Empowering tomorrow’s marketers: A journey through real-world skills and engaging learning in consumer behaviour group projects


By: Dr Bahram Mahmoodi Kahriz, Henley Business School, bahram.mahmoodikahriz@henley.ac.uk
woman and man sitting in front of a computer
Photo by Desola Lanre-Ologun on Unsplash


At Henley Business School, our Consumer Behaviour compulsory module for Part 3 undergraduate students involves a group assignment on creating a consumer insight report. Students are urged to investigate emerging aspects of consumer behaviour, apply relevant theories, conduct research, and offer insights to marketers. This fosters teamwork and enhances research skills, enabling students to apply theory to real-world marketing challenges.


The primary aims of the consumer behaviour group project were:

  • Enhance collaborative skills and research competency: This module strengthens teamwork and critical group project abilities, facilitating research competence through the guidance of students in collecting, evaluating, and integrating information sources.
  • Apply theoretical knowledge: Students employ theoretical expertise in Consumer Behaviour and marketing to enhance critical analysis.
  • Develop of report writing skills: The module sharpens writing and presentation proficiencies essential for professional communication in a business context.
  • Encourage peer evaluation: The module encourages peer review, promoting individual contribution assessment within a team framework and fostering a sense of teamwork responsibility.


The consumer behaviour group project aims to help students understand consumer behaviour’s various facets and impact. Given the dynamic changes in consumer behaviour due to global events like COVID-19 and supply chain disruptions, grasping these shifts becomes crucial for marketers. The group project within this module equips students with teamwork, critical thinking, and real-world application skills. It prepares Part 3 BSc Business and Management (Marketing) undergraduates for future career challenges by setting realistic expectations and improving necessary skills.


Step-by-Step Guide: Implementing the Group Project

Step 1: Team Formation

  • In the first step, we form diverse groups of 4-5 members to simulate real work situations.
  • This diversity fosters familiarity among students with future workplace dynamics and encourages effective brainstorming.

Step 2: Brainstorming and Topic Selection

  • In this step, we emphasise brainstorming and topic selection.
  • We provide topic examples related to recent changes in consumer behaviour.
  • Active participation in topic selection within random groups encourages critical analysis.

Step 3: Refining Topic Choices

  • After selecting topics, students share them with their assignment groups.
  • Collaboratively, they refine their final topic choices.

Step 4: Research

  • In this step, students initiate the research phase, focusing on their selected topics.
  • We instruct them to review various sources, including contemporary examples, industry reports, academic studies, and relevant theoretical frameworks.

Step 5: Report Structuring

  • Here, we guide students in structuring their reports, which should include:
    • Executive summaries
    • Introductions
    • Discussions of chosen issues
    • Theoretical frameworks
    • Marketing advice
    • Reference lists
  • Stressing the importance of formatting and style consistency.
  • Encouraging the integration of theories from consumer behaviour lectures and other relevant sources.
  • Promoting the use of relevant statistics to support their chosen topics.

Step 6: Peer Collaboration and Review

  • In this step, ongoing peer collaboration and review are emphasised.
  • Students are encouraged to share ideas, review each other’s work, and seek advice from other groups.
  • The project concludes with peer reviews assessing individual contributions, promoting teamwork.

Step 7: Revision and Submission

  • In the final step, teams make revisions based on peer feedback.
  • We ensure that teams complete their reports.
  • Students are instructed to submit their reports via the university’s Blackboard platform by the specified deadline.

This comprehensive process equips students with valuable skills for real-world scenarios, nurturing critical thinking, teamwork, and research capabilities.


Aim: Enhancing collaborative skills and research competency:

The assignment encourages effective team collaboration, enhancing teamwork, communication, and task delegation based on individual strengths. Students gain a deeper grasp of consumer behaviour, market trends, and the practical application of marketing theories in real-world scenarios. They improve research skills, sourcing relevant materials and statistics, as well as identifying supportive theories from lecture materials to share within their groups.

Aim: Application of theoretical knowledge:

Brainstorming, research, and theory application develop critical thinking, empowering students to analyse emerging consumer trends. They translate theoretical knowledge into actionable insights and advice for potential clients, applying marketing expertise to real-world situations.

Aim: Development of report writing skills:

Students master group report writing, understanding report structures and effectively conveying the topic’s significance. They contextualise arguments with relevant statistics related to changing consumer behaviour and culture, supported by theories and research findings that inform marketing recommendations.

