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:


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


Dr Line Nyhagen’s staff webpage:


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.

Developing and Promoting Learning and Employability Through Blogging

Marco Bohr and Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, recipients of a 2016 Teaching Innovation Award (TIA), explain what they hope to achieve with their project.

What did you want to achieve?

What potential roles can blogging have in Higher Education? How can it enhance learning and the broader student experience? What legal and reputational issues need bearing in mind? How can blogging enhance research dissemination? The aim of this project is to consider such questions and thereby explore the potential for blogging in and beyond the university.

The project aims to consider five key areas:

  1. blogs in relation to student learning, academic teaching and assessment;
  2. legal, ethical, copyright and intellectual property issues in relation to such blogs;
  3. student blogs for self-promotion;
  4. the impact of blogs on student employability;
  5. how academics can use blogs for research dissemination and/or public engagement.

How will you gather this information?

The project involves gathering information on current examples of the use of blogs to enhance student employability across HE. Later in the process, we will organise focus groups with Loughborough students to reflect on when best to introduce blogs in teaching. The project will also involve expanding the content of Socratic Hive, a blog related to two Loughborough modules on ‘politics and religion’ and ‘state, violence and terrorism’. By the end of the project (spring-summer 2018), we aim to disseminate lessons learnt through a one-day event and a research paper.

Remotely Accessed Laboratory Suite (RALS) using the Internet of Things

In this series of posts, we’re looking at how the projects from the 2016 Teaching Innovation Award are developing. In this post, Dr David Kerr and Dr Anthony Sutton, Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, reflect on their project progress and plans for the future.

To create a suite of equipment and an integrated software framework that enables the quick and easy design and implementation of remotely accessed laboratories based on Internet of Things technology. The suite will be designed to provide a flexible and scalable development platform for laboratory-based course material.


  • Develop a suit of hardware devices with sufficient flexibility to work with a range of typical sensors and actuators used in science and engineering labs
  • Integrate these with a mobile and scalable software library that will operate on a range of platforms currently used within the science and engineering field (e.g. Matlab, LabVIEW)
  • Provide a suitable web dashboard for students to interact with the system and carry out their experiments
  • Involve stakeholders (technical and academic staff and students) within the Wolfson School and if required, the School of Science, in order to capture a wide range of technical and pedagogic essential and desirable criteria for the system design

Progress so far
Hardware concept – we are concentrating on a modular design concept, to allow a high degree of flexibility and to increase ease of use. Modules will cater for a range of peripheral devices such as actuators, motors, switches, sensors and cameras for real-time vision. The diagram below shows the main hardware layout.

Remotely Accessed Labs

The core of the system is the Raspberry Pi model 3, which acts as a webserver host and controller for the lab. Peripherals are addressed via an I2C serial bus, where Arduino/Genuino architecture is used to interface sensors, motors, actuators and relay switches. The Raspberry Pi also hosts the camera module. The Pi/Arduino architecture was a deliberate choice in view of its wide availability, low cost and ease of maintenance. Furthermore, the necessary software is either part of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) or has a Creative Commons license, and the hardware details are in the public domain.

Software and GUI
We are developing the web dashboard and server software in Python, using the Flask web development environment. All the software is FSF or public domain and there is an excellent developmental community, with an expected long future ahead of it. During the summer of 2016 we dedicated the initial design task to a bursary student for EESE, who constructed a successful prototype and interfaced this to our modular hardware. We decided this approach was preferable to tying in to an existing IoT provider such as ThingSpeak, where GUI development is limited and reliance on a third party could become complex and costly.

We want eventually to build in access to existing local coursework setting and marking systems such a Learn and CASPA. Thus students using the on-line lab could submit their work on line and receive feedback and marks automatically within a realistic time frame.

Pilot lab for demonstration
We are continuing with the development of an exemplar on-line lab for Part B Mechanical Engineering students. This is in progress as a Part C undergraduate project in the Wolfson School. The lab is currently used in conventional form in our first year Fluid Mechanics module MMA800. The demonstrator should be available in a working form by the start of the summer term 2017. Given sufficient time, we plan to try out the remote version of this lab with student volunteers who have already experienced the conventional exercise, and obtain their feedback.

