Biosummit 2017

The University of East Anglia (Norwich) was the venue for the annual Biosummit, a gathering of UK bioscientists with an active interest in pedagogic research. As usual there was much to reflect upon. A summary of the event is captured in this Storified summary of tweets. My own formal contribution was limited to reflections on the value of using the Royal Society of Biology’s CPD framework as a valuable mechanism for capturing the evidence of activity, and reflection upon that activity, which is increasingly required for appraisals, accreditation and applications. The slides from my talk are available below (and via this link).

This continues to be a bona fide “Community of Practice”. One of the highlights is seeing like-minded friends and catching up on what they’re doing in their lives as well as in their work. The content of the conference, however, remains central. This year there were a number of highlights for me.

Jon Scott (a colleague from Leicester) gave a very clear discussion of how TEF2 (the recent round in which institutions had received Gold, Silver or Bronze awards) had gone, and how TEF3 (subject-level) may shape up. The session introduced me to some emerging jargon, including Gross Teaching Quotient and TEACH = Total Equivalent Adjusted Contact Hours.

I was also rather won around by a presentation by Ian Turner (Derby, and this year’s Bioscience Tutor of the Year) on “gamification”. Some recent conferences seemed to have drifted too far into “play” in HE for its own sake, and/or because it is a current fad. What Ian described appeared much more appropriate, as means to add fun and incentivisation to what are still primarily fairly academic activities.

David Lewis (Leeds) presented on a a study about final year projects, in which several HEIs have been involved. I was struck by the observation that students often don’t recognise the skills they have been developing via different aspects of their course and as a consequence I am going to be proactive in getting students to reflect on the skills they are gaining simply by participation in the degree activities.

The other session (Alan Cann, Leicester) that struck me most related to feedback via the online GradeMark tool. I think there are many advantages to this software, not least the fact that students often struggled to decode my handwritten hieroglyphs. Alan’s analysis of marked work in two subjects and focus groups with some of the students involved highlighted certain misalignments between staff and student perceptions of the quality of the feedback being given. For example, students hate academics’ use of the word “good” without any explanation of *what* was good about it. Also, staff may feel that criticisms of the current piece of work implicitly served as advice for better practice next time, but this is not how students perceive this – they see it squarely as judgement on the faults of the current work (with no forward focus). We therefore need to be more overt in stating “when you are carrying out your next assignment, you might like to consider…”. We also need to demarcate comments that are about good features from those that are criticism of less good – if we run the two together students tend to see the positive comment merely as a “sop” to soften them up before we clout them with the negative (our real focus!)

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