Use of a modified problem-based learning approach in aphasia therapy teaching

Dr Arpita Bose, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
Year of activity: 2011/12


9254A modified problem-based learning approach was developed and implemented in Communication Impairment 3 (PL2CI3/PLMCI3) within the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences.  While the adoption of this approach was unpopular with students on the module, there was a notable improvement in the marks achieved in exams, and this suggests that subtle modification may provide a problem-based learning approach to which students respond well, and that provides for the achievement of improved grades.


  • Implement a problem-based learning approach in aphasia therapy teaching.
  • Enable students to apply knowledge obtained through study to be applied to real world clinical cases.
  • Through use of problem-based learning, prepare students for the workplace by allowing them to experience and practise decision making skills and processes.


Speech and Language Therapies programmes taught at the University of Reading aim to prepare evidence-based practitioners, able to apply their knowledge to clinical problems, and make effective decisions in their practice. The problem-based learning approach has been widely adopted within a wide range of academic contexts and professional disciplines, including for Speech and Language Therapy. Under the problem-based learning approach in Speech and Language Therapy, students are encouraged to solve problems that are set in the real world, enabling them to use specific knowledge obtained through self-directed learning with the support of their lecturer to make clinical decisions.


The initial task was to create a raft of fictional case studies. The creation of good ‘problems’ is the essence of successful problem-based learning approaches, and so several weeks were spent modifying each case so that students would be able to understand the content area that needed to be taught. Additionally, it was necessary to find appropriate resources that could go with the case studies.

Several resources were generated in order to support the students in solving the case studies, and specific pointers were provided towards the thinking about the case studies (in class), literature (detailed reference list), web-based resources, and resources from the department and library. The module convenor was available for discussion to the assigned group during module-specific office hours.

At the beginning of the problem-based aspect of the module, classes were divided into groups of between five and six students. Each week, the groups chose one of the two cases within the week’s topic, and determined the therapy for a fictional client based on the questions for each case.

Each group was required to give a presentation on their assigned case study, answering questions in five sections. Following this there were two to three minutes available for the audience to critique the answers, and for other possible solutions to be discussed, with students basing their critiques upon their own reading. This allowed various methods to be discussed using different cases. Following this, each group updated their slides and submitted a report, with both of these being uploaded to Blackboard Learn, allowing all students on the module access to the slides and information relating to a particular case, which they could use for their own learning and have available for future clinical practice. In addition, students working on a case study received formative feedback from the seminar leader and their peers.

Having built up their ability to respond to theoretical clinical cases during the teaching of the module, in the module’s examination one of the two questions on the therapy section was modeled on solving a case based on available information, with students being required to attempt one of the two questions.


In the pilot year, in the examination the problem-based question was attempted by more of both the undergraduate and postgraduate cohorts, and the mean marks were higher for students attempting the problem-based question than those that did not. Additionally, individual students expressed interest in doing aphasia topic for their theses, and module evaluation revealed that students felt better prepared for aphasia therapy in their placements.


While the results obtained by students in examinations and engagement suggested value in the implementation of the problem-based learning approach, this was not without its difficulties. The principal difficulty experienced was a poor reaction to the introduction of problem-based learning approach on the part of the students on the module. The introduction of problem-based learning approaches increased the workload upon students, who also had to fit the workload around their placements, and students were unappreciative of the benefits that this increased workload might bring. This may also have resulted from the fact that the undergraduate students on the module were in their third year of study, and so had difficulty adjusting to the expectations of the problem-based approach.

The second issue was that developing a problem-based learning approach necessarily increases the workload of the module convenor. It takes a considerable amount of time to write the cases and generate the resources for the students. As Dr Bose felt that developing teaching in this manner would help students learn the material better, she was willing to put the time and effort in, but this should be a consideration for others looking to adopt a problem-based learning approach.

As a result of these issues, changes were planned to and enacted upon the module in order to get students on board with the problem-based learning approach, and prepare them early on for the demands of the approach, with the workload expectations being somewhat adjusted in order to better respond to the existing workload of students. Additionally, as the delivery of a problem-based learning approach was workload-intensive, arrangements were made to provide co-teaching staff, allowing the workload to be made more manageable.

Follow up

Following the pilot year of using a modified problem-based learning approach in aphasia therapy teaching, problem-based learning has continued to form part of the delivery of this module. Following student feedback in the pilot year, the problem-based elements of the course had been stripped back somewhat in order to respond to this, and student feedback has improved: recent examination results and student feedback, however, suggest that minimal use of a problem-based learning approach is not sufficient if one wishes to see the benefits of such an approach, and that therefore the amount of problem-based learning that is required should now be increased.

Thanks to the effort put in during the first years of running the module using the modified problem-based learning approach, there now exist a number of suitable case studies for use in this approach, and thus the workload is not as intensive as it once was, and only minimal amounts of work are required to ensure that the case studies are current and relevant.

