Experiences in the Classroom and Beyond: The Role of Race and Ethnicity

Chetanraj Dhillon, Jennifer Kavanda Ebende, James Esson, Line Nyhagen and Alex Sherred

During the 2017/2018 academic year, staff and students in the School of Social Sciences conducted a research project on how someone’s race and ethnicity can influence their student experience here at Loughborough University (LU)[i]. The rationale for the project was data indicating that a degree attainment gap based on race and ethnicity exists here at LU. The degree attainment gap is “the difference in ‘top degrees’ – a First or 2:1 classification – awarded to different groups of students[ii]. In a previous blog post[iii], Nuzhat Fatima (former Loughborough Student Union Welfare and Diversity Executive Officer) provided an overview of the potential contributors to and implications of this situation for students.

Our study aimed to better understand the local factors at LU that may underpin the degree attainment gap between students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. To achieve this aim, we examined experiences both within and outside the classroom, taking into account the specific characteristics of the University, including the racial, ethnic and gendered composition of its undergraduate student body, the campus environment, and the market town that surrounds it. Crucially, we sought to include perspectives and experiences from students of white and black and other minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. This inclusive approach allowed us to identify perspectives and experiences that may be unique to the BAME student population at LU as well as those that may be shared by white and BAME students.

A key principle within the project was that students themselves are uniquely positioned to conduct research on the experiences of students. Therefore, a mixed team of BAME and white student researchers were part of the research team and helped carry out the data collection. Below, the student researchers provide some reflections on their experiences as part of the project.

Chetanraj Dhillon, Geography and Environment

Why this project?

There were three key reasons why I wanted to be part of this project. First, by the time I reached the end of my second year studying geography with economics, I had developed a strong interest in pursuing a career in academia. But while my grades indicated that I had pretty good analytical skills, I felt I lacked practical insights about what it is like to conduct research. Without these insights it was hard to determine whether academia was something I should pursue as a post-graduate. This project provided a way for me to get this first-hand experience conducting research. Second, and perhaps more importantly, this project gave me the opportunity to expand upon my knowledge of issues about ethnic and racial inequality within higher education, and contribute towards an endeavour which had the potential to significantly improve the wellbeing of current and future students at Loughborough University.

What was it like?

In a word, rewarding. This is not to say that the project did not have its challenges because it did – particularly recruiting participants for the focus groups. But being part of a highly supportive team of researchers where we shared ideas and best practice helped me overcome this issue. The project also enabled me to critically reflect on my experiences past and current where I was the recipient of hostility or awkwardness, which I could never establish with certainty were the result of pure chance or because of my ethnicity and appearance. Discovering that I was not the only one at Loughborough University to have had such experiences, nor such burning questions, provided me with a sense of comfort. On the one hand, I realised I was right not to assume that all these experiences were because of overt racism. On the other hand, my experiences and insights from speaking to participants and the other researchers did point to a concern that ethnic and/or racial prejudice, whether intentional or unintentional, has become commonplace on campus.

What have you taken away?

More than I have the space to elaborate on here. In particular, and beyond the development of valuable research experience that provided some useful transferable skills, I have come to better appreciate the wide range of experiences that individuals have while at university, and how these experiences can be impacted – for better or worse – by one’s race and/or ethnicity. Ultimately, I completed the project with a sense of satisfaction, reassured of the value of the work we did, and the necessity of further research on the topic of race and ethnicity, as well as other diversity factors such as gender and sexuality that shape someone’s journey through higher education.

Alex Sherred, Geography and Environment

Why this project?

Throughout my time at Loughborough studying Geography, I had a keen interest in human geography modules particularly related to issues surrounding ethnicity and racial differences. However, due to my desire to fulfil a career as a Meteorologist, most of my modules including my dissertation needed to revolve around physical geography where issues of social difference are not covered. This research project caught my attention because it enabled me to delve into issues on race and ethnicity outside of my taught modules, but in a context where I would still be guided by academic staff who could help me further my knowledge. Also, the research conducted could in turn could help Loughborough University understand student perspectives regarding the BME attainment gap within the higher education system, and potentially address issues students are having on account of their ethnicity or race.

