Reviewing assessment and feedback in Part One: getting assessment and feedback right with large classes

Dr Natasha Barrett, School of Biological Sciences
Year(s) of activity: 2010/11


  • Review the quantity, type and timing of assessments carried out in compulsory modules taken by students in the School of Biological Sciences.
  • Recommend better practices for assessment and feedback.


The massification and marketisation of Higher Education means that it is increasingly important that the University of Reading perform well in term of student satisfaction and academic results. The National Student Surveys between 2005 and 2011 and the Reading Student Survey of 2008 and the National Student Survey both indicated that assessment and feedback were areas in which the University of Reading and the School of Biological Sciences needed to improve.


Interdisciplinary teaching: Science in Culture

Professor Nick Battey, School of Biological Sciences


12402A module for Part Three students was created by a collaborative effort between the Department of English Literature, the Department of History, and the School of Biological Sciences (SBS), called Science in Culture. This module was well-received by students, who found value in obtaining the perspective of disciplines other than their own, and experiencing teaching and learning methods outside the norm of their previous study.


  • Offer a truly disciplinary module allowing students from English Literature, History, and SBS to study alongside one another, learning through the diverse teaching methods of science and the humanities.
  • Develop in students a broader, critical understanding of the precepts of science.
  • Provide an integrated view of science (with emphasis on Biological Sciences) within culture.


The development of this collaborative module grew out of an Arts and Humanities Research Council sponsored project which looked at the value of literary and historical study of biology to students of biological sciences. An element of this was a workshop, ‘Cultivating Common Ground’, which aimed to foster interdisciplinary discussion between biology and the humanities. One of the key findings of the scoping study was that it would be beneficial to develop at least one module that taught both biology and humanities students alongside one another in an interdisciplinary way.


The module was developed over a number of years by staff from SBS, English and History. The module designers from the different disciplines were determined to ensure that what was developed was a truly interdisciplinary module, breaking down the perceived divide between the sciences and the humanities, and showing how the different approaches and bodies of knowledge bear on the same questions.

The module is taught over one term. Students receive lectures and partake in seminar discussions on a historical, literary, or scientific concept, and also conduct lab work on subjects related to those explored in the lectures. As an example of this, in lab work students will identify a mutated gene, and explore the use of mutations for understanding how genes work. This topic of mutation can then be explored in its literary and historic contexts. The difference that exists between the scientific, literary and historical approaches can then be explored as a cultural challenge. From the ‘Cultivating Common Ground’ workshop, consensus had emerged that interdisciplinary learning and teaching needed to be ‘narrow and deep’. As a result, the module focuses on a defined set of ‘problems’, rather than ‘grand themes’, allowing a deeper exploration thereof, and situation of this within the cultural dynamics and methods of science.

In order to ensure students experience different ways of learning, students were given a variety of tasks, ranging from interpreting poems or discussing the history of a scientific process, which they recorded in a learning journal, these being marked and receiving feedback from tutors each week. While the completion of this task over the course of the module was an aspect of the summative assessment, the weekly feedback provided regular formative feedback to students. A focus on formative assessment was recognised as being important by the scoping study, as students on such an interdisciplinary module would require greater opportunity to learn what was expected of them. Linking formative assessment to the summative assessment ensured that students would be motivated to engage and receive valuable feedback. Students taking the module as part of a History or English Literature degree, for whom the module was worth 20 credits, rather than 10, also wrote a summative essay.


The project was successful in delivering a truly interdisciplinary module, with collaboration between the School of Biological Studies, the Department of English and the Department of History. The module was well-received by students, who reported that they appreciated the value of getting different perspectives on their disciplines.


The greatest challenge in creating this module was achieving interdisciplinarity, as the teaching and learning strategies best suited to the individual disciplines were not necessarily suited to the teaching of an interdisciplinary module. That the module was in development for a number of years reflects the difficulty that developing an interdisciplinary approach, and this was made increasingly difficult by the paucity of existing literature on the topic from which to draw suitable practices. As a result, there had to be a number of iterative developments in order to create a module that could be delivered in a way which best achieved its learning outcomes.

Interdisciplinarity also provided a challenge with regards marking of assessments. As each discipline has different expectations, it was necessary for marking to be a collaborative process, with compromise being reached between assessors.

While the provision of multiple opportunities for formative assessment and feedback had value, given that it helped introduce students to the other disciplines, and encouraged deep learning, the process was strenuous, for both students and staff.

As the module was interdisciplinary, this meant that students had to engage with topics and processes outside the norm of their previous academic study. As a result, despite their enjoyment and high attainment, students on the module did find it challenging.

Follow up

Following the successful running of the module during the 2014-15 academic year, the module has been offered again, with slight revisions. One of the revisions has been in assessment, with students producing a report at the end of the module, rather than creating a learning portfolio over the course of the module, thus somewhat reducing the workload of staff and students. A group presentation has also been introduced, providing a different type of assessment, and making interdisciplinary collaborative group work part of summative assessment.


An evaluation of online systems of peer assessment for group work

Cathy Hughes and Heike Bruton, Henley Business School


Online peer assessment systems were evaluated for their suitability in providing a platform to allow peer assessment to be conducted in the context of group work.


  • To establish the criteria against which peer assessment systems should be evaluated.
  • To evaluate the suitability of online systems of peer assessment.
  • To provide a way forward for Henley Business School to develop peer assessment for group work.


