Development of the BARS blog

Dr Francoise Mazet, Biological Sciences
f.m.mazet@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2015/16

Overview

We developed BARS (Bioscience ARticles for Reading Students), a blog showcasing the written work of Part Three students from the School of Biological Sciences. The blog is managed by students working closely with academic staff. This project will increase students’ awareness and skills that are applicable to all areas of scientific writing.

Objectives

  • To establish a student-led scientific blog.
  • To increase the public profile and dissemination of student coursework.
  • To provide the opportunity for students to apply their academic skills in a professional context.
  • To develop an alternative resource for teaching and outreach.

Context

BARS is the extension of the module Seminars in Biology (BI3S78) which aims to introduce students to research seminars and scientific writing. The aim was to introduce an extra-curricular aspect that would give a ‘real world’ aspect to the coursework.

Implementation

The BARS blog was launched on the University of Reading server in April 2016 after initial discussions with the lead student. A small committee made up of students and staff was established to shortlist written work from the Seminars in Biology module using a set of guidelines (scientific accuracy, relevance, interest and style of writing. The blog was advertised through the Seminars in Biology module, social media (Twitter and Facebook) and the Reading University Biological Sciences Society (RUBSS).

Impact

Although the publication of the work only started in late April, the students were aware of the possibility for their work to be selected and published since early January. We noticed many students were more engaged and communicating more with the staff regarding the assignments.

The blog is being advertised to this year’s students as having examples of high quality scientific writing from their peers and we hope to see a continuing interest from the students to write with a wider audience in mind.

Reflections

Departing from a purely academic exercise for the assignments seems to have enhanced the students’ engagement with the research seminars, however we think the blog would have been more successful had the project been available at the beginning of the academic year. As it was, it did not begin before the middle of the Spring term and thus limited the opportunity for students to engage. With this in mind, any future modifications to or advertising of the blog will be started in the first week of the Autumn term. We also plan on advertising the blog more widely to staff who in turn could consider integrating the blog with their modules.

Follow up

Changes to the learning outcomes of the Seminars in Biology module will be integrated this year, and should increase the scope and diversity of the written material. We also aim to widen student participation to include other year groups, modules and programmes, and eventually students and staff from other Life Science schools.

Links

BARS blog

A student-led experiential post-studio practice

Holly Sandford, Arts & Communication Design

Overview

Students in the Department of Art created a student-led experiential post-studio practice, DISCOMFORT, for Part Two students and teachers that challenges boundaries and restrictions within our art course (and ourselves), and encourages participatory, experiential sessions and activities, within and outside of the studio.

Objectives

  • Build two-way working relationships between students and teachers.
  • 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 encourage collaboration.

Context

We decided to create this module as a group of friends who used the studio a lot, with the hope of creating a more familiar and social working environment that people could use to their advantage within the course. We felt the studio had a lot of potential that wasn’t being taken advantage of, and wanted to use the opportunity to start student-led, student-chosen experiences and art.

Implementation

We planned four reflection/discussion sessions, and four workshop/activity sessions that reflected our philosophy of discomfort. This did not necessarily mean something that was ‘uncomfortable’, but something that pushed boundaries or was an alternative way of working; such as durational activities with restricted senses, collaborative sculptures made by groups of 3 people tied together with found objects in the studio, a water floating experience and a trip to watch court cases. We created posters to advertise the module and emailed teachers within the department about taking part, as the sessions ran weekly. We altered days and times according to when the majority of people were free, and contacted outside organisations about trips and activities. We also exhibited work in the Rising Sun Arts centre at an exhibition ran by an older student.

Reflections

Positive outcomes were the level of participation from the students and teachers who did attend, and their positive feedback and experiences they gave/had in the sessions. Everyone enjoyed themselves, as well as actively joining in with discussion and reflection is an interesting and engaging way, as well as taking their own time to record their thoughts on their own blogs.

The biggest difficulty we faced was advertising and widespread participation, as the module was at first held on a Monday, and wasn’t a compulsory or officially graded part of the course. In future, we would approach and work with more teachers, as well as the Fine Arts society, and advertise the sessions less as ‘a module’, focusing more on activities and experimentation. We feel that the sessions were successful, but would work even better and benefit even more with more participation from more students and teachers, as well as people outside of the department, and the university.

