Rebuilding the ancient world, digitally by Dr Matthew Nicholls

I was glad to find out recently that I’m a Digital Hero. Though disappointed that the title does not appear to confer any super-powers, I’m glad that the University recognises the innovative work that many of us are doing in our different fields – Reading feels like a place that values digital innovation and encourages its staff to take the lead. Having had a lot of support from CDoTL’s Teaching and Learning Fellowship scheme and the Annual Fund I was very glad to come along to the recent Digitally Ready Day and explain to colleagues what I’ve been working on.

The Campus Martius, the area of flat land in the loop of the River Tiber. Prominent monuments here include the Theatre of Pompey and the Pantheon.

During my time in Reading I’ve been developing a huge digital architectural reconstruction model of ancient Rome. I use this a lot in research, in teaching, and in outreach talks. I’ve also licensed it to commercial broadcasters and am working with Typography and Systems Engineering to turn it into a smartphone app for tourists.

Theatre of Pompey - Julius Caesar's colleague and rival Pompey the Great built this spectacular theatre from the spoils of his campaigns in the east. Julius Caesar eventually met his fate in the meeting hall at the end of the portico.

Students react very well to digital visualisations – they help give a vivid, instant impression of life in the ancient city – and have played a part in its creation through UROP placements. Seeing students enthusiastically contribute digital content of their own encouraged me to build this into the formal curriculum, so I’ve offered optional digital modelling assignments in existing courses, with uniformly high standards in the work submitted so far. From next academic year I’ll be running a new module, ‘Digital Silchester’, in which students will collaborate on a reconstruction of our local Roman town.

The software needed to get started in this sort of work is reasonably easy to pick up (I taught myself to do it) and some of it is available free. Among other things I use a modelling package called SketchUp which you can download for nothing to try out: I am sure this sort of work could be used in all sorts of academic disciplines and student projects, and hope that others will be encouraged to give it a go.

Findings of QAA/NUS Research into the Student Experience

Four mini-reports have been published by the NUS following a 12 month, QAA commissioned, research project into the UK higher education student experience.

Below are the links to each of these reports which have the following themes: Teaching and Learning; Independent Learning and Contact Hours; Subject Differences and First Year Student Experience.

Teaching and Learning

Independent Learning and Contact Hours

Subject differences

First Year Student Experience

Reflective Teaching by Dr Natasha Barrett

Completing the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) portfolio provided the perfect opportunity for me to reflect on teaching and learning and how my approach has developed over the years. I was surprised at how well I mapped onto Kugel’s five ages of a lecturer (1993). I certainly started out at stage 1 (self) where the focus was on surviving each session with my dignity intact. I then started refining the content of my lectures as I gained confidence and moved to stage 2 (the subject). The transition from stages 1 and 2 onwards has gradually occurred with experience, but several of the PGCAP workshops really helped me move forward. Stages 3 (the student) and 4 (student learning) are very apparent to me at the moment and it is here that I have tried to apply some of the learning theories introduced in the PGCAP workshops. I’ve tried using Bigg’s (1999) constructive alignment theory, where learning outcomes dictate what is taught and assessment (particularly marks) can be used to drive the student to meet the outcomes, with pretty good success. I’ve also tried promoting active student learning (eg Kolb’s reflective cycles). Many students will readily “experience” and “conclude” teaching, but engaging the students in reflection and planning is not an area that I’ve had great success with (yet). I guess that this challenge will take me forward into Kugel’s 5th stage (student as an independent learner) and I look forward to applying some of the strategies to achieve this as I review my teaching material over the summer. I was really pleased to be awarded with the runner’s up PGCAP portfolio prize and would like to thank the CSTD, CDoTL and departmental staff for all their support.

The Enhancing Fieldwork Learning Project by Dr Alice Mauchline and Professor Julian Park

Fieldwork is an important component of Higher Education in a number of subjects. As a Learning Space it provides good educational opportunities for students; including the teaching & practice of skills such as observation, data recording & analysis to report writing and teamwork.

