Making Word and Powerpoint accessible: By Professor Richard Mitchell and Dr Laura Bennett


Last year the University agreed a new Policy on Inclusive Practice in T&L, which is available at: The implementation of this policy is being overseen by a working group chaired by Clare Furneaux, and one of its four subgroups, on Staff Training, has been chaired by us both. One aspect of the policy is making documents and presentations inclusive, and the purpose of this blog is to discuss our experiences of using Word and Powerpoint in the preparation and delivery of our teaching materials.

This blog should be read in conjunction with the top tips on accessibility document first sent round in the summer of 2017, and recently updated. More information is also available on the Engaging Everyone web site, and in various links here.

By following these tips, you can make it easier for ALL to follow your documents and presentations, but it is especially useful for those who use screen readers, where a properly accessible document can be navigated more easily.

In order to assess whether your document is accessible, in Word or Powerpoint, on the Info tab, under Check for Issues, you can check Accessibility, and suggestions come up of changes to make. Note you may need to ensure that you have an up to date version of the file otherwise you get the unhelpful message : “Unable to run the Accessibility Checker”.

From our experiences, and those of others, some of the suggestions made by the accessibility checker are not appropriate, so you should use your judgement – in the same way that you don’t just use the similarity percentage in TurnItin in assessing plagiarism.

Unfortunately, we have found that making our files accessible is not as straightforward as one would like, hence this blog. It covers specific issues in Word and Powerpoint, and then topics relevant to both.


The key points as regards Word are to use appropriate fonts of a suitable size and to ensure suitable navigation. This is generally straightforward: you use the styles, such as Title, Normal, Heading 1, etc. So for each of these you define the appropriate font (a sans serif font such as Arial, Calibri or even Effra the University corporate font), size (at least 12 point) and spacing: 1.5 is recommended. Guidance on using styles is available here.

I, Richard, used to use such styles, but stopped doing when I found that importing text from another Word document which uses different styles, can ‘upset’ the formatting of the whole document. Now that I appreciate why styles are important, I am using them again. As a tip, to obviate this import ‘feature’ in Word, I have defined a template for my teaching material – you could consider having such an individual template or perhaps have a School or Departmental template.

Laura found that developing a template saved much time. One particularly frustrating feature of Word is its tendency to identify bullet points as headers, and the use of a template is certainly not a panacea, but it does help.  Another tip is to ensure that the first few paragraphs of a document are correctly formatted and then to use format painter to make the rest of the document consistent.  Doubleclicking on the paintbrush button for format painter will allow you to copy that format onto mulitiple paragraphs. Click on the paintbrush again to cancel.

On Powerpoint

Some of this is reasonably straightforward, but we both found this can take much time.

It is recommended (especially for people with dyslexia) that the background colour is non white: ‘Cream’ is suggested, though it is not usually defined what that is! I, Richard, defined cream with RGB components 255, 240, 200, which looks fine on screen but seems white in some lecture theatres. Recently I discovered an example template where the RGB is 252, 230, 172 – quite close; another site suggests 255,253,208.  To set the background, go to the Slide Master View, select the Slide Master, right click on the screen, select Format Background and set the colour.

Having non white background can be an issue re images if they themselves have a white background. Powerpoint can allow the background of an image to be identified, and set as transparent to solve this. However, as is typical for the product, this works only some of the time.

The Slide style sheets can be used to set suitable fonts (again sans serif) and sizes (at least 24) as well as the background colour.

If a slide just has text in a textbox, then by using these styles, little more is needed.

If however your slides have multiple objects, then more work is needed. For instance, the accessibility checker asks that you check the order in which the items are read – which a screen reader uses.

To do this, you go to the Home tab, and select Arrange -> Selection Pane. You get a list of all items on the slide and can adjust their order: you select one and then use the up or down arrows.

We found, and this was not immediately obvious (or logical), that these have to be done in reverse order, so Title is at the bottom and, we guess, any footer information is last.

You are also warned when a presentation does not have (or at least the accessibility checker thinks it does not have) a title on each slide. It also warns about duplicate slides with the same title. There may be good reasons for having the same title, as a particular topic may be discussed on many slides. You can appease the checker by having headings such as “Topic(1)”, “Topic(2)”, etc., but we doubt that this is helpful. You should use your judgement.

The checker expects the columns of tables to have a label for each column. This may not be appropriate. For instance, Richard sometimes uses a table just as a way of having a rectangular grid with elements in it. So this is an unhelpful warning – which annoying you can’t turn off.

Last year Richard attended an evening lecture in which the slides had many images which the speaker used as prompts to provide useful information. Most of the information in the lecture was in what the speaker said rather than in the slides. It was an engaging lecture perhaps precisely because the speaker was not reading from the slides (where the advice is to speak what is said on the slides). However, this is problematic from an accessibility point of view. One solution to this, which Richard has tried out, is to make use of the Notes section in Powerpoint – which screen readers can access. He is still evaluating this. Another of course is to have lecture capture …

On Images, Equations and hyperlinks

These apply to both Word and Powerpoint, and so are covered here: it is important to add some more information. For images and in principle equations you add ‘Alt Text’, by right clicking on the item, selecting ‘formatting’ and a dialog allows Alternative Text to be added – you can enter a Title and/or a Description. For a hyperlink, you edit the link and add a ‘Screen Tip’.

We have found that the accessibility checker is happy if you put something there, but really the text should be meaningful. For suitable guidance on this, see for instance University of Leicester writing effective ALT text

Laura has found that she makes constant use of the Alt Text function, described below, in describing the images in her Powerpoint slides.

If you have an image say, you might want to add text (perhaps in a larger font than was there in the original image) and to provide explanation: it then makes sense to create a group comprising the image, text and perhaps arrows. Annoyingly, the accessibility checker seems to want Alt Text for the whole group and the image (and the arrows). Again, you should use your judgement.

Equations are themselves difficult, as the symbols used, layout, etc., are crucial, so a text description may not be easy or useful. Currently we are seeking guidance on these, so no more is said here.


Overall, we have found that whilst it is reasonably straightforward to make documents and presentations accessible, it does take time, so don’t do it at the last minute. You do not, however, have to make them 100% accessible (as assessed by the built in accessibility checker). You should use your judgement, so don’t be daunted or do nothing at all if your first few accessibility checks give rise to rows of suggestions. It is important that we all produce inclusive documents and presentations as far as possible, and Laura has also found that students are appreciative if she makes it clear that they should let her know if something is not working for them so she can fix it.

When producing new documents/presentations, it is much better to set them up to make them as accessible as possible and then add the content. Both of us have found that we learned very quickly how to make materials accessible as we went along very quickly thus saving time at the checking stage.  It’s also worth remembering that unless you change your materials completely every year, the amount of time you will need to spend on this will decline dramatically after the first year.


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Curriculum review in practice Aligning to the Curriculum Framework – first steps started By: Jeanne-Louise Moys, Rob Banham, James Lloyd

We’re all hearing about the University’s new Curriculum Framework in meetings and training. But how do we start to put this process of alignment into action for individual programmes? Three Typography & Graphic Communication (T&GC) colleagues decided to thrash out a clearer strategy for achieving this objective for our BA Graphic Communication programme.


In T&GC, we’re currently working on ways to develop more sustainable assessment and feedback practices for increasing numbers of students. In autumn, Jeanne-Louise Moys met with Deb Heighes and Kamilah Jooganah from the University’s Centre for Quality Support and Development (CQSD) to discuss assessment strategies. Deb and Kamilah suggested looking at Programme-Level Assessment (see Hudson, 2010) as a first step to mapping out our various ideas and concerns and helping us evaluate what to keep, modify or discard. The programme-level rationale is a key priority for the Curriculum Framework. Reading colleagues have, for example, explored its application through well-regarded projects like TESTA ( during Tansy Jessop’s keynote and workshop at the spring T&L Curriculum Framework Conference. We used Deb and Kamilah’s suggestion as an opportunity to dive into the Curriculum Framework and explore how our BA Graphic Communication degree might align to the framework.

Method and participants

In T&GC, in addition to module convenors, we have a Year Tutor for each year of study who helps ensure good practice and organisation across modules. Our three year tutors (James Lloyd – Part 1, Jeanne-Louise Moys – Part 2, Rob Banham – Part 3 and our Department Director of Teaching and Learning) had a mini away day to workshop ideas for assessment and feedback. We spent just over half the day focusing on the activity presented here, the rest of the day involved discussing other aspects of assessment and feedback.