Follow up

Whilst the sessions ended when term did, the exhibition was held during summer, in which we did a collaborative piece within the exhibition itself. By encouraging people outside of the department to become involved in our project, we were reaching a different audience, engaging in different ways but to the same purpose. This took the project even further, and developed it into a wider discursive project.

Links

DISCOMFORT website

Integrating Facebook into team-based learning

Dr Christopher Voisey, Henley Business School
c.j.voisey@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2014/15

Overview

11331The core Part Two undergraduate module, International Business Management and Strategy (MM272), was redesigned on two pillars: teamwork, and social media (Facebook). Formal student evaluations were high and feedback from focus groups with students was very positive – students found the use of Facebook effective and enjoyable, and students felt fully engaged.

Objectives

  • Increase student engagement with team-based learning.
  • Integrate Facebook into module delivery.

Context

Team-based learning forms a core part of the Part Two module MM272; approximately 150 students are enrolled on this module. Yet inter-team discussions within the team-based learning context were limited to and by the classroom. Team-based learning for modules with larger student cohorts is an especially promising context in which Facebook may enhance learning outcomes. A recent project at the University of Reading had evaluated Blackboard Learn and email as being confusing and dated to students for the purposes of sharing, and that Facebook provided a more flexible and familiar platform. As a two-sided network in which posters and readers provide each other with network benefits through interactions, Facebook complements team-based learning by allowing for posting of key team arguments online, and for multiple rounds of comments and responses – dynamic interactions that strengthen learning.

Implementation

First, a closed course Facebook group was created, students were divided into teams, and six Facebook-enabled tasks were designed. These tasks were to vote for module coursework mark allocation across assessment areas, to submit case-based assignments by in-class posting onto dedicated Facebook events (with tagging of other teams for comment), to appeal multiple choice questions, to post analyses of current business topics, for the module convenor to provide assignment-feedback (but not marks), and to post a Q&A and documents for download.

Impact

Facebook enabled development of norms of ‘professional informality’; barriers were lowered and there was greater tacit understanding of the subject, with higher learning outcomes as evidenced from exams. Facebook was inclusive, and gave a ‘voice’ to students who might be more reticent in class discussion. Class time was not monopolised by one speaker, but all voices were provided an audience through postings and comments online.

Reflections

Facebook has afforded advantages understood from a social constructivist perspective on learning – learning emerges from social activity. Students observed each other, their postings, and this shaped their behaviours, leading to the development of norms in interacting, and increasing the level of scholarship in assignments, consistent with social learning theory. Socially, the boundary between personal and professional becomes blurred.

The online studio: using Technology Enhanced Learning to support independent learning

Dr Jeanne-Louise Moys, School of Arts and Communication Design
j.l.moys@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2014–15

Overview

Typoresources-1-3The project explored what kinds of online resources BA Graphic Communication students engage with and need and, through an iterative design process (combining prototyping and user testing), developed a new online resource interface to support learning.  As a result, staff and students within the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication were able to gain a better understanding of students’ preferences and needs, with regards online resources.

Objectives

  • Identify what kind of resources students prefer and what kind of interaction they should support.
  • Develop a prototype that responds to these needs.
  • Test the prototype and refine it further.

Context

Typography students engage in a great deal of independent learning. This includes a significant amount of online research that students conduct in relation to their studies. The Department wanted to find ways to support this and extend it through Technology Enhanced Learning.

Implementation

First, tutors and students took part in collaborative brainstorming workshops, in which the main issues which the project sought to address were discussed. These workshops fed into the creation of a short questionnaire, which the student project leaders used to elicit feedback from their peers about their preferences and common methods of working and communication both among themselves and with staff. The findings of the questionnaire, which was completed by 25 students, reinforced the need for a new online resource interface and allowed the creation of a focused design brief to guide the development of the prototype.

As a result of the questionnaire feedback, the prototype prioritised ease of navigation, as respondents had indicated that they wanted the resource to allow them to browse well-structured categories, and also to make searches for specific resources.

