Blog posts

Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Conference: Reclaiming Study Practices

Luke McCrone, PhD student, Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship

I attended the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society conference held on 18-20 September 2019 in Leuven, Belgium. The conference focussed on ‘Reclaiming study practices’ and followed an alternative format to usual.

The idea of the conference was to provoke thought about the present state and future modalities of those study practices that define university life for both staff and students: academic writing, lectures, academic research, seminars etc. The impetus for such thinking is rooted in the powers (social, economic, political, and cultural) that have laid claims on study practices, including the space, time, bodies and minds involved in their construction. The eventual aims of the conference were to determine whether certain university practices are worth protecting, defending or re-inventing, and if so, how we might (re-)organise them in future.

Conference format

In order to achieve these aims, the conference consisted of two days: Day 1) Reclaiming study practices; Day 2) Claiming study practices. There were no individual paper presentations. Instead, we received a single booklet containing each attendee’s 1000-word submission that provided relevant material to guide discussions about the conference theme. Having been divided into groups and given allocated ‘study time’ we each read the submissions of those members in our group in near-silence. This method of silent group study itself featured in our later discussions as a study practice worthy of preservation!

Despite not having received much targeted feedback on my research, this format really helped me to place my work within a wider context and to think practically about how it affected the topic at hand. This actually enabled the group to engage with some of my research themes, including the importance of ‘in-between’ spaces and active learning, more meaningfully. I therefore believe this style of conference format has promising potential in other settings, including the Centre.

A note on my submission

My submission began setting the context around Imperial College’s shift toward greater active pedagogy, open-ended curricula and self-directed student workload, given it is the institution I am researching. Whilst these changes are educationally warranted, my claim was that the need for the learner to transition between directed and self-directed forms, and between these more passive and active spaces was a demand that has been overlooked. My reclaim was both a methodology to build an evidence base for better understanding transitional space, and then a suggestion for how careful architectural and timetable intervention can better support and enable transition to both nurture and better understand active styles of learning. The group provided some useful feedback on my submission, including that some had considered ‘in-between’ space as strictly in-between and immeasurable. Others were fond of the idea of modifying physical space and the timetable in order to encourage more serendipitous interaction between students and other members of the learning community in the gaps between timetabled sessions.

Reclaiming and claiming

Following the silent study sessions, the group reconvened to begin discussing the most important themes. Differences in opinions and perspectives made this phase more difficult than simply reading each other’s work, as we were now required to sacrifice certain views we held as sacrosanct in order to arrive at a group consensus. Each member wrote five post-it notes representing what they felt to be the most important themes arising from their reading and these were placed on a board (see photograph).

The group then spent some time grouping common themes and had further discussion about what seemed to be the most prominent of those themes. The following claims on study practices proved to be the most important in our group:

  • The graduate as the employee
  • Authorial obsession
  • Constant demand to produce
  • Shift in sacralisation
  • Outcome-based course design
  • Social media habits

The group then discussed which themes and principles might help universities to reclaim study practices gripped by the above claims. The following resulted:

  • Slowness
  • Togetherness/community
  • Repetition/practice
  • Sacredness

These claims and reclaims were presented as a visual metaphor, the ‘monastic cow’ (see photograph below), which represents learning as a slow process, similar to the process of digestion, and one which should be held as sacred.

Closing remarks

I found the conference useful mainly because it was a time and space to step back and take a critical look at the direction universities are going in. I personally believe Imperial College, among other institutions, need to create time and space for students to escape the pressures of the external world that currently can be educationally counter-productive or even damaging. The keynote presented by Tim Ingold provided extremely insightful elaboration on ‘Building a university for the common good’ by proposing four principles that he feels should guide universities: freedom, trust, education and community. By working against certain undercurrents that govern our society and sector (capitalist forces, marketization), it may be possible for institutions to maintain an environment conducive to these principles.

If you have any questions or comments on the content of this article or relating to my research then feel free to get in touch with me by email.