Aim: Encouraging peer evaluation:

Peer reviews promote self-reflection and continuous improvement, allowing students to assess their contributions and those of their peers.

In the year 2022-2023, in their feedback, students appreciated the relevance of topics to real-life examples, which enhanced their understanding of techniques and theories. They also welcomed the integration of current events and social media into the lessons. They found the Group Assignment allowed them to delve into interesting topics of their choice. Seminars were particularly beneficial for fostering in-depth discussions, which contributed to their improved comprehension of the subjects.


The group project achieved its objectives with remarkable success. The assignment’s deliberate focus on contemporary consumer behaviour and evolving market trends delivered it both engaging and profoundly relevant to our students. Consequently, their motivation to actively participate can be increased. Relatedly, previous research has also indicated that students engage in group projects, resulting in higher levels of understanding of the material. In addition, they learn how to study more independently, improve their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, and ultimately, exhibit high levels of motivation (Hidi & Renninger, 2012; Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Prince, 2004).

Moreover, the project excelled in encouraging diverse team compositions, which, in turn, facilitated remarkably rich brainstorming sessions. This diversity led to a broader range of insights, precisely aligning with the assignment’s goals. Research suggests that diverse teams tend to be more creative, come up with innovative solutions, perform better, and make improved decisions (Kristinsson et al., 2016; Lattimer, 1998, Wang et al., 2019).

From a practical standpoint, the project provided a unique opportunity for students to produce a report similar to industry-standard thought leadership pieces. This experience afforded them a taste of the demanding, real-world work involved in marketing consultancy, an invaluable experience for their future careers.

In addition to the practical aspect, the project allowed for a peer review process, a crucial element. This process introduced a sense of accountability among students, prompting them to engage in self-assessment and provide constructive feedback. Consequently, this enriched the overall learning experience, nurturing valuable skills.

However, there is room for improvement in the form of enhancing theoretical integration. While the assignment successfully included theory, emphasising theory application more explicitly throughout the report could strengthen its theoretical foundation.

Follow up

Since the consumer behaviour assignment, our approach to teaching and learning about consumer insights has significantly improved. We have embraced a more interactive approach, fostering greater student engagement in exploring emerging consumer trends. Moreover, we have integrated ongoing peer review practices into various modules, aiming to promote collaborative learning and effective teamwork skills across disciplines.

For future activities and slides, we plan to maintain the same structured format. However, we intend to create more opportunities on Blackboard, where students can actively participate in a group community. This platform will serve as a space for students to engage in discussions, ask questions, and share ideas with one another and with me. This shift to a broader online setting on Blackboard aims to enhance student collaboration, transitioning from in-person seminars to a more inclusive digital environment.


Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist, 41, 111-127.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (1989). Cooperation and Competition: Theory and Research. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

Kristinsson, K., Candi, M., & Sæmundsson, R. J. (2016). The relationship between founder team diversity and innovation performance: The moderating role of causation logic. Long Range Planning, 49, 464-476.

Lattimer, R. L. (1998). The case for diversity in global business, and the impact of diversity on team performance. Competitiveness Review: An International Business Journal, 8(2), 3-17.

Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93, 223-231.

Wang, J., Cheng, G. H. L., Chen, T., & Leung, K. (2019). Team creativity/innovation in culturally diverse teams: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 40, 693-708.


Can students and academics benefit from peer assisted learning (PAL) sessions?

Caroline Crolla, Student Success and Engagement Team, Student Services c.s.crolla@reading.ac.uk 


Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) is a globally recognised scheme where more experienced students who have already successfully completed a module work with students who are studying the module for the first time.   One hour, weekly PAL sessions are run by trained and experienced student PAL Leaders, who are regularly debriefed by programme academics, and supported by a PAL Coordinator.   Students who attend PAL sessions seem to do better than those who do not.


HEIs with experience of PAL have found that the scheme contributes to improved retention, engagement and performance through shared learning, engendering stronger links between academics and students as well as providing an additional form of in-module feedback. 

The principles underpinning Peer Assisted Learning include:

  • the PAL scheme should target high risk modules, not high risk students
  • student participation should be voluntary
  • student PAL Leaders are facilitators and not quasi-lecturers


Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) was first introduced at the University of Reading in 2015-16 in a few departments as pilot schemes. Early adopters were academics teaching modules in Art, Economics, Mathematics, Creative Writing and Speech & Language Therapy.

