How to Evidence Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Paula Gamble-Schwarz and colleagues on the Foundation Art & Design programme were delighted this year to be one of the recipients of the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. In the post below, Paula explains and shares their successful application template, which can act as a guide for programme teams.

I believe that within the one year Foundation Programme (SAED), we continually evidence a professional and meaningful level of contact, stimulation, challenge and achievement which can be supported by analysis of our student outcomes, staff collaboration, student support and academic culture. Students achieve through the implementation of our ongoing programme of excellence. Foundation staff are engaged and active in their modelling, mentoring, mutual appreciation, productive action and achievement of learner outcomes (evidenced in Ofsted report). I would like to be considered for the VC’S Award for Excellence in Learning and Teaching in recognition of the outstanding learning outcomes and achievements that I support via my team across the Foundation Programme.

Key changes to GCE and A Levels

The following post is by Dr Glynis Perkin.

Fundamental changes to the content and structure are taking place in the GCE A Level curriculum. There are 14 subjects with the new curriculum that have been examined for the first time in summer 2017 and many students entering university in the 2017/18 academic year will have taken these examinations. The 14 subjects are:

  • Art and Design
  • Biology
  • Business
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • English Language
  • English Language and Literature
  • English Literature A
  • English Literature B
  • History
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

The key changes to these A Levels are that they are now non-modular with most subjects being assessed mainly by examination at the end of the course. AS Level is a stand-alone qualification and no longer counts towards a GCE A Level. Furthermore, content has been reviewed and updated with input from university staff.

The key changes for each subject have been collated with links to more detailed information also provided; the slides are available on the CAP website at: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cap/documents-resources/

EAT – it’s good for you!

Loughborough University and the Higher Education Academy Community of Practice: on Assessment and Feedback are pleased to offer a one-day event focusing on developing and implementing a self-regulatory approach to assessment. The event is taking place on Wednesday 20th September 2017 in the Stuart Mason Building and is being facilitated by the Centre for Academic Practice.

The day will be split into two parts:

Developing a Self-Regulatory Approach to Assessment: The EAT Framework (10.30 – 12.30, SMB 0.14)
Professor Carol Evans, University of Southampton

Assessment practice is a key driver in promoting high impact pedagogies and student engagement in learning. A step change is needed to advance how higher education institutions implement assessment practice to enhance student engagement and to maximise student learning outcomes. The session will describe how the EAT self-regulatory framework, a holistic inclusive assessment feedback framework, has evolved and how it can be used to support student and staff development of assessment literacy, feedback and design in partnership with each other as part of sustainable assessment feedback practice. Core to the development of this approach is an understanding of cognitive, metacognitive, and emotional regulation of learning informed by the Personal Learning Styles Pedagogy Framework (Waring & Evans, 2015).

Lunch will be provided from 12.30 – 1.30

Implementing EAT: Key lessons in scaling-up (1.30 – 3.30, SMB 0.02)
Professor Carol Evans, University of Southampton

This session is designed for Associate Deans and all those responsible for leading assessment and feedback practice. In the session, key considerations in scaling-up assessment and feedback practices mindful of institutional and faculty priorities and specific disciplinary needs will be explored with the intention of identifying strategies to support key priorities as an integral part of ‘ the fabric of things’ within the university. The potential of being a core member of the HEA Assessment and Feedback online Community of Practice will also be highlighted.

You can book onto this event on My.HR by following this link: https://myhr.lboro.ac.uk/tlive_ess/ess/index.html#/summary/careerdev/scheduledlearningactivity/474418AXK5

VR in STEM teaching – innovations from Science

The team
Our ‘Virtual Reality in STEM teaching’ team is from the School of Science and CAP. We are a mixture of academics, technicians, E-learning support and most importantly a student developer; Dr Sandie Dann, Dr Firat Batmaz, Rod Dring, Sean Slingsby, Samantha Davis, Lee Barnett and Nikolaos Demosthenous. This grouping of both staff and students has so far been a successful blend of knowledge, kickstarting our Teaching Innovation Award project with real energy.

