The Use and Usefulness of Peer Feedback

Dr Charlotte Newey and Dr Steph Rennick

c.newey@reading.ac.uk

Humanities (Philosophy)

Overview

We undertook a pilot study into the use and usefulness of peer feedback, involving undergraduates and postgraduates from Philosophy at Cardiff University – where peer feedback was not widely used – and for comparison, undergraduates from Law (where peer feedback was well-established).

The study identified three main concerns students have with peer feedback: the expertise of their peers, their motivation and investment, and their ability to interpret and apply grading criteria. Here we outline some simple recommendations to help to mitigate these concerns while allowing educators and students to repeat the many benefits of incorporating peer feedback.

Objectives

Our study’s overarching aims were three-fold (https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/learning-hub/view/improving-peer-review-a-pilot-study):

  1. To trial different opportunities for, and kinds of, peer feedback.
  2. To gather qualitative and quantitative data on the perceived usefulness of peer feedback, before, during, and after interventions.
  3. To improve students’ ability to identify and utilise different kinds of feedback (including, but not limited to, peer feedback).

Ultimately, we wished to improve the perception of peer feedback among students by helping them to understand its usefulness, identify the conditions under which it is most valuable, and gain insight into the barriers that can hinder its success. We hypothesised that a better understanding of student perceptions regarding feedback would help us to improve our teaching and feedback practices.

Context

The research was undertaken by Dr Charlotte Newey and Dr Steph Rennick when we were Philosophy lecturers at Cardiff University. We noted an apparent mismatch between workload constraints and the quality and volume of feedback the university aimed to provide. We trialled interventions in two undergraduate and one postgraduate Philosophy module and held focus groups with Philosophy students and students from Law (where peer feedback was already an established practice). Given the time pressures on academics throughout the UK, this research remains highly relevant and is applicable across disciplines.

The research also bears on student experience. Students may give lower scores on module evaluations and NSS in relationship to the timeliness or usefulness of feedback if they do not recognise the different forms that feedback can take and have in mind only written comments made by academics on summative work. There is therefore additional benefit to improving students’ understanding and recognition of peer feedback.

Implementation

At the start of the study, we held focus groups to canvas opinions among undergraduates regarding peer feedback.  We then trialled six interventions across three modules over the course of a semester (two undergraduate and one postgraduate). These included critically commenting on their peers’ individual and group work over different tasks, providing feedback both verbally and in writing. Throughout this period, we measured the difference in perceived usefulness between the different interventions, including instances identified explicitly as constituting peer feedback versus those described merely in terms of the activity (e.g., ‘a group exercise’). We used in-class surveys and Mentimeter polls. Finally, we held a third focus group at the end of the semester to capture whether attitudes had changed as a result of the interventions. In the first half of semester, we described activities in terms of their specific learning outcomes without identifying them explicitly as peer feedback (e.g., this is a group activity in which you’ll practise reading and interpreting an ancient text); in the second half, we indicated how and why the interventions were forms of peer feedback. We wanted to discover whether the phrase ‘peer feedback’ put students off, and whether they were correctly identifying the various opportunities when they were receiving feedback, rather than assuming feedback was limited to comments from a staff member on written work.

We found that reception of peer feedback varied depending on a number of factors. Most strikingly, students seemed to appreciate peer feedback most when it didn’t apply to a particular assessment, but rather in the context of checking their understanding and/or skills development. While they were reluctant to have their peers ‘mark’ their work, they reported significant benefits from defending their ideas, critiquing the structure of others’ arguments, and comparing their understanding. Perhaps because ‘assessment’ and ‘feedback’ are so often discussed together, students didn’t always recognise this non-assessment-specific feedback as ‘feedback’.

Students highlighted three main concerns with peer feedback:

  1. What do their peers know? (The expertise of those giving feedback)
  2. Do their peers care? (The attitude, investment, and motivation of those giving feedback)
  3. Do their peers understand the grading criteria, and would they apply it accurately and reliably?

The focus groups revealed differences in attitudes between disciplines that affected reception of peer feedback: Philosophy students tended to view their peers more as collaborators while Law students viewed them as competitors.

