Connecting with the Curriculum Framework in student participation at academic conferences

Dr Madeleine Davies and Dr Bethany Layne, School of Literature and Languages


This entry offers a model of the way in which the aims embedded in the Curriculum Framework can be articulated via student engagement with research-led activity. Here we discuss the Framework-related teaching and learning benefits of involving our students centrally in the ‘Postmodernist Biofictions’ conference, held by the Department of English Literature on 25th March 2017. The term refers to the literary genre where ‘biography’ and ‘fiction’ connect; it is ‘postmodernist’ in its interrogation of the relationship between the two and in its troubling of the fact/fiction distinction.


  • To involve University of Reading undergraduate and postgraduate students in professional academic conversations emerging from teaching and learning within the curriculum.
  • To engage with the Curriculum Framework and to produce a coherent narrative in relation to it.
  • To enhance students’ experience and employability.


At the heart of the Curriculum Framework lie emphases on equipping students with a mastery of the discipline, skills in research and enquiry, personal effectiveness/self-awareness, and global engagement/multi-cultural awareness. Connected to these values are the terms that inform and produce them: ‘innovative’, ‘authentic’, ‘challenging’, ‘collaborative’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘coherent’. Finally, identifying the principles informing an engagement with 21st Century society and thought are the terms, ‘diverse and inclusive’, ‘research based’, ‘contextual’, ‘discipline based’, and ‘global’.

In organising and hosting a one-day conference in the Department of English Literature, ‘Postmodernist Biofiction’, Dr Bethany Layne and I made an early decision to connect with, and to articulate, the values of the Curriculum Framework at every level of the project. The conference developed from our work on our research-led Part Three modules and it was initiated in order to include our students in professional academic conversations and thus to extend their discipline-based expertise.


To connect with the Curriculum Framework, Dr Layne and I involved our students in the organisation and proceedings of the conference. We recognised that the experience of working with us on event organisation, and participating in professional research activity, would provide valuable material for their CVs in ways that would enhance their employability.

Eight undergraduate students worked with us; they took photographs, managed the digital equipment, publicised the event, and oversaw logistical detail. In terms of the Curriculum Framework, we had confirmed our commitment to student employability, student engagement, and to the development of our students’ research skills and professional skill-sets.

Three of our Part Three students agreed to take part in a student panel at the conference and we were delighted to see that our keynote delegates, including Professor David Lodge, Professor Susan Sellers, and Professor Maggie Gee expressed a keen desire to hear their papers.

The students’ involvement was a tribute to their personal confidence (developed via the ‘double helix’ pedagogic model), and it also demonstrated their critical engagement with the material they had studied with us.

It was clear at the Conference that our undergraduates (some still at Part Two) felt a strong sense of belonging at the University. They were proud of the work of their peer group and proud of their identity as University of Reading students. Even at the end of their second year with us, our students were eager to work with us as colleagues and mentors rather than as ‘teachers’.

Our collaborative values were demonstrated by the Vice-Chancellor’s attendance at the afternoon sessions of the Conference. Sir David Bell chatted with our students and expressed a keen interest in them and their work, and his support of Dr Layne and I, spoke to our leadership’s commitment to collaborative knowledge sharing and to the development of productive, inclusive relationships.


We received excellent feedback from delegates following the event and there was a lively Twitter feed throughout the day expressing glowing appreciation. Our students were particularly grateful to us for including them in the conference.

The conference proceedings will be published in Postmodernist Biofiction (an edited collection with Cambridge Scholars) and our experience with student engagement in research-led activity will form the basis of a pedagogic publication. We are also expecting our student delegates’ performance in Finals to be significantly enhanced by their participation in the conference.

Delegates from competing universities commented enviously on the collegiate atmosphere between University of Reading staff and students, and also on the sophisticated critical work showcased by our student panellists. The reputation of the University of Reading was enhanced in every respect by the event.


The Curriculum Framework expresses our professional values and pedagogic principles. Our commitment as academics to subject expertise and to the development of critically and culturally nuanced students is precisely what informs the Curriculum Framework. Engaging our students in this mission appears to be the difficult task.

However, our experience with the ‘Postmodernist Biofictions’ conference suggests that our students are eager for us to connect with them. When we reach out, they respond in ways that identify preconceptions about student disengagement as lazy and entirely misplaced.

What is important to understand about the Curriculum Framework is that colleagues around the University are already engaged in precisely the kind of work expressed in the Curriculum Framework’s values. Our challenge lies in moving the aims of the Curriculum Framework to the core of our activity and in expressing its principles in coherent narratives.

In the Department of English Literature, the values of the Curriculum Framework are being articulated through initiatives that not only locate the student experience at the heart of our research-led teaching, but that actively demonstrate it.

Follow up

Our undergraduate and postgraduate students have asked for more research events of the ‘Postmodernist Biofictions’ kind, and more opportunities for event organisation and participation.

