Redesigning postgraduate curricula on commercial law through student engaging, research-informed and multidisciplinary pathway programmes

Professor Stavroula Karapapa, School of Law                


In 2015/2016, we substantially redeveloped our postgraduate provision in commercial law through the introduction of a pioneering, student-engaging, research-informed and multidisciplinary set of postgraduate pathway programmes. Contrary to the programmes previously in place, the new curriculum is unique in its pathway design allowing students to develop a breadth of commercial law expertise whilst also specialising in their area of interest (for a full list of programmes see here). The project on which this entry reflects has resulted in an innovative curriculum that shaped the identity of Centre for Commercial Law and Financial Regulation (CCLFR) as a centre of excellence on cutting-edge themes of commercial law.


  • To redevelop our postgraduate curriculum in commercial law through the introduction of cutting-edge themes of study based on the principles of research-informed and multidisciplinary teaching.
  • To empower student learning, improve student experience, and foster the development of a learning community.
  • To hear the student voice towards the design of the curriculum and to proactively and directly engage ‘students as partners’ in the development and evaluation of the core module for the new programmes.


As often happens in Higher Education, the postgraduate programmes in Commercial Law previously in place were the result of the work of independent colleagues at various points in time, starting in 2011. Modular options reflected this dynamic, and they were also impacted by continuous staffing changes over the years. The pathway programmes are the result of collective effort within the School of Law, effective consultation with students and evaluation of their feedback, and constructive collaboration with colleagues from various Schools and services across the University (including marketing, careers, conversions etc.).


Following a review of our PGT provision, we redeveloped our commercial law curriculum on the basis of three pillars:

  1. student feedback (module evaluation forms and ‘graduation’ forms collected since 2011) concerning suggestions for improvement, informal comments from students enrolled in 2015/2016 on ideas for new modules/programmes and engagement of ‘students as partners’ in the development of the core module for the new pathway programmes;
  2. extensive market study carried out by marketing and the (then) PGT Director regarding areas worth expanding on;
  3. expansion of our module offerings through the valuable contribution of numerous colleagues in the School of Law and consultation with various Schools across the University that agreed to open up relevant modules, effectively enhancing multidisciplinarity in our programmes.

Instead of offering numerous programmes with no clear link to each other, we introduced a set of pathway programmes (including 5 new PGT programmes and a redesign of the existing ones) whereby all programmes are centred around one core legal field, International Commercial Law, and students have the option to follow a pathway on a specialist area designed around our research strengths as a School and as a University, essentially building on research-informed teaching. Part of this redesigning process was the revision of the compulsory module for all pathways, LWMTAI-Advanced Issues in Commercial Law, which was based on the engagement of students as partners, drawing on a UoR small-scale research project that was initiated in June 2016, an entry of which is available here and here.


The collective effort of numerous colleagues in the School of Law and the support from various Schools and services across the University resulted in the development of a pioneering set of pathway programmes, centred around the values of research-informed teaching and multidisciplinarity and developed on the basis of student feedback. The project enhanced student engagement, taking on board student views on the learning design. The redrafting of a core module (LWMTAI) had direct impact on student learning, enabling students to proactively review their own learning process and to develop an increased sense of leadership and motivation. There was also positive correlation between the introduction of new pathways (especially Information Technology and Commerce; Energy Law and Natural Resources) and PGT recruitment. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the conversion rate of existing PGT students to our PGR programme has also increased. Importantly, the redevelopment of our programmes created a distinctive identity for CCLFR as a centre of excellence on cutting-edge themes of commercial law.


The success of the redevelopment of our PGT curriculum was based on three pillars:

  1. Collective effort: The redevelopment of the programmes required the engagement of various colleagues from the School of Law who met on numerous occasions to reflect on the programmes and introduced new modules on cutting-edge themes to meet the needs of the new pathway design. This effort exceeded business as usual. An example of such collective effort is the redesign of the core module of the pathway programmes which followed the ‘student as partners’ approach and was implemented with the collaboration of various members of staff from the School of Law.
  2. Student engagement: Unlike what usually happens in higher education with ex post student feedback, the pathway design used that feedback constructively towards designing new programmes, taking into consideration student comments in evaluation forms and also engaging students in the programme design process. Importantly, it was students themselves that proactively informed the curriculum of the core module for all pathway programmes, with their voice having being heard even before the completion of the taught component.
  3. Cutting-edge themes and research-informed teaching: At the heart of student feedback was the desire to increase the number of modular offerings from other Schools and Departments, effectively to enhance the multidisciplinary approach that was already in place. Introducing more modules from other Schools to our curriculum on the basis of their relevance and appropriateness to our pathways has become a learning process to us as educators in that it has resulted in dynamic synergies and an innovative curriculum as end-result of the exercise.