Developing Pedagogical Expertise Across Institutions: event report

Camille Kandiko Howson, Associate Professor of Education, Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship

The Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship hosted a one-day event on ‘Developing Pedagogical Expertise Across Institutions’ on Friday 27 September 2019. Leaders of teaching and learning from across the country debated and discussed a national framework for developing pedagogical research. The day featured a presentation on the Office for Students (OfS)-funded project “Maximising Student Success through the Development of Self-Regulation”, by Professor Carol Evans from the University of Birmingham. Carol identified ways to support students’ ability to become independent learners, which is challenged by regulatory pressures to treat education as a service, and how to develop research-informed integrated assessment.

 

 

 

The suite of taught programmes run by the Educational Development Unit, including the MEd in Undergraduate Learning and Teaching featured as a showcase of an structured approach to supporting pedagogical research tailored to a specific institutional context. Professor Martyn Kingsbury explained how the flexible nature of the suite of programmes has led to increased engagement from academics and staff in learning and teaching roles.
Prof Christina Hughes presented on the ‘Legacy of LEGACY’, another OfS-funded project exploring the development of methods to measure learning gain at a national scale. Christina highlighted the methodological challenges of measuring student learning and the importance of disciplinary context. The project identified how engaging with students, as researchers, via research-based surveys and instruments and through research and support benefited student learning.

The day concluded with a workshop run by Dr Camille Kandiko Howson and Carol Evans on the ‘Future of Pedagogical Research’, exploring:

    • REF-able pedagogical research
    • Key stakeholders, audience and outcomes of pedagogical research
    • Reward and recognition for pedagogical research
    • Quality, standards and ethics
    • Supporting and developing pedagogical research

The workshop explored how criteria for the REF applied to pedagogical research, particularly the shift in REF 2021 to allowing for impact within home institutions for pedagogical research. We also analysed additional models and typologies balancing theoretical and methodological rigour with practitioner relevance, levels of scholarship and impact. Participants fed back that ‘the balance of speakers and activities worked really well and I found the activity around different perspectives very engaging’ and ‘the day was very engaging’.

The workshop concluded with discussion of future areas of research, the need to identify key stakeholder communities and to engage educational leaders at the intersection of pedagogical research and institutional support. Research into pedagogy is continuing with Centre researchers with publications in draft and through research and evaluation as part of the Imperial Learning and Teaching Strategy.

European Conference on Technology-Enhanced Learning, Delft

Vily Papageorgiou, PhD student, Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship

On 16-19 September 2019, I attended the 14th annual European Conference on Technology-Enhanced Learning (EC-TEL) which took place at the University of Technology in Delft, The Netherlands. This year’s theme was ‘Transforming Learning with Meaningful Technologies’. The aim of this conference was to engage researchers, practitioners, educational designers and developers, university leaders, entrepreneurs and policy makers to address current challenges and advances in the field of educational technology. In this conference, I had the opportunity to present my PhD project at the Doctoral Consortium via a short presentation as well participate in the poster/demo session where I discussed my work with researchers and practitioners in the field. My PhD project will explore the pedagogical decisions educators and university professional staff take when designing for credit-bearing online learning as well the factors that influence their decision-making. It will also seek to understand how the experience of designing for credit-bearing online learning may inform educators’ face-to-face teaching practice.

Vily standing in front of her conference poster

My engagement with the conference started in June 2019 when I submitted a short paper with my initial PhD plan. This was a very useful exercise as it enabled me to articulate my research and present it concisely within a limited space. Then, I received feedback from two senior researchers in the TEL domain as well as four additional reviews from other PhD students. At the same time, I had the opportunity to engage with and review others investigators’ work to provide them with feedback and understand their PhD projects. The latter enabled me to be involved in interesting discussions about the strengths, limitations and implementation aspects of their research designs. That was a valuable experience in this initial stage of my PhD journey as the feedback I received not only strengthened several elements of my research but also prompted further thinking on aspects that may need more consideration. As such, I would highly recommend to early stage researchers to engage with similar activities and present their work early on their PhD.