Two University of Reading staff members, Julian Park and Alice Mauchline (together with colleagues from Chester & Sheffield Universities) have received HEA funding for the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning project which aims to develop and share ways to enhance fieldwork learning using technology. Incorporating appropriate technology into fieldwork teaching can be enabling, fun to use and can be cost effective. Importantly, it gives students problem-solving opportunities in the field and provides a vehicle for the development of a variety of subject-specific, generic and employability skills.

An important aspect of this project is about reaching and engaging fieldwork practitioners in Higher Education and creating a community to share ideas and good practice. The team regularly attend both subject-specific and T&L conferences to engage people with the project and run workshops to demonstrate the potential transferability of technology into practitioners’ own teaching.

Additionally, the team run their own events. A two-day ‘Transforming Fieldwork Practice Workshop’ has just been taken place at Hornton Grange, University of Birmingham. Four teams from different institutions each came along with their specific requirements and were supported in finding ways to develop, facilitate & sustain change in their fieldwork practice. Also, a Showcase event is taking place in September 2012 at which there will be demonstrations of a number of simple technologies which can enhance fieldwork learning e.g. how to shoot and edit videos using only a smartphone & applications of iPads in fieldwork.

The website for the EFL project contains a wealth of resources including literature on fieldwork learning, case study reports on the use of technology to solve pedagogic issues encountered during fieldwork and a blog & social media streams.

Therefore, we invite you to engage with the project; use the resources, attend a talk/workshop or come along to the Showcase event in September 2012. Enjoy!

“It’s typography, Jim, but not as we know it…” by Gerry Leonidas

The TEDx-style conference Od „Ala Ma Kota” Do E-Matury brought together typographers, designers, publishers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and policy makers from different European countries, to explore the correlation of the design of educational materials and efficiency in education. The UK was represented by Gerry Leonidas from the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, who spoke about the transformation of the environment for e-textbooks. The organisers have now uploaded the short talks on YouTube;


History Education by Dr Elizabeth Matthew

Still smiling at the end of their introductory seminar in June, these students are pioneering an exciting addition to the BA History programme, allowing them to test and develop their interest in teaching careers before applying for postgraduate teacher-training.

Thanks to Faculty of Arts and Humanities Teaching and Learning ‘Think Space’ funding, and much appreciated support from colleagues in Chemistry, the Institute of Education, and the Student Employment, Experience and Careers Centre, the History Department has launched a new, optional, 20-credit, Part 3 module—History Education.

On two-week individual placements in local secondary schools over the vacation, the students will observe History lessons, then research and plan a lesson to give jointly with a mentor on the school staff. Back at the university in the autumn, they will submit placement logs, reports on their independently planned lessons, and give oral presentations on their placement experience.

We hope these students will gain a real advantage in the increasingly tough competition for Postgraduate Certificate in Education and Graduate Teacher Programme places. While some may pursue different employment options, the module will increase choice and enhance personal career-development opportunities.

Matching students to placements entailed a selection process. Completing a CV and covering letter, then attending for interview, provided useful experience for all applicants. After CRB checking, the successful candidates gave very positive feedback on the pre-placement seminars. Run jointly with the Institute of Education, these not only allowed the students to bond as a group over introductions to the module and the History curriculum in schools. They also offered vital advice about professional behaviour in schools, lesson observation, lesson planning—and food for thought about the different pros and cons of the PGCE and GTP routes to qualified teacher status. So far, informal reports on placements in progress have been very enthusiastic.

Anna Walter talks about her academic placement (English Dept)


Way back in October 2011, at the beginning of the Autumn Term, Parts 2 and 3 English students were told about a fantastic opportunity. We were now able to go and seek experience beyond the university and go on a placement as part of any module in our year. This would be an integral part of our degree and the placement report would substitute the end of term assessed essay. I eagerly took up this opportunity. I felt I wanted some experience outside of the university environment, something extra to add onto my CV and a chance not to have to write yet another assessed essay.