Details on our new pathway programmes are available here:

Generative lab to tackle gender stereotypes and unconscious biases in teaching and learning

Dr Karen Jones & Dr Maria Kambouri-Danos, Institute of Education                                         Year of activity: 2016/17


This entry describes a project which, with funding by the University of Reading Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF), focused on designing an intervention to promote gender equality. Issues of gender stereotyping, sexism and unconscious bias in T&L can affect learners’ educational progress. Our aim was to develop and test the materials for an intervention that will help to alert teachers and those supporting learning, and provide appropriate learning opportunities that will support change.


  • To design materials for an innovative teaching and learning intervention called a ‘Generative Lab’
  • To pilot the Generative Lab during a workshop
  • To engage the workshop participants in becoming progressively more aware of their own unconscious bias and of gender stereotypes


Gender stereotyping and unconscious/implicit bias manifests in education. In higher education there is greater awareness of gender inequality concerning staff, but a lesser focus on T&L.  Problems ranging from ‘lad culture’ on campus, to marked bias against women in doctoral dissertations have been documented. In addition, subject choice is divided by gender, and this can present problems for students studying non-traditional subjects for their gender.  However, these problems manifest long before people arrive in higher education. The significant impact that gender stereotyping and bias can have on young people’s learning, aspirations and achievements is evident from secondary and even primary school years.

A common recommendation is to invest in training to combat gender stereotyping and everyday sexism and to support appropriate behaviour in teaching situations. Based on this, our aim was to develop an intervention that will help educators to de-bias the environment through capacity building that incorporates the unfreeze-change-refreeze approach. We call this intervention a ‘Generative Lab’ to emphasise the aspect of engaging the learner in active participation with a range activities on the given topic.


The Generative Lab was delivered to three different groups, including a pilot session with 20 early years trainee teachers and approximately 2 groups of a total of 25 early years practitioners that attended a workshop on ‘‘Tackling gender stereotypes in early years teaching and learning”, delivered at the Institute of Education Early Years Conference, 2017. Each session included the following activities:

  1. Cartoon strips with scenarios to illustrate unconscious bias
  2. Role play scenarios of gender stereotyping
  3. Action planning and feedback.

The cartoon strips were developed in collaboration with external professional illustrators. Their content highlights and challenges issues of inequality and gender stereotyping; thus, the cartoons were used to initiate discussions and raise awareness. The scenarios were developed by us and given to the participants who were asked to enact them through role play. After brief discussion of each scenario and the ideas involved, the participants were asked to repeat the enactment with a response that would discourage gender stereotyping. During the last activity, participants worked individually or in small groups to generate implementation plans for action that aimed to bring about change in their own teaching and learning context.


The Generative Lab was successful in initiating discussions in relation to unconscious bias and gender stereotypes, and how these might be prevalent in different levels and contexts of T&L. The participants were actively engaged in the activities, including sharing results of previous research, discussions around the cartoons as well as dramatization and action planning. The structure of the Generative Lab helped to constructively and progressively develop awareness of unconscious bias and of gender stereotypes.

The action points developed and the feedback collected at the end suggest that the activities successfully challenged and stimulated revisions in thinking. All participants gained a greater awareness of gender stereotypes, sexism and unconscious bias in T&L. However, some of them still did not feel able or confident enough to address sexism. This shift in awareness though, marks a significant change in mind-set for those previously subscribing to gender blindness. Participants left the session with plans for action to bring about change and refreeze change in institutional space. They are followed up 3-6 months later.


The Generative Lab was experimental, and we took an iterative approach to explore issues, encouraging participants to seek the root cause of a problem systematically and to build capacity and confidence to address not just the symptoms, but to also identify actions to bring about change in educational space.

The comic strips were offered as a non-threatening avenue to raise awareness and facilitated a process where participants became progressively aware of their own unconscious bias and of gender stereotypes prevalent in teaching and learning, to be able to notice and challenge these issues in their everyday work practice. Similarly, the role play activities and the action planning helped participants to think about taking action and putting theory into practice.