My overall experience at this conference was great. The conference consisted of a wide range of sessions including but not limited to interactive half day workshops, poster & demo sessions, keynote presentations, research presentations and after conference networking events. Key areas of research included social learning & learning analytics, learning design, deep learning & prediction, learning behaviour in MOOCs, digital skills and competences, adaptive systems and gamification. This year there was a profound focus on data and learning analytics and their application in educational processes, decisions and evaluation. For example, several projects were looking into how data and learning analytics can predict learners’ behaviour and performance, support students’ learning (e.g. via personalised suggestions, enhanced student feedback at scale) and evaluate educational practice so that more informed pedagogical decisions are taken.

The two keynote presentations I attended were inspiring and provided food for thought on important aspects of the TEL domain. The first keynote by Geoff Stead, Chief Product Officer at Babbel, leading the digital learning experience team, focused on the role and structure of the different specialist teams to enhance cross-functional collaboration around product ideas and speed up the development cycle. It also highlighted the pedagogical and technological elements that this language learning application is based upon and proactive ways to collect users’ feedback to further enhance the learning experience.

The second keynote by Professor Rosemary (Rose) Luckin, Professor of Learner Centred Design at UCL Knowledge Lab, focused on the development of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) mindset with EdTech entrepreneurs. Similarly to the first keynote presentation, it was highlighted that partnership between educational stakeholders (e.g. educators, researchers, EdTech Developers, learners) is essential to build capacity. Professor Luckin provided an overview of the potential of AI to transform education and presented case studies of the work that she and her colleagues have been doing at UCL EDUCATE. The aim of this programme is to develop “an EdTech ecosystem which has evidence at its heart, understanding what truly works for learners and how to use technology to serve its users effectively”. It focuses on helping entrepreneurs in the education and training domains develop AI technologies to leverage their products/ services for the benefit of teachers and learners.

The conference was a great opportunity to learn about the latest research trends in the TEL sector, share and generate new ideas, get to know other people in my field and engage in debates. The Conference Proceedings can be found here for those interested in having a better look at the research presented.

StudentShapers and the annual RAISE 2019 conference

Dr Mike Streule, Director, StudentShapers

Early September sees the annual RAISE (Researching, Advancing and Inspiring Student Engagement) conference, this time held at the Newcastle University. Two interesting keynotes provided further food for thought and debate, especially as StudentShapers at Imperial develops beyond its initial stages, and our new curricula are implemented.

An interesting debate by Bruce MacFarlane and Colin Bryson focussed on the effects – both positive and negative – of Student Engagement policy and practices. Such practices and the inevitable measures that follow can be all too simple and ineffective at heart and completely fail to recognise that students are adults, are attending Higher Education essentially in a voluntary capacity and are expected to be ‘independent’ learners. Yet, increasingly we see practices such as attendance monitoring, measurements of student library access, ‘forced’ participation in class or group work as measures of student ‘engagement’. But of course students could be highly engaged in their studies in different ways, and ways that cannot be easily measured or seen – does forcing students to ‘conform’ into certain ways of learning inhibit their academic freedom to engage in various ways that Higher Education is supposed to cherish? Moreover linking interventions with increases in ‘engagement’ is therefore highly speculative and we, as educators need to be reflective and considering of interventions we might make to drive increases in ‘engagement’ without hidden and unintended consequences.

A second keynote by Cathy Bovill considered student partnership practice. Many institutions now support student partnership initiatives in one way or another. Certainly from other talks and discussions over the conference I was proud to represent such a programme that is so well supported and is part of an institutional Learning and Teaching agenda. However whilst StudentShapers still does more than many in terms of the number of students we work with and the range of projects we support, and even though there are recognised broader ‘knock-on’ effects to broader student communities, it is still a relatively exclusive practice.  As an institution we need to consider how we can teach in a more ‘partnered’ way; so that whole classes and cohorts can experience the academic freedom (noted above) to be part of, and engaged with a learning community in which their lecturers or instructors are also part, i.e. in partnership. At Imperial we have some excellent areas where we excel in this and over the coming months we will be putting together a project call to invite staff to work with students to develop their teaching with a greater emphasis on a whole-class partnership.  Changing how our students are positioned in our community is part of the Learning and Teaching Strategy – but it is a process which takes time – see this short read for an excellent summary. Such a change requires providing multiple ways and approaches for partnership to be adopted – something which StudentShapers will support as the Learning and Teaching strategy advances and our education becomes more developed in this respect.