The provision of Peer Assisted Learning is now in its fourth year at the University of Reading.  In both the autumn and spring terms, there are PAL sessions supporting specific modules in an ever-growing number of subjects: Agriculture, Biosciences, Classics, Clinical Language Sciences, Economics, Language & Literature, Food Nutritional Sciences, Law, Mathematics and Statistics, Pharmacy and Psychology.


Peer Assisted Learning sessions work best in modules that are recognised as cognitively challenging, where student results are low and where student module feedback is less positive.

To implement PAL sessions, module convenors or lecturers select modules in which students would benefit from the offer of PAL sessions and contacting the PAL Coordinator (pal@reading.ac.uk or c.s.crolla@reading.ac.uk). The PAL Coordinator helps with recruitment, taster sessions, promotion and providing high-quality training. The compulsory, two-day PAL Leader training takes place before the autumn modules start, and again in January before the spring term modules start.  So academics contact the PAL Coordinator to agree PAL publicity, interviews, selection and recruitment of Leaders, ideally a term before the module runs.

The role of PAL Leader is voluntary. PAL Leaders can be recruited if they have successfully completed the module that PAL sessions are supporting.  The module convenor has the final say about the selection of PAL Leaders. PAL Leadership develops students’ facilitation and coaching skills, communication and organisational skills and the role shows employers that students have gone above and beyond their degree.  PAL Leadership is included on students’ degree transcripts and counts for the RED Award. PAL Leaders help with problem solving, study skills, exam techniques and coursework. PAL Leaders know that they do not teach, re-teach nor give answers and make this clear to their PAL participants. PAL Leaders will have regular support from the module convenor / academic contact.


Quantitative data

We collect PAL session attendance data which is then matched against module results.  In 2017-18 we had a significant amount of data, which showed that there seemed to be a positive correlation between attendance at PAL sessions and higher average results.   Accepting that attendance at PAL is voluntary and students going to PAL may already have positive study habits, in Pharmacy, Economics and Maths modules results show that on average those students who attend 4 or more PAL sessions achieve higher results than those students who do not.

Qualitative data

We also collect PAL Leaders’ and PAL participants’ views about the impact of PAL on their understanding of their work.   Participants answered the following free text questions: 1) What did you gain from attending PAL sessions and 2) How could PAL be improved to meet your academic needs better?  Key benefits were perceived to be: an increase of understanding and an increase of confidence; the benefits of collaborating with peers; appreciating the “real world” connections better in terms of the value of placements or coursework and the benefits of learning and thinking collaboratively.

  • I’ve gained more knowledge regarding the module & find it easier to ask for help.
  • Good to have opportunity to interact with students in the year above.
  • A more interactive way of working, more group work, some sharing of 4th year placement and usefulness of this module for next year

PAL leaders reported that they had developed their organisational and leadership skills; they understood facilitation of learning better and were clearer about how students can be encouraged to learn better.  Team work skills were also mentioned as was the value of consolidating and reviewing one’s own learning as leader because of reviewing materials with their participants.

  • I learnt a lot about organising my time and coming up with creative ways to engage with content
  • I learnt about different ways to make group activities fun. I also learnt the value of having structured tasks i.e. snowballing, as opposed to simply asking a question and hoping that someone would answer!
  • Being a PAL leader also helped me to consolidate my learning of the module, whilst developing methods to effectively communicate this learning to students in lower years.


As the PAL scheme has developed at the University of Reading over the past three years, all three groups involved in PAL, the PAL Leaders, the PAL participants and the PAL academics see PAL as a “win – win” scheme.  As the scheme is voluntary, there are no significant costs to the subjects implementing PAL.  The PAL Coordinator and Senior PAL Leaders, a paid role, take responsibility for the majority of the implementation of the scheme.

For more students to benefit from peer assisted learning sessions, four key issues need to be addressed: PAL sessions need to appear in students’ timetables; peer assisted learning needs to be clearly presented and understood, through PAL specific publicity and authentic Leader and participant voices explaining that the sessions are about collaborative learning and not remedial support; academics need to understand and support the principles of peer assisted learning and regularly endorse the scheme and review progress with the PAL leaders and the role of the Senior PAL Leader can be developed further.

If you are interested in adopting PAL in your module, please contact the PAL Coordinator, Caroline Crolla c.s.crolla@reading.ac.uk or pal@reading.ac.uk .


The University of Reading is a member of the UK PASS (Peer Assisted Study Sessions) and European SI (Supplemental Instruction) peer-learning network with its centre at Lund University in Sweden https://www.si-pass.lu.se/en/about-si-pass/si-pass-around-the-world .


