Director’s update: Summer 2016

steve (2)We are approaching the end of another academic year and the programme of events and activities for the ERDP Unit.  So, first of all I would like to thank everybody who has contributed to our events programme through presentations at Journal Clubs, presenting at or helping to organise Faculty Learning and Teaching Fora or in any other ways including simply attending events.  The strength of the Unit is very much dependent upon the contributions from its members and I am pleased that people are so willing to give up time to contribute to or help organise events and also that attendance at our events remains so strong.  Next year sees the introduction of a new series of seminars organised by Jane Stewart “What I mean when I say”.  These seminars promise to be engaging with plenty of active discussion.  If you have ideas for future topics Jane will be pleased to hear from you.

Another way members of the Unit have been contributing is by sending us well-framed and focussed applications for funding from our ERDP small grants scheme.  We were very pleased at the high standards of the applications received in the last round and look forward to hearing from the successful applicants as they progress their projects.  We were also pleased to be able to fund requests for funding for Study Visits including requests for travel to Complutense University, Madrid Dental School and Harvard Medical School and we wish all our Study Visit applicants fruitful and stimulating trips.

As you can see from other reports in this newsletter projects already funded are starting to bear fruit.  We do encourage successful applicants to disseminate the results of their work in appropriate ways.  This could simply be by presentation at a local event but it could also involve presentation at external events or through publication and we are very keen that applicants take every opportunity to publish externally.  This will help you by telling the outside world what you are doing, helping you to develop external learning and teaching networks and it will also raise the profile of the Faculty as a centre of teaching excellence.  Several people have sent us details of recent publications and I would ask everybody who succeeds in getting work published in L&T Journals to let us know so that we can showcase your work.  Just send the details to

We are also approaching the time of summer conferences and so if you are going to any event this summer and can spare the time please write us a short meeting report highlighting what you felt were the key contributions at your conference and what you learnt from attending.

One final point about dissemination and that is to draw your attention to the BERA blog.  This is a great way to let people in the education field know about what you are doing and Rachel Lofthouse in ECLS will be glad to advise you if you are thinking of posting something here.

Let me end by wishing everybody a good summer.  These days summer vacations seem to be filled with ever more activities beyond the UCAS results being announced in mid-August but I hope you will all be able to make time for enough annual leave to recharge batteries in time for the start of another academic year.

Prof Steve McHanwell, Director, FMS Unit for ERDP

Self-affirmation to boost student resilience?

amyFieldenStudent resilience plays a pivotal role in both student satisfaction and academic performance (Mahmoud, et al., 2012).  Educators are increasingly met with students who seem to be poorly equipped to deal with setbacks, and see feedback as a personal critique, not a critique of the work they have produced (Gray, 2015).  This seems to create a barrier for students to take on board the feedback given.


ERiP plans

The School of Psychology’s Educational Research in Psychology (ERiP) group is launching a number of projects looking at addressing this issue, one project will explore the potential of self-affirmation as a means to boost resilience when receiving feedback.

Self-affirmation theory

Students’ academic capabilities are a key component of their self-concept (Baumeister, 1999), even more so for the large proportion of our undergraduates who arrive as straight A students.  Therefore, when students’ marks and feedback at university deviate from this, a central aspect of their self-concept is threatened.

Self-affirmation theory (Steele, 1988) proposes that people are attentive to threats to their sense of competence and process information defensively when they experience a threat to that personal value (Cohen & Sherman, 2014).  This may explain why some students down play the accuracy of the feedback they receive.  However, affirming an important, unrelated aspect of the self has been shown to reduce resistance and enhance the uptake of subsequent recommendations.

Self-affirmation has been shown to increase the performance of women in male dominated disciplines such as physics (Miyake, et al., 2010). It has reduced the racial achievement gap amongst Black and White students by 40% (Cohen et al., 2006). Koole, et al., (1999) also demonstrated that self-affirmation can reduce ruminative thoughts following failure feedback.