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.

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.

Teaching the Digital Text: Literature and the New Technologies

Professor Michelle O’Callaghan, School of Literature and Languages


12754The project ‘Teaching the Digital Text: Literature and the New Technologies’ employed two undergraduate research assistants to help in the design of a Part Three module that aims to introduce students to current research in the digital humanities and teach practical digital skills. Resulting from the project, a workshop was held, led by experts in the field, and a module was developed that will first run during the 2015/16 academic year.


  • To work in collaboration with students to design a new Part Three module.
  • To identify topics and tasks to include on the module.
  • To experiment with open source software.
  • To explore different modes of teaching and assessment.


Digital Humanities is an emerging field that brings together studies in the humanities with information technology and raises pressing methodological questions. Given the project leader’s own involvement in digital editing and database projects, the aim was to involve students in developing a module that explores how literary studies is engaging with these new technologies.


The aim of the project was to develop a Part Three module in collaboration with undergraduate research assistants, who were selected through a formal application process. Over a twelve week period, the team worked together on a pilot of the proposed module. Through a process of discussion, the team put together a bibliography of the critical material, developed and trialled tasks and assignments, debated suitable modes of assessment, and explored the resources available. During this twelve week period, the project leader met with the IT Business Partner of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science to discuss the IT requirements for the module.

At the end of the pilot, a workshop, ‘Teaching Digital Humanities’, was held, led by invited speakers from the University of Oxford, Bath Spa University, and the University of Winchester, who currently run successful modules in this area on undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, as well as Dr Matthew Nicholls from the University of Reading’s School of Humanities, who spoke on ‘Digital modelling in teaching and learning’.


This pilot project culminated in the successful design of a Part Three module, ‘The Digital Text: Literature and the New Technologies’, which will run in Spring Term during the 2015/16 academic year. The workshop held as part of the project was especially productive. It brought together a range of colleagues from within the University of Reading – academics, librarians, and those in IT – and from other universities, who shared their expertise and experiences of working within the field of digital humanities and the broader issues the new technologies raise for the study of humanities.


The most successful aspect of the project was the opportunity that it provided to design a module in collaboration with undergraduate students. This student-led approach to module design is particularly appropriate in this instance because digital humanities is a field that combines theory and practice, and so provides students with the opportunity to apply their learning through using digital tools and creating their own digital outputs. At a very practical level, collaborating with students on module design is invaluable for identifying what are the most effective and engaging modes of delivery and assessment. It is very stimulating to discuss with students pedagogic issues, not only at the practical level of what works in the classroom and what does not, but also how to engage students in thinking about wider conceptual and theoretical issues.

Incorporating digital modelling into teaching and learning: Digital Silchester

Dr Matthew Nicholls, School of Humanities
Year(s) of activity: 2012-3


Digital SilchesterFollowing on from the success of the Virtual Rome project, a Classics module was constructed to teach Part Three undergraduate students 3D digital modelling for the purposes of historical reconstruction. Student satisfaction with the module has been high, and students have benefited from developing skills other than those developed in traditional modules.  The module has received widespread public recognition, and in 2014 won a Guardian University Award for teaching excellence.


  • Provide students with digital skills.
  • Provide students with a different way of learning and representing what they have learned.
  • Extend students’ knowledge of the ancient world.
  • Create a digital model of the Roman town at Silchester for possible future use.


Dr Nicholls has been conducting the Virtual Rome project to digitally reconstruct the city of Rome as it appeared c. AD 315, which he has used in his teaching. Students had expressed interest in attempting 3D digital modelling for themselves, and as part of an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme project students had been taught digital modelling, suggesting it would be straightforward to adapt this approach to a taught module. Owing to the University of Reading’s investigation of the Roman town at Silchester since 1974, there is a wealth of information relating to this area of the ancient world, presenting an excellent opportunity for developing a module.


Students received technical instruction in the techniques of 3D digital modelling, so that students can familiarise themselves with the software and learn the necessary skills to conduct effective modelling. These sessions are conducted within computer labs, in which the module convener can demonstrate the use of 3D digital modelling software though projection while students follow on the lab’s computers. Students use the 3D digital modelling software SketchUp Make, which is able to be downloaded for free, allowing greater access to independent learning. There are numerous tutorials available to help students learn to use SketchUp Make, and Students also have access to screencast guidance videos on the Blackboard Learn virtual learning environment.

Students also learn the conduct of reconstruction. Students engage with how reconstruction is used in historical research to deepen understanding, and consider the debates which are central to the topic. Additionally, students develop the skills necessary to conduct research, so that they can access materials to justify decisions they make in reconstruction.

