Bioscience Education Summit

Lindsey FerrieDr Damian Parry and I recently attended the OUP (Oxford University Press) Bioscience Education Summit which this year took place in Ulster University, Belfast. After an entertaining “bucket list” icebreaker session ran by Dr Parry himself the conference broke out into the first of two key discussion forums. Jonathan Crowe from OUP led an interesting session on the role of publishers in higher education and what, if any, additional support they could be offering to enhance student learning. Most attendees suggested that if publishers could increase the number and breadth of case study style questions then this would be a benefit. However the more thought provoking conversations in this session focused on the responsibility of publishers to support students developing critical thinking skills by placing greater emphasis on the range of research evidence used to establish a scientific theory. One compelling comment from a delegate has lingered in my mind “it is too hard for a student to even comprehend that one bullet point in your lecture slides might be the result of 5-10 years of research”. I thought this was a very interesting point and wondered how much of this is truly covered in our research-led and research-informed teaching?

The final discussion forum of the summit explored the different forms of teaching observations being performed within Higher Education Institutions. The session posed the pertinent question “why and who for”? This led to an interesting debate on whether such observations should be purely for sharing best teaching practice or as a quality control measure or in fact if both could, and should, be examined in just one observation. This raised further questions on how and if dissemination of such observations occurs, the balance between senior and junior staff and their roles within the observation as well as the frequency of the schemes. As you would expect the potential use of teaching observations in the reported Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was also the subject of many conversations. But what this session really highlighted was the vast differences in schemes across the sector and again to provoke thought and further discussion ended by asking delegates to design their ideal, TEF usable observation scheme.

The conference had 10 short swap shop sessions for attendees to share their teaching practices and current pedagogic research projects. Dr Parry presented his collaborative project with Northumbria and Teesside University on undergraduate’s perceptions of scientists and I presented my work on the Feedback Foghorn (funded by the UTLSEC Innovation fund) which is being piloted with SBMS students this academic year. As the Higher Education Academy has disbanded its subject centres, this summit was an excellent opportunity to network with Bioscience colleagues from across the UK and Ireland and I would encourage anyone to consider presenting work at such a friendly and informative event in the future.

On a final note I would like to pose the same key questions to the ERDP newsletter readers:

  • Should publishers take greater responsibility for supporting critical thinking skills?
  • Do students understand the timeline and range of research required to establish a scientific theory?
  • What would be your ideal version of a teaching observation for the TEF?

Dr Lindsey Ferrie, School of Biomedical Sciences

The start of something good!

Luisa WakelingI attended the first Enhancing Student Learning through Innovative Scholarship Conference which took place in Durham on July 16-17th for teaching-focused academics. The conference had 2 main focuses based on innovation in teaching and the role and progression of the teaching-focused academic; both topics extremely key to me at this point in my career. I and the other 120 delegates were presented with an array of innovative methods used in teaching across universities of the UK. ‘Students as Partners’ was a key theme; we heard from academics who had involved students in the whole development of their own sciences skills course, digital video production by students to enhance educational engagement, design and implementation of the visually exciting ‘Soton Brain hub’ in a collaboration between students and teaching fellows in Medicine and the utilisation of near-peer teaching.

I also entered a world of academic politics around what it means to be a teaching fellow especially in a research intensive university and although examples of discrimination towards the role were highlighted there was equal positivity with great examples of success. One such success was the latest appointment to Professor of fellow David Read at the University of Southampton. I was particularly impressed with his work on methods of self-assessment for the chemistry student. A truly enthusiastic teacher, his published work was very engaging and motivating to me. David will be presenting some of his work to us as part of the FUERDP seminar series.

With the ‘TEF’ on the horizon there was an element of anxiousness and uncertainty but also that of comforting positivity and excitement in a community of people who really did care about teaching and were improving the learning experience. As I had belonged once as a postdoc in the research circuits beyond the university, I now felt that relationship again with another community of practice. These are exciting times to be a teacher in HE and I encourage you to get involved. #ESLIS15.