For more information please contact

ASME Small Grant Success

hugh albertiWe have been funded by ASME through the Small Grant Award Scheme to undertake a multi-centre qualitative study to explore the motivations of General Practitioners teaching undergraduate medical students in primary care.

General Practitioners have become a fundamental aspect of teaching in modern medical school curricula with the average amount of teaching in primary care in UK medical schools now at 13-14%.  There are calls for this to increase with the move of more patient care into the community.  Capacity for undergraduate General Practice (GP) placements is now a serious challenge for many medical schools with practices facing competing demands from service, and expansion of postgraduate training activity, alongside a reported GP recruitment crisis.

The study will be a qualitative, explorative, study involving semi-structured interviews with 6-8 GP teachers from each of five medical schools (Brighton&Sussex, Keele, Lancaster, Newcastle and UCL) led by myself and our clinical teaching fellows.   The aim is to identify the barriers and facilitators to GPs teaching medical students in the UK, in order to increase the recruitment of GPs teaching in current and future medical school curricula.  The results will be available by early next year in time to inform the new Newcastle MBBS curriculum which is expected to include a significant increase of teaching in primary care.

Dr Hugh Alberti, School of Medical Education

Student vs Staff

Prof Janice Ellis (SDS) and Daniel Mall, a 4th year BDS student were interviewed by Hazel Davis for the spring 2016 issue of BDJ Student.  Although the interviews were done independently, both focussed on the same positive theme of how passionate and engaged our staff are and how there is a real sense of community within the School of Dentistry here at Newcastle. All positive stuff!

If you have a log in you can read the full article via Student 2016

Find a voice through the BERA blog?

rachel lofthouseIf you are engaged in research or enquiry related to education you might be interested in contributing to the British Educational Research Association multi-authored blog.  You can find the link at

As one of the blog editors I am a strong advocate of this forum as a means of scholarly communication and would be happy to talk to anyone who might be tempted to write for us. If you take a look at a few blog posts you will realise that they are diverse in style, theme and authorship.

At present Newcastle University’s ECLS is one of the best represented academic schools on the BERA blog, with posts from both staff and students.  Our presence in this social media has supported our profile, with colleagues being asked to keynote or join research activities as a result. Sometimes our blogs have been summaries of published papers, sometimes they are part of the writing process for new papers, and sometimes they have simply allowed us to ‘get it out there’ – when an idea seems critical and could be shared.

The following examples illustrate some of the types of blog that you might feel able to write:

So – what about you?

There are several aspects of work that would be relevant.  As indicated above we are interested in posts related to research methods. Could you capture approaches that you have used to research pedagogy, curriculum or student experience? We are interested in issues pertinent to Higher Education, and more discussion around professional education, internationalisation or the impact of policy changes in H.E., for example, would be welcomed. We are interested in research related to innovation as well as the continual knotty issues such as technology enhanced learning, feedback, meeting student expectations.

Each blog post is a maximum of 750 words, they can be single or co-authored and can be re-published on your own blog sites (personal or institutional) under the Creative Commons agreement and I can advise on drafts as well as be your gatekeeper to the editorial review team.  Why not give it a go? And if nothing else please remind Steve McHanwell that he keeps promising me a submission!

Dr Rachel Lofthouse, ECLS,

ERDP Development Grants funded April 2016

We’re pleased to announce that the following projects have been funded in the latest ERDP Development Grant call.

Graduate School

‘Introduction and evaluation of voice thread software in facilitating student feedback in 3 online masters programmes’ Dr Jenny Yeo, Mrs Lynne Rawles, Miss Eleanor Lockheart, Miss Victoria Petrie.

School of Biomedical Sciences

‘Inclusive research with students and members of the public: How can we best evaluate innovative teaching about ageing?’ Dr Ellen Tullo, Dr Laura Greaves, Dr Luisa Wakeling, Prof Rose Gilroy.

