Author: Andrea Rialas

Embedding Academic Literacy within the Curriculum

By Andrew Northern, Teacher of English for Academic Purposes, Centre for Academic English

You may be familiar with the concept of academic literacy, but what exactly does it mean in the context of Imperial? Is it the ability to identify what is relevant from a lecture or a reading text? Is it the ability to communicate your science effectively to your target audience in speech and in writing? Is it the ability to recognise the need to adapt the way you communicate your science to an increasingly interdisciplinary audience? Academic literacy encompasses all of these abilities and more, and is thus an integral part of learning and engaging with science. Moreover, it is also a vital part of the Learning and Teaching Strategy and its drive towards a more inclusive curriculum in which the student experience is enhanced through active learning.

Here’s a quick example sentence to show you how successful communication of science to a target audience requires more than just accurate grammar and vocabulary  ̶  it requires academic literacy:

Using this theoretical background and a wide range of well-known qualitative research methods, this paper reports on the specific innovative management processes that were at work in the development of two new products over the last four years that were outside the core business of the Chilean forestry firm described earlier and which were nevertheless successfully developed.”

The risk is that the value of the work described in the sentence above may be clear only to the scientist and not to the intended reader or listener. As a result, the mind of the latter may start to wander away from the science and its impact may be lost. What if the information were organised and communicated as below?

“We used this theoretical background together with qualitative research methods to map and analyse the specific innovative management processes used to develop two new products at the Chilean global forestry firm. Despite being outside the core business of this firm, both products were successfully manufactured over the last four years.”

Dividing the information into two sentences enables the reader/listener to pause and process before taking in a new piece of information. The reader/listener can appreciate the value of the scientific work as it is given prominence in the second sentence. The meaning in the original sentence also becomes clearer and more accessible with the use of active verbs (“We used…to map and analyse”) and more explicit linking (“together with” instead of ‘and’). An awareness of the reader/listener ensures that the science is communicated successfully and effectively.

The Centre for Academic English (CfAE) is a team of academic literacy experts who specialise in the communication of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine. We provide courses, workshops and consultations that cover all areas of academic literacy and are available to all members of College, including academic staff.

You may have attended our workshop as part of Imperial College Education Day 2018. Specifically, in terms of the undergraduate curriculum review, the CfAE team is collaborating and sharing our expertise with departments across the College. Our mission is to ensure that Imperial College students can have the academic literacy competence they need as lifelong learners and science communicators, both on their degree course and in the workplace. You can find a detailed overview of the broad range of ways we are working to embed academic literacy in the undergraduate curriculum here.

Visit: Centre for Academic English, Level 3 Sherfield Building, South Kensington Campus

The Student Success Guide revisited: preparing Imperial students to thrive in a new learning culture

By Dr Tiffany Chiu and Dr Mark Anderson, Teaching Fellows in Educational Development, Educational Development Unit

The Learning and Teaching Strategy aims to “build a culture which values learning and teaching highly, rewards staff for their teaching and moves towards greater parity of esteem” between research and teaching. As with any cultural change, the language we use to share meaning and values will be an important vehicle for this transition.

To successfully navigate our rich educational landscape, students will need to be fluent in this language. Developing university-level ‘learning literacy’ early in their degree will enable students to recognise and harness the opportunities offered by our new teaching methods.

To support our students, we have introduced concepts of active learning in the recently-revised online Student Success Guide on How will you learn at Imperial, with descriptions of how these forms of learning and teaching activities might actually be experienced by learners, and why they can be valuable. We have framed this message around six broad types of learning activity that students may encounter on their degree programme. These are:

As students come to recognise these types of learning and understand the value of full participation, we hope that they will be better able to take active ownership of their education and enhance their self-efficacy. In line with the Strategy, this will create opportunities for us to work in partnership with students for knowledge creation and co-construction.

The Student Success Guide was promoted at the Fresher’s Fair this year, where a range of branded merchandise was distributed with clear signposts to the online Guide.

In alignment with the Imperial Graduate Attributes, the ultimate goal of the Success Guide is to support Imperial students to become skilled, empowered and independent graduates – specialists who are well-prepared to tackle global challenges. The Curriculum Review process offers an exciting opportunity to embed a variety of invigorating, collaborative and problem-solving learning activities that will help students along this path.