There are many well-documented benefits of group work for students. Given the recognised issue that members of a group may not contribute equally to a task, and that it can be difficult for tutors to accurately judge the contributions made by individuals within a group, this presents a context in which peer assessment can be utilised, allowing students to assess the process of group work. Within Henley Business School, Cathy Hughes has utilised peer assessment for group work in Real Estate and Planning, and developed a bespoke web-based system to facilitate this. As this system was not sustainable, the project was funded to evaluate the suitability of other web-based peer assessment systems for use at the University.


By first establishing how academics across the University use peer assessment in a range of subjects, it would be possible to establish the criteria against which available online systems of peer assessment for group work could be evaluated. This was done by performing a series of interviews with academics who already used peer assessment, these volunteering after a call for respondents was made through the T&L distribution list. The eleven interviewees were drawn from across seven departments. The interviews revealed that five separate peer assessment systems were in use across the University. These systems had, with one exception, been in use for four years or fewer. Peer assessment at the University of Reading has been utilised at all Parts, for a range of group sizes (between three and ten depending on the task being performed). While a range of credits were affected by peer assessment (between 1 and 20), no module used peer assessment to contribute 100% of the final mark, though in one case it did contribute 90% of the final mark.

With peer assessment of group work, students may be required to mark their peers against set criteria, or in a more holistic manner whereby students award an overall mark to each of the others in their group. Given the subjective nature of the marking process, peer assessment can be open to abuse, and so interviewees stressed the need for them to be able to check and moderate marks. All interviewees stated that they collated evidential material which could be referred in case of dispute.

All systems which were in use generated numerical data on an individual’s performance in group work, but with regard to feedback there were differences in what users required. Some users of peer assessment used the numerical data to construct feedback for students, and in one case students provided their peers with anonymised feedback.

It was apparent from interviews that performing peer assessment requires a large amount of support to be provided by staff.  Other than the system that was in use in Henley Business School and the Department of Chemistry, all systems had students fill out paper forms, with calculations then being performed manually or requiring data to be input into a spreadsheet for manipulation.  This high workload reflected a need to disseminate online peer assessment, in order to reduce the workload of those already conducting peer assessment, and to attempt to lower the barrier to entry for others interested in peer assessment, but unable to accept the increased workload.

With the input from interviewees, it was possible to put together criteria for evaluation of online peer assessment systems:

  1. Pedagogy:
    • Any systems must provide a fair and valid method for distinguishing between contributions to group work.
  2. Flexibility:
    • Peer assessment is used in different settings for different types of group work. The methods used vary on several dimensions, such as:
      1. Whether holistic or criteria based.
      2. The amount of adjustment to be made to the group mark.
      3. The nature of the grading required by students, such as use of a Likert scale, or splitting marks between the group
      4. Whether written comments are required from the students along with a numerical grading of their peers.
      5. The detail and nature of feedback that is given to students such as: grade or comment on group performance as a whole; the performance of the student against individual criteria; further explanatory comments received from students or given by academics.
    • Therefore any system must be flexible and capable of adapting to these environments.
  3. Control:
    • Academics require some control over the resulting marks from peer assessment. While the online peer assessment tool will calculate marks, these will have to be visible to tutors, and academics have to have the ability to moderate these.
  4. Ease of use:
    • Given the amount of work involved in running peer assessment of group work, it is necessary for any online system to be both easy to use by staff and reduce their workload. The other aspect of this is ease of use for the student. The current schemes in use may be work-intensive for staff, but they do have the benefit of providing ease of use for students.
  5. Incorporation of evidence:
    • The collection of evidence to support and validate marks provided under peer assessment would ideally be part of any online system.
  6. Technical integration and support:
    • An online peer assessment system must be capable of being supported by the University in terms of IT and training
  7. Security:
    • Given the nature of the data, the system must be secure.

Four online peer assessment systems were analysed against these criteria: iPeer, SPARKplus, WebPA, and the bespoke peer assessment system created for use in Real Estate and Planning.


A brief overview of the findings is as follows:


While iPeer can be used to collect data for the purposes of evaluation, unlike other systems evaluated the manipulation and interpretation of said data is left to the tutor, thus maintaining some of the workload that it was hoped would be avoided. While its ease of use was good, for staff and students, there were limits to what it was possible to achieve using iPeer, and supporting documentation was difficult to access.


SPARKplus is a versatile tool for the conduct of online peer assessment, allowing students to be marked against specific criteria or in a more holistic manner, and generating a score based upon their peer assessed contribution to group work and the tutor’s assessment of what the group produces. There were, however, disadvantages: SPARKplus does not allow for the gathering of additional evidential material, and it was difficult at the time of the evidence gathering to find information about the system. While SPARKplus is an online system, it is not possible to incorporate it into Blackboard Learn that might have clarified its suitability.


For WebPA there was a great deal of documentation available, aiding its evaluation. It appeared to be easy to use, and is able to be incorporated into Blackboard Learn. The main disadvantages of using WebPA was that it does not allow evidential data to be gathered, and that there is no capacity for written comments to be shared with students, as these are only visible to the tutor.

Bespoke REP system

The bespoke online peer assessment system developed within Real Estate and Planning and also used in the Department of Chemistry is similar to WebPA in terms of the underpinning scoring algorithm, and has the added advantage of allowing the collection of evidential material. Its main disadvantage is that it is comparatively difficult to configure, requiring a reasonable level of competence with Microsoft Excel. Additionally, technical support for the system is reliant on the University of Reading Information Technology Services.


