Assessing the use of Technology Enhanced Learning in Higher Education: the case of trading simulation software at the ICMA Centre

Dr Ioannis Oikonomou, ICMA Centre
Year(s) of activity: 2013-14


8948This project reviewed the effectiveness of the ICMA Centre’s use of trading simulation software, a unique combination of problem-based learning and role-playing which uses modern technology.  While it was found that students enjoyed having access to trading simulation software for their learning, a number of areas in which improvements could be made were identified, and recommendations were made to effect these.


  • To assess the effectiveness of the ICMA Centre’s use of trading simulations software.
  • Highlight areas for improvement and make suggestions about the possible restructuring of the content of the offered trading simulation modules and ways of further enhancing their academic and practical usefulness for students.


The ICMA Centre has three dealing rooms, which are used for conducting small group seminars, workshops and trading simulation sessions for modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, as well as being a valuable tool for outreach purposes.

Although the ICMA Centre has been subject to periodic and contextual review, there has been no formal investigation that specifically targets the teaching and learning issues and transferable skills of the trading simulation software.


To assess the effectiveness of the use of these facilities, historic feedback was analysed. The ICMA Centre had regularly undergone periodic and contextual reviews as according to University of Reading policy, with these reviews evaluating all aspects of the ICMA Centre’s programmes. This was therefore a valuable resource for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the use of trading simulation software for teaching and learning within the wider context of the ICMA Centre’s delivery of programmes.

Also analysed were evaluation forms connected to trading sessions at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level for three academic years. The great benefit of these data were that it allowed quantitative analysis of trading simulation software, as students gave numerical scores to indicate their satisfaction. Qualitative data were also available, with students providing free text comments, which give specific details about what had worked well and what might need improving.

Interviews were conducted with module convenors and teaching assistants. This allowed greater detailed information to be generated on the strengths and weaknesses of trading simulation sessions, and offered the chance to discuss module convenors’ and teaching assistants’ perspective on trading simulation sessions. Additionally, interviews with staff were valuable for capturing some of the informal opinions and attitudes of students, which may not have expressed in formal evaluations.

The guidance offered by these analyses was used to formulate an online questionnaire in order to generate quantifiable data.  Finally, two student focus groups, one of undergraduate students and one of postgraduate students, were interviewed in order to expand upon the findings of the questionnaire. Effort was made to accurately represent the diversity of student backgrounds on ICMA programmes in the focus groups.


Historic evaluation forms, interviews with module convenors and teaching assistants, the online questionnaire, and the focus groups had comparable findings.  Overall, students very much enjoyed the use of trading simulation software, and generally found it to be user-friendly, reasonable and realistic.  The realism and ‘hands-on’ nature of the platform are particularly beneficial characteristics, as adult learners tend to focus on tasks, especially when they believe they may encounter these in their lives.  The trading simulations were highlighted as being effective tools for the development of employable skills, and helped students to internalise complex financial concepts.

The principal negative aspects of users experiences of trading simulation software that were raised at multiple points during the study, were that students wanted more time using the trading simulation software, and better connection between lectures and use of the trading simulation software.  This was most keenly felt by undergraduate students, who receive significantly fewer trading hours than postgraduates, and who felt that the sessions could be better embedded into their teaching and learning portfolios. As a result of these findings, a number of recommendations were made for improving the delivery of teaching and learning with the use of trading simulation sessions.

Follow up

Progress has been made on fulfilling the recommendations of the report: Trading Simulation II has been moved from the Financial Modelling module to the more suitable Debt Markets and Instruments; module convenors have instructions to be mindful of the link between their lectures and trading simulation sessions, and for how performance in trading simulations sessions is to be benchmarked; alterations and additions have been made to the simulation software’s scenarios so that it can be utilised for different learning outcomes; availability of trading simulation sessions has been increased, and trading hours for students have been increased; students are given firm guidance and information on the interpretation of and access to their feedback; and an experienced trader has been employed as a sessional lecturer for the undergraduate training sessions.

With these alterations having been made, feedback on trading simulation sessions has improved, and students demonstrate deep and broad levels of learning on concepts they are able to explore through the use of trading simulation sessions.