Our goal was to identify priorities at a programme level so that we can present our colleagues and our Board of Undergraduate Studies with a strategy for our response to the Curriculum Framework. We decided to brainstorm an initial strategy in a small group to ensure that when we ask all our Teaching & Learning staff to attend a Curriculum Framework session, we are able to make effective use of staff time. This is particularly important for a small department with intensive teaching schedules (due to the practical nature of many of our modules) and a high number of part time and sessional staff.

Programme mapping activities

We started our workshop by looking at our existing programme description outcomes. We agreed these were an important starting point. We rewrote these outcomes on large sheets of paper which we pinned up, so we could look and review these as a team.

We identified the outcomes we felt were becoming out-dated and should be omitted or modified. We also noted areas of our degree and teaching practices that we felt weren’t sufficiently addressed in the current programme description despite being recognised areas of good practice. We agreed that some of our T&L practices make a particular and distinct contribution to student learning and need to be recognised more explicitly in the programme description (rather than only in individual module descriptions). Examples include our real jobs scheme ( and inclusive design activities (see the Breaking down Barriers project blog – that have become more developed within our curriculum.















Next, we looked at our Art and Design subject benchmark statement to ensure our discussion and review is appropriately aligned at a wider disciplinary level. We noted that the benchmark statement puts more emphasis on attributes such as creativity and students’ knowledge of ethics for professional practice than our existing descriptions. We used this to review our programme outcomes and identify outcomes that, for our discipline, need to be more explicit. Our discussion also included some critiques of the existing outcomes that we felt were too generic and don’t sufficiently highlight the typographic dimensions that make our degree distinct from other design programmes.






Having mapped out all the key discipline-specific content, we colour coded the four areas of the graduate attributes in the Curriculum Framework and began to apply the colour coding to our list of outcomes. This provided a useful way of restructuring outcomes and identifying repetition within the outcomes (where, for example, practical skills and transferable skills overlap in their remit). Using this new structure, we reviewed our outcomes and fine-tuned the wording for each one through collegial debate. Our lively and critical discussion ensured we had a set of outcomes that we felt were attuned appropriately to our programme and the graduate attributes in the Curriculum Framework.

Outcomes and next steps

This has provided us with a revised set of programme outcomes, which we will present to our colleagues for discussion before our Board of Studies reviews these more formally. Our intention is to ask module convenors to use these categories, which are now mapped to the graduate attributes, to review individual modules. This will provide us with clear information that we can evaluate to ensure that we are sufficiently addressing each attribute of the Graduate Framework across the degree, to track these through the three years of the programme, and identify areas where we are over-teaching.

This activity was helpful to identify which areas we need to focus on and address more explicitly and which areas we feel confident that we are already aligning to well. In particular, we are aware that the Academic Principles “Diverse and inclusive” and “Global” are less effectively embedded in our undergraduate programme than they are in our postgraduate programmes and research. These are the areas of the Curriculum Framework that we will be prioritising and will be asking module convenors to consider in the most detail.

Our current Partnerships in Learning and Teaching (PLanT – project ‘I am, we are … different by design’ will also inform the ways in which, moving forward, we align individual modules and our teaching practices with the Curriculum Framework. Students working on this project are conducting research and other activities to help identify student-led recommendations about how we can nurture “Diversity and inclusion” and “Global” principles in the Department. They are also contributing to the development of a new module “Design for change” that will embed new opportunities for students to engage with a more diverse and global range of design practices within the BA curriculum.

Reflections on process

It was rewarding to have a teamwork day. We particularly enjoyed putting some of the brainstorming and information organisation processes we teach our students into action. Involving our Year Tutors means that we can begin looking at some of the details of our responses to the Curriculum Framework across the degree in a systematic way, rather than adopting well-intentioned but piecemeal approaches. Moving forward, this should help us achieve a good level of cohesion across the programme and avoid too much ‘module drift’.


Hudson, J. (2010). Programme-Level Assessment: a review of selected material. Published online:

For those already involved or about to embark on programme review, the ‘Curriculum Review in Practice’ event on Monday 30th April will be an opportunity for the Typography and Graphic Communications team, alongside other case studies from across the University, to showcase their journey through curriculum review and answer some of those more pertinent questions of what, how, and where to start.

This session is open to all staff and lunch will be provided. To book onto ‘Curriculum Review in Practice’ please click here.

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Curriculum Framework Conference 2018

On 31 January the Meadow Suite in Park House was a-buzz with an air of anticipation as attendees at the Curriculum Framework Conference munched on Breakfast Baguettes and gulped down copious quantities of fresh coffee and tea.

Following a generous welcome and the obligatory identification of emergency exits, the morning’s session commenced with a thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking key-note address from Professor Tansy Jessop from Southampton Solent University. Delegates were immersed into a lively discussion of the changing university environment and the impact this has on all aspects of teaching and learning. The key take-away seemed to be that transforming the assessment experience for students requires a programme level approach, and is a critical component in the move from a knowledge-transmission model of higher education, to one of social constructivism. Following an opportunity for collegial networking over a further cuppa,

a choice of parallel sessions offered conference attendees a range of interactive workshops pertinent to the Curriculum Framework ; this blog post will focus on the TESTA Masterclass workshop delivered by Tansy.

The Masterclass introduced participants to the three components of TESTA methodology: 1) Assessment Mapping, 2) a Student Assessment Experience Questionnaire, 3) Student Focus Groups.

The Psychology Department volunteered their level-one compulsory modules as an impromptu case-study to illustrate the process of assessment mapping. This was seen as a brave move by at least one of the participants!

The resulting quantification of both the total number and the spread of assessment types demonstrated the value in undertaking this type of analysis. Participants also had a chance to review the current version of the Assessment Experience Questionnaire, and to review a transcript taken from a student focus group. Tansy skilfully showed the importance of using all three tools to gain a holistic understanding of the assessment environment as a precursor to full-scale review.

TESTA was born out of an HEA funded project; resources, tools and case studies are available online here.

Parallel sessions in both the morning and afternoon also engaged participants in: rapid Curriculum Design, Fostering Belonging in Culturally Diverse Cohorts, Inclusive Practice, Engaging students in curriculum review, and embedding Research & Enquiry, Assessment Literacy, and Employability into the curriculum

From the conference it was evident that curriculum review in light of the Curriculum Framework is gathering momentum. In response to participant feedback, the Curriculum Framework team is planning a follow-up session focussing on what curriculum review looks like in practice. This session will be designed to answer the more practical questions of what, how, and where do I start.

Watch this space!



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How pre-sessional English has develop the use of Turnitin, submission, marking and feedback to support students’ essay and exam writing.

Jonathan Smith is the School Director for Technology Enhanced Learning in ISLI (International Study and Language Institute). He is also a PSE (Pre-sessional English) Course Director and teacher of English.

The Pre-sessional English programme accepts around 600 to 800 students each year. Their students develop English skills in academic writing, reading, speaking and listening.

In the area of academic writing Jonathan Smith and his team have been exploring the use of Turnitin (Tii) GradeMark to facilitate electronic marking and feedback via:

. E-submission of written essays.

. E-marking and e-feedback via GradeMark using QuickMarks and text comments.

. Student engagement with feedback in subsequent production of written work.

About five or six years ago, before the use of GradeMark was adopted in the university, a group of pre-sessional staff attended a conference in Southampton in which colleagues of other universities presented how they were using GradeMark. It seemed a tool that could not only save time producing feedback but produce feedback of a more consistent quality. A couple of years later PSE started exploring its use with our cohorts of English academic writing students.

Listen to Jonathan’s experience on how he got involved with electronic submission, marking and feedback via Tii in this podcast.

Jonathan Smith, provides all PSE teachers with a one-hour workshop on how to use Turnitin and Grademark. Part of the training involves the use of the PSE ‘QuickMarks’ for e-feedback. These QuickMarks focus on common student errors with explanations and links to relevant sources – and can be used to provide in-text feedback. ‘QuickMarks’ are based not only on common grammar and lexical errors but also on the complexity of the language structures used and coherence and cohesion in the texts. Students are also assessed on content, use of references and other areas of relevance to academic essay writing.

After the training session, tutors set up submission points for formative work, in this manner students grow accustomed to submit work, access feedback, see and compare their own progress.

Students receive feedback almost immediately and they can work on the feedback either to bring it to the next class or towards their next assignments.








From the teachers’ perspective it was noticed that it was quicker to note common student errors in-text using QuickMarks. It was possible to see colleagues’ feedback comments which facilitated new tutors becoming familiar with marking and feedback across the cohorts.







One of the big advantages is that Turnitin is a one stop shop for both checking similarity and producing and receiving feedback. Students upload their essays, they can see their similarity reports and have the opportunity to take action and re-submit. There are a few technical issues around doing that, but the pre-sessional programme is committed to students seeing their similarity reports and using them to get a better idea of the quality and acceptability of their work.