Impact

Encouragingly, each of the central concerns raised by students can be overcome. Based on the study and our subsequent practice, we make the following recommendations for improving the effectiveness and reception of peer feedback:

  • Ensure that exercises involving peer feedback are overseen by staff. This helps to avoid the problem of ‘student expertise’.
  • Provide opportunities for students to practise giving feedback, increasing their confidence in themselves and each other.
  • Incentivise giving helpful feedback. For example, by making peer feedback a component of summative assessment. This helps to overcome the problem of student investment.
  • Foster an environment where students see each other as collaborators, rather than competitors, which might be done differently in different departments.
  • Develop students’ literacy in interpreting grading criteria by having them apply them, rather than merely distributing copies of the criteria.
  • Do not limit the discussions of feedback to discussions of assessments: highlight the diversity of opportunities for, and benefits of, feedback. An example of this from within Humanities, which is likely to have wider application, occurs in group discussions. A seminar leader might delay their own response to a students’ question or opinion, and instead invite others to provide answers or suggestions.

Reflection

This study provided helpful insights into the attitudes of students towards peer feedback and how its benefits could be maximised and best communicated. Part of the project’s success came from the sustained nature of the interventions, the ongoing evaluations, and comparisons between modules and with another department. However, this was a small pilot study so there were limitations on what could be achieved. The postgraduate class we trialled interventions in was small, and so the bulk of our analysis focussed on our more robust undergraduate data – exploring postgraduates’ experience of peer feedback would be a fruitful avenue for future research. We had chosen Law as our comparison discipline as peer feedback was more established there, but unfortunately the attendees of the Law focus group were less familiar with this practice than we had hoped. In future research, additional cross-discipline comparisons would be useful.

Follow Up

We have both continued to incorporate peer feedback into our practice and encourage our colleagues to do the same.

Links

https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/922929/Rennick-Newey-Peer-Feedback-Final-Report.pdf

Using student feedback to make university-directed learning on placement more engaging

Anjali Mehta Chandar: a.m.chandar@reading.ac.uk

Charlie Waller Institute, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences

 

Overview

Our vocational postgraduate courses in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy include University Directed Learning (UDL) days that are completed within the placement setting (e.g. their NHS trust). A qualitative student feedback survey allowed us to collaboratively adapt this format, with favourable outcomes in how interesting, enjoyable and useful the students found the day.

Objectives

Our objectives were as follows:

-To ascertain how interesting, enjoyable and useful the UDL days were, as perceived by the students, based on pedagogical findings that students engage best and are most satisfied, if these characteristics are met (e.g. Ramsden, 2003).

-To make improvements to the UDL days based on qualitative student feedback.

-To ascertain whether our improvements had made the UDL days more interesting, enjoyable and useful, as perceived by the next cohort of students.

Context

The Educational Mental Health Practitioner (EMHP) and Children’s Wellbeing Practitioner (CWP) programmes are one-year vocational postgraduate courses. The students are employed by an NHS trust, local authority or charity, and study at UoR to become qualified mental health practitioners.

UDL days make up a small proportion of the teaching days. They are self-guided teaching days, usually containing elements of e-learning, designed to complement and consolidate face to face teaching (live or remote). A combination of learning methods, including e-learning, is shown to be effective in increasing clinical skills (e.g. Sheikhaboumasoudi et al., 2018).

UDL days had been poorly received by our two 2019/2020 cohorts, according to feedback in the student rep meetings and Mentimeter feedback after each UDL e.g.  comments included: ‘there was too much [content] for one day’, ‘I felt pressured to fill [the form] out rather than focussing on the readings themselves’ and ‘[the reflective form] was too long and too detailed’. Whilst this gave us some ideas on changes to make, I was aware of the low completion rates of the Mentimeter feedback. Therefore, to hear from more voices, we decided to create a specific feedback survey about the UDLs to help us make amendments in a collaborative way.

Implementation

We started by creating a survey for the current students to ascertain their views on how interesting, enjoyable and useful the UDL days were. We also had qualitative questions regarding what they liked and disliked and ideas for specific improvements.

I then led a meeting with my course team to explore the key findings. We agreed to make several changes based on the specific feedback, such as:

– variety of activities (not purely e-learning, but roleplays, videos, self-practice self-reflection tasks, group seminars run by lecturers, etc, to provide a more engaging day)
– fewer activities (we aimed for one main activity for every 1-1.5 hours to manage workload demands)
– an option to complete the programme’s reflective form (designed to be more simple, by asking them to provide their own notes on each task) or provide their notes in a format of their choice (e.g. mindmaps, vlogs, etc) to increase accessibility.
– share these reflections on a discussion board for other students and the lecturer to comment on.