Teaching in a divided classroom: the impact of internationalisation and marketisation on business education

Dr John Latsis, Henley Business School
Year(s) of activity: 2013-14


9337In the postgraduate module Managing People and Organisations (MMM048), provided by the School of Leadership, Organisations and Behaviour, assessment methods were altered in a manner that was mindful of the increased internationalisation and marketisation of UK Higher Education, in order to assist the transition of international students.


  • To provide a method of assessment that fit the needs of international students less acculturated to UK Higher Education
  • To design this method of assessment so that it does not disadvantage more culturally expert students.
  • To have the first assessment of the module prepare students for essay-writing for further assessments.


Results from previous years of MMM048 revealed that students on the module struggled with the first assessed essay, but showed significant improvement for their second assessed essay. In particular, the results suggested a difficulty for international students, who constituted over 80% of module students, to acculturate themselves to the expectations of UK Higher Education. Specifically, linguistic competence in written coursework, understanding of the requirements of critical engagement and argumentation in essay writing, and the needs of some students for individual follow-up meetings to discuss module content, were issues that needed to be addressed.


Potential solutions, such as engaging in targeted small group tutoring, or simplifying the content of the module, were unacceptable. Engaging in targeted small group tutoring would negatively impact the workload of teaching staff, to the detriment of other duties, and would result in those groups that received said teaching having an unfair advantage. Simplifying the intellectual content of the module was undesirable, as the content of the module consistently received good feedback, and to do so would give a false impression of what was expected of students in their postgraduate study. Additionally, as students in the bottom quartile of the mark distribution generally showed evidence of improvement over the course of the module, this suggested that the content was not itself too difficult.

What was developed was an extended essay plan as a form of assessment, a hybrid solution that maintained the essay-writing element of the first part of the module, but allowed students to gain a hands-on insight into the expectations of UK postgraduate Higher Education. Students were provided with an essay plan handbook, explaining the expectations of how an essay would be written, providing a ready-made generic structure, with subheadings, approximate word counts for each section, and the usual guidelines with which students are provided. The essay plan is shorter than the full essay which previously formed the first assessment of the module (1000 words rather than 2500 words), and is worth less (15% rather than 30%). Additionally, the requirement for students to write in continuous English prose, which students might initially find difficult, is softened, as students are allowed to develop their ideas in bullet points in order to save space. The development of the extended essay plan format was carried out in consultation with the In-Sessional English Support team, in order to assure that the template was worded as clearly as possible.


The net effect of the change was significant. The failure rate for the first assessment dropped to 0%, and there was a reduced failure rate in the module as a whole. Student satisfaction surveys for the module achieved higher scores than previously, and students reported in casual conversation that they would continue to use the template and accompanying handbook to help them write their essays for other modules, as they found it a very useful tool to organise their thoughts and keep their arguments on track.


The essay plan format is beneficial for the following reasons:

  1. It replaced the need for coaching to be provided in the context of a large class size with a variety of individual needs.
  2. It makes explicit the cultural clues that students with experience of the UK Higher Education system understand through verbal communication, but that have proved difficult to communicate verbally to students without this experience.
  3. It provides an explicit performance standard with instructions and mark-breakdowns that makes assessment clear and maintains standards of fairness across all levels of ability.
  4. As a result of the format including multiples questions, one of which is more difficult than the others, there is still the possibility for the most able students to demonstrate their ability by effectively addressing a difficult topic.
  5. It draws the markers’ attention away from linguistic ability and puts the emphasis on clarity of argument and quality of ideas, re-uniting a divided classroom.

While the new approach does reduce the flexibility that students have to express themselves within the constraints of the template, and benefits non-native English users more than it does native English users, the format allows students to be assessed on their understanding of the module content, and their ability to reflect critically upon it and construct a coherent argument.

Follow up

The essay plan assessment format has continued to be utilised within MMM048. There have been some minor changes to the wording of the essay plan and associated guidance as a result of input from the University Study Advice team. While comparisons between cohorts are difficult to perform, it is encouraging that marks on MMM048 improved last academic year.

