Reflections on Learning and Teaching Fest 2017
The UoC Learning and Teaching Fest is an annual celebration of some of the most innovative and effective practices taking place across the institution. As a relative newcomer to the University, taking up a Lectureship in Zoology in August 2016, this year’s L&T Fest was my first. I was keen to discover more about new learning technologies and creative ways to engage students, which are particular interests I’ve been exploring as part of the PgCert in Learning and Teaching for Higher Education. As part of my studies, I carried out an action research project on how the free interactive software programme, Mentimeter, can be used to improve student engagement, and was fortunate to have the opportunity to present this work at the event.
The L&T Fest opened with introductions from Esther Jubb, Principal Lecturer in Academic Development, and our Vice Chancellor, Julie Mennell. To celebrate the theme of the conference, Student Success, Julie asked the Heads of Department to pick out a few student success stories. The proud Heads offered far more stories than Julie perhaps bargained for. For me the highlight of the introductions was listening to the reflections of three students, Rob, Chloe and Zoe, on their undergraduate or postgraduate journeys. They explained how the tuition and opportunities they had experienced during their time at UoC helped them to develop the confidence, abilities and perspectives to achieve things they had not considered possible and to become their ‘best possible selves’.
This was a moving reminder of why many of us chose to work in Higher Education. It must have been a tough act to follow for even our Keynote Speaker, Ruth Pilkington, Professorial Fellow in Learning and Teaching at Liverpool Hope University. In a thought-provoking talk on Developing as an Academic in HE 2020, Ruth considered what is required for us as individuals to achieve teaching excellence in a changing sector.
After coffee, the conference split into five parallel sessions. In the first of these, I gained practical tips from Lisa Smith and Sarah Ruston on using Blackboard blogs to manage student learning, which I am keen to try for myself in the coming year. Liz Bates gave an interesting talk on improving the postgraduate experience, concluding that the learning community, work-life balance and support from staff, family and friends were key.
Feeling refreshed from a delicious buffet lunch, we reunited for a very engaging, funny and humble keynote by Grace Hurford and Nicola Kitchen, Lecturer of the Year and recipient of Most Creative Teaching Award of the Year, respectively. They showed that problems can be turned into opportunities, challenged the audience to use teamwork to lower a stick to the ground balanced on a finger, and described how transforming the classroom into the backdrop of a science fiction film can inspire scientific problem-solving skills. Most of all, they encouraged us to be original and to take risks. Leaving us in no doubt that they practice what they preach, they finished by singing about their ‘Favourite Things’ in academia to the tune of the song from the Sound of Music.
Grace and Nicola’s interactive keynote set the scene perfectly for my talk that followed on how the interactive presentation software, Mentimeter, can be used to promote student engagement. This was a joint presentation with Kelly Fielden, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy. With the help of our audience we demonstrated how two different functions of the software (multiple choice quizzes and asking the lecturer anonymous questions) can be used within a lecture setting. We showed how our students, across different disciplines, levels and Mentimeter contexts, agreed that the software adds value to lectures and all recommended that it be used again.
Next up were Julie Taylor, David Wright and Andrea Charters, who provided a really useful talk on how marking rubrics can be used to provide a wealth of focussed feedback, improve consistency between and within marker, save marking time and enhance the student experience. I have been using simple spreadsheet rubrics for marking some of my own assignments and now feel equipped to try this through Blackboard. Finally, Charlotte Hardacre gave an excellent and very enthusiastic talk on her experiences of student-led teaching. She (bravely, I would say) alternated the delivery of a module between herself and different groups of students. This encouraged students to prepare for class more effectively because student ‘teachers’ were more actively involved in learning and were well placed to pester their peers to do the reading to ensure their session worked well. I was particularly interested in the idea that the intervention fostered critical thinking because students were less accepting of material delivered to them by their peers.
The L&T Fest was a really positive experience because it offered plenty of ideas and practical guidance to try out in the next academic year. It provided opportunities to speak with colleagues from different disciplines that I wouldn’t otherwise have met. Most of all, I was struck by how many enthusiastic, talented and creative people we have in our institution that are striving to provide the best student experience through teaching and support.