Following the development of the prototype, a series of semi-structured interviews with staff and students was conducted, to gain feedback on the resource, with this feedback being used to refine the prototype.  For example, feedback indicated that students wanted to be able to search for resources thematically rather than necessarily be limited to a structure that reflected the structure of particular modules taught within the Department.

Impact

The project has enabled staff within the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication to improve their understanding of students’ preferences and needs and the ways in which they engage with online learning resources. This forms a useful foundation that can inform the ways in which we continue to support teaching and learning. The prototype that has been developed is an excellent starting point, and has received positive feedback from both students and staff.

Reflections

Given the positive feedback of students and staff, there is a strong desire within the Department to continue to explore ways of implementing the resource to benefit students for the long term. Two Study Abroad students continued to work on developing and testing materials for the proposed resource over the summer. The project is on-going, although resourcing it sufficiently continues to be a challenge.

One of the main difficulties faced during the project was timing. As a result, the opportunity to use the full budget was missed, and a number of the resources that were originally envisaged could not be utilised within the time available.

The success of the project is fully attributable to the efforts of the three students who worked on it. As the project was student-led, this allowed the project to respond directly to the challenges that students face. The student team benefited from their involvement in the project as they gained experience of conducting end-user research, and using this research to iteratively design and develop a prototype, as well as developing skills such as the ability to work effectively within a team, and written and verbal communication within a number of different contexts.

Links

LS1TAL Techniques and Skills for Applied Linguistics: Improving the student experience

Professor Jane Setter, School of Literature and Languages
j.e.setter@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2014-15

Overview

12759 (1)Students and staff worked together during 2014-15 to develop the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics’ new compulsory Part One module Techniques and Skills for Applied Linguistics (LS1TAL), run for the first time in 2014-15, to make it more interesting, useful and relevant to 21st Century undergraduate students. The project sought, among other things, to address the University Board for Teaching and Learning Enhancement Priority to evolve our approaches to teaching and learning, with a specific focus on using Technology Enhanced Learning in class and in assessment.

Objectives

  • An improved module following input from students which addresses their needs more closely in the development of the study of our discipline and transition to Higher Education.
  • Better use of Technology Enhanced Learning elements in content, delivery and assessment.
  • Enhanced use of the formative assignment English Language and Applied Linguistics students are asked to prepare, and of the feedback given.
  • The development of good practice which can be shared across our modules and with others in the University and across the sector.

Context

The module convenor had produced a new compulsory module for 2014-15 which addressed many of the issues arising for students in the first year of study, such as general transition to Higher Education; how to do tertiary-level academic writing; how to use and get the best out of tools such as Turnitin; how to present yourself effectively online with a jobs-market orientation; how to do assessments using Technology Enhanced Learning approaches, such as blogging and short videos. Student involvement in the development of the module was desired to make it particularly relevant and useful to them.

Implementation

Students taking the module were recruited during the Autumn term 2014-15 to be leaders and participants in the development of the module; four came forward. PLanT funding was applied for and received. Subsequently, focus groups were held at four points during the year between students and staff to review module content and suggest ways to develop it. Finally, with the agreement of the students, a new weekly schedule for the module (which runs in the Autumn and Spring terms) was drawn up.

Specifically, students asked for more concise and focussed input on transitions to Higher Education and online presence, including a specific session on building a LinkedIn profile, a more hands-on approach to library skills training, input from students at Parts Two and Three, and sessions from Student Counselling and Wellbeing.

Impact

Students and staff involved felt that the outcomes had been very positive. Students valued having the chance to develop a new module, and staff enjoyed working with students, finding out what they already knew and what needed further development, and understanding their viewpoint on their needs as new entrants to Higher Education in the UK. The real test for the module, however, will be the revised module running in the 2015-16 academic year, during which data will be collected from the new cohort using module evaluation forms to compare with last year’s evaluations and see whether student satisfaction has improved.

We were delighted that students had no issues with the Technology Enhanced Learning elements in the module content or assessment. In fact, they thought they were very useful and well-integrated.