The module has two assessments. The first, constituting 20% of the final mark, sees students assigned a building, of which they construct a digital model, alongside a written commentary of 1500 words justifying the decisions they have made. This assignment presents students with a formal means through which to obtain feedback on their use of 3D modelling software and their report writing. In the second assessed piece of work, constituting the remaining 80% of the final mark, students freely select a building from the Roman town at Silchester, and create a large digital model and detailed written commentary, for which there is no word limit. To allow construction of an effective model students must research the available resources, such as archaeological plans, secondary texts and comparative materials.

The marking criteria for the module are adapted from the Department of Classics’ internal marking criteria, and so students are easily able understand how to fulfil the criteria.

Students receive video feedback on their assessments. Through use of video capture software, students can see the module convener manipulating their 3D model while providing verbal feedback on how well it and the commentary meet the marking criteria.


Feedback from students is overwhelmingly positive, as students enjoy the opportunity to try something different to other modules. Students who find other areas of academic study challenging may excel in the module, as they are provided with an opportunity for visual learning and use different skills to conduct 3D digital modelling. The module has received widespread public recognition, and in 2014 won a Guardian University Award for teaching excellence. The module was also a contributing factor for Dr Nicholls being an inaugural winner of the British Academy Rising Star Engagement scheme.


Seemingly one of the greatest challenges for the module was teaching the techniques of 3D digital modelling, as the module convener did not have formal experience of this, and the students did not have prior knowledge upon which to draw. The methods used in the first year of the module, which have since been refined, proved effective, and despite the steep learning curve all students were able to become suitably proficient in order to conduct the assessments. Some students do, however, require a large amount of support to reach this level of aptitude, which they may not require in a traditional module. The use of Blackboard Learn to provide access to learning resources was an important factor in helping students adapt to the module.

With regards marking of assessments, one challenge was to explain the module to external examiners, as this module is unique within Classics in Higher Education in the United Kingdom. This did not represent a major obstacle, but more coordination than normal was required with the external examiners.

Teaching 3D digital modelling is valuable, as many careers in which the University of Reading’s Classics graduates find employment make use of digital modelling. Beyond careers that actually perform digital modelling, many employers value the digital visualisation skills that students develop on this module, and students find that it provides an interesting topic of discussion in interviews.

Follow up

The module has continued with some amendments since its first year. The submission dates for assessments has been altered so that students submit following the Autumn and Spring terms. This has been done to allow them to benefit from a full term of instruction before creating their models.

In order to support the teaching of the module, the process of capturing lectures and workshops, so that students can refer to these videos for their independent learning, is underway.

In December 2015 Dr Nicholls will be holding a workshop for beginners to learn SketchUp modelling at the University of Reading. Interested academics or researchers are invited to contact Dr Nicholls for further details.

Active learning methods for week intensive MSc modules

Dr Stefán Thór Smith, School of the Built Environment
Year(s) of case study activity: 2014-15


8977Active learning methods were explored, and the Environmental Quality and Well-being module (CEM236EQW), a week intensive module offered by the School of the Built Environment, was amended to incorporate suitable active learning methods, improving student satisfaction and engagement.
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Using screencasts to deliver skills training: a Part One English Literature module

Dr Nicola Abram, Literature and Languages

Year of activity: 2014/15


This entry describes the use of screencasts to deliver skills training on a compulsory Part One English Literature module. As a result of the changes outlined here, every student taking English Literature at the University of Reading will have access throughout their degree to a bank of online resources teaching key skills.


  • To train students in the practical skills needed to succeed in an English Literature degree. To induct students into the independent learning required for an English Literature degree.
  • To increase students’ engagement in skills training.
  • To improve students’ understanding of and adherence to academic conventions.
  • To make best use of the contact time (lectures and seminars) on the module.


Over 200 students enter English Literature programmes at the University of Reading each year, from a range of educational backgrounds. To ensure they all have the key skills and theoretical understanding needed to succeed throughout their degrees, we run a compulsory module in Part One , Research & Criticism (EN1RC).

In the previous incarnation of the module, the Autumn Term had been used for a series of 50 minute lectures on research methods, such as ‘Using online sources’, ‘Using published sources’, ‘Citations and referencing’, and ‘Academic writing’. Students also attended a 50 minute seminar each week, the content of which was determined by the seminar tutor. The Spring Term lectures and seminars then inducted students into foundational critical ideas like ‘narrative’, ‘reader’ and ‘author’, as well as issues such as ‘gender and sexuality and ‘race and empire’, via a series of set texts.

I was tasked with convening this module from 2014/15. On my appointment I sought to engage students as more active participants in the skills training component.


The process for developing this module began with an informal conversation with another tutor. We identified a disparity between the module content and the mode of delivery: the traditional lecture format did not seem to be the best vehicle for delivering skills training.

