Tag Archives: learner engagement

Flexibility in assessment – should students choose? (2014)

Ciara O’Hagan, Molly Hashmi-Greenwood, Jo Long & Michelle Newberry

Assessment for and of learning is an integral part of higher education; appropriate assessment practices contribute to learning as well as measuring achievement (Boud, 2000). In many cases, the assessment diet of a taught course now includes assessment through a range of different methods, designed to promote development of different skills, match subject-specific requirements, and address the need for inclusivity in education.

It has been suggested that universities should develop a ‘flexible’ approach, whereby students have some choice in the method, format, or timing of their assessments. This may promote engagement by a) giving learners an element of control over their learning experience (Irwin and Hepplestone, 2012), b) contribute to developing autonomous, self-directed learners (Tusting and Barton, 2003), and c) address the need for inclusivity in line with the agenda for widening participation in higher education (Craddock and Mathias, 2009). However, it has been suggested that it may be difficult to ensure parity in setting and marking different assessment tasks (Knight, 2002). There are also issues with potentially allowing students to focus only on their strengths, and avoid developing their weaknesses (Hall, 1982). Also, offering choice may actually create anxiety for some students (O’Neill, 2012).

In this pilot study, we explore the experiences of undergraduate students enrolled in three modules in which there is some choice in the method of assessment of their learning. We consider the students’ reasons for choosing particular methods, their feelings about being given choice, and how/if these factors relate to levels of achievement in the assessment task.

295 – Inspiring Learner Engagement: the development of a curriculum design toolkit – Andrew Middleton, Panni Loh

This poster presents a framework to help curriculum design teams think about ways to heighten leaner engagement. The Learner Engagement Design Lens and the associated materials in the online Teaching Essentials resource-base have been developed with input from academic staff and students from all faculties this year. These ideas for good academic practice from Sheffield Hallam University are organised according to widely understood principles for Learner Engagement (i.e. Chickering & Gamson, 1987, and others) and they are complemented with information for design teams to explore further.

Course design suffers when potential design partners including students, employers and support staff, are excluded due to a lack of useful support. Nicol & Draper (2009) say transformative academic innovations can be stifled by a lack of teaching and learning knowledge among those tasked with designing courses. The design lens is intended to address this by presenting a set of seven inspirational and informative cards for use by multi-stakeholder teams involved in designing and reviewing effective and engaging curricula together.

Further information about the online Leaner Engagement toolkit, links to key resources and information about other design lenses will be shared in the poster.

295 Andrew Middleton Learner Engagement Poster

289 – Course ethos: it’s not the students who are strange – Neil Challis, Michael Robinson

If you talk to some lecturers, you will find no shortage of opinion about the shortcomings of our students.  They are ill-prepared for the university curriculum; don’t turn up to class; aren’t interested if it isn’t assessed; lack motivation; don’t love the subject; don’t know what they should; are only interested in how to pass the exam; lack basic skills; can’t write properly… Teaching in a university would be great, if it weren’t for the students.

Our own experiences are atypical. Contrast the caricature presented above with an equally broad-brush picture of a lecturer: we love our subject; are good at it; are motivated and hard-working; are interested in a deeper understanding; could cope with exam stress; and we’ve spent our adult lives surrounded by similar colleagues.

Drawing on work from the More Maths Grads project, which examined four diverse departments ranging from 30 to 350 students per cohort, we compare what students and staff say about their aspirations and consider how this impacts the students’ enjoyment and confidence in their subject. Whilst we found evidence of special effort being made to overcome the perceived student shortcomings, we nevertheless detect some frustration at these. If we become frustrated, is it us or them that have the problem? Is it reasonable of us to expect our students to share our outlook?

We suggest that our perceptions can lead to messages – explicit or implied – to students about their abilities can easily damage their confidence and well-being.

In particular we discuss ways to generate a more positive attitude so that more of our students might report, as one did:

“The … tutors treat the students as equals, I have never been talked down to …  I feel that the tutors and students work as a team aiming for one goal and that is the students understanding and enjoyment of the subject.”

