Engaging students as partners in the redesign of an existing course curriculum

Dr Despoina Mantzari, School of Law


In June 2016 I was awarded a small University of Reading Teaching and Learning grant with the objective to involve a group of ten postgraduate taught students from the School of Law as partners in the process of redesigning the curriculum of a core postgraduate taught module. This entry reflects on the process of engaging students as partners in the redesign of an existing course curriculum. It discusses how insights from the burgeoning literature on students as partners in higher education informed the process and assesses the outcomes of the latter for improving and supporting teaching and learning.


  • To listen to the ‘student voice’ before course delivery, by proactively engaging students as partners in the redesign of the module.
  • To co-create learning experiences in collaboration with students that goes beyond the student satisfaction surveys and other ex-post forms of evaluation.
  • To redesign a module so that it is both engaging and empowering.


The module Advanced International Commercial Law Issues (LWMTAI), being a core compulsory module of the new LLM, had to be redesigned so as to fit into the new programme requirements. In doing so, I wanted to listen to the ‘student voice’ before course delivery, by proactively engaging students as partners in the redesign of the module. This exercise departs from current practice in higher education, where ‘student voice’ is largely heard following the completion of the taught component of the module on a Module Evaluation Form.


Guided by the values of inclusion and partnership, I first emailed all students enrolled on the module in its pre-revised form (2015-16) and introduced the project and its aims, and invited expressions of interest. In order to further test the modules’ renewed approach to the theoretical framework and other relevant components, I also invited a group of five students who had never been enrolled on the module to participate in the project. In selecting this latter group of five students, I was guided by considerations of diversity, both in terms of ethnic and cultural background as well as prior exposure to commercial law. Inviting all LLM students who had never enrolled on the project would have been inappropriate for the aims of the project and would render it difficult to manage. Both previously used (prior to 2015-16) and revised module description forms (to be introduced in 2016-17) of the module were circulated to both groups along with a questionnaire. All students involved were asked to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the module, as reflected in the module description forms, along with other concerns or recommendations they wished to share. These were discussed during a two-hour event, open to all students participating in the project and School of Law staff involved in postgraduate taught and undergraduate Law teaching.


The project enhanced student motivation and engagement, and fostered the development of a learning community within the School of Law. Students enjoyed their participation in the project and in particular their contribution to the event that followed. They were fascinated by their collaboration with staff and by their active role in critically reviewing the course curriculum.

The project also helped students to review their own learning process and allowed them to develop an increased sense of leadership and motivation. It also increased their confidence to express their views in academic settings. Student involvement facilitated the design of the module in ways that significantly improved it.

The project had a transformative effect on the way I perceive my role as an educator and the boundaries thereof.


Three key factors contributed to the project’s success:

First, the fact that I ‘institutionalised’ the project by applying for a University of Reading Teaching and Learning Small Research Grant not only allowed me to fund the activities, but also raised the profile of the project in the eyes of both students and staff.

Second, the careful selection of those elements of the curriculum redesign that would be part of the student-staff partnership. I opted for a model of interaction where students are given limited choice and influence. The reason for this related to the nature of the project, which concerned the redesign of an existing module in its entirety. When engaging students as partners, reciprocity cannot always be fulfilled, as high-stake issues of module redesigns, such as the theoretical framework or methods of assessment cannot be entirely handed over to students. Students may find themselves confused if a tutor hands over total control of such an important element without preparation or guidance. Such practice may jeopardise the gatekeeper function of the educator.

The third element went to the heart of student as partner practice: how many students to involve in the project, and by which means. The literature suggests that students as partners can involve work with individuals, small groups, and situations where students are invited to become partners, or even elected or selected. While the literature has drawn attention to the potential benefits of whole cohort approaches, it may be difficult, impossible, or even undesirable in some contexts to involve all students at all times. In this case, a whole-cohort approach could not be adopted, as some students enrolled in the module in its pre-revised form had already left the University. Furthermore, selecting students could potentially undermine the values of inclusion, respect and responsibility that underpin the students as partners approach. Meaningful partnership requires a high level of equality and contribution from partners, and that would be jeopardised by implementing an approach that would invite to the project only student that the module convenor deemed suitable to participate.

Classics Special Options: research-led teaching

Dr Katherine Harloe, School of Humanities


11671All options in Classics Special Options (CLMSO) are research-led and arise directly from current research projects of academic staff. Students greatly enjoy learning about topics of current research within the subject, and members of staff report that they find teaching on their specialised topics of research interest very rewarding.


  • Utilise current research within the Department of Classics to offer students topics that are at the forefront of research within the topic.
  • Introduce postgraduate taught students to advanced research in Classics on two topics.
  • Provide students with access to primary and unpublished materials in order to allow them to engage with research modelling to develop their views.


CLMSO is a well-established element of postgraduate taught provision within the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, and complements similar research-led optional modules offered at undergraduate level. Providing the module means that the current research of staff within the Department of Classics can have a direct and identifiable link to their teaching.


Members of staff are asked to offer two research topics, with the understanding that only one of these will be run in relation to demand. Staff create a description of their topic and a preliminary bibliography, and these are used to advertise their topic. In order to ensure balance across the Department of Classics, the Department Director of Taught Postgraduate Learning is responsible for approving the options that staff offer. As a result, a diverse profile of topics across the research interests of the Department can be guaranteed.