Follow up

Further work is required to understand how to best support teaching and learning staff to create a more equitable teaching and learning environment. Future projects could establish if changes in practice occur and if these are sustained over time. Research is also needed to understand factors relating to the organizational climate that enable participants to be receptive to change, plus participants’ perceptions and needs regarding gender diversity and equal opportunities. 




Henley students’ social media engagement

Alina Maroukian, Henley Business School                                                                                                                                            Year of activity: 2016/17


A group of Henley Business School students supported the digital marketing team by creating content for social media use and providing social media support at key events. By creating social media content the students helped improve engagement on Henley Business School’s social channels and helped provide a student voice. At the same time, they gained work experience and developed their skills.


  • To build their understanding of social media marketing through practice
  • To enhance their collaboration and prioritisation skills
  • To improve engagement on all social media channels, especially at key events
  • To provide our social media channels with more of a student voice.


The activity was undertaken to assist the Henley Business School Digital team and simultaneously to provide students with valuable work experience and the opportunity to gain a reference as a result of their efforts.


The Henley Business school digital team provided students with training on the digital Sprout Social platform and provided guidance for posting content. Students were provided with support at every stage of the process and they were provided with additional equipment, when necessary (such as tripod, portable battery pack, ipod, etc) at Henley Business school events. We asked students to keep a simple record of the activities they did on a spreadsheet (template provided to them) and requested they do 3 pieces/ week– where a publishing a post, or acquiring a testimonial from a fellow student or taking part in live-tweeting would constitute 1 activity. We gave them the tools to do this in the time that suited them best and always ensured their studies came first. The 3 pieces/ week was a rough guide of average to do and we kept it flexible so that exam times / holidays were given as exceptions.


The main objective was to improve our social media performance and to promote our student voice more. On Twitter the student helpers reached 4.2k and had 31 engagements. On Instagram they had a 12.3k reach and 748 engagements. This drastically helped show a more relatable social media student presence on Instagram and Twitter.


Having students help with social media did prove to be very successful as it helped increase engagement on our channels but also gave them opportunity to develop their skills. The key was that, after initial digital training, the students were provided with a level of flexibility with their content and working hours. The activity could be taken further and if students were provided with hourly pay this might provide more motivation and lead to an increase in the amount of social media student posts, as well as a higher quality within their work. By an increased amount of posts they would help increase our social media presence even further and improve our engagement levels. Also, we could enhance their input by training them further on content production.

Follow up

We are looking into the possibility of using Campus Jobs to hire students for ad hoc work similar to what was done in 2016-17, as it proved to be successful. We will be adding content production to the type of work they can take part in as their input last year revealed that there is an interest. This is for on-the-go videos and photos on a mobile device but with training for optimum results.

The above video was taken by Henley Business School students and it received 2,190 views on social media. Other examples include:
However this is only a sample, the work was spread out throughout the academic year 2016-17.



Syllabusless: Students and staff engaging through research

Nathalie Folkerts, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science                                                                                                          Year of activity: 2016/17


In this project, a group of students collaborated with academic staff in SAGES and the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development (SAPD), the two Schools that share the MSc Environmental Management programme, in order to create a database of interviews that would help inform future students’ choices for dissertation topics, supervisors, and module selection. Students discussed research interests and opportunities for engagement while also engaging on a more personal level, learning about topics such as research horror stories and favourite pastimes. This project was completed with the hope that future students would be able to learn more about their professors, whom they may not meet or have much opportunity to interact with, but whom they may want to have supervise their dissertation or discuss potential research projects with. These interviews were curated into 5-10 minute videos that will enable future students to learn more about academic staff, their classes, and the potential for research opportunities. Seven interviews were completed and compiled into a website that will continue to be expanded in coming years.


  • Increase student-staff collaboration on and understanding of research projects and opportunities outside of the classroom
  • Allow students to learn about potential opportunities for research and dissertation topics
  • Allow students to learn about and better match with potential supervisors


The MSc Environmental Management program is split between SAGES and SAPD; while this offers students an ability to interact with and pursue classes in a wide range of specialties, it also makes it difficult to understand all of the opportunities available and to connect to professors you may want to research with or have supervise your dissertation. Therefore, this project aims to help MSc Environmental Management students and others begin getting to learn more about their professors.