Click to view:  289 course ethos it’s not the students who are strange

285 – Reactions to Workshops in the Undergraduate Nursing Curriculum – David Wood

Lecturers should aspire to provide excellent quality in their provision of teaching in higher education and ought to constantly reflect and evaluate both the effectiveness of their teaching and the value of the curriculum. Innovation is an evolutionary concept, continually unfolding and responding to a rapidly changing world (Burnes, 2004). This particularly applies to the higher education nursing curriculum. And at a time when drop out rates are high and undergraduate nurses embark on university programmes in ever greater numbers, teaching students in large lecture groups may be a false economy, without also backing that teaching up with smaller group activities.  This paper considers the implementation of changes to the delivery of a sociological module within the undergraduate nursing curriculum. When introducing innovation in any organisation it is useful to be aware of models of managing innovation. The diffusion of innovations model put forward by Rogers (2003) was used during this process.  The number of large group lectures was reduced replacing them with smaller group workshops, an elementary innovation, but one that produced particularly positive results. When these changes were evaluated a majority of students stated that they enjoyed the discussion sessions and other workshop activities. Some of the students praised the module delivery for ‘promoting interactive learning’ and a large number felt that their understanding of the subject had increased. After reflecting on this experience of innovation, it could be argued that changing the delivery method of this module has made a significant contribution to the module and to the undergraduate nursing curriculum.

281 – The importance of being idle ‘Creative idling’ and the displacement of joint thinking space in the modern Arts and Humanities Curriculum – Melanie Levick-Parkin & James Corazzo

Noun1.creative idling – the act of pursuing an as yet undefined creative goal in a non-linear fashion; participating in task unrelated activities or inertia whilst cognitively pursuing a creative solution.

In this paper we would like to ask: is there a place for ‘creative idling’?

To the uninitiated any creative process can seem unproductive and unfocused at times, often characterized by activities that seem indeterminate, unpredictable and lacking in clear objectives (Danvers 2003). Yet this ‘idling’ is as essential to the creative process as periods of focused activity. But how do you timetable space and resources for activities like being stuck?

The role of space in learning and teaching has been largely under acknowledged Jamieson et al (2000) and Temple (2007) and hidden by a discourse of ‘delivery’ and ‘utilisation’ that fails to recognize that spaces for learning are not ‘containers’ but co-constitutive of the activities that take place in them (Massey 1984) (Latour 2000). In arguing for the importance of ‘creative idling’ in disciplines that seek to develop creativity we suggest an approach that recognises the nexus of ‘pedagogy and place’ (Jamieson et al 2000) is essential.

In response to an HE context concerned with the ‘student experience’ and instrumentation of NSS / KIS an increasing focus on developing course identity and belonging is emerging. We would like to argue that acknowledging the importance of the spatial dimension is essential not only to creative activity but the very notion of student belonging itself.

281 creative_id_shu_lta

280 – Engage: initiatives exploring learner engagement in health and wellbeing – Claire Craig, Catherine Arnold, Vanessa Coleman, Dawn Hadden, John Freeman

Increasingly there has been recognition of the value of engaging students as active partners in all aspects of the learning experience.  Authors such as Campbell et al (2007) have suggested that when learners can be engaged successfully that the benefit can extend to learners, educators and the broader institution.  Unsurprisingly this has led to a plethora of initiatives focusing on approaches to promote learner engagement (HEA 2012).

The Faculty of Health and Wellbeing at Sheffield Hallam University has been part of one such initiative and a team of academics has been exploring ways to engage with learners across the areas of quality, academic support, learning and teaching and customer relation management.  Using a qualitative methodology we have interviewed and engaged with staff and students across the Faculty in order to begin to build an understanding of the multiple dimensions of learner engagement and the strategies for beneficial engagement used by staff and students.

Initial findings from the work have highlighted the importance of seeing the ‘whole student experience’ and of the value of the social and emotional dimensions of engagement.

This co-lab provides an opportunity to share this understanding and will be of particular interest to members of staff involved in curriculum design and development.  We hope to use this session to share our progress to date and to provide an opportunity to compare our findings with those of similar initiatives and approaches occurring in other parts of the university.

The session will begin with a short overview of learner engagement with consideration of the literature and policy drivers that have framed our work (Canole et al 2007, Chickering and Gamson 1987). You will then have the opportunity to participate in a series of experiential activities (including a diamond nine and reflection on video and case study material) ending in a discussion as to how to take this work forwards with consideration of principles and practices to enable this to happen.