Students enrolled on CLMSO will do two topics: for each they select a first and second choice. Generally it is attempted to avoid situations in which only one student will be taking a topic, but on occasion it is necessary to do so. In such situations, the contact hours are able to be run in a manner more akin to dissertation supervision, with the student able to gain directed feedback as they write their extended essay.

The seminars of CLMSO, which are run in the Spring Term, begin with a setting-up meeting, allowing the staff to meet all the students, if they have not done so already, to ascertain the expectations of the students, and to set the learning outcomes from the topic. With small group sizes, it is possible for staff to tailor the teaching of their topic so that it meets the expectations of the students, while still ensuring that the learning outcomes are met.

For assessment in each topic, students produce an extended 4000 word essay. This is then marked and returned to the students with detailed feedback. The feedback that students receive at this stage is valuable for students’ work on their dissertations.


The module is consistently enjoyed by students, who have expressed, through formal and informal feedback channels, their appreciation for being able to study topics that represent the forefront of research being conducted in the subject area.  Staff also report that it is rewarding to teach topics related to their current research.


Staff often report that they find being able to offer a specific topic in which they have research interests an enjoyable aspect of postgraduate teaching, and particularly value being able to tailor the delivery of their topics to the needs of a small group. By presenting their current research, staff are able to benefit from the activity of structuring and clarifying their research in such a way that allows the topic to be taught.

Students benefit from the increased proximity to the process of research that they are able to gain, offering them access to primary or unpublished materials, and an insight into the process of conducting research. This insight is particularly beneficial to students who are considering moving to postgraduate research after completing their Master’s degree. As the module is taught at postgraduate level staff are able to incorporate more advanced content than is possible at undergraduate level, including trialling material intended for publication and therefore enabling students to observe the link between research and outputs.

The module is workable within the Department of Classics at taught postgraduate level, as there is more scope for flexibility, given the smaller cohort sizes. As a result, while this module design may be replicable within other subject areas with small cohort sizes, it may be more difficult to reproduce in subjects with larger cohort sizes.

As it is not necessary to list the specific options that are on offer each year, the module is easy to administer, as only minor adjustments need to be made to the module description each year.

The principal difficulty of the module has been student disappointment if they are not able to get their first choices of topics. As a result, it has been necessary to reinforce to students that the topics from which they chose are not guaranteed to run, if there is not sufficient demand. In previous years, there were issues whereby students were not sufficiently made aware of the learning outcomes for certain topics. In subsequent years, staff have been asked to set and adhere to clear learning outcomes, with students made aware of these.

Constructing research methods and statistics teaching

Dr Lotte Meteyard, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences


Statistics teaching to Speech and Language Therapists within the Department of Clinical Language Sciences was redesigned in response to module evaluations. Whereas students had previously reported anxiety about statistics and struggled to appreciate the relevance of statistics to their practice, the introduction of formative learning activities which integrated statistics teaching with other module content produced a reduction in anxiety about statistics, a benefit to students’ grades, and an increase in student module satisfaction with their statistics training.


  • Increase the opportunities for students to consolidate and revisit knowledge of key concepts.
  • Make explicit links within and across the teaching content to clinical practice.
  • Provide learning activities, outcomes and objectives that are clear to students.


The Research Proposal (PL3RPR) module is compulsory for all Part Three undergraduate and taught postgraduate students within the Department of Clinical Language Sciences. The module provides research methods and statistics teaching, and during the module students plan a research module and complete an ethics application, with these being used for their dissertations. Feedback, however, revealed that students found the statistics lectures confusing and poorly related to other module content. Having teaching provided by a number of staff members contributed to the module having a fragmentary nature.


In order to increase the opportunities for students to consolidate and revisit knowledge of key concepts, technology, multiple practice and collaboration were focused on in order to create frequent, meaningful activities for students to complete. Lecture handouts were provided separate from the lecture slides in order to encourage engagement during lectures, and practical activities were used to teach basic quantitative concepts and research design. During activities, analyses of data was completed as a class, and formative exercises were set each week, involving a short reading and answering focused questions on that reading. These assessments were revisited at the start of each lecture in order to feedback and discuss answers to questions. In labs, written instructions were replaced with short videos demonstrating how to complete particular procedures. Worksheets required students to write out results and answer questions about the interpretation of data. The answers to these worksheets were made available on Blackboard Learn after the end of each lab class. For each week of statistics teaching an online multiple choice questionnaire was provided, offering students optional online practice in preparation for the statistics class test. Students were encouraged to have the statistical analysis software PASW or SPSS installed on their home devices to allow them to practice away from lectures.

To make explicit links within and across the teaching content and to clinical practice, the content of the module was restructured so that students were introduced to a particular concept, with this concept then being revisited in later activities. In order to build explicit links with clinical practice students were asked to identify why research skills are important for clinical work, to complete formative assessments that involved reading chapters on healthcare research or journal articles from speech therapy research. Key readings were taken from ‘real world’ sources, such as the magazine of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy or the NHS. Reflection was encouraged through formative assignments which were discussed in the following week’s lecture. These required student to identify why healthcare research is critical to practice, critique a randomised controlled trial, and identify research designs and statistical tests in clinically relevant journal articles.