Visit the EMA programme site to find out more case studies and updates

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The EMA Programme has delivered a new function within RISIS that allows colleagues to see their students’ sub modular marks on the Tutor Card. We have all had access to the Tutor Card for some time and it has provided an invaluable snapshot of a student’s degree history, particularly useful for writing references and for monitoring attendance. However, in terms of sub modular marks, it has always functioned retrospectively: prior to the start of the new academic year, our students’ updated assessment records from the previous session are available on the Card but they have never been available during the academic session.

The sub modular mark screens accessible via the Tutor Card mean that we will no longer have to wait until the end of the academic year to have access to our students’ assessment information and this creates a range of benefits for personal tutors in particular. Easy access to the sub modular marks will provide an early indication of any problems that our students may be having and this will allow us to address these issues in a timely manner.

The information becoming available is significantly more extensive than a list of marks alone: a series of codes is used to flag up, for example, a result involving academic misconduct or extenuating circumstances requests (scroll down the page to translate the codes via the key), and a hover function under ‘Notes’ provides submission details so that personal tutors can tell when a ‘late’ penalty has been applied or when there has been another change to a mark (see image). Any one of these situations would require personal tutor intervention but, until now, this information has not been available to us unless our tutees have chosen to disclose it in personal tutor meetings.

The new screens are, then, particularly significant for our work as personal tutors: the wealth of information made available gives tutors the means to identify and support students who are struggling before they find themselves in crisis. Proactive and early intervention is always more effective than reactive response, and the additional access to information during the year that has been made available by EMA allows us to ensure that no student falls behind without us realising it.

The new screens also connect with the University’s inclusivity agenda in that students coming to us from non-traditional educational backgrounds can need extra support in their first months with us. The screens will alert us to situations where Study Advice, or Counselling and Wellbeing, need to be consulted.

In addition, students who may be of concern in academic engagement and/or Fitness to Study processes, can be checked at every assessment point, and this will allow Senior Tutors and SDTLs the opportunity to assess a student’s ability to cope with the pressure of assessment deadlines. This in turn facilitates early intervention in problematic cases and provides an easily available record of performance in cases requiring escalation.

The role of the personal tutor primarily involves offering tutees academic advice in response to their marks, feedback and more general concerns. The addition to the Tutor Card of sub modular marks and notes during the course of the year underpins this work and creates the opportunity for meaningful discussions with our tutees. New access to this information allows us to respond to student issues ‘in real time’, thus allowing personal tutors to act as effective academic advisors, and to engage in crucial developmental dialogue with the students in our care.

To view a screencast that shows you how to navigate the sub modular mark screens on the tutor card, click

To view a screencast that shows you how to navigate the Module Convenor Screens that are now also live, click

For further information on the EMA Programme, please click

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Exploring different types of video cameras for use in practical classes and outreach By Dr Philippa Cranwell, Mrs Susan Mayes and Dr Jenny Eyley

A successful TLDF application in April provided us with funds to explore the use of different lapel-mounted cameras to look into student-student and student-staff interactions within a practical laboratory environment. This work is still ongoing, but we have learnt some interesting lessons about buying lapel-mounted cameras along the way, and have also used them successfully in outreach initiatives.

Cameras trialled

In total, four types of camera were trialled that cost between £49.95 and £120 (RRP; correct as of August 2017). With all the cameras we purchased additional memory cards, although some were supplied with small memory cards.

The first three were of a similar design; a camera, shaped like a USB stick, with a clip on the back to allow it to be mounted on a pocket. The cameras trialled were: the Veho VCC-003-MUVI-BLK MUVI Micro Digital Camcorder (RRP £39.95); the Conbrov® Spy Cameras DV12 720P (RRP £59.99); and the Conbrov® WF92 1080P (RRP £69.99). All arrived quickly and were very easy to set-up, although none had a screen so it was not possible to see the recording without putting the images onto a computer. We quickly realised that mounting these cameras on a lab-coat pocket was not satisfactory because they were quite weighty and fell forwards, resulting in a great deal of footage of the floor. A body harness was available for the Veho camera (RRP £39.95), which would have addressed this problem, but it was decided not to continue with this style of camera due to the lack of screen resulting in no real-time feedback of recording quality.

L to R: Veho VCC-003-MUVI-BLK MUVI Micro Digital Camcorder; Conbrov® Spy Cameras DV12 720P; Conbrov® WF92 1080P

The camera that was most suitable for our needs was the Apeman Underwater Action Camera Wi-Fi 1080P 14MP Full HD Action Cam Sports Camera 2.0 (RRP £119.90). This camera came with 2 batteries, each recording up to 90 minutes of footage. We purchased micro SD cards separately; cards over 32MB are not supported by this camera. In addition to the camera we purchased a Togetherone Essential Accessories Bundle Kit (RRP £59.99) that provided a large number of additional items to mount the camera as required. Some of the most useful items in the pack included a “selfie-stick” that was used by school children on an outreach visit, a body harness and a head-mounted harness. The camera itself arrived in a plastic container, which is waterproof and protects the camera, but when recording dialogue it is less useful as the sound is muffled. However, there are alternative holders so the camera can be mounted on the body or head in an open case allowing clear dialogue to be captured.

The Apeman Underwater Action Camera Wi-Fi 1080P 14MP Full HD Action Cam Sports Camera 2.0 and the Togetherone Essential Accessories Bundle Kit

Use in outreach

The cameras were successfully used by secondary school students who took part in a trip to Thames Water sewage treatment works. This trip was organised by the chemistry outreach team as part of the Chemistry for All project, in order to show students how chemistry is used in all parts of their daily life. The number of students able to have this experience was limited by the space on the observation platforms, therefore the students used the cameras to film their experience and produce a video diary of the day. The videos will be edited and shared with other students on return to school, widening the reach of the activity beyond the students who attended. The teacher who was in attendance with the students commented that “having the Apeman cameras during the tour meant they were more excited and enjoyed it more”



Photographs taken by the students at the Thames Water sewage treatment works


The Apeman cameras have been a useful addition to the Department, particularly for outreach purposes. We will continue to use the cameras for outreach, and also to undertake some observations of students undertaking practical work for the TLDF-funded project and another internationalisation project in conjunction with ISLI.



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Launching the FLAIR CPD scheme at the University of Reading Malaysia – By Dr Eileen Hyder

One of the highlights of 2017 for me was launching the FLAIR CPD scheme at the University of Reading Malaysia. A substantial part of my role involves talking to colleagues about their work to help them to develop ideas for their FLAIR CPD application. These conversations give me wonderful snapshots into the fantastic work happening across our institution. This is such a privilege and is probably what I love most about my work. I knew I would find it fascinating to talk to colleagues at UoRM and to learn more about the work they are doing in such a different context. However, the conversations I had there were not just fascinating but a real eye-opener for me.

One aspect of an application for Associate Fellowship or Fellowship is to write 600 words on designing and planning learning. Because the sessions/modules delivered in Malaysia have often been designed at Reading, this raised questions about whether colleagues at UoRM would be able to demonstrate this type of activity. However, the discussions that took place in the workshops threw out many examples that quickly showed us that any concerns we had were misplaced.

One example that sticks in mind came from a colleague in Psychology. He explained to us that some Psychology students at Reading will have studied the subject at school and he added that, even those who haven’t, will more than likely be aware of some key figures and concepts included in the university curriculum. However, because Psychology does not feature on the school curriculum in Malaysia and because awareness of figures like Freud or concepts like psychoanalysis cannot be taken for granted, he needs to reflect carefully on what has been designed at Reading UK to ensure it can be delivered effectively at UoRM.

Another colleague explained to us that modules at UoR UK are sometimes designed around the research interests of staff. In a case like this, the module might be taught by a team of as many as eight colleagues, with each person delivering a session built around their area of expertise. However, the same module will be delivered by only one tutor at UoRM. While I have had experience of delivering sessions designed by someone else, I have never been in a position like this. I knew I would be conscious of the limits of my expertise compared to the experts at Reading UK and be anxious about whether I would be able to provide an equally high quality learning experience for my students. I felt huge respect for the way colleagues at UoRM take responsibility for designing sessions that do this.

Through these conversations and others we quickly came to realise that we had been naive in thinking it might be difficult for colleagues at UoRM to write about designing/planning learning. We realised that far from being passive deliverers of material designed at Reading UK, they work very hard to translate and customise learning for the UoRM context. This means exercising professional judgement and skills to make learning relevant and accessible to their students.