Boud ,D., Cohen, R. & Sampson, J. (1999) Peer Learning and Assessment, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 24:4, 413-426,

Capstick, S. (2004). Benefits and Shortcomings of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) in Higher Education: an appraisal by students. In Peer Assisted Learning Conference.

Congos, D. H., & Schoeps, N. (1993). Does supplemental instruction really work and what is it anyway? Studies in Higher Education18(2), 165-176.

Smith, J., May, S., & Burke, L. (2007). Peer Assisted Learning: a case study into the value to student mentors and mentees. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education2(2), 80-109.

Outward mobility and real world engagement

Alison Nader and Ali Nicholson, Lecturers, International Study and Language Institute                                                                                                        a.m.nader@reading.ac.uk     a.v.nicholson@reading.ac.uk                                                            Year of activity 2017/18


For the past 2 years UoR students taking IWLP French 20 credit optional modules have had the opportunity to undertake 2 weeks of intensive language study in France at CUEF, Université Grenoble Alpes.

Students arrange their own travel and accommodation with light touch support from IWLP staff.

They now have the possibility to take a credit module based on their experience, in the academic year following their return from France.

              IWLP Students arriving at the CUEF, Université Grenoble Alpes, France


  • To give students the opportunity to study and live independently in France for a short period of time.
  • To improve language skills, in particular speaking and listening in real world situations.
  • To offer the opportunity to use their real world experience on a credit bearing IWLP language module.


  • In SSLC meetings and end of year module evaluations, students had been asking for the opportunity to spend a short period of time in France.
  • The placement needed to fit around the students’ core studies.
  • Recognition by UUki that outward mobility experiences are increasingly important for graduate attributes.
  • University of Reading’s ambitious outward mobility targets.


Initially this experience was conceived of as a trip abroad, responding to student requests for recommendations of where they could go to take a short intensive language course.  Two members of IWLP staff researched short language courses offered by French universities.  Having identified CUEF, a part of l’Université Grenoble Alpes, as having a suitable offering, IWLP staff visited the Centre, met the French staff and observed teaching on the courses.

Before leaving for France, students are supported with briefing sessions given by IWLP French staff but have to organise travel, accommodation and where necessary visas, themselves.

The classes take place outside UoR term time and to date students have either chosen to go for two weeks during the Easter holidays or in early September.

In the first year 2016-17, 10 students took up the opportunity and this year the expectation is that numbers will increase, 10 have just returned and more will be travelling out in September.  Students have to pay the fees, travel and accommodation.  So far each cohort has received a small bursary from UoR but this is not guaranteed.

In 2017-18 students were offered the opportunity to select a credit bearing placement module on their return.  A small number of students opted to take the module and the improvement in their ability to undertake an oral presentation in French was truly remarkable.


From the student perspective, their competence in speaking and listening in French demonstrably improved.  The improvement for those who took the credit bearing module was measurable from comparative assessment results before and after the placement.

Students also acquired transferable skills and increased their independence, confidence and motivation.  In feedback one of the students commented: “going by yourself from a country to another implies responsibility and independence” and another mentioned how the experience increased her general confidence.

These gains also came from practising in a real world situation and, for those who had not visited France before, a greater cultural understanding of the country where the language is spoken.  Increased linguistic confidence and cultural awareness was cited in feedback by a student who commented on his motivation for going on the placement, to improve his French as well as to “really understand what it takes to learn French by understanding the culture”.

The mobility opportunity also contributes to the UoR Global engagement strategy and outward mobility targets.


Quite apart from an increase in students’ linguistic competence, they gain in independence and heighten their intercultural awareness.  The cohesive group that went to France this spring are themselves from eight different countries.  This time, as a “bonus” they experienced at first hand strikes and blockades of university buildings: coping with all of this strengthened their group cohesion.

In general, on their return, students are enthusiastic ambassadors for learning a language.

Short-term mobility opportunities can attract students who would not be able to go abroad for longer periods, though Home students have said that even a small study abroad bursary or help with the travel costs would encourage more of them to take up this opportunity.

Follow up

Scaling up the offering may be challenging from the organisation and staffing point of view, however it is hoped to extend the opportunity to other languages in the near future.

As the IWLP modules are offered to students from Schools across the university, the mobility placements can contribute to the internationalisation of students university-wide.

Ensuring inclusion, finding sustainable ways of financially supporting students and resourcing staffing are top priorities for future development.