This exercise has proved invaluable in helping to scope out concepts for commonly used interface modules. We intend these to be easy to use by those not familiar with the background hardware and make them in effect “plug-and-play” as far as possible.

User engagement
We intend actively to seek engagement with staff and other potential stakeholders such as Lab Technicians as well as students. A second Part C project is therefore underway to study and collate best practice from a review of existing remote laboratories used in the international FE and HE sectors. We plan to use a small scale survey of academic staff within the Wolfson School to ascertain possible take-up of this technology in the future. The results of the survey will form part of our final deliverables, and inform the final design concepts of our modular system.

To make the system more flexible, we will be looking at ways of building in access to the hardware via more popular engineering software suits such as Matlab and LabVIEW. Matlab is particularly attractive in that it provides excellent data analysis tools with built-in access to the Raspberry Pi and Arduino hardware platforms we are using in the project.

CAP Forum: Embedding Research in Teaching

This year’s first CAP Forum focused on the topic of embedding your research in your teaching. As a result, we invited one of this year’s Research-informed Teaching Award winners to present on how and why she embeds her research into her teaching, and what her research is about. In 2002, Dr Cheryl Travers set up a module to fill what she perceived as a gap in Learning and Teaching from her experience of being an academic occupational psychologist. This gap was the extent to which the SBE finalists have developed their ‘soft’ skills in their final year after their placement.

Her research is about her ‘Reflective goal setting model’ and the module puts this into practice- asking students to reflect on themselves, set goals, use the ‘power of written reflection’ to measure the impact of those goals. She asks the students to write a diary which for the first time this year will take the form of an electronic portfolio thanks to her new innovative system for students to log their thoughts.

The discussion that followed focused mostly on her actual pedagogic research, and how other disciplines can apply her reflective goal setting model, from Arts students to STEM students, and even students wishing to learn a language while at University.

Overall, it was an enjoyable afternoon with lively discussion, an abundance of food, and a wonderful talk by Dr Cheryl Travers. The session was lecture captured, which you can find here, and you can also find Cheryl’s papers on her research around goal setting, as well as her recent TEDx talk that she delivered at Loughborough Students’ Union below.

Dr Travers’ papers – 

Self reflection, growth goals and academic outcomes: A qualitative study

Unveiling a reflective diary methodology for exploring the lived experiences of stress and coping

Gamification for Learning in Electrotechnology

Dr Thomas Steffen, a recipient of a 2016 Teaching Innovation Award (TIA), explains how he has applied gamification to learning electrotechnology.

What did you want to achieve?

This project set out with a rather simple idea: to use an interactive simulation tool to teach students the basics of electric circuits in TTB211 Electrotechnology. We all know that electricity cannot be seen and should not be felt, so how do you learn about it? The project quickly gained momentum and additional facets, and now it includes four novel aspects:

    1. a browser based circuit simulation tool (everycircuit)
    2. gamification: a mobile game based on the same tool (circuit jam)
    3. an open source textbook
    4. a set of tutorial questions developed in Germany by Prof Kautz

So how do these work together?

A circuit simulation in Learn

A circuit simulation in Learn

The browser based simulation Everycircuit is great to use in the lecture, and I have done that before. But this time I want to go further, and so I have embedded simulations into a number of summary pages on Learn. Students will also have the ability to modify existing simulations or to create new ones. In my opinion, this really makes a difference, because it turns “magic” invisible electricity into something that students can play with and experience. Have a go with a Parallel resistors simulation.

The gamification aspect relies on a mobile game available in the Google Play Store, which includes a number of puzzles based on the same circuit simulator. So students get a familiar user interface, a portable way of learning, and the motivation of having clear goals and tracked progress. If you have an Android device, you can try a demo at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.circuitjam . (Providing for students without a personal Android device is one of the challenges here, and there are a number of alternatives available.)

The open source textbook is an existing project at http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/textbook. In many ways, it is rather conventional, but it does offer two key advantages: for the students, it is more accessible and flexible than a library, and for the lecturer it offers the advantage that it can be edited and redistributed. I do not expect to put much effort into the second part this time, but going forward that is a significant opportunity.