One of the things I love about my role is how it enriches my own understanding of teaching and learning. Working with colleagues at UoRM certainly broadened my understanding of what counts as designing/planning learning. The Curriculum Framework is leading to exciting discussions about how our curricula are designed. My experiences at UoRM have led me to think that we should involve as wide a range of colleagues as possible in these discussions. Just because someone might not have had autonomy in the original design of a module does not mean that they have no agency. The Curriculum Framework is an important catalyst for discussions around curriculum design and around the global relevance of our programmes/modules. Involving colleagues who take something designed in one context and deliver it in another could add richness and value to these discussions.

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Forecasting, Feedback and Self-reflection by Dr Peter Inness


Each year a group of part 2 students from Meteorology make their way across campus to the Minghella Building to film weather forecasts in the professional “green screen” studio. As well as improving their forecasting ability this module also helps students to improve their presentation skills – a key employability attribute in many careers.


During the module students will;

  • make short video weather forecasts in a professional studio
  • receive feedback on performance in order to improve on the quality of the work
  • give peer feedback to fellow students in order to develop this useful life skill
  • reflect on their performance and consider how they can use the feedback to improve future performances.


Presentation skills are a crucial aspect of many jobs, whether it be in front of a camera or face to face with an audience. Lecturers in Meteorology may not always be the best people to coach these skills so we draw on experience in a School where performance and presentation is at the heart of everything they do.
Students spend 4 sessions in the TV studio, working up to the filming of a “live” TV weather forecast. After each rehearsal, students receive detailed feedback on their performance from staff and also from their fellow students. Crucially they are also asked to reflect on their own performance and how they might improve it. This self- reflection aspect is something we would like to encourage across the Meteorology department as it is a skill which perhaps doesn’t come naturally to a scientific discipline in the same way as it does in a performance related discipline such as film and theatre.


Students are very appreciative of the high level of feedback on performance in this module, as evidenced in module evaluation questionnaires. The feedback also has a massive impact on improving the students’ performances across the module, resulting in some near professional standard performances by the end.

It is obvious that the encouragement to reflect and take on board feedback is a major driver of improved student performance in this module.


Working in an environment in which feedback and self-reflection are built into the activities has made me as a module convenor in a science department realise that this is something we can use more effectively across many of our other modules, not just those which involve presentation.

Self-reflection and peer feedback have a clear impact on performance in this module and we need to find ways to incorporate more of these activities into the rest of our taught modules.

I am now actively looking at ways that we can make reflection an integral part of how our students approach their learning.


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Supporting Diversity through Targeted Skills Development: Helping Students to Speak a New Language by Alison Fenner SFHEA (Institution Wide Language Programme, ISLI)


As the student population becomes increasingly international, the IWLP language class cohorts are becoming ever more diverse. It has become evident to tutors in IWLP (as throughout the University) that the linguistic, educational and cultural aspects of a student’s background can play an important role in their language acquisition, often helping some aspects while hindering others. In language learning, they may experience varying success in the development of the four language skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing, performing well in some skills while experiencing difficulty in others.

The Language Learning Advisor scheme and the development of a PLanT project

With this in mind, in the Autumn Term of 2016 I successfully applied for PLanT (Partnerships in Learning & Teaching) funding to provide targeted support sessions in oral work and pronunciation for those students who found these areas more challenging. The aim of the project was to improve their performance, motivation and, crucially, confidence. PLanT funding is awarded by CQSD and RUSU for projects involving both staff and students, and I invited three Language Learning Advisors (two undergraduates from the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies and one multi-lingual undergraduate from Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences) to deliver the sessions. Since these sessions had a particular focus, they were delivered on a small-group basis rather than the one-to-one basis more usual for Language Learning Advisors. They were delivered to students studying German at beginner level.

The three Language Learning Advisors were part of the peer-to-peer Language Learning Advisors scheme, which I have run since 2012. In the scheme, I train students who are successful language learners (usually languages undergraduates in the DMLES or students from the higher stages of IWLP) to advise their peers in DMLES and IWLP on the acquisition of effective language learning strategies, including the development of particular language skills and independent learning. The Advisors help students to develop effective self-evaluation, to reflect on their learning styles and to set achievable long-term and short-term goals in their language learning. Students also benefit from the support and encouragement offered by their Advisors in the continued dialogue of follow-up sessions in which progress is monitored.

Before the PLanT-funded sessions began, I and the Advisors discussed the needs and strategies involved. I monitored the progress of the sessions, and at the end of the academic year the Advisors submitted records of activities completed and materials used, and reflections on their experience. Two Advisors worked with me on preparing a presentation for the LTRF (Learning and Teaching Research Forum) of the International Study and Language Institute in June; the third had already left the University by then but helpfully recorded her contribution on video. The presentation met with a positive response and was a valuable experience for the Advisors, enabling us to inform a wider audience about the PLanT project and about the Language Learning Advisor scheme in general. It also gave the Advisors the opportunity to present at a staff forum.

Project outcomes

This project was a very positive experience. I was able to harness the enthusiasm and creativity of the three Advisors to develop a new student-based initiative which, in at least one case, confirmed an Advisor’s choice of teaching as a career path. The students receiving the support benefited through increased fluency, improved pronunciation and greater confidence; this was clear from their feedback comments, which included: ‘The small-group oral session is helping me a lot, [X] is very kind and patient’, ‘The [tutor] is very friendly. There is an obvious improvement in my pronunciation.’

I intend to continue to run these small-group skills-based sessions in future years, since I believe that they address a clearly-perceived and increasing need. The experience gained this year, together with the Advisors’ reflections and information about materials and activities employed, will be of great value in achieving this end.

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Involving students in the appraisal of rubrics for performance-based assessment in Foreign Languages By Dott. Rita Balestrini


In 2016, in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies (DMLES), it was decided that the marking schemes used to assess writing and speaking skills needed to be revised and standardised in order to ensure transparency and consistency of evaluation across different languages and levels. A number of colleagues teaching language modules had a preliminary meeting to discuss what changes had to be made, what criteria to include in the new rubrics and whether the new marking schemes would apply to all levels. While addressing these questions, I developed a project with the support of the Teaching and Learning Development Fund. The project, now in its final stage, aims to enhance the process of assessing writing and speaking skills across the languages taught in the department. It intends to make assessment more transparent, understandable and useful for students; foster their active participation in the process; and increase their uptake of feedback.

The first stage of the project involved:

  • a literature review on the use of standard-based assessment, assessment rubrics and exemplars in higher education;
  • the organization of three focus groups, one for each year of study;
  • the development of a questionnaire, in collaboration with three students, based on the initial findings from the focus groups;
  • the collection of exemplars of written and oral work to be piloted for one Beginners language module.

I had a few opportunities to disseminate some key ideas emerged from the literature review – School of Literature and Languages’ assessment and feedback away day, CQSD showcase and autumn meeting of the Language Teaching Community of Practice. Having only touched upon the focus groups at the CQSD showcase, I will describe here how they were organised, run and analysed and will summarise some of the insights gained.

Organising and running the focus groups

Focus groups are a method of qualitative research that has become increasingly popular and is often used to inform policies and improve the provision of services. However, the data generated by a focus group are not generalisable to a population group as a whole (Barbour, 2007; Howitt, 2016).

After attending the People Development session on ‘Conducting Focus groups’, I realised that the logistics of their organization, the transcription of the discussion and the analysis of the data they generate require a considerable amount of time and detailed planning . Nonetheless, I decided to use them to gain insights into students’ perspectives on the assessment process and into their understanding of marking criteria.

The recruitment of participants was not a quick task. It involved sending several emails to students studying at least one language in the department and visiting classrooms to advertise the project. In the end, I managed to recruit twenty-two volunteers: eight for Part I, six for Part II and eight for Part III. I obtained their consent to record the discussions and use the data generated by the analysis. As a ‘thank you’ for participating, students received a £10 Amazon voucher.

Each focus group lasted one hour, the discussions were entirely recorded and were based on the same topic guide and stimulus material. To open discussion, I used visual stimuli and asked the following question:

  • In your opinion, what is the aim of assessment?

In all three groups, this triggered some initial interaction directly with me. I then started picking up on differences between participants’ perspectives, asking for clarification and using their insights. Slowly, a relaxed and non-threatening atmosphere developed and led to more spontaneous and natural group conversation, which followed different dynamics in each group. I then began to draw on some core questions I had prepared to elicit students’ perspectives. During each session, I took notes on turn-taking and some relevant contextual clues.

I ended all the three focus group sessions by asking participants to carry out a task in groups of 3 or 4. I gave each group a copy of the marking criteria currently used in the department and one empty grid reproducing the structure of the marking schemes. I asked them the following question:

  • If you were given the chance to generate your own marking criteria, what aspects of writing/speaking /translating would you add or eliminate?