Developing the use of the interactive whiteboard for initial teacher trainees (2011-12)

Catherine Foley, Institute of Education


With interactive whiteboards becoming a well-established feature of English primary schools classrooms over the last decade, it is vital that the primary Post-Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) programme taught at the University of Reading’s Institute of Education prepares it graduates to be confident and competent in using interactive whiteboard technology in the classroom, including making pedagogically sound, informed decisions about when, when not, and how the interactive whiteboard can enhance learning.


    • Explore how trainees can be supported to use the interactive whiteboard in their teaching of mathematics.
    • Gain an informed view of the entry- and exit-level interactive whiteboard skills and understanding of trainees to inform future programme planning.
    • Ensure that the trainee voice is incorporated into developmental planning.
    • Make recommendations regarding embedding the use of interactive whiteboard technology into our wider initial teacher training provision.


Initial data collection was conducted through a questionnaire, which was administered towards the end of the trainees’ first week on the programme. This questionnaire was used to gather data on skills and competencies with regards interactive whiteboard technology.

The results of the initial questionnaire revealed that trainees on the programme generally had little or no experience of using interactive whiteboard technology, and that confidence levels for using the interactive whiteboard for general teaching and learning, and specifically within mathematics lessons, were low. The questionnaire had also asked trainees to rank statements in order to indicate the most important to meet their needs. The most preferred statement was that trainees would like support for the skills of how to use an interactive whiteboard. Second was that the use of the interactive whiteboard for teaching and learning be modelled within sessions.

On the basis of the questionnaire results, the following action plan was discussed and agreed with the programme director:

  1. Modelling of interactive whiteboard use throughout taught mathematics sessions. Where interactive whiteboard use was modelled, the ‘stepping out’ technique, as described in Lunenberg et al., was used explicitly to focus trainee’ attention on how the interactive whiteboard has been used, and more importantly, why and to what effect.
  2. Optional workshops during free-time within Autumn and Spring Terms.  These were aimed to ensure a basic level of skills, tied in with the interactive functions most likely to have an impact.  These workshops were limited to 10 trainees, to allow greater access to the interactive whiteboard and less pressure on ‘getting it right’.  The skills addressed during these workshops were based on a combination of student requests, the experience of the project leader, and those outlined in Beauchamp and Parkinson.
  3. Provision for peer sharing of resources created on school experience later in the programme.  In workshops, trainees who had developed interactive whiteboard skills while on placement were invited to share their expertise with other trainees.
  4. Opportunities for peer modelling within starter activities.  Trainees were encouraged to use the interactive whiteboard where appropriate in the presentation of starter activities to their peers, which occurs on a rolling programme throughout the module.

At the end of the module a follow-up questionnaire was administered. This contained a mixture of identical questions to the initial questionnaire, to allow comparison with the results that were gained at the beginning of the programme, and items designed to evaluate the different forms of support that had been provided.


Trainees had, by the conclusion of the module, improved their experience with the use of interactive whiteboards, their confidence in doing so, their preparedness to use interactive whiteboard technology for the teaching of mathematics, and increased the level of skill they possessed in writing, manipulating shapes or images, and inserting children’s work or photographs.

It was possible as a result of the project to make the following recommendations for the Institute of Education, which may be useful for related subjects across the University of Reading:

  1. If staff are expected to integrate modelling of appropriate use of interactive whiteboards into their practice, they will need both technical and peer support in order to develop their own confidence. This could be tackled through teaching and learning seminars, practical workshops, software provision and technician time, in much the same way as the project itself supported trainees.
  2. Some of the technical skills could be integrated into ICT modules, allowing subject modules to focus on the most effective pedagogy within their subject.
  3. Primary programmes could consider some kind of formative collaborative tasks to develop and review interactive whiteboard-based activities within subject areas.
  4. The interactive whiteboard provisions in schools could be audited in order to ensure that the Institute of Education’s software and hardware provision is appropriately matched to what trainees will encounter, and incorporated a request for supervising students to comment on their tutees’ interactive whiteboard use as a quality assurance check.
  5. Time support so that trainees reach a basic level of confidence with the use of interactive whiteboard technology before their first school placement.

Links and Resources

Mieke Lunenberg, Fred Korthagen, and Anja Swennen (2007): The teacher educator as role model.  Teaching and Teacher Education, 23 (5)
Gary Beauchamp and John Parkinson (2005): Beyond the ‘wow’ factor: developing interactivity with the interactive whiteboard.  School Science Review, 86 (316)

Improving the student experience through the IWLP Tandem Language Learning scheme

Ali Nicholson, International Study and Language Institute 


Between 2016 and 2018 we have run a Tandem language scheme, whereby students studying a language with the Institution-wide Language Programme (IWLP) are paired up with a native speaker student, usually (though not always) a Visiting student.  Once introduced, the students spend one hour a week at a mutually convenient time and place for independent language practice, speaking 30 minutes in English, and 30 minutes in the IWLP target language.

Tandem Logo
Tandem language scheme

In 2016-17, a pilot scheme was run, involving only IWLP students of French and French native speakers, and this was supported by an International Study and Language Institute (ISLI) project fund. 40 students, or 20 paired ‘buddies’ enrolled.  In 2017-18, the scheme was rolled out to a further 6 languages offered by the IWLP (German, Italian, Chinese, Russian, Arabic and Japanese) and around 100 students participated.  This phase was supported by a Teaching and Learning Development fund. The scheme for this academic year has just been launched, this time to include Spanish, so 8 Tandem languages will be offered.  Erasmus students were already enquiring about it in Welcome week.