Aims
• Encourage deep learning within lab based teaching
• Allow more focused time for exploration of the experiments without being at risk to themselves or others
• Increase students awareness of the equipment available to them in the labs

Objectives
• Create an interactive resource that allows for practice, familiarisation and visualisation before students enter a lab session.
• Increase student engagement in the module by encouraging them to see beyond the procedural aspects of an experiment.
• Evaluate the tool’s impact on student learning and ability to be transferable.

Progress so far
So far so good as they say… or are these famous last words?
We have met as a group a number of times now to discuss the way we would like our final application to work and which Chemistry experiment in particular to concentrate on developing the virtual reality (VR) for. The real crux of this project is to not get carried away with wanting to try too much. Instead we are concentrating on 1 or 2 activities within the VR as our aim for this project is to prove the concept, rather than becoming carried away with new toys. Following this we would look to expand the offering of different experiments and activities within the application through further projects.
Part of our discussions also included a trip to STEMLab whilst taking a look at what our talented student developer Nik has been testing to date.

Next stages
The next step in our project is to decide on the exact final product we would like to create and for our student developer Nik to begin paid work in September. We will also be visiting STEMLab again to take the 360° images that we hope to include in the virtual reality environment. After Christmas we will be recruiting student testers in order to carry out evaluation of the effect that virtual reality has on their learning.

Giving Students, Parents and Employers Confidence: Geography’s Experiences of Accreditation

Dr Richard Hodgkins, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, has recently received a Vice-Chancellor’s Award from Loughborough University for his contribution to Learning and Teaching. In this post, Dr Hodgkins details the recent experiences in gaining accreditation for some, rather different, programmes offered by the Department of Geography at Loughborough.

On the face of it, some academic disciplines, with more obvious career pathways, lend themselves naturally to accreditation, and others less so. However, all degree programmes benefit from being able to display some kind of quality stamp.

These programmes are the MSci (Hons) Geography and BA (Hons) Geography, both also available as sandwich programmes, the latter leading to the additional qualification of Diploma in Professional Studies (DPS) for those undertaking an industrial placement, or Diploma in International Studies (DIntS), for those undertaking study abroad. The main goal of each is to offer the most appropriate curriculum and outcome for somewhat different communities of potential geography students. The MSci takes the route of specialisation, being a four-year integrated Masters’ programme with a strong focus on physical and environmental geography. The BA takes the route of generalisation, stemming from the nature of geography as a diverse discipline spanning the sciences and humanities, offering those favouring its social and cultural aspects the opportunity to graduate with a qualification which, more closely than the current BSc, reflects the content they have pursued.

What are the challengers ?

It’s difficult to persuade an accreditor to look favourably on your programmes if you don’t have a clear sense of their strengths, which can be articulated cogently. So for each programme, it’s been important to step back, and to see the wood for the trees. Why offer it? What are the real benefits for students: are they being offered a distinctive curriculum with a clear sense of purpose and outcome, rather than a mash-up of pre-existing modules? The MSci is therefore specified to provide a pathway to environmental employment through a focused, practically-orientated and progressive menu of physical geography modules, which engage extensively by design with both contemporary research and with environmental monitoring for the purpose of effective management. The BA, on the other hand, is specified to provide the widest coherent menu of options possible, given that a significant proportion of geography students (particular those aspiring to become teachers) prefer to study both human and physical aspects of the discipline. The latter is consistent with the unique nature of geography as the integrated study of landscapes, peoples, places and environments, and is a view of geography that is strongly favoured by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)(RGS-IBG), of which more below.

What are the benefits of offering a diverse range of programmes? 

From a departmental perspective, these recently-approved programmes have manageably diversified our offering, which contributes to admissions robustness. From a student perspective, enhanced satisfaction is the aim, through offering more tailored outcomes with specific awards. From the personal perspective of a departmental Director of Studies, there is a lot to be learned about matters that can get taken for granted, such as understanding how curricula should be consistently mapped to appropriate ILOs for different communities of students, and how Subject Benchmarking informs this process. I’m not under the illusion that ILO mapping is the stuff of dreams, but it’s vital that we retain the coherence of our programmes in the face of change and churn, so that students actually get what they believe they’ve signed up for, and so that accreditors can express their confidence in what they see.

