ERDP Development Grant: Evaluation of Context Café, a session which allows Stage 2 Biochemistry/Biomedical Genetics students to contextualize learning in their Degree Programme and beyond

This ERDP funded Development Grant was to evaluate the use of a Context Café to promote reflection on learning.

The Project team have submitted their research for presentation at the UKAT group conference on ‘Transition, Persistence and Resilience: Academic Advising for Success‘ in April 2019.

Read on for the full abstract:

Background: Within the School of Biomedical Sciences BSc students study a common phase 1 (semesters 1-3) and then a degree-specific phase 2 (semesters 4-6). The move between these phases occurs mid-second year, a time in the degree when motivation may be low (1), yet students are making important decisions and integration of information is vital. A ‘Context Café’ (2) was introduced 3 years ago into the curriculum of Biochemistry and Biomedical Genetics students to promote reflection on phase 1 learning, relate this to phase 2 material, stimulate active consideration of optional modules as well as vacation/professional placements and relating all of this to careers.

The Context Café is run in a cabaret-style set up derived from the World Café idea generation technique (3). Students rotate around tables each of which have a question relating learning to contexts including future course content and careers. Staff facilitators remain at a table and guide the student groups in a divergent thinking process building on information generated by previous group(s) which is then converged to address the question posed in a short presentation.

Aim and Objectives: In this project, the aim was to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the Context Café both immediately and a year post café.

Data collection and outcomes: Data were gathered from student groups shortly (+4 months) or over a year (+16 months) after attending the sessions. One-on-one conversations were held with a student from each cohort and a survey comprising a mixture of Likert-type items, plus requests for single word or short comment responses to questions on different aspects of the Concept Café was answered by 19 students. Output of quantitative questions, and thematic analysis of qualitative data led to the following conclusions:

  • The sessions were valued for being informative, interactive and were perceived as interesting.
  • Topics that students reflected on as being particularly of value were discussion of 3rd year optional modules, careers and employability
  • Overall benefits perceived were that the Context Café acted as an excellent forum for introducing and discussing course material including options (orientation), allowed good communication between students and with staff (ice-breaker effect), and allowed students to reflect on and value skills already gained and see their future uses (‘aha!’ moments).


Conclusions from the analysis thus far are that Context Café sessions can impact on student reflection and integration of material from different stages of a degree. For relatively little effort involved in organising a single session the apparent gains may be  significant– from cohort identity and familiarity with staff, to self-acknowledgement of skills and knowledge and how to apply it, familiarisation with upcoming material and prompting active consideration of choices both within the degree and beyond. The study has provided suggestions on how future Context Café might be improved, and an abstract on the work has been submitted to the 2019 UK Advising and Tutoring conference ‘Transition, Persistence and Resilience: Academic Advising for Success’


  1. S Thompson, C Milsom, E Zaitseva, M Stewart, S Darwent, M Yorke (2013). The Forgotten Year? Tackling the Second Year Slump. HEA,
  2. L Wakeling, N Jakubovics, S McHanwell and J Stewart (2016) ‘Challenging the basic sciences ‘learn and forget’ culture’ Medical Education 50 (5), 578-579.
  3. J Brown, D Isaacs (2001) The world cafe: living knowledge through conversations that matter. Systems Thinker 12 (5):1–5.



Project Team: Dr Jeremy Brown (Biomedical Sciences), Dr Luisa Wakeling (Dental Sciences), Dr Jane Stewart (Medical Education) and Ms Tatyana Kovalyonok (Education, Communication and Language Sciences)

Physiology Friday

As part of the annual celebration of Physiology Friday, Dr’s Alison Howard and Michéle Sweeney introduced an educational opportunity for third year BSc Physiological Sciences students to obtain experience in outreach and engagement activities.  Students attended a bespoke training session covering aspects of health and safety, information and advice on explaining some of the physiology research that takes place in the University, and guidance on discussing use of animals in research.