To provide learning activities, outcomes and assessment tasks that are aligned and clear to students, the learning outcomes of the module were rewritten and linked directly to the summative assessments. Three summative assessments were themselves changed so that students prepared a research proposal poster, an ethics application and a statistics class test. The research proposal poster was introduced to give practice at a professional skill and reduce the duplication of content between making the proposal and the ethics application. By making the ethics application a summative assessment, students would be assessed on something directly relevant to the completion of their project, while only minimal staff input would be required for the document to be submitted to the School ethics committee. The weighting of each piece of assessment was changed so that they contributed more evenly to the overall module mark. Learning activities were designed to support students in accessing and evaluating literature, generating research designs and statistical analyses. By providing research proposal and ethics application examples, and templates for their own on Blackboard Learn alongside detailed guidelines for completing coursework, student were encouraged to seek out supporting material independently.


Students on the module completed a statistical knowledge multiple choice questionnaire during the first week of the module and again after completing their statistics class test. They also completed the Statistical Anxiety Scale before beginning the module, and again at the end of the module. Results demonstrated that statistical knowledge increased, with students’ median score going from 11/20 before the course (with a range between 5-14) to 15/20 after the course (with a range between 8 and 19). There was also a reduction in anxiety about statistics. Results also demonstrated that there was a significant positive correlation between the number of formative multiple choice questionnaires a student completed and their final score on the statistics class test. Median marks in the class test and research proposal both improved from the previous year, with no students failing the statistics class test. Student module satisfaction also increased.


Situating the statistics and research methods teaching in practical activities and in the context of students’ professional learning was one of the most powerful changes made to the module: students responded positively to practical activities used to demonstrate statistical concepts. While full participation could not be guaranteed, enough students completed tasks to allow discussion and review of these at the beginning of each lecture.

By using technology for students to practice skills away from the classroom, students were able to increase their knowledge of statistics after the course. It was particularly gratifying to see the correlation between the number of multiple choice questionnaires completed on Blackboard Learn and the attainment of students during the statistics class test.

Having resources external to the classes available, the module convenor could be assured that students could have sufficient time and experience with concepts and software.

International Law Mooting

Professor James Green, Law
Year of activity: 2007-08


Since 2007, the Law School has run a Part Three module entitled ‘International Law Mooting’. This is a highly innovative module, where a team of four students participate in the prestigious Telders International Law Moot Court Competition. The competition involves the team presenting written – and then, crucially, oral – arguments on a fictional dispute in international law.


  • Memorials are jointly written and a single mark is given to all students: this builds teamwork, and prepares students for the submission of written memorials in real cases.
  • The oral performance is assessed, meaning that advocacy and presentation skills are developed.
  • Students are also assessed on individual reflective portfolios, which reward reflective learning and emphasize skill development.


The team competes externally, for the University of Reading, against other universities. This gives the University of Reading a profile nationally and internationally, and provides students with a wonderful experience. The work required to compete in the competition is significant, and so – after entering for the first time in 2006 as an extra-curricular activity – it was decided that student effort here had to be rewarded with appropriate degree credit, hence the creation of the module. It develops a wide range of practical legal skills that are simply not part of other, traditional, law modules.


Of the various issues that arose with regard to implementing the mooting module, the most pertinent for possible implementation elsewhere is the manner in which this module was to be assessed to give best effect to its learning objectives. A key learning objective was to develop communication and advocacy skills – but there is a danger of placing emphasis entirely on the student’s performance in the single external moot. Pressure is high, and ‘stage fright’ very possible. It is also difficult to ensure quality review of the marking of oral presentations/mooting. It was therefore decided that this issue could be addressed by complementing the marks awarded for the oral performance by also awarding a percentage of the marks for a reflective assessment. This ensured that students gained the credit that they were due for their skill development across the module as a whole, and not just based on the moot final alone.


The module has been hugely successful over the years. Students consistently give extremely positive feedback on the unique module design, and team-orientated nature of the module. It is also almost always the case that students gain extremely high marks in the module, with a significant number of firsts having been awarded. Indeed, no student has achieved an overall module mark below the 2:1 classification in 9 years of running the module.


We have, of course, reflected on the module over the years. One change we made was to increase the percentage of the overall grade for the oral performance, and to slightly reduce the amount for the portfolio. This was in response to student feedback – we had the balance a little too heavily on rewarding the reflection, and students felt they should get rather more credit for the moot itself. We feel, after reflection and a few tweaks to the module design, that the assessment methods now best suit the learning outcomes. By and large, though, the module is a resounding success and continues to run in a form that is not too dissimilar from what was originally envisaged in 2007.

Follow up

Nothing beyond what is stated in the ‘Reflections’ box, above.


The Module Description Form for International Law Mooting: http://www.reading.ac.uk/modules/document.aspx?modP=LW3ILM&modYR=1617

The website for the external Telders competition: http://teldersmoot.com/

Flipping the classroom in Meteorology

Dr. Andrew Charlton-Perez, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
Year of activity: 2015/16


12484A flipped learning approach to teaching the part 3 and part 4 module, ‘The Global Circulation’ (MT38A/4YA) in Meteorology was developed and tested. This approach was very successful, encouraging students to apply complex ideas to real-world problems.


