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….


Networks and communities

I have a found a common theme coming out of work I have been doing over the last few weeks and that is networks. I think it started at the SEDA conference in Brighton. I attended the excellent workshop called ‘From Conundrum to Collaboration, Conversation to Connection: Using Networks to Innovate’. It was run by Andrew Middleton and Sue Moron-Garcia and Andrew has produced a Storify of the #SEDA_NETS tweetchat that was embedded into the workshop. I thought I was good at multi-tasking until I tried to participate in a tweetchat and face to face workshop simultaneously… This session naturally brought to mind two of the networks I value – the informal #LTHEchat and the more formal membership of a professional association such as SEDA, the latter going hand in hand with the SEDA JISCmail list. If I have time to follow some of the debates on the mail-list they can be quite thought provoking but I have also found it a fountain of information when I have been researching strategies, procedures and policies. And sometimes it is just nice to know others are having some of the same problems as me and sharing our different approaches to the current issues facing HE.


These are examples of external networks to my institution but I had also recently been asked to reflect on a Leadership and Management course that institution had put on. I was part of the first cohort that undertook the course that included managing yourself, managing teams and managing institutional strategy. We took part in 4 days of workshops as well as project work. When I thought about it one of the most useful aspects of the course was working with other managers from both academic and professional departments and the way a network had developed between us. I had a much better idea of who I needed to go and see to solve problems within the institution and we have actively sort each other out to share ideas. Of course there are also networks within departments and for many of us the important one is the network between staff and students.

I thought the title of Sue and Andrew’s workshop was great. To me developing networks is about connecting with people, once you have connected you have opportunity to collaborate and to form a community. I realised that where I have a well developed network it makes me feel part of a community. It got me to thinking about how the two are inter-related – so I looked it up in the dictionary.

According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (1995)

Network: ‘A group of people who exchange information, contacts and experience for professional or social purposes

Community: ‘A body of people having a religion, a profession etc. in common‘ or ‘a fellowship of interest

It raises some interesting questions, can you have one without the other, is a community a more established or bonded group than a network? How do we encourage students to form networks and communities that will help them learn content, skills and gain employment. I think that is important from the prospective of promoting learning but for those of us expected to pay attention to student satisfaction it is also going to be topical with the community question within the NSS. All I know is that I will continue to work towards expanding my network and hopefully I will continue to feel part of a community, form some exciting collaborations and develop my practice along the way.

Using videos to assess understanding

What did I do?

I have just finished teaching theory and practice of the horse’s senses and how they regulate behaviour. I wanted to check how much my students had learnt so I set them a task. Make a video suitable for horse owners explaining about the function of the horse’s senses in relation to behaviour. We had just finished the practical session at the yard and so they could make use of the horses and I provided iPads for them to make their videos. Once the videos were complete they were uploaded to ClickView and then they could be shared with the whole cohort. This meant they could provide peer feedback to each other as well as me providing some tutor feedback.


So how did it go?

The students enjoyed doing it. The shortest one was 28 seconds long whilst the longest one was 4 minutes. The students embraced it and worked independently. The videos would have easily been accessible to horse owners although the content was lacking in the depth that I would have liked to have seen – so some work for the students and I to do there. I was disappointed at the lack of peer feedback that was provided by the students to the videos on Moodle but with this particularly cohort I am having trouble getting any engagement with Moodle….

Would I use it again?

Yes, definitely. Making the videos really engaged the students and made it easy for me to assess how well they were doing with the module content. Uploading it to ClickView and sharing to Moodle was also really easy to do and there is not the same pressure as putting onto Vimeo or YouTube where you feel it is that much more public. Just need to work on the engagement with peer feedback now!

#LTHEchat: The University Library

Why did I choose the topic of the library as guest on the #LTHEchat last week?

I had been invited to take part in the #LTHEchat as a guest by Chrissi a while ago. When I knew I was doing it this term my initial thought was to do something about accessibility. It seemed topical with the changes to the disabled students allowance (DSA) but on looking back though there had been a similar topic in February. It was only a short jump from accessibility to the library. Why? One of the pieces of work we have done in response to the DSA changes was to look at alternative formats of information to printed paper. Ensuring students can access material that can be enlarged, converted to speech and uses a bookmarking framework to helps those with disabilities and others who struggle with reading to make use of the information.

I have recently made the transition from a lecturer to a leadership role as Head of Learning and Teaching. Within this remit I am responsible for strategic management of the library. As an academic my use of the library had become almost entirely virtual with the rise of online journals and e-books. However, I was still very aware of the value of the physical library as a learning tool. I started to think about whether we maximise the integration between subject teaching and the library? Do academics utilise the library to its full extent or just accept it is there? How has students and academics use of the library changed over time?

