Professional identity – something to think about

On Monday I took part in the Teaching and Learning Conversation facilitated by Paul Orsmond and Rachel Forsyth titled Capturing learning: beyond the acquisition metaphor. A partial recording of the webinar can be found on the TLC webpage.

The main thing that I took from the webinar was that I need to investigate the idea of professional identity further. I am familiar with the idea of professional identity as a teacher but had not considered how the student sees it as they move through university to become a professional. At what stage do they develop their professional identity and what impact does that have on their learning? Does developing a professional identity help communities of practice to form?

It was the first time I had attended a TLC webinar and now I just need to find the time to delve a bit deeper into some of the questions that came out of it.



Really short CPD sessions

I have recently started delivering 30 minute technical training sessions on different apps and software that can be used to support learning. These have included GradeMark, PeerMark, Socrative, Kahoot and Mahara. They seemed like a really good idea at the time as staff kept asking for training on using technology but were having difficulty finding the time to attend sessions. When it came to the first session I was  a little more worried about what I had let myself in for. Would I be able to keep to time? Could I fit in pedagogy and technical in 30 minutes? So timing was one issue I needed to consider and pedagogy was another one and finally I wanted staff to be able to have a go, after all this was supposed to be a technical training. This is why with 15 minutes to spare to the start of the first session I was waiting with a feeling of trepidation. I felt I needed to start on time, 3 minutes late would be 10% of my time gone.

For the first PeerMark session I chose to set the participants an assignment (100 words about PeerMark). The idea was that they would then PeerMark each others. This turned out not to be one of my best ideas. Only one of the eight attendees submitted and although I uploaded something for them to PeerMark they did not have time to complete it. I decided the next time I would do the submission and the PeerMark in the session. I had originally discounted this idea as too ambitious because of time constraints. However, I repeated my PeerMark session yesterday, we did the PeerMark in class and yes I did have to amend the hand in time by 5 minutes but apart from that it worked a treat. Having a go at uploading and using PeerMark from a student perspective appeared to be really useful to staff. Providing this insight should help staff provide the appropriate support to help students use PeerMark successfully.

Bearing in mind my recent reflections on Kirkwood and Price (2013) I felt that it was imperative that I included some of the pedagogy relating to the benefits of using peer assessment. One way I chose to do this by focusing on thinking about how you would set the questions in PeerMark to help students engage with the assessment criteria. Another element that was discussed was how many pieces of work a student should review. I suggested reviewing work of multiple peers and my reasoning from personal experience is that if they only review one piece of work and it is a weak piece they will not get the same benefits as some of their peers. When thinking about it from the receiving feedback perspective Cho and MacArthur (2010) students respond best to feedback from multiple peers so another reason for reviewing two or three pieces of work.

Reflecting back to Kirkwood and Price (2013) again, I wanted to look for the evidence for impact of peer marking on outcomes. When searching the literature I found little evidence for peer marking improving the grades of students, which was the direct finding of a study by van den Berg et al. (2006) but this study also found  teachers were positive about peer assessment and felt it improved students interaction and involvement in the course. This is an experience mirrored in my own practice where I have seen increased engagement and dialogue around assessment, which I see as something very positive.

In conclusion, I am happy with how my quick CPD sessions are going. Having short sessions mean they are easy to repeat and therefore a great opportunity to tweak and refine. Obviously one of the things I need to do now is look at the impact that these sessions are having on lecturers practice. Initial responses from staff have been good and I was copied in to a lovely email from one participant, following a Socrative session, sent  to his colleagues summarising what we had learnt in the session and ending with ‘Thank you to Isobel for an interesting session’. It is the emails like that, which make the trepidation before a session all worthwhile.


