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

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/

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/

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.

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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

Teaching Innovation Award Update: Evaluation of Project Outputs through Workshop

In the latest of the Teaching Innovation Award updates Dr Ella-Mae Hubbard and Professor Carys Siemieniuch reflect on how their project has flourished thanks to student engagement.

The project aimed to address the issue of a shortcoming in student project work by enabling students to engage with procedures in validation and verification through some new workshops.

The team is currently evaluating some of the outputs generated by the Teaching Innovation Award they secured.  The evaluation focuses on a specific new workshop that has been set up; they have completed a “baseline” to help them understand opinions prior to the workshop.  Students who have experienced previous versions of the module will also be consulted; questionnaires will take place following the lecture and workshop; and relevant module feedback will be reviewed.

The Teaching Innovation Award certainly mellaarked a new journey for the team; their project has actually led to the development of a whole new series of workshops.

The team used some principles of ‘lecture flipping’ to help design the workshops and found that moving beyond conventional, simple lectures can be really beneficial and worth the preparation required.

Dr Ella-Mae Hubbard said:  ‘We’ve certainly come a long way since we started, and I think it’s fair to say that our end point isn’t what we expected (and hopefully not actually the end point!). That’s one of the reasons we do these projects in the first place; if we knew the answers before we started, where would be the fun in investigation?’

The team look forward to following up more avenues identified by the project.

 

Developing Outreach and Employability through Innovative Teaching

A group of student historians from Loughborough are heading out into schools across the UK this winter on a mission to research teaching.

The staff-student collaboration project, Developing Outreach and Employability through Innovative Teaching, led by Dr.Catherine Armstrong and final-year student Lauren Porter involves students observing how history is taught in schools. Both primary and secondary teaching is under the spotlight as the students explore picwhat a teaching career in history means in reality.

To get the project going, the team created an observation logbook which allows participants to log all the observations they make. The next step involved recruiting innovative History students to take part in this new project. Various lecture shout-outs took place; a blog and social media sites were set up to contact participants. The team received plenty of interest and were delighted to welcome fifteen students to the group.

The team reported that their first project meeting was successful; it started with an ice-breaker activity and then moved onto exploring questions, such as: ‘What makes a good teacher?’ and ‘What is positive teaching practice?’ The questions aimed to stimulate independent thought and allow the participants to think about the nature of the project in more depth.

The second meeting included a presentation by CAP’s own Deena Ingham who presented various clips that tested and enhanced participants’ observation skills. Students viewed film of different teaching styles and explored what makes for good learning and crucially what stopped the learning process.  They compiled a comprehensive list of questions to ask when observing and interviewing the teachers they observe. In this way their insight into what it means to teach history will become a valuable resource for future students.

The team are excited about seeing the project develop further over the next few months, but it is already proving beneficial for several of the final-years students involved.  Lauren Porter said:  ‘The project has provided me with the confidence boost needed to teach. To recruit undergraduate participants for this project, I stood in front of lectures and spoke to students about this exciting new project. This process seemed daunting at first; however, it filled me with confidence going into my teacher training interviews and it has allowed me to be successful and gain a place starting next Autumn.’

Video Podcasts to Support Student Placement Searching

Six final year students from the School of Business and Economics (SBE) have shared their experiences of placements to help those now hunting for a place for next year.

The students worked for a range of different companies, from KPMG to Nottingham Panthers. Their experiences had been very different with one exception – all said there was irreplaceable value in their placement. They saw benefit to them as individuals and to their studies.

video

Filming took place in the English and Drama lecture theatre.

 

The students all volunteered as part of a Teaching Innovation Award project led by Dr. Amanda Berry from the SBE.  They had a list of interview questions in advance so that they could prepare their answers; each list tailored to each student. This allowed them to really think through what they wanted to say to share the best insight into their journeys.

Sound advice for placement-seeking students is rich – from how organized you need to be to secure a placement; interview preparations; and also the amount of time demanded for making applications and researching companies.

The raw video files are now being edited and answers collated for each specific question.  A compilation of voices of experience will create a final film which will be available for use by the Careers Education Centre (CEC) and school placement teams.

The final films will be made available on Learn and on the CEC webpages.

 

Degrees of value depend on student engagement

In a recent post Chris Millward, Director for Policy at the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), summarised the findings and recommendations of a Which? report into Higher Education, placing it within the context of the HEFCEs own work. Millward begins with a note of caution, contrasting the reports “relatively small” sample size (the undergraduate survey, conducted by YouthSight, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 1023 first and second year undergraduates online) to the National Student Survey (NSS), which last year received 320,000 responses of which 86% reported they were satisfied or strongly satisfied with their course. Even this figure, Millward concedes, still “leaves a significant minority who weren’t satisfied” and that while “there is good work going on…there is room for improvement”. Continue reading