Over 90% of our students volunteered to be involved for at least two hours on the day.  Five students visited Cardinal Hume School, Gateshead, running two interactive sessions on cardiovascular physiology and a careers information session.  In the Great North Museum: Hancock, students used anatomical models and physiological recording equipment to interact with members of the public, of all ages, and visiting primary school parties.  At the stand in the medical school foyer, anatomical models and student produced posters describing their research experiences attracted a more knowledgeable audience of staff and students from across the Faculty degree programmes.  This experience had a positive impact on all student volunteers, who reported finding it both enjoyable and confidence boosting, and engendered a greater feeling of affinity with their degree course.


Europhysiology 2018

Drs Michéle Sweeney and Alison Howard, School of Biomedical Sciences, attended the inaugural, Europhysiology meeting.  A joint initiative between The Physiological Society and other European physiological societies, this meeting, in the heart of Westminister, brought together physiologists from across the world.

An extensive education and teaching themed programme included four oral communication sessions and the Teaching Prize lecture where Dr Louise Robson (University of Sheffield) described how she harnessed digital technologies to enhance student learning.

During the opening symposium on innovations in physiology education, Dr Sarah Hall reported that an amazing 8260 students from 140 countries enrolled in the first physiology MOOC run by The Physiological Society.

Across oral and poster sessions, communications focussed on gamification strategies, learning technologies, active learning through current and historical events and team-based learning, with our own presentation on preparing physiology students for group assessed work fitting well with these.

A stimulating programme included a variety of plenary lectures.  In a fascinating public lecture, Dr Daniel Martin described how his findings on effects of high altitude on the body, obtained from experiments carried out on Mount Everest, have helped in critical care.  Other highlights included comprehensive reviews of insulin secretion, oxygen-sensing, the glymphatic system and chronotherapy. We are already looking forward to Berlin 2020!

Publication: Preparing physiology students for group assessed work.  M. Sweeney, A. Howard. Europhysiology 2018 (London, UK) (2018) Proc Physiol Soc 41, C119.

Advance HE Proposal to Develop Subject Led Networks. A report from a recent consultation event

As we all know one of the casualties of the retrenchment in its finances was the decision by the Higher Education Academy to abandon its Faculty-led model and close all its Subject Centres.  Many of us were sad to see these go feeling that the activities of many of these Centres had made major contributions to pedagogy in their own areas.  Recently Advance HE has announced its intention to revive the subject centres and has been holding a series of face-to-face and online consultations.  I attended an online event last week.  The purpose of this brief item is both to update you on current thinking and to encourage you to join one of these events and contribute.

In summarising the present state of play it would be fair to say that ideas are still at an embryonic stage.  The plan is that these centres will be largely or exclusively virtual, the consequence of ongoing budgetary constraints, and will be a combination of discipline and theme-led.  At the online event I joined, several themes emerged.  The first was that a blended approach was felt to provide a potentially more sustainable network combining a virtual network with some face to face events.  There was felt to be a need for both discipline-based networks, especially in areas where there was no well-developed professional body or where the discipline was very small and represented in any one institution by small numbers of staff.  It was also felt that thematic networks would be helpful.  The consensus was that these networks needed to be developed bottom-up by practitioners rather than top-down by AHE meaning that facilitators and leaders would be needed.  The networks could very well be global so asynchronous discussion facilities would be needed.  Outputs would also be essential and some form of regular newsletter or journal appearing at appropriate intervals was suggested as one form of output.

Discussions are ongoing with the plan being to instigate the formation of these networks before the end of this academic year.  It would be helpful if a number of us could be part of these consultations both to help shape the discourse but also, perhaps, to become some of the first facilitators.

If you want to discuss this further please contact me.

If you want to join a consultation event AHE are still looking to organise further events and these will be added to the Events Calendar, please check the email for more details.