Inter-disciplinary Research Applied Ethics, Economic History and Social and Moral Psychology by Dr Kleio Akrivou

Dear Colleagues of this University,

I thought it may be worthwhile sharing via our blog the news on an exciting inter-disciplinary research in Henley Business School’s Centre of Social and Organisational Studies (CSOS) in association with the Centre of Economic History of the University.  Specifically on June 17, 2014 I organised an international academic symposium titled “The Challenges of Capitalism for the Common Good”.  The symposium, linking business and applied ethics, economic history and moral/organisational psychology was very successful and stimulated inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional research relations, with 62 academics from Reading, other UK universities, Spain, Austria, France and other European and US universities.  Reading Academics with key part besides myself, were Professors Marc Casson and Joel Felix, and Dr Lucy Newton, while among the prominent international research cutting edge research leaders who gave talks were Professor Agustin Enciso (Spain) and Alisdair Dobie (UK), and Professors Daryl Koehn (Minnesota, USA), Alejo Sison (Spain), and Ron Beadle (UK), and Geoff Moore.

The symposium line of enquiry examined the evolution of ethics and morality from the Aristotelian conception of virtue, prosperity (eudaimonia) and citizenship in the classic Greek network of inter-dependent political communities of city-states (polis), through pre-modern and medieval times in Europe.  The second part of the symposium examined the evolution of ethics and morality of self-interest and rationality in the modern wage labour capitalist economic and social organisation, with a focus on the problem of definition of the common good in economy, society and the firm, and the enquiry on the moral and human psychology which may support virtue ethics within a utilitarian capitalist commercial sphere of exchange and work.

We all loved the insights, the opportunity to share critical informed perspectives and visions for the future, as well as the conversational space allowing shared reflection and research enquiry in the community of participants and the speakers. It was an exciting and very successful event and there is ongoing research synergy now being built across HBS and the Humanities / Social Sciences on this topic. A great thanks to all who contributed and kindly assisted me in the organisation of this conference!

Kleio Akrivou, Associate Professor of Business Ethics and Organisational Behaviour, Henley Business School.

Developing highly employable pharmacy graduates by Dr Samantha Weston

In an effort to rise to the challenge of increasing the employability of graduates, staff from Reading School of Pharmacy worked in a cross-faculty collaboration with colleagues in Henley Business School to develop the UK’s first Post-Graduate Certificate in Business and Administration available to undergraduate MPharm students. This clearly fits with the 2013-15 teaching and learning enhancement priority relating to developing highly employable graduates.

The concept behind the development of the programme came after discussions with stakeholders from community, hospital and industrial sectors outline weaknesses in management and leadership in pharmacy graduates throughout the UK. Although all pharmacy undergraduate programmes nationwide teach management and business skills, all stakeholders felt that extra training in this area would enhance the employability of graduates, and allow them to develop and thrive more effectively in their pre-registration training year and beyond.

We believe that the introduction of this course will lead to RSOP attracting and recruiting the most competitive and ambitious UK and international students who will become the leaders of the future within the NHS and the Healthcare and Healthtech industries. The project will further differentiate our Pharmacy graduates from those from older, long-established Schools of Pharmacy.  This innovative and unique new course will run alongside the current MPharm Pharmacy programme, and be aimed at the highest achieving students who have an ambition to follow a leadership career path in industry, commerce, academia or the NHS, and who may also want to go on to complete a full MBA in the future.

Although the proposed course is innovative and unique in the UK and worldwide, it is analogous to joint MB /PhD courses for Medics wishing to become Researcher-Physicians, and would compete with well-established postgraduate dual Pharmacy/ Management courses in the US which have already been shown to increase graduate earning potential.

The course runs for its first cohort in the summer of 2014, and the course developers are currently in discussions with other Schools and Faculties to discuss how the programme can be adapted to provide a specialist focus for their own discipline. If colleagues would like further information about the initiative then please contact either Samantha Weston or Al Edwards in Pharmacy or Lynn Thurloway in HBS.

NSS success: It’s the little things?

I was asked to contribute this after the Business School scored highly in the NNS survey for Management & Business degrees, and was invited to focus on things the School has done that have contributed to the maintenance of and improvement in our NSS scores that might be shared.

The category includes our Accounting programmes, where staff have been awarded the RUSU Gold Star for the past three years and that must help. Continue reading →