I coordinated a group of 5-6 students who were interested in performing the interviews. We developed the questions and a plan for how to progress moving forward. Some of our questions included:

  • Could you give us an elevator pitch for why students should care about your field and research?
  • Who is your academic hero?
  • What is a recent finding in your research?
  • Do you have any research horror stories?
  • If you were stranded on a desert island, what are three items you would bring with you?

We assigned different professors to each individual to contact and interview. Because of scheduling conflicts, this process took most of the spring term. I then compiled and edited the videos, uploaded them to a new website, which will be made available and discussed with future students.

Screenshot from Exploring Research Opportunities website
Screenshot from Exploring Research Opportunities website


We successfully completed 7 interviews with faculty members in SAPD and SAGES with several student volunteers. We also developed a website to house the videos and to provide future students with more information on academic staff and research opportunities. Now that the interview structure and website interface is developed, future students will be able to benefit and contribute to this project, allowing its impact to continue growing.


Overall, this project was successful in creating a space and platform for students and staff to connect on a more personal level outside of the classroom. One of the main difficulties in executing this project was finding students and staff who felt comfortable participating and who had sufficient time in their schedule. Because of this, we completed fewer interviews than originally planned. However, the professors we interviewed spanned a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, and we also established a simple and easily replicated format for future interviews. We created a sample script and now have several example videos that will allow future interviews to proceed smoothly and quickly. Additionally, continuing to add to this project year-round would allow more time to coordinate with student and staff busy schedules. This groundwork will therefore allow the project to continue to expand in future years.

Follow up

This project had multiple iterations and changed significantly over time. Working with other students who were interested in performing the interviews, we developed the final set of questions and format we would want to use. We opted for short interviews that we recorded and uploaded to a website. We decided, given the availability of professors, that it would be better to develop this into a resource for future students rather than a shorter project aimed at current students. Students will be able to use this interview collection as a resource, and as other professors see the purpose and format of the project, they may also be interested in completing interviews remotely to be uploaded onto the platform, thus expanding the project’s use. Due to the change in audience and a conflict with another departmental event, we had to cancel the original idea for an end-of-year event mixer where students could meet and mingle with professors, lecturers and fellows. However, as the project continues to expand, this may be something to consider in future years.


Supporting diversity through targeted language skills development

Alison Fenner, Lecturer, International Study and Language Institute                                                                                                               Year of activity: 2016/17


The project responded to a perceived need for additional support in the development of oral language skills among some students learning a language with the Institution-Wide Language Programme (IWLP). It took place within the context of the IWLP Language Learning Advisors’ peer advisory scheme. There were clear benefits in terms of the development of coaching skills and increased employability for the Advisors, and improved oral performance and confidence for the students they supported.


  • To provide and monitor targeted support sessions in oral work and pronunciation
  • To improve student speaking skills and confidence
  • To work with and train selected Language Learning Advisors in this area
  • To create a body of material for use in future years
  • To disseminate the practice through student presentation within a School staff forum


With the increasingly international nature of IWLP classes, it has become evident that some groups of students at beginner level find oral work and pronunciation more of a challenge than others, depending on their linguistic background. (For example, some Asian students may find European pronunciation challenging and vice versa.) The Language Learning Advisor scheme, which I have run since 2012 and which usually operates on a one-to-one basis, was extended to small groups of students to provide additional support in this area.


As IWLP German Co-ordinator, I decided to set up these sessions with German beginner classes in 2016-17. I had already trained a cohort of Language Learning Advisors for the year. Advisors (students recruited from the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies and higher IWLP classes) normally offer one-to-one advice to IWLP and DMLES students on the acquisition of effective language learning strategies and independent learning.  I invited three Advisors with relevant experience, ability and pedagogic commitment to run regular small-group sessions with the emphasis on oral work and pronunciation. I successfully applied for PLanT funding to pay the students for the sessions. During the year, I held feedback meetings with the Advisors in which they shared their experience and developing expertise. I also sought feedback from the IWLP students attending the sessions, and was able to perceive a clear improvement in oral performance and confidence in students in my own beginners’ German class. In June 2017 the Advisors and I presented the project to ISLI staff at the ISLI Learning and Teaching Research Forum.


The project worked well. The beginner students reported an improvement in pronunciation and increased class participation and confidence, and spoke of enjoyable learning sessions and friendly and helpful Advisors. The Advisors acquired intensive coaching skills which will benefit their future employability as well as the opportunity to present to UoR staff within a tutor forum. The Advisors’ reports on their activities and experience gained this year can be passed on to future Advisors.