If you have any other questions please do not hesitate to contact

Prof Steve McHanwell, Director of ERDP network

Director’s update Winter 2018

Dear Colleagues,

We are approaching the end of another term in what is always a busy time of the year as we move from admitting a new First Year cohort to recruiting and selecting students for next year so, I will be brief in my comments

As ever we have had a busy events programme and I would like to thank Luisa for organising our Journal Club and also extend my thanks to our speakers for taking time to identify and then speak to us about recent work of interest to us all.  These events continue to be popular in attracting a regular audience.  If you have been to a Journal Club before then do come along.  If you have a paper you would like to present Luisa will be pleased to hear from you.  Thank you to everybody who has suggested seminar speakers for our seminars this term and given us ideas for next term.  We have had some very stimulating presentations and some audiences.  Widening participation has been a bit of a theme this year and as a follow-up to Jan Cleland’s talk, Paul Tiffin from Hull York Medical School will be coming to speak to us about some of his interesting work in this area.  In June we will welcoming one of the authors on the BERA guideline on ethics in educational research.  Further details of these, and other events, will be sent to you in the New Year.   In the meantime there are still some spaces in our seminar programme so if there is somebody you would like to invite please let me know.

In this issue of the newsletter, I have a written a short introduction to a Research Report recently published by BERA on Close-to-Practice research.  The findings and conclusions from this report are of interest to all of us engaged in research into practice so please take a look.  I have also written a short piece on proposals from AHE to revive subject centres.  There is a consultation process underway so it would be good if some of us could spare some time to contribute to these conversations.

All that remains for me to do is to wish you all and very Happy Christmas and New Year and a restful break after this very busy semester.

Prof Steve McHanwell, Director of the ERDP network

FMS Education Journal Club Semester 1

Here we are again and another year of stimulating journal clubs to enjoy!

Our first for the year, back in early October, was delivered by Jan Deckers, SME. Jan presented McNair, RP (2005) The case for educating health care students in professionalism as the core content of interprofessional education. Medical Education 2005, 39, 456-464. To overcome barriers to effective relationships between professions in the workplace, we discussed that we may need more education that is interprofessional. We believed we could do more to incorporate interprofessional education in our Newcastle curriculums but that it can be difficult in engaging other disciplines, particularly from other institutions. We could identify some excellent examples of smaller incidences of interprofessional teaching across the faculty.

Richard Thomson, SME, hosted the November journal club. Humanism in the curriculum was the focus and the paper ‘Branch, WT, Frankel, RM, Hafler, JP, Weil, AB, Gilligan, MC, Litzelman, DK, Plews-Organ, M, Ridler, EA, Osterburg, LG, Dunne, D, May, NB and Derse, AR (2017) A Multi-Institutional Longitudinal Faculty Development Program in Humanism Supports the Professional Development of Faculty Teachers. Academic Medicine 92:12, 1681-1686.’ provided some beneficial outcomes into taking time to strengthen humanistic teaching and role modelling in medical schools not just for students but staff also. Richard has conducted some extensive research himself, even speaking with the author of the paper himself! The discussion was vast, from the evolving self (Kegan 1982) to mindfulness and our psychology audience members certainly did not disappoint in provoking our thoughts.

To get us talking about engaging our students (with a few minces pies to embrace the festive period), Ruth Valentine, SDS, presented Ella R. Kahu & Karen Nelson (2018) Student engagement in the educational interface: understanding the mechanisms of student success, Higher Education Research & Development,37:1, 5871’. Ruth chose this paper, trying to answer a specific question regarding widening participation students – how do we help students from these under-represented groups do as well as other student populations? The paper presented centred on understanding the mechanisms of student success and focussed on students from under-represented groups studying at University.  A lively discussion took place and although the group liked the idea of an educational interface, everyone felt that, in this paper, it was too broad and generic and that for these groups of student’s everyone is different and there is not one simple solution – and so we ended up with more questions than answers!

A big thank you to all our speakers of the first semester. As always, these sessions are extremely enjoyable and informative. To kick off Semester 2, Stephen McHanwell, SME, will be presenting on the 11th January. Title to follow.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Luisa Wakeling

All links to articles and up and coming speakers can be found at the Journal Club webpage.





Peer Observation Scheme Pilot

Newcastle Educators are piloting a cross-institution peer observation scheme.  This will start next semester and will provide not only a chance to get feedback but also to gain further insight into what goes on across the three faculties to provide a way of enhancing personal development.

Similar to other schemes there is a simple form that can be utilised to aid the peer observation process.  Observers and observees will be matched randomly and sessions will be set up by the participants themselves.

If you would like to sign up for this you can do so by following this link; or if you would like further information about this pilot then please email; .