What was it like?

Challenging and thought-provoking. All the student researchers found it challenging to recruit participants, but an additional area that I found difficult was being diplomatic when analysing and discussing the results. As a white person, I sometimes found it hard to understand the cause of the negative encounters my BAME peers/participants encountered. This was mainly the case where overt racism hadn’t taken place, but perhaps the participant encountered what they perceived to be a ‘micro-aggression’. The difficulty of making sense of these encounters is something that I discussed in project meetings with the project team, especially Chetanraj. But overall, being part of a project that aimed to gain perspectives into student experiences at Loughborough University from different ethnicities and racial perspectives enabled me to reflect upon my own ethnicity and race in relation to those of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

What have you taken away?

A major outcome I found was that on one hand not one student experience is the same as another student’s experience regardless of ethnic or racial differences, but on the other, someone’s ethnic and racial identity has a significant impact on their overall experiences at University. On a more personal level, I have become more conscious of my own ethnic and racial identity as a white person, because before working on this project I didn’t really think about whiteness as an ethnic or racial category.  I am also more understanding and aware of the challenges and issues that people of ethnic and racial minority backgrounds face in higher education and in wider society.

Jennifer Kavanda Ebende, Politics and International Studies

Why this project?

Daunting. This was the initial feeling I had when my eyes landed upon the word researcher in the project proposal and job advert. Before encountering this project, I had always associated the word ‘research’ with post-graduates and academics. The idea of an undergraduate student being a researcher on a funded project was unheard of to me, so the chance to take up what seemed like a unique opportunity was appealing.  But what really drew me into the project, was the fact that I could see myself in it. The project focused on the degree attainment gap in the Social Sciences, Geography, Politics, History & IR departments here at Loughborough University, with a special focus on Black and Ethnic minority students – a category I fall in to. It was touching to see a prestigious University being so proactive in bringing about a change, so much so that I wanted to be a part of that change.

What was it like?

Being a student researcher was challenging, but it was the challenge that made the experience worthwhile. I found I had to exercise an immense amount of patience when searching for students willing to take part in the focus groups. My favourite part of the project was listening to Black students share their experiences of everyday life at Loughborough University, and while I had to maintain my position as focus group moderator, I could often relate to the many positives and the few negatives the participants shared within the discussion. One participant recounted an incident when a fellow student made derogatory comments about the food they were cooking. The criticism was because the food was from a different culture. This reminded me of a similar situation I had encountered in my first year, but because of becoming desensitized to these types of encounters I had never given it much thought. But participants expressed that students encounter such micro-aggressions regularly and while this leads to becoming desensitised to them, it adds to a feeling of being out of place at Loughborough University.

What have you taken away?

In retrospect the project has developed me in many ways. My analytical skills were pushed to the limit when analysing the data and contributing to writing the final project report. I also learnt how to conduct a focus group, which involved developing a range of transferable skills, such as communication, time management and leadership. I also learnt the importance of being a good listener. It surprised me to hear that the white students did not regard themselves as belonging to a race per se. This was interesting to me because it almost suggested that anything outside of white needed to be classified, alluding to ideas of it not being ‘normal’. I did feel a sympathy for all the participants that were interviewed. I felt a sympathy for the White participants who unknowingly enjoy the fruits of having a raceless identity through no fault of their own. I also felt a sympathy for the Black and Ethnic Minority participants, who are frequently met by the ramifications of having a race. After being a part of the project, I am more understanding that it is nobody’s fault as to why things are as they are. Centuries worth of ill practices perhaps could take just as long to unlearn, and many projects such as this one to dismantle.