We obtained accreditation for the MSci from the Institution of Environmental Sciences (Committee of Heads of Environmental Sciences, CHES) in May 2016. The key to the case was demonstrating, with evidence, how the modules aligned clearly with Subject Benchmarks, and with the specific expectations of the accrediting body; for instance, CHES places a particularly strong emphasis on environmental career development and links with professional practice, so it was important to establish in some depth that our modules did in fact do this in a substantive way that was both assessed and credited. In September 2016, we similarly obtained accreditation for the MSci and three other of our programmes – BA/BSc (Hons) Geography and BSc (Hons) Geography with Economics, including their DPS/DIntS versions – from the newly-established scheme of the Research and Higher Education Division of the RGS-IBG, now the key accreditor for the discipline. All four programmes were among the very first to be accredited: only 20 departments nationally achieved this distinction. In its evaluation, the RGS-IBG noted that the case contained “Clear and detailed description of aims achieved through core and optional modules… cross-referencing to the benchmark statement is evident”, underlining the value of all that ILO mapping, and that this is an ongoing process shared by all teaching staff. This is a significant accomplishment in a discipline a very wide range of alternative career pathways in which accreditation has not traditionally played an important role.

In our efforts to build our profile, Loughborough Geography can now justifiably claim a quality assurance “Kitemark” from the UK’s flagship accreditor. By the same token, our graduates – our ambassadors! – can be confident that their degrees are well-regarded when they pursue further study or enter the jobs market.

Degree Attainment Gaps and New Research at Loughborough University

In this blog-post for the Centre for Academic Practice, Nuzhat Fatima, LSU Welfare and Diversity Executive Officer, discusses the Black and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap in UK higher education institutions, and introduces a new research project at Loughborough entitled ‘Experiences in the Classroom and Beyond: The Role of Race and Ethnicity’

What is the ‘degree attainment gap’?

The ‘degree attainment gap’ is often described as a national crisis within the education system. The Equality Challenge Unit describes the degree attainment gap as “the difference in ‘top degrees’ – a First or 2:1 classification – awarded to different groups of students. The largest divergence can be found between BME (Black Minority and Ethnic Students) and White British students. Leaving an education institution with lower grades has lifetime effects; this limits BME students into pursuing a potential post-graduate education where the requirements generally tend to be a 2:1 or above. Most graduate employers will require a 2:1 or above also.

The problem arises as many BME students enter university with the same grade classification as their white counterparts. However, BME students leave university with significantly lower grades in comparison to their white peers.

“In 2012/13, 57.1% of UK-domiciled BME students received a top degree when compared with 73.2% of White British students’ – an overall gap of 16.1%” (ECU).

Homogenising all minority students is unhelpful as they are a diverse group with differing outcomes. For example, Black and Caribbean students are the worst affected group at a national level. When observing the national breakdown of the BME category (2012/13), it can be seen that Black and Caribbean students are the most affected ethnic group. Students from Pakistani, Chinese and Indian backgrounds are also affected.

  • 4%of Indian students were awarded a top degree (a degree attainment gap of 8.8%)
  • 9%of Chinese students (a gap of 9.3%)
  • 2%of Pakistani students (a gap of 19.0%)
  • 8%of Black Other students (a gap of 29.4%)” (ECU).

A reliance on a meritocratic model to understand academic achievement has meant that the BME attainment gap was, and sometimes still is, framed as a problem caused by a limitation in the students themselves. This is also known as a deficit model. However, the attainment gap would not be a national problem if it were a meritocratic issue only. This raises the question of whether there are conditions within our educational institutions that negatively impact BME students both culturally and academically, and which contribute to the existence of the attainment gap.

Potential contributors

There is no sole contributor to the attainment gap. Multiple factors contribute to students being unable to reach their potential and attain a top degree. It can be due to geographical location, institutional insensitivity towards culture, a Euro-centric based curriculum, methods of assessment, and experiences of racism which go beyond the classroom and have a lasting impact on student life. Additionally, social interactions within clubs and societies can also impact on academic performance. These points are often dismissed as generalisations that potentially impact all students; however, to tackle the BME attainment gap one must consider how these factors work together in a negative way to disproportionately affect BME students.