We will move forward with the Curriculum Framework in additional projects including Focus Groups convened to involve our students in the diversification of assessment models and in a review of our provision. We will also centrally involve them fully in the organisation of forthcoming events including a visit and talk by Jess Phillips MP in June, and the Virginia Woolf International Conference in June/July.

Development of a History Education module

Dr Elizabeth Matthew, School of Humanities
Year of activity: 2012/13


A collaborative project between the Department of History and the Institute of Education developed an innovative module in History, History Education (HS3HED), allowing Part Three students to test and develop their interest in teaching by undertaking and reflecting on a two-week subject-specific placement in a local secondary school. The module has been successful in improving students’ employability, and has been highly praised by students and external examiners.


  • Enable students to test and develop their interest in careers in History Education by applying their skills and communicating their knowledge in local schools.
  • Enhance student employability by giving students an advantage in the competition for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) places, while developing a wide range of presentational, organisational and interpersonal skills highly valued in other areas of graduate employment.
  • Broaden students’ academic experience by introducing pedagogy outside their own discipline.


Recent changes within secondary education have increased demand for well-trained teachers of History. The module has encouraged students to take advantage of this opportunity. A third of University of Reading History graduates in further study now enrol on PGCE courses.


The module was developed through collaboration between the Department of History and the Institute of Education, with an awareness of the skills that need to be demonstrated when competing for an ITE place and the requirements of secondary schools.

The Institute of Education contacts local schools to seek placements for students. The number of placements that are able to be offered determines the number of students able to be enrolled on the module. As a result, unlike a typical module within the Department, recruitment to HS3HED is conducted by interview. All applicants who complete the application process receive an interview. Regardless of outcome, applicants are offered the opportunity to receive feedback on their interview.

In pre-placement seminars, students are introduced to lesson-observation skills, secondary teaching strategies, and pedagogy characteristics of ITE, with these sessions being highly participatory. Seminars led by staff from the Institute of Education provide students with information on getting the most out of their placements, lesson planning, and the current secondary curriculum.

Originating in a Faculty of Arts and Humanities Teaching and Learning ‘Think Space’ funded project undertaken by Elizabeth Matthew (Department of History) in 2011 to enhance employability in History, the module was further developed in collaboration with Richard Harris and Elizabeth McCrum (Institute of Education), who contributed their knowledge of secondary education and awareness of the skills that need to be demonstrated when competing for an ITE place.

The Department of History seeks placements for students through the Institute of Education’s contacts with Initial Teacher Education Coordinators in schools in Reading and the surrounding area. The number of placements offered each year determines the number of students able to be enrolled on the module. As a result, unlike a typical module within the Department, HS3HED has selective recruitment. All applicants who complete the application process receive an interview. Unsuccessful applicants are offered the opportunity to receive feedback on their interview.

In pre-placement seminars, students are introduced to the organisation of the module, lesson-observation skills, secondary teaching strategies, pedagogy characteristic of ITE, and the assessments for the module. Highly participatory seminars led by staff from the Institute of Education advise students on the secondary history curriculum, lesson planning, and how to get the most out of their placements. Post-placement seminars in the Department of History provide additional advice on assessment.

On placement, students observe and assist the delivery of lessons. To increase the variety experienced by students, partner schools are encouraged to include a wide range of year groups, and a few lessons in subjects other than History on the students’ timetables. Schools help students identify a topic and target class for an independently researched and planned lesson, for shared delivery with the student’s placement supervisor. The supervisor also gives each student an hour’s mentoring support each week.

Students are assessed by: a placement log, in which they analyse their lesson observations; a report on their independently researched and planned lesson; and delivery of an oral presentation on their placement experience and its impact on their career development. In addition, students are graded by school supervisors in four aspects of performance on placement, with this assessment being given least weighting to prevent disparities in grading standards from skewing final results.


Results on the module have been consistently high, though this is partly a reflection of its selective nature. Greatly encouraging is the enthusiastic feedback received from students on the module: in 2014-15 11 out of 12 student rated it as being ‘Excellent’ in formal feedback collected by the Department, while students also give positive feedback through informal channels. The module has been praised by external examiners for its innovation and quality of assessment feedback. In improving student employability in education the module has been similarly successful: 6 out of 7 students applying for ITE after taking the module in 2012-13 were successful in gaining PGCE or School Direct places.


The selective recruitment to the module means students experience participation in a selection process. As interviews are a key aspect of the application process for ITE places, as well as for wider graduate employment, this is a valuable skill to develop, and the feedback offered supports this.

The different forms of assessment ensure students engage with the module, learn in depth, and develop the skills to demonstrate this. Having students complete a placement log requires students to learn about and reflect on a number of key aspects of teaching and learning, while their report on their independently researched and planned lesson requires them to reflect upon how they have applied their learning. The oral presentation allows students the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking, and also the communication skills central to the role of teacher. By having their school supervisors grade them, students receive clear and informed feedback on their performance in school. All elements of assessment promote their full engagement on placement.