The enthusiasm and commitment of the Advisors were major factors in the success of the project. They were willing to commit time and effort and enjoyed seeing improvement in ‘their’ students. They are all interested in teaching as a future career and so were doubly motivated in developing their teaching skills. We had some very useful meetings in which students’ needs were analysed, and ideas and activities were shared and their effectiveness evaluated. The students with whom they worked appreciated the help and the benefits to their oral performance. The only challenge was to maintain regular attendance at the small-group sessions at times when students had a particularly heavy workload; at times attendance decreased, which is perhaps unavoidable since the sessions were not compulsory.


Supporting Inclusivity and Diversity in Language Teaching and Learning at the University of Reading Authored by Laura Brown, Regine Klimpfinger, Daniela Standen and Enza Siciliano Verruccio

Language learning and disability: how to avoid the ‘avoidance’?

When the university disability office was approached in 2003 by a new member of staff for guidance on the assessment of a dyslexic student enrolled on a language module, the reply was that students with dyslexia are better advised to avoid foreign language courses. Fast-forward to 2017, and issues of ‘course substitution’, or ‘avoidance’,[i] when it comes to the study of foreign languages and learning difficulties, are still emerging today, as anecdotally reported by prospective secondary school applicants to this university.

When the principles of inclusivity and diversity, fresh from the new University of Reading Curriculum Framework, were chosen as the focus of this year’s university Teaching and Learning conference (January 2017), the discussion and thinking it provoked pointed clearly towards the need – within our institution and within our discipline in this institution – for a thorough reflection on how our current language teaching practices, our language curricula, and the general university procedures can best support students with disabilities who do not wish to avoid learning a foreign language.

Reflecting on disabilities and language teaching and learning practices: a workhop

This is when the idea of the Disability and Language Teaching & Learning Workshop was born. On 18 May, 22 language teaching practitioners from the Institution-Wide Language Programme (IWLP), the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies (DMLES), the Department of Classics and the Institute of Education gathered to explore and discuss experiences and practices of, as well as aspirations to, inclusivity and diversity in language teaching and learning here at Reading. They were guided by Laura Brown from the university Disability Office, with the support of Regine Klimpfinger (DMLES Disability Officer), Daniela Standen (International Study and Language Institute Disability Officer), and Enza Siciliano Verruccio (DMLES Language Coordinator).

The workshop consisted of a blend of theory and practice, with a strong focus on group discussion and activity, given the collaborative approach we wanted to engender. We set the scene with Enza recounting the experiences described above. To further examine the kinds of assumptions we may make about certain disabilities, the group then engaged in a ‘Fact or Fiction’ exercise to indicate whether statements were true or false, unearthing potential stereotypes and preconceptions, such as ‘Students with Asperger’s Syndrome can’t do group work’.

In smaller groups, participants then prioritised skills and attributes needed to learn languages, such as phonological processing skills, memory, curiosity and motivation, using a pyramid shape to indicate the most important at the top ranging to least important at the bottom (Picture 1). Skills and attributes were discussed in terms of how disabilities can affect those skills and attributes, for example the advantage of extroversion in acquiring spoken fluency and how this can be impeded by severe social anxiety. This led to a broader presentation on the experiences that disabled students may have in relation to the four key aspects of language learning – speaking, writing, reading and listening – looking both at barriers and strengths that disabled students may experience in relation to various elements of a languages course, such as oral examinations, classroom conversation exercises, timed translation examination papers, etc.






  1. Groupwork: prioritised language learners’ attributes and skills

The group were then subjected to an impossible memory test and a note-taking exercise using their non-writing hand. These gave them a feel for what it can be like for disabled students to try to fit in with traditional assessment and teaching methods which are unsuited to their learning style.

The group reflected, via Mentimeter, on their experiences of students on their modules who, despite adequate intelligence and effort, struggled with aspects of language learning due to disability (Picture 2). This led to consideration of techniques that can be applied to enhance accessibility and inclusivity in language teaching, across the three core areas of curriculum design, delivery and assessment (Picture 3). The challenges and limitations in applying these techniques were acknowledged as well as the benefits.





2. Workshop attendees report own experiences.







  1. Laura Brown from the university Disability Office leads the discussion on embedding inclusivity and diversity in the language curriculum

Case study examples of disabled students successfully studying languages were presented, highlighting particular aspects that helped them to achieve – this led to one of the key messages from the day in the plenary discussion, that small changes can make a huge difference. We also emphasised how people are not on their own in supporting disabled students and that the day’s collaborative approach provided a platform for further building support networks.

