topics.
  • Provide students with access to primary and unpublished materials in order to allow them to engage with research modelling to develop their views.

Context

CLMSO is a well-established element of postgraduate taught provision within the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, and complements similar research-led optional modules offered at undergraduate level. Providing the module means that the current research of staff within the Department of Classics can have a direct and identifiable link to their teaching.

Implementation

Members of staff are asked to offer two research topics, with the understanding that only one of these will be run in relation to demand. Staff create a description of their topic and a preliminary bibliography, and these are used to advertise their topic. In order to ensure balance across the Department of Classics, the Department Director of Taught Postgraduate Learning is responsible for approving the options that staff offer. As a result, a diverse profile of topics across the research interests of the Department can be guaranteed.

Students enrolled on CLMSO will do two topics: for each they select a first and second choice. Generally it is attempted to avoid situations in which only one student will be taking a topic, but on occasion it is necessary to do so. In such situations, the contact hours are able to be run in a manner more akin to dissertation supervision, with the student able to gain directed feedback as they write their extended essay.

The seminars of CLMSO, which are run in the Spring Term, begin with a setting-up meeting, allowing the staff to meet all the students, if they have not done so already, to ascertain the expectations of the students, and to set the learning outcomes from the topic. With small group sizes, it is possible for staff to tailor the teaching of their topic so that it meets the expectations of the students, while still ensuring that the learning outcomes are met.

For assessment in each topic, students produce an extended 4000 word essay. This is then marked and returned to the students with detailed feedback. The feedback that students receive at this stage is valuable for students’ work on their dissertations.

Impact

The module is consistently enjoyed by students, who have expressed, through formal and informal feedback channels, their appreciation for being able to study topics that represent the forefront of research being conducted in the subject area.  Staff also report that it is rewarding to teach topics related to their current research.

Reflection

Staff often report that they find being able to offer a specific topic in which they have research interests an enjoyable aspect of postgraduate teaching, and particularly value being able to tailor the delivery of their topics to the needs of a small group. By presenting their current research, staff are able to benefit from the activity of structuring and clarifying their research in such a way that allows the topic to be taught.

Students benefit from the increased proximity to the process of research that they are able to gain, offering them access to primary or unpublished materials, and an insight into the process of conducting research. This insight is particularly beneficial to students who are considering moving to postgraduate research after completing their Master’s degree. As the module is taught at postgraduate level staff are able to incorporate more advanced content than is possible at undergraduate level, including trialling material intended for publication and therefore enabling students to observe the link between research and outputs.

The module is workable within the Department of Classics at taught postgraduate level, as there is more scope for flexibility, given the smaller cohort sizes. As a result, while this module design may be replicable within other subject areas with small cohort sizes, it may be more difficult to reproduce in subjects with larger cohort sizes.

As it is not necessary to list the specific options that are on offer each year, the module is easy to administer, as only minor adjustments need to be made to the module description each year.

The principal difficulty of the module has been student disappointment if they are not able to get their first choices of topics. As a result, it has been necessary to reinforce to students that the topics from which they chose are not guaranteed to run, if there is not sufficient demand. In previous years, there were issues whereby students were not sufficiently made aware of the learning outcomes for certain topics. In subsequent years, staff have been asked to set and adhere to clear learning outcomes, with students made aware of these.

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