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

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.

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.

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.

Aims
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.

Objectives

  • 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.

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.
Bridge
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/)