For the last few years a highlight of the spring at Cambridge has been the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning Forum. It provides a chance for all those with teaching responsibilities (at any level) to learn about best practice, new techniques and how we can improve our offer to our students. The 2018 event was held on a sunny day at Murray Edwards College with the highest number of attendees ever (including many librarians). I've picked out a few of my key themes of the day below:
The opening panel focused on how to make teaching more inclusive. It pointed out that the term inclusivity is an easy one to use but it requires careful unpacking into its many different facets. Like any other university Cambridge caters to many students with disabilities. The panel focused on moving away from a model where changes are made to accommodate someone with additional needs and towards an affirmative model where changes can be made for the good of all. Lecture capture was cited as an example of this - it can hugely benefit students with certain learning issues but can be used to great advantage by all (more on lecture capture later).
There was also talk of decolonizing or decentralizing the curriculum. This is again an issue that many universities face but perhaps the pressure is more intense at an institution like Cambridge. As well as looking at what we teach (which topics are covered and which readings are assigned) we were encouraged to think about why we teach the way we do. Most teachers used their own teachers as models of good practice because that's what they know but is this just perpetuating the problem? We need to think about what influences our decisions to teach they way we do by asking ourselves some hard questions. This is something I know I need to think about as I reflect on my own teaching practice so this was one of my top takeaways from the day.
The issue of lecture capture was one of the big themes of the day and cropped up in multiple sessions. he process involves recording a live lecture and then making that recording available to students on the course. At the moment this has been done as an opt-in pilot project at Cambridge but it has been very popular with students. Formal permission was sought from lecturers to record their sessions and students were made aware that any contributions or questions from them could be edited out of the recording (although to date no one has taken up this offer).
There were several concerns raised about capturing lectures:
- copyright - part of the formal permission sought from lecturers included a copyright statement asking them to agree to sharing their presentation. Personally I would have liked more information on the copyright issues brought up by the content of the presentation as this is the most common issue I deal with. Something for me to investigate further I think!
- attendance at lectures - several people were understandably concerned that having a recording of the lecture would mean students were less likely to attend the live session. Evidence from the pilot project and its student survey actually suggests the opposite, with only a tiny percentage unlikely to attend
- use of material - some lecturers were concerned about the possibility that students would upload lecture captured content to online platforms such as YouTube. Students specifically agree not to do this when accessing the video but many pointed out that if they really wanted to there was little to stop them. Lecturers also worried that something they said during a lecture could be taken out of context and posted online - possibly leading to embarrassing repercussions. They wondered if this would impact their presentation style and lead to a level of self-censorship which could do a disservice to the students in the room
Some advantages of lecture capture were also highlighted:
- catching up - students who are forced to miss the live session due to illness or other commitments used the recordings to make sure they hadn't missed important content
- revision tool - many students were using the recordings as a revision tool before assessments. Some event attended the lectures just to listen and then watched the recordings to take notes
- reduced stress - levels of stress and anxiety were reduced among all students as they knew that they would have the opportunity to review the material
- questions - one slightly unexpected outcome was that students were spending less time asking their lecturers trivial questions about the content as these could be answered through the recordings. Instead they were able to use their tutorial time more effectively by exploring deeper questions around the content
The theme that technology doesn't need to be a foreign thing was echoed in other presentations, including a very entertaining session from Dr Hugh Hunt from the Department of Engineering which showcased a marvelous bit of kit called a visualizer which lets you project what you are doing on the screen - ideal for conducting experiments and bringing in outside experts over Skype!
The final theme was the issue of assessment - how do we ensure that students have learnt what they need to know? Many presenters made the point that assessment should be less about measuring performance and more about making sure that students are reaching their potential. There was also a lot of discussion about the authenticity of assessment. We need to make sure that we use assessment methods show students are prepared for whatever they do next. At the moment we are great at assessing their ability to write an essay in exam conditions but what about skills they will use in the workplace such as writing reports or making a great presentation? Do we even need two different streams of assessment depending on the next steps the student will take - one for those going on to employment and another for those pursuing further study?
There were also calls for greater levels of assessment literacy. We need to inform our students what they will be working towards before they start so that they know what is expected of them, for example what knowledge and skills are they expected to develop in order to earn a first or a 2:1?
I think one of the most important messages on assessment for me was that we need to move away from learning objectives and instead focus on learning outcomes by focusing less on what we want to teach but on what our students need to learn to operate effectively. This is something that I will be thinking about as I plan the 2018 run of the Research Support Ambassador Programme at Cambridge.
Overall the day was really inspiring and gave me a lot to take away and think about - I'm already looking forward to the 2019 Teaching Forum!