Placement Modules






Henley students’ social media engagement

Alina Maroukian, Henley Business School                                        a.maroukian@henley.ac.uk                                                                                                              Year of activity: 2016/17


A group of Henley Business School students supported the digital marketing team by creating content for social media use and providing social media support at key events. By creating social media content the students helped improve engagement on Henley Business School’s social channels and helped provide a student voice. At the same time, they gained work experience and developed their skills.


  • To build their understanding of social media marketing through practice
  • To enhance their collaboration and prioritisation skills
  • To improve engagement on all social media channels, especially at key events
  • To provide our social media channels with more of a student voice.


The activity was undertaken to assist the Henley Business School Digital team and simultaneously to provide students with valuable work experience and the opportunity to gain a reference as a result of their efforts.


The Henley Business school digital team provided students with training on the digital Sprout Social platform and provided guidance for posting content. Students were provided with support at every stage of the process and they were provided with additional equipment, when necessary (such as tripod, portable battery pack, ipod, etc) at Henley Business school events. We asked students to keep a simple record of the activities they did on a spreadsheet (template provided to them) and requested they do 3 pieces/ week– where a publishing a post, or acquiring a testimonial from a fellow student or taking part in live-tweeting would constitute 1 activity. We gave them the tools to do this in the time that suited them best and always ensured their studies came first. The 3 pieces/ week was a rough guide of average to do and we kept it flexible so that exam times / holidays were given as exceptions.


The main objective was to improve our social media performance and to promote our student voice more. On Twitter the student helpers reached 4.2k and had 31 engagements. On Instagram they had a 12.3k reach and 748 engagements. This drastically helped show a more relatable social media student presence on Instagram and Twitter.


Having students help with social media did prove to be very successful as it helped increase engagement on our channels but also gave them opportunity to develop their skills. The key was that, after initial digital training, the students were provided with a level of flexibility with their content and working hours. The activity could be taken further and if students were provided with hourly pay this might provide more motivation and lead to an increase in the amount of social media student posts, as well as a higher quality within their work. By an increased amount of posts they would help increase our social media presence even further and improve our engagement levels. Also, we could enhance their input by training them further on content production.

Follow up

We are looking into the possibility of using Campus Jobs to hire students for ad hoc work similar to what was done in 2016-17, as it proved to be successful. We will be adding content production to the type of work they can take part in as their input last year revealed that there is an interest. This is for on-the-go videos and photos on a mobile device but with training for optimum results.


The above video was taken by Henley Business School students and it received 2,190 views on social media. Other examples include:
However this is only a sample, the work was spread out throughout the academic year 2016-17.



Development of the BARS blog

Dr Francoise Mazet, Biological Sciences
Year of activity: 2015/16


We developed BARS (Bioscience ARticles for Reading Students), a blog showcasing the written work of Part Three students from the School of Biological Sciences. The blog is managed by students working closely with academic staff. This project will increase students’ awareness and skills that are applicable to all areas of scientific writing.


  • To establish a student-led scientific blog.
  • To increase the public profile and dissemination of student coursework.
  • To provide the opportunity for students to apply their academic skills in a professional context.
  • To develop an alternative resource for teaching and outreach.


BARS is the extension of the module Seminars in Biology (BI3S78) which aims to introduce students to research seminars and scientific writing. The aim was to introduce an extra-curricular aspect that would give a ‘real world’ aspect to the coursework.


The BARS blog was launched on the University of Reading server in April 2016 after initial discussions with the lead student. A small committee made up of students and staff was established to shortlist written work from the Seminars in Biology module using a set of guidelines (scientific accuracy, relevance, interest and style of writing. The blog was advertised through the Seminars in Biology module, social media (Twitter and Facebook) and the Reading University Biological Sciences Society (RUBSS).


Although the publication of the work only started in late April, the students were aware of the possibility for their work to be selected and published since early January. We noticed many students were more engaged and communicating more with the staff regarding the assignments.

The blog is being advertised to this year’s students as having examples of high quality scientific writing from their peers and we hope to see a continuing interest from the students to write with a wider audience in mind.


Departing from a purely academic exercise for the assignments seems to have enhanced the students’ engagement with the research seminars, however we think the blog would have been more successful had the project been available at the beginning of the academic year. As it was, it did not begin before the middle of the Spring term and thus limited the opportunity for students to engage. With this in mind, any future modifications to or advertising of the blog will be started in the first week of the Autumn term. We also plan on advertising the blog more widely to staff who in turn could consider integrating the blog with their modules.