School of Dental Sciences

‘A study visit to develop teaching teeth carving to enhance the learning of tooth morphology for dental students’ Dr Bana Abdulmohsen.

‘Scoping Exercise to develop a 3-D printing facility within the School of Dental Sciences’ Dr Iad Gharib, Dr James Field, Dr Simon Stone, Dr Andrew Keeling (Leeds), Mrs Cecilie Osnes, (Leeds), Dr Graham Davis (Queen Mary).

‘Developing public engagement in the quality assurance of teaching programmes’ Dr Janice Ellis, Mrs Zoe Freeman, Dr Richard Holmes, Dr Paula Waterhouse, Dr Sarah Rolland.

‘Leading the pan-European development of curricula within Dental Sciences’ Dr James Field, Professor Damien Walmsley (ADEE), Professor Andreas Schulte (Organisation for Caries Research), Professor Julia Davies, (Malmo University), Professor Cristina Manzanares Cespedes (University of Barcelona), Professor Corrado Paganelli (University of Brescia).

‘What are the benefits of a UK-USA educational initiative and visit programme for dental students?’ Dr Richard Holmes & Dr Paula Waterhouse.

School of Medical Education

‘Longitudinal integrated medical student placements: A study visit to Harvard medical school to inform the new Newcastle medical school curriculum’ Dr Hugh Alberti & Dr Steve Jones.

‘The Research Journey: using digistories to unveil the hidden process’ Dr Laura Delgaty, Mrs Lynne Rawles, Mr Marc Bennett, Ms Linda Errington, Mrs Erika Gavillet.

Being Debbie Bevitt

debbie bevittWhat route has your career taken to get you where you are today?

I first moved to Newcastle as a new post-doc, setting up a molecular biology lab for the university spin-out company, Novocastra Laboratories. I then moved to an RA post in the Department of Virology on an MRC training fellowship and later to a senior RA post in the musculoskeletal group. During this 12 year period I had my 3 children and worked part-time after the arrival of number two.  As time went on I came to realise that the part of my job I enjoyed the most was teaching and mentoring younger students in the lab and I started to take on some undergraduate seminars as well.  I was on the verge of leaving academia altogether and retraining as a school teacher when a teaching-focussed lectureship came up in the School of Biomedical Sciences – I applied and was appointed along with Chris Baldwin in 2006.  It was the best move of my career!  I’ve found teaching hugely enjoyable and rewarding and love the infinite variety of the job.  I became steadily more involvement in administration and management of the programmes, including becoming Senior Tutor and chairing the exam boards, and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2009.  I went on to become Deputy Head of School before being appointed as Head of School in August 2015.

What do you find most challenging about working in HE learning and teaching?

Finding time to think! From speaking to colleagues in the Faculty, across the university and from other HE institutions it’s clear that we’re all experiencing increasing demands on our time.  The increase in student numbers, levels of student expectation and associated admin have all contributed to this and it can be tricky to protect time to develop new ideas and give some thought to scholarship of learning and teaching.  I’ve tackled this recently by taking part in the EquATE programme – a cross-faculty programme facilitated by colleagues in the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT). The Equate days have created much needed space in my diary to focus on an educational research project and have also led to collaboration with Sue Thorpe in the School of Psychology, who’s brought a new dimension and expertise to the project.

What’s the best thing you’ve been involved in since you started working with Newcastle University?

I particularly enjoyed being involved in development of Personal Tutoring across the university. One of my first roles in the school was to act as a Phase 1 adviser, providing back-up for the personal tutoring system.  At the time this role was fairly novel in the university and, when Personal tutoring was identified as an area for development in the 2009 QAA Institutional Audit, I was invited to join a working group to review university Personal Tutoring policy.  Tutoring practice varied enormously across the university and one product of the working group was the Personal Tutoring Framework, which outlined minimum expectations for tutors and tutees.  I also worked with colleagues in the Student Wellbeing service to develop Personal Tutor training and have helped to facilitate training workshops for CASAP and SDU since then.