  • To increase the ‘resources’ offered by the IWLP to its students, at low cost to the University, thus improving the student experience of Home students
  • To improve the language learning of both Tandem ‘buddies’
  • To improve the student experience of international students by increasing their sense of belonging through linking them directly to ‘Home’ students
  • To increase intercultural awareness and competence of both parties


  • The University of Reading has historically not been a particularly welcoming place for International students, falling in the bottom half of UK Universities for international students feeling at home, making friends with UK students and engaging with the host community, according to i-graduate International Student barometer research quoted by Vincenzo Raimo in his presentation on Global Engagement back in 2015. 
  • Erasmus students are regularly dismayed at the low number of contact hours offered by UK universities; French students, for example, are used to classes from 9am to 5pm or even longer, so are actively looking for extra activities to keep them occupied during the day.
  • In student evaluations from IWLP students, extra contact hours are often perceived as a way of improving performance, and in the current climate, additional contact hours by staff are simply not an available resource for clear financial reasons. 
  • Finally, in the UoR Curriculum Framework, global engagement and multi-cultural awareness are key attributes for UoR graduates to gain, and the Tandem scheme will help our students start to attain these desirable skills to enable them to become ‘global citizens’. 


Students enrol on to the Tandem scheme through a simple online form.  The scheme is advertised to international students (for native speakers) through the Erasmus and Study Abroad Office in their Welcome Pack, through the Red Award magazine, and again through a short presentation in Welcome week.  International students are also sent emails by IWLP tutors, informing them of the scheme and inviting them to enrol.  Students studying languages through the Institution-Wide Language Programme (to form the other ‘half’ of the Tandem pair) are also invited by their tutors to enrol.  The Tandem scheme is available only to IWLP students from Stage 2 (Post beginners) upwards, as it is felt that absolute beginners would find the idea of a one-to-one with a native speaker somewhat daunting. 

Once enrolled, both the International students and the ‘home’ IWLP language students are invited to a short information session.  Here they learn about the process of Tandem learning and about some resources made available to them (a Blackboard Organisation which includes some optional ‘tasks’, plus a website they can use for inspiration of what to talk about).  Finally, with the atmosphere somewhat akin to Blind Date (for those who can remember that) or possibly Tinder, they are assigned their Tandem ‘buddy’.  They are asked immediately to exchange mobile numbers and to fix the first Tandem meeting.  It is recommended that this should take place within a week, and in a public place such as the Self Access Centre for Language Learning (EM230).

For the most part, Tandem buddies meet regularly and with no problems.  Sometimes it is the start of a true friendship; occasionally, due to lack of time or (once) conflict of personalities, the pair only met on one occasion, never to be repeated… 

My contact email is available to every Tandem student, regardless of language, and we offer to find a replacement partner if there is a problem. 

Students are invited to occasional social events and once a term, to a meeting to discuss the scheme in order to discuss possible improvements.  At the end of last year, a celebratory party was held where certificates were presented to students.


We sent out a survey to the students at the end of the Autumn and Spring term, so they could evaluate the scheme.  In December 2017, the overall rating for the Tandem scheme was 8.14 out of 10, where a rating of 0 was ‘terrible’ and 10 was excellent.   86% would recommend the scheme to others. In April 2018, the number recommending the scheme stayed constant at 86%, and the overall rating improved very slightly to 8.18.   78% stated that their motivation had increased in December, which increased again to 90% in April!   Speaking and vocabulary were the two aspects which were felt to have increased the most, closely followed by cultural awareness in December; in the April survey, speaking and pronunciation were felt to have increased the most, followed by listening, vocabulary and cultural awareness.

Most students completing the survey made positive comments.  Here are two examples:

“Thank you for creating such valuable opportunities. Please do continue to operate this wonderful scheme in the next academic year so that more students could benefit from it.”

“I guess the scheme itself is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn different languages and cultures.”


The Tandem scheme is limited by the number of native speakers available.  However, as awareness of the scheme builds, hopefully more Home students who are in fact native speakers of languages other than English will also participate, rather than just Visiting students, so the scheme can expand.

There are of course other Tandem platforms available outside the University, such as online, but it seems that one of the main reasons for the success of this locally based Tandem scheme is the face to face relationships formed.  According to Doug Parkin (2017: 208) in his chapter on leading engagement: “there are four foundations or dimensions that help to optimise the student learning experience… (these are) motivation, relationships, environment and resources”.

Students want relationships with fellow students.  These fellow students (Tandem partners) are themselves a rich and accessible resource.  They are flexible and available on campus; and they provide both extrinsic motivation (exam results might improve/English language might improve) and intrinsic motivation (naturally satisfying to form a good friendship just because it is enjoyable). Thus, in the four dimensions proposed by Parkin, Tandem can contribute in a small but significant way to the student experience.

This year Tandem has moved on from being simply a language learning exchange.  Due to the imbalance between supply and demand, on occasion tandem pairs have been formed between for example Japanese-French; French-Chinese; and French-German.  Some Erasmus students requested more than one ‘buddy’.  In the first example, both students spoke good English, so they decided that instead of the typical French/English exchange, the Japanese student would teach beginner Japanese to the French student, and the French student would ask a lot of questions in French about Japanese culture.  This became a perfectly satisfactory exchange but was not the initial objective.  A flexible approach led to a successful mutual gain, certainly in terms of intercultural awareness.


In 2018-19, the Tandem scheme should be sustainable in terms of staffing resource, as most of the systems have been set up already.   More work will be done on raising intercultural awareness amongst participants, by producing an explanatory screencast and some optional tasks which tandem ‘buddies’ could complete in their pairs.   Last year’s students requested a little more input from staff, so two sessions will be offered this term, one to discuss how to handle error corrections and to recommend suitable discussion topics; a second session would be purely social.  Some students thought that changing Tandem buddies for the second term might improve the scheme.  It is important though that this scheme is publicised, for its success.  Please direct any interested native speaker students to me at

Tandem students
Students receiving Tandem certificates – June 2018


Parkin, D. (2017), Leading Learning and teaching in Higher Education (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge)

University support to avoid plagiarism – Student’s perspectives

Angelique Chettiparamb and Lucy Newton, Henley Business School;


Four enterprising and enthusiastic students from different programmes in Henley Business School enquired into the effectiveness of School/University measures to enhance and promote academic integrity. The students were Eilish McDonald, Hetvi Shah, Prinal Shah and Tillie Hunter The project leads were Dr Angelique Chettiparamb (Real Estate and Planning) and Dr Lucy Newton (International Business and Strategy).


  • To review the support mechanisms available to students at School/University level to help promote and sustain academic integrity in programmes within the Henley Business School.
  • To engage with other students to understand their level of engagement with training and support mechanisms relating to academic integrity available across the University.
  • To suggest ways of improving student support mechanisms to promote and enhance academic integrity of students in Henley Business School.
  • To build positive fruitful student/staff partnerships
  • To strengthen the student voice in policies, procedures and practices adopted to enhance academic integrity in the Henley Business School.
  • To foster personal and professional leadership among participating students.


Developing academic integrity is a challenge across the University. The challenge is likely to increase with the rise of ‘essay mills’, the increasing pressures on students to achieve and the now widespread adoption of plagiarism detection tools such as Turnitin. Dr Chettiparamb and Dr Newton, as previous and current Directors of Studies in Henley Business School, led this project to understand the challenges of maintaining academic integrity from a student perspective.


This project was funded (£500) from the UG programme budget of the Henley Business School by Dr Carol Padgett. It followed from a Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF) project on academic misconduct involving student focus group discussions.

Steps in implementing this project were:

  • Four students from diverse programmes across Henley Business School were chosen from those who had previously volunteered in the TLDF project.
  • The students were briefed about this project.
  • Students themselves defined aims, deliverables and methods of inquiry.
  • The students identified and evaluated available material to enhance academic integrity across Henley Business School/University.
  • Participating students interviewed their fellow students to capture and understand different student perspectives and challenges relating to maintaining academic integrity.
  • The academics leads met the students in regular follow-up meetings to ensure support, provide encouragement and continue productive partnerships.
  • The students presented well-received insights and recommendations to key T&L staff in Henley Business School, to CQSD and to Student Union representatives.
  • The student’s perspectives and the student experiences were recorded for later dissemination.


Students were tasked to present their perspective on current support materials and activities available in Henley Business School/University and suggest improvements in order to help enhance academic integrity. Areas of improvement that they suggested were:

  1. a) A booklet written by students and for students from existing material with practice exercises.
  2. b) More peer student support to ensure that academic integrity is fully embedded;
  3. c) More academic tutor support for aspiring and promoting academic integrity as well as positive staff-student partnerships;
  4. d) Briefing sessions and in-class exercises (rather than online alone) to strengthen academic values and support academic integrity.
  5. e) Significant and sustained Students’ Union involvement in raising awareness across the University;

Points a) b) and d) are being addressed through two follow-on projects initiated by the academic leads and funded by Dr Susan Rose, School Director of Teaching and Learning, Henley Business School. We understand that the Students’ Union is considering point e).

The student’s presentations led to inspired discussions, de-brief meetings with wider staff and agreements to take forward their ideas through additional on-going student-led funded projects.


The activity proved to be successful and inspiring as it forged new staff-student dialogues, empowered Eilish, Hetvi, Prinal and Tillie and enabled the student voice to be heard in policies, procedures and practice. It has spawned further projects, continuing and refining dialogues with students on embedding academic integrity.

As academics, the project has enabled us to see ways and means of effectively fostering academic integrity in tandem with students. This has proved to be a sustainable and rewarding approach to improve academic integrity. It has kindled further interest in the subject and encouraged us to disseminate our experience more widely. Through the project, the students have also facilitated inter-school and inter-disciplinary dialogues at staff as well as student levels.

The students themselves have benefited from the project in a number of ways. They have gained confidence through multiple interactions with staff and student colleagues and have presented in different formats to various audiences. Their journey has scaled from within Henley Business School, through the University of Reading to beyond the University of Reading. The students have taken ownership of the project and as a result have constructed their own learning experience.

Can students and academics benefit from peer assisted learning (PAL) sessions?

Caroline Crolla, Student Success and Engagement Team, Student Services 


Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) is a globally recognised scheme where more experienced students who have already successfully completed a module work with students who are studying the module for the first time.   One hour, weekly PAL sessions are run by trained and experienced student PAL Leaders, who are regularly debriefed by programme academics, and supported by a PAL Coordinator.   Students who attend PAL sessions seem to do better than those who do not.