The conference also marked a first of (hopefully) many, with our StudentShapers project student Shivali Jain from the Faculty of Medicine presenting her recent project ‘The impact of a serious game compared to conventional e-learning on performance in managing simulated clinical scenarios’. The poster provided great interest from delegates, and an ‘almost-winner’ of the student poster award.

Imperial’s contribution to international discussion about developing medical education

Dr Jo Horsburgh, Principal Teaching Fellow in Medical Education

Last week colleagues from department of Primary Care and Public Health and I attended the Association of Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) conference in Vienna.

Attendees from across the world meet to share and discuss the latest innovations, thinking, and research in medical education. This year’s themes included Threshold Concepts and Activity theory with keynote talks from Professor Ray Land (University of Durham) and Prof Yrjö Engeström (University of Helsinki). In addition to a wide range of workshops and symposia, the conference also provided us with an excellent opportunity to meet with our collaborators from Australia, South Africa and the Netherlands to discuss shared projects.

I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to present some research from my doctoral studies on medical educator identity. This research explored the facilitators and barriers to professional identity development and prompted much discussion around how we can best support medical educators in their development.

There was a wide range of presentations from Imperial, including MEd in ULT alumnus, Dr Andy McKeown, who presented from his dissertation on educational authenticity in longitudinal integrated clerkships.

The conference was an excellent opportunity to share ideas and generate new projects in order to best develop medical education at Imperial.

Making transatlantic HE connections at Imperial

Dr Camille Kandiko Howson, Associate Professor of Education

On 11 July 2019 the Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship hosted a group of 24 Executive Doctoral students studying higher education management from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. The students are mid-career professionals who have full-time roles ranging from Assistant Provost & Director of University of Florida Online at the University of Florida to Senior Associate Dean of Technology-Intensive Education at Georgetown University and Legislative Director, Council of the District of Columbia, and undertake their doctoral studies at the same time.

The Executive Doctoral students had an introductory session with Vice Provost Professor Simone Buitendijk and Assistant Provost Alan Spivey and engaged in discussion about implementing the Learning and Teaching Strategy. The students were particularly interested in aspects of leading cultural change and funding and finance.

A dynamic panel discussion on Admissions, Widening Participation and Outreach followed with Catherine Eames, International Student Recruitment Manager, Andrew Tebbutt, Director of Student Recruitment and Outreach, Caz Ulley, Head of Student Recruitment and Marketing and Mel Williams, Director of Admissions and Student Support. Debate included the characteristics that were included under the ‘access and widening participation’ banner, how outreach and admissions teams work in parallel, and the Exec Doc students were surprised to learn about the multiple levels that Imperial engages with through its outreach activities.

Following lunch, staff from the Centre and the Educational Development Unit participated in an active research networking session, sharing topics of study, current projects and similarities and differences in the US and UK systems. Imperial research and teaching staff and doctoral students benefited from speaking about their current research and learn from fellow students. Contacts have already been made from the event and future collaborations are in discussion.

The day concluded with an invited session on UK HE Politics and Policy from Professor Andy Westwood, Vice Dean for Social Responsibility, Faculty of Humanities, University of Manchester. There was lively discussion and debate about global challenges facing UK and US higher education, the challenges and opportunities for research intensive institutions such as Manchester and Imperial and ways that higher education can help foster connections across increasingly divided societies.

The visit highlights the leading role in evidence-based higher education research and scholarship that Imperial is investing in, and the global reach of the activity.

Enhancing engagement in medical education

Nikki Boyd, Senior Teaching Fellow in Medical Education

This year’s Annual Scientific Meeting for the Association for the Study of Medical Education (ASME), ‘Sustainability, Transformation and Innovation in Medical Education’ was held from 3-5 July at the SEC in Glasgow.

