The impact of COVID upon practical classes in Part 1 chemistry – an opportunity to redevelop a core module

Philippa Cranwell p.b.cranwell@reading.ac.uk, Jenny Eyley, Jessica Gusthart, Kevin Lovelock and Michael Piperakis

Overview

This article outlines a re-design that was undertaken for the Part 1 autumn/spring chemistry module, CH1PRA, which services approximately 45 students per year. All students complete practical work over 20 weeks of the year. There are four blocks of five weeks of practical work in rotation (introductory, inorganic, organic and physical) and students spend one afternoon (4 hours) in the laboratory per week. The re-design was partly due to COVID, as we were forced to critically look at the experiments the students completed to ensure that the practical skills students developed during the COVID pandemic were relevant for Part 2 and beyond, and to ensure that the assessments students completed could also be stand-alone exercises if COVID prevented the completion of practical work. COVID actually provided us with an opportunity to re-invigorate the course and critically appraise whether the skills that students were developing, and how they were assessed, were still relevant for employers and later study.

Objectives

• Redesign CH1PRA so it was COVID-safe and fulfilled strict accreditation criteria.
• Redesign the experiments so as many students as possible could complete practical work by converting some experiments so they were suitable for completion on the open bench to maximise laboratory capacity
• Redesign assessments so if students missed sessions due to COVID they could still collect credit
• Minimise assessment load on academic staff and students
• Move to a more skills-based assessment paradigm, away from the traditional laboratory report.

Context

As mentioned earlier, the COVID pandemic led to significant difficulties in the provision of a practical class due to restrictions on the number of students allowed within the laboratory; 12 students in the fumehoods and 12 students on the open bench (rather than up to 74 students all using fumehoods previously). Prior to the redesign, each student completed four or five assessments per 5-week block and all of the assessments related to a laboratory-based experiment. In addition, the majority of the assessments required students to complete a pro-forma or a technical report. We noticed that the pro-formas did not encourage students to engage with the experiments as we intended, therefore execution of the experiment was passive. The technical reports placed a significant marking burden upon the academic staff and each rotation had different requirements for the content of the report, leading to confusion and frustration among the students. The reliance of the assessments upon completion of a practical experiment was also deemed high-risk with the advent of COVID, therefore we had to re-think our assessment and practical experiment regime.

Implementation

In most cases, the COVID-safe bench experiments were adapted from existing procedures, allowing processing of 24 students per week (12 on the bench and 12 in the fumehood), with students completing two practical sessions every five weeks. This meant that technical staff did not have to familiarise themselves with new experimental procedures while implementing COVID guidelines. In addition, three online exercises per rotation were developed, requiring the same amount of time as the practical class to complete therefore fulfilling our accreditation requirements. The majority of assessments were linked to the ‘online practicals’, with opportunities for feedback during online drop-in sessions. This meant that if a student had to self-isolate they could still complete the assessments within the deadline, reducing the likelihood of ECF submissions and ensuring all Learning Outcomes would still be met. To reduce assessment burden on staff and students, each 5-week block had three assessment points and where possible one of these assessments was marked automatically, e.g. using a Blackboard quiz. The assessments themselves were designed to be more skills-based, developing the softer skills students would require upon employment or during a placement. To encourage active learning, the use of reflection was embedded into the assessment regime; it was hoped that by critically appraising performance in the laboratory students would remember the skills and techniques that they had learnt better rather than the “see, do, forget” mentality that is prevalent within practical classes.

Examples of assessments include: undertaking data analysis, focussing on clear presentation of data; critical self-reflection of the skills developed during a practical class i.e. “what went well”, “what didn’t go so well”, “what would I do differently?”; critically engaging with a published scientific procedure; and giving a three-minute presentation about a practical scientific technique commonly-encountered in the laboratory.

Impact

Mid-module evaluation was completed using an online form, providing some useful feedback that will be used to improve the student experience next term. The majority of students agreed, or strongly agreed, that staff were friendly and approachable, face-to-face practicals were useful and enjoyable, the course was well-run and the supporting materials were useful. This was heartening to read, as it meant that the adjustments that we had to make to the delivery of laboratory based practicals did not have a negative impact upon the students’ experience and that the re-design was, for the most part, working well. Staff enjoyed marking the varied assessments and the workload was significantly reduced by using Blackboard functionality.