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

The principles underpinning Peer Assisted Learning include:

  • the PAL scheme should target high risk modules, not high risk students
  • student participation should be voluntary
  • student PAL Leaders are facilitators and not quasi-lecturers


Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) was first introduced at the University of Reading in 2015-16 in a few departments as pilot schemes. Early adopters were academics teaching modules in Art, Economics, Mathematics, Creative Writing and Speech & Language Therapy.

The provision of Peer Assisted Learning is now in its fourth year at the University of Reading.  In both the autumn and spring terms, there are PAL sessions supporting specific modules in an ever-growing number of subjects: Agriculture, Biosciences, Classics, Clinical Language Sciences, Economics, Language & Literature, Food Nutritional Sciences, Law, Mathematics and Statistics, Pharmacy and Psychology.


Peer Assisted Learning sessions work best in modules that are recognised as cognitively challenging, where student results are low and where student module feedback is less positive.

To implement PAL sessions, module convenors or lecturers select modules in which students would benefit from the offer of PAL sessions and contacting the PAL Coordinator ( or The PAL Coordinator helps with recruitment, taster sessions, promotion and providing high-quality training. The compulsory, two-day PAL Leader training takes place before the autumn modules start, and again in January before the spring term modules start.  So academics contact the PAL Coordinator to agree PAL publicity, interviews, selection and recruitment of Leaders, ideally a term before the module runs.

The role of PAL Leader is voluntary. PAL Leaders can be recruited if they have successfully completed the module that PAL sessions are supporting.  The module convenor has the final say about the selection of PAL Leaders. PAL Leadership develops students’ facilitation and coaching skills, communication and organisational skills and the role shows employers that students have gone above and beyond their degree.  PAL Leadership is included on students’ degree transcripts and counts for the RED Award. PAL Leaders help with problem solving, study skills, exam techniques and coursework. PAL Leaders know that they do not teach, re-teach nor give answers and make this clear to their PAL participants. PAL Leaders will have regular support from the module convenor / academic contact.


Quantitative data

We collect PAL session attendance data which is then matched against module results.  In 2017-18 we had a significant amount of data, which showed that there seemed to be a positive correlation between attendance at PAL sessions and higher average results.   Accepting that attendance at PAL is voluntary and students going to PAL may already have positive study habits, in Pharmacy, Economics and Maths modules results show that on average those students who attend 4 or more PAL sessions achieve higher results than those students who do not.

Qualitative data

We also collect PAL Leaders’ and PAL participants’ views about the impact of PAL on their understanding of their work.   Participants answered the following free text questions: 1) What did you gain from attending PAL sessions and 2) How could PAL be improved to meet your academic needs better?  Key benefits were perceived to be: an increase of understanding and an increase of confidence; the benefits of collaborating with peers; appreciating the “real world” connections better in terms of the value of placements or coursework and the benefits of learning and thinking collaboratively.

  • I’ve gained more knowledge regarding the module & find it easier to ask for help.
  • Good to have opportunity to interact with students in the year above.
  • A more interactive way of working, more group work, some sharing of 4th year placement and usefulness of this module for next year

PAL leaders reported that they had developed their organisational and leadership skills; they understood facilitation of learning better and were clearer about how students can be encouraged to learn better.  Team work skills were also mentioned as was the value of consolidating and reviewing one’s own learning as leader because of reviewing materials with their participants.

  • I learnt a lot about organising my time and coming up with creative ways to engage with content
  • I learnt about different ways to make group activities fun. I also learnt the value of having structured tasks i.e. snowballing, as opposed to simply asking a question and hoping that someone would answer!
  • Being a PAL leader also helped me to consolidate my learning of the module, whilst developing methods to effectively communicate this learning to students in lower years.


As the PAL scheme has developed at the University of Reading over the past three years, all three groups involved in PAL, the PAL Leaders, the PAL participants and the PAL academics see PAL as a “win – win” scheme.  As the scheme is voluntary, there are no significant costs to the subjects implementing PAL.  The PAL Coordinator and Senior PAL Leaders, a paid role, take responsibility for the majority of the implementation of the scheme.

For more students to benefit from peer assisted learning sessions, four key issues need to be addressed: PAL sessions need to appear in students’ timetables; peer assisted learning needs to be clearly presented and understood, through PAL specific publicity and authentic Leader and participant voices explaining that the sessions are about collaborative learning and not remedial support; academics need to understand and support the principles of peer assisted learning and regularly endorse the scheme and review progress with the PAL leaders and the role of the Senior PAL Leader can be developed further.

If you are interested in adopting PAL in your module, please contact the PAL Coordinator, Caroline Crolla or .


The University of Reading is a member of the UK PASS (Peer Assisted Study Sessions) and European SI (Supplemental Instruction) peer-learning network with its centre at Lund University in Sweden .


Boud ,D., Cohen, R. & Sampson, J. (1999) Peer Learning and Assessment, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 24:4, 413-426,

Capstick, S. (2004). Benefits and Shortcomings of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) in Higher Education: an appraisal by students. In Peer Assisted Learning Conference.

Congos, D. H., & Schoeps, N. (1993). Does supplemental instruction really work and what is it anyway? Studies in Higher Education18(2), 165-176.

Smith, J., May, S., & Burke, L. (2007). Peer Assisted Learning: a case study into the value to student mentors and mentees. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education2(2), 80-109.

Promoting Research in Teacher Education

Nasreen Majid, Institute of Education                                                                                  


All students on the BA Primary Education (QTS) programme develop a piece of research, entitled, Advanced Teaching Project (ATP). This blog summarises how the ATP conference is used to develop peer learning in order for part 2 students to learn from the research experiences of part 3 students. 