The principal benefit of the module is that it develops students’ employability skills, specifically those that will give them a competitive edge in competition for ITE places. Through their placement experience students discover how interested they are in pursuing a career in secondary school teaching, and this can be highly beneficial in shaping their plans beyond graduation.

Additional benefits are that the module provides a USP for student recruitment, and has extended the Department of History’s links with local schools, enhancing outreach activities. HS3HED has also created a blueprint for the development of other innovative placement-focused modules, both within History and more widely across the University.

Although contact hours are less onerous, offering this module is labour intensive for the Department of History in terms of coordinating student selection, matching students to placements, liaising with the individual placement providers, marking coursework and examining oral presentations. But given the benefits to students, who enjoy, engage with, and perform well on the module the Department of History believes that it is more than worthwhile. It is hugely appreciative of the vital continuing role played by the Institute of Education in the pre-placement training, and of the support provided by partner schools, particularly the placement supervisors. Their willing and generous participation has been crucial.

Developing our Professional Track

Dr Cindy Becker, Literature and Languages
Year of activity: 2015-16


During the summer of 2016 we applied for £300 from the funds of Teaching and Learning Dean Dr David Carter and were awarded the full amount. We were keen to develop our professional development scheme for students in the School of Literature and Languages, the Professional Track, and we needed some external, professional input in order to do this.


  • To use an intern for 45 hours, asking her to interview alumni and local employers about the scheme.
  • To find out how well the training courses we offer on the Professional Track are meeting the needs of employers.
  • To increase our contact with alumni and local employers for a variety of reasons.


Our Professional Track gives students the opportunity to undertake certified vocational training and skills development courses alongside their degree. We needed an impartial person to find out if the range of training we offer is sufficient; we also wanted to gain interest for our planned Professional Board, an advisory team for our professional development activities.


Our Professional Track and Placement Facilitators (Sarah Mills and Lucy Stone) prepared the way by making some initial contact with employers, and together we decided on the questions to be asked. Our intern (a Part Two student) was briefed and she then interviewed our contacts in person, by phone and via Skype. She asked whether our courses were relevant to their area of work and whether we should add more. We learned that there are some skills development areas that we do not currently cover in our training; we also discovered that we need to do as much as we can to help our students network professionally. We were delighted to find some ‘warm contacts’ for future academic placements (i.e. activities in the professional world linked to module learning) and we received offers to give Professional Masterclasses to our students. Having several contacts agree to join our Professional Board has inspired us to move ahead with this.


Next year we will introduce Professional Track courses in social media, starting your own business, journalism, teaching practices, leadership and project management. We are pleased to learn that all of the courses we currently provide are thought relevant (these include report writing, assertiveness, presentation skills, First Aid, British Sign Language, Marketing and teaching English as a foreign language).

We will stay in touch with the contacts made on the project and other professionals we have been in conversation with over the last year in order to set up our Professional Board, members of which might advise on the development of our teaching in relation to the professional readiness of our students (such as transferable skills acquisition), offer face-to-face support to our students, and get involved in the Professional Track (for example, awarding prizes or speaking at Professional Track events).

We are keen to provide some warm contacts for students wanting to undertake academic or professional placements; this project has allowed us to begin to do that.


A relatively modest amount of money can go a long way in helping to move a project forward, but it does need careful planning and plenty of preparation if the money is to be used effectively.

Our intern wrote a full report after each interview and this was crucial in helping us to make the most of the information once she had completed the project.

We would like to do something similar during 2016-17 but we would be more ambitious in terms of our contacts. We would ensure a longer lead time before the interviewing stage of the project began so that we could line up a wide range of contacts.

We plan to keep in touch with the contacts we have made on the project and to use that network to explore more fully the ways in which local professional organisations can be of direct value to our students.

Follow up

Whilst we have found training providers for most of the courses we plan to offer next year, we are struggling to find IT training for our students, so that will be one of our tasks in the coming months. Any advice gratefully received!


Professional Track website

LW2RPP – Research Placement Project

Dr. Stavroula Karapapa, Law


Research Placement Project (LW2RPP) is a module developed within the School of Law that aims to provide Part Two students with a hands-on experience of the academic research process, from the design of a project and research question through to the production of a research output. It is an optional module that combines individual student research, lectures and seminars.


  • To provide students with a hands-on experience of the academic research process, from the design of a project and research question through to the production of a research output.
  • To provide a forum for the development of key research skills relating to the capacity to generate original knowledge.
  • To provide a forum for the development of key skills relating to the presentation of ideas in written form.
  • To give the opportunity to obtain an in-depth understanding of a specific applied topic of legal study.