Follow up

Changes to the learning outcomes of the Seminars in Biology module will be integrated this year, and should increase the scope and diversity of the written material. We also aim to widen student participation to include other year groups, modules and programmes, and eventually students and staff from other Life Science schools.


BARS blog

Connecting with the Curriculum Framework in student participation at academic conferences

Dr Madeleine Davies and Dr Bethany Layne, School of Literature and Languages


This entry offers a model of the way in which the aims embedded in the Curriculum Framework can be articulated via student engagement with research-led activity. Here we discuss the Framework-related teaching and learning benefits of involving our students centrally in the ‘Postmodernist Biofictions’ conference, held by the Department of English Literature on 25th March 2017. The term refers to the literary genre where ‘biography’ and ‘fiction’ connect; it is ‘postmodernist’ in its interrogation of the relationship between the two and in its troubling of the fact/fiction distinction.


  • To involve University of Reading undergraduate and postgraduate students in professional academic conversations emerging from teaching and learning within the curriculum.
  • To engage with the Curriculum Framework and to produce a coherent narrative in relation to it.
  • To enhance students’ experience and employability.


At the heart of the Curriculum Framework lie emphases on equipping students with a mastery of the discipline, skills in research and enquiry, personal effectiveness/self-awareness, and global engagement/multi-cultural awareness. Connected to these values are the terms that inform and produce them: ‘innovative’, ‘authentic’, ‘challenging’, ‘collaborative’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘coherent’. Finally, identifying the principles informing an engagement with 21st Century society and thought are the terms, ‘diverse and inclusive’, ‘research based’, ‘contextual’, ‘discipline based’, and ‘global’.

In organising and hosting a one-day conference in the Department of English Literature, ‘Postmodernist Biofiction’, Dr Bethany Layne and I made an early decision to connect with, and to articulate, the values of the Curriculum Framework at every level of the project. The conference developed from our work on our research-led Part Three modules and it was initiated in order to include our students in professional academic conversations and thus to extend their discipline-based expertise.


To connect with the Curriculum Framework, Dr Layne and I involved our students in the organisation and proceedings of the conference. We recognised that the experience of working with us on event organisation, and participating in professional research activity, would provide valuable material for their CVs in ways that would enhance their employability.

Eight undergraduate students worked with us; they took photographs, managed the digital equipment, publicised the event, and oversaw logistical detail. In terms of the Curriculum Framework, we had confirmed our commitment to student employability, student engagement, and to the development of our students’ research skills and professional skill-sets.

Three of our Part Three students agreed to take part in a student panel at the conference and we were delighted to see that our keynote delegates, including Professor David Lodge, Professor Susan Sellers, and Professor Maggie Gee expressed a keen desire to hear their papers.

The students’ involvement was a tribute to their personal confidence (developed via the ‘double helix’ pedagogic model), and it also demonstrated their critical engagement with the material they had studied with us.

It was clear at the Conference that our undergraduates (some still at Part Two) felt a strong sense of belonging at the University. They were proud of the work of their peer group and proud of their identity as University of Reading students. Even at the end of their second year with us, our students were eager to work with us as colleagues and mentors rather than as ‘teachers’.

Our collaborative values were demonstrated by the Vice-Chancellor’s attendance at the afternoon sessions of the Conference. Sir David Bell chatted with our students and expressed a keen interest in them and their work, and his support of Dr Layne and I, spoke to our leadership’s commitment to collaborative knowledge sharing and to the development of productive, inclusive relationships.


We received excellent feedback from delegates following the event and there was a lively Twitter feed throughout the day expressing glowing appreciation. Our students were particularly grateful to us for including them in the conference.

The conference proceedings will be published in Postmodernist Biofiction (an edited collection with Cambridge Scholars) and our experience with student engagement in research-led activity will form the basis of a pedagogic publication. We are also expecting our student delegates’ performance in Finals to be significantly enhanced by their participation in the conference.

Delegates from competing universities commented enviously on the collegiate atmosphere between University of Reading staff and students, and also on the sophisticated critical work showcased by our student panellists. The reputation of the University of Reading was enhanced in every respect by the event.


The Curriculum Framework expresses our professional values and pedagogic principles. Our commitment as academics to subject expertise and to the development of critically and culturally nuanced students is precisely what informs the Curriculum Framework. Engaging our students in this mission appears to be the difficult task.

However, our experience with the ‘Postmodernist Biofictions’ conference suggests that our students are eager for us to connect with them. When we reach out, they respond in ways that identify preconceptions about student disengagement as lazy and entirely misplaced.