I am one of very few students who took up the opportunity; I sent off emails to possible opportunities and, eventually, I was accepted to go onto an academic placement at ‘Shandy Hall’ in Yorkshire. It was the home of the author Laurence Sterne and linked with my Eighteenth Century module perfectly as we were studying Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey. ‘Shandy Hall’ is in the very tiny village of Coxwold: there is one pub, one tea room and one church. I organised a placement at the beginning of my Easter holidays. I arranged accommodation in the only B&B in the village and ran the pub asking if I could have dinner with them every evening.

This was a nerve-wracking time. I did not know what to expect, I had launched myself into the unknown but it was also very exciting. The placement could not have been more successful. Everyone looked after me and I have had the most valuable and varied experience. I spent a day restoring the first editions of Laurence Sterne’s books, another day I identified moths and another I discovered the experience of a digital Opera.

I will look back on my placement as an extremely positive experience as I have made friends and contacts now for the future that may help after my graduation in July. I have discovered another beautiful part of the country and I am currently writing up a report that includes all my combined experiences and reflects my enthusiasm for the academic placement I went on. I would recommend this opportunity to any student: it is not often you get this chance.

The Laurence Sterne Trust

Shandy Hall Coxwold York YO61 4AD: Registered Charity 529593


Reading Arts Education Forum Launched

The Institute of Education’s move to the refurbished London Road site has provided an opportunity for the University to show a willingness to become more actively involved in the cultural life of the town. By way of seizing this opportunity, all schools and arts organisations within a 30 mile radius were invited to attend an early evening meeting at London Road on March 27th. The purpose of the meeting was to establish a new network for teachers and artists concerned with education to share their practice and expertise and find new ways of collaborating on projects. The event was introduced by Dr Andy Kempe, Senior Lecturer in Drama Education and a recent recipient of the University’s Teaching Fellowship Award. Dr Kempe welcomed the 40 or so attendees and explained how he and his colleagues in the IoE were feeling invigorated by the recent re-location and were excited by the possibilities it afforded. Not only is the site superbly equipped to train new teachers in the arts, it represents a beautiful and indeed secure location for exhibitions, workshops and festivals involving children, young people and a range of community groups. Dr Kempe expressed his personal desire to see the campus buzzing as staff and students of the university, teachers and pupils from local schools, and artists and arts groups made London Road a hub for cultural and educational activity.

Following this introduction, attendees were given a tour of the new facilities, in particular those spaces designed for specialist education in art, music and drama. The whole of the IoE’s team of arts educators were on hand to answer questions and hear suggestions regarding how the facilities might be utilised to serve the local arts education community. Attendees were then invited to add comments and suggestions to four discussion boards which carried the following questions:

  • How might the University help your school develop its arts education programme?
  • How do you think the London Road site might best be utilised to develop arts education in the Reading area?
  • Would it be useful for the Reading Arts Education Forum to meet regularly? If so, what business should it attend to?
  • How useful would it be for Reading Arts Education Forum to issue a regular e newsletter? What sort of items could it carry?

The collated responses give a wholly enthusiastic to the idea of establishing the Arts Education Forum for Reading and produced a number of ideas that will help IoE staff start to formulate plans for a vibrant future. Around 40 individuals turned up to the meeting and several others sent apologies and asked to be kept informed of its outcomes and intended future developments. A Wiki has already been set up in order to provide schools and arts groups a place to share news of events and initiatives and plans are afoot to work with outside:inside on a ‘Learn’ festival in the autumn.

The IoE is certainly determined to contribute to the continuing development of teachers and artists through an expanding programme of courses, workshops and summer schools which, it is hoped, will involve staff and students from across the University. New modules have been written to add to the existing MA in Education suite so from September 2012 candidates will be able to specialise and work towards a MA in Arts Education. In the words of one respondent to the discussion boards the aim is to ‘Excite! Push! Stretch! Inspire!’

Andy Kempe

Placement and career learning update from the Student Employment Experience and Careers Centre

There is good news for staff concerned with placement provision, particularly those involved for the first time. A new Placement Guide for Staff will provide quick reference points for managing the different types of placement and provide answers to FAQs. Once approved, it will be on the Web for easy search and update. In the meantime, the SEECC placement and development team are happy to answer queries and provide support for Schools.