What’s the wisest piece of advice you’ve received from a mentor or colleague?

Don’t send an email when you’re angry – sleep on it!

What’s your top educational research interest

I’ve previously published on the use of attendance monitoring to identify students who are becoming disengaged and using this as a trigger for proactive intervention. More recently I’ve started investigating the extent to which students are distracted from study by social media use and strategies which they use to control this distraction.  I have to confess to often fighting the compulsion to “phone check”, so I became intrigued as whether today’s students, most of whom who can text faster than I can speak, deal better with this distraction than I do.  Previous studies have shown both negative and positive correlations between frequency of social media use and academic performance, depending on how the social media is being used.  I would love to know how we can enable students to avoid the distracting aspects of social media (when studying) so that they can reap the potential benefits.

If you could have dinner with 3 famous people from history who would they be?

Much easier to answer from the living – but if pushed I’ll go with Jane Austen, Freddie Mercury and Mozart. With plenty of wine.  I bet it wouldn’t be dull!

Dr Debbie Bevitt, Head of School of Biomedical Sciences

International Dental Student Engagement: Oral Health Education in the City


From the 19th to the 27th May 2016, six American dental students from Indiana University School of Dentistry (IUSD) joined their six Newcastle dental student ‘buddies’ to dip their toes (some may say, sink their teeth) into the life of a dental student at Newcastle University.

This is the first time within any university in UK and US where dental students have been involved in exchange activities.

Attracted by our established and vibrant oral health education outreach programme across Newcastle (led by Drs Paula Waterhouse and Richard Holmes), the visitors worked in partnership with their Newcastle buddies and immersed themselves into planning and providing oral health education to various community groups including schools, care homes and drop-in centres to support asylum seekers and homeless adults. They also experienced ‘a week in the life of a Newcastle Dental student’ by shadowing student and staff treatment clinics and technique courses. The students were encouraged to reflect upon and compare the US healthcare system with that of the UK and to understand the role played by our local City Council and Community Dental Services in ensuring oral health education reaches the communities most in need.

As part of our students’ elective studies, this innovative new programme endeavours to deliver the 6 Newcastle students on a reciprocal visit to Indiana in July 2017; building on trans-Atlantic friendships and experiences. Accompanying the students were two academic colleagues from IUSD providing a unique opportunity to forge clinical educational collaboration and educational research collaboration between our respective institutions.

The feedback has been enormously positive from both the staff and the students but may be summarised by a comment from their staff leads Drs Stuart Schrader and Joan Kowolik, “our students had a wonderful time and the experience was absolutely transformative”.

Dr Paula Waterhouse, School of Dental Sciences

Image legend: Newcastle and Indiana students celebrating a successful week of collaborative learning.

FMS L&T Forum May 2016

160511 FLT FORUM FlyerThe Faculty of Medical Sciences Learning and Teaching forum was held at the beginning of May in the new Herschel Learning Lab, coinciding with the space’s official opening. Jane Stewart’s original design was brought to life by the power of three, with Luisa Wakeling and Alecia Dunn. The session stimulated discussion about common, faculty-related challenges in learning and teaching while showcasing the Learning Lab’s conspicuous potential with a speak-easy vibe. In response to the recent EDRP Development Grant and ULTSEC Innovation Funding calls, it was hoped that participants may seed new ideas that ultimately would bloom into potential bids.

Facilitators Sarah Jayne Boulton, Sonia Bussey, Carlos Echevarria and Sarah Lockey worked alongside cross-faculty, interdisciplinary groups to explore a chosen educational conundrum. Participants were encouraged to creatively consider practical and realistic solutions to the problems selected for discussion. These discussions were frequently subverted by Luisa, Jane and Alecia through their introduction of troublemaking cards which flashed up on the groups’ screens and demanded immediate attention.