Moving forward

The workshop left the participants with solid advice on how to support students as individuals, but more importantly with ideas and possibilities to explore to make the curriculum more inclusive.  From the feedback received there is a clear need and willingness to push these conversations forward. Many expressed the need for more specific information and a forum to share practical ideas and good practice about language teaching and disability, and felt it was paramount to do so collaboratively across departments in order to implement and embed changes. So, keep a look out for the Special Interest Group on disability coming to ISLI and DMLES soon!!

[i] DiFino, S. M. & Lombardino, L. (2004), Language Learning Disabilities: The Ultimate Foreign Language Challenge. Foreign Language Annals, 37, 3, pp. 390-400







Connecting with the Curriculum Framework in student participation at academic conferences

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Follow up

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

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

Developing practical and employability skills through an inclusive and structured placement programme by Dr Wing Man Lau and Sue Slade (MFRPS11)


The UK pharmacy regulator, General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), sets Standards for all UK Pharmacy Schools. The Standards stipulate that the undergraduate programme (MPharm) must provide students with practical experience in working with patients, carers and other healthcare professionals. This has led to a need to expand experiential learning within the pharmacy curriculum across the nation.

However, the GPhC does not provide specific guidance on how to achieve experiential learning so pharmacy schools are left to arrange practical experience and plan their own learning outcomes.

Placements bridge the gap between theory and practice. They allow students to learn and practise various clinical and communication skills integral to being a competent pharmacist in dealing with patients in real-world situations. Previously, the typical MPharm curriculum traditionally included off-site short placements, where the pharmacist in charge was responsible for supervising the students. The placement itself was not required to be structured in a particular way though guidance was often issued by the pharmacy schools to the placement provider as to certain learning outcomes that schools were looking to achieve.  Students were often issued with a workbook with tasks they could complete during their placements. Under the circumstances, it was difficult to ensure that the placement provider would deliver the learning outcomes as designed or to provide all students with equal learning opportunities. Some studies have indicated that students regarded such placement arrangements as more like a day out than a vocational experience. 1-4

When we revised the MPharm curriculum at University of Reading to meet the new University Curriculum Framework and the GPhC Standards, we needed to expand experiential learning in our programme. Previously, students in Year 3 had been given the option to carry out a week’s placement in a hospital. Not all students opted to take the opportunity. Those who did were given a workbook detailing expectations and tasks to carry out whilst on the placement. The learning experience was variable even among those who undertook the placement, as it relied heavily on the willingness and capability of the pharmacists as well as the students. Furthermore, the students did not always feel they could put theory into practice.

Developing the best placement programme collaboratively

We believe that real-life patient contact and workplace experience is irreplaceable. Therefore, we set out to develop an extensive programme to give every student a structured placement experience. The programme would cover the main sectors of pharmacy practice in the first 3 years of the course. The aims were:

  1. To provide students with first-hand workplace experience and field-specific knowledge and skills that increase their employability
  2. To provide a spiral structured learning experience, starting from “knowing how” to engage with patients and progressing to finally participating in all aspects of patient care.
  3. To implement an inclusive placement programme where all students achieve the same learning outcomes and are well-supported by placement staff in managing complex and difficult situations.
  4. We have set up a Pharmacy Placement Team to design and develop a new inclusive placement programme, working collaboratively with various departments and teams across the university to engage external partners. The team is led by me (Pharmacy Placement Lead), and consists of Mr Dan Grant (Pharmacy Programme Director), Mrs Sue Slade (Hospital Lead), Mrs Caroline Parkhurst (Community Lead), as well as members of the Careers & Employability team, Student Applicant Services, Legal Services Department, and the University of Reading Medical Practice. We have also enjoyed the support of a number of NHS trusts across England and various local community pharmacies as external partners.
Team member Roles and responsibilities
Dr Wing Man Lau Oversee the whole placement programme; student facing role; student support; programme design; student workbooks design; student application and allocation.
Mr Dan Grant Strategic role; student application and allocation
Mrs Sue Slade Internally supervise placement programme (ISP) Hospital Lead; supervise and run all ISP visits
Mrs Caroline Parkhurst ISP Community Lead
Careers & Employability team General administration support; external liaison; student queries; contracts
Student Applicant Services Student support with DBS and health declaration submission; student queries related to submission
University of Reading Medical Practice Occupational health support for students



The new pharmacy placement programme

We have now introduced compulsory experiential learning into all years of the MPharm programme at University of Reading. For placement learning, students experience both community and hospital pharmacies very early on in the course. The program has been designed in helping our students develop professional attitudes and competencies by exposing them to real situations that demand satisfactory clinical, professional and communication skills that are essential to effective professional practice in any general pharmacy setting.