We were unable to implement these changes to the current cohort as they had finished all their UDL days in the timetable, so made the changes for the following cohorts in 2020/2021.

We then sought their feedback via a new survey to ascertain their views on how interesting, enjoyable and useful the UDLs are, with additional questions relating to specific feedback on the new elements.

Impact

The survey results for the newer cohorts were much more positive than the original cohort, after changes were made to the UDL format.

There was a significant increase in how interesting, enjoyable and useful the students found the days.

The trainees also largely agreed that the UDLs had an appropriate workload, e.g. one task per 1-1.5 hours.

They also largely agreed that UDLs included interactive and varied tasks. This finding is in contrast to some of the aforementioned literature of the importance of e-learning, and it must be remembered that too much e-learning can be less engaging for trainees.

The students also praised the simple reflective form as a helpful tool, and many appreciated the option to submit notes in their own preferred way.

Although we neglected to explore the role of the lecturer feedback in the new UDL survey, research shows that this makes for a more engaging e-learning session (Dixson, 2010), and may explain why the UDLs were now more favourable.

Moreover, the process of collecting data from the students via a feedback form seemed effective, in that we used feedback to adapt the specific teaching method, thus improving student satisfaction. Pedagogical research shows the importance of using qualitative questions (instead of, or as well as, quantitative methods) to elicit student feedback (Steyn et al., 2019).

Reflection

Overall, this redesign was successful, which may be down to the fact we used the student voice to make meaningful changes. This is in line with Floden’s (2017) research that student feedback can help to improve courses.

Furthermore, the changes we have made are in line with effective practice amongst other courses and universities, e.g. appropriate workload (Ginn et al., 2007), student choice of discussion format (Lin & Overbaugh, 2007), accessibility of resources (Mahmood et al., 2012) and lecturer interaction (Dixson, 2010).

There is a possible limitation in this case study, in that our more recent cohorts are generally happier on the course, and therefore may be more positive about the UDL. In future projects, it would be useful if we can notice themes within module evaluation/student rep meetings earlier, to then elicit specific survey feedback earlier in the course and make amendments sooner, allowing feedback from the same cohort.

In future variations of the survey, I would also wish to explicitly ask how trainees find sharing reflections on the Blackboard discussion groups, as this is one change we had not elicited feedback on.

Follow Ups

We have continued to utilise these changes in the UDL format with future cohorts,  e.g. reduced workload, variety of activities, simplified forms, choice of discussion format and lecturer interaction. We no longer receive concerns about these days in the student rep meetings since the original cohort. The Mentimeter feedback at the end of each UDL is generally positive, with one person recently commenting: ‘this was a very engaging day’.

References

References:

Dixson, M. D. (2010). Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging?. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1-13.

Flodén, J. (2017). The impact of student feedback on teaching in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education42(7), 1054-1068.

Ginns, P., Prosser, M., & Barrie, S. (2007). Students’ perceptions of teaching quality in higher education: The perspective of currently enrolled students. Studies in higher education32(5), 603-615.

Lin, S. Y., & Overbaugh, R. C. (2007). The effect of student choice of online discussion format on tiered achievement and student satisfaction. Journal of Research on technology in Education39(4), 399-415.

Mahmood, A., Mahmood, S. T., & Malik, A. B. (2012). A comparative study of student satisfaction level in distance learning and live classroom at higher education level. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education13(1), 128-136.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education. Routledge.

Sheikhaboumasoudi, R., Bagheri, M., Hosseini, S. A., Ashouri, E., & Elahi, N. (2018). Improving nursing students’ learning outcomes in fundamentals of nursing course through combination of traditional and e-learning methods. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 23(3), 217.

Steyn, C., Davies, C., & Sambo, A. (2019). Eliciting student feedback for course development: the application of a qualitative course evaluation tool among business research students. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(1), 11-24.

Links

CWI website: https://sites.reading.ac.uk/charlie-waller-institute/

Using more low-tech hybrid/hyflex teaching methods in English Literature modules – benefits and limitations.

Professor Cindy Becker: l.m.becker@reading.ac.uk

Literature and Languages

 

Overview

During the pandemic, hybrid learning was used in two modules I taught – one at Foundation Level and one at Part One. I found it worked well for discussion-based sessions. I recognize that there are potential gains and losses to continuing this practice post-pandemic and I hope this case study might contribute to our institutional conversation.