With so much interest on career outcomes from potential students and their families/supporters, one of SEECC’s summer tasks is to create a central resource on all the activities that a student can engage in to develop their employability. Careers Advisers will also be talking to School and Department staff to ensure that we have an up to date picture of career learning in the curriculum and celebrate good practice. We hope to link the central employability resource to subject-specific information so that students understand the range of provision inside and outside the curriculum.

A working group led by Dr Paddy Woodman is revisiting the University’s Policy on Careers Information Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) in the light of the revised QAA guidelines. The Director of SEECC has drafted an updated policy and implementation plan for consideration at its April meeting.

Work is also underway to increase the number of students completing the popular RED Award and to develop RED Plus for students who are keen to be challenged further. We are very sorry to lose Vicky Clarke who developed the Award and has done so much to make it a success. We thank her for the legacy that will enable the Award to go from strength to strength.

Finally, we welcomed Amanda Duggan us from SOAS on 2 May who joins as Employer and Graduate Career Manager. Amanda will lead on employer engagement and the provision of services to new graduates, with the main focus still on supporting graduates in their first six months. We would be grateful if staff could inform finalists in their final tutor meetings of the new email which went live in May 2012.

Jane Standley

Centre for the Development of Teaching and Learning (CDoTL) play host to colleagues from University College Cork.

On Wednesday 18th January 2012 CDoTL played host to a visit from colleagues from the Teaching and Learning Unit (‘Ionad Bairre’) at University College Cork (UCC), Ireland. Professor Grace Neville (VP Teaching and Learning), Dr Bettie Higgs and Marian McCarthy (Co-Directors of Ionad Bairre) spent the day meeting with the CDoTL team to find out more about the work of the Centre and its role in supporting institutional T&L enhancement.

UCC are currently undergoing a review of their teaching and learning support provision and were looking to other T&L centres both within Ireland and overseas to provide them with ideas and insights in supporting enhancement across institutions. The aim was to use their visit to inform recommendations for future T&L support at UCC. CDoTL were therefore delighted to be chosen by UCC as an example of ‘good practice’ in central enhancement of teaching and learning.

In particular, the UCC team were keen to find out more about Reading’s T&L Awards, Fellowships and projects schemes, as well as our provision for disseminating good practice and supporting colleagues’ staff development (e.g. as part of CDoTL’s work with the Centre for Staff Training and Development). Our UCC colleagues were also keen to find out more about the role of CDoTL in leading and supporting bids for external T&L funding, something which CDoTL have had much success in in recent years. The visit also provided the UCC team with an opportunity to find out more about our School T&L structures and to meet with the PVC Teaching and Learning, Professor Gavin Brooks, as well as some of the Faculty Directors for Teaching and Learning.

Left to right: Marian McCarthy (Co-Director of Ionad Bairre, UCC), Professor Grace Neville (VP Education, UCC), Dr Bettie Higgs (Co-Director of Ionad Bairre, UCC) and Dr Anne Crook (CDoTL.)

 Dr Betties Higgs commented on the University’s T&L Awards and Fellowship schemes “The reward and recognition systems you have in place are invaluable for reminding staff of the status of teaching and learning – key functions of higher education institutions.”

UCC also support Blackboard as their Virtual Learning Environment, so were interested to find out more about CDoTL’s work in supporting Blackboard and, more broadly, e-Learning, across the University. The visit was also an opportunity to showcase some of the methods used by CDoTL to engage with Schools, for example the Pathfinder work, in which CDoTL works closely with Schools in preparation for their respective Periodic Reviews. Dr Betties Higgs commented “The Pathfinder initiative is excellent. The support for staff comes at the right time in the cycle for the periodic review. It’s obvious that Schools benefit from the more in-depth consideration of Teaching and Learning, enabled by this initiative. We will be recommending similar support at an appropriate stage in our own Quality review cycle.”

Professor Neville’s comments on their visit to CDoTL “Thank you to the whole Team at CDoTL, and to your colleagues from the Faculties. It was definitely a good choice to visit Reading. We will be able to quote some of your initiatives when we make recommendations for our future in our Centre for Teaching and Learning.”

Dr Anne Crook