Building on my interest and experience in promoting inclusive learning environments, I facilitated a ‘Pop-Up Event’ on the second day of the conference on the topic ‘Sustaining medical students’ engagement and well-being through positive and inclusive learning and behaviour management strategies’. The aim of the ‘Pop-Up’ feature is to enable specific opportunities to network and share ideas with those interested in the same issues, and I was privileged to be joined in my session by colleagues from universities in Saudi Arabia and South Africa (as well as from across the UK) from a broad range of medical education backgrounds, all of whom shared a passion for sustaining student well-being and enhancing the learning experience.

Nikki standing in front of her presentation

My session centred around an activity which encouraged delegates to compare the merits of particular approaches and strategies for enhancing and sustaining engagement, and discussions within this elicited a range of important considerations of pedagogical, institutional and professional relevance as well as those specific to the immediate dynamics of the learning and teaching environment. Such discussions enabled colleagues to generate ideas about the priorities for further development and research in this field, and for me to signpost the EDU’s online resources on managing inclusive learning environments and their importance in supporting one of the key pillars of Imperial’s Learning and Teaching Strategy.

I would be very happy to discuss this more in person. If you would like to find out more about the Pop-Up Event and the approaches and strategies discussed in the session, please do get in touch.

A spotlight on Imperial innovation in Newcastle

Dr Tiffany Chiu, Senior Teaching Fellow, Educational Development Unit

Last week, I and other Imperial staff attended the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference at Northumbria University in Newcastle. This year’s theme was ‘Teaching in the Spotlight: Innovation for Teaching Excellence’. The aim of this conference is for practitioners and researchers to share and explore innovative teaching practices and pedagogies in different areas of focus in higher education, which contributes to teaching excellence and the quality of student learning. The area of our contribution was under the strand ‘Innovative practice that aids transition and retention’.

Freddie Page and I presented our use of the ‘ideal’ university student survey  to facilitate discussion on staff and student expectations of university students as part of induction exercises in the Dyson School of Design Engineering and how it has contributed to an inclusive and supportive culture and community. This is one of the key agendas of Imperial’s Learning and Teaching Strategy: “we share an ambition to build a community that is supportive, inclusive and diverse”. Being able to initiate this kind of conversation with students, we promote and encourage greater transparency between lecturers and students on the expectations of university students, contributing to support students with the transition from school to university. This survey is part of an ongoing educational research project which looks into views and expectations of what it means to be a university student, from the perspectives of students and staff across UK higher education institutions. You can find our presentation slides here: Ignite_Advance HE_TC-FP presentation

Our experience at this conference was wonderful – there were a lot of interesting and practical ideas for learning, teaching and assessment practice, amongst many other aspects in higher education. We attended some sessions on induction exercises and something we took away from them is that it is important to think about how we can better support students to develop their sense of connectedness and belonging at the early stage of their journey at Imperial, as this is one of the key influences on student success.

We’d be happy to talk more about this in person. If you would like to discuss how you can use the ‘ideal’ university student survey as part of the induction programme in your department or at any stage of the student learning journey, please feel free to get in touch with us:

Dr Tiffany Chiu

Dr Freddie Page

You can also have a look at the blog post we co-wrote on managing student expectations and understanding of what it means to be an Imperial student via Learning and Teaching Strategy blog.

The scientific iceberg

Sophie Rutschmann, Senior Lecturer, Department of Medicine

This time last year, I was in the midst of my first educational research project. As a student on the MEd ULT, I had completed my ethical approval, was finishing my interviews and transcribing them. I remember thinking that this was the tricky part, but I now know it was just the tedious one. Analysing the data, doing justice to the personal experience my participants had openly shared with me, and importantly trying to answer my research question in the least unbiased way were the challenges yet to come. I later also realised that, had I read more of the relevant literature before, I could have written sharper interview questions or picked a much narrower topic to investigate. In hindsight, I was merely re-discovering the struggles inherently associated with research, just in a new field. But by that stage, not too much could be done, so I ploughed on.

So what?