Reflections

To claim that all is perfect with this redesign would be disingenuous, and there was a slight disconnect between what we expected students to achieve from the online practicals and what students were achieving. A number of the students polled disliked the online practical work, with the main reason being that the assessment requirements were unclear. We have addressed by providing additional videos explicitly outlining expectations for the assessments, and ensuring that all students are aware of the drop-in sessions. In addition, we amended the assessments so they are aligned more closely with the face-to-face practical sessions giving students opportunity for informal feedback during the practical class.

In summary, we are happy that the assessments are now more varied and provide students with the skills they will need throughout their degree and upon graduation. In addition, the assessment burden on staff and students has been reduced. Looking forward, we will now consider the experiments themselves and in 2021/22 we will extend the number of hours of practical work that Part 1 students complete and further embed our skill-based approach into the programme.

Follow up

 

Links and References

Reframing Identity 360

Kate Allen, Department of Art, k.allen@reading.ac.uk

Overview

An investigative artwork that explores identity using 360 cameras developed through practical, alumni led workshops and socially engaged art with current art students, school groups and the general public. Part of ArtLab Movement’ at Tate Exchange (TEx) 2019 at the Tate Modern on March and be archived on the ArtLab website.

Objectives

- Contribute to live art event/out-reach work experience led by Alumni at Tate Exchange 1-3 March 2019

- Explore identity capture with 360 cameras

- 360 cameras experimentation including designing, capturing, printing and editing.

- Create portraits with purpleSTARS, people with learning disabilities and children from Widening Participation schools in Reading.

Context

Reframing Identity explored self-portraits in shot in 360, developed as a response to Tania Bruguera’s Turbine Hall Commission concerning institutional power, borders and migration. Can 360 self-portraits raise awareness of how interconnected we are, when no person is ever behind the 360 camera, everyone is included.

Implementation

Alumni and Virtual Reality artist Kassie Headon researched ideas in response to Tania Bruguera installation at Tate Modern inspired by Bruguera’s ideas on inclusion, connecting to Kate Allen’s research with purpleSTARS a group of people with and with learning disabilities who aim to make museums more inclusive. Kassie demonstrated to students and purpleSTARS how to use the GoPro Fusion Camera and the app to edit 360 content. Activities to share the 360 self portrait concept with visitors were developed including drawing cylindrical self-portraits which they could then wear on their heads for a 360 selfie. Students facilitated the Reframing Identity 360 workshop as part of ArtLab Movement at TEx. Using 360 cameras was a new experience and concept for our students and most people visiting the TEx. The 360 self-portraits were exhibited via live video stream from the 360 cameras on an iPad displayed at the Tate and let participants explore the views, which they could manipulate and distort to create the desired effect. Participants 360 self-portraits were also printed or sent to the visitors phone.

Impact

The impact of Reframing Identity 360 created access and inclusion with new technologies for students and the public. Experiencing the live video stream frequently gave visitors an ‘Oh Wow’ moment. TEx gave an opportunity for research led teaching with Dr Allen purpleSTARS, Alumni Kassie Headon and current BA students to explore the concept of 360 self-portraits gain professional practice experience facilitating the workshops and technical skills working, with the 360 camera. The 360 cameras are now part of the digital equipment available to students with a core team of ArtLab students now familiar with their potential and how to use them.

Reflections

Working with new technologies in collaboration with Alumni, ArtLab students and purpleSTARS led to new perspectives on ideas of inclusion and self -portraiture. The experimental research occurred in response to work at the Tate and in collaboration with visitors to TEx. The project built capacity and awareness of new technology being introduced into the Art Dept learning through research and practical experiences the potential to create artworks and inclusive engagements.

Follow up

Kassie Headen continued to work with the 360 camera collaborating with widening participation schools during the ArtLab summer workshops 2019 exploring spaces and manipulating 2d versions of 3d space.

We are developing further research collaborations and research led teaching opportunities for ideas exploring inclusion in museums and immersive virtual reality artworks/experiences using Oculus Rift technology.

Links and References

We created a 360 recording of our Reframing Identity event at the Tate https://www.thinglink.com/mediacard/1158753748827242499?autoplay=0&autorotate=0&displaytitle=1&rel=1

ArtLab documents the workshop

https://readingartlab.com/2019/04/25/artlab-tate-exchange-visual-diary-2nd-and-3rd-march-2019/

purpleSTARS web documentation

https://purplestars.org.uk/2017/11/12/purplestars-at-tate-gallery-2018/

Tate Exchange webpage

https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/tate-exchange/workshop/reading-assembly-movement

Using wikis for assessed group work in new history modules

Shirin Irvine – TEL Adviser, CQSD

Image of Shirin Irvine

Overview

For the academic year 2015/16, the Department of History offered a brand-new Part 1 programme as part of the History Project. This resulted in the development of three new core modules.

Dr Mara Oliva transformed common practice by using technology to carry out full electronic assessment for her module. This project included multiple aspects of digital pedagogy, using Blackboard to perform engaging assessment.  This was achieved through innovative and effective use of Blackboard Groups in combination with Blackboard Wikis and Turnitin Assignments, in addition to the Grade Centre for administering students’ marks.

What is a wiki?

A wiki is a collaborative tool that allows students to work as a group on one project and write shared content in the form of a website. They can create a series of web pages that can include images, web links and videos, collectively responding to a theme.

Dr Mara Oliva – Lecturer in Modern American History (20th century)

Image of Mara Olive

Mara explains how she used the wiki tool within Blackboard as a new tool for summative assessment.

The Culture Wiki

Journeys through History 2 aims to introduce students to major historical ideas, concepts, beliefs and knowledge systems, and to show how these are exemplified in material culture, with reference to artefacts, buildings, paintings and other works of art, literature and media.

We wanted the assessment tools we chose to reflect the cultural and visual elements of the module. Therefore we decided to use a group wiki of 2,000 words (50% of the module mark), which we called the Culture Wiki, and an individual 2,000-word essay on one of the historical concepts.

The Culture Wiki allowed students to create and contribute to several web pages of course-related material. They were expected to display their research, analytical and communication skills by building a website meant for public consumption. In small groups, students created their wikis based on a theme discussed during lectures. Lecturers provided themes in the module handbook and on Blackboard.

Our aims for using this form of assessment were to teach students the importance of teamwork and how to write in a concise and accessible way in order to develop an understanding of public history, which offers many employability opportunities to history graduates.

Impact – great results! 

Overall, the exercise was very successful! According to the feedback, both students and staff enjoyed working on the Culture Wiki. Students said it gave them a chance to look at history from a different angle and realise how many flexible and transferable skills they can gain through studying history.

We then decided to take this a step further and extend full electronic assessment to the individual assay, using Turnitin Assignments. This was received very enthusiastically by the students, who appreciated the immediacy and flexible, 24/7 access technology can offer.

The project, however, would have never taken off without the invaluable support of the TEL team, in particular Shirin Irvine, Lauren McCann and Maria Papaefthimiou. With their help we arranged training and guidance for the department staff on creating and assessing wikis, using Turnitin for e-assessment, and using the Grade Centre.

To support students, we provided a separate handbook with “how to build a wiki” guidelines, which was uploaded on Blackboard. I then dedicated part of the first lecture to introducing the exercise and answering the questions. Overall, students did not need much support and were very quick at learning – their questions were mainly content related.

We are very pleased with the outcome of the project, so we have decided to continue for the foreseeable future!

Blending face-to-face and online to deliver group seminars

Jeremy Lelean, Staff Engagement                                                                                                                                                           j.lelean@reading.ac.uk

Context

Soil Security Programme (SSP), School of Agriculture, Planning and Development

PhD students, external institutions and organisations

Description

 The Soil Security Programme is a PhD Student research network that includes a number of
other institutions and external bodies. Students are dispersed around the country and
sometimes abroad.
 The ability for the dispersed members of the network to join seminars held at Reading by PhD
students would help facilitate increased communications and information sharing.
 Two face-to-face seminar events have been held at which members have been able to join
remotely via Collaborate.
 Members were sent a ‘guest link’ and joining instructions and were able to watch the
presentations given in the physical room.
 The initial seminar had 11 participants, 9 in the room and 3 joined remotely.
 A USB speakerphone was attached to the laptop in the room to provide the audio and a
webcam was used to show what was happening. Presentations were delivered using
‘Application Share’ in Collaborate.
 Jeremy facilitated the session to ensure the remote participants were kept informed of what
was happening in the physical space.

Impact

Using Collaborate was a success and participants found the experience was very good. There
were some minor points raised but this did not detract from usability.
 Remote participants could easily join in sessions that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to
attend.
 Recordings of the seminars were made available to members of the network.
 SSP plan to deliver an online conference using Collaborate to help build a community of early
career researchers and PhD students in the field of soil science.

Thoughts and reflections

 Remote participants weren’t able to see where the speakers were pointing to on the slides. Ask
speakers to use the inbuilt Pen and Laser Pointer tools when PowerPoint is used in Presenter
View to highlight slides.
 It was necessary to restart application share when moving between different PowerPoint
presentations.
 Remind participants in the physical space to remember that there are remote participants.
 Participants in the physical space can’t see the chat taking place in Collaborate.
 Chat was particularly useful for communication between the facilitators and remote users
without disturbing the seminar speakers.
 Ensure that remote users can hear those speaking in the room clearly. It may be necessary for
the facilitators to repeat questions or ask people to speak more loudly.

 

Promoting Research in Teacher Education

Nasreen Majid, Institute of Education                                                                                            n.majid@reading.ac.uk

Overview

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

Objectives

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

Context

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

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

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

Impact

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

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

Reflections

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

Links

Link to the IOE news feed featuring the ATP conference:

http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/ioe-news-and-events/2018/06/06/at-the-annual-student-teacher-research-conference-there-was-an-astonishing-range-of-talent-and-also-a-fair-hint-of-nostalgia/

Social justice – Leading attitudinal change in students

Stephanie Sharp, Lecturer, Institute of Education                                                                                                                        s.sharp@reading.ac.uk                                                                                                                                                                                                                Year of activity: 2016/17

Overview

After exploring representations of ethnicity within the ‘reading for pleasure books’ in primary classrooms I proposed that a group of second year, undergraduate, trainee teachers would undertake a small scale research project to support their understanding of equality and diversity in the primary school setting.

This study led to an attitudinal change in the trainees’ approach to school resources, such as books, by becoming more critically aware of equality and diversity issues. They went on to be active in enhancing curriculum design for future cohorts.

Objectives

  • To raise trainee teachers’ understanding of social justice to enable them to develop a more critical approach to resources available in primary school classrooms
  • To refine curriculum design by engaging with university guidelines to promote the trainees’ academic, personal and professional potential

Context

The IoE and the Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) work collaboratively to support trainees in their understanding of diversity and equality. Modules build on these activities in order to provide them with an opportunity to refine their thinking to open a dialogue on issues of inequality and social justice.

During my time visiting schools I have come to recognise that there is a lack of diversity in the ‘reading for pleasure’ books offered to pupils and in our increasingly diverse society many children do not find themselves reflected on the cover of these books and so I worked with a focus group to challenge this assumption.

Implementation

A convenience sample of six student volunteers, representing the majority female demographic of the course, made up a focus group. Firstly, students were introduced to Sara Ahmed’s writing on invisible whiteness in a diverse population, from a hegemonic position of privilege and power (2012). Secondly, using a census guide published by the Department for Education (2013), we examined the wide range of ethnicities currently present in UK classrooms. Thirdly, I randomly selected 50 children’s picture books to enable the trainees to identify the main protagonists by their ethnicity and then compared their findings to the census data.

The activity revealed that very few of the ethnicities listed on the census were represented in the children’s books, with a majority representation of white protagonists.  The trainees then repeated this activity (Blackledge, 2000) on their school work placements. The trainees followed the University’s ethical guidance and gained permission from each of the schools to carry out this investigation.

Impact

Outcomes confirmed the hypothesis that the majority of children were under-represented in the ‘reading for pleasure’ books in their classrooms.

The trainees presented their findings to their peers, which led to a deep discussion, where students questioned the content of their own personal reading as well as that provided in the classroom.

The trainees also requested that this practical activity should be undertaken by all trainees in their first year to inform their early understanding of social justice. This was an unexpected outcome for both the trainees and myself. They took ownership of their learning and recognised that, by being proactive, they were key in refining an aspect of curriculum design. They are proud of this achievement and of their attitudinal shift.

Reflections

The certainty of evidence-based research gave the trainees the confidence to challenge provision in schools and while it must be acknowledged that teacher practitioners are working hard to ensure that they provide classrooms that are equitable and fair, there are still areas to address, however small. This research led to attitudinal change in the students and ensured that they understood, at a deep level, what social justice means. Without this process, the students would have assumed that the books provided for pupils in schools have been carefully selected with pupils at the heart of the choices made.

Follow up

In response to the request from the focus group, this book audit activity is now embedded as part of curriculum design. It has been organized as a school based task, to be repeated annually to support the teaching and learning that takes place with first year student teachers.

Links

Ahmed, S. (2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. London: Duke University Press.

Blackledge, A. (2000). Literacy, Power and Social Justice. London: Trentham Books Ltd.

Department for Education. (2013). Schools, pupils and their characteristics. Retrieved March 27, 2016 from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2013

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

Connecting with the Curriculum Framework in student participation at academic conferences

Dr Madeleine Davies and Dr Bethany Layne, School of Literature and Languages
m.k.davies@reading.ac.uk

Overview

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.

Objectives

  • 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.

Context

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.

Implementation

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.

Impact

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.

Reflections

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.

Improving student engagement with resources using online Reading Lists

Students engagement with recommended academic resources is key to developing a deeper understanding of their discipline and, ultimately, a more satisfying and stimulating educational environment. Seamless access to resources cited on reading lists has been much improved over the last 14 months with further investment in Library e-resources and the implementation of the Talis Aspire Reading Lists system across the University. But access to resources does not necessarily equate to improved engagement with them. So how can we improve student engagement with scholarly resources? Additional functionality within Talis Aspire lists may offer solutions for both students and staff.

We now have over 2,200 lists on the system from 2015-16 and 2016-17, representing 1,400+ modules taught across the University. Over 128,750 items have been linked to these lists (79,000 of which are cited on published lists). With such a vast amount of materials recommended to students, learning how to manage academic reading, develop effective note taking and time management techniques are key to effectively and meaningfully engaging with a wide range of resources to support their studies.

Making use of the additional functionality offered by Talis Aspire offers students the opportunity to:  Additional list functionality

  • prioritise reading order (by sorting items by ‘importance’, where they have been marked up as ‘essential’, ‘recommended’ or ‘further’ reading by the module convenor/list publisher)
  • allocate a ‘read status’ to items (e.g. ‘Have read’, ‘Will read’, ‘Reading now’, ‘Won’t read’)
  • make notes – accessible only to them  – on the resources they have read (see screenshot, right)

Encouraging your students to use their reading lists in this way will not only encourage the development of key study skills but will also enable tutors to address any issues or concerns arising at point of need, via the dashboard facility.

The dashboard provides academic staff with an overview of student ‘read statuses’, the number of notes made against each resource and provides a summary of page views (number of times your list has been viewed in total), number of ‘clicks’ (number of times a students has clicked through to an item on the list), number of annotations (what read statuses have been used or notes made (though the content of these notes remains accessible only to the note maker).

The advantages of this are:

  • tutors can see at a glance which resources have been viewed most frequently on the list
  • potential issues relating to resources marked as ‘won’t read’ or those infrequently viewed can be addressed at point of need, e.g. if a resource needs further explanation this could be incorporated into the next seminar/meeting with your students Dashboard for staff

Screencasts are currently in development for both students and staff to assist with using these additional functions.

If students are encouraged by their tutors to make greater use of this additional functionality, the analytics which can then be drawn from this activity will help inform the way certain resources are presented within your modules and, it is hoped, encourage students to engage further with the cited resources, whilst developing key study skills.

Study Advice have produced a guide on managing academic reading and effective note taking, which can also be promoted to students to help develop these skills.

For further information about all aspects of the implementation of Reading Lists, please email Kerry Webb, Talis implementation project manager.