The six questions I chose to ask during the #LTHEchat were:

Q1 What does a 21st century university library look like?

Q2 Do today’s students still need reading lists?

Q3 How can we help students develop information literacy skills?

Q4 How can we use libraries to help nontraditional students achieve?

Q5 How do we ensure information is available & accessible to all learners whatever their background?

Q6 How can we ensure students get maximum benefit from the library?

My experience of being a guest on the #LTHEchat

I was quite nervous before the chat. I am not really sure why. What happens if nobody responds to my questions? What happens if people think my questions are dull? My fears were unfounded. The chat flowed so much I could hardly keep up with it! There were also lots of positive comments. On reflection the only change I would have made is the question about non-traditional students. I had recently read an article that referred to ‘traditional’ university students that were successful through reading and provision of didactic lectures. I think we do have to be very careful about putting labels on students and I think perhaps this question could be have been reworded to ‘How can libraries aid provide a more interactive learning environment to benefit learners?’

The storify of the #LTHEchat can be found here.

How will I change my practice as a result of the #LTHEchat on the library?

I have already suggested that our academic liaison librarian needs to spend more time out of the library talking to students and academics. Although we still need core reading lists to ensure that core texts are available in the library I do think they could be more dynamic with students as co-creators. An action to come out of the chat is that I am going to trial an ‘Amazon’ style review activity where students write reviews of the different resources and give a star rating on how good they think it is. This will help them reflect on the source but will also provide a useful resource for future students.


I participate in the #LTHEchat

Musings on supporting new lecturers

After a very thought provoking joint #LTHEchat #HEAchat on Wednesday evening I decided to set myself some actions.

Ensure all new lecturers are assigned a learning and teaching mentor, and make sure the mentor gets the appropriate training and support

We assign buddies that help all new staff find their feet and mentors once a new lecturer starts the PG Cert but what about the interim or if they don’t do the PG Cert straight away. Thinking about who is the mentor is important to, someone who has gone through the process recently and who the new lecturer will feel they are able to ask what they feel might be silly questions. Making sure that the mentor has the appropriate skills via training and support is also key to success.

Finish the New to Lecturing Survival Guide

Everyone is super keen to provide support to new lecturers at the beginning of the semester but as the new lecturer gets into the swing of things they can get forgotten and nobody tells them about the double marking procedure or something similar! One of the ideas from the #LTHEchat #HEAchat was a survival guide. I am already preparing a 10 topic guide on Moodle to support new lecturers and so have decided to rename it – a survival guide. Why online? Not all lecturers start at the same time to attend a face to face programme. Also it will provide a great resource to go back to.

Promote learning and teaching community within and outside the institution

At every institution I have worked at I have rapidly felt part of a disciplinary or departmental community but what about a learning and teaching community. These should be across the whole institution. We tried to promote ours by meeting in a physical place but finding a convenient time led to problems. So now even within the institution it has become an online community, sharing ideas via email and making use of the @writtleL_and_T twitter account. New lecturers also need to be aware of wider learning and teaching community outside the institution and what better way to begin than through taking part in the #LTHEchat and #HEAchat.

Make use of the new ideas and innovations that new lecturers bring

Listen to how new lecturers challenge conventional wisdom. I remember my own frustration as a new lecturer when told I could not add interactive learning activities to the VLE as students wouldn’t use them. But it also reminds me of an interview I heard with Prof. Peter Higgs on the radio. His research that led to the naming of the Higgs boson was possible because he had completed his PhD in a different area and the subject conventions (what people thought were already knowns) were easier for him to challenge. The same applies to teaching. Ideas and theories need to continue to evolve and we need to remember that new lecturers can often be the source!

Whose module is it anyway?

Last week I attended the Universities UK / HEA conference ‘Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning’ – #IETL16. A really insightful and inspiring day. One of the sessions I attended was ‘Developing an institutional approach to student engagement in curriculum design’ by Prof Mary Stuart and Dan Derricott. Both the case study of what they have been doing at the University of Lincoln and the discussion during the workshop were thought provoking. One thought related to why don’t we use students more when interviewing for academic appointments? Another related to engagement at module level. One experience shared in the workshop was starting talking about ‘our module’ rather than ‘my module’ and it got me thinking! As a course manager I was often frustrated that lecturers were so protective of their modules and thought solely at the module level rather than reflecting on how the module fits into the course. Not taking into account the cognitivism and constructivism theories of learning to build on prior learning from other modules and making relationships between what the student is learning in other modules. I have always previously blamed this on the modular system and so spent time trying to encourage the teaching team to think holistically about what the student learnt.