[i] Contact persons for more information: Dr Line Nyhagen (L.Nyhagen@lboro.ac.uk) and Dr James Esson (J.Esson@lboro.ac.uk)

[ii] The Equality Challenge Unit – https://www.ecu.ac.uk/guidance-resources/student-recruitment-retention-attainment/student-attainment/degree-attainment-gaps/

[iii] http://blog.lboro.ac.uk/teaching-learning/2017/06/15/degree-attainment-gaps/

8 approaches to Inclusive Learning and Teaching

A uniquely collaborative approach to addressing the issues of inclusive learning and teaching (with contributions from 39 people over 30 institutions) has identified 8 approaches to inclusive learning and teaching:

  1. Know your student cohort
  2. Embed inclusivity within institutional processes (including estates)
  3. Co-create curricula with inclusive design
  4. Rearrange lecturing approaches to adopt a range of strategies
  5. Teach academic writing so that students can learn
  6. Create learning assessments that truly assess learning
  7. Adapt for retention
  8. Foster a good work placement ethos

The Inclusivity Gap examines the gap between assumptions of background preparedness for learning that students possess, and those they actually do and presents examples of good practice already happening in higher education providers around the country. 

A range of chapters address a range of questions:

from chapters about disability, students from non-traditional backgrounds and students who are ‘slow learners’ to chapters addressing the ‘elephants in the room’ (issues relating to recruitment, inclusion and difficulties nobody appears to want to discuss);

from chapters about retention to those concerning physical learning spaces;

from chapters written by renowned academics to those offering the student voice (with one chapter where a student argues with passion on behalf of black and minority ethnic students and one where a student bravely describes her experience of mental health issues)

–  this book is a comprehensive contribution to a host of issues surrounding the inclusivity debate with the aim of beginning to close what the editor has termed ‘the inclusivity gap’.

Dr Pauline Hanesworth (senior adviser with Advance HE), commenting on the book’s “broad approach” described it as “an important contribution to the growing work on inclusivity in higher education … [it] will become a must read for all working to develop an inclusive approach to learning and teaching”.  Whilst Dr John Cater (VC of Edge Hill University) said that it “is an outstanding and timely collection of essays, neatly organised and structured to support all of those involved in the student journey, from recruitment through to graduation” and Prof Colin Bryson (RAISE) described it as “a timely and valuable book about a really important issue in higher education”.

The Inclusivity Gap published as an e-book by Inspired by Learning [ www.inspiredbylearning.eu ]  ISBN: 978-1-909876-10-1 

Developing consistent marking and feedback in Learn

Background

More and more Schools within Loughborough University are looking at ways in which they can develop consistency within marking and feedback. Additionally, they are moving towards online submission to support this. As a result, colleagues are looking at ways that they can use rubrics or grid marking schemes to feedback electronically in an efficient and timely manner.

Philip Dawson, (2017) reported that:

“Rubrics can support development of consistency in marking and feedback; speed up giving feedback to save time for feed-forward to students; and can additionally be used pre-assessment with students to enable a framework for self-assessment prior to submission.”  (p. 347-360.)

There are several types of rubrics and marking guides available within Learn and these take on different forms within different activities. Each has different requirements and results. This can make the process of transitioning to online marking a daunting process and, as we found recently, requires a carefully thought out approach.

Loughborough Design School recently made the move to online submission and online marking using the Learn Assignment Activity. Following this decision, we ran several workshops to assist staff with making the transition and specifically a rubric workshop. This blog post explores, explains and offers some options to the issues we encountered in the School and that we are facing more widely across the University.

What is the challenge?

Staff are already using hard-copy versions of feedback sheets that replicate the aims of having a rubric (i.e. consistency of marking and feedback), but many of these existing rubrics do not neatly transition into the Learn Assignment Activity and require a blend of features.

For example, a common feature of rubrics is that as well as providing a set of levels for criteria they often have a space provided to put in a specific mark e.g. 9 out of ten for a specific piece of criteria. This level of granularity can be the difference between a 1st class honours degree and a 2:1 class degree and, crucially, it allows students the opportunity to see where they can gain marks. Rubrics in the Learn Assignment Activity do not allow for this type of granularity – you can assign a range to a level e.g. 60-70% but not a specific mark within this range.

