Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Teaching Forum 2016

Queens' College, Cambridge
Yesterday I attended the inaugural Teaching Forum organised by the newly launched Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning. In it's own words the Teaching Forum aims to bring together staff across the University to discuss all aspects of education. The aims of the Centre include:
  • supporting those who teach in Cambridge to contribute more broadly to the Cambridge experience
  • to encourage innovation within teaching and
  • to provide a useful focus for issues in higher education
After a welcome from Professor Graham Virgo, the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, we moved into the first of several parallel sessions.

Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright: Understanding first year undergraduates Physics performance by gender
Dr. Jardine-Wright talked about the differences between male and female students when it came to attaining top grades in Physics and suggested possible reasons for this. I won't go into too much detail as she asked that results not be shared in that way but I got a lot out of the session. Dr. Jardine-Wright talked about the importance of helping students transition from A-level to university level education and highlighted the successful work of the Isaac Physics project which helps students of physics prepare for the transition to studying at a higher level.

This got me thinking about helping students through the transition to university, something libraries can have a key role in. It has always struck me that from secondary school through to A-level many students are taught to answer exam papers and then when they arrive at university they are suddenly expected to manage their own learning, often with little or no preparation. What is the role of the library here? I think many libraries help students when they first arrive by teaching them information management skills and instilling good habits but I wonder what else we could or should we be doing? Are we already doing too much or is this something we can contribute to? I don't have a definitive answer but I'm open to suggestions.

Dr Sonia Ilie: Capturing excellent education outcomes: measuring students learning gain
This presentation outlined the work so far on HEFCE commissioned research to test and evaluate methods of learning gain. Learning gain is becoming an increasingly important method of measuring the outcomes of education and is one of the metrics used in the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework. Dr. Ilie defined learning gain as the progress in knowledge, skills and competencies made by students during their higher education experience. As with all concepts like this it proves complex to measure as it needs to take into account elements such as the differences across disciplines and sectors. A hastily snapped picture of the slide explaining the model so far is below.

Slide from Dr Sonia Ilie

It will be interesting to see where this research goes. I was lucky enough to be invited along to discuss CILIP's response to the Green Paper outlining the TEF last year and it's definitely something information professional should keep an eye on. Where is our place as teachers and will we be subject to the same measures should the TEF come into force (as looks likely)?

From a more personal perspective measuring learning outcomes is something I have been thinking about a lot in my current role as I prepare to implement the next phase of our Research Ambassador training programme. How do I measure what participants have learnt in an effective way without resorting to formal assessment (not in the budget at the moment). I'm looking into options for self and peer assessment but this presentation has given me other options to explore.

Dr Sue Kroeger: Inclusive teaching: design and practice
Dr. Kroeger from the University of Arizona talked about the importance of thinking about the student when planning educational programmes. Her research focuses on the needs of disabled students but her points can be generalised to all students. When planning a lesson teachers need to think about making the class accessible for all - how do you design it so that you don't have to make adjustments for people since you have already made it accessible to all? Thinking about students who have different needs this is an important point and can help everyone feel included in the education experience. It also has applications for areas such as library service and building design.

One thing that Dr. Kroeger said which really stuck with me was that we need to stop thinking about what we want to teach students but instead focus on what they want to learn. We can then use this as a basis for planning. Decisions about the content of a course are traditionally made by the teacher as the expert in the room but why not have guidance from students? This can then help them to engage with the content and take some ownership rather than just having knowledge thrown at them. This is definitely an approach I recognise in my own teaching and this talk has made me consider things from a new perspective. Trying to persuade people to attend training sessions is proving challenging at times so I'm going to try to take a different approach and think about what I want my learners to have as an outcome and take it from there.

Dr Amy Ludlow and Dr Ruth Armstrong: Educational partnerships between universities and prisons: how Learning Together can be individually, socially and institutionally transformative
This presentation followed on from the theme of coproduction in the previous session. It outlined the Learning Together project which brings students in prisons and universities together to study degree level material within the prison environment. In this example the students were studying Criminology material and then discussing it together. Both groups have been transformed by the experience and it was wonderful to see such a positive outcome. Past students wanted to continue their involvement as mentors to new students and the scheme seems to be working well. There was a lot of interest in the project at the Forum and invitations were issued to the presenters to enter into further discussions.

Following on from the previous presentation the talk looked at the theme of coproduction in learning - letting students contribute their voice to the learning experience. This was a recurring theme of the day for me and definitely something to think about as it adds so much to learning.

Thoughts
There were many themes coming out of the day which I will take away but the main one for me was the recurring theme of the importance of coproduction - letting students contribute their voice to the learning experience. There are implications for me in the way that I think about my own teaching practice and I want to explore these a bit more.

One thing that really struck me about the event was the number of library staff present. The Forum wasn't badged as an event for librarians but many of us attended anyway. I think this shows the strong emphasis placed on teaching by the Cambridge library community which is something I hope to see much more of in the future. 

photo credit: Queens' College via photopin (license)     

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