The module was initially developed as an alternative to Legal Writing Credit (LW2LWC) with a view to offer more optional modules to Law students at Part Two.


The module has a unique learning design in that it introduces law students to semi-guided legal research through lectures, seminars and independent student learning. The lectures introduce students to research methods. Seminars are lead by experts in a particular area that have a strong interest in a specific topic because they currently carry out research on it. We have had a variety of topics offered throughout the four years that the module runs, spanning international law, criminal law, company law, media law, family law etc. Students are given the option to choose their group at the beginning of the academic year and to work on topics related to a specific research area.

During the module, students receive formative feedback on two occasions, as they are required to present a piece of preparatory work, such as a literature review or draft bibliography, in their second and third project supervision sessions, with these pieces forming the basis for discussion with their supervisor and with peers. Students are therefore able to use this formative feedback to direct their final output, an assessed essay of 10 pages.


The objectives of the activity have been met. Students have been acquainted with a particular research area and they have developed skills and some experience on legal research writing. Having colleagues deliver seminars on their current areas of research is valuable, as it showcases the wide variety of research in Law that takes place within the School and the subject more generally, and students respond well to this element of the module. The outputs that students produce have generally been of a good quality, and have demonstrated an ability to use appropriate methodologies to conduct and utilise independent research. Involvement in a research project of this nature at Part Two has been valuable for students to develop skills which they then continue to utilise at Part Three, particularly in their dissertation.


The main force behind the success of the module is the contribution of the various colleagues that volunteer every year to offer some classes and group supervision to Part Two students.

Subject specific English, academic, and professional skills for NUIST students in Chemistry

Professor Elizabeth Page, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy; Aaron Woodcock, International Study and Language Institute,


16399Two complementary modules within the Department of Chemistry, English Language for Chemists (CH3ENG) and Health and Safety and Professional Skills (CH3NUI), were created to support students recruited from the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST) on the BSc Applied Chemistry 3+1 programme.


  • Create bespoke modules that would build upon and refine BSc Applied Chemistry 3+1 programme students’ skills for the practice of Applied Chemistry in a UK academic context and future employment.
  • Improve students’ subject-specific English skills.
  • Ensure strong collaboration between the Department of Chemistry and the International Study and Language Institute (ISLI).


While students from NUIST undertake the Pre-sessional English Programme and have access to in-sessional tuition through the Academic English Programme (AEP) within ISLI, these programmes provide an understanding of general academic English, but are unable to provide students with subject specific English skills. For the study of Applied Chemistry students recruited from NUIST require an understanding of a highly specialised lexis and communicative skills suitable for the context of working in a laboratory and writing reports.


A strong collaborative approach between the Department of Chemistry and ISLI was taken in order to set up the modules and ensure that the modules were constructed in such a way that best supports students from NUIST. The core design of the modules was undertaken by the Programme Director of the BSc Applied Chemistry programme, the AEP Programme Director, and the Programme Director of the Visiting Student Programme.

Initially a single 20-credit module incorporating health and safety training, professional skills and academic English for chemists was conceived. As this module was developed, however, it was decided that as English language proficiency is a central element of all these components, it would be optimal to divide the module into two complementary 10-credit modules, with tutors from ISLI leading on instruction in English language for academic Chemistry and tutors from the Department of Chemistry leading on health and safety training and professional skills.

Within CH3ENG students were provided with training in Chemistry-specific English language. As CH3ENG was specifically designed in conjunction with CH3NUI, it was able to be mapped onto the module, supporting its delivery and ensuring that students were provided with the language skills necessary to achieve CH3NUI’s learning outcomes. The module sought to improve students’ written and oral communication, as well as their lexis. In terms of summative assessments, students completed a written project, an oral presentation and a class test. In addition to these, students were provided with multiple feedback opportunities from formative assessments across the duration of the module.

CH3NUI provided students with training for working in a UK chemical laboratory and carrying out independent research in a practical-based investigation.  Assessment was conducted through a test on health and safety and risk assessment, the creation of a summary of an article, group work activity culminating in the production of a video and accompanying report, and the writing of a letter of application. In addition, students were invited to receive summative feedback on drafts of their assessments.


The collaboration between the Department of Chemistry and ISLI produced two successful modules which have eased the transition of international students to studying Applied Chemistry. Student feedback on the modules has demonstrated that students have noticed an improvement in their language, academic, and professional skills.


The delivery of successful modules was only possible as a result of the close collaboration that occurred between the Department of Chemistry and ISLI, allowing two strongly complementary modules to be designed. While coordinating across two departments can be difficult to achieve, the efforts of staff members from both ensured that synergy was able to be achieved. Anyone seeking to establish a similar set of modules to aid the transition of international students should be aware that it is necessary to engage in the collaborative process fully with partners across the University.

