Embedding Public Engagement Methods into the Student Learning Experience

Documenting our journey in devising a sustainable strategy for integrating public engagement methods into the student learning experience

“Learning from Global Communities”: Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference

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Last week I attended the first Advance HE Teaching and Conference (Formerly the Higher Education Academy) held in my hometown of Birmingham. The conference attracted over 600 participants over 3 days, indicating a keen appetite for learning and teaching in a climate where many institutes are undertaking curriculum redesign and transformation. I attended the first day of the conference targeted at academics and professional services staff working in arts and humanities and health and social care. The overarching theme of the conference was “Learning from Global Communities” with a keynote lecture from Professor Christine Jarvis from Huddersfield University on “Growing Global Graduates: Teaching for a Better World”. At the beginning of her talk Professor Jarvis asked us to think about several questions: “What do graduates need for the coming decades and centuries?”; “What does a global graduate look like?”; “What skills and attributes do they need?”; and finally “What do educators need to build a curriculum that produces global graduates?”

Conference Ready!                                       Keynote from Professor Jarvis 

Professor Jarvis indicated that current definitions of global graduates are driven by employability, but followed this with a suggestion that we must shift to see the world through a wider lens. Global graduates require skills in inter- and cross-disciplinary team working, cultural awareness, problem solving and critical thinking in addition to subject-specific intellectual capability. The “T-shaped” professional model is one way of meeting these needs, where the vertical arm of the “T” represents discipline specific knowledge and the horizontal bar represents skills and attributes that are important in the workplace, including: leadership, cultural awareness, teamwork, emotional intelligence and complex problem-solving. Professor Jarvis also suggested we need to prepare graduates to be “Ready to make the world, not just respond to it”, armed with a skill set that allows them to manage global challenges of their time. The curriculum we build must enable graduates to be critical thinkers and agents of change. We as educators must encourage students to ask questions about the world and to engage with the public and community, and this can be achieved by starting with the students rather than starting with the subject in curriculum development. Curriculum should be shaped by interdisciplinary courses and assessments, and communication with different groups. Ultimately, global citizenship should not be an add-on, but a case of helping students to engage with and understand problems of the “real-word”.

The "T shaped" graduate

The first parallel session of the day I attended was “Make ‘em laugh!”: The use of anecdotal stories and laughter in the classroom: A teaching perspective. Neil Dougan and Dr Sarah Telfer from the University of Bolton chaired a lively and thought provoking workshop covering the benefits and pitfalls of using anecdotes and stories in the delivery of written and verbal teaching content. Both speakers shared their own experience of using stories and humour as teaching tools, acknowledging that “we are wired for communicating through learning from stories” Narrative teaching was described as a method using a teacher’s own experiences as a pedagogic tool to build communication in the classroom. We took part in several activities that could be used as narrative communication tools in the classroom. First, we were asked to tell the person next to us something “unusual” about ourselves, followed by choosing a photo from our phone to talk about an experience. These activities are designed to promote sharing and empathy as key resources in the classroom. Moving onto humour we learnt how laughter can be important in establishing teachers as “real people” and for bringing authenticity and credibility in teaching. Several studies have shown that humour is cognitively and pedagogically effective. However, caution must be taken in ensuring humour is culturally appropriate and sensitive. It is important to be aware who your audience are and to use “constructive humour” that is not hostile or “bullying”.

My second workshop of the day focused on “Embedding digital health capabilities into curricular” led by Dr Christine Slade and Professor Christine Brown from the University of Queensland. At the beginning of the session we were advised to not make assumptions about students’ competence and confidence with digital domains. We were also asked to think about “What are the key digital attributes that students should have?” and “What tools do we need to teach these capabilities?” Using the Digital Capabilities Framework: The Six Elements (JISC, 2017) we worked in groups to design a classroom activity or assessment around one of the six elements of digital capability: Information and Communications Technology (ICT) proficiency, digital learning and development, digital creation, innovation and scholarship, digital identity and wellbeing and communication, collaboration and participation. We were asked to bear in mind what key digital capabilities would we want our students to have by graduation. The exercise was useful in providing guidance in the use of digital tools, thinking about the quality and credibility of digital resources, who they are aimed at, and the pros and cons of using different digital tools.

The final session I attended was an oral presentation by Ilse Renaudie from the University of East Anglia on “Learning through engagement beyond the classroom”. This session outlined the important intersection between theory and practice by using activities where students can learn that application of knowledge is important from the beginning of a course or programme. Engagement beyond the classroom can give students an understanding of the value of their subject in the community and at an international level. Opportunities for engagement include: collaborative projects with stakeholders, curriculum design informed by non-academic content and using a diverse range of methods that graduates can expect to use in their career. Additionally, we learnt that non-academic engagement can place a student in the learning experience as an active agent and allow them to engage with the needs of a non-HE partner. This is an area of learning and teaching that greatly interests me and is the subject of a Teaching Development Funded (TDF) project I am working on with Katie Maras. This session has certainly given me food for thought in terms of trialling and integrating novel and innovation public engagement methods in our TDF project and beyond.

Ilse Renuadie discussing engagement beyond the classroom

I would highly recommend the Advance HE conference on learning and teaching for anyone wishing to integrate innovation, diversity and collaboration into their teaching and curriculum. The conference offers a fresh perspective on teaching and learning in HE, with national and international teaching colleagues getting together to share experiences and ideas.