The Enhancing Student Learning through Innovative Scholarship Conference, 2016 will take place at the University of Southampton and will come to Newcastle in 2017. The website address for the conference is

Dr Luisa Wakeling, School of Dental Sciences


Director’s update Autumn 2015

steve (2)Welcome to our first newsletter of the new academic year. I hope that you have all had a summer both productive and restful in equal measure in preparation for the new academic year.

In this newsletter, as a step towards helping us all understand what educational activities colleagues are engaged in across the four Teaching Schools, Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, Head of School has outlined what is happening in the School of Psychology and we’ve included updates from current projects in SME and BMS. If you have a project in progress that you would like to tell us about we would be very pleased to hear from you.

Our events programme is also getting underway with both the Journal Club and the L&T seminar programme starting once more. We have been very pleased to see the consistently strong attendance at the Journal Club last year and the vigorous discussions about learning and teaching that the presenters and the papers have stimulated. Our first seminar this year was in September when we had a very interesting talk from Concha Martinez from the Dental School in Complutense University, Madrid discussing the development of dental education in Spain. Our next seminar from Lois Neal is on a topic many of you have asked to hear more about which is ethical approval for education projects. I am sure this will stimulate a high level of interest. As previously advertised our seminars later in the term are to be given by Stephen Billett and Hamish Macleod. In Semester 2 we have Pauline Kneale (PVCT Plymouth), David Read (Southampton) and Dave Lewis (Leeds) already lined up but there are still spaces for further speakers so if you have ideas for speakers please let us know. Also this year sees a new round of the EQUATE programme starting at Faculty level with a strong representation from Faculty of Medical Sciences staff. We will have more to say about EQUATE in later editions of the newsletter.

Meanwhile, a second call is out for applications for ERDP development grants. Our successful applications from the first round can be seen in this newsletter and we look forward to receiving more applications from you.

There are many education research resources available on the internet and we would not aspire to provide a comprehensive or even a recommended listing of what is out there. What we can do is to provide a platform for us to share those resources with each other that we have found helpful or useful.

In that spirit I would like to draw your attention to two new resources for medical education research that Jane Stewart is recommending as being particularly good.

  • Researching Medical Education  (Cleland, J and Durning SJ eds) is a recently published textbook presented by ASME and AMEE.
  • NIHR have produced a brief description of some funding sources available from them which they have illustrated with three case studies including one from Newcastle, Ellen Tullo.

Again I hope you enjoy our newsletter and find it both informative and useful. If you would like to write something for us there is no need to wait to be asked, please just send it in. If there is something that you would like us to include that we are not covering already then tell us.

Professor Stephen McHanwell, Director ERDP

CfLaT seminar: Clara Pereira Coutinho

Assessing student learning in Higher Education: the potential of alternative methods

Wednesday 28 October, 16.30-18.00

Dr Clara Pereira Coutinho, Center for Child Studies Minho University  – Braga – Portugal.

Within the context of change in Higher Education, there is growing recognition of the importance of assessment as a key factor for quality teaching and learning and academic achievement. Existing international literature points to the need to examine further the impact of different methods, especially the so called alternative methods, for students’ learning and achievement as well as for teaching methods in classroom, as evidence of their effectiveness is still scarce. Also of importance is the need to

better understand the ways in which different methods of assessment lead to different learning approaches and academic achievement. Earlier work has shown that assessment plays a key role on how students spend their time and what they regard as important, and this can have either positive or negative influences on their learning. This is even more crucial at a time of great pressure and change upon Higher Education institutions, resulting from the Bologna process which emphasises the need

for a more student centred paradigm, one which recognises the need for independent learning and development of both technical and soft skills. Within this context, it is essential to get to know what has changed in higher education in terms of teaching and learning and, especially in terms of assessment and feedback, as these have implications for the development of teaching learning process and academic achievement. Literature has also highlighted that more empirical work is needed in order to provide sufficient data to develop a comparative profile of assessment practices used in HE institutions in different courses and different countries. The main goal of this project is then to examine what is known and what needs to be known in this regard by exploring the questions that remain answered. In this seminar we will present the state of the art on this issue, combining a review of existing literature on the use of different methods and perspectives to explore assessment in HE in order to identify and disseminate best practices, in particular those involving ICT.

Key Words: Higher Education, Assessment, Alternative Methods, ICT.