By collaborating it was possible to ensure that the modules developed in ways that were of most benefit to its students: tutors on CH3NUI were able to regularly feedback to tutors on CH3ENG students’ needs regarding academic English skills, allowing needs to be responded to as they emerged.

CH3NUI prepared students for the expectations of the UK academic and professional contexts, providing skills that will assist students in not only their academic study, but also their careers after graduation.

The use of these modules to develop the skills of students on the BSc Applied Chemistry 3+1 programme has been beneficial across the programme, allowing students to perform confidently and precisely in other modules, and to work well with students enrolled on programmes other than the BSc Applied Chemistry 3+1 programme.

Follow up

Since the first running of these modules there have been some small adjustments made, with some of the learning outcomes originally within CH3ENG being assigned for coverage by CH3NUI, allowing CH3ENG to focus primarily on developing students’ communication skills. Assessment on CH3ENG has also been refined, with the written project being replaced by three written tasks, allowing students access to increased opportunity for feedback.

Classics Special Options: research-led teaching

Dr Katherine Harloe, School of Humanities


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Constructing research methods and statistics teaching

Dr Lotte Meteyard, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences


Statistics teaching to Speech and Language Therapists within the Department of Clinical Language Sciences was redesigned in response to module evaluations. Whereas students had previously reported anxiety about statistics and struggled to appreciate the relevance of statistics to their practice, the introduction of formative learning activities which integrated statistics teaching with other module content produced a reduction in anxiety about statistics, a benefit to students’ grades, and an increase in student module satisfaction with their statistics training.


  • Increase the opportunities for students to consolidate and revisit knowledge of key concepts.
  • Make explicit links within and across the teaching content to clinical practice.
  • Provide learning activities, outcomes and objectives that are clear to students.


The Research Proposal (PL3RPR) module is compulsory for all Part Three undergraduate and taught postgraduate students within the Department of Clinical Language Sciences. The module provides research methods and statistics teaching, and during the module students plan a research module and complete an ethics application, with these being used for their dissertations. Feedback, however, revealed that students found the statistics lectures confusing and poorly related to other module content. Having teaching provided by a number of staff members contributed to the module having a fragmentary nature.


In order to increase the opportunities for students to consolidate and revisit knowledge of key concepts, technology, multiple practice and collaboration were focused on in order to create frequent, meaningful activities for students to complete. Lecture handouts were provided separate from the lecture slides in order to encourage engagement during lectures, and practical activities were used to teach basic quantitative concepts and research design. During activities, analyses of data was completed as a class, and formative exercises were set each week, involving a short reading and answering focused questions on that reading. These assessments were revisited at the start of each lecture in order to feedback and discuss answers to questions. In labs, written instructions were replaced with short videos demonstrating how to complete particular procedures. Worksheets required students to write out results and answer questions about the interpretation of data. The answers to these worksheets were made available on Blackboard Learn after the end of each lab class. For each week of statistics teaching an online multiple choice questionnaire was provided, offering students optional online practice in preparation for the statistics class test. Students were encouraged to have the statistical analysis software PASW or SPSS installed on their home devices to allow them to practice away from lectures.

To make explicit links within and across the teaching content and to clinical practice, the content of the module was restructured so that students were introduced to a particular concept, with this concept then being revisited in later activities. In order to build explicit links with clinical practice students were asked to identify why research skills are important for clinical work, to complete formative assessments that involved reading chapters on healthcare research or journal articles from speech therapy research. Key readings were taken from ‘real world’ sources, such as the magazine of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy or the NHS. Reflection was encouraged through formative assignments which were discussed in the following week’s lecture. These required student to identify why healthcare research is critical to practice, critique a randomised controlled trial, and identify research designs and statistical tests in clinically relevant journal articles.

To provide learning activities, outcomes and assessment tasks that are aligned and clear to students, the learning outcomes of the module were rewritten and linked directly to the summative assessments. Three summative assessments were themselves changed so that students prepared a research proposal poster, an ethics application and a statistics class test. The research proposal poster was introduced to give practice at a professional skill and reduce the duplication of content between making the proposal and the ethics application. By making the ethics application a summative assessment, students would be assessed on something directly relevant to the completion of their project, while only minimal staff input would be required for the document to be submitted to the School ethics committee. The weighting of each piece of assessment was changed so that they contributed more evenly to the overall module mark. Learning activities were designed to support students in accessing and evaluating literature, generating research designs and statistical analyses. By providing research proposal and ethics application examples, and templates for their own on Blackboard Learn alongside detailed guidelines for completing coursework, student were encouraged to seek out supporting material independently.