What’s the difference between the Learn Assignment Activity and Turnitin Feedback Studio rubrics?

What’s the difference between a rubric and a marking guide?

A rubric aligns marking criteria with fixed levels of attainment. For instance, a rubric may feature several criteria with attainment levels stretching from Fail, Poor, Average, good and excellent and within these levels a description will inform the student (and tutor) of where they have been awarded and lost marks:

A marking guide is more flexible and simplistic in what it offers. You still have criteria, but instead of levels, the tutor is expected to give a qualitative summary of how they feel the student performed and a mark for the criteria:

 

For both the rubric and marking guide, the criteria can be weighted to reflect the components importance in the overall mark.

Moving forward

The Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development plan to offer a new Rubric workshop in Semester 2 of the 1819 academic year. The aim of this workshop will be to provide clear guidance on the benefits, use and technical considerations behind rubrics and marking guides. Existing workshops can be found on the following page: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cap/courses-workshops/

We’ll continue to work with Schools and support academics on a one-to-one basis where requested. We recognise that every case is different and recommend getting in touch with the Technology Enhanced Learning Officer and Academic Practice Developer within your School for further support.

Discussions will also continue with Turnitin.co.uk and the Moodle (the system behind Learn) community so we can stay ahead of changes and new rubric features as they arrive.

References

[Phillip Dawson (2017) Assessment rubrics: towards clearer and more replicable design, research and practice, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42:3, p.347-360.]

 

 

Student engagement: Facilitating critical and criteria-based feedback in large cohorts to improve writing skills

In another of our regular Teaching Innovation Award project blogs, Amanda Harrington explores a key area of student learning engagement.

Background

I am an Occupational Psychologist working in the School of Business and Economics.  Like many of you reading this, I want to find ways of engaging and motivating students in large cohorts.  In 2013, with a previous TIA, I started setting up student study groups, encouraging them to meet between lectures.  Based on positive feedback about the value of these groups, I have continued using this approach with large cohorts.

The TIA money will be used to pay student researchers to run focus groups and to help analyse those data.

Aims

  • To develop an approach to formative feedback that is time-efficient for the lecturer, and is practical within large cohorts
  • To help students with the skills required for essay-based exam papers, and in so doing ensure that their writing abilities impress potential employers both during their placements and at work. (I haven’t begun to think about how to follow up results on a longer-term basis yet!)

Objectives:

  • To develop students’ skills in critical, criteria-based self- and peer-feedback to improve essay-writing in large group teaching.
  • To establish processes of writing practice and feedback, for use within and between lectures not only to improve essay-writing skills but also knowledge of the module’s content.
  • To facilitate such positive experiences of voluntary self-directed study groups in their first semester, that students continue using this approach throughout their degree.

Context:

The project focuses on a first-year module in Organisational Behaviour, in the School of Business and Economics, attended by 300 students.  It is assessed with a 2-hour exam, where students choose two out of a choice of four essay-based questions.

The intention is for students to write essay plans and practice essays throughout the semester, to give each other feedback about their writing and to identify how to improve their own essay writing.

Progress so far:

Week One:  In the lecture, it took 5-10 minutes to have the 300 students form ‘Self-Directed Learning Groups’ of 4-6 students.  These groups sit together in the same seats every week.  All group work is done in these groups.

Students were introduced to a structure for giving feedback and advised, for the first week, to concentrate on giving each other positive feedback only.

‘Homework’ included each student to write an essay introduction and then to discuss this introduction in their Self-Directed Learning Groups.

Week Two:

We discussed what an introduction needs to cover.  I showed one possible introduction, stressing that there are many ways to write an introduction.

‘Homework’ included students writing an explanation for two theories from week 2, to share these explanations within their Self-Directed Learning Groups and to give each other feedback on these.

Week Three:

A slight disappointment, as I had hoped to receive some examples of student writing.  However, on moving around the lecture theatre and in email exchanges with some students, it is clear that a lot of groups have at least produced some written work, and discussed their writing in groups.