To find out more about these learning types and example activities at Imperial, visit Success Guide – undergraduate students. If you would like to discuss how you can develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance, please drop us an email.

Also, don’t forget to check out the Active Learning workshop series run by the EDU where we explore the six learning types and other active learning strategies.


Dr Mark Anderson (

Dr Tiffany Chiu (

Future proofing our students and our degrees

By Katie Dallison, Careers Consultant, Careers Service

The robots are coming! This call has never been more real than right now, and right here at Imperial, mainly because we’ll be involved in creating them. So here, at the dawn of the 4th industrial revolution of embedded technology, how do we make sure that our students are ready to take on whatever they will find once they graduate? We teach technical skills, and coding, and theories, but how relevant will some of this knowledge be in 10, even 5 years? How much of the subject related knowledge you gained for your undergraduate degree/s is still used or, in some disciplines, even correct today? According the World Economic Forum, the most sought after skills in 2020 for graduates will be these:

This image lists what the World Economic Forum expect the most sought after skills in 2020 for graduates will be

These skills link nicely to our Imperial Graduate Attributes and realistically, much of the teaching we do already incorporates elements of them. Embedding these attributes into curriculum is often a matter of highlighting where this is already being done, whether that is to students or ourselves, and ensuring we’ve given our students the tools to perform tasks we’re asking of them. For example, if we ask them to do a team project, where in the past have they learnt how to work in a team? Have they had a chance to assess what they are good at, or where they need to improve? How can we make sure we give them all of the tools to properly develop this vital, complex skill? There are some great examples already out there from Imperial and beyond.

Now is the time to make sure our degrees and our graduates are fit for purpose in the future. Yes, we’ll need to teach them solid academic knowledge but to really make sure we are producing the best, we’ll also need Imperial graduates that have the ability to communicate and adapt to an unknown, ever changing environment.

To find out more about embedding attributes visit Resources for staff, Workshop resources: 18 July Employers, Employment and Employability and to discuss your departments unique requirements, drop me an email.

Introducing StudentShapers

By Dr Mike Streule, Imperial StudentShapers Director, Education Office

This week sees the introduction of StudentShapers to the Imperial Community.

StudentShapers is a programme developed between Imperial College and Imperial College Union to support partnership between staff and students. The programme represents the Learning and Teaching strategy’s commitment to working closely with students during the strategy’s implementation and beyond. StudentShapers supports projects in educational development and educational research with the programme open to the entire Imperial College staff and student body.

Scheme framework

The scheme framework provides a structure and guidance for fostering effective co-creative partnerships between staff and students, with bursaries to support the student contribution. These partnerships can adopt either Curriculum Development and pedagogic enhancement and innovation (Theme 1) or Learning and Teaching Scholarship and Research (Theme 2). Within each theme there are various project streams (see image below).

This image outlines the different types of StudentShapers projects. Staff can propose: curriculum development projects (under Theme 1) for UG and PGT, Educational research and investigation projects (under Theme 2) for UG and PGT, Translation of research in to teaching projects (under Theme 1) for PGR and additional projects which are ad-hoc projects for all students at other times of year or across themes.

Key benefits (amongst many others) for staff:

  • Enhanced the relationship or trust between students and staff
  • Development of new or better teaching or curriculum materials
  • Increased understanding of the “other’s” experience (e.g. staff understanding student experiences or vice versa)
  • Expanding a department’s capacity for educational development work

Key benefits (amongst many others) for students:

  • Increased student engagement/motivation/ownership for learning
  • Increased student confidence/self-efficacy
  • Increased understanding of the “other’s” experience (e.g. students understanding staff experiences)

Project Funding Proposal Process

Applications submitted via the online form on the website specific to project type (guidance notes are given to help with submitting an application that will be approved); see deadlines on the website.  Funding proposals for projects partnering with UG or PGT students are geared towards ‘full time’ projects taking place in the summer vacation. However long term projects with lesser levels of commitment with UG or PGT students plus projects for PGR students can be proposed throughout the year.



Follow on Twitter: @studentshapers

Introducing our educational research methods materials

By Nikki Boyd, Teaching Fellow in Medical Education, Educational Development Unit

By way of supporting the Learning and Teaching Strategy in its commitment to evidence-based innovation, we have developed a series of Educational Research Methods resources to help guide those in College who might be undertaking educational research or evaluation for the first time. Currently accessible from both the Teaching Toolkit and the Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship web pages, the resources are intended to provide an introduction to, and overview of, the key issues and considerations involved in educational research and evaluation, as well as to signpost useful further reading and resources that come particularly recommended from members of the EDU team.

Our experience in supporting scientifically-trained researchers in our postgraduate programmes over the years has enabled us to identify the main challenges that can confront those new to educational research or evaluation, and the intention is that these resources can either be used to “walk” novice educational researchers though the key steps in the process, or simply be dipped in or out of as needed. By way of inspiring our colleagues to engage with new methods, we have – where possible – included recent examples of where a method has been used in an educational research or evaluation capacity at Imperial specifically. We are very grateful to those colleagues who have allowed us to reference their work in this way.

Currently these pages encompass guidance to support the early stages in the research and evaluation process, along with details of other resources and networks that might be of interest. Work on them remains ongoing, however, and we hope to have further sections relating to the process of carrying out and disseminating educational research up over the coming weeks – so please do keep checking back.

These materials are intended to benefit the whole community of staff who are likely to be engaged in educational research or evaluation over the coming years, so we would very much welcome any ideas or suggestions you have which you feel would be of value to your colleagues. If educational research and evaluation is an area of particular interest to you, you may also be keen to engage with CHERSNet – the new network for supporting the development and dissemination of educational scholarship at Imperial. Please get in touch if you would like to be added to our distribution list.

Working with students as partners

By Nick Burstow, Deputy President (Education), Imperial College Union

Imperial College London often talks of working with ‘students as partners’, but until I started my role as Deputy President (Education) I had no appreciation for just how committed the College were to achieving this aim. My role allows me to sit on a number of committees, giving me the chance to directly represent the student voice at the highest levels of the College on all matters, no matter how big or small. The curriculum review is one such matter, and it is certainly one of the bigger ones!

Students have long expressed that they feel overburdened by a curriculum that is too excessive, with a heavy focus on factual recall rather than deeper, more conceptual understanding. The curriculum reviews offers the perfect opportunity for departments to address these concerns. Involving students in this process is essential, as they are able to offer a unique and valuable perspective.

My experience of the curriculum review so far is similar to that of George Orwell’s words in Animal Farm. Just as “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” I have seen that “all departments make efforts to involve students, but some departments involve students more than others.”

This framework, co-written by departmental and faculty level Academic Representatives, aims to provide guidance to departments on how to involve students in the curriculum review process. It is our hope that staff responsible for curriculum review will engage with this document, and apply its principles to their own practise.

Staff should not overlook the value that students can bring to the curriculum review process, and strive to work with them as partners. By using the framework for guidance, staff will be able to effectively tap in to the unique and valuable resource that is their students. In working together with one another, together staff and students can ensure that teaching at Imperial is the best it can possibly be.

Nick Burstow, Deputy President (Education)

Workshop support commences

Curriculum Review Kick-off Workshop

We have now kicked-off both Curriculum Review and our workshop support with the first of a series of workshops – the “Curriculum Review Kick-off Workshop.”

Curriculum Review teams were introduced to the range of support functions and staff across college who can support and inform departmental curriculum reviews.

The workshop drew on expertise from Academic Departments as well as the Education Development Unit (EDU), the Registry, the Centre for Languages Culture and Communications (CLCC) the Digital Learning Hub, the Graduate School, the Centre for Academic English, the Library Services, the Careers Services and the Student’s Union.

You can download a recap of this event from our new resources page.

Modularisation, QA and CMA workshop

We plan to run a number of follow-up workshops focused on specific aspects of Curriculum Review. We have scheduled the first of these for 21st March, 14:00-16:00.

This upcoming workshop will offer an opportunity to discuss in detail the implications of curricula design and modularisation for progression and assessment within new curricula, the requirements in terms of paperwork to submit via College’s QA committees, and compliance with CMA in terms of what we present in our prospectus for programmes and what we communicate to current and prospective students.

All Curriculum Review team members are welcome to attend and at least one person per team will need to attend. To sign-up please email

Sharing good practice – inclusive curricula and professional skills

 By Dr Clemens Brechtelsbauer, Deputy Director of Undergraduate Studies in Chemical Engineering and  Principal Teaching Fellow.

The purpose of the ‘Talking Teaching’ seminars is to share good practice across the college and make people think. For me, yesterday’s session on designing inclusive curricula and sharing professional skills certainly achieved that.

Elizabeth Hauke started with an intriguing question on what inclusivity actually is. Like many I subconsciously went for ‘not excluding anyone’ rather than ‘including everyone’. While the former can be addressed through curriculum design, the latter can really only be achieved during the teaching itself, which is a lot harder. Elizabeth gave the example of ‘learning contracts’ which set out a group’s rules that students and educators formally commit to – something borrowed from the corporate world of meeting and workshop management. In the chemical engineering department, we run a workshop session with first years to set out what they expect from lecturers, what lecturers expect from them, and what students expect from each other. We introduced this to make it clear that even in a high pressure / high achieving environment such as Imperial College, a normal work-life balance is very much what everyone is entitled to. While the events were always successful, I was wondering whether we could enhance their impact even further through agreeing a formal ‘learning contract’ with the students.

Sophie Rutschmann described a two day short course for MSc students on how to effectively read scientific articles. She found that students spend too much time with reading papers cover to cover – which is not the way a trained scientist reads them. I always thought that my approach of skim reading (abstract, figures, conclusion) then deciding whether it’s worth reading the rest was some sort of a ‘guilty pleasure’. It never occurred to me that this is actually a valuable technique that is not obvious at all and worth passing on to students. It made me realize that as academic teachers we have a lot more to offer to our students than just passing on subject specific expert knowledge.

I enjoyed the session and it gave me lots to mull over. The challenge I see is that all of these very useful activities are quite time consuming in comparison with a traditional seminar or a lecture. Although they are undoubtedly more effective, this comes at a cost. As we need to streamline already congested curricula it will require serious thought where to deploy these ‘heavy hitters’ so that the associated time cost is worth it.

Launch of Teaching Toolkits

By Kate Ippolito, Principal Teaching Fellow in Educational Development

We are very pleased to announce the launch of Imperial College’s online Teaching Toolkit. Based on our experience of working successfully with hundreds of Imperial’s teaching staff to introduce them to educational principles and techniques and enable them to apply these to improve the effectiveness of their teaching we have designed the Teaching Toolkit to support the College-wide Curricula Review and Pedagogical Transformation process and to complement the EDU’s workshops and PG programmes.

To reflect the aims of the Learning and Teaching Strategy and target areas for development during the initial curriculum review phase the first three sections available are:

Intended Learning Outcomes
Inclusive Learning and Teaching
Assessment and Feedback

In these sections you’ll find explanations of key educational concepts, such as what makes a useful learning outcome, strategies and tips, such as how to persuade students to act on feedback and advice, including on how to make lecturing and group working more inclusive. You’ll also find inspiring yet feasible examples from Imperial teaching staff. Please take a look, share and discuss the ideas with your colleagues and let us know what you think. We anticipate that this toolkit will become a focal point for developing and disseminating high quality, supportive teaching and learning practices across Imperial.

Coming soon… the Evaluating and researching education section and more internal and external examples, along with evidence of impact including video testimonies. This resource already represents much cross-College collaborative thinking and activity; to make Imperial’s Teaching Toolkit genuinely valuable to our community of staff who teach we’d welcome your examples of effective teaching and learning and suggestions for development.

Professor Peter Lepage on Campus

Visiting us at the South Kensington Campus today is Professor Peter Lepage, Goldwin Smith Professor of Physics at Cornell University. 5 years ago, as the then Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, he implemented a substantial program to introduce active learning into undergraduate teaching at Cornell.

Peter’s visit has kicked-off with a networking lunch, where DUGS and DPS have been questioning Peter about implementing active learning methods. A very similar lunch will run tomorrow for Teaching Fellows, 12:30 pm in 163 Skempton.

Peter will be on Campus until Wednesday, when he will give a Perspectives in Education lecture at 17:30 pm, Huxley 340.

We will be recording Peter’s lecture on Large-Scale Pedagogical Change. Staff members will be able to access this recording here.