The disruptive cards were a new concept to most of the participants, including us facilitators, and were borne out of the Oblique Strategies designed by Brian Eno and Pete Schmidt. The cards we were exposed to during the session did not ask us to switch instruments or give way to our worst impulses, but instead questioned us to consider what would be different if money was no object or if we had infinite space. As soon as the card appeared, its idea was immediately considered within our discussions.

The 4 challenges independently chosen by the groups were:

  • Student disengagement with lectures (and compulsory attendance isn’t the answer)
  • Challenging strategic learning and embracing learning for learning sake
  • Developing autonomous learners – moving away from the ‘how high do you want me to jump’ mentality
  • Making diverse ability amongst students work within the classroom

It was interesting to see that the topics rooted very closely together, and it was refreshing to see that the changing cards resulted in unexpected changes not only in perspective, but in group dynamic too. During each groups concluding remarks it was evident that there was a lot of overlap in the room, reinforcing the prevalent notion that the same issues are present in every discipline and that collaboration and practice sharing may well bring about real change in all areas.

Sarah Lockey found that the removal of financial constraints suggested by one card enthused participants to really think outside of the piggy bank. Although this resulted in realistically unlikely strategies such as ‘give every student their own simulated clinic and don’t let them out until they can do everything’ and ‘mandatory 1:1 tutor to student ratio’ and the even more radical ‘link lecturers’ pay to their EvaSys scores’ there were equally many occasions where such blown-out thoughts collapsed and condensed themselves into previously unseen workable strategies.

The Learning Lab itself was a practical yet pliant venue, designed to envelope its occupants in a physically and digitally accessible flat floor interactive space with shared access to all screens and tools. The central console manned by Jane, Luisa and Alecia permitted screensharing by groups during the plenary discussion, facilitating the dissemination of generated ideas. There are a number of columns in the relatively low ceilinged room, meaning there were a few noise issues during individual discussions. We alleviated this with some creative whiteboard MacGyvery, however it seemed that certain positions (those closest to the edges of the room) were more affected than others. The Learning Lab also features what we have termed the ‘Jumpy Microphone’, a chuckable foam-protected microphone in a block that makes hearing your colleagues at the other end of the room much easier.

Although it was difficult at times to see how some of the more outré suggestions could be wound in, getting so many diversely invested people in a room together to share unabashed perspective and practise was an inspiring thing. Getting to know some new faces, including our new colleagues from Sport and Exercise Sciences was a real accent to the event. We all hope that the bridges built during the session will lead to greater future interdisciplinary collaboration on all levels.

In all the workshop proved to be an eye-opening and refreshing event for all, except perhaps for Prof Calvert who was most disappointed that she couldn’t write on the whiteboard resembling tabletops; maybe something to bear in mind for future learning space designs!

Sarah Jayne Boulton (BMS), Sonia Bussey (SME), Carlos Echevarria (SME) and Sarah Lockey (SME)

Clinical teaching styles and student satisfaction

JamesFieldThis project led by James Field (SDS) and Paul Miller (ECLS) was funded in the October 2015 round of ERDP Development Grants.  Recent work at Newcastle has shown that there are significant correlations between the ways in which clinical teachers interact verbally with their students, and the subsequent levels of satisfaction that the students report. This project aimed to both further investigate these relationships and to develop a means of providing clear, concise and immediate visual feedback to the educator.  The project team has now finished developing a blurred video-enhanced observation tool which is allowing us to collect data about verbal interaction and student satisfaction within the clinical environment. We have already analysed over 100 clinical interactions since the start of term and whilst we will wait until the end before drawing any conclusions, it is reassuring that the vast majority of our students (well over 95%) are highly satisfied with the support they receive within the clinical environment. The tool is due to be presented and discussed by Paul and James at both ADEE in Barcelona (August 2016) and IADR in Seoul (June 2016).

Dr James Field, School of Dental Sciences