Programme for IETL16

The workshop at #IETL16 made me question ‘whose module is it anyway?’ My module suggests ownership but does the module leader own it or do the students? Some of the ideas coming out of the workshop was including students in a module management team. Getting students involved in planning the content delivery. In the particular case discussed it was weak and less engaged students that were encouraged to become part of the management team and the module leader found that this did improve engagement. My personal experience of studying would definitely lead me to think that where I have felt ownership of something – so in particular my dissertations and PhD thesis where I was responsible for selecting the focus and direction – not only made me more engaged during the process but also very proud and self-satisfied with the result. This leaves me with the question – how can we encourage students to take more ownership of the module? Firstly, stop referring to it as ‘my’ module and start calling it ‘our’ module. Encourage students to take more of a management role – making decisions about assignments, what is on the Moodle page, what topics are covered when. I have previously used students to write the assessment criteria for assignments for the purpose of helping them to understand the criteria and hadn’t really considered how this could encourage engagement. I have responded when students have asked me to change how I have designed the Moodle page or to add or change content but I have not been proactive in asking students what they want from a Moodle page. Obviously this will need to be a dialogue and in some cases explanations will need to be given why certain things are not possible but in my experience students are not unrealistic and I think we could improve their learning, their experience and their engagement by getting them more involved and remembering it is not ‘my’ module but theirs.

Making the Most of Moodle 1

This week I have organised, designed and facilitated my first online staff development course. I was inspired to used a bitesize approach having read an article by Colin Gray in the SEDA magazine ‘Educational Developments’ and from my own experiences as a participant in some of Chrissi Nerantzi’s flexible, open courses (FDOL, BYOD4L and FOS), Colin’s own ‘Podwhating’ course and and ARU’s ’10 days of Twitter’. It is proposed that there are four main benefits of bitesized learning: flexibility, accessibility, engagement and creativity (Gray, 2013). And this is what I wanted to provide from the Making the Most of Moodle 1 online course.


One of the issues I have found with offering staff development sessions is that busy time limited lecturers struggle to find time to travel to and participate in face to face sessions, even if they are only an hour long! This Making the Most of Moodle course used the format of 10-15 minutes per day over 5 days delivered online. Engagement during the week has been patchy, some of the staff that got involved were staff that are already leading the way on Moodle. Unfortunately there was still a failure to engage the staff who really need it. This is problematic as we already offer group and 1:1 training on developing Moodle so how do we engage those staff who still aren’t using it? Looking at how people used the course over the week, some people completed the activities as they were released and others played catch up in mid week. There were some ‘tourists’ or ‘lurkers’ who viewed material but didn’t take part in the activities.

The five themes covered this week were: embedding video, using different menu styles, engaging students with forums, using the glossary and finally the different blocks available. From the discussions in the tea room several people had a go at embedding video in Moodle after viewing the resources but failed to share their ideas in the forum. The forums had just enough people posting to get some interesting ideas and discussions going that ranged from basic tips on using Moodle to more strategic discussions. The highest number of people looked at the first day’s activities but interestingly the Moodle logs indicate that for the those members of staff that completed Monday’s activity stayed engaged all week. Tuesday saw the lowest activity levels but Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday saw similar levels. So unlike Gray (2013) who saw a fall in activity as the week progressed, the problem with Making the Most of Moodle was getting them started in the first place.

So what are some of the things I would do differently next time? I need to think about the layout and set-up of the Moodle Page as I am not sure that using the Flexible format is right for this course. I need to think more about the timing of this sort of course, the end of the semester when marking loads are high was probably not the best choice! I am still thinking about future content that lends it self to bitesize online delivery. My experiences this week with badges and leader boards this week has made me want to investigate uses of gamification further to improve engagement.

Overall this week has been a success, I have learnt a lot. Through the process of the week we have made site administration amendments to Moodle which will increase functionality (highlighted the need for appropriate development plans and strategies to be in place across IT and not just in learning and teaching). We have discussed ideas at a strategic level such as should we have a student selected consistent format for all module pages within a course. Feedback also tells me that staff have learnt new digital skills such as embedding videos and how to set up some of the blocks.

Follow up / evaluation

Obviously the main aim of this training was to improve staff practice an dI plan to monitor this in two ways. How successful it has been will be evaluated through our current Moodle audit system but also through a questionnaire to participants next semester to see what changes they have introduced to their Moodle pages.

Gray, C. (2013) Flexible, accessible professional development: Try bite sized! Educational Developments, 14.4, 14-17. Available online at:  http://www.seda.ac.uk/past-issues/14.4 (Accessed 24 April 2016)



Reflections on Learning and Teaching