Bryson C, Hardy C. The nature of academic engagement: what the students tell us In: Solomonides, I. Reid, A., Petocz, P, ed. Engaging with Learning in Higher Education. London: Libri Publishing, 2012, pp.25-46.

Campbell, F, Beasley, L, Eland, J and Rumpus, A (2007). Hearing the Student Voice: Final report. The Higher Education Academy, Napier University: Edinburgh, Scotland

Canole, G, Creanor, L, Irving, A and Paluch, S (2007). In Their Own Words: Exploring the learner’s perspective on e-learning: JISC

Chickering, A.W., & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin,39(7), 3 7.

279 – Comparing ‘Home’ and International Students’ perceptions of Inspirational Teaching – Anna Bunyan, Manuel Madriaga

Strand: Supporting Students

Anticipated outcomes: to inform both the institution and the sector, and will be used to enhance to quality of teaching for the benefit of students.

Session outline (or abstract):

This presentation will share evidence from an analysis of student comments derived from the student-nominated Inspirational Teaching Awards scheme at Sheffield Hallam University; now in its third year. It is based on student nominations and student comments taken from the Student Barometer Survey. The student comments inform the selection of award winners. The ethos behind the introduction of the student-nominated inspirational teaching awards was to celebrate and recognise contribution by staff which may otherwise go unrecognised. This study builds upon research done last year by the QESS on evaluating student perceptions of what makes inspirational and transformative teachers. While there is some literature available on what makes an exceptional teacher in higher education (Carnell 2007, Skelton 2009, Devlin and Samarawickrema 2010) and on rewarding teaching excellence (Elton 1998, Carusetta 2001, Palmer and Collins 2006, Gibbs 2007, Chalmers 2011), this work is exceptional in that the student voice is required in nominating inspirational teachers. The findings agree largely with a similar study in another UK university, where being approachable, passionate and knowledgeable are traits which are valued by students (Su and Wood 2012)

In the Student Barometer Survey students responded to a question (200 words max.) on how their experience has been transformed by inspirational teaching and by exemplary learning support. 2690 comments were analysed, of which 2272 were Home students and 418 were international. All student comments were anonymised, collated and analysed with NVivo to identify common themes. The comments were coded at 18 different themes as follows: 1 Approachable; 2 Beyond the Classroom; 3 Challenges students to succeed; 4 Encouraging; 5 Entertaining; 6 Enthusiastic; 7 Friendly; 8 Good teaching style; 9 Influence on practice; 10 Knowledgable; 11 Motivational; 12 Organised; 13 Passion for subject area; 14 Professional; 15 Reliable; 16 Respect for students; 17 Supportive; 18 Up-to-date in research.

The evidence shows that this work is beneficial for all students, regardless of whether they are ‘international’ or ‘home’ students. The research is being carried out by a student researcher in collaboration with experienced research staff.  It is hoped these finding will inform both the institution and the sector and will be used to enhance the quality of teaching for the benefit of students.


Carnell, E. (20070. Conceptions of effective teaching in higher education: extending the boundaries. Teaching in Higher Education, 12 (1), 25-40.

Carusetta, E. (2001). Evaluating Teaching Through Teaching Awards. New Directions for Learning and Teaching, 88, 31-40.

Chalmers, D. (2011). Progress and challenges to the recognition and reward of the scholarship of teaching in higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 30 (1), 25-38.

Devlin, M. and Samarawickrema, G. (2010). The criteria of effective teaching in a changing higher education context. Higher Education Research and Development, 29 (2), 111-124.

Elton, L. (1998). Dimensions of excellence in university teaching. International Journal for Academic Development, 3 (1), 3-11.

Gibbs, G. (2007). Have we lost the plot with teaching awards? Academy Exchange, 7, 40-2.

Palmer, A. and Collins, R.  (2006). Perceptions of rewarding excellence in teaching: motivation and the scholarship of teaching. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 30 (2), 193-205.

Skelton, A. M. (2009). A ‘teaching excellence’ for the times we live in? Teaching in Higher Education, 14(1), 107-112.

Su, F., and Wood, M. (2012). What makes a good university lecturer? Students’ perceptions of teaching excellence. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 4(2), 144-155.


278 – Collaborative Learning – Mark Boylan, Jackie Cawkwell

Jackie and Mark aimed to facilitate:

  • a developed understanding of the nature of collaboration
  • a map of the experience of collaborative learning
  • an identification of student support needs
  • a cross-course understanding of differences and similarities in practice
  • a possible SEEJ paper
  • an experience of a model of collaborative enquiry to inform practice

Using (literally) brown paper as a way of visualising the experience of collaborative learning, small groups mapped a real-life scenario, identifying strengths and weaknesses of the approach and discussing what student support activities might enhance the student experience. Whilst this methodology offers an effective way of unpicking different elements of a process, or in this case an experience, we did find that it takes more time than you’d think! Consequently we did well on charting the experience and on understanding the nature and different aspects of the experience  but barely began to explore differences and similarities between courses. Nevertheless, the enquiry group on collaborative learning will take this discussion forward into 2013/14, with a possible SEEJ paper and Student as Researchers project. And we also now have 7 or 8 charted and mapped course experiences of students working together!

Everyone who contributed to the Co-Lab will now have their names added to the Enquiry Group email list. Many thanks to all who joined in.

Session outline as in Conference Programme:

Collaborative learning is an important aspect of the student learning experience, taking many different forms, including peer supported learning of various types and assessed group work. Developing and practicing the capacity to collaborate is itself an important life skill as well as a pedagogical approach widely recognised as supporting different and greater learning than individual activity might alone. It is central to problem based and enquiry based learning. It is also often challenging for students and this can be accentuated by socio-economic, disability and other student characteristics. Often the experience of collaborative learning across the course or programme is not sufficiently considered either.

The focus of this Co-lab is on the student experience of collaboration across a range of courses, the experience of progression and on the support needs of students (generally and specifically). There will be a brief introduction to the work of the SHU Collaborative Learning Enquiry Group; we will share the methodology and outcomes from an earlier activity by the Group, adapting a method called ‘Brown Paper mapping’, a technique that allows processes and experiences to be visualised and adapted from industrial and business contexts. We will undertake our own Brown paper mapping exercise, charting the journey of the students and identifying:

  • what is experienced positively by staff and students
  • what challenges staff and students
  • further opportunities for the development of effective approaches to collaborative learning
  • what support students receive and what further support could be offered
  • an agreed number of action points to inform the future work of the Enquiry Group


Boylan, M. & Smith, P.  (2012). Tutor roles in collaborative group work. Student Engagement and Experience Journal, 1(1). Available at: http://research.shu.ac.uk/SEEJ/index.php/seej/article/view/34/Boylan

Falchikov, N. (2001) Peer Tutoring in Higher Education New York, Routledge Falmer.

Lizzio, A. & Wilson, K. (2006). Enhancing the effectiveness of self-managed learning groups: understanding students’ choices and concerns, Studies in Higher Education, 31(6), 689-703

Nortcliffe, A. (2012) Can students assess themselves and their peers? A five year study. Student Engagement and Experience Journal, 1,(2) Available at: http://research.shu.ac.uk/SEEJ/index.php/seej/article/view/29/Nortcliffe

Thorley, L. & Gregory, R. (eds.) (1994) Using group based learning in higher education. Kogan Page.


262 – Building an online course identity: an example from a post graduate course in occupational therapy – Susan Elizabeth Walsh

Strand: Course Identity

The MSc Occupational Therapy (post graduate) course is delivered entirely online using Blackboard VLE.  Although online learning can have advantages for students in  allowing more flexibility across distance and time (Helbers et al 2005) and possibilities for different styles of communication (Casimiro et al 2009), the development of an online course identity can be problematic in the absence of the usual physical and visual cues available in classroom learning (Murphy 2004). We encouraged the development of an online course identity from the start in a number of ways: identifying students’ own learning needs and aspirations to build a sense of personal commitment to the course; recognising and valuing students personal, academic and professional contributions to build social cohesion and commitment to each other and introducing students to the wider academic and support team in the faculty to create a sense of belonging to a vibrant academic learning community. With an e-learning technologist, we developed a range of creative and interactive e-learning resources and activities to use in the two week induction period and the first module of the course. We utilised Salmon’s 5 stage model of online learning (Salmon 2004), in particular the ‘access and motivation’ and ‘online socialisation’ stages, to structure the e-learning resources and activities.

.The anticipated outcomes of this presentation are to:

  • Evaluate a range of e-learning resources and activities used during the induction and first module of the course in promoting course identity.
  • Apply pedagogical theory, in this case Salmon’s 5 stage model of online learning, to underpin the way that e-learning resources and activities are utilised.
  • Consider the wider relevance of the approach to other post-graduate courses.

The session will include demonstration of some of the e-learning resources and activities and how these contributed to the formation of course identity.


Helbers, D, Rossi, D, Hinton, L (2005) ‘Students use of an on-line learning environment: Comparisons of group usage within a first year Health Communications course’, Student in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development, 2 (1) P 20-33

Casimiro, L.  (2009) ‘Grounding theories of W(e)Learn: A framework for online interprofessional education’, Journal of Interprofessional Care, 23(4), pp 390-400

Murphy, E. (2004) ‘Recognising and promoting collaboration in an online asynchronous discussion’, British Journal of Educational Technology, 15 (4)

Salmon, G. ( 2004). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London and New York: Taylor and Francis.

261 – Successful TNE: Engagement or Positioning Theory? – Alison Macfarlane and Hazel Horobin

Anticipated outcomes: Participants will have an opportunity to consider what makes for meaningful and authentic learning in an international context

Session outline (or abstract): max 300 words

Much of the literature relating to teaching international students focuses on ‘managerialist’ issues associated with what is done to the learner and the efficiencies generated by activities such overseas teaching (Altbach, 2007).  Conversely, relatively little research exists in relation to the meanings generated for participants by that teaching (Edwards and Usher, 2008).  The current down turn in international student numbers into the Allied Health Department has prompted outreach work in the form of Transnational Education (TNE) in Asia that aims to continue to develop both recruitment and partnership working.  There are divided opinions on the issue of adaptability in transnational programmes.  Some suggest that pedagogic practice should be in line with the cultural context of the students (Kelly and Tak, 1998); others disagree and claim that the impact of cultural differences can be reduced by use of the principles of good teaching regardless of the course location (Biggs, 1997).

The authors have both successfully undertaken TNE this academic year and they discuss their approaches to TNE founded on theoretical constructs that align with opposite ends of the pedagogic discourse around adaptability.  Alison used an engagement approach aiming to generate a collaborative classroom, she and students pursued together worthwhile and meaningful answers to practice problems generated by the students.  The non-academic, ‘authentic’ activity and real skill development enabled the qualified physiotherapist participants to build on their previous knowledge as well as expand existing skills (Kearsley and Shneiderman, 1999).   Hazel used an appreciation of positioning theory to challenge notions of traditional roles (Langenhove and Harré 1999) and shape classroom encounters and generate a positive and welcoming academic environment, consistent with good pedagogic practice  (Ryan and Viete, 2009).  The discussion demonstrates that both approaches have strengths, but also issues that need to be taken into consideration in complex teaching arenas.

Session activities for engagement: Discussion of how practices relate or not to theoretical constructs and explores the meaning of teaching and learning effectiveness in different contexts.


ALTBACH, P.G. (2007) ‘The Internationalization of Higher Education: Motivations and Realities’ Journal of Studies in International Education, 11 (3-4): 290-305

BIGGS, J.B. (1997). Teaching across and within cultures: the issue of international students. In Murray-Harvey, R. & Silins, H.C. (Eds.) Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Advancing International Perspectives, Proceedings of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Conference (Adelaide), HERDSA, 1-22.

EDWARDS, R. and USHER, R. (1997) ‘27th Annual SCUTREA Conference Proceedings 1997.  Crossing Borders, Breaking Boundaries: Research in the Education of Adults.  Globalisation and a Pedagogy of (Dis)location’ [www] http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/000000225.htm

(Last accessed 20th December 2010)

KEARSLEY, G., & SHNEIDERMAN, B. (1999). Engagement Theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Retrieved March, 20013, from http://home.sprynet.com/~gkearsley/engage.htm

KELLY, M.E., & TAK, S.H. (1998). Borderless education and teaching and learning cultures: the case of Hong Kong. Australian Universities’ Review, 41(1), 26-33.

RYAN, J and VIETE, R (2009).  Respectful Interactions:  Learning with International Students in the English Speaking Academy. Teaching in Higher Education. 14 (3), 303-314.

van LANGENHOVE, L. and HARRÉ, R. (1999) Introducing Positioning Theory.  In Harré, R. and van Langenhove, L. (Eds). Positioning Theory.  Oxford, Blackwell

Click to view presentation:  261 Successful TNE