  • Develop a new set of learning resources which could be used both in a flipped learning or traditional lecture based delivery.
  • Test and evaluate if teaching in a ‘flipped learning’ style improved student engagement and higher-level learning.
  • Implement authentic assessment that models the real-world process of enquiry and peer-feedback.


I’ve been teaching this module for eight years adding some enquiry-based learning elements around four years ago. While it has always received good student feedback, a colleague who moderated my exam scripts last year made me consider if students were as actively engaged with the module as I had previously thought. Looking at student work it was clear that while students could remember and reproduce sophisticated concepts and mathematical derivations, their ability to apply this knowledge to unfamiliar situations was limited.


Prior to the course I developed a significant new set of learning resources for the course:

  • 21 short videos (between 4 and 6 minutes long) targeted at difficult concepts.
  • 13 online quizzes of ten questions in Blackboard Learn.
  • 24 new learning activities linked to the research literature which students completed during class. 12 of these activities were supported by simple numerical models developed from scratch in open-source Python code.

The course was delivered to students in Spring 2016. The first time the class met as a group I explained the flipped classroom idea and we negotiated an approach to learning.

Following this first meeting, the class operated in three, three-week units. During the first two weeks of each unit, students studied notes and videos in their own time and then completed the on-line quizzes (with instant feedback) prior to attending the next class. In class, students had a choice of two learning activities. Students worked with each other in small teams and with me to complete the problems, writing notes in a rough lab book.

In the third week of each unit, students prepared a more formal write-up of one of the problems as summative assessment for that unit. In extracting information from their lab book, students needed to think about how to frame the problem by stating a hypothesis they wished to test and put the work they had done in the context of the current research literature.

In class, students exchanged their work and gave peer-feedback to each other, before completing the formal write-up with the chance to ask additional clarification questions.


The change to a flipped learning style had a transformative impact on the module; Student feedback highlighted the benefits of the investment in a number of ways including that they enjoyed the flipped learning approach:

  • ‘The structure of the module was the best out of my three years of university, flipped classroom should be done more’
  • ‘Always felt engaged with the lectures thanks to a different learning style’
  • ‘… I could run over the tricky concepts in more detail on a 1-to-1 basis with the lecturer. Often the same question applied to others and the class environment allowed group discussions which really enhanced the learning in a relaxed and productive way.’

And that their learning was improved:

  • ‘…brought my attention to active research areas at the front of study – it got me very interested in the exercises.’
  • ‘Class room discussions made me learn more than in a lecture style class’
  • ‘It isn’t an easy module, but it is very rewarding’


Teaching in a flipped learning style also had a significant impact on my own enthusiasm for teaching the course because the improvement in student learning and engagement was tangible. The image shows an example of student work produced on a white board by a small group during one of the class sessions, applying ideas from the core course material to a recent research paper. It was extremely exciting to see students applying complex ideas in this way and succeeding in writing high-quality research reports on their work.

The flipped learning approach also challenged me to think more deeply about the material because I needed to produce engaging and manageable problems for students to work on.

It was also very rewarding to see how much students made use of the new teaching materials I developed. By monitoring the use of the videos on Blackboard I could see that typically the videos were viewed between 100 and 150 times by the ten students on the course, indicating how important these videos were for student learning. Based on student feedback, short and engaging videos encouraged repeated viewing. I also included music in the videos, often with an oblique reference to the content and students commented that they enjoyed this element of fun! At the end of the course, students requested the ability to download and keep copies of the videos (this functionality is currently not available in Blackboard).

An important part of producing the videos was to also provide transcripts to ensure they were accessible for all students and this took quite a bit of time in addition to video production (which was relatively straight-forward).

The on-line quizzes had a completion rate of 80% with average marks above 70% for most students. As with the videos, the high level of engagement with these materials suggests that they were of an appropriate length and level of challenge for students (pitched so that a student who had studied the notes and videos could answer most questions without further detailed application).

Using an enquiry-based learning assessed work activity to enhance assessment and feedback

Professor Paul Almond, School of Law


9367A project to encourage students enrolled on a Part Three module within the School of Law, Criminology (LW3CRY), to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the links between criminological theory and policy, through a redesign of the Assessed Work project contained within the module. Results have suggested that the project was successful in achieving its objectives, and there were additional, unexpected benefits.


  • Rework the assessment for the module so that students are better able to gain an understanding of the links between criminological theory and policy.
  • Utilise the principles of enquiry-based learning.


One of the established learning outcomes for LW3CRY requires students to: ‘Apply theoretical criminological concepts to practical issues within the field of crime, law and social control’. Students had in the past tended to struggle to make meaningful connections between these two things, and to take a very simplistic view of the theory-policy relationship.


