Author: Hailey Smith

Managing student expectations and understanding of what it means to be an Imperial student

Dr Tiffany Chiu, Teaching Fellow in Educational Development, Educational Development Unit

Dr Freddie Page, Strategic Teaching Fellow, Dyson School of Design Engineering

The Learning and Teaching Strategy aims to establish a supportive and inclusive scholarly community which helps students with the transition to study at Imperial. To achieve this, the Strategy has stressed the importance of “managing expectations and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to play an active part in our academic community”. We recognise the challenges of the transition from school to university where expectations of university students are not always made explicit and transparent, which are central to inclusive and diverse learning and teaching practices.

Anecdotal evidence from staff conversations, especially at Imperial, has highlighted the increasing concern that students are taking a pragmatic approach to their education. That is, students are over-emphasising academic outcomes/grades, and overlooking the holistic aims of higher education, such as the importance of transferable and higher-order skills development. To support the development of an inclusive culture of diversity, we need to generate conversation and discussion on what it means to be a university student and what we expect from our students within our curriculum. For establishing a platform to initiate this kind of conversation, we have used the Ideal University Student survey as part of induction exercises in the Dyson School of Design Engineering to discuss any potential mismatches between student and staff expectations. This survey is an ongoing educational research which looks into views and expectations of what it means to be a university student, from the perspectives of students and staff in higher education. Below we briefly describe how this exercise can be facilitated in class:

We used the final part of the first year Design Engineers’ induction to the department talk to run a segment titled University Learning. We wanted to build upon students’ thoughts on the most important qualities of a university student before prompting them, so we asked students to spend 5-10 minutes completing the ideal university student survey ( individually before moving to discussion. The survey contains fifty-one qualities related to university learning, and students had to score how important they thought each was. After students completed the survey, they discussed in groups their ideas on the most important features of a student in Design Engineering and then submitted their answers to a Mentimeter poll. Students were also asked to respond to their thoughts on tutor expectations (i.e. What do you think the tutors think the most important features are?).

During the whole class discussion, we asked students to elaborate what they had agreed was important and why. This cohort identified ‘innovation, ‘collaboration’, and ‘critical thinking’ as being particularly important and thought that their tutors might also expect students to have ‘good communication skills’ and to get ‘enough sleep’.

We also discussed the relative weighting to the degree of the first year and the master’s project (the project carries more weight than the total first year). With these discussions, we hope students are able to see the university is a journey that supports them to develop their identity as an engineer, rather than focusing heavily on chasing every last mark. We also showed students what employers often look for when recruiting graduates, and what our programme’s learning outcomes are and how they align to this. We hope that by reinforcing this attitude throughout the degree, students are able to take more responsibility for their learning and see our programme as a framework to help them to succeed. Ultimately, we hope to support our students to become well-rounded independent graduates with a high level of self-efficacy.

To find out more about this project, please visit the Ideal University Student website. If you would like to discuss how you can use this exercise to manage student expectations, please drop us an email.

Dr Tiffany Chiu (

Dr Freddie Page (





Academic Promotions – Educational Research

The College is launching a new promotions framework for staff whose primary focus is teaching. It is designed to recognise achievements in the delivery of the College’s educational mission, for example innovating curricula and pedagogy, educational scholarship, and educational research and evaluation. It also recognises those that have taken up national and international leadership roles which support the College’s mission to excel and to lead in the field of Higher Education.

What has changed?

We’ve put in place a revised career structure which allows for two distinct career pathways for learning and teaching staff:

  • A practitioner pathway enabling educational practitioners to access promotion based on their contribution and impact
  • An educational research pathway for staff focussed on scholarly activity and research within higher education, as opposed to research within their own subject discipline
Diagram showing the Learning and Teaching Job Family Structure
[Top row of diagram] The Practitioner Pathway progresses from Assistant Teaching Fellow to Teaching Fellow to Senior Teaching Fellow to Principal Teaching Fellow to Level 6.
[Bottom row of diagram] The Educational Research Pathway follows the same career route as the Practitioner Pathway until the level of Senior Teaching Fellow, at which point colleagues may choose to progress to Associate Professor in Education and Professor of Education thereon.

A new pathway

The new career pathway for staff focussed on educational research, leading to Professor of Education, is now live. New job titles also include Associate Professor of Education and Reader in Education. Titles are conferred to reflect disciplinary context, e.g. Professor of Engineering Education, Associate Professor of Digital Education, Reader in Higher Education etc.

Staff currently within the Learning and Teaching job family and the Academic and Research job family may apply for promotion via this pathway. Staff should also be aware that research responsibilities will be included in their contract, and they will therefore be considered as ‘research active’ for REF.

Who decides?

The Promotions Committee will include the Assistant Provost (Learning and Teaching) and the Director of Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship, in addition to the Vice-Provost (Education).

What are the criteria?

Staff will be expected to have influence and impact at Faculty/College Level, be making a significant contribution to the delivery of the Learning and Teaching Strategy, and be increasingly involved in educational research and scholarship. They should also be contributing to the field of pedagogy and enhancing day-to-day practice.

What is considered ‘educational research’?

The College anticipates that most educational research will fall into the following four categories:

Practice – reporting aspects of pedagogic practice. Written by practitioners, for practitioners; case-study type approach; local context.

Research – reporting pedagogic research studies, presenting empirical data. Related to practice of authors or others, but focus is presenting data and conclusions; used as evidence.

Theoretical – range of evidence to present, clarify or critique pedagogic theory or theoretical frameworks. Written by academic theorists.

Policy – presenting vision of ‘best practice’, using evidence. Written by government, professional bodies, senior practitioners etc.
The educational research output is expected to be of the highest quality, in line with expectations from other disciplinary areas represented within the College.

It will take time for colleagues, and the College in general, to develop expertise to this level.  In this context, it is important to recognise that there may be other markers of quality, and different approaches to establishing a ‘profile’ and evidencing ‘impact’, which may not be typical in other disciplinary areas.

How can I find out more?

Further guidance is available in Appendix 5 – Criteria for Promotion for Senior Learning and Teaching Staff