In the lecture, in 10 minutes, Self-Directed Learning Groups produced a one-page essay plan for one of two exam questions, about last week’s topic.  Groups were invited to volunteer their essay plans so I could give them feedback.  I gathered about 10 and worked through ALL of them, identifying at least one positive point from each plan.

 

Next week, one of my students from a previous year has agreed to present his experience of working in a Self-Directed Learning Group and how this impacted on his writing.

 

If you have read this far and want to discuss any of these ideas, do email me :

Amanda Harrington

STEMLab Virtual Reality- taking STEM teaching to the next level

The team

Our team consists of various experts across STEMLab subjects project managed and supported by the School of Science Enhanced Learning Team. In the team we have Firat Batmaz (Computer Science), Sandie Dann (Chemistry), Helen Willcock (Materials), Mike Walsh (Physics), Sarah Turner (Biology), Lee Barnett (CAP), Samantha Chester and Aaran Grimley (Science Enhanced Learning).

Background

This project builds upon a previous Teaching Innovation Award which was used to test the concept of virtual reality (VR) in STEM Teaching. After very positive feedback from the virtual reality application created using a Chemistry experiment we now aim to test out different disciplines in the environment and establish some sort of template for future virtual reality use in STEMLab teaching. We also hope to push the VR to the next stage by testing out the differences in individual use and group use, for example using the Igloo on campus too.

Aims

* To expand on a Loughborough specific virtual reality application designed for STEMLab, to allow students to feel familiar in the labs

* Increase the use of learning technology in lab teaching, within pre and post activities

* Increase students understanding of health and safety protocol in labs

* Increase deep learning for students within the lab

Objectives

* Virtual reality application with 1 Chemistry, 1 Materials, 1 Physics and 1 Biology experiment with a health and safety focus within these experiments

* Virtual reality application to be transferable to the Igloo

* Test the difference between student experience of VR on the individual mobile device and the group experience in the Igloo

Progress so far

So far, we have met as a group and began to gather ideas on what each discipline could imagine working well in virtual reality and what could benefit their students the most. We are also beginning to gather extra feedback from students, for example, Mike Walsh (Physics) has shown the current application to his students in a lecture and asked for ideas on what they would like to see. To explore the various avenues with VR Helen Willcock is investigating the use of industry contacts in the Materials activity. Another group meeting is scheduled with the purpose being to determine what each discipline’s VR activity will be about and then Science Enhanced Learning will work with the academics to draw up story boards to work from. We are also in the process of finding a STEMLab Intern too to help develop the application! All systems go, go, go!

Author: Samantha Chester

Tailored Lynda.com Playlists

Lynda.com playlists have been created for each school to showcase some of the courses that might be relevant for staff and students. There are also two Excel playlists available and ready to be watched so you can improve your Excel skills. Statistics are also available showing usage to date of the skills videos including details of what students in the Schools have been watching.

What is Lynda.com?

Lynda.com is an online learning platform that can help you acquire software, technology, business and creative skills to achieve learning, personal and professional goals.

The resource, which offers access to over 5000 video tutorials, has been purchased as part of the Digital Strategy for Learning and Teaching and is now freely available to all Loughborough University staff and students from any desktop or mobile device.

So why not login with your University username and password and take advantage of what www.Lynda.com is offering you. Please click here for guidance on how to login.

School-specific suggested playlists…

The school-specific playlists provide a snapshot of the availability on Lynda.com. All you have to do is click on ‘copy’ then ‘edit playlist’ and you’re ready to add or remove courses/videos to make it more tailored to your subject area.  Please be aware that there may be more content suitable to your school which is not currently on the playlists. Guidance for creating playlists is available here.

To access the playlists, click here to view the list of schools. Click on your School name e.g. Wolfson School and explore the list of recommended courses.