Believing that skills training is most effectively conducted through practical and interactive activities, I set about constructing a series of short formative tasks that would enable students to learn by doing. These were designed to break down the process of research and writing into its component parts, so that students could amass the necessary skills bit by bit. Feedback would be given quickly – usually the following week – by their seminar tutor, meaning changes could be implemented prior to attempting a summative (assessed) essay. The specific formative tasks set were: assembling a bibliography, integrating quotation into a short critical commentary, preparing an essay plan, summarising a fiction text, précising a critical text, and drafting an essay introduction.

Students were supported to undertake each task by a screencast: a short (3-5 minute) animation giving the key information about a particular skill and signposting further resources, which students could watch at their own pace and return to at leisure. Screencasts were released to students on a controlled basis via a dedicated area on the module’s Blackboard pages, accompanying the instructions for each formative task. Upon completion of the module, students had therefore engaged with a bank of ten different screencasts. They retain access to this throughout their degrees, via Blackboard.

Most of the screencasts were prepared using the screen capture programme, Camtasia, for which we have multiple departmental licenses. Colleagues who had previously delivered the skills lectures were given the technical support (where necessary) to repurpose that material into a screencast, and others were invited to volunteer new material. A colleague in Study Advice also
contributed a screencast tailored to the needs of English Literature students. This collaborative approach produced a welcome range of different outcomes. Some colleagues used PowerPoint to present written and visual content, while others used Prezi, which better represents the spatial arrangement of the material. Some recorded a voiceover, which provided a welcome sense of connection with an individual tutor, while others chose to use a musical soundtrack downloaded from a royalty-free website such as incompetech. A few colleagues used the animation tools PowToon and VideoScribe, rather than simply recording a presentation onscreen.

A meeting with staff teaching on the module was held at the end of its first term and after its first full year. Their reflections on students’ submitted tasks and classroom engagement proved invaluable for the module’s iterative design.


As a result of this module, students are evidently more alert to the many components of professional writing and are better equipped to perform good academic practice. Selected comments from qualitative module evaluations affirmed the usefulness of this immersive model of skills training: “The first [formative] tasks such as the bibliography were very useful to bridge the gap into HE”, “All the feedback I received was very helpful and helped me improve my work”, and “The screencasts were also a fantastic idea”.

The screencasts have been watched multiple times by students, suggesting that they are a useful resource that can be returned to and referred to repeatedly. The current most-watched is ‘Incorporating quotations’, which has had 969 views since it was uploaded in January 2015.

Using screencasts as a teaching delivery tool has also provided the opportunity to develop the content of the course. Removing the skills content from lectures freed up contact time to be given to important theoretical material and set texts.


The model of interactive skills training harnesses the power of constructive alignment (Biggs, 1996, 1999), where teaching process and assessment method are calculated to maximise students’ engagement with the subject and/or skills being taught. Even for a discursive discipline like English, the QAA Subject Benchmark Statement encourages assessments “aimed at the development
of specific skills (including IT and bibliographical exercises) (2015, p.5).

Although I did not have a particular student demographic in mind when making these changes, the staged development of writing skills seems to offer specific support to international students and EAL learners, who may be unfamiliar with UK academic conventions and benefit from an atomised approach to writing with regular formative feedback. However, all students benefit from this formal induction to academic literacy. Running a core skills module has an equalising effect on the cohort, compensating for disparities in prior educational contexts and attainment.

Embedding the screencasts to view on Blackboard was awkward since it measures dimensions in pixels, and they could not be watched inline by users whose devices did not support a specific plugin. Screencasts were therefore hosted on, with stable links provided in Blackboard. Both uploading and viewing via the Screencast website are easy and effective, but the cap on bandwidth (2GB per month) meant a need to upgrade to a paid-for subscription (currently £8.36 per month) in months where traffic was particularly high. In future I will consider using YouTube with appropriate privacy settings, to continue the period release of screencasts through link-only access.

Follow up

As at 2016/17, the module continues to run using screencasts as a key teaching method. Additional screencasts have been added to the suite as need arose, for instance to support students’ use of Turnitin as a formative tool, in line with University of Reading strategy. Some screencasts have been replaced as a result of staff turnover. But most remain in use, meaning that the initial work to prepare the content and conduct the screen capture continues to pay off.

Various colleagues in the Department of English Literature have found screencasts to be a useful method for wider skills training. We are now preparing a suite of screencasts to support prospective students and new entrants with the transition into higher education, on topics like ‘What is a lecture?’ and ‘How should I communicate with my tutors?’. We also use screencasts more widely, including as a student assessment method: some of these, along with our public-facing promotional videos, have been given British Sign Language interpretation (contact Dr Cindy Becker for details).

Work is now being undertaken to enhance the training component of the module further through Technology Enhanced Learning, by using Blackboard quizzes to provide students with immediate feedback on their understanding of skills like proper referencing practice.


Example screencasts from ‘Research and Criticism’:

English Literature at the University of Reading YouTube Channel