Students on the module completed a statistical knowledge multiple choice questionnaire during the first week of the module and again after completing their statistics class test. They also completed the Statistical Anxiety Scale before beginning the module, and again at the end of the module. Results demonstrated that statistical knowledge increased, with students’ median score going from 11/20 before the course (with a range between 5-14) to 15/20 after the course (with a range between 8 and 19). There was also a reduction in anxiety about statistics. Results also demonstrated that there was a significant positive correlation between the number of formative multiple choice questionnaires a student completed and their final score on the statistics class test. Median marks in the class test and research proposal both improved from the previous year, with no students failing the statistics class test. Student module satisfaction also increased.


Situating the statistics and research methods teaching in practical activities and in the context of students’ professional learning was one of the most powerful changes made to the module: students responded positively to practical activities used to demonstrate statistical concepts. While full participation could not be guaranteed, enough students completed tasks to allow discussion and review of these at the beginning of each lecture.

By using technology for students to practice skills away from the classroom, students were able to increase their knowledge of statistics after the course. It was particularly gratifying to see the correlation between the number of multiple choice questionnaires completed on Blackboard Learn and the attainment of students during the statistics class test.

Having resources external to the classes available, the module convenor could be assured that students could have sufficient time and experience with concepts and software.

Take-home exam

Stuart Lakin, Law


In a Part Two Law module, Public Law (LW2PL2), we have moved away from the conventional exam to a take-home exam. We publish the exam paper on Blackboard at an arranged date and time. We give the students approximately 48 hours to complete and submit their answers electronically.

The impact has been entirely positive as compared to the old exam approach. Students prefer this format. The quality of their answers is markedly better. The results are better, and are consistently among the highest of all Part Two modules.


  • To ensure that work produced in the exams is presented to a professional standard.
  • To allow students the opportunity to provide greater intellectual depth in their answers, and allowing the ability for independent research to form part of the assessment.
  • To have students demonstrate time management, in order to allow them to effectively complete their take-home exam while revising for their other examinations.


We had three reasons for undertaking the activity:

First, we reasoned that LW2PL2 was better suited, pedagogically speaking, to the new format. The subject-matter is theoretical, and we assess by essay only (as opposed to by problem questions). We look for deep understanding of the issues rather than an ability mechanically to apply memorised rules. The take-home format encourages an independent research mindset.

Secondly, we thought it valuable to provide some variety in the way that Part Two students are assessed. The assessment across the Part Two modules had hitherto been by conventional exam only. Whatever the merits and demerits of the traditional exam, it can be refreshing for students to experience some other form of assessment.

Thirdly, we responded to the University call for alternative assessment. On pragmatic grounds, the take-home exam frees up room space and reduces complex timetabling requirements.


We prepared the first cohort of students by giving them a mock take-home exam in lieu of their usual non-assessed essay. We asked them to prepare an answer to a question as if they were preparing for the exam itself. We have continued this practice ever since.

In addition, I prepared a detailed explanation of our rationales and expectations for the take-home exam, and provided this to the students. This document exists to inform students of the benefits and the opportunities provided by the format, and also ensures that they fully appreciate the assessment criteria of the format. I talk through this document with the students throughout the year.


In short, the activity has been highly successful. I believe that colleagues are considering this format for their own modules. By having students word process their exam answers, a lot of the recognised disadvantages of handwritten answers (handwriting often being slow and uncomfortable, and producing results that are messy and poorly legible, as well as the anxiety caused by these disadvantages) can be avoided. It is also easier for students to structure their essays.

By having the take-home exam scheduled during the University exam period, it is important that students manage their time effectively in completing the exam. Students are made aware that the assumption when marking is that they will have spent approximately two hours answering each question: this allows them more time than a conventional exam, but also allows time for students to make space for other commitments they might have, such as revision for other exams.

Above all, we have found that the format is a better way of encouraging scholarly engagement with the module content. We emphasise in our rationales/expectations document that the format has an element of independent research.

The level of success of the activity was unexpected. The first cohort of students to do the take-home exam were nervous and rather distrustful of the activity. Happily, they passed their positive experience down to the next year’s cohort, and that pattern has continued ever since.


In my view, the take-home exam format treats students as independent thinkers in a way that the conventional exam does not. The emphasis is on the quality of argument and research rather than on memory skills and the ability to perform under pressure. Having said that, the new format does not entirely dispense with the latter types of skills – there is still a deadline, and students will still need to revise in advance.

There were admittedly risks involved in introducing this new format. LW2PL2 is an extremely important, compulsory module which counts towards the final degree. With hindsight, it may have been more prudent to experiment with this format in a Part One module. On the other hand, we put a great deal of thought into the format, and communicated well with the students. In these respects, we minimised the risks.

Follow up

The activity has remained largely the same as it began. We have experimented with changing the publication and submission times for the exam. We originally published the exam at midnight. This led to many students staying up all night to work on the paper. We now publish the exam at 9 am.

Final Year Group Based Research Projects

Professor Elizabeth Page and Dr Philippa Cranwell, Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy
Year of activity: 2015-16


Group-based research projects have been introduced into the BSc Chemistry programme for final year students. Small teams of students investigate different aspects of a research problem, each working on a separate strand. The results are combined and overall conclusions drawn. The team-based approach more closely resembles the nature of research in the chemical industry. The approach can be translated to many other disciplines.


  • To provide final year students with the opportunity for open-ended investigative laboratory research.
  • To work as a team to plan and design a suitable approach and experiments to explore the problem.
  • To carry out original research and collate and analyse results.
  • To draw conclusions and present the results both orally and as a dissertation.
  • To develop a variety of key transferable skills required for the workplace.


All accredited Chemistry programmes must contain individual independent investigative work, historically in the form of a final-year research project. Since the rapid expansion of chemistry undergraduate numbers, many departments have moved from laboratory-based projects to literature reviews or short, open-ended practical work. Group projects provide an alternative approach where undergraduates carry out a worthwhile chemical investigation, with the potential of yielding useful results within the restricted time, and with the limited resources available.


A Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF) Grant in 2015 allowed us to appoint two undergraduate students to investigate some potential ideas for research projects over the summer of 2015. The students carried out initial trials into a series of research topics in the broad areas of inorganic, organic, physical and analytical chemistry. On the basis of these preliminary investigations a short briefing sheet was drawn up for each research question, to be used as a starting point for the teams.

Final year students on the BSc Chemistry and BSc Applied Chemistry (NUIST) programmes were invited to select areas of preference in chemistry for their final year project. Students were organised into teams of 3-5 students on the basis of project preferences and undertook two short (five week) projects, the first of which acted as a trial run to allow students to become familiar with an independent research environment. Each team was allocated an academic supervisor to whom they reported their results weekly. During the final week of each project team members discussed their results and prepared a presentation. Students were given feedback on the first presentation to help inform the second. The second project was written as a formal report, with each student writing up their individual investigations and the whole team contributing to the introduction and final discussions and conclusion.

Students were assessed on the basis of their individual laboratory notebook, their oral presentation and project report. They were asked to evaluate their peers’ contributions under a variety of categories to produce a factor which could be used to scale any group component marks.


In 2015-2016 a total of 12 team-based projects were carried out in 4 different research areas. As the topics were re-visited (i.e. the same topic used more than once), the second group of students were able to carry on the investigation from where the first group finished.

All projects were successful in producing results that the students were able to analyse and discuss. The value of the results to the research question varied significantly with the team and the nature of the project. Students were not penalised if they worked in a project area that did not easily yield positive results: they were advised that their grades depended upon their input into the project and their oral and written communication skills in presenting the project. In the majority of cases the teams worked well to plan and execute experiments that led to conclusive results.

Although the numbers were relatively small in 2015-2016, the team-based approach reduced academic supervision and training time, as one staff member could supervise a team of students. More results were obtained from the team-based approach than when students worked independently. The research questions had to be selected carefully and some preliminary work done, but despite this some of the projects yielded new results that are publishable. Students improved their team working skills significantly and have ample experiences to discuss at interviews.


The success of each group project depended to a large extent on the individual supervisor and the group dynamics. Ownership of the project by the supervisor led to more successful outcomes and better group dynamics. It was observed that groups of 4 students seemed to work better than 3 or 5, as research problems often break down to comparing A against B, and therefore workload could be more easily divided. Interestingly, students requested one long project in future rather than two short ones because they felt that with a long project they could really make a meaningful impact with their work.

As the project reports were to be submitted shortly before the exam period, some students were anxious to complete their contributions in good time and found it difficult to work with their peers who had a more relaxed approach. Because of the high weighting (40 credits) on the project, we will require individual project reports in future. In addition, combined group reports were difficult to assess fairly, even with peer evaluation.


The work was presented at the 2nd Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship Conference meeting in June 2016.

Legal Seagulls : Experience Plan for overseas students

Shweta Band, Law
Year of activity: 2015-16


The name ‘Legal Seagulls’ represents all overseas students in the School of Law. I initiated the Legal Seagulls Experience Plan in 2015-16 as a three-step support initiative to enhance the academic and university-life experience for our overseas students.

This includes the Pre-arrival Academic Welcome Kit (PAWK), on-arrival Academic Bridging Course Induction Programme and weekly in-sessional support sessions in the form of GOALLS (Global Outlook Activities and Learning for Legal Seagulls)


  • To model an experience initiative for overseas students as a symbol of real academic and social integration.
  • To develop, deliver and evaluate a structured and continual pre-arrival and in-sessional mechanism.
  • To provide a comprehensive academic transition information at the pre-arrival stage in an endeavour to bridge the gap between the home and overseas legal academic environments.
  • To foster a global outlook towards social integration and employability skills.


The School of Law has a significant number of international students – close to 47% of current students. To establish a single point of contact for them, a new office was established and I was appointed as the first International Support Tutor in the School of Law in February 2015.