Objectives

The objectives were to:

  1. Include as many students as possible in live teaching sessions.
  2. Maintain the energy of a group learning setting for all students.
  3. Reassure students that they were still part of their learning cohort, even off campus.
  4. Ensure good attendance and engagement on key modules at Foundation Level and Part 1, which might be seen as ‘at risk’ stages for student retention and attainment.

Context

Seminars in Arts and Humanities offer a specific type of learning experience, based upon developing ideas through discussion in a group setting. Students did not respond well to the idea of one-to-one (or two/three) sessions as a replacement if they were off campus. They struggled to attend or to engage in sessions which could become ‘information-giving’ tutorials rather than ‘knowledge-sharing’ seminars.

Implementation

Hybrid learning, in my case through a Blackboard Collaborate session running simultaneously with a campus seminar, was used for some modules in my department to include students who were unable to come onto campus due to the pandemic. I used the desktop computer in the teaching room, and I had the camera facing me (the online students preferred this to looking at their fellow students). The sessions were low tech, so I did no more than share my screen for visual material used in the seminar. I put the handouts in my Blackboard module and shared them in the Blackboard Collaborate chat. At the end of each seminar the online students stayed in the session so that I could check in with them once the on-campus students had left the room

For the Part 1 module, the module convenor alerted me to those students to whom I would need to send the Blackboard session link. No students other than these were offered the option of attending online

Impact

The first three objectives were achieved with the Part 1 module. An unplanned outcome was that we opened the hybrid sessions to a student whose mental health precluded on-campus attendance for two weeks, so the impact was wider than expected.

I then introduced hybrid learning in a Foundation module on which there had been poor attendance, for seminars in which I was offering important information about assessment.

I sent the online link to all students on the Foundation module. An unexpected outcome was that this did not significantly reduce the number of students who attended the on-campus seminar, but it did draw in the students on the module who had been regular nonattenders.

Reflection

I think hybrid teaching and learning worked well because our subject lends itself to relatively low-tech, conversation-based seminar learning. It worked for me as a seminar leader surprisingly well; this might in part have been because students were happy to give me leeway as I drifted off camera or took a few moments to catch up with their chat contributions.

On reflection I wish I had explored the option of students in the room interacting on their laptops with the online-only students. Responses would be passed to me from students online via students in the room on WhatsApp during general discussions, and I would have liked to facilitate that more formally. I wonder if we are underestimating our students’ abilities to multi-task in this way when we offer them campus-only sessions and I am keen to see whether the blended learning landscape of our future might also allow for more hybrid learning opportunities.

Follow Up

I led a professional conversation on this topic in my department to share our experiences and, perhaps, to consider what we might lose if we abandon hybrid teaching next year, weighing this against the potential risks that might be associated with its continuance. I would be pleased to hear from any colleagues who would like to become involved in a wider conversation.

Links

Note: this entry is submitted in conjunction with Gemma Peacock’s T&L Exchange entry in which she shares her experiences of hybrid/hyflex learning in language learning and academic skills development courses in ISLI (add link to that blog here).

Hybrid Teaching and Learning Network (on Teams) for sharing good practice: https://tinyurl.com/ye6awyuz

General survey on hybrid teaching and learning practice at the University of Reading: https://forms.office.com/r/bF9k3amY3d

Using more high-tech hybrid/hyflex teaching methods in language and academic skills learning contexts – benefits and limitations.

Gemma Peacock: g.peacock@reading.ac.uk

ISLI (International Study and Language Institute)

Overview

This case study reports on a successful pilot of hybrid/hyflex teaching in the International Study and Language Institute (ISLI) where one class contained fully online remote students and blended on-campus students together. There are both benefits and limitations to using this approach for language and skills learning contexts.

Objectives

The objectives of the pilot were:

  1. To investigate and refine the technical aspects of running hybrid lessons.
  2. To develop guidance for teachers.
  3. To ascertain whether hybrid/hyflex teaching and learning methods can be used in contexts where more complex interaction patterns are required.
  4. To gather feedback from teachers and students on their experiences.

Context

The hybrid/hyflex pilot was run initially because small cohort numbers for ISLI’s autumn 2021 Pre-sessional English course precluded the running of two separate classes: one online and one on-campus. While evidence existed in other institutions of the successful adoption of hybrid in lecture-style classes, it was not known if hybrid would work in ISLI’s context as it specialises in English language teaching and academic skills development for international students. These fields require complex interaction patterns between students themselves and with their teachers.

Implementation

During the pilot we refined the technology and processes necessary to deliver hybrid successfully as follows:

  1. A Teams meeting runs during the lesson, displayed on a smart board. Remote students attend this meeting and on-campus students can also do the same using their own devices to receive documents or links easily in the chat during the lesson.
  2. A device called a Meeting Owl Pro takes a constant 360 degree panoramic shot of the whole classroom and also shares video and audio of the speaker as they speak and move around the room.
  3. Two monitors on the teacher desk means they can interact with the Teams meeting functionality (such as displaying slides or documents) and they can use the other screen for other purposes (such as teacher notes).
  4. Teachers are thus able to speak to all students and remote students can speak to and see on-campus students via the Owl and vice versa for the implementation of a wide variety of interactive tasks.
  5. Focus groups were held with teachers and students on the pilot to gather data on their experiences.

NB: Hybrid/hyflex is possible without a Meeting Owl so long as a reasonable quality microphone and camera exists in the classroom.

Impact

ISLI’s hybrid/hyflex pilot achieved its outcomes. We investigated and refined the technical aspects of running hybrid lessons through trial and error. This resulted in the production of:

  • a Meeting Owl Pro set-up guide for teachers.
  • a guidance document for teaching and learning via hybrid/hyflex methods.
  • a Teaching and Learning Sub-committee report on the pilot.
  • future recommendations for hybrid/hyflex delivery in ISLI.

The feedback gathered from teachers and students on their experiences was generally positive. When combined with the feedback from ISLI’s TEL team, it was agreed that while it is possible to use hybrid/hyflex in language learning or skills development contexts it may not be desirable. Some recommendations include:

  • Comprehensive teacher training in hybrid technology and pedagogy.
  • Lesson design and staging must enable both remote and on-campus students to participate equally and to receive equal attention from the teacher.
  • Where there is a small cohort (<5) these should be integrated into an online/F2F class to form a hybrid cohort to improve the student experience.

Reflection

The pilot study was successful as it allowed for on-the-job teacher-training through action research, and a more granular understanding of how hybrid/hyflex can work in terms of both technology and pedagogy. I believe ISLI’s expertise of hybrid/hyflex teaching and learning methods could be called on more widely across the university as the blended learning landscape of the future takes shape.

Hybrid/hyflex teaching and learning has been hailed as a more inclusive and accessible mode of study since it gives students agency to choose whether to study from home or on campus according to their immediate needs. This has proved beneficial in other teaching contexts (add link to Cindy Becker’s T&L blog post). Current visa regulations, however, do not permit international students on Pre-sessional English courses to switch between online and face-to-face delivery within a course, as students receive an offer for one mode of delivery only. This means that some of the potential benefits of hybrid/hyflex delivery are not available to them at this time.

 

Follow Up

Since the pilot, professional conversations about hybrid/hyflex have taken place with schools across the university to include the Department of English Literature and Henley Business School. In May 2022, presentations on hybrid were delivered to HE colleagues at the JISC Change Agent’s conference, and with English Language Teaching professionals at the IATEFL conference in Belfast. Data on hybrid methodology usage is currently being gathered from a survey Gemma Peacock and Cindy Becker have circulated with the aim of writing a journal article in the near future.

 

Links

Note: this entry is submitted alongside Cindy Becker’s T&L Exchange entry in which she shares her experiences of low tech hybrid/hyflex learning in English Literature seminars (add link to that blog here).

Hybrid Teaching and Learning Network (on Teams) for sharing good practice: https://tinyurl.com/ye6awyuz

General survey on hybrid teaching and learning practice at the University of Reading: https://forms.office.com/r/bF9k3amY3d

The One Where a Timetable Merger Gives Rise to a Curriculum Implementation Review

Emma-Jayne Conway, James Kachellek and Tamara Wiehe

t.wiehe@reading.ac.uk

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

Overview

Staff and students in CWI collaborated on a project initially designed to merge two timetables of sister programmes to aid cross programme working (objective 1) but gave rise to the perfect opportunity to review the way our PWP curriculum is implemented following the pandemic (objective 2). In this blog, we reflect on achieving both objectives within our original timeframe!

Objectives

1.     To create a single timetable to aid cross-programme working for teaching and administrative staff.

2.     To review curriculum implementation including structure and modality on a modular and programme level with all key stakeholders.

Context

In response to a departmental restructure, we required more efficient ways of working across programmes starting with a uniform timetable. Early on, the project evolved to also review the structure and modality of the curriculum. Our two sister PWP training programmes (one undergraduate and one postgraduate) are virtually identical with a few exceptions but historically had been managed separately.

Over the course of 2021, we planned, designed, and implemented a timetable merger for our September cohorts. This impacted on 3 modules (4 for undergraduates) that form the PWP training year for the MSci Applied Psychology (Clinical) students and the Postgraduate/graduate Certificate in Evidence-Based Psychological Treatments (IAPT Pathway).

Taking both Higher Education and Mental Health Care processes into consideration was no easy feat, including those specific to University of Reading (e.g., term dates), our national PWP curriculum specifying the content and learning outcomes for our 26 teaching days and 19 study days, and British Psychological Society (BPS) accreditation requirements. Modality was a particularly important topic throughout this project, taking key learnings from remote delivery during the pandemic as well as awaiting guidance from our professional accrediting body.

Overall, it served as an excellent opportunity to work collaboratively with staff and students to review the implementation of PWP training at the University of Reading.

Implementation

  1. Early 2021: The PWP team met on several occasions to discuss the possibility of merging the two timetables, including transitioning to a “blended” format of online and face-to-face teaching post-Covid. We set out a timeline for planning, designing, and implementing the project.
  2. Advice was sought from the Director of Training in CWI and colleagues in Academic Development, CQSD based on their experience of timetable mergers and a green light was given based on our draft plans!
  3. Several options were considered before the final format was arrived at: Face-to-face teaching is weighted towards the first module/term with progressive increase to the online taught content as the course progresses. (Rationale supplied elsewhere in this blog).
  4. The educator team were able to draw on feedback from online teaching to gauge the attitude of the student body to online learning, as well as expectations and concerns related to a return to the classroom (see Impact, below). The student voice was important in terms of utilising partnership to create meaningful change to curriculum implementation. However, engaging professional practice students via the course reps was a challenge due to time constraints, therefore, we were able to engage graduate instead. This is something we would consider earlier on in future projects.
  5. The educator team unanimously agreed that the externally taught content of the VEC module could be effectively taught with mixed cohorts from the Core-PWP and MSci cohorts using an online approach.
  6. Information on the changes was disseminated to Program Administrators to enable efficient implementation. External Educators were made aware of the retention of online lecture sessions, and the mixed-cohort approach, by the VEC module convenor.
  7. Timetables were updated by the Program Director, in collaboration with Module Convenors; consideration has been given to the potential Workflow impact of closely aligning multiple cohorts (see below). Timetables have been looked at by the team ‘side-by-side,’ to ensure that Workflow balance is maintained for educators across all cohorts. We can continue to monitor the impact on workload while adjustments are made to teaching (such as with the Working Document mentioned in the Follow-Up section, below).
  8. IAPT Services were made aware of the changes to the timetables

Impact

As of October 2021, the merged timetables are proving effective, with no major barriers, having been detected. Predicted barriers included those to effective teaching of (previously face-to-face) content, student/staff dissatisfaction with a blended approach, and significant administrative/technical difficulties.

Face-to-Face teaching resumed in September 2021 and has been a successful return to the classroom. Educators report being able to switch between live sessions and face-to-face teaching days without significant barriers.

The educator team plan to continue to gather feedback on the student experience of the blended and merged approach. We will be able to assess feedback when the first cohorts fully complete in June 2022.

Feedback will be sought from module convenors, educators, and program administrators using “menti” feedback forms, bi-weekly team meetings and informal qualitative discussion, to gauge the impact of the changes on workflow. Student feedback will also be monitored through end-of-module feedback collated by the School.

Reflection

  • The challenge of engaging professional practice students and utilising graduates to overcome this. We will consider setting up graduate/patient advisory group for future projects.
  • Using feedback from a MSci graduate led to timetable changes to ensure readability and clarity for students. This included points such as colour coding F2F v online teaching days, explaining acronyms, etc.
  • Involving all members of the team (especially Module Convenors) felt like a much more meaningful and collaborative process than Programme Director decisions alone. It gave Module Convenors autonomy over their modules as well as aligning learning outcomes across the 3 modules of the programme which is particularly important for clinical training. Other courses may wish to replicate this approach to build team cohesion and allow all colleagues to make meaningful contributions to programme changes and delivery.

Follow up

  • Working document has been created for the educator team to comment on the teaching they have just delivered i.e., was there enough time to deliver all content? This has allowed changes to be made within a matter of weeks as the same day is delivered across the programmes. As a result, we can fine-tune the timetable and delivery of the programme quicky and efficiently to improve the student experience.
  • We will review module by module and at the end of each cohort to continue making any necessary adjustments. Module and programme evaluations, student-staff rep meetings and any feedback from individual teaching days will also help to inform this.

 

Blended Learning – Exploring the Experience of Disabled Law Students

Amanda Millmore, Sharon Sinclair-Graham, Dr. Rachel Horton, Darlene Sherwood, Sheldon Allen, Lauren Fuller, Konstanina Nouka, Will Page & Jessica Lane

a.millmore@reading.ac.uk 

School of Law (& Disability Advisory Service)

Overview

This student-staff partnership included students with disabilities and long-term conditions, academics in the School of Law and a Disability Advisor. Student partners ran a cohort-wide questionnaire and facilitated focus groups with disabled students to discover what has worked well this academic year with blended learning and where things could be improved. This work has provided a blueprint for those hoping to use blended learning to deliver accessible education for all.

Objectives

  • To magnify the voice of our disabled students
  • To understand the positives and negatives of blended learning from their various viewpoints
  • To improve current teaching, as well as planning for future teaching and learning activities.

Context

The move to blended learning during the Covid-19 pandemic led to many changes to of the way that Law was taught in the 20/21 academic year. Student-Staff Partnership Group (SSP) feedback indicated that disabled students were affected more than most by this change. This project was an opportunity to understand more about the impact on these students and to amplify their voices.

Implementation

Given the constraints of working during the pandemic, our partnership worked virtually throughout, using only MS Teams meetings and sharing documents. Students designed a cohort-wide questionnaire to find out about the wider student experience with different aspects of blended learning.

This was followed-up by student partners facilitating smaller focus groups of students with disabilities and long-term conditions.

The partnership then assimilated all of the evidence they had gathered to produce short term and long term recommendations as well as highlighting what has worked well with blended learning.

Together we prepared a report with our evidence and recommendations and this has been shared not only within the School of Law but widely across the University, including with the University’s Blended Learning Project, the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team and the Committee on Student Experience and Development (COSED), as well as with colleagues in different functions and departments.

Impact

Positives from blended learning were highlighted including the flexibility of pre-recorded lecture videos, which enabled students to stop, pause and revisit lecture materials and work at their own pace and in their own time. Students preferred lecture recordings to be in the region of 20 minutes, as longer than that could pose a barrier for some students.

In the short term the partnership recommended the scheduling of lecture release days across core modules, so that lectures were made available on set days. 194 students were put into 46 study groups and a video to demystify the ECF process was recorded and shared widely (https://web.microsoftstream.com/video/714b6fa4-83f3-457c-a37b-3f4904e63691). These recommendations were all adopted.

Longer term the partnership recommended the consistent use of meaningful weekly plans (now part of the Teaching & Learning Framework for 2021/22) and improvements to Blackboard, notably a uniform layout across modules for Law students, including a single menu location for joining links to online classes.

The project and its recommendations have been shared within the School of Law, across the University and more widely at national conferences, all with students co-presenting the work.

Students were invited to the School of Law’s Blackboard Working Group and have been instrumental in driving forwards their recommendation for a consistent cross-module Blackboard layout for the next academic year. Students are also working with the TEL team to produce best practice videos for staff.

Reflections

This has been a hugely successful partnership project, not merely for the clear recommendations and tangible outcomes which are aimed to improve the experience of all students with blended learning this academic year and moving into the future, but also in the way that it has amplified the voices of students with disabilities and long-term conditions at School and University level.

As a partnership it has been influential, and the recommendations have been heard across the university and many have been adopted within the School of Law, but the positives for the individual student partners cannot be underestimated. They have gained valuable employability skills and experience in project work, presenting at conferences and advocating within meetings with staff. Moreover, as a project in which clear recommendations were given which have been heeded, it has improved the sense of community for all students, emphasising that the School of Law is a space where student views are important and they can contribute to their studies and make a difference.

Focus group participants with disabilities and long-term conditions have been empowered, with 2 first year participants subsequently volunteering for a new partnership project being run in the School of Law, as they can see the impact that their involvement can have.

Links and References

  • Amanda Millmore – “A Student-Staff Partnership exploring the experience of disabled Law students with blended learning at University of Reading, UK “ in Healey, R. & Healey, M. (2021) Socially-just pedagogic practices in HE: Including equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, decolonising, indigenisation, well-being, and disability.mickhealey.co.uk/resources
  • Abstract for Advance HE Teaching & Learning Conference session: Teaching and learning conference – on demand abstracts_0.pdf (advance-he.ac.uk)
  • To follow – links to CQSD TEL videos & guidance (in progress).
  • We are happy to share the project report upon request – please get in touch if you would like a copy.

Running Virtual Focus Groups – Investigating the Student Experience of the Academic Tutor System

Amanda Millmore, School of Law

Overview

I wanted to measure the impact of the new Academic Tutor System (ATS) on the students in the School of Law, and capture their experiences, both good and bad, with a view to making improvements. I successfully bid for some small project funding from the ATS Steering Group prior to Covid-19. The obvious difficulty I faced in the lockdown, was how to engage my students and encourage them to get involved in a virtual project. How can students co-produce resources when they are spread around the world?

Objectives

I planned to run focus groups with current students with dual aims:·

  • To find out more about their experiences of the academic tutor system and how we might better meet their needs; and
  • To see if the students could collaboratively develop some resources advising their fellow students how to get the most out of tutoring.

The overall aim being to raise the profile of academic tutoring within the School and the positive benefits it offers to our students, but also to troubleshoot any issues.

Implementation

After exams, I emailed all students in the School of Law to ask them to complete an anonymous online survey about their experiences. Around 10% of the cohort responded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within that survey I offered students the opportunity to join virtual focus groups. The funding had originally been targeted at providing refreshments as an enticement to get involved, so I redeployed it to offer payment via Campus Jobs for the students’ time (a remarkably easy process). I was conscious that many of our students had lost their part time employment, and it seemed a positive way to help them and encourage involvement. I had 56 volunteers, and randomly selected names, ensuring that I had representation from all year groups.

I ran 2 focus groups virtually using MS Teams, each containing students from different years. This seemed to work well for the 11 students who were all able to join the sessions and recording the sessions online enabled me to obtain a more accurate note which was particularly helpful. I was pleasantly surprised at how the conversation flowed virtually; with no more than 6 students in a group we kept all microphones on, to allow everyone to speak, and I facilitated with some prompts and encouraging quieter participants to offer their opinions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The students were very forthcoming with advice and their honest experiences. They were clear that a good tutor relationship can make a real and noticeable difference for students and those who had had good experiences were effusive in their praise. They were keen to help me find ways to improve the system for everyone.

Results

The students collaborated to produce their “Top Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Academic Tutor” which we have created into a postcard to share with new undergraduates, using free design software Canva https://www.canva.com/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The students also individually made short videos at home of their own top tips, and emailed them to me; I enlisted my teenage son to edit those into 2 short videos, one aimed at postgraduates, one for undergraduates, which I can use as part of induction.

From the project I now have useful data as to how our students use their academic tutor. A thematic analysis of qualitative comments from the questionnaires and focus groups identified 5 key themes:

  • Tutor availability
  • Communication by the tutor
  • School level communication
  • Content of meetings
  • Staffing

From these themes I have drawn up a detailed action plan to be implemented to deal with student concerns.

Impact & Reflections

One of the main messages was that we need to do better at clearly communicating the role of the academic tutor to students and staff.

The students’ advice videos are low-tech but high impact, all recorded in lockdown on their phones from around the world, sharing what they wish they’d known and advising their fellow Law students how to maximise the tutor/tutee relationship. The videos have been shared with the STAR mentor team, the ATS Steering Group and the MCE team now has the original footage, to see if they can be used University-wide.

I am firmly convinced that students are more likely to listen to advice from their peers than from an academic, so am hopeful that the advice postcards and videos will help, particularly if we have a more virtual induction process in the forthcoming academic year.

Ultimately, whilst not the project I initially envisaged, our virtual focus group alternative worked well for my student partners, and they were still able to co-create resources, in a more innovative format than I anticipated. My message to colleagues is to trust the students to know what will work for their fellow students, and don’t be afraid to try something new.

 

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.

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.