Communicating Ancient Sport

Barbara Goff     School of Humanities


In my Part 2 module ‘Ancient Sport’ I offer students a choice between a traditional essay and an ‘outreach project’, which requires them to communicate an aspect of ancient sport to a non-academic audience, perhaps for schools or for the general public.


  • To develop students’ communication skills in an attractive way
  • To diversify assessment in a relevant way (I first taught the module in an Olympics year)
  • To foster students’ sense of their own employability by developing a range of skills.
  • To engage students more fully in an assessment that draws on creativity and imagination.
  • I also hoped that students would have fun with the assessment, which they definitely have done.


The module ‘Ancient Sport’ investigates Ancient Greek and Roman sporting activities with a focus on relating these to concepts of gender, desire, citizen identity, political power, and empire.  The histories of art, architecture and engineering are also important.  Amy Smith, the Curator of the Ure Museum, suggested the outreach project when I started planning the new module.  I consulted with other colleagues in Study Advice, and the then Teaching and Learning Dean, in order to design the assessment effectively.   I monitored the success of the outreach project via evaluations and discussion with students as well as via assessing the work itself, and recursively amended rubric and feedback sheet in order to communicate what students needed to do, and to guide their practice by clarifying criteria.


Each outreach project has to be accompanied by a commentary on a relevant ancient text, a bibliography of secondary literature, and a reflective essay.   I start talking to the students about the assessment choices at the beginning of term.  Towards the end of term, students discuss their chosen project with me and get some feedback on how it is developing.   The module includes a workshop on outreach communications, run by Kim Shahabudin, a colleague from Study Advice, and we share with the students the specific rubric and feedback form which I have developed to address the various elements of the assessment.  We also situate the assessment in the context of employability, pointing towards the importance of being able to reflect on one’s own work, as well as stressing research and communication skills.


The outreach project assessment has been very successful, with many evaluations picking it out as a strength of the module.  In informal conversations, it has become clear that students understand the link with employability, e.g. with their ambitions towards teaching, journalism or museum work. Over the years students have produced work such as videos both educational and entertaining, board games, museum trails, short stories, comics and magazines.  I have been impressed by the effort, imagination, humour and creativity that students have put into their work, and also by their ability to reflect on their achievements, any limitations of their projects, and the decisions that they had to make along the way.  I have been particularly gratified when students who have struggled with the traditional essay, for a variety of reasons, have found an assessment activity in which they can really shine.  We have used several projects on Open Days and in workshops for local schools.


What has mainly contributed to the success of this activity is simply the effort and commitment of the students, and I am very glad to have elicited such good work.  This activity has also been very well supported by colleagues in Study Advice and in the Ure Museum, for which I am grateful.  The activity has required me to rethink things like assessment criteria and rubrics, which I have found useful overall in my teaching.

Follow up

I find it very productive to approach assessment as a way of fostering employability and a variety of skills.  As Departmental Director of Teaching and Learning I am keen for the Department to continue to extend such opportunities for students to engage with a variety of assessment.  I have given extra publicity to our Independent Project module, which offers an alternative to the dissertation.  Although I shall rest ‘Ancient Sport’ for a while, I shall develop a creative writing assessment in a Part 3 module.  We are going to investigate the transformations of the figure of Helen of Troy, across different literary genres and periods, and students will have the opportunity to produce their own version of Helen, in poetry, short story, script, or other text.  Reflection as well as research will be a significant part of this assessment.


Development of a History Education module

Dr Elizabeth Matthew, School of Humanities
Year of activity: 2012/13


A collaborative project between the Department of History and the Institute of Education developed an innovative module in History, History Education (HS3HED), allowing Part Three students to test and develop their interest in teaching by undertaking and reflecting on a two-week subject-specific placement in a local secondary school. The module has been successful in improving students’ employability, and has been highly praised by students and external examiners.


  • Enable students to test and develop their interest in careers in History Education by applying their skills and communicating their knowledge in local schools.
  • Enhance student employability by giving students an advantage in the competition for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) places, while developing a wide range of presentational, organisational and interpersonal skills highly valued in other areas of graduate employment.
  • Broaden students’ academic experience by introducing pedagogy outside their own discipline.


Recent changes within secondary education have increased demand for well-trained teachers of History. The module has encouraged students to take advantage of this opportunity. A third of University of Reading History graduates in further study now enrol on PGCE courses.


The module was developed through collaboration between the Department of History and the Institute of Education, with an awareness of the skills that need to be demonstrated when competing for an ITE place and the requirements of secondary schools.