An unexpected outcome has been the Director of English Language and Applied Linguistics’ Postgraduate taught programmes’ interest in the module to see whether it could be adapted for MA students.

Reflections

The activity was made successful by the involvement of students in developing this module. Teaching and Learning Dean Dr David Carter had commented that it seemed like a very well-designed module; the decision about how to develop the module could have been made by an individual based solely on student feedback questionnaires, but it seemed much better to have the hands-on involvement of students, as the module is aimed at supporting students through Part One. Their involvement enabled students to have input into their degree which resulted in real change, to see first-hand the issues involved in module development, and also to appreciate the Department’s attention to teaching, learning, the development of transferable skills, and supporting students to get the best from their university study and beyond.

War Child on Screen

Dr Ute Wolfel, Literature and Languages
u.wolfel@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2014/15

Overview

9412Finalist students from German, French and Italian organised a public film season of four films (German, French, Spanish, Italian) with Reading Film Theatre (RFT) on ‘Children in War’ to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The students chose the films, contacted the distributors, and helped with the actual screening but also researched the films and put together Film Notes that, together with an invitation letter, were sent to local secondary schools.

Objectives

  • Encourage students to undertake independent research within the context of taught modules.
  • Enable the students to reach beyond university by using their knowledge in a public context.
  • Enable them to see the relevance of their academic learning and effort.
  • Allow them to gather practical experience within the wider field of their course by including them in the organisational work with RFT, distributors, the University of Reading’s Design & Print Studio, and local schools.

Context

The project took place within the context of Dr Leavitt’s and Dr Wolfel’s research and finalist modules on World War II and War Cinema. Dr Leavitt and Dr Wolfel are specialists on the respective national cinemas and have worked on war films in particular. At the time of the project, Dr Wolfel was also principal investigator for a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant on ‘Children in German War (Con)Texts’.

Implementation

Students and staff from the respective languages and modules were asked to join the project. A schedule was agreed by all and then students formed groups to watch and choose the films for the season. Students divided into working groups for the creation of Film Notes as well as organisational work such as liaising with distributors and RFT. The students in the various groups contributed researched information to the Film Notes and wrote them up together with staff; students also read the Film Notes’ proofs sent from Print & Design. Students as well as staff wrote an invitation letter for local secondary schools and sent it out. At the actual screenings students helped as ushers; for the German screening they also did part of the introduction to the film and helped with the following Q&A session.

Impact

The Film Season as a whole was a success. Out of the four films scheduled, three were actually shown and attracted very good audience numbers and lively discussions at the end. The students most engaged in the project, enjoyed the work as well as the success. They found the work undertaken useful and rewarding – if not always as easy and straightforward as anticipated – and were proud of having been involved in a public outreach event related to their actual studies.

While the initial response from secondary schools was enthusiastic, not all the schools that had booked seats came to the screenings. Those schools that attended, however, enjoyed the event and new perspectives offered. It was good to see that the film season attracted a good audience from the general public.

Reflections

The project’s success was based on a small group of students’ engagement and diligence and also some of the staff’s willingness to work hard with those students. Were this was not given, the implementation would have been less successful. Some of the students participating felt less responsible for the work and were therefore less reliable. One of the reasons for this might have been that the group of students involved was initially too large and not all the students were equally interested in the topic. For such a work intensive project it seems, retrospectively, best to keep it smaller and the group closer together, perhaps within the context of one module or research project.

Assessing the impact of internationalisation on students, from both a UK student perspective and a NUIST student perspective

Dr Philippa Cranwell, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy
p.b.cranwell@reading.ac.uk
Year(s) of activity: 2014/15

Overview

8437The project assessed the impact of the intake of a cohort of 16 3+1 BSc Applied Chemistry students on the existing undergraduate students on programmes within the Department of Chemistry (approximately 72 students, on both BSc and MChem programmes), and determined any preconceptions each cohort may have had about each other or the course.

Objectives

  • Determine the impact of intake of students from Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST) on existing Part Three Chemistry students.
  • Discover what preconceptions current Chemistry students held.
  • Determine what aspects of their year at the University of Reading students from NUIST found the most challenging, and what support could be offered to future students.