To register for the seminar please email


BMS Student perceptions of scientists

Damian ParryConcerns over the number of women opting to study science (and STEM subjects in general) at all levels of education is often highlighted by the media.  Equally, looking at the statistics, the number who study science but then do not opt to pursue related careers is disappointing.  Although the numbers for this are evidenced by the data the reasons why this is the case are often more anecdotal.

Encouragingly, in the UK, the number of female students taking science at school has been rising since 2009 (WISE, 2014), although this trend seems to now have plateaued.  Of the students taking an A’ level in biology, 59% are female, but the percentage taking chemistry is lower at 48%, and only 21% of students taking physics are female.

These proportions are replicated at undergraduate level with the data showing that uptake for bioscience subjects is still well balanced, with 59% of those graduating with degrees in bioscience being women.  In postgraduate study the percentage drops to 56% at masters level, and 52%, those achieving doctorates.  In chemistry the numbers are slightly lower with 49% of graduates gaining masters being female, and of those completing a doctorate 39% (Matson 2013).

In terms of employment the statistics are less easy to align by subject (often grouped as STEM), but according to WISE (2014) 42% of ‘Science Professionals’ are female and just 28.5% of ‘Research and Development Managers’ are female.  Much of the data for employment encompasses the wide range of STEM subjects incorporating data for engineering which has a more male bias (table 1)


% Female
qualification achieved Biological Sciences engineering
GCSE 45*
A’Level 59* 21 (physics)*
Bachelors 59** 18**
Masters 56** 23**
PhD 52** 22**

Table 1: % females taking Biological Science and Engineering subjects

*DfE (2009)

**WISE 2014

It can be seen therefore that women graduate with degrees in the biosciences in comparable numbers to men, but there then seems to be a barrier to them following related careers, so the reason is not a lack of recruitment to education but in continuing into employment in science.  The aim of this study is to uncover whether a potential reason may lie in their initial perceptions and how these are altered during undergraduate study. Here I will report some initial findings of a study that is being carried out at both Newcastle and Northumberland University’s in both bioscience and engineering cohorts.


The start point for this study involved asking fresher students, in the first weeks of their university career, to fill in a questionnaire.  Initially they were asked demographic questions to establish the student’s background and gender (for example whether they were 1st generation university students and if their parents or guardians had a STEM background).  We then asked them to ‘Draw a Scientist’.  The instructions were minimal:

Q. Please spend a few moments thinking of a ‘xxx’ and the activities they undertake on a day to day basis, where and how they work etc. Then draw your vision of that person in the box below. Please use labels if you wish. Your artistic skills are not important- a labeled stickperson is as informative as a work of art!”.

The images were assessed for ‘level of stereotype’ using a published methodology.  It is not possible to go into the data in depth in this report, but some main findings related to gender were:

  • Gender was indeterminate in half the images
  • Where gender was identifiable, the majority of images portray a single female
  • A small number of images portrayed groups (both male(s) & female(s)), but these were only drawn by female respondents
  • Only one male respondent drew a female image
  • Females drew twice as many female images as male images
  • The ‘grooming’ in images is gender biased with images identified as being female being more ‘neat’

The outstanding finding was that male participants almost exclusively drew male or gender non-specific scientists whilst female students drew both genders.

Other significant conclusions related to demographics.  Although parental education and occupational status seems to make a difference, there is no straightforward association between STEM background and reported level of influence on motivation to study STEM subject. In contrast to what is seen to happen at this early stage of their scientific career there was very positive indication that the students intended to remain in STEM with the majority seeming to have an awareness of what their career might involve.