The Institute of Education contacts local schools to seek placements for students. The number of placements that are able to be offered determines the number of students able to be enrolled on the module. As a result, unlike a typical module within the Department, recruitment to HS3HED is conducted by interview. All applicants who complete the application process receive an interview. Regardless of outcome, applicants are offered the opportunity to receive feedback on their interview.

In pre-placement seminars, students are introduced to lesson-observation skills, secondary teaching strategies, and pedagogy characteristics of ITE, with these sessions being highly participatory. Seminars led by staff from the Institute of Education provide students with information on getting the most out of their placements, lesson planning, and the current secondary curriculum.

Originating in a Faculty of Arts and Humanities Teaching and Learning ‘Think Space’ funded project undertaken by Elizabeth Matthew (Department of History) in 2011 to enhance employability in History, the module was further developed in collaboration with Richard Harris and Elizabeth McCrum (Institute of Education), who contributed their knowledge of secondary education and awareness of the skills that need to be demonstrated when competing for an ITE place.

The Department of History seeks placements for students through the Institute of Education’s contacts with Initial Teacher Education Coordinators in schools in Reading and the surrounding area. The number of placements offered each year determines the number of students able to be enrolled on the module. As a result, unlike a typical module within the Department, HS3HED has selective recruitment. All applicants who complete the application process receive an interview. Unsuccessful applicants are offered the opportunity to receive feedback on their interview.

In pre-placement seminars, students are introduced to the organisation of the module, lesson-observation skills, secondary teaching strategies, pedagogy characteristic of ITE, and the assessments for the module. Highly participatory seminars led by staff from the Institute of Education advise students on the secondary history curriculum, lesson planning, and how to get the most out of their placements. Post-placement seminars in the Department of History provide additional advice on assessment.

On placement, students observe and assist the delivery of lessons. To increase the variety experienced by students, partner schools are encouraged to include a wide range of year groups, and a few lessons in subjects other than History on the students’ timetables. Schools help students identify a topic and target class for an independently researched and planned lesson, for shared delivery with the student’s placement supervisor. The supervisor also gives each student an hour’s mentoring support each week.

Students are assessed by: a placement log, in which they analyse their lesson observations; a report on their independently researched and planned lesson; and delivery of an oral presentation on their placement experience and its impact on their career development. In addition, students are graded by school supervisors in four aspects of performance on placement, with this assessment being given least weighting to prevent disparities in grading standards from skewing final results.


Results on the module have been consistently high, though this is partly a reflection of its selective nature. Greatly encouraging is the enthusiastic feedback received from students on the module: in 2014-15 11 out of 12 student rated it as being ‘Excellent’ in formal feedback collected by the Department, while students also give positive feedback through informal channels. The module has been praised by external examiners for its innovation and quality of assessment feedback. In improving student employability in education the module has been similarly successful: 6 out of 7 students applying for ITE after taking the module in 2012-13 were successful in gaining PGCE or School Direct places.


The selective recruitment to the module means students experience participation in a selection process. As interviews are a key aspect of the application process for ITE places, as well as for wider graduate employment, this is a valuable skill to develop, and the feedback offered supports this.

The different forms of assessment ensure students engage with the module, learn in depth, and develop the skills to demonstrate this. Having students complete a placement log requires students to learn about and reflect on a number of key aspects of teaching and learning, while their report on their independently researched and planned lesson requires them to reflect upon how they have applied their learning. The oral presentation allows students the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking, and also the communication skills central to the role of teacher. By having their school supervisors grade them, students receive clear and informed feedback on their performance in school. All elements of assessment promote their full engagement on placement.

The principal benefit of the module is that it develops students’ employability skills, specifically those that will give them a competitive edge in competition for ITE places. Through their placement experience students discover how interested they are in pursuing a career in secondary school teaching, and this can be highly beneficial in shaping their plans beyond graduation.

Additional benefits are that the module provides a USP for student recruitment, and has extended the Department of History’s links with local schools, enhancing outreach activities. HS3HED has also created a blueprint for the development of other innovative placement-focused modules, both within History and more widely across the University.

Although contact hours are less onerous, offering this module is labour intensive for the Department of History in terms of coordinating student selection, matching students to placements, liaising with the individual placement providers, marking coursework and examining oral presentations. But given the benefits to students, who enjoy, engage with, and perform well on the module the Department of History believes that it is more than worthwhile. It is hugely appreciative of the vital continuing role played by the Institute of Education in the pre-placement training, and of the support provided by partner schools, particularly the placement supervisors. Their willing and generous participation has been crucial.

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.

Improving student engagement with assessment and feedback through peer review

Professor Helen Parish, School of Humanities

Year of activity: 2014-15



The project investigated recent research and practice in peer assessment and feedback in order to implement a peer assessment model for use within History, and develop a framework for the adoption of said model in cognate disciplines where evaluation of substantial text-based assignments is an important part of assessment.


  • Present students with well-managed opportunities to engage in feedback and assessment and learn from it.
  • Present staff with access to tried and tested models for implementation that can be used and tailored across disciplines.


The importance of increasing the impact of assessment in feedback and learning is recognised by the University’s teaching and learning enhancement priorities, and is evident in the ‘Engage in Assessment’ and ‘Engage in Feedback’ materials.  The requirement to pursue an agenda for feedback is also highlighted by the expectations of employers that graduates of the University of Reading will be able to assess and evaluate the work of others, by comments on feedback made by University of Reading students in the National Student Survey, and by discussions with potential students on Open Days.


There were five stages to the project:

  1. A literature search on the topic and detailed engagement with recent scholarship, undertaken by the Principal Investigator.
  2. A ‘competitor analysis’, undertaken by a research assistant, looking at the extent that peer feedback is present on Humanities curricula at other institutions.
  3. Development of a model for the trial of peer assessment informed by the previous two stages.
  4. Implementation of this model as a ‘pilot project’ in the Department of History.
  5. Obtaining student feedback on the process and reflection by the Principal Investigator.

The feedback gained during the early stages of the project revealed that students were reluctant to allow their work to be reviewed by their peers, even when anonymised.   This necessitated the envisaged model to be altered, whereby the written work being ‘peer reviewed’ was either from previous cohorts within the Department or alternative sources.

Once the pilot project was developed, there were three stages:

  1. Development of an understanding of marking and assessment criteria. Students read the assessment criteria of their module, and were then tasked with rewriting these in their own words.
  2. Applying these criteria to written work. Students then read a sample essay (not taken from the group), and with reference to the marking criteria, were asked to give a mark to the essay, with a summary of reasons they had come to this judgment.  This was followed by a discussion of the written feedback provided.
  3. Focus group and project review.  It was intended that students would meet to talk about the project, and more general issues to do with assessment and feedback, in the presence of an experienced observer external to the department.


One of the principal benefits of the project was that students became more aware of the marking criteria by which their assignments were assessed, as although they found these clear, few students had actually taken the time to read these before. An additional benefit was that the activity helped develop students’ academic confidence, as they were impelled to adopt a critical attitude to writing within scholarship, and gained experience of promoting their point of view to their peers.


Feedback from questionnaires suggested that students enjoyed the project; that they now had a better understanding of assessment and feedback; that the project had been helpful with the preparation of their own written work; and that they were now more confident in the assessment of their own work prior to submission.

The reluctance of students to submit their own work to review by their peers meant that there was a less direct link between the peer feedback provided and the specific assignment for each module.  By using work from previous cohorts or alternative sources, however, it was possible to get students to engage more willingly with the process of peer review.

The main disappointment was that it proved impossible to gather a large enough group of students to participate in the focus group stage of the project.  This may have been due to the proposed scheduling of the focus groups at a time when students had recently participated in a Departmental Periodic Review and submitted their final coursework of the academic year.  Nevertheless, valuable feedback on the pilot was provided through questionnaires and verbal communication.

It was interesting to observe that students held broad spectrum of ideas about what constituted good work, arising from a lack of understanding about the criteria against which work is marked. From this perspective, the project was valuable, as students were familiarised with the marking criteria and how these applied to written pieces Students were able to look ‘behind the scenes’ at the marking process, with student applying the marking criteria as individuals, but then needing to decide as a group upon a final mark for pieces they were reviewing.

Follow up

Following the pilot project, the use of peer review to engage students in assessment and feedback has been used by other members of staff within the Department of History, with similar success. Other than the specific pieces of work and criteria used for peer review purposes, there was nothing within this project that was specific to the Department of History or School of Humanities, and so this activity could easily be adapted for use in other Departments and Schools across the University.

The peer review approach has been successfully applied within the Department of History to student presentations in seminars. As student presentations are more ‘in the moment’ and designed with a peer audience in mind, students have not expressed the same reticence to have their peers review their work, and those presenting have appreciated receiving immediate feedback.

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.