The assessment project for the module was reworked so that it utilised principles of enquiry-based learning and required students to do something with the substantive material that they engaged with during the course. Students were set the task of producing a report for a fictional client, the ‘Minster for Justice’, recommending how a budget of £100m should be spent (on policy choices drawn from a list of available options). This open-ended requirement forced students to define their own terms for answering the question, in that they had to construct and apply the theoretical framework that explained and justified their choices, and settle on a series of recommendations that they put forward. As there is no ‘right answer’ students engage with the process of choosing and justifying rather than reaching a specified ‘correct’ conclusion. The report produced at the end of the project had to clearly explain choices with reference to theory and evidence.

The problem given to the students as the basis of the project was ‘client-centred’, in that they were supposed to be working for the Minister. To this end, the launch document and project materials were formatted in the style of official Government documents and the launch was in the form of a video podcast from the Minister (played by an actor). Project updates were also in the form of video and audio podcasts on Blackboard Learn, and the Minister had his own email address from which to send updates and respond to enquiries. Finally, in order to provide some realism in the ‘client-facing’ research relationship, some details and features of the project were staged so as to be changed or updated as the project progressed.


The average mark for the assessed work project rose from 60.9% in the previous year to 62.8% when the Project was implemented. In addition, subsequent performance in the examination for the module also improved from 60.1% to 61.2%, demonstrating that the gains in terms of the learning outcomes had carried across from the initial assessment activity.


In order to allow this assessment change, the module convenor created the materials and released them via Blackboard Learn, responded to enquiries and provided updates, and then assessed the assessed work reports. Although this involved quite a lot of initial work, the materials and design are reusable meaning that there is a diminishing workload attached to the Project as it is reused in subsequent years.

A couple of problems arose in relation to implementing the project. Firstly, some students were unclear as to what the requirements of a ‘report’ were, and how this should differ in style, structure, and approach from an essay. Despite reassurances that ‘report’ simply meant ‘focused on providing a take-home message about the recommended policies’, they found this terminology confusing. In subsequent versions of the project, more guidance has been provided on what this requires. Secondly, the scope of the project was quite broad (in that students could end up writing small amounts about a large number of policy items), meaning that they were not able to demonstrate the depth of understanding required. Tweaks in the costs of individual items have been introduced to combat this.

Overall, this was successful, and has been utilised in subsequent academic years. It is effectively ‘future-proofed’ in that minor changes to costs, policy choices, and details allow for the materials and project to be reused again. It also involves a very specific problem, reducing opportunities for plagiarism and ‘essay-buying’. An unexpected benefit was the way that this assessment could dovetail with the rest of the course; the use of Blackboard Learn to communicate and store materials increased through-traffic on the course page generally, and it also gave a good focus to subsequent revision classes (the Minister delivers generic feedback and gives suggestions for improvement). The feedback available for this project is easily adaptable in terms of explaining the specific criteria and requirements of the examination; the style of exam question set has been altered in order to achieve ‘constructive alignment’ and ensure that the skills learned in this project are of use in the subsequent assessment.

Incorporating research seminar series into teaching and learning

Dr Louise Johnson, School of Biological Sciences


4258In the School of Biological Studies a module, Seminars in Biology (BI3S78) was created, utilising the existing research seminar series within the School to structure assessment. The module is easily adaptable for other subject areas, and has proved very popular with students, and has aided in their development of academic and personal skills.


  • Better utilise the School’s existing research seminar series.
  • Develop a number of students’ skills, including report writing, writing for different audiences, experimental design, literature searching, and referencing.


The School of Biological Sciences had long held research seminars, with speakers conducting innovative research in the biological sciences being invited to deliver a seminar on their research. Despite these research seminars being an available resource for students to engage with new research in their field of study, and advertisement of the seminars within the school, attendance was disappointing, with many students failing to utilise such a valuable resource. Within the School of Chemistry, Pharmacy, and Food a Part Four module, Current Topics in Chemical Research, exists, having students attend research seminars and creating assessed reports upon these. This provided the inspiration for the creation of a similar module in the School of Biological Sciences.


The School holds around 20 research seminars a year on current research in life sciences. On each seminar attended, students complete a Seminar Report Form with a summary of the seminar topic, three things they learned from the seminar, a comment on the quantitative methods used, references (one scientific review article and two primary research papers) for someone who wished to research the topic, and their justification for these sources. This ensures not only that students attend the research seminars, but also actively engage in note-taking during the seminar. Commenting on the quantitative methods used by the seminar speaker encourages students to reflect upon their own use of quantitative methods. By providing references for someone else to research the topic, students develop their skills in referencing and literature searching. The reports are marked on a pass/fail basis, and students must have achieved passes on at least 10 reports. This forms 20% of the module grade.

At the beginning of the module, students take an online test on statistics and experimental design, in order to develop their understanding of these subjects, as well as to highlight common mistakes. The test constitutes 10% of the module grade.

The first written assignment is to write a summary paragraph of between 200 and 300 words on a seminar, suitable for publication in the scientific journal Nature. The marking criteria for this are based upon the publication guidelines of Nature, as well as the usual University marking criteria. This develops the ability to convey the importance and context of research findings. This assignment constitutes 15% of the module grade.

The second written assignment is a 1500 word critical analysis of research presented in a seminar. This assignment encourages students to engage with the ideas, evidence and techniques presented in a chosen seminar. Students consider the strengths and weaknesses of the research, and suggest ways in which the research might be improved. This assignment constitutes 40% of the module grade. Students are not permitted to write their critical analysis on the research seminar on which they wrote their summary paragraph.