What can be done? A way of tackling this is institution specific research, which does not homogenise institutions and lived experiences. Such research can become a catalyst for tackling the BME attainment gap on a structural and an institutional level.

What is Loughborough proposing to do?

 Loughborough prides itself on being an inclusive university and is aiming to tackle this national problem on an institutional level! Together with brilliant academics such as Dr Line Nyhagen (Reader in Sociology & School Champion Athena SWAN) and Dr James Esson (Lecturer in Human Geography), I have contributed to the proposal for a newly funded student led pedagogical research project. This research project will be carried out so that we as an institution can further our progress towards making education inclusive by raising standards and aspirations of all!

The project will examine BME and other students’ own learning experiences at Loughborough University in relation to the curriculum content and more broadly, including their take-up of individual consultations with lecturers, relationships with peers, and take-up of opportunities that can enhance their learning experience (e.g., student rep positions; student ambassador jobs).

I want to congratulate Loughborough University for putting diversity on the agenda and I am thrilled to have support from the University and the above academics who are committed to learning from the experiences of students in order to deliver the best education possible.

Information taken from the ECU: http://www.ecu.ac.uk/guidance-resources/student-recruitment-retention-attainment/student-attainment/degree-attainment-gaps/

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Nuzhat Fatima has been the Welfare and Diversity Executive Officer at Loughborough Students Union for 2016/17

A ’Blueprint’ for Peer-Based and Collaborative Learning in a Teaching Laboratory

In this post, Dr. Sweta Ladwa provides an update on her 2016 Teaching Innovation Award and explains how peer based learning can be used within a laboratory based teaching environment.

What is the problem, which you are trying address?

In a laboratory-teaching environment, students are very much focused on getting to the end product of an experiment (whether it is a compound and a form of analysis), sometimes without taking in or thinking about the steps to get to the end of the experiment. Students are normally provided with a laboratory manual, which gives detailed instructions for completing their experimental work. These instructions will include a number of ‘core’ techniques pivotal to a student’s time at university. Although the laboratory is sometimes considered to play a supporting role to the lecture in higher education, it is vital with respect to STEM subjects.

Through personal observation, when students are encouraged to discuss their knowledge to their peers in the laboratory, there is much more engagement with the material. Information is retained as knowledge is generally disseminated in their own language without necessarily using a large amount of technical jargon. This will allow students to explore the higher levels of learning objectives.

What are the objectives of the project?

  1. To develop a blueprint to incorporate peer-based learning of core laboratory techniques within modules in Chemistry.
  2. Work with students to develop and evaluate the findings from the project.
  3. Student-led focus groups to test and discuss the blueprint to gain wider student perspective.

How will the objectives of the project be met?

Students will be provided with a laboratory technique, which, in small groups of 2-3 students, they will evaluate research and disseminate the information back to their peers through instructional videos.

Project so far

The initial part of the project was to identify key techniques, which are considered to be fundamental to a students training within chemistry. Once identified, students were selected to carry out pilot studies in order to test the concepts outlined in the TIA. These students were selected from a group of Chemistry Student Helpers, some of whom have also been involved in the Peer Assisted Learning Scheme. Students were then split into small groups and techniques were assigned to them. They got together to plan how to disseminate the information in the form of a video and then started to put together the videos.

What did the students who were involved say about this project?

“It made me think about the techniques more’.

“I still remember what I have learnt weeks later”.

“It was a different way of learning which was enjoyable”.

Next Steps

The next steps for the project are to use student focus groups to gain feedback for the videos and this type of learning from a wider group of students. This will be carried out after the Easter break. A submission has been made and accepted to present at the RAISE conference, which is going to be held in Manchester in September 2017 during which the work will be presented. The findings will also be presented at the University’s Learning and Teaching Conference in May

The Sandbox Project: Using Augmented Reality to Improve Geomorphological Understanding

Continuing our series of updates on the 2016 Teaching Innovation Awards, Prof. Jo Bullard explains how a regular sandbox can be transformed into a unique teaching and learning experience.