MS Excel and Office 365 playlists…

Two Excel playlists have also been curated suitable for staff and students to watch at any time available on the CAP webpages. Take advantage of these Excel playlists to improve your skills using the key functions and advanced features within Microsoft Excel:

  • MS Excel Overview and Key Features – This playlist combines an introduction to Excel 2016 for those with limited experience or who need a refresher, together with some more in-depth information on the use of formulas, functions and charts. It is an example of how you can create a more tailored list of videos, rather than just a long list of courses.
  • MS Excel 2016 Advanced Features and Functions – This playlist contains selected videos on some of the more commonly used advanced functions and features of Microsoft Excel 2016 and provides links to some in-depth courses for those wishing to explore them in more detail.

Are you using Office 365 Groups? Well now you can watch a playlist which covers the main and important features of Office Groups, helping you to use the tool in the most efficient way. Click here to access the playlist.

What is the engagement on Lynda.com like so far?

Since Oct 2017 to June 2018 a total of 1652 unique users have viewed content on Lynda.com of which 655 were staff/researchers and 997 students. During this time there have been a total of 4170 hours of skills training watched overall, 1944 hours by staff/researchers and 2226 by students.

The word cloud below provides an overview of the content being viewed on Lynda.com.

If you have any further questions or would like access to more in-depth statistics of courses viewed by each department/School, please contact Jaina Pattni.

What’s New in Learn

Following this year’s Learn rollover (23rd and 24th July) there will be several new features appearing in Learn:

  • Timeline tab to appear alongside the ‘My Modules’ dashboard, which gives students the ability to display outstanding activities in date order. This tab is effectively a checklist – as soon as an assignment is completed it will no longer appear within the activity list. Watch the three minute video to learn more about the timeline tabhttps://youtu.be/mmzmNTK2Ww4

  • Reminder to grade alert is now an option that can be enabled within the Learn Assignment Activity. The alert will trigger a notification that grading is due. Watch the four minute video for an updated look at the Learn Assignment tool://youtu.be/09V8IyiNQ1Y

  • Collapsible comments, similar to those available within Turnitin Feedback Studio, are now available within the Learn Assignment Activity. Watch the one minute video on how to do this: https://youtu.be/_6EqV63hkJc

  • File type restrictions allow you to specify what types of files should be submitted within the Learn Assignment and Workshop activities in Learn. A list of file types will be presented for you to choose from within the activity. Watch the one minute video on how to do this: https://youtu.be/-M2vWx3-7bQ

  • Stealth Activities – A way to neatly create ‘orphaned’ activities that are hidden but available via a link. Watch the two minute video on how to do this: https://youtu.be/Z8e3BSopTg8

You can see/test out these features on the Mount Orange demo site – https://school.demo.moodle.net (login as a teacher using the username: teacher and password: moodle).

Supporting students’ learning using STACK: Application on a Finance module

Kai-Hong Tee (School of Business and Economics) has been using the STACK question type in Learn to generate mathematical questions. In the post below, Kai explains how it works and why it benefits students. 

Background
I am currently teaching “Financial Management” which is offered as a core module for our second-year students studying for the “Accounting and Financial Management” (AFM) and “Banking and Financial Management” (BFM) degree programs, which are currently one of the best in the UK, with the latest ranking from the Guardian at the second place after University of Bath. The AFM degree is also accredited by the professional accounting body, we follow strict criteria when teaching the students and appropriately assessed them. However, as this module is also opened to other students whose degree programs are less mathematical in nature, such as Marketing and International business, it is important that “Financial Management” must provide sufficient support taking care of a wider range of students of different capabilities. This prompted me to re-think and re-design an existing self-assessment exercise that already has been available to students on LEARN. Figure 1 shows the questions and answers I have been using to help students on Learn. This assessment is based on one topic (equity valuation) in which most students don’t feel very confident, based on my observation and years of experience teaching “Financial Management”.

Figure 1. 

 

As you can see from figure 1, this self-assessment exercise consists of limited questions. The aim, however, is to encourage students to gain a better understanding on the topic through practicing doing the problems. However, for the weaker students, having just 4 or 5 questions may not be enough to develop the skill required for this topic.