Context

The 3+1 BSc Applied Chemistry is a dual award degree delivered in partnership by the University of Reading and the NUIST. Students currently study for three years at NUIST in the People’s Republic of China before transferring to the University of Reading to complete their final year, with successful students being awarded a Bachelor of Science from each institution. This study was undertaken because integration of two cohorts on this scale had not been undertaken before in Chemistry at the University of Reading. There was a desire to ensure that existing students were not adversely affected by the intake of Chinese students because they would have to share resources, such as lectures, workshops and tutorials, and also to ensure the Chinese students felt they were adequately supported whilst in the UK.

Implementation

The findings were derived from focus groups held with Part Two students (30 students), Part Three domestic students (30 students) and the Part Three NUIST students (12 students). During the focus groups, the students were posed questions about different aspects of the year and wrote responses on giant sticky notes. The questions were designed such that they were open and allowed students to give as much information as they wanted. In the case of the NUIST students the focus groups were not very successful due to a reluctance to speak out. In addition, therefore, anonymous questionnaires that the students could fill in and return were distributed. During the focus group session, lunch was provided to thank the students for their time.

Impact

The study achieved its objectives, although not in the manner originally perceived. It had not been anticipated that the NUIST students would be so reluctant to speak out. It was quickly realised, however, that the best way to obtain meaningful data from the NUIST cohort was to offer anonymised questionnaires. This approach will be used in the future. Additionally, the study was useful in that it showed that there was one overriding theme for good integration; the importance of language skills. Although it was known that the students all fulfilled the University’s requirement for English language proficiency, it had not been anticipated how difficult it would be for them in a lecture situation.

Reflections

This project was successful in that it managed to gather the necessary information. If the project were to be repeated again, there would be more awareness of the fact that the Chinese students were less forthcoming with their views and anonymous questionnaires would have been used from the beginning. It might also have been useful to pose the questions in Mandarin, therefore avoiding any confusion or misunderstandings. With regards to the UK students, the session was well-received and students were happy to have the opportunity to give their opinions so no changes to this are necessary.

Outcomes from the activity have led to a reassessment of the way the initial three years of the programme are taught in the People’s Republic of China, and an emphasis on the importance of a good grasp of the English language; both in academic and in social situations. The Department of Chemistry is working towards providing:

  • Additional exam-style questions for the students to practice while they are in the UK.
  • Input into exam questions in the People’s Republic of China so students are better prepared for what to expect when in the UK.
  • A greater emphasis on the technical language required for the study of Chemistry.

Developing the module ‘Persuasive Writing’ and considering the professional development of our students

Dr Cindy Becker, Literature and Languages
l.m.becker@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2014/15

Overview

11299In order to allow a module offered within the Department of English Literature to map onto the needs of the professional world, a PLanT project was created to gain input from professionals on the development and delivery of the module. As a result, a number of areas were identified in which students would benefit from additional guidance in preparing them for their post-University careers.

Objectives

  • To develop the module ‘Persuasive Writing’.
  • To increase links with professionals.
  • To ensure that professional development opportunities for English Literature students are provided.

Context

In October 2014 the Department of English Literature introduced a new module in Persuasive Writing (EN1PW). The module is intended to educate students in the art of writing away from academia (letters, reports, newspaper and journal articles, political speeches, press releases, marketing copy and online material). It was decided that, as the module EN1PW required students to consider writing that is undertaken in a professional context, it would be valuable to gain some professional input in its development and delivery. Additionally, the Department is keen to increase its links with local commercial and professional contacts.

Implementation

Working party meetings with students were held, and then a lunch for members of staff, students and professional representatives was provided so that discussion of the module and how it might map onto the skills expected of highly employable and successful graduates could be facilitated. Following the lunch students and staff met again to consider a course of action for 2015/16.

Impact

The project successfully identified a number of areas in which students would benefit from receiving additional guidance. It was decided that in order to provide guidance, handouts and other supporting material would be produced by PLanT students, with staff advice. These areas included: guidance for students on how to promote themselves in the job market across different sectors; how to maximise skills; making core study areas count on a CV; how to write a personal profile for a CV; the structure of writing and how to remain focussed on the central message; overcoming worries about making the most of time and opportunities at university; and learning more about work experience placements.

The University of Reading will be piloting a Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) scheme in the coming year, and the PLanT students have all expressed interest in being involved if EN1PW is chosen as one of the pilot modules.

An unexpected outcome was that one student was offered professional mentoring as a result of the contact made at the lunch.

Reflections

The PLanT project worked well because it worked on a simple format and a manageable timeline. As a result of the findings of the project, the Department of English Literature is considering introducing a new module at Part Two on ‘Public Rhetoric and Persuasion’. This would sit neatly alongside the existing Part Two module Communications at Work as a natural follow-on module from EN1PW.

The project also highlighted that English Literature students needed some free professional development training courses, which could be provided by colleagues across the university. The Department is considering providing training sessions itself for its students to help them in their professional development in areas including: early career planning; presentation and writing skills; managing a social media presence; effective methods for group work; and how to produce a business case or funding bid.

Links

Professional Track – University of Reading

Core Issues in English Language Teaching: building student autonomy, technology-enhanced skills and employability

Dr Clare Wright, School of Literature and Languages
c.e.m.wright@reading.ac.uk
Year(s) of activity: 2014-15

Overview

12758This project aimed to build student expertise in managing task-based approaches to learning, foster active engagement in seminars including international students, and support students’ development of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) skills, through student-led revisions of a popular undergraduate module, with the Employability and Professional Track staff at School level, the Generating Resources and Access to Screencapture Software (GRASS) team and the central TEL team.

Objectives

  • Revise the module delivery to enhance student autonomy and academic development.
  • Improve preparation for and engagement with team- or task-based work in seminars
  • Improve the use of TEL in class and the related skills development of both staff and students.
  • Build up student employability in teaching-related expertise by leading a team- or task-based teaching approach in seminars.

Context

Core Issues in English Language Teaching for Part Two and Three students aims to build awareness of professional language teaching practices in international settings, and has approximately 35 students. Students enrolled on the module learn about different language teaching approaches, including task-based learning, team-based teaching, and TEL. This project responded to student demand for clearer training to manage task-based approaches to learning, greater engagement in seminars including international students, and greater skill-development of TEL.

Implementation

Two Part Three students and two international students conducted this project, alongside the module leader, with the Employability and Professional Track staff at School level, the GRASS team and the central TEL team.

The project team worked through revisions to the existing module guide, held a student focus group to discuss possible changes with students across the university, attended tailored training sessions with GRASS and TEL team members, implemented their training by using various TEL products (such as Camtasia and Powtoon), prepared presentations for a University of Reading TEL Showcase organised by the Centre for Quality Support and Development (CQSD) and Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU), and wrote a final blog entry on the project. The project leader, Clare Wright, was awarded an inaugural national Jisc Change Leader Award for a portfolio based on this project.

Impact

The student project team members could show full satisfaction when reflecting on their progress in understanding more about learning processes, and in gaining greater employability as a result of developing TEL-related skills, delivering presentations to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) and a wider University audience, and writing up the project blog. The project revealed that students were generally happy with the way they were being taught, but that including more TEL and autonomous learning could seem a challenge, especially for Part Two students. The suitability of the project for the Jisc Change Leader Award was an unexpected outcome, and feedback from the project submission could be used to benefit University Teaching and Learning (T&L) stakeholders, for example at a T&L Showcase event.

Reflections

The positive engagement with the aims of the project, and the close interaction between the students and the project leader was a key element of the project’s success. Attempts to roll out discussions to a wider student base, through focus groups, were less successful, suggesting either that students felt they were too busy to attend such events, despite the incentive of a free lunch, or that they were already happy with the way they were being taught.

Follow up

The Core Issues in English Language Teaching module is being revamped for Part Two students for the 2016-17 academic year, and will take the findings of this project into account.

Links

Engage in Teaching and Learning blog post: The PLanT Project and ‘Core Issues in English Language Teaching’ by Jess Fullam, Emily King, Daria Pominova and Megumi Kuranaka