So what was this ‘broad-but-close-to-my-heart’ research project about? Since focussing my career on education, I have been exploring ways to bring our daily professional activities into the classroom. Why? Because I profoundly believe that there is no better way to learn than on the job: there must after all be a reason we all became good critical scientists without having had a single specific critical thinking class! My everlasting quest has therefore been to identify educational events from our everyday professional lives and reproduce them in the classroom. Some of these activities, like chatting around a coffee and ‘exchanging ideas’ will come naturally to our students! Some, like giving them the opportunity to freely use the scientific method by designing and executing their own mini-research project in our teaching labs, requires more planning. Some will also need careful preparation, such as allowing students to discover the hidden side of science, to realise that old-timers (that’s us!) can be challenged and can be wrong (hopefully not all the time!), and that science is full of controversies – something we do not talk about enough in the classroom but which, according to the PhD participants in my MEd project, is truly transformational in terms of critical thinking. This idea of a hidden but transformative side to science, that I called the ‘scientific iceberg’ (see illustration below), was recently presented at the Advance HE STEM conference in Birmingham, a presentation followed by some thoughtful discussions with peers from other HE institutions.

What next?

With a recently reviewed curriculum and based on the results of my MEd project, I have the incredible opportunity to take the next cohort of MSc Immunology students on a journey to explore the immersed part of the iceberg – to ‘drill’ and see with them what can be found in the carrot. Adapting Halpern’s model of teaching critical thinking to this idea of scientific iceberg, I have designed a series of activities which will hopefully help my students (and others?) develop their critical thinking skills further.

So I’m now back to square one: applying for ethical approval to not only evaluate the impact of this activity but also research whether the drill, directly inspired by the experience of newcomers in our community, has a positive impact even without the time, or trial and error factors we all know are key to learning on the job. So hopefully more to write about in another year’s time!

Power dynamics in student staff partnerships – a RAISE special interest group event

Mike Streule, Director, StudentShapers

I recently spent an interesting afternoon with other Student partnership practitioners and students engaged in student partnership initiatives at a half day meeting discussing power dynamics in staff-student partnership work at the University of Westminster. In recognition that our institutions instil a strong hierarchical structure amongst staff, and that generally the students fall beneath staff in that hierarchy in many contexts, provides us with a troublesome backdrop against which to facilitate student partnership projects. This backdrop leans towards uneven power distributions amongst co-workers on projects with the power bias typically leaning towards the staff. A thought provoking keynote talk by Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone extended this further, recognising that various characteristics such as gender, race and nationality could contribute further to the power dynamics amongst co-workers and create a complex intersectionality.

Student partnership often cites the desire for partnerships to operate in a model of reciprocity, and of mutual trust and empowerment within the project. But taking all these multi-dimensional power distributions, it is unlikely, perhaps impossible to truly have an even distribution of power amongst a staff-student co-working team. Perhaps, even, it is unethical to do so – should we totally de-legitimise the Professorship that an individual may have ‘won’ when all the statistical data would suggest they (according to their characteristics) were unlikely to do so?

So where does that leave us? Staff-student partnership should none the less be intentionally disruptive to the power relationships between staff and students, at least within the context of the project. And such disruption is likely to be potentially uncomfortable to staff and students, but also incredibly valuable. It gives greater agency and legitimacy to the student contribution to a project, and serves as a valuable learning experience that students may encounter again, and the experience directly aligns with some of Imperial’s graduate attributes.

Closing the meeting included an interesting discussion around the post-partnership relationships that staff and students might assume. Perhaps the balance of power shifts heavily back to the staff partners as future assessors of a student’s work or degree outcome? One can of course not retract a lived experience of partnership, but merely acknowledging a (temporary) disruption to the pre-existing power hierarchies by both staff and student is valuable in being able to, in some capacity, resume pre-existing power balances. Importantly however, working in, and developing the student partnership space can in time challenge the institutional power dynamics between staff and students and develop them into a more productive arrangement.

Imperial’s student partnership programme StudentShapers is growing and is part of the work of the Learning and Teaching Strategy to facilitate staff engaging with students as partners.  A roundup of the day, including Panopto recording will be added to the University of Westminster website soon. Feel free to get in touch at studentshapers@imperial.ac.uk.