The final assignment is to write a 500 word news article suitable for inclusion in a popular science publication, for an audience of non-specialists, on one of the seminars. As with the critical analysis, students are not permitted to write their article on either research seminar on which they completed their summary paragraph or critical analysis. This assignment provides students with experience of writing for a non-specialist audience, promoting clarity of expression and an ability to select what areas of research will be of appeal to a broad audience.


Student feedback, both formal and informal, has demonstrated that the module is very popular. Students have reported that the assignments helped them develop skills that they were able to use in other areas of their study, and students have referenced the seminars in their examinations, suggesting that they engage well with the module and the seminar topics. Students make special reference to how attending the seminar series have helped them refine their own interests within life sciences, and some students have actually found PhD places as a result of their attendance of research seminars.


Students find the module challenging, because it draws upon different skills to other modules within the School. Having students operate outside their academic comfort zone, however, is a valuable learning exercise, and there has been no desire to alter the course to any great extent, as student feedback does not justify this.

The greatest challenge involved in running this module is the varied topics upon which seminars may be held, as this requires markers of the reports to be specialists within the area. With the popularity of the module resulting in large student numbers, this can create a large workload for markers.

There is great value in running this module, as it develops a number of skills in students, including report writing, statistics, referencing, literature searching, writing for different audiences, and experimental design.

‘What did I do wrong?’ Supporting independent learning practices to avoid plagiarism

Helen Hathaway, Library; Clare Nukui, International Foundation Programme; Dr Kim Shahabudin, Study Advice; Dr Elisabeth Wilding, International Study and Language Institute
Year of activity: 2012-13


8905The development of an Academic Integrity Toolkit for academic tutors to draw on, which collated evaluated teaching and support resources for supporting the development of independent learning practices necessary to avoid plagiarism, and offered guidance for adapting and using them in subject teaching.


  • To conduct research into current practices and needs for supporting the development of independent learning practices.
  • To develop a toolkit to provide academic tutors with resources for developing independent learning practices necessary to avoid plagiarism.


The fundamental academic principles of independent critical thinking, supported by appropriate and properly cited evidence from evaluated sources, lie at the heart of Higher Education in the UK. A proper understanding of these principles and the independent learning practices needed to achieve them is especially crucial in avoiding unintentional plagiarism. Despite the availability of a range of advice, both internal and external to the University of Reading, students continually stated that they did not know when and how to use citations, or how to avoid unintentional plagiarism. Beyond simply learning the mechanisms of setting out a bibliography or when to include a citation, students need to understand associated practices, such as where to find appropriate sources of information in their subject, how to keep proper records, and how, when, and why to use references in their academic work.


Data was collected from a variety of sources on current practices and perceived needs to inform the production of the toolkit. Team members were able to draw upon their professional communities for information about practices at other institutions, and on contacts at the University of Reading for practices and perceived needs. A research officer was appointed, and was tasked with collecting further data from academic tutors and students in a number of selected departments at the University, using semi-structured interviews and focus groups. These were set against the wider context of general observations gathered through separate online surveys offered to all staff and students. Existing pedagogical research into student referencing practices was also considered.

The research questions during this stage of inquiry were:

  • What are the main (perceived and actual) difficulties that students have with understanding referencing and avoiding plagiarism?
  • How do associated independent learning practices impact on this?
  • Why do students fail to engage with current teaching and guidance on referencing?
  • What teaching resources are currently available (at the University of Reading and elsewhere), and how might they be made more effective for teaching staff and students across the University?

The research was used to inform the content and production of the Academic Integrity Toolkit materials. These were generated by team members using a template, before going through an iterative process of revision and evaluation by other team members.  They were then edited by a single team member to ensure consistency.


The Academic Integrity Toolkit was successfully launched in June 2013 at an event attended by over 50 members of staff, with a visiting speaker presenting on the topic of student referencing practices. The Toolkit comprises:

    • 17 handouts giving guidance on key learning practices;
    • 8 exercise sheets with answers;
    • 13 sets of PowerPoint slides for use in teaching;
    • Links to screencasts produced by members of the Study Advice team;
    • An annotated list of useful websites.

The Academic Integrity Toolkit has been made available through the Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment, onto which staff can self-enrol. A paper version contained in a card folder was created for attendees at the launch event and to disseminate to key members of the teaching and learning community at the University of Reading.

The Toolkit has been a successful and well-used teaching resource. Departments and Schools have requested that their entire teaching staff get enrolled to the Toolkit through Blackboard. It was favourably received by the University Board of Teaching and Learning and the Sub-Committee for the Development and Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, with suggestions being made for its further development through a student-facing version in digital format.

There has been interest, both at the University of Reading and beyond, in the results of the project. Presentations were given at the Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference, the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education conference, and the Association of Librarians and Information Professionals in the Social Sciences summer conference.


While the project was successful, it was not without its difficulties. Difficulty was experienced with data collection at the University, particularly in recruiting students for focus groups, which may have been an unavoidable consequence of the necessary timing. Despite this difficulty, however, the data obtained by the focus groups that did run was supplemented by a good response to the wider University-wide survey, and by reported data from academic and support staff through their direct contact with students.