I then invited them to discuss their views and use the empty grid to write down the main ideas shared by the members of their group. The most desired criteria were effort, commitment, and participation.

Transcribing and analysing the focus groups’ discussions

Focus groups, as a qualitative method, are not tied to any specific analytical framework, but qualitative researchers warn us not to take the discourse data at face value (Barbour, 2007:21). Bearing this in mind, I transcribed the recorded discussions and chose discourse analysis as an analytical framework to identify the discursive patterns emerging from students’ spoken interactions.

The focus of the analysis was more on ‘words’ and ‘ideas’ rather than on the process of interaction. I read and listened to the discussions many times and, as I identified recurrent themes, I started coding some excerpts. I then moved back and forth between the coding frame and the transcripts, adding or removing themes, renaming them, reallocating excerpts to different ‘themes’.

Spoken discourse lends itself to multiple levels of analysis, but since my focus was on students’ perspectives on the assessment process and their understanding of marking criteria, I concentrated on those themes that seemed to offer more insights into these specific aspects. Relating one theme to the other helped me to shed new light on some familiar issues and to reflect on them in a new way.

Some insights into students’ perspectives

As language learners, students gain personal experience of the complexity of language and language learning, but the analysis suggests that they draw on the theme of complexity to articulate their unease with the atomistic approach to evaluation of rubrics and, at times, also to contest the descriptors of the standard for a first level class. This made me reflect about whether the achievement of almost native-like abilities is actually the standard against which we want to base our evaluation. Larsen-Freeman’s (2015) and Kramsch’s (2008) approach to language development as a ‘complex system’ helped me to shed light on the idea of ‘complexity’ and ‘non-linear relations’ in the context of language learning which emerged from the analysis.

The second theme I identified is the ambiguity and vagueness of the standards for each criterion. Students draw on this theme not so much to communicate their lack of understanding of the marking scheme, but to question the reliability of a process of evaluation that matches performances to numerical values by using opaque descriptors.

The third theme that runs through the discussions is the tension between the promise of objectivity of the marking schemes and the fact that their use inevitably implies an element of subjectivity. There is also a tension between the desire for an objective counting of errors and the feeling that ‘errors’ need to be ‘weighted’ in relation to a specific learning context and an individual learning path. On one hand, there is the unpredictable and infinite variety of complex performances that cannot easily be broken down into parts in order to be evaluated objectively, on the other hand, there is the expectation that the sum of the parts, when adequately mapped to clear marking schemes, results in an objective mark.

Rubrics in general seem to be part of a double discourse. They are described as unreliable, discouraging and disheartening as an instructional tool. The feedback they provide is seen as having no effect on language development as does the complex and personalised feedback that teachers provide. Effective and engaging feedback is always associated with the expert knowledge of a teacher, not with rubrics. However, the need for rubrics as a tool of evaluation is not questioned in itself.

The idea of using exemplars to pin down standards and make the process of evaluation more objective emerges from the Part III focus group discussion. Students considered pros and cons of using exemplars drawing on the same rationales that can be found debated in scholarly articles. Listening to, and reading systematically through, students’ discourses was quite revealing and brought to light some questionable views on language and language assessment that most marking schemes measuring achievement in foreign languages contribute to promote.


The insights into students’ perspectives gained from the analysis of the focus groups suggest that rubrics can easily create false expectations in students and foster an assessment ‘culture’ based on an idea of learning as steady increase in skills. We need to ask ourselves how we could design marking schemes that communicate a more realistic view of language development. Could we create marking schemes that students do not find disheartening or ineffective in understanding how to progress? Rather than just evaluation tools, rubrics should be learning tools that describe different levels of performance and avoid evaluative language.

However, the issues of ‘transparency’ and ‘reliability’ cannot be solved by designing clearer, more detailed or student-friendly rubrics. These issues can only be addressed by sharing our expert knowledge of ‘criteria’ and ‘standards’ with students, which can be achieved through dialogue, practice, observation and imitation. Engaging students in marking exercises and involving them in the construction of marking schemes – for example by asking them how they would measure commonly desired criteria like effort and commitment – offers us a way forward.


Barbour, R. 2007. Doing focus groups. London: Sage.

Howitt, D. 2016. Qualitative Research Methods in Psychology. Harlow: Pearson.

Kramsch, C. 2008. Ecological perspectives on foreign language education. Language Teaching 41 (3): 389-408.

Larsen-Freeman, D. 2015. Saying what we mean: Making a case for ‘language acquisition’ to become ‘language development’. Language Teaching 48 (4): 491-505.

Potter, M. and M. Wetherell. 1987. Discourse and social psychology. Beyond attitudes and behaviours. London: Sage.

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During December 2016, we had the chance to share our teaching and learning experiences here at the University of Reading with thousands of other educators around the world by providing a case study for a seasonal online course called ‘The 12 apps of Christmas’.

The free, open, short, online Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course was run for the third time by the Dublin Institute of Technology. The programme released ‘an app a day’ for the first 12 weekdays in December and over 3,000 participants logged in to get quick outlines of different ways in which they could integrate mobile learning into their teaching and learning practices. The aim was to raise awareness of the benefits of mobile apps and technologies, to provide upskilling for educators and to help expand their personal learning networks. The course was a collaborative effort with case studies from Ireland, UK and the USA and now that it has finished, the site has been left online as an open resource for all to use. It is available here:

The case study was produced in collaboration with colleagues at the Universities of Sheffield and Chester as a dissemination activity for the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning (EFL) project.  The EFL team have been working together to research and share innovations in field teaching and learning with a particular focus on the use of mobile technologies.

The app we focused on for the case study was ‘Geospike’; this app allows instant location recording using the internal GPS of a mobile device, to which photos, videos and field notes can be attached. This functionality means the app can be used as a georeferenced field notebook. The pedagogic case study we wrote described how we used the app to log field sampling sites in Iceland with Final year undergraduates from the University of Reading and the University of Akureyri, Iceland on a joint Microbiology field-based module led by Prof Rob Jackson (School of Biological Sciences).

Photos from the Iceland fieldtrip showing students using the iPads to log their sampling locations in GeoSpike (we gratefully acknowledge the Annual Fund for their support in purchasing a set of iPads to support field learning at Reading)

The experience of sharing our pedagogic innovations through the 12 apps of Christmas provided us with the opportunity to interact with educators, students, librarians and learning technologists across the globe. The cohort included people with a multitude of different subject backgrounds and experiences which led to very interesting conversations through Twitter and exchanges of comments on the website.

Frances Boylan @boylanfm A map of #12appsDIT followers (

Several other apps with similar functionality to Geospike were discussed along with many suggestions of alternative, innovative uses of this kind of app in teaching and learning activities. Our favourite feedback was on Twitter from @LeithaD “#12appsDIT Really love the case study for GeoSpike. A nifty app is one thing, but a well-constructed learning activity is even better!”

Learn more:

Enhancing Fieldwork Learning

12 Apps of Christmas

Take part:

DIT aren’t running the 12 Apps of Christmas in 2017 but there are a couple of others to try this year:

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Reflections on university transition from a new staff member By Dr Alana James

I started university this year, or at least it feels like I have upon starting my new job as a Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences (PCLS). Every face around me is unfamiliar, the campus seems an unnerving maze, and simple processes have become logic puzzles. Oh the joy I felt at using a printer successfully (let’s not mention the attempts at scanning a document). There are many enjoyable aspects – meeting lovely new colleagues and joining in the School’s coffee mornings for example – but the transition is more disorientating than I expected. At the end of my first week I was grateful for some downtime at home, and found myself reflecting upon how my experience compares with the transition to university for new students.

New students face the same challenges I am but may also be living independently, away from their support network, for the first time. Many go home each day to a new place and have to figure out new washing machines and cookers never mind printers, as well as try to get along with housemates. For those commuting there are other challenges, including being at the mercy of traffic or public transport, and trying to forge friendships between classes. I have worked in universities before, and am able to draw upon previous experience; many new students arrive without having spent much, if any, time in a higher education environment. We know that factors such as being the first in your family to go to university or having a disability can make the transition even harder.

My own disorientation in these first days at the University of Reading has reminded me how all-encompassing the transition to university can be. As an academic my focus is often upon ensuring my new students have the academic skills needed to be an independent learner, but it’s important to be mindful that this is just one aspect of the overall transition experience. It’s easy to forget that the initial onset of new faces, places, and challenges can be mentally and physically wearing as well as exciting. When I meet my new students at the start of the next academic year I will try to recall how I felt when I joined the UoR.