  • Develop sustained and structured scaffolds to undertake effective undergraduate research
  • Develop high quality peer learning opportunities
  • Develop a culture of educational research
  • Enable an understanding that teaching is a research informed profession.


Module ED3PI1 is a 40 credit module, assessed through an 8000 word ATP dissertation. The ATP develops our trainee teaches’ educational research skills. The preparation for this project starts at the end of part 2, with an introductory lecture and a conference in the summer term, showcasing the research undertaken by the part 3 students. 

The conference aims are firstly to celebrate the outstanding work undertaken by our students and the teaching aim is for peer learning, where the part 3 presentations and posters inform part 2s on the best approaches to write a strong piece of undergraduate research. This approach amplifies the impact of learning as it is an exchange between peers and based on the part 3 students’ experiences of writing their ATP over an academic year.

The student presentations highlight the research undertaken, how they conducted their literature review, their methodological approach and the effectiveness of this. The students share ‘top tips’ throughout the presentation to enable collaborative learning. The presenters use mentimeter to generate questions, thus providing an anonymous platform for part 2 students to ask questions freely.


The ATP conference sets a foundation for the students to develop a sustained and structured approach to undergraduate research. This is measured by the way students engage with their ATPs and the quality of research output. Furthermore, the ATP work serves as a springboard for some part 3 students to undertake Masters level work as well as being encouraged to publish their research. A major impact of the conference is the high quality peer learning opportunities that take place. This culminates to our students building a strong identity as educational researchers.

The materials shared at the conference, including the presentations and posters are drawn upon across part 3, during the teaching input for the module to further consolidate the learning experienced during the ATP conference. The videos developed during the conference are shared across the academic year to facilitate further learning.


The process of developing high quality projects for the ATP using a peer learning model provides a strong opportunity for students to collaborate and learn from the previous cohort’s experiences. It is clear from the observations that the part 2 students gain a great deal from listening to and being assured by the part 3 students about the ATP writing and learning process. Evidently, learning from peers and understanding that the part 3 students were in the same situation one year ago, provides food for thought for the part 2 students and enables then to recognise that although the work is very challenging, it is ‘doable’ to a high standard because they have seen outstanding examples of work from their peers. Overall, I am always impressed by the work that goes into the presentations and the professional way the part 3 students deliver their research to their peers.


Link to the IOE news feed featuring the ATP conference:

Outward mobility and real world engagement

Alison Nader and Ali Nicholson, Lecturers, International Study and Language Institute                                                                                                                                                          Year of activity 2017/18


For the past 2 years UoR students taking IWLP French 20 credit optional modules have had the opportunity to undertake 2 weeks of intensive language study in France at CUEF, Université Grenoble Alpes.

Students arrange their own travel and accommodation with light touch support from IWLP staff.

They now have the possibility to take a credit module based on their experience, in the academic year following their return from France.

              IWLP Students arriving at the CUEF, Université Grenoble Alpes, France


  • To give students the opportunity to study and live independently in France for a short period of time.
  • To improve language skills, in particular speaking and listening in real world situations.
  • To offer the opportunity to use their real world experience on a credit bearing IWLP language module.


  • In SSLC meetings and end of year module evaluations, students had been asking for the opportunity to spend a short period of time in France.
  • The placement needed to fit around the students’ core studies.
  • Recognition by UUki that outward mobility experiences are increasingly important for graduate attributes.
  • University of Reading’s ambitious outward mobility targets.


Initially this experience was conceived of as a trip abroad, responding to student requests for recommendations of where they could go to take a short intensive language course.  Two members of IWLP staff researched short language courses offered by French universities.  Having identified CUEF, a part of l’Université Grenoble Alpes, as having a suitable offering, IWLP staff visited the Centre, met the French staff and observed teaching on the courses.

Before leaving for France, students are supported with briefing sessions given by IWLP French staff but have to organise travel, accommodation and where necessary visas, themselves.

The classes take place outside UoR term time and to date students have either chosen to go for two weeks during the Easter holidays or in early September.

In the first year 2016-17, 10 students took up the opportunity and this year the expectation is that numbers will increase, 10 have just returned and more will be travelling out in September.  Students have to pay the fees, travel and accommodation.  So far each cohort has received a small bursary from UoR but this is not guaranteed.

In 2017-18 students were offered the opportunity to select a credit bearing placement module on their return.  A small number of students opted to take the module and the improvement in their ability to undertake an oral presentation in French was truly remarkable.


From the student perspective, their competence in speaking and listening in French demonstrably improved.  The improvement for those who took the credit bearing module was measurable from comparative assessment results before and after the placement.

Students also acquired transferable skills and increased their independence, confidence and motivation.  In feedback one of the students commented: “going by yourself from a country to another implies responsibility and independence” and another mentioned how the experience increased her general confidence.

These gains also came from practising in a real world situation and, for those who had not visited France before, a greater cultural understanding of the country where the language is spoken.  Increased linguistic confidence and cultural awareness was cited in feedback by a student who commented on his motivation for going on the placement, to improve his French as well as to “really understand what it takes to learn French by understanding the culture”.

The mobility opportunity also contributes to the UoR Global engagement strategy and outward mobility targets.


Quite apart from an increase in students’ linguistic competence, they gain in independence and heighten their intercultural awareness.  The cohesive group that went to France this spring are themselves from eight different countries.  This time, as a “bonus” they experienced at first hand strikes and blockades of university buildings: coping with all of this strengthened their group cohesion.

In general, on their return, students are enthusiastic ambassadors for learning a language.

Short-term mobility opportunities can attract students who would not be able to go abroad for longer periods, though Home students have said that even a small study abroad bursary or help with the travel costs would encourage more of them to take up this opportunity.

Follow up

Scaling up the offering may be challenging from the organisation and staffing point of view, however it is hoped to extend the opportunity to other languages in the near future.

As the IWLP modules are offered to students from Schools across the university, the mobility placements can contribute to the internationalisation of students university-wide.

Ensuring inclusion, finding sustainable ways of financially supporting students and resourcing staffing are top priorities for future development.


Placement Modules


Redesigning postgraduate curricula on commercial law through student engaging, research-informed and multidisciplinary pathway programmes

Professor Stavroula Karapapa, School of Law                


In 2015/2016, we substantially redeveloped our postgraduate provision in commercial law through the introduction of a pioneering, student-engaging, research-informed and multidisciplinary set of postgraduate pathway programmes. Contrary to the programmes previously in place, the new curriculum is unique in its pathway design allowing students to develop a breadth of commercial law expertise whilst also specialising in their area of interest (for a full list of programmes see here). The project on which this entry reflects has resulted in an innovative curriculum that shaped the identity of Centre for Commercial Law and Financial Regulation (CCLFR) as a centre of excellence on cutting-edge themes of commercial law.


  • To redevelop our postgraduate curriculum in commercial law through the introduction of cutting-edge themes of study based on the principles of research-informed and multidisciplinary teaching.
  • To empower student learning, improve student experience, and foster the development of a learning community.
  • To hear the student voice towards the design of the curriculum and to proactively and directly engage ‘students as partners’ in the development and evaluation of the core module for the new programmes.


As often happens in Higher Education, the postgraduate programmes in Commercial Law previously in place were the result of the work of independent colleagues at various points in time, starting in 2011. Modular options reflected this dynamic, and they were also impacted by continuous staffing changes over the years. The pathway programmes are the result of collective effort within the School of Law, effective consultation with students and evaluation of their feedback, and constructive collaboration with colleagues from various Schools and services across the University (including marketing, careers, conversions etc.).


Following a review of our PGT provision, we redeveloped our commercial law curriculum on the basis of three pillars:

  1. student feedback (module evaluation forms and ‘graduation’ forms collected since 2011) concerning suggestions for improvement, informal comments from students enrolled in 2015/2016 on ideas for new modules/programmes and engagement of ‘students as partners’ in the development of the core module for the new pathway programmes;
  2. extensive market study carried out by marketing and the (then) PGT Director regarding areas worth expanding on;
  3. expansion of our module offerings through the valuable contribution of numerous colleagues in the School of Law and consultation with various Schools across the University that agreed to open up relevant modules, effectively enhancing multidisciplinarity in our programmes.

Instead of offering numerous programmes with no clear link to each other, we introduced a set of pathway programmes (including 5 new PGT programmes and a redesign of the existing ones) whereby all programmes are centred around one core legal field, International Commercial Law, and students have the option to follow a pathway on a specialist area designed around our research strengths as a School and as a University, essentially building on research-informed teaching. Part of this redesigning process was the revision of the compulsory module for all pathways, LWMTAI-Advanced Issues in Commercial Law, which was based on the engagement of students as partners, drawing on a UoR small-scale research project that was initiated in June 2016, an entry of which is available here and here.


The collective effort of numerous colleagues in the School of Law and the support from various Schools and services across the University resulted in the development of a pioneering set of pathway programmes, centred around the values of research-informed teaching and multidisciplinarity and developed on the basis of student feedback. The project enhanced student engagement, taking on board student views on the learning design. The redrafting of a core module (LWMTAI) had direct impact on student learning, enabling students to proactively review their own learning process and to develop an increased sense of leadership and motivation. There was also positive correlation between the introduction of new pathways (especially Information Technology and Commerce; Energy Law and Natural Resources) and PGT recruitment. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the conversion rate of existing PGT students to our PGR programme has also increased. Importantly, the redevelopment of our programmes created a distinctive identity for CCLFR as a centre of excellence on cutting-edge themes of commercial law.


The success of the redevelopment of our PGT curriculum was based on three pillars:

  1. Collective effort: The redevelopment of the programmes required the engagement of various colleagues from the School of Law who met on numerous occasions to reflect on the programmes and introduced new modules on cutting-edge themes to meet the needs of the new pathway design. This effort exceeded business as usual. An example of such collective effort is the redesign of the core module of the pathway programmes which followed the ‘student as partners’ approach and was implemented with the collaboration of various members of staff from the School of Law.
  2. Student engagement: Unlike what usually happens in higher education with ex post student feedback, the pathway design used that feedback constructively towards designing new programmes, taking into consideration student comments in evaluation forms and also engaging students in the programme design process. Importantly, it was students themselves that proactively informed the curriculum of the core module for all pathway programmes, with their voice having being heard even before the completion of the taught component.
  3. Cutting-edge themes and research-informed teaching: At the heart of student feedback was the desire to increase the number of modular offerings from other Schools and Departments, effectively to enhance the multidisciplinary approach that was already in place. Introducing more modules from other Schools to our curriculum on the basis of their relevance and appropriateness to our pathways has become a learning process to us as educators in that it has resulted in dynamic synergies and an innovative curriculum as end-result of the exercise.


Details on our new pathway programmes are available here: