Driving programme development in the IOE: student focus groups and paper writing

Jo Anna Reed Johnson – Institute of Education

j.a.reedjohnson@reading.ac.uk

Link back to case studies on the T and L Exchange website

Overview

This article outlines the thinking to drive programme development through student focus groups across three IOE programmes.  The outcome to write a paper and present at a conference helped me to frame this project with a team of academics focusing on changes made during Covid-19 (2020-2021).  This article will share reflections on setting up and running of the focus groups, the delivery of the conference presentation and the final paper writing.  Finally, it will discuss what we have learnt from this and what we will continue to do.

Objectives

  • Share 4 academic perspectives on the redesigning of three modules (SKE, STEAM, PGCE Sec Science) that all have practical elements (laboratory or school), due to Covid-19, by sharing what we did and exploring the student perspectives
  • Show how we designed opportunities for discussion and collaboration when conducting practical work or school related work online
  • Consider the use of student focus groups for programme co-development
  • Reflect on the collaborative nature of paper writing and co-programme reflections

Context

At the IOE there are a range of teacher education programmes, with a practical focus.  The four colleagues engaged in this article were involved with Skills in Schools (ED2TS1 – March to July 2020), SKE (IESKEP and PFTZSKEMATHSA– March to Aug 2020) and PGCE Secondary Science (GFSTSCIENCE – September 2020 to June 2021).  These programmes all require students to work in schools and engage in a science laboratory (if science focused).  As COVID hit in March 2020 we had to think quickly and imaginatively, transforming our provision to be online where required.  Having worked across all three programmes I felt it was pedagogically appropriate to engage our students in the ways we had throughout their learning during the pandemic, where they worked in online communities of practice to reflect.  Thus, we decided to set up a series of focus groups with students reflecting on the impact of the changes and to provide insights for future programme innovations.  This culminated in a conference presentation and paper.

Implementation

The focus was to drive programme development through reflections and shared experiences of academics and students.  I set up a project timeline and MS Team to manage and drive the deliverables, with the end goal to engage students as co-programme developers and to culminate in a conference presentation and paper.  It required framing the project, seeking ethical approval and funding, setting up focus groups to collect data, then reflections and writing up.

Framing the project allowed me to maintain the focus for the redesigning of three modules that all had practical elements (laboratory or school), due to Covid-19.  And then exploring how that had impacted on students through focus groups. It was the conference and paper deadlines that drove this activity and timeline.  At first colleagues wondered why we were writing a paper for a submission related to the School of Architecture (Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University), but in fact it was because it was about ‘place’.  The remit was a paper related to ‘online education: teaching in a time of change’.

Seeking ethical approval and funding all required knowing where to go and what to do.  Ethical approval required submission of an ethical approval form (including consent form, interview schedule, focus group details) to the IOE ethics committee.  Then applying for funding through the University Travel Grants Scheme – Tasha Easton – e.saxon@reading.ac.uk

Data Collection was initially carried out using MS Forms, for the initial feedback request.  Consent was also required, so where this could not be achieved in person, there was a need to have consent approval attached to the top of the MS Form.  Once participants had consented and those who were willing had indicated taking part in the focus groups, I could set up a series of focus groups across the three programmes, to take place on MS Teams.  We decided to split the four sets of interviews into subject specific groups so that the conversations and reflections could be driven by the students.  One student was nominated as the chair, and they had a template of questions to guide their discussions.

Paper Writing was a challenge as we needed to fit this around our Teaching Focused roles.  I created a writing template after attending an IOE Research and Scholarship Writing Workshop with Professor Alan Floyd.  I scheduled meetings to review, discuss and allocate sections of writing.

The whole process began in December 2020 and continued through to 30 May 2021, with the conference in 21-23 April 2021 (July 2021- Paper Publication).

 

Impact

There were several elements of impact:

  • Working collaboratively with colleagues to reflect on programme development
  • Engaging students as co-programme developers
  • Attending a conference (where funding allowed)
  • Conference paper presentation
  • Conference paper publication

Reflection

In terms of the setting up of focus groups and driving data collection, we learnt that we needed to be organised, and the timeline/plan really helped to keep that focus.  There were times where we were too busy, but we had to create time as we had deliverables to meet.  If we had not have had those deliverables of a conference presentation and paper, we may have let this slip and do it ‘next year’.

Writing the paper was a challenge in that we had not done this together before, and some colleagues had not written an academic paper in a very long time, or even an educational one.  So, creating that writing template and allocating tasks worked.

Gaining conference funding can always be a challenge.  But reaching out and asking was the first thing to do. Then finding out what could be offered at the University/School Level.  Next time, we would all like to attend the conference.  Being an online conference made it more difficult to engage, and I think next time we would plan to all get funding an attend a face-to-face conference so that we too can benefit from being part of the Community of Practice.

What we will continue to do….

  • Develop students as programme co-developers through focus groups, engaging them in the paper writing.
  • Use focus groups to help us (academics) reflect on our own practice and discuss developments across programmes.
  • Drive programme development through the sharing of practices, building communities of practice with timelines and deliverables.

What else will we do…

  • Engage students in the paper writing and conference process.
  • Seek funding to attend a F2F conference with colleagues to allows us time and space to continue to reflect on practice.

Links

Research and Travel Grants Committee: https://www.reading.ac.uk/closed/research/committees/res-researchtravelgrantsubcommittee.aspx

AMPS Conference 21-23 April 2021 – https://architecturemps.com/online-ed-conference/

Merging the Academic Tutor System into Compulsory Core Skills Modules

Lizzy Lander – School of Chemistry Food and Pharmacy

e.r.lander@reading.ac.uk

Link back to case studies on the T and L Exchange website

Overview

This blog will outline the successful integration of core (compulsory) skills modules with the academic tutor system via a curriculum of tutorials designed in this project to be delivered by tutors. This project involved the successful design and scheduling of tutorials for tutors to deliver that supported content (e.g. writing and referencing) in core skills modules to allow better support for student academic skill development and also more closely link tutors into modular taught material.

Objectives

  • Link new academic tutor system with existing Key Skills modules through newly designed academic tutorials discussing core skills to be delivered by tutors.
  • Design this curriculum of tutorials to improve engagement and development of skills at relevant points in the academic year.
  • Design tutorial resources for tutors to ensure consistent support for tutees.
  • Schedule tutorials so tutors and tutees have a place/time to meet in their timetable to facilitate engagement.

Context

SBS had been delivering core skill “Key Skills” modules in parts 1 & 2 for a number of years (since 2015) that focused on academic skills (e.g. writing, referencing,). The introduction of the academic tutor system (2018) with greater focus on academic skills development was closely aligned with the learning outcomes of these modules therefore it was proposed to link the two together.

Implementation

Firstly, an audit of the core skills taught in the Key Skills modules took place to identify which would be most impactful for student development to be reinforced by being integrated into tutorials with academic tutors. Then assignment timetabling was examined to create a schedule of tutorials for the identified skills which allowed practice and formative feedback before assignments, as well as post-assignment feedback to allow students to identify areas of development.

Next, tutorials were formally timetabled, so students viewed these sessions as part of their “normal” academic schedule rather than optional meetings with their tutors.

Afterwards, resources for tutors were created so they could facilitate these tutorials. This consisted of a one to two page pro-forma to inform tutors about the running of the session. Other resources created included materials for activities such as essays to critique as a group. This would also help improve consistency between tutors delivering these sessions as all tutors would have the same session to deliver.

Finally, this project was presented to staff along with details on how resources and information would be disseminated (initially email). Throughout the year tutorials were run by academic tutors directed by the pro-formas and resources with support if needed. Tutors also marked their tutees’ assignments in Key Skills and gave them feedback in their tutorials. Outside of the scheduled tutorials tutors gave one-to-one support for tutees as needed.

Impact

The implementation and influence of these structured and timetabled tutorials was highly effective in supporting tutees in improving academic skills and improving the consistency of tutors engaging with their tutees. Positive impact was clear from the students (surveying parts 1 + 2 in 2019); 53% felt supported/very supported by their tutor and overall, 65% were satisfied/very satisfied with their sessions with 62% finding the summative feedback from tutors helpful and 72% found it useful/very useful to have tutorials in their timetable. Tutors also fed back they have a much clearer idea of what do at tutorials and how best to support student development, whilst valuing the resources provided in this project.

Overall staff and student experience was positively impacted with staff being led and guided to successfully support student development more effectively and consistently.

Reflection

This activity was successful in the way in which it blended together academic tutors,  compulsory modules, as well as assessment and feedback. This generated a platform from which students could learn and practise academic skills for success at university in both a compulsory module and with their tutor through formative and summative feedback. This also helped formalise the role of the tutor for both staff and students giving both groups direction, which ultimately benefitted the students’ academic development. Given that each tutorial had a pro-forma of discussions and activities this helped all tutorials stay consistent so all students got broadly the same development opportunities. Finally, the timetabling of meetings made the tutorials like a normal part of the academic calendar encouraging engagement.

Implementation when supplying information and resources via email to academics was shown to not be the most efficient distribution method and ultimately, some students did not attend tutorials despite reminders of the purpose of these sessions, meaning not all students benefitted from this project.

Follow up

The core outcome of the project in that Key Skills modules would be linked by academic tutorials run by tutors and assessments marked by tutors has continued to be implemented in SBS. However, some alterations have been made for more efficient accessing of materials, by placing resources on a OneDrive that could be accessed at any time. This then evolved into an MS Team to store these resources and also allow tutors to ask questions.

References

Learning to Interpret and Assess Complex and Incomplete Environmental Data

Andrew Wade a.j.wade@reading.ac.uk

Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences

Overview

Field work is well known to improve student confidence and enhance skills and knowledge, yet there is evidence for a decline in field work in Secondary Education, especially amongst A-level Geography students. This is problematic as students are entering Geography and Environmental Science degree programmes with reduced skills and confidence around field-based data collection and interpretation, and this appears to be leading to an apprehension around data collection for dissertations. A simple field-based practical where 47 Part 2 Geography and Environmental Science students tested their own hypotheses about factors that control water infiltration into soils was developed. Improved confidence and appreciation of critical thinking around environmental data was reported in a survey of the student experience. Student coursework demonstrated that attainment was very good, and that skills and critical thinking can be recovered and enhanced with relatively simple, low-cost field-based practical classes that can be readily embedded to scaffold subsequent modules, including the dissertation.

Context

The importance of field work is well established in Geography and Environmental Science as a means of active and peer-to-peer learning. However, students appear to have little confidence in designing their own field work for hypotheses testing when they arrive for Part 1, probably due to a decline in field work in Secondary Education (Kinder 2016, Lambert and Reiss 2014). Within the Geography and Environmental Science programmes, there is a part two, 20 credit ‘Research Training’ module that develops the same skills. However, this research training module and the dissertation are seen by the students as being of high risk in that they perceive a low mark will have a significant negative impact on the overall degree classification. Consequently, students are seemingly risk adverse around field-based projects. The idea here is to make field-based training more commonplace throughout multiple modules through inclusion of relatively simple practical training, so that hypotheses testing, critical thinking and confidence with ‘messy’ environmental data become intuitive and students are at ease with these concepts. In parallel, GES module cohorts have increased in recent years and this is an additional reason to develop simple, low-cost practical classes.

Objectives

The aim of the project was to determine if a simple, field-based practical would help boost student confidence around field data collection and interpretation, and hypotheses testing. The objective was to give the students a safe and supportive environment in which to develop their own hypotheses and method for field data collection, and to learn to interpret often ‘messy’ and ‘complex’ environmental data.

Figure 1: The practical class took place on the hill-slope on campus between the Atmospheric Observatory and Whiteknights Lake on the 28 October 2019 over 4 hours in total.

 

Figure 2: Students used a Decagon Devices Mini-Disc Infiltrometer to measure unsaturated hydraulic conductivity to test their own hypotheses about the factors controlling infiltration

Implementation

A practical was designed where 47 Part 2 students, working in groups of four or five, developed their own hypotheses around the factors controlling rainfall infiltration on a hill-slope in the class room following an in-class briefing, and then tested these hypotheses in the field using Mini Disc infiltrometers (Figs. 1, 2 and 3). There was a further follow-up session where each student spent two hours processing the data collected and was briefed on the coursework write-up.

Figure 3: The students tested hypotheses around distance from the lake, vegetation and soil type, soil moisture and soil compaction. Each student group spent two hours in the field.

Impact

Of 40 students who responded to an on-line survey:

  • 37 agreed the practical helped develop their critical thinking skills around complex and incomplete environmental data;
  • 36 agreed they were now better able to deal with uncertainty in field-based measurements;
    and 38 feel more confident working in the field.

Student quotes included:

  • “The practical was very useful in helping to understand the processes happening as well as being more confident in using the equipment.”
  • “I thought the practical was good as it was another way to process information which tends to work better for me, doing and seeing how it works allows me to gain a higher understanding in the processes”

The majority of students gained first class and upper second-class marks for the project write-up and the reports submitted demonstrated good critical thinking skills in the interpretation of the infiltration measurements. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of students opting for hydrology-based dissertations.

Reflections

Confidence and critical thinking skills can be enhanced with relatively simple, low-cost field-based practicals that scaffold subsequent modules including Research Training for Geographers and Environmental Science, and the dissertation, and focus on hypotheses testing in addition to knowledge acquisition. Each student spent 2 hours in the field on campus and 2 hours processing their data, with further time on the coursework write-up. This seems a reasonable investment in time given the benefits in confidence, skills and knowledge. Embedding such practicals should not replace the larger skills-based modules, such as Research Training, nor should such practical classes replace entirely those that focus more on knowledge acquisition, but these practical classes, where students explore their own ideas, appear to be a useful means to boost student confidence and critical thinking skills at an early stage. The practical was also an excellent means of encouraging peer to peer interaction and learning, and this and similar practical classes have good potential for the integration of home and NUIST students.

Follow up

Embed similar practical classes in part one modules to build confidence at the outset of the degree programme and, at part three, to further enable integration of home and NUIST students.

Links and References

Kinder A. 2016. Geography: The future of fieldwork in schools. Online: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/geography-the-future-of-fieldwork-in-schools/ (Last accessed: 03 Jan 2020).

Lambert D and Reiss MJ. 2014, The place of fieldwork in geography and science qualifications, Institute of Education, University of London. ISBN: 978-1-78277-095-4. pp. 20

Can Online Learning Facilitate Meaningful Interpersonal Connection?

Shelley Harris

shelley.harris@reading.ac.uk

Overview

As part of my role as a Creative Writing lecturer, I link undergraduates with professionals from the publishing industry, offering – among other things – extracurricular events for students in the School of Literature and Languages. In the past, these have broadened students’ understanding of the roles involved in publishing and given them hands-on, CV-friendly experience of the skills required in those roles. The goal is to improve students’ knowledge, confidence and employability rather than secure them a job, though sometimes they are given an unexpected leg-up: after a course in 2018, the visiting editor was so impressed by one of our students that he introduced her to a contact at Hachette.

Whatever the specifics of the event, I always seek to bring those professionals into the room – in part to demystify this competitive sector, and in part because, as a ‘high context’ industry (Hall 1977), it has a historically offered jobs to the privileged: those with cultural capital. My aim is to give all our students the chance to accrue such capital.

 

 

Objectives

My ambition for the online event remained the same as its original iteration: to facilitate meaningful connections between our students and the industry guests.

Context

In Spring 2020 I organised an event for Professional Track which – after a panel discussion – would put students into informal breakout groups with early-career publishing professionals. This sort of personal contact is rare, and hugely beneficial for students with an ambition to work in publishing.

The event was scheduled for April, the tea and cake were ordered – and then lockdown occurred. With some trepidation, I redesigned it as an online experience using Blackboard Collaborate. But could an online event really enable the sorts of human connection offered by a face-to-face meeting?

Implementation

TEL’s one-to-one help sessions were a gamechanger for this project, with TEL advisor Chris Johnson offering expert guidance, including the sorts of troubleshooting tips that make all the difference to an online project. There isn’t enough space here to detail them all, but I would hugely recommend making the most of TEL’s expertise.

On the day, the event began with a conventional panel discussion in which I interviewed the guests (an editor, a publicist, a books marketer and a literary agent’s assistant) about their routes into publishing and their experience of work. Students turned off their mics and video, watched the panel and put questions into the text chat, which I then moderated. Next, I put students into small groups using Collaborate’s ‘Breakout Groups’ feature. Each included one publishing professional. I invited all participants to turn on their cameras and mics so that discussion could be more personal and informal. As facilitator, I moved between groups – not participating, but making sure things were running smoothly.

Impact

To what extent was meaningful interpersonal connection facilitated by this online event? Qualitative feedback from students suggests that the ensuing discussions were fruitful. One respondent said: ‘Engaging with the industry professionals in the smaller groups was something that I found to be particularly helpful’, while another said they appreciated ‘talking to individuals with real experience in the sector I am curious about working in.

As with the previous course, one student benefitted in an immediate way; with a guest speaker offering to show her artwork to a children’s publisher. It was encouraging evidence that remote events can bring people together.

Indeed, there were aspects of the online event that seemed to offer advantages over face-to-face meeting; online, there’s a hierarchy of depersonalisation, from a simulacrum of face-to-face (cameras and mics on) through audio only, to text chat which identifies students by name and finally the anonymity of Collaborate’s whiteboard function. This is hard to reproduce in a bricks-and-mortar seminar room – and it liberates participants.

An example of that liberation came in two of the small group discussions, when talk was slow to start and the guest speakers asked students to put questions into text chat instead. Conversation picked up, and once it was under way, students were invited to activate their cameras and microphones. On reflection, I’d start all small group discussion like this next time. The feedback below (in answer to a question about the ways in which the online event was better than an in-person one) suggests how much safer this can make students feel, and how it can lower inhibitions about joining in.

Reflections

We all accept that in-person encounters offer us ways of connecting to each other that are hard to reproduce online, but the reverse is also true. It’s something our neurodivergent students already know (Satterfield, Lepage and Ladjahasan 2015), but my experience on this project has made me sharply aware of the ways in which all participants stand to benefit.

The ‘Get into Publishing’ event has left me cautiously optimistic about facilitating meaningful social connections in the online environment, and keen to further explore its unique social opportunities. And, as Gilly Salmon (2011) makes clear, those connections are not just ‘extras’ – they are absolutely central to successful remote learning.

Links and References

Hall E T (1977), Beyond Culture. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books

Satterfield D, Lepage C & Ladjahasan N (2015) ‘Preferences for online course delivery methods in higher education for students with autism spectrum disorders’, Procedia Manufacturing, 3, pp. 3651-3656

Salmon G (2011), E-Moderating : The Key to Online Teaching and Learning. New York: Routledge, p36

Improving student assessment literacy & engaging students with rubrics

Dr. Allan Laville

School of Psychology & Clinical Languages Sciences

In this 14 minute video, early rubrics adopter Dr. Allan Laville shares how he and colleagues in Psychology have sought to improve student assessment literacy, and have successfully engaged students with their assessment rubrics by embedding analysis of them into their in-class teaching and by using screencasts, discussion boards and student partnership. Lots of useful ideas and advice – well worth a watch.

Misconceptions About Flipped Learning

Misconceptions about Flipped Learning

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, colleagues in UoR are called to adjust their courses almost overnight from face to face teaching and to fully online ones. As the immediate future is still full of uncertainty, UoR (2020) teaching and learning framework are asking us to be creative in our pedagogical teaching approaches and to come up with strategies that would make courses stimulating and engaging. Flipped learning is one of the approaches suggested in the framework. With that in mind, I have written two articles about flipped learning published here and here.

Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach which comes timely during Covid-19. The advancement of internet technology, online learning platform and social media combined with growing exposure to flipped learning pedagogical approach promote the adoption of flipped learning during this pandemic. However, despite its popularity and published literature about flipped learning, it is evident that there are many misconceptions about it as it remains a somewhat poorly-understood concept among many.

In this last article, I thought I write and share with you some of the misconceptions about flipped learning that I resonate most. At the same time, let us reflect on them and see how we can overcome them if possible. Your feedbacks are always welcome and please do send me your thoughts via w.tew@henley.ac.uk

 

Misconception 1: Flipped learning is about putting video contents online

Reflection: This can be the most popular format to do flipped learning, but it is NOT about putting videos online and having students do homework in class (or online during this pandemic time). Referring to UoR (2020) Teaching and Learning: Framework for Autumn term 2020, we are encouraged to prepare our teaching and lectures in a video format. This format works well with flipped learning instructional strategy for delivering our teaching contents but flipped learning can be about much more than that. Colleagues can opt for videos or just text (readings) materials if they flip their lessons. For example, we can make good use of BB LMS platform to include online reading materials using talis aspire, journal articles, case studies, news that are relevant for our students. In another word, flipped learning does not necessarily use videos entirely.

 

Misconception 2: You need to be in the video

Reflection: This is not necessary the case especially so many of us are just shy and ‘unnatural’ in front of the camera, just how I feel for myself. This is why voice recorded PowerPoint format can be a ‘lifesaver’ to many of us. Having said that, having you in the video adds a personal touch to the learning materials for students. For example, wearing different hats when you are filming your videos make it more interesting to ‘draw’ students’ attention to your contents and lessons. Try it, you probably earn a “Mad hatter” title from your students. Just one of my crazy ideas.

 

Misconception 3: You need to flip your entire module 

ReflectionMany of us assume that we need to flip it for our entire module for entire academic year. NOT entirely necessarily so! The whole idea about flipped learning is to foster student-centred learning and teaching can be personalised to suit the students’ needs and learning pace. Therefore, you can flip just one concept or topic, one entire term or some weeks. Remember, the focus is on the students’ learning needs – one size fits all approach definitely does not fits in a flipped learning environment.

 

Misconception 4Flipped learning is a fad and people has been doing this for years in the past

Reflection: This is what my initial thought when I first come to know about flipped learning. A fad is defined as “a style, activity, or interest that is very popular for a short period of time”, an innovation that never takes hold. Flipped learning is anything but this. The evidence that it is still actively studied and researched today proves that it is not just a fad. Talbert (2017) argued that flipped learning is not just rebranding of old techniques. Flipped learning has its pedagogical framework and values in its effects on learning. In brief, the definition of flipped learning (refer Flipped Learning Network, 2014) has differentiated it with any learning theories.

 

Misconception 5: Flipping the classroom takes too much time

Reflection: To be honest, I do think this is true. Preparing for flipped learning and flipping the lessons involve a lot of energy and time. Based on my own experience, I personally can testify that it can take a significant amount of time. This also subjects to how tech-savvy is the teacher and how much of the teaching content needs to be flipped. However, the fruit of the hard labour and time investment, once designed, it will save time. Irony, isn’t it. That’s my experience. What I am trying to show you that once you have it done, you will be able to use the same content over and over again, year after year. Then, any updating and changes to the contents will not take as much time as creating everything from scratch again.

Finally, I hope you enjoy my series of flipped learning published on this platform. I sincerely urge you to consider flipped learning pedagogical approach during this pandemic and please do not hesitate to be in touch to continue this conversation.

References

Flipped Learning Network (FLN). (2014) The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™ , Reproducible PDF can be found at www.flippedlearning.org/definition.

Talbert, R (2017) Flipped Learning: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty. Stylus Publishing, LLC

UoR (2020) Teaching and Learning: Framework for Autumn term 2020, available at: https://www.reading.ac.uk/web/files/leadershipgroup/autumn-teaching-proposal-v11.pdf

 

The DEL Feedback Action Plan

Madeleine Davies, Cindy Becker and Michael Lyons- SLL

Overview

A feedback audit and consultation with the Student Impact Network revealed a set of practices DEL needs to amend. The research produced new student-facing physical and online posters, designed by a ‘Real Jobs’ student, to instruct students on finding their feedback online, and generated ‘marking checklists’ for staff to indicate what needs to be included in feedback and what needs to be avoided.

Objectives

  • To assess why students scored DEL poorly on feedback in NSS returns
  • To consult with students on types of feedback they considered useful
  • To brief colleagues on good practice feedback
  • To produce consistency (but not conformity) in terms of, for example, the amount of feedback provided, feedforward, full feedback for First Class work, etc.
  • To assess whether marking rubrics would help or hinder DEL feedback practice

Context

The ‘DEL Feedback Action Project’ addresses the persistent issue of depressed NSS responses to Department of English Literature assessment and feedback practices. The responses to questions in ‘teaching quality’ sections are favourable but the 2018 NSS revealed that, for English Studies, Reading is in the third quartile for the ’Assessment and Feedback’ section and the bottom quartile for question 8 (scoring 64% vs the 74% median score) and question 9 (scoring 70% vs the 77% median score).

In October 2018, DEL adopted eSFG. An EMA student survey undertaken in January 2019 polled 100 DEL students and found that, though students overwhelmingly supported the move to eSFG, complaints about the quality of DEL feedback persisted.

Implementation

Michael Lyons began the project with an audit of DEL feedback and identified a number of areas where the tone or content of feedback may need improving. This material was taken to the Student Impact Network which was shown anonymised samples of feedback. Students commented on it. This produced a set of indicators which became the basis of the ‘marking checklist’ for DEL staff. Simultaneously, DEL staff were asked to discuss feedback practice in ‘professional conversations’ for the annual Peer Review exercise. This ensured that the combined minds of the whole department were reflecting on this issue

Student consultation also revealed that many students struggle to find their feedback online. With this in mind, we collaborated with TEL to produce ‘maps to finding feedback’ for students. A ‘Real Jobs’ student designer converted this information into clear, readable posters which can be displayed online or anywhere in the University (the information is not DEL-specific). The posters will be of particular use for incoming students but our research also suggested that Part 3 students are often unaware of how to access feedback.

The results of the initial audit and consultation with students indicated where our feedback had been falling short. We wrote a summary of these finding for DEL HoD and DDTL.

Research into marking rubrics revealed that DEL marking would not be suited to using this feedback practice. This is because they can be inflexible and because DEL students resist ‘generic’ feedback.

Impact

The student-facing posters and staff-facing ‘marking checklist’ speak to two of the main issues with DEL feedback that were indicated by students. The latter will deter overly-brief, curt feedback and will prompt more feedforward and comment about specific areas of the essay (for example, the Introductory passage, the essay structure, referencing, grammar, use of secondary resources, etc).

With DEL staff now focused on the feedback issue, and with students equipped to access their feedback successfully, we are hoping to see a marked improvement in NSS scores in this area in 2020-21.

For ‘surprises’, see ‘Reflections’.

Reflections

The pressure on academic staff to mark significant amounts of work within tight deadlines can lead to potential unevenness in feedback. We are hoping that our research prompts DEL to streamline its assessment practice to enhance the quality and consistency of feedback and feedforward.

Students’ responses in the Student Impact Network also suggested that additional work is required on teaching students how to receive feedback. Over-sensitivity in some areas can produce negative scores. With this in mind, the project will terminate with an equivalent to the ‘marking checklist’ designed for students. This will remind students that feedback is anonymous, objective, and intended to pave the way to success.

Follow up

Monitoring NSS DEL feedback scores in the 2020-21 round, and polling students in the next session to ensure that they are now able to access their feedback.

Continuing to reflect on colleagues’ marking workload and the link between this and unconstructive feedback.

 

 

Student co-creation of course material in Contract Law

Dr Rachel Horton, School of Law

Overview

The PLaNT project involved the co-creation, with students, of a series and podcasts and other materials for Contract Law (LW1CON). Student leaders consulted with their peers to decide what materials students felt would most enhance learning on the module and then created these together with the Module Convenor.

Objectives

This project aimed to engage current law students as co-creators of course learning material.

Context

Contract Law is a large compulsory first year module – in an average year between 250 and 300 students take the module –  taught using a traditional combination of lectures and small group teaching. Module staff were keen to develop additional resources for students to access, in their own time, through Blackboard and wanted to engage students in developing these.

Implementation

Staff met with selected students to introduce a student curated Blackboard space, in which the students had authoring permissions to generate podcast feeds, which would be accessible to all students enrolled on the module.  These students were then asked to consult with their peers to generate ideas for use of the space/topics for the podcasts.

The student leaders then created a series of podcasts, largely focusing on revision materials and assessment and exam technique by interviewing lecturers on the module. The students also devised and created a series of written materials, in a variety of formats, and lecturers provided feedback on these (chiefly to ensure accuracy) before they were uploaded onto Blackboard.

Impact

The student leaders were highly engaged and enthusiastic and went well beyond their original remit in devising course content. They fed back, informally, that they had found the experience immensely beneficial to their own learning, as well as giving them the opportunity to develop a range of leadership, technical and communication skills.

Statistics on Blackboard showed that the materials were well used by the rest of the cohort, particularly in the immediate run up to the exams. While it proved difficult to recruit students for a focus group after the project had finished, in order to gain more structured feedback, student representatives commented at the Staff Student Liaison Committee that they had received very positive feedback from students about the additional materials created through the project.

Reflections

The success of the activity was largely a result of the enthusiasm, imagination and commitment of the students involved. We were lucky to recruit students who were able to work very well together, and with their peers, to create resources to genuinely enhance learning, and to fill gaps in course materials that may otherwise have gone unnoticed by staff.

The project also offered an opportunity for the teaching staff on the module to reflect on the content and format of materials students want. Even after the funded project has finished this proved very helpful in enabling us to continue to produce similar materials, particularly once teaching had to move online in the wake of COVID-19.

The project and funding began in the Spring term and with hindsight it would have been beneficial to start the project earlier in the course. In particular this would have provided opportunity for gathering more structured feedback from the whole cohort (it was difficult to secure a meaningful student response to feedback once the summer exams were over.)

Follow up

The materials produced by the students remain relevant for future cohorts and will continue to be made available. New materials will be developed along similar lines, with student input wherever possible, particularly next year as lectures move wholly online.

Taking Academic Language and Literacy Courses Online

Dr Karin Whiteside, ISLI

Overview

Alongside its embedded discipline-specific provision, the Academic English Programme (AEP) offers a range of open sign-up academic language and literacy courses each term. This case study outlines the process of rapidly converting the summer term provision online, and reports student feedback and reflections on the experience which will help inform continued online delivery this autumn term.

Objectives

Our aim was to provide academic language and literacy support which, as far as practicably possible, was equivalent in scope and quality to our normal face-to-face offering for the same time of year. In summer term, our provision is particularly important for master’s students working on their dissertations, with high numbers applying for Dissertation & Thesis Writing, but courses such as Core Writing Skills and Academic Grammar also providing important ‘building block’ input needed for competent research writing.

Context

Prior to the COVID crisis, our face-to-face courses on different aspects of written and spoken Academic English have been offered for open application on a first-come-first served basis, with a rolling weekly waiting list. With a maximum of 20 students per class, we have been able to offer interactive, task-based learning involving analysis of target language and communicative situations in context, practice exercises and opportunity for discussion and feedback within a friendly small-group environment.

Implementation

Within an extremely tight turnaround time of four weeks to achieve this, we determined a slightly slimmed down programme of five ‘open-to-all’ online courses –  Academic Grammar, Core Academic Writing Skills, Dissertation & Thesis Writing, Essays: Criticality, Argument, Structure and Listening & Note-taking – and replaced our normal application process with self-enrolment via Blackboard, meaning uncapped numbers could sign up and have access to lessons.

Time restraints meant we had to be pragmatic in terms of where to focus our energies. Conversion of course content online needed to be done in a way that was both effective and sustainable, thinking of the potential continued need for online AEP provision going into 2020/21. We predicted (rightly!) that the process of initially converting small-group interactive learning materials to an online format in which their inductive, task-based qualities were retained would be labour-intensive and time-consuming. Therefore, for the short term (summer 2020) we adopted a primarily asynchronous approach, with a view to increasing the proportion of synchronous interactivity in future iterations once content was in place. In terms of converting face-to-face lessons to online, we found what often worked most effectively was to break down contents of a two-hour face-to-face lesson into 2-3 task-focused online parts, each introduced and concluded with short, narrated PowerPoints/MP4 videos. We determined a weekly release-date for lesson materials on each course, often accompanied by a ‘flipped’ element, labelled ‘Pre-lesson Task’, released a few days prior to the main lesson materials. We set up accompanying weekly Discussion Forums where students could ask questions or make comments, for which there was one ‘live’ hour per week. Apart from Pre-Lesson Tasks, task answers were always made available at the same time as lessons to allow students complete autonomy.

Moving rapidly to online delivery meant not necessarily having the highest specification e-learning tools immediately to hand but instead working creatively to get the best out of existing technologies, including the Blackboard platform, which prior to this term had had a mainly ‘depository’ function in AEP. To ensure ease of navigation, the various attachments involved in creating such lessons needed to be carefully curated by Folder and Item within BB Learning Materials. Key to this was clear naming and sequencing, with accompanying instructions at Folder and Item level.

Impact, Reflections and Follow-up

Positive outcomes of taking the summer AEP provision online have included noticeably higher uptake (e.g. in Academic Grammar, 92 self-enrolments compared to 30 applications in summer term 2018/19) and noticeably higher real engagement (e.g. with an average of 11 students attending the 2018/19 summer face-to-face Academic Grammar class, compared to a high of 57 and average of 38 students accessing each online lesson). Running the courses asynchronously online has meant no waiting lists, allowing access to course content to all students who register interest. It also means that students can continue to join courses and work through materials over the summer vacation period, which is particularly useful for international master’s students working on Dissertations for September submission, and for cohorts overseas such as the IoE master’s students in Guangdong.

In survey responses gathered thus far, response to course content has been largely positive: “It provided me an insight into what is expected structure and criticality. Now that I am writing my essay, I could see the difference”. Students appreciated teacher narration, noticing if it was absent: “I would prefer our teacher to talk and explain the subject in every slide.” The clarity of lesson presentation within Blackboard was also noted: “I think the most impressive part in this course is the way these lessons were arranged in BB as every lessons were explicitly highlighted, divided into parts with relevant tasks and their answers. Thus, I could effectively learn the content consciously and unconsciously.”

There were a range of reactions to our approach to online delivery and to online learning more generally.  52% of students were happy with entirely asynchronous learning, while 48% would have preferred a larger element of real-time interactivity: “Although this lessons ensured the freedom in dealing with the material whenever it was possible, the lack of a live-scheduled contact with the teacher and other students was somewhat dispersive.”; “I prefer face to face in the classroom because it encourages me more to contribute”. In normal circumstances, 34% of students said they would want entirely face-to-face AEP classes, whilst 21% would want a blended provision and 45% would prefer learning to remain entirely online, with positive feedback regarding the flexibility of the online provision: “it’s flexible for students to do it depending on their own time.”; “Don’t change the possibility to work asynchronously. It makes it possible to follow despite being a part time student.” Going forward, we plan to design in regular synchronous elements in the form of webinars which link to the asynchronous spine of each course to respond to students’ requests for more live interactivity. We also plan to revisit and refine our use of Discussion Forums in Blackboard. Whilst engagement of lesson content was high, students made limited use of Q&A Forums. It is hoped that more targeted forums directly linked to flipped tasks will encourage greater engagement with this strand of the online delivery in the future.

Links

The AEP website ‘Courses, Workshops and Webinars’ page, which gives details of this summer term’s courses and what will be on offer in autumn: http://www.reading.ac.uk/ISLI/enhancing-studies/academic-english-programme/isli-aep-courses.aspx

Considering wellbeing within the placement module assessment

Allán Laville (Dean for D&I and Lecturer in Clinical Psychology) and Libby Adams (Research Assistant), SPCLS

Overview

This project aimed to design a new alternative assessment to form a part of the MSci Applied Psychology course which puts emphasis on the practical sides of training as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP). This included utilising problem-solving skills and wellbeing strategies.

Objectives

  • This project was funded by SPCLS Teaching & Learning Enhancement Fund and aimed to design an alternative assessment to be used as a part of the MSci Applied Psychology course to support student wellbeing.
  • The project aimed to incorporate an assignment into the curriculum which provides students with transferable problem-solving and wellbeing management strategies which can be used in future mental health support/clinical roles.

Context

The above project was undertaken as within IAPT, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners (PWPs) are required to work in a fast-paced environment seeing multiple patients back-to-back throughout the day. Students on the MSci Applied Psychology course are required in their third year to undertake a work placement 1 day a week in the first term increasing to 2 days a week in the second term. Students are also required to undertake 1 full day of training per week. The aim of the project was to embed an assignment which focusses on managing wellbeing within the curriculum.

Implementation

Allán Laville (Dean for Diversity and Inclusion) brought to light the concept of incorporating wellbeing within the curriculum and contacted Libby Adams (Part 4 MSci Student) to see whether she would take part in the development of the new assessment. Libby Adams was included here as she previously trained as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner and first-hand experienced challenges managing the demands of the PWP role as a trainee and in turn managing her wellbeing.

Libby Adams’ experience

The project was developed with my own challenges in mind, to build upon this we then met with current and past MSci students to gain insight into the challenges they faced. We were then able to condense information and incorporate them within our concept of a wellbeing blog. We then considered how we could problem-solve ways around the areas that could not be included in the blog. At the second stage we met with clinical staff and educators to share our idea and gain feedback on the feasibility of implementation within IAPT services. The final project design was then formed with the above feedback in mind.

Impact

Views from current MSci students on the benefits of the project:

“I think maintaining our own wellbeing is such a critical part of caring professions, and I think that making it a clear and mandatory part of the course you’re not only helping students look after themselves for this year, but also for their future careers as well.”

Relating to the outlined objectives the project successfully designed a prototype assessment which considers the importance of maintaining wellbeing and utilising problem-solving skills. The project will have a positive impact on the individual not only in their placement year but also if they choose to go into a clinical career after university as skills are transferable.

Traffic Light Mood Tracker

Students are required to complete the traffic light system to indicate how they are currently managing their wellbeing. They are required to complete these three times for each blog, once before the reflection, after they have built an action plan based on their reflection and then in the last term of the academic year reflecting on their progress.

Reflections

Allán Laville’s reflections:

The project addressed a key consideration within both University training as well as within the psychological workforce, namely, the importance of explicitly considering the wellbeing of our practitioners and therapists. I am delighted with the outcome of the project and it would not have been possible without Libby. Her commitment to psychological therapies and intrinsic motivation to support others, always shines through!

Libby Adams’ reflections:

The student-staff partnership is key to improving the overall teaching and learning experience. The partnership allows the member of staff to lead as the expert by knowledge and the student to lead as the expert by experience. Such partnerships allow the development of concepts and improvements in teaching and learning which enhance the student and staff experience.

Follow up

In the future we aim to share our findings with other MSci courses and IAPT services with an aim to increase conversations about practitioner wellbeing and highlight its importance within clinical roles. We hope that strategies used in this project can extend beyond students and be used across IAPT services to maintain wellbeing, improve performance and decrease stress and burnout.