Finally, I discovered a set of tutorial questions and exercises developed in Germany for a project in subject didactics in electrical engineering. The theoretical basis is a definition of two threshold concepts: electrical potential, and circuits as models [Brose, A., & Kautz, C. (2010). Research on student understanding as a guide for the development of instructional materials in introductory engineering courses. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium for Engineering Education. Ireland: University College Cork]. The exercises are specifically designed and verified to reinforce these threshold concepts and to avoid common misconceptions found in student responses.

Has this affected your teaching?

Close to the beginning of the semester, I find myself well equipped and prepared to deliver this module, not just from an academic perspective, but also from a pedagogical point of view. Using these resources allows me to free up lecturing time to make the lectures more interactive, it helps to provide ample of simulations, exercises, homework and tutorial questions for reinforcement, and it includes the novel element of gamification to keep students engaged.

How has it been received by students?

The interactive simulation has already been tried in a smaller postgraduate module, and was received very well by the students. The gamification part and the tutorials not been used so far, but a thorough evaluation is planned. An update will be provided once the results are in.

See also:
Further information about the Teaching Innovation Award: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cap/procedures-schemes/teaching-awards/teaching-innovation-awards/

Bridging the Feedback Gap

It is a common occurrence to hear staff express concerns about how feedback is used, but it’s often unclear what the expectations around feedback are for both students and staff.

Simon Martin, Department of Materials (AACME), recently a conducted a survey that was aimed at establishing just how much student and staff attitudes to feedback differ, and how these gaps might be bridged. With the help from the Materials’ Programme President, Alex Marrs, a short on-line survey was sent out to students within the Department. Materials staff were invited to take part in an identical survey.
Concerns and issues experienced by staff and students surrounding assessment feedback indicated many similarities and a few differences giving potential clues to ways forward to improve the effectiveness of feedback.

The results of the survey were shared with School staff at a recent lunchtime Learning and Teaching workshop aimed at finding ways to make feedback more relevant, effective and meaningful for students whilst also making it manageable and sustainable for academics to deliver.

AACME’s regular L&T workshops focus on considering, challenging and developing practice.

If you wish to know more about the survey results, methodology and indicated outcomes Simon Martin is happy to be contacted directly (s.j.martin@lboro.ac.uk) for further information.

Feedback practice was also the focus of a staff/student Teaching Innovation Award last year in SSEHS. The final report of Harry Lane, Emma Giles, Dr Emma Haycraft and Dr Hilary McDermott’s project ‘Developing a common language: Enhancing communication and feedback’ is available on the 2015 awards section of the CAP website (http://www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cap/procedures-schemes/teaching-awards/teaching-innovation-awards/)

First Call for TIA Funding!

This is the first call for submissions for Loughborough University applicants seeking funding under the 2017 Teaching Innovation Awards.

These high profile awards support individuals or teams of staff or students and staff to develop and share innovative teaching ideas both internally and externally. These awards are a key part of Loughborough University’s commitment to developing teaching and learning, and attract significant attention.

Previous winners have been invited to speak at conferences, to deliver workshops, and to publish their developed ideas. We hope our 2017 winners will seize the available opportunities to disseminate their excellence in teaching innovation to support developments across our two campuses but also across the higher education sector.


Staff and/or students with ideas to innovate current learning and teaching practice at Loughborough drawing on research, literature, pilot studies or a variety of approaches are encouraged to apply for funding.

This year an increased sum of £30,000 has been ring fenced for these key awards, and applications are being sought from students and staff on both our campuses.

Guidance documents and application forms can be found on the Centre for Academic Practice website as CAP administers the awards for the University http://www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cap/procedures-schemes/teaching-awards/teaching-innovation-awards/

The closing date for applications is 28 February. The decision panel, with membership from across the university including Loughborough Students’ Union, will meet in late March. Award winners will be notified in April and their success announced publicly at the 2017 Loughborough University Learning and Teaching Conference in June 2017.

If you have an idea which you would like to discuss prior to submitting an application please contact Deena Ingham in CAP d.ingham@lboro.ac.uk