Cho, K. and MacArthur, C. (2010) Student revision with peer and expert reviewing, Learning and Instruction, 20 (4) 328-338

Kirkwood, A. and Price, L. (2013) Missing: evidence of scholarly approach to teaching and learning in higher education, Teaching in Higher Education, 18(3), 327-337

Van den Berg, I., Admiraal, W. and Pilot, A. (2006) Design principles and outcomes of peer assessment in higher education, Studies in Higher Education, 31, 341-356

HEA Virtual Reading Group


Last week I took part in my first virtual reading group run by the HEA. It was much like the journal clubs I had taken part in face to face within my discipline but this just happened to be online. The paper we read and discussed was:

Kirkwood, A. and Price, L. (2013) Missing: evidence of scholarly approach to teaching and learning in higher education, Teaching in Higher Education, 18(3), 327-337.

I enjoyed reading the paper in preparation for the webinar. For me it raised a number of important points. The first relates to staff development sessions I provide on technology. Staff have been very keen for me to deliver sessions on how to use technology in a practical sense and so this is what I have given them. The paper prompted me to reflect on this. It made me question do I just provide technical training on how to use the technology or do I include the scholarly background to using the technology, do I include the pedagogical principles that should underpin the decision on how or if the technology is appropriate to what the teacher is trying to achieve. Luckily I think the answer is yes, but it is something I will give greater consideration to as I plan my sessions in future.

The second point that jumped out a me related to undertaking research. Having completed both a PhD and 5 years as a post-doc doing arthritis research I sort of assumed I took a scholarly approach to research. This paper made me question this. When I have done educational research how did it build on previous research? How much did I use previous research in planning the methodology? Or did I just create my hypotheses out of what I was interested in and wanted to see? Did I just design my methodology based on what was available to me at the time without giving further considerations to improving the experimental design? I am not sure if these questions have binary answers. I feel I have used research to plan and design my educational research but have  also used hunches and what was easily available to me at the time. Having reflected on this paper through the reading group I will certainly take a different approach to future research.

Sally Bradley from the HEA did a great job at leading discussions around the paper. One of the areas that particularly interested me was how if you are teaching centred in your general approach to teaching you are likely to be teaching centred in your approach to technology (PowerPoint, webcasts) whereas if you take a more student centred approach to your general practice you are more likely to use a different range of more interactive technology, such as students creating content, producing reflective portfolios and so on. Again I don’t think you have to fall solely within one of these categories. For example, although I use webcasts which are quite teacher focused broadcasting knowledge these are often backed up with students having to respond via a forum to questions or relating to their thoughts on the webcast.

Overall, I found the virtual reading group useful and the paper has provided me with a number of elements to consider as I move forward in my practice. I am looking forward to the next reading group on 22nd March. For more detail see the HEA website.



#LTHEchat – Using Visual Media

This weeks #LTHEchat was all about visuals. To be precise the title was: What do you see? Using visual media to communicate our teaching and research. As some of you may know I like taking photos and I like to use those photos in my teaching and research. In my PhD I made all my own diagrams so they could look exactly as I wanted with all the same typeface and font size. Anyway this meant I went into the tweetchat feeling fairly confident I could contribute.


One of the first conversations that got me thinking was a discussion about images in the VLE. Are they really helping teaching or do they just make the page look pretty? I have added more and more images to my Moodle page. They are all relevant to the topic but do they really teach students anything? No, probably not but they do appear to hook the students, make them delve deeper into the page probably partly just by breaking up all the text! In this case does it matter if they are not teaching per se, if they are engaging students with learning?

Musings on a busy Thursday

Well today has been busy. I started off visiting a local school promoting studying veterinary science and all the associated animal related courses at university to year 11 and 12 students. I love sharing my own experiences of studying at university and providing advice I never got when I was their age. Having just read the editorial in this weeks Times Higher it got me thinking about how important universities are, not just to society but to our own personal development, making lifelong friends and connections, building relationships. It made me think how my own university experience had shaped me. In this rapid and unknown period of change as the Higher Education and Research Bill marches on and universities have to change to meet societies needs I do hope those opportunities aren’t lost. Meeting all those enthusiastic 16 and 17 year olds has provided me with some new determination to ensure that I am doing everything I can to ensure my students are getting all the possible benefits they can out of being at university…

Then this evening has been spent taking part in not one but two tweetchats. The first was part of the Sheffield Hallam Online Open Course or SHOOC on Mentoring (#MentorSHOOC1). Tonight the focus was on the differences between mentoring and coaching. Some great food for thought on my journey as I mentor a number of colleagues through their PG Cert in HE Practice. Starting to think how will I ensure that there is mutual trust between my mentees and me? How will I ensure that I am providing guidance and support whilst letting them work things out for themselves, ensuring they stay motivated and aspire to improve their practice? The plan is to help them become more reflective, the details of which I am still pondering but I will let you know how I get on.

The second tweetchat was actually the fourth of five tweetchats of the BYOD for Learning open course (#BYOD4Lchat). Tonight’s theme is one of my favourites: Collaboration. One of the things I find most satisfying as a teacher is seeing students learn from each other. There were some great discussions about the differences between collaboration, cooperation and cocreation. For me collaboration is something that you feel positive about, that you are motivated to do and that it usually involves learning via bouncing ideas of each other. Maybe, just like mentoring ,for it to be really successful there also needs to trust and respect. There was also the point that collaboration is closely linked to the other Cs of the 5Cs framework that the BYOD4L course is based upon. Effective collaboration needs connections, communication and curating to enable creation, whether of knowledge or something more tangible. We also got onto discussing tools that we can use both with colleagues and students to help promote collaboration. Some were old favourites such as via Google Drive whereas there were some new ones in too, ready for more investigation (watch this space once I have tried them out)…

Teaching and Learning Conference

The first day of the University of Essex’s Teaching and Learning Conference focused on inclusive practice. I found the case study presented by Dave Lomas and Paddy Turner from Sheffield Hallam University raised many important points and also some interesting questions. They attempted to make a level 5 module more inclusive by using initiatives like writing learning outcomes and other module material in plain English, allowing all students to have extra time in the exam, by allowing all students to record lectures, making sure resources were accessible with appropriate background colours and fonts and being more flexible around time keeping. Some great ideas many of which I am already using in practice and some new ideas for me to try out. With the new semester about to start it is a great time to be reflecting on whether my module guide is really in plain English and what new resources will I provide to ensure that the content I am delivering this semester will be truly accessible.

Not everybody in the audience seemed convinced about all the changes suggested. Some of the questions that were raised and I think need further investigation included: If you give all students extra time what do you do with those entitled to extra time? If you plan an assessment that should take an hour then give all student 1 hour and 15 minutes do those with specific learning difficulties need extra time on top of this? If you make all resources accessible in a range of formats and available before sessions is that not fairer to all students and prevents those with learning plans due to disabilities being made to feel different to the rest of their cohort? Lots of food for thought and for the modules I am responsible for I will continue to try and make them as inclusive as possible for all students irrespective of disability, background or personal circumstances.

The afternoon was looking at student engagement and was led by the SU. One of the nice things that was highlighted was the SU collaborating with the University to improve student learning. Having talked to the three SU reps I am taking a few ideas back to my own institution. My colleague Nieky is going to trial replacing the term ‘Office Hours’ with ‘Academic Support Hours’. And I also like the idea of a ‘Question of the Week’ with three possible answers that the students vote on using counters when they buy something in the shop. These questions can relate to academic matters as well as other aspects of university life. Another topic that came up is the advantage of paying student reps. The SU employs a ‘convener’ in each of the four faculties at the University. As I understood it these work as super reps but in addition are also paid to sit on working groups, committees and so on. I am not sure that paying students to do this sits well with me, I would much rather it be like when I was a student, where you engaged with these things because you felt had a stake in the university and its future. Times have changed though and maybe this is the now the way forward….

Reflections on Learning and Teaching