Many students and visitors to the Geography Social learning Space over the past few weeks have stopped for a few minutes (or longer!) to interact with the Sandbox that is currently under development.  What is so special about a box of sand?  Well this one has been built using a 2016 Teaching Innovation Award aimed at using augmented reality to improve geomorphological understanding.  When the box of sand is connected to a camera and projector it becomes possible for users to create and visualize landscapes.  As the sand is sculpted, contours are projected on to the miniature landscape.  By hovering a hand over the box, users can make it ‘rain’ over the landscape and the water flow down in to rivers and valleys.

How was it developed?
The basic programming for the Sandbox is open source software developed at UCDavis and Computer Science student Yuan Tian and technician Kip Sahnsi worked last summer to get the computer code running on a special computer.  In the meantime Joanna Bullard and Richard Harland in Geography built the box which is on wheels so that it can be transferred between Geography and Computer Science and also to other events on campus.

What’s next?
There are a few sandboxes now up and running in the UK.  In December 2016 Prof. Jo Bullard from Loughborough University, Dr. Annie Ockelford (University of Brighton), Dr. Lynda Yorke (Bangor University) and Dr. Chris Skinner (University of Hull) jointly convened a session at the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting on Technology-Enhanced Teaching in Geosciences which featured a number of papers exploring how to support undergraduate student learning using augmented reality and we are hoping to include some of these ideas in our teaching in the future.

The Loughborough Sandbox is currently being ‘tweaked’ to improve the visualization and accuracy of the projection data but will be back up and running soon.

CAP Forum: Research-informed curriculum design: successes and challenges

Our most recent CAP Forum focused on research-informed curriculum design. As a recent Research-informed Teaching Award winner, Dr Line Nyhagen took us through some of her wonderful successes and some of the challenges she has faced in four specific innovative teaching practices which were designed to enhance student engagement.

  • The first is a field visit to a local mosque in order to allow her students to understand ‘lived religion’, where she emphasised that it is important that the pedagogic intention of any field visit is clear. Previously, there had been no field visits in the Social Sciences Department, and so she sought advice from the Geography department on the basics and reflected on what went well and what she could improve after the first year of running the trip. The trip was very successful; the feedback from participating students was overwhelmingly positive, alongside a post on the department newsfeed talking of its success. However, the main challenge she faced was that the attendance on the trip was quite low. The following year, Line took on board feedback on that particular issue and added organised transport and included an assessment element related to the trip that was worth 10%, which dramatically increased the attendance.
  • The second example discussed was a ‘Coursework Topic Approval Forum’ which was used instead of a list of essays from students to select from. It involved students having to use a forum on Learn to get approval and feedback for their coursework title which could be about any topic they were interested in on the module. This fostered the sharing of ideas and allowed transparent formative feedback to be given to all students. Although this had many successes, it generated quite a lot of additional work for Line, and made a small proportion of students uncomfortable. Upon reflection, this year Line has chosen to produce both a list of essay titles and allow students to choose their own titles if they wish, nonetheless they must use the new general coursework forum for any questions related to coursework so that formative feedback continues to be shared among all students. A lot of the discussion afterwards focused on this area and suggested ideas such as having the group as a whole come up with the list of questions and queried why it was online and not in person in a session which was agreed would also work.
  • Line also spoke about ‘Memory Work’ as a method to teach gender and other identities, which is a research method she has used in her own research. This encouraged students to see themselves as both the researcher and the research subject, and allowing students to feel an ownership of the material being used to teach as it was generated by themselves. This in turn increased student engagement. This topic also generated lots of questions and discussion about how the technique could be applied to teaching in other areas, for example as an aid to reflecting on group assignments.
  • The final topic discussed was her ‘In-class Policy Awareness Event’ which she used as a new technique for increasing student engagement this year. She did this by trying to find topics directly relevant to her students, and this year chose sexual harassment policy due to the recent focus of the NUS on the topic, as well as it being one of her students’ dissertation topics last year. She took the students through the University’s Zero Tolerance policy, conducted research in-class using a quick SurveyMonkey questionnaire with results immediately available in the classroom. She also asked her students to come up with campaign ideas and proposals for increasing awareness, which was an identified problem. As an unintended consequence of this session, Line was able to take these suggestions to the Athena SWAN Team in her the school, which she leads. She has also shared the class findings and policy proposals with the Director of Student Services.