Credit hours Internally supervised placement Externally supervised placement
1st year 4 (community and hospital)
2nd year 8 (hospital) 8 (community)
3rd year 8 (hospital) 37.5 (hospital or community)

Internally supervised placement programme (ISP)

Our ISP spans years 1–3 of the MPharm programme and addresses specific, achievable learning objectives that spiral throughout the 3 years. It has been designed according to Miller’s triangle of competence and Kolb’s experiential learning theory. The hospital training is based in a local NHS hospital and is run in-house by our Hospital Lead, Mrs Sue Slade, and two Placement Tutors who all have dedicated placement roles on my MPharm programme. The staff-student ratio averages 1:4. This ensures a high quality learning experience because the tutors can build rapport with the students, evidence the students’ improvement individually, and tailor the teaching to suit the students’ needs.

The 1st year community training is based in a local community pharmacy and run in-house by our Community Lead, Mrs Caroline Parthurst. Students learn about the community pharmacist’s roles and the specialist services available in this sector. They are given the opportunities to reflect and compare how the roles differ between hospital and community pharmacy settings.

As students progress through the programme, they continually practise new-found professional skills under supervision and apply them in real-world situations – on real patients. Such skills include patient counselling, taking a medication history and performing medicines optimisation. Students are required to complete a workbook and write a reflection on each visit, which are summatively assessed in Year 3 as part of their personal development portfolio. Transferable skills are formatively assessed on three of the five placements and summatively assessed through OSCE exams in Year 3 and Year 4.

Externally supervised placement programme (ESP)

Building on from their first year community pharmacy experience, year 2 students go to a different local community pharmacy, unaccompanied by university staff or peers, for a whole day. The students are given a detailed workbook and an introductory lecture to guide their learning. Students are reminded closer to the placement through email detailing expectations and tasks to be completed during the visit.

In Year 3, the ESP placement lasts for a week and students choose between a hospital placement or a community placement based on their own interest. The hospital option is usually overwhelmingly popular, so despite being able to offer a large number of these placements, we simply cannot accommodate the demand for it. Therefore, we have put in place an application process, whereby the students are required to submit an application form indicating what attracts them to the hospital placement and why they should be selected. They are also asked to support their application with a reflection on previous placements to identify exactly what further skills they aim to gain. This process is similar to job applications in the real world (for example, the application for pre-registration pharmacist positions), so the students are able to practise this aspect of job seeking and familiarise themselves with the job application process throughout the MPharm programme.

Again, a workbook detailing tasks that build on from previous placements is provided for the students. The pharmacists in charge at the respective pharmacies supervise our students on these visits. We brief the supervisors prior to the placement with details of the placement objectives, learning outcomes with a copy of the student workbook to standardise the student learning experience. The supervisors provide written feedback to the students on each visit to allow them to reflect from their learning.


Benefits and Outlook

To our knowledge, our structured, integrated and inclusive placement programme is unique among pharmacy schools in the UK. The placement programme has been time-consuming to set up and run, and has required careful organisation and planning for each visit to be successful and valuable. Preliminary evaluation suggests all students have found the placement experience positive and valued the structured and inclusive placement format as it helps develop their sector knowledge and skills in real-life situations.

Close collaboration with various University departments and external partners has been crucial to the running of the placement programme. We are committed to continued collaboration as a team, comprising diverse roles, in supporting our students to become competent and highly employable graduates by developing their professional, clinical and communication skills.

A full evaluation of our placement programme is under way. We will update you shortly.


1 Sosabowski M. (2008) Pharmacy Education in the United Kingdom. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 72(6):130.

2 Talyor K and Harding G (2007) The pharmacy degree: The student experience of professional training. Pharmacy Education. 7(1): 83–88

3 Nation L and Rutter P (2011) Short communication piece on experiences of final year pharmacy students to clinical placements. Journal of Health and Social Care Improvement. 2:1-6

4 Diack L (2014) Experiences of Supervision at Practice Placement Sites. Education Research International. 2014:6