What is important to understand about the Curriculum Framework is that colleagues around the University are already engaged in precisely the kind of work expressed in the Curriculum Framework’s values. Our challenge lies in moving the aims of the Curriculum Framework to the core of our activity and in expressing its principles in coherent narratives.

In the Department of English Literature, the values of the Curriculum Framework are being articulated through initiatives that not only locate the student experience at the heart of our research-led teaching, but that actively demonstrate it.

Follow up

Our undergraduate and postgraduate students have asked for more research events of the ‘Postmodernist Biofictions’ kind, and more opportunities for event organisation and participation.

We will move forward with the Curriculum Framework in additional projects including Focus Groups convened to involve our students in the diversification of assessment models and in a review of our provision. We will also centrally involve them fully in the organisation of forthcoming events including a visit and talk by Jess Phillips MP in June, and the Virginia Woolf International Conference in June/July.

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.

Developing independent learners – a first year skills module

Professor Elizabeth Page, Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy


A series of skills based modules running through the three years of the BSc and MChem Chemistry programmes has been developed. The aim is to promote independent learning and the development of academic and employability skills through subject specific material and activities. This entry describes the Part One module which would be readily transferable to many cognate disciplines.


  • To support students in developing independent learning skills as they make the transition from school to university.
  • To introduce students to open and closed types of problems and help them develop strategies for tackling them.
  • To support students in developing time management, organisation, communication, team working and other transferable academic and professional skills.
  • To encourage students to self-assess their personal transferable skills and articulate them.


The main drivers for the development of the series of skills-focussed modules were:

  • To break the cycle of ‘learning for the examination’ that is practised widely in schools and colleges to enhance exam results and league table position.
  • To provide “greater and more sustainable variety in modes of study to meet the changing demands of industry and students”, as recommended in the South East Universities Biopharma Skills Consortium Project.


An initial survey was carried out of Part One students across the Faculty of Life Sciences to determine their biggest perceived differences between study at school or college and university. The greatest changes reported were the increased requirement for self-motivation and independent study required at higher education, coupled with a decrease in clarity of course and assessment requirements.

A small group of staff from different branches of the subject (Chemistry) discussed the desirable learning outcomes of the module and planned activities through which to achieve these outcomes.

One key aim of the module was to introduce students to the idea that there is sometimes no right or wrong answer but it is the route to solving a problem that is important. We were keen to ensure that the module addressed areas of the Chemistry curriculum that were both unfamiliar and challenging so that students were forced to read around the subject in order to understand the key concepts. In this way we believed that they would be better prepared to master the material when they subsequently met it in later modules. We therefore adopted a problem-based learning approach in which a series of chemical challenges were designed.

The module starts with an open-ended problem requiring little subject knowledge apart from basic scientific ideas. In groups students are required to find reasonable answers to problems such as ‘how much radioactivity is there in a banana?’ or ‘how much hydrogen would it take to supply the nation with cups of tea for a day?’. Students can use any assumptions or sources to solve the problem and have to justify their answers in a group presentation the following week. Subsequent problems were designed in the three main branches of chemistry and each challenge was designed to encourage students to develop different skills. For example, to develop numeracy skills students are required to justify the use of a major research platform to a government minister and calculate the number of molecules that can fit into a matchbox to give an idea of the size of a molecule to a non-scientist. Three of the challenges are carried out in groups and the same group members are retained through the year. We have been fortunate to welcome colleagues from Study Support to help our students with team working skills and our link librarian to explain the use of library resources and reliable sources from data base searching.


The module was first delivered in 2011 and feedback was very positive. A key feature of the module is that it helps students recognise their strengths and reflect on transferable skills to better articulate them in interviews and on application forms. Students reported that the module has helped them answer interview questions such as ‘How have you overcome problems in a group where one member has not contributed as expected?’ and ‘Give examples of a problem you have struggled to solve and how you succeeded’. The team based approach provides new students with a small group who they quickly get to know and so establishes friendships. Following the success of the Part One module we decided to design the Part Two module to align with our career management course and again use team working as the vehicle for achieving the learning outcomes.


The success of the module rests upon a number of factors. Engagement of staff from across the department ensures ‘buy-in’. Six academic staff were initially involved with designing and delivering the module. In addition we were fortunate to have a project officer who did much of the preparation for the module and set up groups and Wikis on the Blackboard site.

Teams are composed of students of mixed gender, ethnicity and ability, based on information on RISIS available from their UCAS applications. Most teams work well with the usual problems encountered in team working. Peer evaluation is used to secure student feedback, and a scaling factor for each team member derived which is applied to the group mark for each activity.

The first challenge is formatively assessed and students given feedback within one week. Students receive detailed feedback on subsequent summative assessments.

Follow up

In 2014 we expanded the module to 20 credits and simultaneously increased the contact time and introduced IT skills. The original challenges are still used although there is plenty of scope for developing new problems. In order to support our students applying for placements in industry we conclude the module in the spring term with a personal analysis of skills developed, which can be integrated into applications and CVs for placements. The module structure would be easily transferable to other disciplines. The team responsible for the module were awarded a University Collaborative Award in 2012. Staff involved with the module are: Dr John McKendrick, Dr Andy Russell, Dr David Nutt, Professor Matthew Almond, Dr Joanne Elliott, and Mrs Sally Wade.


Development of the Cole Museum resources for outreach and teaching and learning.

 Dr Amanda Callaghan, School of Biological Sciences


Cole Zoology Museum300The Cole Museum of Zoology (the Cole) houses a number of satellite collections for use in outreach, teaching and learning. In 2014 we transferred 50% of the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science (SAGES) fossil collection to the Cole and in 2015 acquired the other half. As a result of this Teaching and Learning Development Fund project, most of the fossils and many more Cole specimens and archives have been catalogued and photographed and are now being transferred onto AdLib (a database for the cataloguing and publishing of information on collection objects) for wider use.


  • To improve the use of SAGES fossil/SBS zoology collections in outreach, T&L and research through improved access.
  • To catalogue and organise material, photograph where required and upload onto AdLib.


Around 50% of the University fossil collection was moved to the Cole in the School of Biological Sciences in 2014. This resource is used for teaching palaeontology and is still used by staff in Archaeology (GV2M5 Quaternary Global Climate Change). SBS are now increasingly using this resource in teaching and recently it has been used to teach BI1EZ1 Introduction to Zoology, BI1EAB1 Animal Diversity, BI2BS5 Vertebrate Zoology and BI3EAB8 Palaeozoology. The remaining 50% was moved in 2015 and required cataloguing, along with archival materials. Many of the Cole specimens and all of its archives have not been photographed and were therefore unavailable as images online.


Two UG students and one PhD student were employed, with the added value of two additional volunteers and two academic members of staff to supervise students. Remaining fossil specimens were transferred to the Cole, identified, labelled, photographed, catalogued and stored. Specimen photographs and details are now being uploaded onto the AdLib database by a volunteer. AdLib is used by collections across the University to catalogue and publish information on collection objects. It is accessible to students and staff through the Library website Enterprise.


This will allow staff and students across the university access to the collection.  Because the collection is organized and the catalogue available online, we now have a team of 8 undergraduate volunteers and enthusiasts who are able to work on proofreading and identifying specimens in the catalogue.  In addition to improving access to the collection for use in classes by students of Archaeology and SBS, an added impact of the work is that students are gaining skills in palaeontological curation and a certain level of expertise in zoology and fossil identification. A number of our students are interested in careers in the museum sector and this experience will put them in good stead for a job in this area.


At the end of the project all the fossils have been transferred, photographed and the digital catalogue was transferred online.  Considerable progress was made in identifying specimens and filling in missing taxonomic information. In addition to the fossil work, the opportunity to work in the museum during the summer with a dedicated team allowed us to photograph Cole specimens whilst the photography system was set up. We also engaged a PhD student, Verity Burke, to catalogue and organise the archival material. As a result she instigated a twitter exhibition #ColeEx.


The Cole is an accredited museum praised by the accrediting body (Museums and Libraries and Archives Council – it is now administered by the Arts Council England) for our collection management and collection care. We will now manage the fossil collection appropriately to make it more readily accessible for use and to bring it back to a good curatorial standard. The collection is now available for use in outreach, by colleagues in SBS and Archaeology for classes, for research, as well as by students on school placements to allow the development of new projects.

As a result of this project, we now are able to use the collection in new ways:

  1. Teaching and Learning. The entire fossil teaching collection is now used in teaching BI3EAB1, with students in the class able to use the online catalogue during practicals.
  2.  Research. A third year student is researching our ichthyosaur material for her final year project.
  3.  Engagement. The fossil collection is very popular among our students who are keen to be able to work with the fossils and help us to improve the information associated with each specimen.
  4. Outreach. The fossil collection is available for School visits and has already been used in University outreach activities.






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.