EduFest 2018 at the University of Bath: Innovative Approaches to Learning and Teaching

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Last Thursday academics and learning and teaching partners across the University gathered for EduFest 2018. A new one-day event aimed at encouraging colleagues to reflect on key themes in their own teaching, including: learning assessment, inclusion, sustainability and research led engagement. This event is particularly timely for Bath with the University’s curriculum transformation project on the horizon. Curriculum transformation offers colleagues, including myself, an opportunity to promote greater engagement, real-life application and inclusion in our teaching.

The event featured an impressive line-up of external speakers, included keynote speaker Professor Tansy Jessop – a champion for transformation of student learning through exciting and rewarding assessment. Professor Jessop’s talk urged us to move away from methods of teaching and assessment that “alienate” students, highlighting several pathways that can lead to repetition and disengagement with learning. Course modules with no connection to the overall programme, risk-aversive metrics (e.g. traditional assessments) and mass education, where students do not feel “known” by their peers or teachers, were highlighted as concerns. Professor Jessop also indicated that “just giving knowledge” does not allow students to develop their own perspective, emphasising the need to develop students’ intellectual pathway from “black and white” thinking to “critical, complicated and messy” problem solving. It was also acknowledged that it is important that we let our students know that it is OK to be confused, and to feel the learning experience is “challenging everything they know”, assuring them that they will come out the other side!

Professor Tansy Jessop’s Talk on "Increasing engagement to transform student learning"

Professor Jessop also spoke on how research builds engagement by stimulating intellectual curiosity, encouraging students to make decisions and choices and to build ownership and partnership. We should be looking forward to engaging students in “enquiry-based learning”, rather than presenting facts and assessing regurgitation. Evidence has shown that students who actively read and more importantly write about research experience significantly greater learning gains.

During the day I also attended a number of parallel sessions, including panel discussions, workshops and masterclasses. The panel session on Curriculum Transformation, with Dr Barrie Cooper, Dr Beverley Gibbs and Dr Alex Sanden focused on learning from other academics who have experience of curriculum redesign at their own institutions, in this case: University of Exeter, University of Sheffield and UCL respectively. One of the key messages of this session was the view that curriculum transformation is an opportunity to take a more “Programme level view” of a course rather than viewing modules or units in isolation. This approach challenges a reoccurring problem in higher education of over assessment, where multiple assessments are required to “test” the specific content of a single module. Curriculum transformation therefore offers the opportunity to assess themes across a programme. The panel discussion emphasised that asking questions such as “What do you want your students to be able to do at the end of the programme?” and “Where will your students be employed?” are at the heart of successful curriculum transformation. A final important take home message from the discussion highlighted that as academics we should be asking ourselves what it means to deliver research led teaching. It was suggested that research-led teaching should focus on a set of core values for students and staff, where students are part of the research culture of a department and University.

With my interest in research led teaching sufficiently boosted I opted to attend the afternoon masterclass on “Unlocking research-engaged teaching” led by Dr Alex Standen and PhD student Joe Thorogood from UCL. Evidence has shown that students learn more effectively through active and enquiry-based learning and the masterclass focused on how academics can use their research to enhance learning, increase student partnership, and build a research community. We started the session with an exercise to assess where in our current teaching we emphasise research content, process and problem-solving with students. As you can see from the picture below, academics at Bath reported engaging students with research as an audience and as participants in research. However, could we be doing more to ensure students are active participants in our research and at the wider departmental and University level?

Dr Standen next to our mapping of University of Bath research led teaching  

Dr Standen outlined the connected curriculum framework proposed in UCLs Education Strategy 2016 to “integrate research into every stage of a degree”. The connected curriculum framework by Dilly Fung – Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching, is a set of core principles and dimensions that demonstrates how a curriculum can actively engage students in research and enquiry in multiple ways. Dimensions include “student making connections across subjects and out of the world” and “student learns to produce outputs – assessments directed at an audience”. I will be certainly going back to my own teaching, using the connected curriculum framework to ask how can I achieve these dimensions across the courses I teach on.

The final session I attended was a masterclass on “Strategies for enhancing assessment” led once again by Professor Tansy Jessop. This session began again with emphasis on connected curriculum and a recognition that we do not need to assess every individual unit or module. Professor Jessop went on to outline the “TESTA” rational for assessment or “Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment”. TESTA is a national teaching fellowship project across four institutions aimed at transforming student experience through assessment. We were presented with case studies of programme-wide changes in assessment, including an institution which increased the amount of formative assessment, whilst having fewer summative assessments. A greater number of formative assessments gave students a safe space to make mistakes and to learn from them. We also learnt about “silent seminars” where students may bring a set of sources to class e.g. journal articles, book chapters, media articles etc. and use the time to write or blog to “get to grips” with readings. I was particularly interested to hear about “two stage exams” where students are asked to prepare for a traditional 30 minute in-class exam. After completing the exam, students then repeated the exam but as a group of four, learning from each other. Students are not told about the second exam before the session. This seems like an excellent way to show students how collaboration is a better problem-solving strategy than competition.

Professor Jessop also spoke about the role and nature of assessment and feedback, suggesting we should view assessment as a “gift” and appreciate the hard work students have put into their work. Similarly, feedback can also be a gift, where students respond well to personalised feedback. One technique outlined to ensure students read and respond to feedback is to ask students to submit a reflection at the beginning of their assessment to explain how they have addressed the feedback from the previous assessment. Importantly Professor Jessop suggested that “feedback is a dialogue not a teaching telling a student what to do”.

In summary EduFest 2018 was a great opportunity to bring together academics from across the University and to hear from external speakers who have expertise and first-hand experience of curriculum transformation, connected curriculum, and innovative assessment. I look forward to sharing ideas from the day with colleagues and putting them into practice in my own teaching. Bring on EduFest 2019!