Vanessa Armstrong, School of Biomedical Sciences


FMS Learning and Teaching Forum: An Outward Looking Faculty: Creating more collaborative opportunities for learning to enhance the student experience

Our December forum this year focussed upon engaging with communities of practice and with collaborations external to the University from several FMS discipline areas. Student placements, in the context of value and depth of experience involved two speakers.

Vanessa Armstrong described how cross-institutional bioscience research collaboration which gave early qualitative insights into student perceptions of placements; their learning and skills gains and self-efficacy. ERDP funding had enabled student involvement with the project.

Carla Chivers described how Psychology students find placements, and the myriad of placement providers that the school engages with. The student voice was refreshing, as was hearing how students reflected upon the graduate skills demonstrated. The student reflection and ownership of the active learning process was apparent from both presentations.

Bana Abdulmohsen gave a fascinating talk about embedding new teaching practices for dental anatomy. Evaluation of the pilot phase for the new pedagogic approach, by students and staff, indicated the engaged learning method was both positive and rewarding, but needed more time to consolidate the learning.

Luisa Wakeling described DERG (Dental Education Research Group) to address the gap in the social sciences training and publication, and the creation of BARDES (British Alliance for Research in Dental Education and Scholarship). Future aims include a proposal for a toolkit for beginning dental education research.

Lastly Steve Jones presented the new MBBS Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (LIC), embedding students for longer into the clinical team to enable in-depth participation as opposed to blocks of case involvement. It was evident that the new approach addressed the GMC emphasis upon employability, and encouraged compassion and reflection in practice. The forum stimulated interesting discussions including ethical approval, getting published, measuring achievement and reflection upon pedagogy, successfully concluded with festive treats and networking.

Carys Watts, School of Biomedical Sciences

Close to Practice Research

The British Educational Research Association (BERA) Close-To-Practice Research Project

Starting in the USA and becoming of increasing significance elsewhere the scholarship of teaching movement has become a vehicle to generate investigations on teaching and the improvement of student outcomes.  Two key features of scholarship of teaching and learning have been the expectation to disseminate the findings of such work and so, in the process expose those finding to peer critique in a manner analogous to the research community (Fangahanel et al, 2016).  However, much of this work is practice-based action research or active practitioner inquiry and so small scale and this has led to a tension developing between the perceptions of SOTL as pedagogical research as opposed to SOTL as action research.  In turn, this has led to challenges from researchers in education as to the value of SOTL as scholarly work beyond the obvious contribution to understandings of personal practice (Kanuka, 2011).  This tension is felt in the field of education more generally even though research based on issues arising from within educational practice, including action research, have become more or less well established their methodologies continue to be challenged from some quarters on grounds of quality despite their evident value to the development of educational practice.

These forms of research encompass a wide range of methodologies, which recently have been grouped together under the single heading of Close-to-Practice research.  As a response to continuing debates over the quality of such work, the British Educational Research Association (BERA) commissioned a research project to look in more detail at the quality issues surrounding Close-To-Practice Research.  The overarching research question that the project was asked to address was “How can high-quality close-to-practice research be characterised and enhanced for education in the UK”.  Another driver for the project related to REF 2021 and the expressed wish by BERA to strengthen educational research and offer dedicated support to researchers working in this way.  The purpose of this brief item is to bring that project to your attention and briefly summarise its main findings.

The project comprised a combination of desk-based research and interviewing experts in Close-To-Practice (CtP) Research.  The initial phase of the work sought to arrive at a working definition and proposed the following new definition.

Close-to-practice research is research that focusses on aspects of practice defined by practitioners as relevant to their practice, and often involves collaborative work between practitioners and researchers”

The key findings of the project should not occasion surprise.  The team concluded that the best CtP research would give a full and clear account of the methodologies employed, use rigorous methods of data analysis clearly explained and be well-situated in relation to previous work and be fully theorised so that the significance of the project and how it added to current knowledge was clearly explained.

While undoubtedly, a driver for this project relates to REF 21 there can be little argument that whatever methodology one employs the criteria outlined above should be met wherever possible in carrying out any kind of educational study even if REF submission is not a consideration.  This issue is not a new one see, for example, a paper in Studies in Higher Education in 2016 by Debby Cotton, Pauline Kneale and Colleagues (Cotton, et al, 2016).  However, I do commend this report to anybody, thinking about, planning or in the midst of an educational project.

