Flexible Learning: Blended Learning for the Biosciences

Recently, we had the opportunity to participate in the Teaching & Learning Showcase event on ‘Flexible Learning’, put together by the CDoTL team, during which we presented the Existing and Emerging Biotechnologies (EEB) Framework. You can read more about our presentation on our blog: http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/bioscience-skills/tflexible-learning-presentation.

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Opening our eyes to technology….how students can teach the educators! By Dr Samantha Weston

An eye-opening T&L seminar, presented by Dr Neil Morris (University of Leeds) outlined how terribly, terribly easy the majority of our undergraduates find using technology…of all kinds!

Having seen his short video clip about how one of his students used his tablet to video record a lecture, whilst simultaneously annotate lecture slides provided on the University’s VLE, and instantly share his thoughts and indeed the whole videocast of the lecture with his Facebook friends, made me consider how much technology my own students use. As if by magic this week, it has been as if the students knew I was looking for such evidence, as the majority of the Therapeutics Problem Based Learning sessions I have been working in, demonstrated use of tablets, laptops, netbooks and mobile phones in numbers I had barely registered present in the room previously! One group even asked me to check through their Power Point presentation and promptly handed over an extremely professionally finished product….. on a mobile phone!

Anecdotal chatting with other students, introduced the concept of social media working groups. Many of them have set up Facebook Groups to share their PBL materials instantly with each other, and the issue of copyright and confidentiality was raised by Dr Morris in his talk. Having had such a clear demonstration from both Neil and the incredibly technologically-savvy University of Reading student population, I think it is essential now for staff to raise their game to meet student expectations, and begin to engage them in their electronic universe as well as face-to-face.

Reflections on a Training Event for Early Career Teachers of English Literature by Nicola Abram

Avid readers of this blog might recall that I completed the University’s Teaching and Learning Support Programme in 2011. I recently took the opportunity to complement this valuable training by attending a subject-specific event run by the Council for College and University English, at Keele University.

The event began with a fruitful workshop on close reading, where the teachers became the taught! Dusting off memories of our distant undergraduate days, we were grouped with unfamiliar faces and given unknown poems to dissect and discuss. After the brief thrill of together turning words into meanings, we reflected on the role of close reading in our classrooms: What is it for? What kinds of students does it accommodate? How can we model it better?

Always an important aspect of any such gathering, dinner gave the opportunity to meet other delegates: inspiring and energetic people, all of whom are committed to teaching well. On the second day we continued to learn from one another’s experiences and observations, specifically exploring techniques for lecturing and small group teaching. There were eruptions of laughter, as the occasional improbably awkward teaching experience was recounted, and the appreciative scurry of pen on paper as we recorded others’ ideas for how to engage students.

Professor Robert Eaglestone (Royal Holloway) then provoked our understanding of ‘The Identity of the English Lecturer’, digging for the unconscious philosophies marking every moment of our teaching. For example, what are we silently saying through the shapes of our classrooms?

The event proved to be a precious opportunity to reflect on my teaching practice among a cheerful community of early career peers. I left newly invigorated to exploit connections between my teaching practice and research activities, and counting many new colleagues as fellow travellers on that adventure.


Technology in teaching: Reflections on Dr Neil Morris’ Seminar, 19th November 2012 by Dr Natasha Barrett

Last week’s T&L seminar, by Dr Neil Morris, on the use of technology in enhancing the student experience was a superb overview of the array of technology that our students seem to be familiar with and that many institutions are incorporating into teaching.  A key highlight for me was the data that Neil was able to share with us to dispel some of the myths and highlight some benefits of a relatively simple addition to our teaching (that many of us may already be using) – the use of audio recording lectures.

Based on a sample of 120 students (data yet to be published):

  • 76% have listened to more than half of the lecture audio recordings available to them
  • On average students listened to audio recordings of lectures twice
  • 73% indicated that the availability of audio recordings did not influence their attendance
  • 93% thought they were important.
  • 60% were happy with the unedited version
  • 84% used the recordings to write detailed lecture notes (ideally the students want the recordings available within an hour of the end of the lecture as this is when they are writing their notes up).

Add to this the published data that use of audio recordings improves exam results (Morris, 2010) and it really did hit home that this is an “easy win” in the use of technology in enhancing the student experience.

Morris, N.P. (2010) Podcasts and mobile assessment enhance student learning experience and academic performance. Bioscience Education. Vol. 16. http://www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/journal/vol16/

You can view the slides from Dr Morris’ seminar here

The sincerest form of flattery by Nadja Guggi


Our Teaching & Learning Showcase Series continued yesterday with a session on ‘Sharing good practice in the use of Turnitin’. Turnitin is an online service which allows educators to check students’ work for similarity with other sources as a tool for plagiarism prevention and development of academic writing skills.

Turnitin automatically generates an ‘Originality Report’ with a ‘similarity index’ expressed as a percentage, and links to matched sources, including other students’ work, the internet, and other publications. It’s available at Reading through the University’s VLE Blackboard as well as a web portal.

As Associate Dean Orla Kennedy, who has been chairing these informal lunchtime gatherings this term, pointed out, the event coincidentally took place at the same time as a meeting of SCAM (the University’s aptly named Sub-Committee on Academic Misconduct) but still saw a good turnout of some 20 colleagues from academic and service departments across the University.

Speakers Virginie Ruiz (Systems Engineering), Sara Broad (Institute of Education) and Mary Morrissey (English Literature) are among those leading the use of Turnitin in teaching and learning at the University. Each shared their approaches and experiences, highlighting different aspects and issues surrounding the use of Turnitin, before addressing questions and concerns from colleagues.

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Digital literacies for student employability: Spotlight on work placements by Nadja Guggi

I have been working with a placement student, Rachel Glover, a third-year undergraduate in Politics and International Relations, to carry out research into digital literacies for student employability, focusing on the University’s extra- and in-curricular work placement schemes.

This research is part of the Digitally Ready project (www.reading.ac.uk/digitallyready), a JISC-funded initiative under the Developing Digital Literacies Programme (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/developingdigitalliteracies) to help staff and students at the University to prepare for life, work and study in a digital world. More information about our research can be found at http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/digitallyready/resources/wrp/.

Rachel and I were invited to speak at the Teaching & Learning Showcase on ‘Assessing work placements’ here at Reading on 11 October. (http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/cdotl/NewsandEvents/InternalEvents/cdotl-TeachingandLearningShowcaseSeries.aspx) The showcase events are a series of informal lunchtime gatherings which provide an opportunity for colleagues to share T & L practices and ideas. The format is three speakers talking about a common topical issue for ten minutes each, with time for questions and discussion at the end.

Rachel and I were up first, followed by Cindy Becker (English Literature) and Hannah Jones (Agriculture, Policy and Development). Organiser Joy Collier had asked us to set the scene a little bit, so we thought we would share some of the insights from our research into digital aspects of work placements, and to show our colleagues the model that we use to evaluate students’ digital experiences. Our presentation slides can be found here.

The framework we use is adapted from Rhona Sharpe and Helen Beetham’s ‘Developing Effective E-Learning: The Development Pyramid’ (2008) which describes the development of digital literacies in terms of access, skills, and practices as prerequisites to becoming a critical, informed, expert user of digital technologies.

Digital literacies and work placements, adapted from Sharpe and Beetham (2008)

If we apply this to work placements, it becomes about affording students digital opportunities. Work placements can provide opportunities for students to experience and explore digital technologies (access); to develop technical proficiency in using digital technologies (skills); and, crucially, to apply these skills in a professional, ‘real world’ context (practices).

This is where the real value of work placements lies – in bridging the gap between students’ learning and how this is applied in a work environment, and in making that connection in the student’s mind, too, so that they are digitally ready and so that they have the awareness and the ability to articulate that readiness in order to make stronger applications, perform better in interviews, and, ultimately, better able to do their jobs.

Developing those higher-level attributes and attitudes – digital literacies – requires reflection. Cindy and Hannah spoke about the ways in which they encourage students to reflect on their placement experience and how this is linked to assessment, which surely then ought to be based on students’ ability to draw out and illustrate their learning and development rather than a descriptive account of, say, the company or their day-to-day tasks while on placement.

Hannah’s closing comments, which suggested that perhaps students should not actually be marked on this at all, that being able to truly reflect on their experience is enough, I found particularly thought-provoking.

My own closing comments were twofold: firstly, to encourage anyone involved in planning, assessing and evaluating placements to consider what digital opportunities might be embedded in them.

And secondly, to consider whether the development pyramid might be applied to planning, assessment and evaluation of work placements more generally, not just to look at the digital angle. After all, having the right tools for the job, learning how to use them and knowing what to do with them, are the building blocks required to develop any sort of professional competence. Thus the development pyramid might provide a useful framework for designing WRPL activities. I will say more about this in another blog post.

Teaching and Learning Away Day Reflections by Dr Cindy Becker

As usual, it was great to see so many colleagues at a Teaching and Learning away day – it always reminds me how much we all care about this important aspect of our lives as academics. I enjoyed this session especially because I met several colleagues with whom I have never worked before. Two of us even discussed the possibility of a joint module.

I was a little disappointed that the day did not relate as much to Part One engagement as I had expected. I was expecting to hear lots of ideas about how departments other than my own keep their Part One students engaged and enthusiastic. Having said that, I enjoyed the chance to consider how students might engage with all aspects of university life and I will raise some of the ideas generated by the day with colleagues in my department.

Digitally Ready for the Future: Sharing Good Practice by Nadja Guggi

Digitally Ready for the Future: Sharing Good Practice
Thursday 19 July 2012
10.45 -15.00, Agriculture Building

The digital age has presented Higher Education with our greatest opportunity. We have new techniques, new technologies, changes in student expectations along with a phenomenal increase in access to information.

Amongst our colleagues are early adopters and forward thinkers who are keen to share and discuss their experiences. Join us and them for a day of ‘show & tell’ talks and workshops, to bring together those who are interested in using digital technologies in innovative ways, and to encourage discussion around digital issues.

19 July Event programme for staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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