If you have any questions for Line about her experiences please feel free to contact her at l.nyhagen@lboro.ac.uk or take a look at her twitter at @Line_Nyhagen. Alternatively, if you have any ideas of topics you would like to deliver on or hear about for future CAP Forums, please let us know by emailing Dr Glynis Perkin at G.Perkin@lboro.ac.uk or take a look at our Twitter at @LboroCAP.

 

Further Information:

The department’s newsfeed about the mosque visit:

http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/socialsciences/news-events/2017/leicester-central-mosque-march-2017.html

A blog post related to Dr Line Nyhagen’s research:

http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/socialsciences/news-events/2017/leicester-central-mosque-march-2017.html

Dr Line Nyhagen’s staff webpage:

http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/socialsciences/staff/line-nyhagen/

Authentic, inclusive assessment – takeaways from a workshop

Yesterday the School of Business and Economics was privileged to host Prof. Pauline Kneale, PVC for Teaching & Learning at Plymouth University (PU), as speaker at a seminar and workshop on authentic, inclusive assessment. PU has, in recent years, completely overhauled its institutional assessment policy, and PU’s teaching and learning support team has produced some excellent resources to help staff and students manage assessment better. We wanted to hear from Pauline what the main changes were that Plymouth had made, and what we could learn from their experience about enhancing our own assessment at Loughborough.

At the risk of oversimplifying the very rich discussion we had, I will summarise Pauline’s main points under seven key themes below:

  1. What is the best kind of assessment for learning – as opposed to the best assessment of learning? As soon as we frame assessment in this way, we have to ask ourselves why we are doing many things that we take for granted as part of ‘normal’ teaching and assessment.
  2. Assessment for learning requires us to think about inclusivity and fairness. PU found they had an average of 8-10% of students per cohort with special needs, for example requiring additional invigilators and infrastructure for exams. They decided to stop producing modified exams, and instead to create a single assessment that would be applicable to everybody. This had the dual effect of making the standards more consistent for all students and making the assessment tasks more interesting, flexible and varied. One way they achieved this was to give students choices regarding the type of assessment (e.g. an exam or a portfolio); another solution was to allow flexible time frames for exams (e.g. a 24-hour, open-book, non-invigilated exam).
  3. Thinking about assessment for learning also leads to authentic assessment tasks – i.e. tasks that would be done in the real world. Pauline gave examples of assessments for undergraduates involving them analysing real data sets (e.g. the data set from the lecturer’s own PhD thesis – even if this was done 30 years ago!) and coming up with new interpretations. Other examples involved accessing relevant data sets from employers on real problems they were trying to solve.
  4. The advantage of authentic assessment tasks is that they tend to be more challenging and interesting for students than tasks contrived by lecturers for assessment purposes, and they also serve the purpose of increasing work-readiness. As an added bonus, they are more interesting for lecturers to mark!
  5. Authentic, inclusive tasks often require students to carry out group work. This is both a good reflection of the world of employment, and also an efficient way of managing assessment in large cohorts. The most common mistake made in designing group work tasks is to set a task that is not challenging enough – the task needs to be so big that it cannot possibly be done by one person, and complex enough that every group could potentially approach it from a different angle. This keeps all individuals engaged, and also makes the sharing/presenting of group work much more interesting to the other groups because they are all interested to see how others tackled the task.
  6. Policy and rules (both at institutional and departmental/School level) need to be in place to support the development of assessment for learning. Needless to say, if any rules (or perceived rules) exist that run counter to the spirit of assessment for learning (for example, students not being allowed to see their exam scripts after marking), these need to be changed.
  7. Effective assessment requires planning and organisation. Time needs to be allocated to marking and giving feedback, and postgraduate students trained/supported to help with marking on larger cohorts (over 50). If a module is being ‘over-assessed’, time needs to be allocated for the module leader and other colleagues who teach on the programme to review the module and brainstorm solutions. A common problem is that module outlines contain too many ‘knowledge’ Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs), so that students are forced into regurgitating content in exams, rather than developing skills (teamwork, report-writing, critical thinking, etc.) by working on meaty tasks.

The workshop provided plenty of food for thought. The simple act of asking ourselves how we can assess for learning can have a powerful effect on the way we design courses and programmes.