Prof Steve Mchanwell, Director of ERDP network


Cotton, D.E.R., Miller, W. and Kneale, P. (2016).  The Cinderella of academia: Is higher education pedagogic research undervalued in UK research assessment? Studies in Higher Education, 43(9), 1625-1636, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2016.1276549

Fanghanel, J., Pritchard, J., Potter, J. and Wisker, G. (2015). Defining and Supporting Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A sector-wide study. York: Higher Education Academy. Available from {Accessed 12 December, 2018]

Kanuka, H. (2011). Keeping the scholarship in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(1) Article 3 Available from: [Accessed 10 December 2018].

Wyse, D., Brown, C., Oliver, S. & Poblete, X. (2018). The BERA Close-to-Practice Research Project: Research Report. London: British Educational Research Association. Available from: [Accessed 10 December 2018]

Publications Winter 2018

Congratulations to everyone in the Faculty who has published their research this quarter. This list is taken from SCOPUS. If anything is missing let us know.

An evaluation of the views of GP Specialty Trainees on their involvement in medical student teaching. (2018) Zamoyski, S., Alberti, H., Education for Primary Care.

Characteristics of students who consider taking a psychology placement year. (2018) St Clair-Thompson, H., Chivers, C., Studies in Higher Education.

Curriculum content and assessment of pre-clinical dental skills: A survey of undergraduate dental education in Europe. (2018) Field, J., Stone, S., Orsini, C., Hussain, A., Vital, S., Crothers, A., Walmsley, D., European Journal of Dental Education.

Impact of a 2-Week Oncology Placement on Medical Students’ Perception of Cancer. (2018) Mayes, J., Davies, S., Harris, A., Wray, E., Dark, G.G., Journal of Cancer Education.

Learning outcomes: Exploring implications of adopting a different level of detail. (2018) Bateman, H.L., McCracken, G.I., Thomason, J.M., Ellis, J.S., European Journal of Dental Education.

Making it work: the feasibility and logistics of delivering large-scale interprofessional education to undergraduate healthcare students in a conference format. (2018) Guilding, C., Hardisty, J., Randles, E., Statham, L., Green, A., Bhudia, R., Thandi, C.S., Matthan, J., Journal of Interprofessional Care.

Mind the gap: A systematic review of implementation of screening for psychological comorbidity in dental and dental hygiene education. (2018) Häggman-Henrikson, B., Ekberg, E., Ettlin, D.A., Michelotti, A., Durham, J., Goulet, J.-P., Visscher, C.M., Raphael, K.G., Journal of Dental Education.

Supporting international graduates to success. (2018) Kehoe, A., Metcalf, J., Carter, M., McLachlan, J.C., Forrest, S., Illing, J., Clinical Teacher.

The Development and Validation of a Mental Toughness Scale for Adolescents. (2018) McGeown, S., St. Clair-Thompson, H., Putwain, D.W., Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment.

The development of a core syllabus for the teaching of oral anatomy, histology, and embryology to dental students via an international ‘Delphi Panel’. (2018) Moxham, B.J., McHanwell, S., Berkovitz, B., Clinical Anatomy.

The epidemiology of teaching and training practices in North-East England. (2018) Coulthard, T., Alberti, H., Education for Primary Care.

The transition from dental school to postgraduate dental foundation training: Strengthening the interaction between stakeholders. (2018) Blaylock, P., Ellis, J.S., McCracken, G.I., British Dental Journal.

The value of continuing professional development: A realistic evaluation of a multi-disciplinary workshop for health visitors dealing with children with complex needs. (2018) Steven, A., Larkin, V., Stewart, J., Bateman, B., Nurse Education Today.

Tobacco education in UK dental schools: A survey of current practice. (2018) Holliday, R., Amin, K., Lawrence, V., Preshaw, P.M., European Journal of Dental Education.

Using learning outcomes in dental education. (2018) Bateman, H., Ellis, J., Stewart, J., McCracken, G., British Dental Journal.