One of the influencing factors in my decision to join the UoR was its commitment to student support, particularly mentoring. Harnessing our students’ potential to support each other through mentoring can ease mentees’ transition into university, whilst developing the mentors’ own skills and experience. I have previously run a scheme where psychology students mentored A-level pupils, giving them an insight into what university life is really like, and found that the mentors also benefited in terms of developing transferable skills and ideas about careers. Some recent research with my collaborator found that specialist mentoring, between qualified staff and mentees, is an effective form of support for students with mental health conditions and autism. I will certainly be encouraging my future students at the UoR to make the most of the STaR mentoring scheme and the mentoring connected to the Study Smart online course, first as mentees and later as mentors.

As for me, I am very much looking forward to the meetings with my staff mentor.

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A letter to my pre-UoRM self about teaching international students By Dr Dan Jones

Dear pre-UoRM Dan (circa 2015),

So, you’re looking forward to going to the University of Reading Malaysia (UoRM) soon, right? Slightly daunting I’m sure, but you’ll be telling yourself that the UK campus already has a large international cohort and that teaching in Malaysia won’t be that different to what you have already been doing, right? Well, not quite. Therefore, I thought I’d take a moment to write you this letter to give you a few snippets of advice…

It wasn’t until I started at UoRM that I came to realise what diverse teaching needs were; a classroom on the other side of the world, a different continent, with a highly international cohort, a diverse educational background, and almost all with English as a second language. Immersed in this setting I was suddenly rather outnumbered by the local knowledge and experience of the classroom. I learned quickly that to engage these students I had to reflect on my current teaching practices. To quote from the curriculum framework, I had to “adapt to students’ needs rather than expecting students to adapt to me.”; some of my rigid expectations did not fit with this context, some assumptions were unfair. Over two years I picked up many tips for teaching international students, however, for ease of digestion, I thought I’d focus on five key points. I think an awareness will help with your transition, and could even be used at UoR before you go!

  1. Assumptions and expectations of roles: the role of a student and a staff member at university needs to be set out and understood, by both parties, early in the course. I found that international students start university with a range of educational, and cultural, backgrounds. If students and staff are not on the same page when it comes to what is expected from them in their degree, confusion and uncertainty arises. Acknowledging this difference, and laying out expectations clearly, was the most important lesson I took from UoRM, enabling me to maximise the effectiveness of my teaching.
  2. Adapting to students’ requirements: new skills may need breaking down, defined, and the basics taught before building upon foundations. The student must play their part by working hard to learn a new skill, we do not want to end up spoon-feeding students. However, an educator can also facilitate such a transition, learn to acknowledge differences in backgrounds, and help students adapt to different environments.
  3. Instilling confidence: many challenges I first had were related to confidence in the classroom: the culture I was in implicitly discouraged students to answer, or ask, questions. Schools often utilised embarrassment or peer pressure in the classroom, leading to an underconfident and passive cohort. I introduced ways to make the environment more accepting and friendly: electronically answering questions, using post-it notes to discuss, encouragement, light-heartedness – small things that added up to make a difference; by second year the difference in confidence was discernible.
  4. Providing a new/different context: particularly in psychology, many examples and theories are Western-centric, something I did not acknowledge before. It was a case of contextualising, to make the content more accessible for students, which led to a greater inclusiveness, and subsequently better engagement.
  5. Using simpler language: a practical issue that one must be aware of. The language I used was occasionally too advanced for the audience, and could benefit from additional explanation or simpler language. I was aware not to ‘dumb-down’ lectures (this is higher education after all), however, it is likely to be beneficial for all (including those with English as a first language) for the teacher to acknowledge the type, and level, of language that they are using.

Of course, a stipulation to this is that these points have arisen from my own experiences, and I can hear you now, “…well Dan, this is all very well, but where is the evidence? You are just relying on anecdote, can we really generalise from this?”. Yes, you’re right in your thinking, but, the changes in students’ approach to my classes was striking; confidence grew, participation improved and students were engaged. Nevertheless, as the scientist is exclaiming in you, that same scientist is exclaiming in me. Consequently, I, in collaboration with colleagues in the UK, Japan and Malaysia, am currently investigating whether cultural factors could explain the use of critical thinking in higher education. Data has been collected and analysis is underway…

Although realised and formed at UoRM, they are as applicable to the UK. UoR has almost 4,000 international students across all programmes and although we want to give international students the British education experience, I think it’s important to acknowledge differences and be aware of cultural challenges. Feel free to share this letter with colleagues at UoR and UoRM; these may not be the ‘best’ techniques, but, at the very least, may increase the discussion around multicultural learning, which can only benefit staff and students alike.

Finally, do make the most of your Malaysian adventure, it’ll be great. You’ll learn lots and be regularly challenged, but come back more culturally aware and open-minded than ever! Oh, and don’t forget to send a postcard…

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Facilitating student reflection on learning in the Great Hall by Rev Dr Geoff Taggart

The Great Hall is the jewel in the crown of the London Rd campus and its cavernous interior gives it a unique atmosphere, ideal for reflective kinds of learning. I was fortunate enough to teach a session there in October and its dramatic, imposing space was a key pedagogical tool. The session lasted two hours and involved 50 2nd year students training to become primary teachers through the BA Primary Education (QTS) programme. Although the focus of the session was the teaching of religious education in school, it did not involve any teaching about specific religions at all. This is because a key aspect of RE in school is ‘learning from religions’, not about them. In other words, the focus is upon the pupils’ own developing sense of purpose, sense of identity, meaning and belonging.

I am writing this since such a session would seem useful to undergraduates on all programmes since the development of self-awareness, goal-setting and clarification of values are skills needed by all students. There is also a growing need to find new ways to sustain student wellbeing.

Once the students were seated, I told them a little about the space they were seated in, about when the hall was built and what it is used for. Talking about all the graduation ceremonies which are held here, I expressed the view that, for about 100 years, the hall has been the ‘symbolic heart’ of the university since it is probably the one room in the whole institution which most students, on all UK campuses, have passed through at least once. I told them what happens at graduation and role-played walking in at the back and up to the stage to shake the VC’s hand. I asked them to do a piece of writing for themselves, in silence, stressing the fact that this was not an assessment and would not be handed in. On a handout, the prompts for writing were:

  • List all the important events which will happen for you between now and graduation day (e.g. birthdays, holidays etc).
  • What are the important things you will need to do between now and graduation day?
  • Are there things which have happened which you already know will become permanent memories of your time at university?
  • Which aspects of yourself need to be nurtured and cultivated before graduation?
  • Are there any aspects of yourself to which you need to say goodbye before graduation?
  • Who will you invite to your graduation?
  • What is the link (if any) between these people and the memory you wrote about at the start of the day?
  • What would you like to say to these people/person?
  • Is there anything particular you want to do today as a result of this writing?

I stressed the fact that students could spend as long or as short a time on the activity as they liked but, if they wished to stop, they should leave the hall and meet up with friends later, rather than disturbing them. There were other activities they could go onto. Over the previous few weeks, Mark Laynesmith and I had been fortunate enough to borrow a canvas labyrinth to use with students. This was set out in the hall. I explained that the centre represented graduation day and they could ‘take a stone for a walk’, reflecting on the actions and changes that need to happen as they get closer and closer to it. I also had large carpet tiles and baskets of different shaped stones. I explained that, if they wanted, they could extend their reflection by creating a picture out of stones which represented their life at the current time.

I asked students to complete an evaluation form before they left. One of the things I wanted to know was whether students felt that this kind of exercise was legitimate and worthwhile on a degree-level programme. All fifty students agreed unanimously that it is ‘a good thing for universities to have space on their courses for students to reflect on their aims and values in life’. One student acknowledged that ‘there are courses/societies where you can reflect but it is hard to allow/give yourself time to go to them. This is why it is very good to incorporate it into lectures.’ One student commented that ‘we need this time to just be calm and think without things like technology getting in the way.’ Another said that ‘being a student is daunting because you are working for your future while trying to fit in. Reflection helps with mental state [sic] and could prevent students from getting bogged down.’

I was also curious whether students would have preferred to clarify values and shares their goals in group discussion, rather than in solitary writing. Although seven students would have preferred this, the vast majority agreed that the silent reflection exercise was better in this regard. One student commented:

 ‘I think the quality/depth of my reflection has been much better by writing it as (1) it is harder to come up with words on the spot in conversation to describe things and (2) I feel I can express more when I know only I am going to be reading it.’

Six students felt that both solitary and group work could complement each other and this remark was typical:

 ‘I feel if reflecting with others they may help to remind you of events you may have put to the back of your mind but on the other hand silence was very nice to just sit and reflect.’

Overall, the comments from the students were overwhelmingly positive. These are some examples:

  • ‘It has allowed me to stop and think about where I am in my life and where I want to go.’
  • ‘I very much enjoyed the reflective session. It has benefitted me in many ways by putting my personal and university practices into perspective.’
  • ‘It made it clear to me how important family are in your life.’
  • ‘I was able to let all my feelings out on paper that I wouldn’t normally feel comfortable doing’.
  • ‘I have become more aware of my personal goals and who/where I want to be at the time of my graduation.’
  • ‘I found it really useful to think about what aspects of myself I want to change/develop before graduation day.’
  • ‘The Great Hall reflective writing experience was one of the most beneficial activities I’ve ever done in a lecture.’
  • ‘Today has made me think about my life in lots of ways – emotional but helpful.’
  • ‘I almost feel uplifted after reflecting upon myself and others.’
  • ‘I hadn’t realised how many good memories I had from only one year of uni.’
  • ‘Slowing down today has had a huge positive affect’
  • ‘The first thing I’m going to do when I leave is call my family and thank them for supporting me on my journey through university.’
  • ‘Very helpful in understanding where my head is at mentally and grounding as I was able to list the most important things that matter to me.’


This exercise brought home to me how valuable the scale and atmosphere of the Great Hall can be as a resource in promoting a deep level of reflection and how it could contribute to all kinds of ‘contemplative pedagogy’.

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What are the benefits of Study Smart? A student perspective By Tom Wise (Part 3, Psychological Theory and Practice)

Being a student mentor for the Study Smart online course for Part 1 undergraduates has offered me an opportunity for personal development, through examining the perspectives of upcoming students to the University. It has allowed me to reflect on my university experiences, and develop further skills in communication. These are areas particularly important to me, as through reflecting on my experiences it has enabled me to understand my personal best practises, and supporting others to find their own. In addition, I have learnt to engage and effectively communicate with new individuals, about topics which are both basic and complex. Although with hindsight a topic (such as referencing) may now seem like second nature, for those initially transitioning to university, it can be extremely complex and daunting. Through developing this understanding, and through personal reflection and guiding others, it has really shown me how important a positive and supported university transition can be.

This course clearly can reduce student anxiety about coming to a different academic environment, made clear by comments during the course. However, there are other subtler benefits of this program, as this course can normalise and provide the understanding that “you are not alone”. When combined with other university wide programs, such as STaR Mentoring, it can provide a fully supportive, but not condescending transition; ensuring students enjoy the university experience for what it is.

Although there can be seen to be these higher-level benefits, Study Smart allows students to really utilize the university resources from day one. The course breaks down these resources, which can be worked through at the student’s own pace, before or during the first weeks at university, rather than being dumped onto them during Welcome Week, which can often leave students feeling very overwhelmed. This can mean that every student is able to receive uniform support into university.

Finally, I have enjoyed being a mentor on this program, as it has allowed me to give back to the University community. This has led me to some further questions which would be interesting to peruse further critically around how this course may impact on a student’s first term at the University, specifically their first formative assessment mark (in areas covered within this course) as well as their levels of anxiety. It would be interesting to evaluate whether students who have completed the course do feel less anxious than those who have not; this could demonstrate even further the benefits of Study Smart.

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A Language Teaching Community of Practice: Collaborative development of expertise and scholarship By Jackie Baines (Dept. of Classics), Rita Balestrini (MLES), Sarah Brewer (ISLI), Barbara King (IoE), Regine Klimpfinger (MLES), Congxia Li (IWLP), Sarah Marston (IoE)

Over the course of the last academic year, the idea of creating a Language Teaching Community of Practice (LT CoP) has taken shape and developed as part of the University strategy to support and promote language learning and expertise in foreign languages teaching. A number of colleagues involved in language teaching or teacher education from the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, the International Study and Language Institute, the Institute of Education and the Department of Classics, have agreed to meet informally and contribute, from their different perspectives, to the implementation of the project.

As a core group, we began our work with a critical discussion of the idea of CoP itself, its evolution and its adoption as an organisational tool. We discussed the range of functions that, as a cross-institutional LT CoP, we would like to have (sharing practices, responding to needs, mentoring, influencing policies, bidding for funds etc.) and key issues that we consider relevant to our interests and needs as language practitioners working in different  contexts. We agreed that one of our defining aims will be to deepen knowledge, promote reflection and stimulate in-depth discussion around themes relating to our professional practice at the UoR. Therefore, we have decided to focus on one main theme in each academic year. In 2016-2017, we began to share and discuss some aspects of our assessment practices and we intend to continue exploring this theme in 2017-2018.

We would now like to widen participation and invite colleagues who have an interest in foreign language pedagogy to join us in termly meetings. The first meeting will be held on 13th November, from 1-2 pm (Carrington, Room 101) room tbc) and will focus on marking criteria, rubrics and grading scales used to assess speaking and writing in a foreign language. We invite interested colleagues to give short presentations on these topics (10-15 minutes). For organisational purposes, we would like to receive a short abstract/summary (approximately 100 words) of the presentation by Friday 27th October at the latest. This should be sent to

As is the nature of a CoP, our structure and plans will remain flexible and we will respond to the needs and interests of our members. Therefore, the direction in which the discussion will continue in the spring and summer meetings will emerge from this first event in the autumn term.

If you plan to join us at our Autumn meeting on 13th November, please register your interest in participating at the following link:

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Launch of the Large Class Education Toolkit By Dr Katja Strohfeldt

With the start of the new term most of us will focus once again on one thing: How can we offer the best teaching to all of our students? Many of us will also face a very similar challenge: Class sizes are getting bigger and the student cohort is becoming increasingly diverse.

Some of you might recall the University kindly funded our research into large class size teaching with the special aspect of diversity through the TLDF. One of the main objectives of this project was to develop a toolkit, which provides easy access to tools and tricks to help with large class size teaching.

I am delighted to let you know – the toolkit is finished – thanks to the support of so many colleagues around the University!!







And just to add – what a large class size is really depends on your individual experience. For some of you a class of 40 students feels large because all your previous teaching was designed for 20 students. Some other colleagues are faced with 300+ students. However, you will find you face some common issues independent of the actual class size. And the toolkit hopefully provides ideas suitable for most class sizes.

The idea….

The aim of this toolkit is to provide real-life ideas around teaching large classes at HE level in an easily accessible manner. There are several books and publications out there, which describe large class size teaching, However not everyone has the time to find these publications, read them and then apply them to the environment, which we have available at Reading.

Therefore it was important to us to collect real-life examples. Many colleagues (all from within the University) have contributed ideas and case studies to this toolkit. They have kindly agreed to act as champions for the various ideas – it might be a good idea to get advice of our champions if you plan to introduce something new. It was important for us that there is an evidence-based approach to the case studies, where possible.

We also wanted to make it visually attractive. I am delighted that two Typography students took on the project to create a great design for the toolkit (I hope you will agree) as part of the “Real Job Scheme”, which the department runs. They created a printed version in form of a folder and it brief stipulated that we wanted a colorful, visually attractive folder, which can just sit on your desk or shelf and reminds you of some of the wonderful ideas colleagues use. Each idea is summarized on one card.

However, we are aware that some of you will prefer a digital version. The typography students have kindly agreed to also produce an interactive pdf, which can be found on the CQSD webpage under funding opportunities – internal funding – current funding holders. Or simply here…


The Toolkit…

The toolkit consist of approximately 40 case studies from colleagues at the University. We have divided the toolkit into three sections – illustrating how much time you need to approximately spend to include these ideas into your next teaching session.

The first section (5-10 minutes) gives you quick ideas about how to reduce anonymity, to make a good start and finish, encourage engagement and improve accessibility amongst many other aspects.

The second section (30-60minutes) illustrates real-life examples, which actively help to engage students. The very practical guide includes ideas such as the use of poling software, quizzes, social media, screencasts and other case studies. As previously mentioned each case study has a “UoR Champion”, which is actively using the described approach.

The third section (60+ minutes) describes approaches, where you apply more significant change your teaching style and pedagogic. Again, we have focused on ideas practiced at Reading, e.g. problem-based learning, team-based learning, enquiry-based learning, blended learning, flipped classroom and many others.

Each case study contains an introduction to the case study or pedagogic used. This is followed by a case study, where our “UoR champions” describe how they have adapted their approaches so it is suitable for our teaching environment. And last but not least, there is a list of “Top tips” as a really useful resource.

Quo vadis?

This is a good question. First of all I would to encourage everyone to have a look at the toolkit. Have a look at the toolkit online, come to the CQSD session in October or email me if you want to get your hands on one of the folders.

If there are ideas within the folder you find especially useful for your work – why not take them out of the folder and leave them clearly visible on your desk to remind you?

I hope I will see many of you at the CQSD session in October. If you have any questions in the meantime, please email us ( or follow us on Twitter @largeclassHE.