Another difficulty faced was the existing busy workloads of the team members. This was overcome by scheduling brief face-to-face lunchtime meetings once a month, and by setting up a wiki (using PBworks) to allow collation of data and joint working on documents, in addition to regular email communications. Despite the potential for difficulties caused by the project being a collaboration between the Library, International Study and Language Institute and Study Advice, the combined expertise and experience of team members proved particularly valuable, especially as it allowed the project to make use of team members’ involvement with various professional networks, and it was found to be very advantageous to have the different perspectives that were able to be provided by having a diverse team.

Follow up

It is planned that the resources developed through the project be adapted to be an Open Educational Resource, to allow them to be more widely shared for use in UK and global Higher Education teaching.

Guides to citing and avoiding plagiarism available on the Library website have been informed by the results of the project and updated appropriately.

It is hoped that more extensive resources will be developed, and that these will be mediated by members of staff.

As a result of the experience of collaborative working between different areas of the University, Helen Hathaway and Kim Shahabudin have had a chapter entitled ‘Terms of reference: working together to develop student citation practices’ accepted for publication within a forthcoming edited volume.


From a traditional classroom to a flipped classroom

Dr Karsten O. Lundqvist, School of Systems Engineering
Year(s) of activity: 2013-14


6477A flipped classroom approach was trialed for the Part Two Java module (SE2JA11) taught in the School of Systems Engineering. 


  • Encourage students on the module to become deep-level learners, as they analyse, evaluate and create, rather than simply remembering and understanding.
  • Introduce a flexible teaching and learning style that students will find enjoyable.
  • Introduce flexibility that allows students to manage their time in a better way, giving them more opportunities to study the materials in a deeper manner.
  • Improve attendance and engagement with practicals.


In the summer of 2013 videos were created for the module.  New slides to present the content were designed, with the fonts improved to make them easier to read on a computer screen.  While the content was based on that of the old slides that were available to students, practical screencasts were introduced in the video, whereby the students can see how the code behaves and how they are supposed to develop it practically.  Some slides were altered so that they presented difficult concepts in more easily understood ways, such as through use of analogies to the restaurant business and the automobile industry.

Feedback and feedforward videos were introduced to explain the progress through the course.  One of the feedforward videos was used to make the students aware of the object-orient programming (OOP) nature of the code, and that the weekly practicals would be building upon previous material.  Students were told that they could use the weekly practicals as a gauge to measure if they had problems with OOP, and should ask the teaching staff for help.

The videos were created using Camtasia, an tool for creating videos and screencasts from webcams and computer screens.  The software suite also has simple post-production tools, which allowed zooming to ensure that the small text of development environments could be viewed easily.  These videos were then embedded as items on the Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment.  Uploading the videos to a streaming service external to the University was considered, but was decided against in order to create a classroom feeling to the videos.

The flipped classroom method generally recommends that videos be simply bite-sized chunks of around 4 to 6 minutes long.  Several of the videos created for the module, however, were over 1 hour long, as a result of the amount of material that needed too be covered, the adherence to the lecturing paradigm, and the lack of time available to transform the material as much as would have been necessary in order to make 6 to 20 minute videos.


To obtain feedback from the students, two voluntary bespoke surveys were shared with the students, one available in weeks 2-3 of the Autumn Term, and one available in week 1 of the Spring Term. The first survey showed that 84% of students preferred videos over lectures, and that only 4% of students did not expect to watch the videos more than once. In the second survey, 100% of students now preferred videos to lectures, and 100% expected to watch the videos more than once.


Flipping the classroom has been of great benefit. As the act of flipping cannot just be a case of replicating old teaching methods digitally, it promotes reflection on course content and teaching methods, and requires thorough planning. The initial investment pays off in the long term as the teaching materials produced can be reused, not only from year to year, but between different modules that have some overlapping content. While the creation of teaching materials may consume more time than the traditional delivery of content, it is flexible as it can be done when time allows, and does not require being present at an appointed time and location.

Despite concerns about the length of the videos, on the whole students expressed satisfaction about this.  The general response was that students expected the videos to be long, as they were replacing 2 hour lectures, and therefore students would feel cheated if the videos were not long and with a lot of content.  While it was agreed that students might benefit from having chapters within the videos to make them easier to search, none wanted the videos to be shorter.

In order to improve how the module is taught using the flipped classroom model in the future, the following recommendations were made:

  • Include a more self-regulated learning approach to the coursework, allowing students more flexibility over the weeks, and removing some of the summative pressures that might induce surface-level learning.
  • Change the module so that 100% of assessment is carried out through coursework. This should make students focus more on the practical work throughout the year, and help them focus more on the relevant material and learning it in a deeper way.
  • Introduce a level of self-regulated learning to the practicals, by introducing a logbook instead of weekly sign-off sheets. Students will need a number of signatures in their logbook to get 10% of their practical marks. The signatures will be given after a short formative discussion of progress provifnng useful feedback and suggestions of further work.

Follow up

The flipped classroom approach continues to be used for the teaching of SE2JA11, and has now been introduced for other modules within the School of Systems Engineering. In particular, videos on general coding theory are able to be utilised within many modules. Dr Lundqvist was able to draw upon the experience of flipping the classroom when creating the Open Online Course Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game.