This is work carried out with University of Northumberland and was lead by Dr Helen Hooper

DfE (2009) Subject and course choices at ages 14 and 16 amongst young people in England: Insights from behavioural economics

Matson, J. (2013) Scientific American Women Are Earning Greater Share of STEM Degrees, but Doctorates Remain Gender-Skewed Volume 308 (5)

WISE (2014) Wise Uk Statistics 2014

Dr Damian Parry, School of Biomedical Sciences

Fragments from AMEE 2015

I joined two Dutch colleagues to run a pre-conference workshop called “The artist inside us all: creative tools for reflection on personal growth towards professionalism”. We used singing, drawing, poetry and upmarket Play-do to reflect on our own careers/lives as a way of introducing participants to exercises they could use with their students. Groups of three had packs of postcards and were asked to select one that spoke to their experience, ideally one where they could talk about something which had gone wrong. I modelled this by choosing one of three cards I had never seen before, made some self-revelatory comments but also highlighted areas which I had deliberately not discussed: this demonstrated the importance and possibility of safety for those taking part as well as conveying the message that teachers must be open if they are expecting learners to be open.

My other observations from the conference were:

  • The Red Hot Chilli Pipers are brilliant. They performed in the Opening Ceremony.
  • Only one workshop – and no papers – on teaching about diversity. Nothing on teaching about death, dying and bereavement.
  • At AMEE Fringe, Menno de Bree reprised his TED talk. It’s called “On why your work does not make you happy” – available at
  • Lisa Lipkin reminded us that nothing is more sustainable than a good story. What moves you moves your audience. Stories are the glue to keep numbers, facts and details in our brains. Good oral storytellers use visual language.
  • Mona Siddiqui on diversity – “Not just to have a seat at the table but to feel comfortable in the chair”.
  • Roger Kneebone used the painting by Barbara Hepworth, Concourse. It depicts an operating theatre where, although the focus of everyone present is on the patient, the patient is invisible. A good starting point for reflecting on the process of surgery. (Scroll to end for image.)
  • He also showed a short clip of a surgeon with his hand beside a patient’s liver saying “If you put your finger in here you can feel the er”. It was inexpressible, reduced simply to “er”. As one who tries to express what empathy and professionalism are, this inarticulate phrase was reassuring.
  • In a professional identity session a student referred to a medical student and a “normal student”. There was not a flicker of a smile on a single face.
  • A poster showed that the conscientiousness index works in Singapore – good news for our Durham colleagues, another associated punctuality with exam success. A third extolled the virtues of a “Simple Happiness Class”, claiming that simple happiness will change the world.
  • A number of studies dispute the orthodoxy that empathy declines over the medical course.
  • In a presentation on empathy a speaker showed a cartoon with a doctor saying “I know how you feel”…as an EXAMPLE of empathy!
  • Granite is an unforgiving surface for a ceilidh.
  • I am still sufficiently immature to smile when I see a poster from the University of Chihuahua.

Dr Bryan Vernon, School of Medical Education

ULTSEC innovation fund 2015: Social media – there’s a time and a place!

debbie bevittDr Debbie Bevitt as project lead with Dr Nick Morris from the School of Biomedical Sciences have been awarded a 2014/15 ULTSEC Innovation Fund (£2504) to investigate “Social media – there’s a time and a place”.

There are many examples of positive uses of social media to enhance education, but regular distraction by social media can also have a negative impact on learning.

The aim of our project is to investigate students’ self-awareness of their own social media use and the impact it has on their concentration.  We also aim to identify strategies which help students to self-regulate these distractions and to evaluate the value of self-control apps (e.g. in this context.  We hope this pilot will form the basis of a more extensive cross-disciplinary study.

L&T seminar: Ethics

When: 13th October 2015, 12:30 to 13:30

Where: MED L2.3, Leech

Lois Neal, Assistant Registrar for Research Strategy will be presenting a session specifically for teaching staff on the topic of ethics. This session will concentrate on how to best design any proposed research and deal with the preliminary ethical approval stage.

To reserve a place please contact

Psychology introductions

Gwyneth Doherty-SneddonThe School of Psychology is a teaching school dedicated to teaching Psychology and developing professional practice in Psychology. Our main aim is to provide excellent and internationally-leading education in undergraduate and postgraduate psychology. Psychology at Newcastle focusses on the scientific and experimental study of mind and behaviour. We have strong professional psychology pathways in Clinical Psychology and Forensic Psychology and very distinct biological, evolutionary and neuroscience components in our undergraduate programmes.

Our School encourages students to draw from and contribute to the evidence-base, and for the applied fields of psychology (such as clinical and forensic psychology) we teach students theory and practice throughout their training. We take great pride in the quality of our teaching and are fully engaged in educational development and research.  We have a special interest Pedagogical Research Group (key contacts Patrick Rosenkrantz, Helen St Clair-Thompson, and Amy Fielden) who are currently working on projects investigating: student and staff attitudes to and responses to feedback; increasing student reading activity.  The latter project will explore students’ reading habits over the course of a semester, and then trial a series of structured reading groups that use a flipped classroom approach. The impact of the reading groups on students’ wider reading habits will then be examined. Our student satisfaction is at an all-time high (97%) making us the top Russell-group Psychology School in the country. This is due to our unique approach to our programmes that are delivered by our teaching focused school as well as research institutes. Students benefit by working at the cutting-edge of the discipline while also having their learning nurtured by a dedicated teaching team. Furthermore, our students actively engage in peer-assisted learning: Psychology has a long established peer-mentoring scheme in which final year students support the transition of new students into the psychology degree and university life.

We have 2 single honours accredited undergraduate programmes: BSc in Psychology (key contact Patrick Rosenkrantz) and a BSc in Psychology with Professional Placement (4-year degree, key contact Helen St Clair-Thompson. We also contribute to 3 (soon to be accredited) joint degrees from other Schools: Biology and Psychology; Mathematics and Psychology; Nutrition and Psychology.

At post graduate level we have the following programmes:

  • MSc Psychology (Foundations in Clinical and health): key contact Sue Thorpe
  • MSc Psychology (Foundations in Clinical and Forensics): key contact Sue Thorpe
  • MSc Forensic Psychology: key contact Gavin Oxburgh
  • IAPT Certificate Low intensity Psychological Therapies: key contact Mark Papworth
  • PGCert/PGDip in CBT: key contact Stephen Barton
  • Praxis CPD modules (e-learning): key contact Lawrence Conway
  • Doctorate in Clinical Psychology: key contact Rob Dudley

Part of our strategy is to increase our international footprint. We are currently seeking to develop partnerships and recruitment in China, India and Malaysia: Key contacts Gavin Oxburgh, Patrick Rosenkrantz and Vicki Bruce.

We are affiliated with a number of research institutes around the University: we have strong ties to the Institute of Neuroscience and the Institute of Health and Society  with many of our teaching staff conducting their research within these institutes. Other psychological research within the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences includes educational psychology. An exciting interdisciplinary environment for research linking computer science, creative arts and others including psychologists is found in Culture Lab. There are several projects in Human-Communication Interaction there, led by Professor Patrick Olivier. Newcastle University Business School (NUBS) also has a range of multidisciplinary research centres and projects which include psychological perspectives on such areas as consumer behaviour and organisational behaviour. We also collaborate extensively with the International Investigative Interviewing Research Group (iIIRG) which is an international network of professionals committed to improving investigative interviewing of victims, witnesses and suspected offenders worldwide.

Professor Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, Head of School, Psychology

L&T seminar: A manifesto for teaching online

When: 17th December 2015, 12:30 to 13:30

Where: Ridley 2, Seminar Room 1.55

Dr Hamish Macleod, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education and member of the teaching team of the MSc in Digital Education, University of Edinburgh.

The MSc in Digital Education (previously known as eLearning) at the University of Edinburgh is ten years old this year. The programme was in the vanguard of a major development of postgraduate online distance education at the University. We presently have over 60 programmes on offer, with about 2,500 students enrolled, and the development plan is that by 2025 we want to see around 10,000 students participating on over 100 programmes.

This seminar will focus on the experiences from the MSc in Digital Education, and the understanding of rigorous and supportive online education that we are developing with the help of our students. The programme teaching team have set out to reject the idea that online distance education should be considered as in any way deficient as compared with the ‘gold standard’ of the face-to-face campus learning experience. In order to stimulate debate about some of the important issues that we have faced we have formulated our ‘manifesto for teaching online’, which we are currently in the process of revising and updating.

Conceived to provoke controversy, the manifesto can form a focus of our discussion. We can also stray into the territory of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and the contributions which this novel and exploratory form of online educational offering can contribute to an institutions mainstream teaching and learning agenda.

To reserve a place please contact