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Building Student Resilience: THE POSTIVE MINDS PROGRAMME By Dr Paddy Woodman

In Spring 2017 the Student Success & Engagement Team partnered with Positive (and the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust (CWMT)) to develop and deliver the Positive Minds pilot programme to 150 university students. The programme provided students with evidence-based cognitive and behavioural tools and techniques to manage pressure and build psychological resilience. The programme’s aim was to support students’ transition from school to university, help them to manage the pressures of university life, and develop the skills required to thrive in today’s workplace.

Benefits for students:

  • They learnt a range of adaptive psychological techniques and coping strategies that can help them to fulfil their potential, manage periods of pressure and decrease the likelihood of psychological ill health.
  • They acquired their adaptive life skills that can be used to better manage transitions and uncertainty.
  • They developed their emotional literacy to reduce stigma and shame associated with psychological ill health 
Introduction – This session introduced the importance of psychological wellbeing for sustaining high performance, presenting tools and techniques that could help students manage periods of stress, pressure and change. 500 students attended an introductory talk supported by the Positive App in October 2016. Following this, 150 students volunteered to attend a four-module programme from January to April 2017. 
Focus Deeper – Improving attentional focus is a crucial factor in achieving academic and career success; this session focused on being mindful and separating ‘useful’ and ‘useless’ worries. 
Connect Better – This session introduced the knowledge and tools designed to increase positive emotional contagion and communication, enhancing trust, compassion and understanding. 
Read the detailed outcomes and how students felt before and afterwards here [link to PDF], but some key highlights are:89% of students surveyed said that, as a result of the Positive Minds programme, they had better levels of controlling unnecessary worries. 70% of students surveyed said that their ability to deal with pressure and setbacks at university has improved as a result of the programme.
  • The Student Success & Engagement team are currently exploring how to extend the Positive Programme further, so watch this space
  • 63% of students surveyed said that their ability to focus on their academic work has improved with Positive Minds.
  • Think Brighter – This session demonstrated how adopting a flexible cognitive style can enable more optimistic, positive patterns of thinking and behaviour.
  • See More – This session looked at ‘emotional literacy’ – understanding why and how we react to situations, particularly stressful ones.
  • The Programme Outline:
  • Introduction – This session introduced the importance of psychological wellbeing for sustaining high performance, presenting tools and techniques that could help students manage periods of stress, pressure and change. 500 students attended an introductory talk supported by the Positive App in October 2016. Following this, 150 students volunteered to attend a four-module programme from January to April 2017.See More – This session looked at ‘emotional literacy’ – understanding why and how we react to situations, particularly stressful ones.

    Focus Deeper – Improving attentional focus is a crucial factor in achieving academic and career success; this session focused on being mindful and separating ‘useful’ and ‘useless’ worries.

    Think Brighter – This session demonstrated how adopting a flexible cognitive style can enable more optimistic, positive patterns of thinking and behaviour.

    Connect Better – This session introduced the knowledge and tools designed to increase positive emotional contagion and communication, enhancing trust, compassion and understanding.

    Read the detailed outcomes and how students felt before and afterwards Reading_Evaluation_Report_June2017, but some key highlights are:

    89% of students surveyed said that, as a result of the Positive Minds programme, they had better levels of controlling unnecessary worries.

    63% of students surveyed said that their ability to focus on their academic work has improved with Positive Minds.

  • 70% of students surveyed said that their ability to deal with pressure and setbacks at university has improved as a result of the programme.The Student Success & Engagement team are currently exploring how to extend the Positive Programme further, so watch this space



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Leaner, Cleaner, Greener: How Reading’s assessment data is changing for the better:

Leaner, Cleaner, Greener: How Reading’s assessment data is changing for the better.

Dr Emma Mayhew (EMA Academic Director), Dr Madeleine Davies (EMA Academic Partner), Kat Lee (Project Manager, External)

The Electronic Management of Assessment (EMA) Programme has been created to deliver the University’s long-term vision for online assessment while improving the underlying processes and supporting systems. The reduction in manual assessment recording is at the heart of changes being delivered this autumn by one of the Programme’s workstreams, Core Systems, which is making headway towards the ultimate aim of being able to integrate Blackboard and RISIS assessment information and marks.

The challenge for Reading is that sub modular marks calculation in RISIS needs to have full information about all assessments contributing towards an overall mark, and this is currently stored in Excel. LOTS of Excel. The biggest problem with spreadsheets is often the isolation from the rest of an organisation, making collaboration tricky: data cannot be automatically or easily incorporated into other processes or systems. UoR is not exempt from this challenge that causes multiple requests for the same/similar information on modules and assessment information throughout the academic year. This can give rise to frustration from all colleagues involved in the process and it leads to difficulties in accessing information quickly.

Over the last three months, programme administration colleagues across the University have been supporting the transition to sub modular marks by creating the starting point for detailed assessment information for UG modules running in the 2017/18 academic year. It has been a significant task, focused on the aim to create lean, green and more streamlined approaches for managing assessment and marks data.

We are now able to announce the following improvements that we are delivering for the Autumn Term:

1)      Module Convenors From the beginning of term, all module convenors for UG modules will be able to view sub modular assessment information held in RISIS for their modules. This will allow them to track their modules and to identify any problems at an earlier stage of the academic year. It will also be a one-stop resource for all module information so that queries can be answered quickly and easily simply by accessing this screen.

2)     Mark Entry Programme Administrators will be able to enter sub modular marks into RISIS for UG assessment from November onwards (where already submitted/marked). Corresponding grades will be able to show where penalties such as late deductions have been made. This allows Programme Administrators, Exams Officers and Senior Tutors to drill down into the details of students’ grades, to check the history of marks more easily, and to diagnose problems quickly.

3)     Personal Tutors

Building on the existing Tutor Card area of RISIS, additional information will be available to show the breakdown of individual, sub modular assessment marks for tutees during the course of the academic year. Previously, many colleagues had to wait until the end of the academic session to access this information and even then they may only have been able to access overall module marks. The new screen will provide current information and greatly enhanced detail (see image).




4)     Reporting

As well as being able to download information where required, a number of pre-defined reports will also be available to schools, providing assessment information such as submission dates and assessment types. SDTLs will, for example, be able to identify where assessment bunching occurs.

The goal is to produce a ‘cleaner’ system that is intuitive and responsive to staff and student needs. The team is working with a gradate student representative and with RUSU to obtain student perspectives on the upcoming changes and to work towards enabling a consistently good student assessment experience.

To help you find out more about the immediate benefits going live this term, the EMA Programme is running a webinar to highlight some of the changes and new RISIS screens on Monday 11th September. If you would like to sign up for the webinar, please contact the EMA team at

More broadly, the team working on the EMA Programme would like all our colleagues to feel that they can share any good ideas with us and discuss any thoughts they have about the programme. If you would like to contact us, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please do e-mail EMA Academic Director Emma Mayhew ( or Academic Partner Madeleine Davies (








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Applying Flipped Learning to an IWLP Italian Stage 3 module: creating a deep learning environment By Daniela Standen FHEA

For the past four year I have incorporated Flipped Learning into my teaching. Flipped Learning started in the United States in secondary education (Bergmann & Sams, 2012) and it has been expanding into higher education. The principal premise is that instruction moves outside of the classroom and class time is freed up for practice and application.

To start with it, adoption of Flipped Learning, was a response to a perceived lack of time in class both from my point of view and the students’, and Flipped Learning seemed to provide the answer to stretching time. However, after a while I realised that the potential for this pedagogy could be much greater and that it could create a learning environment that could lead students to learn deeply: i.e. going beyond recalling facts, using instead their underlying knowledge and applying it to problems and situations, to understand the bigger picture (Biggs and Tang, 2011:26-31; Brinks Lockwood, 2014).

In the last year I had the opportunity of reviewing IWLP Italian stage 3, a module that had not been taught for a few years. I chose Flipped Learning as a pedagogy and used Exploratory Practice (Allwright, 2003) as a research framework to understand if Flipped Learning could indeed deliver an environment that encourages deep learning and a teacher focused on making students independent learners, but most importantly if the students perceived these changes.

If you are interested in knowing more about how I got on and what I found out, here is a short video:

References and useful websites:

Allwright, D. 2003, Exploratory Practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching, Language Teaching Research vol. 7, no.2, pp.113-141

Bergman and Sams 2012. Flip your classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education.

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. 2011. Teaching for Quality Learning at University. 4th Ed. Maidenhead: Society for Research in Higher Education and Open University Press.

Brinks Lockwood, R. 2014, Flip It! Strategies for the EFL Classroom. /uSA: The University of Mitchigan Press.

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