The recommendations generated by the pilot year have been carried out, with the exception of the introduction of a logbook, which proved impractical. While students still complete weekly sign-off sheets, the sheets are now 50% questions on the video, to ensure that students have viewed the videos and retained the information, and 50% questions on progress in their own learning, with the intention that students will reflect upon their own learning, and staff will be aware of students who are having difficulties.

Exploring modern languages linguistics

Dr Federico Faloppa and Dr Chiara Ciarlo, School of Literature and Languages


12756The project successfully developed an introductory module in general linguistics, with a focus on foreign language specific issues for Part Two students who choose to do a single or joint honours language degree.  Providing a module for the teaching of linguistics to Modern Languages and European Studies students has had many benefits for the students, who report that the module has helped with their study of foreign languages.


  • To determine which linguistics topics Part Two students would have an interest in, and benefit most from, studying in-depth.
  • To design a linguistics course for Modern Languages and European Studies students.
  • Provide students with theoretical knowledge which they can transfer to the study and understanding of other languages.
  • Provide students with skills that will improve their employability.


Previously, the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies had offered only individual language tutorials or modules in the history of languages, and language in society, but little aimed at providing a general theoretical linguistic background of the languages that are taught.

Feedback on the language modules from previous years highlighted that a number of Modern Languages and European Studies students desired linguistics training. Although students were able to take courses offered by the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, these were only of partial help to language students, as these courses mainly focus on the English language, and are not designed to have a supporting role in the study of foreign languages. As a result, it was necessary to design and pilot a linguistics course for Modern Languages and European Studies students, including core linguistic principles and more language-specific issues, with an eye to recurrent errors in the students’ language production on which they would be able to reflect.


The first six months of the project were devoted to the gathering and analysis of resources in order to carry out research activity on aspects of the teaching of linguistics in modern foreign languages degrees.

Research activity was conducted to compare the level of linguistics provision in modern foreign languages degrees in the UK, and to establish what areas of linguistics are given more prominence in modern foreign languages curricula. The results of this research contributed to the creation of a network of experts in the field of the linguistics of modern foreign languages, who were later invited to present their views on the topic in a workshop held at the University of Reading.

For the one-day workshop, experts in the field of the linguistics of modern foreign languages were invited to present their latest research. This event was addressed to all staff and students within Modern Languages and European Studies, English Language and Applied Linguistics, the International Study and Language Institute, and the Institute of Education, in order to generate a shared discussion on the integration between language study and the study of language.

These activities fed into the creation of a taster session for phonetics, phonology and syntax, to which Part One students were invited to attend. At the end of the event, students were asked to give their feedback on the relevance, usefulness, or difficulty of what was explained during the taster sessions. This feedback was valuable for helping finalise the pilot module description.

The pilot module description was then approved, and the new module was taught during the 2013-14 academic year.


The project was successful, as it achieved its principle aim of creating a module to teach linguistics for Modern Languages and European Studies students, with the course structure and content having been established through a consultative process in order to ensure that students are provided with a module that meets their expectations of a linguistics course, and is able to provide students with a theoretical understanding of linguistics that should support their learning of modern languages, and with skills that will more generally enhance their employability.

Teaching linguistics to Modern Languages and European Studies students has been of great benefit to the students. Teaching staff within the Department have noted that students taking linguistics modules have more confidence and accuracy in their pronunciation when speaking foreign languages, and generally make fewer errors.


Beyond its use to refine the module that would be taught, the taster session was beneficial as it highlighted the benefits that students receive from taster sessions with regard to their making module choices: as a result, the School explored the possibility of providing taster sessions for students to guide them in choosing their modules. Additionally, the provision of such taster sessions is valuable as it provides information on student expectations for module convenors, who can plan and design their modules so that they better meet these expectations.

The success of the project lead to the establishment of a Language and Linguistics Workgroup in order to investigate the implementation and coordination of linguistics teaching within the School.

Students have found the formal learning of linguistics very useful for their study of Modern Languages. With a better understanding of linguistic theory, students are better able to appreciate the errors they make within their own study. Students appreciate the challenge of learning linguistics, but some aspects, for example phonetics and syntax, are very technical, and students seemed to find these the most difficult. To help students meet the challenge, different approaches to teaching these topics have been utilised within the the module, such as creating visual representations of syntax, or using information technology in the teaching of phonetics.

Follow up

The pilot year of teaching the module was greatly successful, and as a result the opportunity to learn linguistics was opened up to all students within the School of Modern Languages and European Studies. Whereas the pilot module was a Part Two module, the module has now been redesigned to allow its provision at Part One. By having the module provided at Part One, students are now able to obtain a strong foundation in the linguistic theory that underpins their study of a modern language before they go on to more in-depth study in Parts Two and Three. Additionally, while teaching linguistics at Part One requires some aspects of the module to be simplified, it is able to contribute to a pathway in Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading, building up students’ linguistic knowledge over the course of their undergraduate study.

The project has also opened up the possibility for interdisciplinary cooperation: bilingual students from Modern Languages and European Studies collaborated on a project with Neurolinguistics students from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences.