The NSS and Enhancement (Review)

Coverage of the findings from the recent, new style, National Student Survey drew my attention to the Making it count report for the Higher Education Academy, coordinated by Alex Buckley (I’m afraid I’ve lost details of who pointed me towards the report, so cannot offer credit where credit is due).

make it countMaking it count is not new, it was published by the HEA in 2012, and therefore predates both the new-NSS and the introduction of the TEF. Nevertheless I found it a fascinating and worthwhile read – hence this reflective summary.

As most readers of this blog will know, the UK National Student Survey was introduced in 2005 and draws inspiration from the Australian Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ), which had been in use since the early 1990s. From inception until 2016 there were a standard set of 23 questions in the NSS (see this link for complete list). The questions were all positively phrased and students in their final year were invited to respond using a standard five-point scale from “definitely agree” through “mostly agree”, “neither agree or disagree”, “mostly disagree” to “definitely disagree”  (“not applicable” was also an option). Following extensive consultation, the questions were changed for the first time in 2017. A total of 27 questions were included, with some original questions retained, some rephrased and some brand new added (see this link for 2017 questions). Continue reading

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Reflecting on lecture capture: the good, the bad and the lonely

reflect-logoWe have been using lecture capture for about two years. I have to say at the outset that I am a big fan. Having said that however, there are aspects of lecture capture that I find problematic. Here I offer some quick and dirty reflections on my experience of lecture capture so far. This is not a scientific study, and I certainly haven’t gone away and done an extensive literature search, so I may well be rediscovering old truths.

The Good. There are many attractive features of lecture capture. These include:

  • Availability for review and revision. This is, of course, the main raison d’être of lecture capture, but it is important not to overlook the value this provides – students can go back over the sections that were unclear the first time.
  • Similarly the recordings can be used by those with legitimate cause to be absent (e.g due to illness, away sports fixture, etc)
  • Recordings can be useful for the lecturer themselves. We know that the first time you prepare a set of lectures you are likely to have recently read around the subject and be naturally “on top” of your material. The second year can be a different challenge – the slides are in the can, but you may not recall some of the wider points you had made to embellish the on-screen text and images. Listening back to recordings of your own lecture from the previous year can help to fill in the blanks.
  • The recordings can also be useful when we have to provide a substitute due to lecturer illness. A few year back, before we had our official lecture capture system, I had to take a semester off due to ill health. Fortunately I had audio recordings which could be provided to my “stunt double” along with the slides. Officially captured lectures can now fulfil this role.
  • In times of absolute need the recording can be officially made available in lieu of the live session. We had to use this route when a colleague was ill during the last week of a semester – there was no time to warm up a replacement and rescheduling was not feasible, so we actually showed a recording of the previous year’s equivalent lecture. I “hosted” the session and was really encouraged by the large proportion of the class who turned up in a 5pm slot, knowing that a recording was going to be aired (and that it was already available to them via the VLE).
  • Recordings can be built into reflection to help improve one’s own teaching or as part of an informal peer review process.
  • The tools for lecture capture can be used to pre-record material as a contribution to a “flipped teaching” model.
  • Lecture capture software (certainly the Panopto tool we use at Leicester) includes remarkably powerful inbuilt stats on usage by students. This can shine light on the aspects of a lecture that they felt needed clearer explanation.
  • You can change the speed of the recording. This might be slowing it down slightly for better note-taking, or it might be speeding it up (one of my students confessed that they like to listen to lectures by a colleague at a quickened pace because the lecture naturally delivers their material at an unduly leisurely pace).

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Putting the moving image to work in biochemistry education

The December edition of the Biochemical Society magazine The Biochemist has historically taken a slightly less serious look at some aspect of the subject. This year the focus is Biochemistry on Screen. Articles include discussion of Star Trek, Jurassic World, Contagion, Spiderman and others. I contributed a piece about the different ways that use moving image (especially TV) can be used in Biochemistry education. A copy can be accessed via this link.

Update: the article is now also mirrored on the website of ERA, the Educational Recording Agency (accessed via this link).

The December 2015 edition of The Biochemist focuses on screen representations of Biochemistry

The December 2015 edition of The Biochemist focuses on screen representations of Biochemistry

But is it any good? An information literacy tutorial

At the Higher Education Academy STEM conference in April 2012, I presented a poster offering an outline into a blended-learning tutorial we have produced in order to help undergraduates develop their abilities to evaluate the academic merit of different resources they might find on the internet. The tutorial involves the students working individually to critique eight specially chosen online sources presented as the results of a search on the topic of “mitochondria”. This is followed up by a group tutorial in which the quality and relevance of the materials are discussed more fully.

To see a pdf version of the poster, click on this image

Effective Learning in the Life Sciences

The book was edited by David Adams, Director of the UK Centre of Biosciences until September 2011

Today I have received my copy of Effective Learning in the Life Sciences: how students can achieve their full potential. As the subtitle implies, the book is targeted first and foremost at students wanting to make the most of their time at university, and at academics helping them to reach that goal.

1. Creativity (David Adams and Kevin Byron)

2. Problem solving: developing critical, evaluative, and analytical thinking skills (Tina Overton)

3. In the laboratory (Pauline Millican and David Adams)

4. Fieldwork (Julie Peacock, Julian Park and Alice Mauchline)

5. In vivo work (David Lewis)

6. Research projects (Martin Luck)

7. Maths and stats for biologists (Dawn Hawkins)

8. E-learning for biologists (Jo Badge, Jon Scott and Terry McAndrew)

9. Bioethics (Chris Willmott)

10. Assessment, feedback and review (Steve Maw and Paul Orsmond)

11. Communication in the biosciences (Joanna Verran and Maureen Dawson)

12. Bioenterprise (Lee Beniston, David Adams and Carol Wakeford)

Threshold concepts and Friendfeed – a window into troublesome knowledge?

On January 24th 2011 we were treated to a very thought-provoking seminar on “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge:  A Transformational Approach to Learning” as part of the University of Leicester’s Intrepid Researcher series. I won’t make extensive notes on the content of the presentation here because a very similar set of slides can be accessed here (Sept 2010, PowerPoint) and an older version here ( December 2008, pdf). A repository of resources related to the notion of Threshold Concepts is also available at this UCL site. I will reserve discussion here to a few of the main things that hit me.

Firstly, there is the notion that troublesome knowledge is really the key to maturing within a discipline – experiencing a certain amount of anxiety is a necessary part of moving on to deeper understanding. The concepts that trigger this experience within the majority of students may therefore be fundamental in their mastery of the topic. University education is analogous to gym membership (where work is required to reap the benefits) and not a stay at a luxury hotel.

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Obituary: the death of a dear friend?

The HE Academy have announced the phasing out of the Subject Centres

We are all aware that the UK is in a financial mess and savings need to be made. The nearer the guillotine falls to your areas of interest the more intensely you are going to feel the pain. The tragedy comes when cuts kill off services of genuine merit and value. The recent announcement that a spending review by the Higher Education Academy will result in the closure of the Subject Centre network is a huge body-blow.

Although the closure had been anticipated, the loss of the UK Centre for Bioscience is likely to have a significant negative impact on the student experience. It was been my privilege to become involved in the work of the Centre from its earliest days, and I want to put on public record some of the benefits that have I have drawn from their work. Continue reading

  • Awards

    The Power of Comparative Genomics received a Special Commendation

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