I was assigned the task of providing academic and pastoral care to international students. In order to understand the experience of international students in the UK, I began by studying some of the recent research on the topic published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), and Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) Guidance.

This research revealed that there is consistent feedback from international students for the need of a structured approach to respond to two of the biggest concerns that they have: difficulties in transition (socio-cultural-academic), and employability attributes. This corroborated with the feedback I had received in a number of meetings with members of the academic staff, support services and overseas students in the School of Law.

This inspired me to develop the Legal Seagulls Experience Plan with the objective being that it will positively change the quality of overall experience for the students during the period of study with us, and also allow them to attain their academic potential and maximize their grades.


For an international student, the journey of studying in a foreign country doesn’t begin in the Welcome Week; it actually begins on the day the offer is accepted. To bridge the gap between this period, I send a series of pre-arrival weekly emails in the form of academic bridging e-course to all confirmed offer holders. The PAWK includes guidance and online resources for a smoother academic transition.

During Welcome Week, the School of Law organizes three different Academic Bridging Course Induction Programmes for Postgraduate students, Part One students and Credit-transfer students.

This includes a session each on Academic Calendar, Teaching and Learning Methodology, Course Objectives, Good Academic Practice, Managing Academic Transition, Learning Technology, etc.

Our in-sessional support project, begun in 2015-16, is titled GOALLS : Global Outlook Activities and Learning for Legal Seagulls: free and open weekly sessions delivered by subject experts and based largely on games and group activities. A Certificate of Participation is awarded for attending five or more sessions and this counts toward the Research Experience and Development (RED) Award.

The Autumn term GOALLS focussed on cultural and academic integration and included sessions on topics such as Know Your Host (British Ways of Life), Know the British Legal Academia, and Cross-cultural Communication Training. The Spring GOALLS series was focused entirely on support for careers and examinations.

The students can register for the Academic Induction Programme and for GOALLS via an online registration form on the Legal Seagulls website which is made available from early August.


In 2015-16, 192 students received the PAWK. I could measure the successful response to this by the number of pre-arrival online registrations received for the Induction Programme (101), GOALLS (55) and Academic English Programme for Law Classes (70)

A total of 131 students attended the Induction sessions in the Welcome Week. This was a positive increase from the previous years. Of the students surveyed, 79% rated the Undergraduate Induction Programme as 4* or 5* and 92% rated the Postgraduate Induction Programme as 4* or 5*.

Close to 300 students benefited from the fourteen GOALLS sessions spread across the Autumn and Spring Terms. Of the 1505 total number of responses received for seven sections, 78% students marked the sessions as Outstanding (5*) or Very Good (4*).

This three-point Legal Seagulls Experience Plan has been able to lay the foundation to:

  • Respond to the early stages of culture shock and novelty for overseas students.
  • Introduce the overseas students thoroughly to UK as a host and to Reading as the host University.
  • Strengthen global graduate attributes and skills for overseas students.
  • Foster intercultural understanding and communication.

A few encouraging responses quoted from the student feedback are indicative of the positive impact: “Interaction with people of a different ethnicity other than mine rebuts my initial mindset about them”; “It was brilliant learning the debate mechanism and how to structure an oral argument properly”; “Today’s session has been tremendously useful for law students who are preparing for the upcoming exam. I have learnt a number of ways to study effectively.”


The Pre-arrival Academic Welcome Kit (PAWK) and the Academic Bridging Course Induction Programme have been continued almost in the same format for 2016-17.

I have added a team-building activity session for the credit-transfer students’ Induction Programme. The PG Induction will now be live-streamed for the students arriving late and for students on the distance learning programme.

The GOALLS sessions have been reorganized in response to the feedback from the students that most of them were busy with exams and submissions in the Spring term and therefore could not attend the sessions in spite of being interested. This was reflected in the dwindling attendance. In view of this, for 2016-17, I have re-structured GOALLS.

The sessions on academic and cultural integration, career advice and exam support have now been scheduled during the Autumn Term. Electronic feedback has been added to the paper version. As an academic value addition to GOALLS, Professor Susan Breau, Head of School, has very kindly accepted my proposal to start an academic competition, the World Constitutions Showcase, to be delivered by Legal Seagulls under the Public Law Lecture series.

My efforts will also be see a renewed focus on activities reflecting on integration of home and overseas students.

Follow up

I honestly hope to create a well-founded sense of trust amongst our international students that we are absolutely keen on giving them the best possible support and services that any foreign academic institution can think of. We have a vibrant body of overseas students and we benefit in more ways than one from their presence and participation on campus.

The Legal Seagulls Experience Plan will strive to create, nurture and award an environment of mutual learning among the home students, overseas students and staff in the School of Law.

Our long-term aim is to create an ethos of a real and open acceptance of, and support to, the academic and cultural diversity brought to us by our international students.