Why use the STACK question type?
To efficiently supply larger number of questions so as to allow students to have more chances to practice them to acquire the skills, I adopted the STACK question type in the Learn Quiz activity to enable mathematical questions to be generated automatically. Currently, STACK has been applied in different schools, including the subject areas of engineering and mathematics. Figure 2 shows a snapshot of a question set up using STACK on LEARN. Figure 3 shows that using STACK it is possible to generate a similar question to be done again with different information. This then allows students to have additional practice.

Figure 2.

Figure 3. 

I’ve applied this idea to “financial management”. Figure 4 is an example of a question. Figure 5 shows that students will receive feedback on the answers they provide.

Figure 4.

Figure 5. 

New questions will be generated automatically and can be viewed by clicking on “start a new preview” (see figure 3), the implementation of STACK therefore involves some program coding. Figure 6 gives a snapshot of the “program coding” screen. Here, every question is treated as a “model”, and the “numbers” in the question as “variables”, since they will be different in each attempt of the students to “start a new preview”. Figure 6 shows the range of “variables” (inputs) that you want to set for your questions, representing the “new” question each time a new preview is attempted.

Figure 6.

What’s next?
One issue I face here is that the “new” question won’t have the text changed, just the “numbers”, there may therefore be a familiarity after a few rounds of practicing the questions if there are insufficient questions. Therefore, to increase the effectiveness, more questions can be included to reduce biases arising from “getting right answers because of familiarity”. These questions of different level of difficulties are then re-shuffld for each new round of attempt made by the students.

An area that is worth further developing is to incorporate adaptive learning pathways. Basically, I would only need, for example, 5 questions of different levels of difficulty, and then work on them to create pathways based on the feedback (answers) from the students. From the feedback, this then indicates which level of difficulty is reasonable to further assess the students. It may be possible for STACK to be developed in a way that students are led to attempt questions of reasonable level so that their standards are monitored and matched so that appropriate skills could be developed alongside sufficient practices of more suitable questions. This will be an area for future investigation. If workable, this should support the weaker students better. This implies that students could practice more questions and become more skillful based on their level of understanding, rather than simply practice any available questions without adequate understanding of their standards.

Further information at STACK can be found on the following page:
 http://www.stack.ed.ac.uk 

Tutorials on STACK are available on:  https://stack2.maths.ed.ac.uk/demo/question/type/stack/doc/doc.php/Authoring/Authoring_quick_start.md 

The STACK project team also recently won a HEA CATE award to disseminate STACK across other institutions: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/person/open-university-stack 

Disaster risk reduction is child’s play

Recent disasters all around the world have highlighted the importance of incorporating disaster risk reduction (DRR) considerations into design, construction and operation of the built environment; however many built environment professionals (e.g. architects, civil engineers, planners) have not received the training required for dealing with DRR. We thus decided to incorporate DRR into the UG programmes delivered at the School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering, and with the support from the Teaching Innovation Award, we introduced a ‘Disaster Risk Reduction is Child’s Play’ project, aimed to create a range of interactive models using LEGO and other modular toys that demonstrate a range of important resilient DRR features that are uniquely designed to cope with floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other hazards and threats, and encourage multi-disciplinary collaboration among future built environment professionals.

Throughout the academic year we ran a series of workshops introducing students to disaster risk reduction, with a hands-on session during which the students tested seismic performance of different structures using K’Nex; discussing urbanisation and its role in creating vulnerabilities that turn natural hazards into disasters, with a hands-on session during which students were asked to plan a city using an outlined base map of a city and 3D printed cubes that represented various city elements and densities; and creating ideas for a small post-disaster shelter using the LEGO Designer software.

Once students felt comfortable with the ideas behind disaster risk reduction, a competition was launched. Two student teams worked to build disaster resilient models that were then presented at an evening event and were local practitioners and members of academic and CAP staff.

Whilst the main aim of the competition was to consider disaster risk reduction measures, it also encouraged students from different programmes (architecture and civil engineering) to work together and to realise that in order to build resilience, collaboration is the key.Author: Ksenia Chmutina