The Innovation Fund – One Year On

One year on from her Innovation Fund win, Biology’s Alison Graham is handing over the reins of a very successful PG demonstrators training programme to other colleagues.
The Innovation Fund is administered by ULTSEC (the University’s Learning and Teaching Student Experience Committee) to support schemes which represent new or innovative approaches to teaching and learning in the University.
In particular, it hopes to financially support schemes which can be taken up by faculties and schools across the University.
Alison’s idea has already been picked up by other Schools in the University and Alison feels that it has brought a great deal to both UG and PG students in the School of Biology.

‘We realised several years ago that there was a real need for consistency in the standards of our demonstrators, all of whom had very varied experience and skill sets.

‘This was something the PGs themselves had pointed out and it was something that was coming across in the feedback from our UG students who felt that the standards of their practicals were dictated largely by the abilities of their PG demonstrator.
‘They also did not seem to know what the demonstrators did or that they were research students in the School so we wanted to find a way to introduce them.’
Alison applied to the University’s Innovation Fund for funding to run a programme which aimed to ‘to engender a more productive learning environment for undergraduate and postgraduate students alike.’
The team began by arranging an informal workshop to introduce PG Demonstrators to new UG students.
‘We had them come in and do some very basic experiments – one of their favourites is using paintbrushes to tickle the feet of stick insects and measuring how many feet they will take off the ground at once!

PG demos
PG Demonstrators talk to new undergraduates their own work in the workshops

‘So we had them doing that and then had each demonstrator take some time to tell the new students about their own research.

‘This gave the UG students a sense of the PG’s place in the school, an insight into their own future career paths and a sense of who each demonstrator was.

‘Both groups responded really positively and it’s now not unusual to hear the UG students asking how someone’s research is going, making everyone feel like part of a research community.’ The workshop will run again this year.
Alison said: ‘We’ve also completely changed how demonstrators can sign up for modules and how they can let lecturers know what their particular skills are, which is making planning this year’s practicals very much easier.
‘It’s really been a huge success, making PGs more comfortable with their teaching and with their marking and UGs more familiar and confident with those demonstrating in their practicals.
‘It’s been a real win-win!’

Do you have a great idea to put forward to the ULTSEC Innovation Fund?

The call for applications for the 2015/16 fund is open now!
Or if you have an example of really effective teaching practice in your School do get in touch with

What else can you do with e-portfolio?

E-portfolio is not just for helping to manage personal tutor groups and keeping track of supervisions.

Did you know you can also use it for assignments?

Graeme Redshaw-Boxwell explains: ‘You can use it to set up supervision groups for classes you teach.

‘the students would use the blog and link evidence against particular competencies (including the GSF).

‘They can also use tags to filter the blog posts and export as a rich text document so that you can mark them.’

This is an easy and informal way of assessing how students interact and gaining a sense of how much they understand outside more formal assessment techniques.

Graeme’s running lots of workshops over the summer so you can either refresh your knowledge of using e-portfolio for supervision and personal tutoring or think about new ways of using it for assignments.

Workshops will take place:

Mon 29th June

10am – Supervision Groups

2pm – Supervision Groups

Wed 1st July

10am Supervision Groups

14.00 Supervision Groups

Mon 13th July

14.00 Personal  Tutoring

Thurs 16th July

14.00 Personal Tutoring

Friday 17th July

10.00am Assignments

Tuesday 21st July

2.00pm Assignments

Thursday 23rd July

10.00am Assignments

You can sign  up here.



Having problems viewing the blog?

Some people appear to be having problems with viewing the blog.

This is due to a centralised policy applied by Newcastle University’s IT Service that forces any intranet site viewed through Internet Explorer to be displayed using “Compatibility Mode”.

This will render any site as if you were using Internet Explorer 6 or 7, which is why you are unable to see some parts of the blog or get an error message.

IT Servicedesk responded, “Internet Explorer is going to be rolled relatively soon and then SAP will support the relevant sites in standards mode, at that point that flag will be flipped.”

If you want to view the blog in Internet Explorer you can disable this setting by following these steps in the browser:

Tools -> Compatibility View Settings, then uncheck ‘Display intranet sites in Compatibility View’


Or you could use a different browser to Internet Explorer.


Durham Blackboard Conference 2015 Abbi Flint Keynote – Engagement through partnership

Engagement Through Partnership – Abbi Flint

Abbi started her keynote discussing the framework that the Higher Education Academy launched regarding students as partners. Below are my rough notes from the presentation combined with Dr Rebecca Gill’s more comprehensible notes!
Fostering partnership – it’s a strong way to increase student engagement – growing topic recently.

What do we mean by partnership?

Definition(s) of partnership:

  • Partnership isn’t interchangeable with student engagement, but is a specific form of it. It is a movement away from the assumption that students aren’t initially engaged, and emphasises shared responsibility of students and staff, students and staff as ‘co-learners’.
  • Defined partnership as a process; the form of a project may not necessarily be one of partnership, but partnership is established for example by giving students autonomy and an active role in producing research, disseminating outputs and finding solutions.
  • It is contextual (specific to institution, discipline and wider culture), therefore an ideal model is impossible to produce.
  • Partnership can encompass cooperation between students as well as staff-student interactions. Embedding students within an academic community is central to student retention and success.
  • Emphasis on understanding the expertise students can offer as pedagogic consultants in curriculum design: staff provide disciplinary expertise, students are experts on the curriculum as experienced in practice.

Specific form of student engagement – student engagement – is this a buzzword? So many different meanings when looking at the published research.

Evernote Snapshot 20150106 110638


1. What does partnership with students mean to you?

2 why are you interested in partnership in teaching and learning?

Why are you interested in partnership in teaching and learning?

 Evernote Snapshot 20150106 110143

Pedagogically powerful approach – deeper learning, sense of community.

Behavioural perspective – something that they see and do. How often do students engage in study? A lot of research around this.

Psychological perspective – how are students engaging cognitively?  What is their sense of community?

Social cultural – how does the culture of the institution affect student engagement?

Active participation is relevant across all perspectives.

Learning relationship as well as a working relationship. Students learning as part of the partnership.

Highly contextual – this is about people and their particular context.

Partnership values-
Authenticity, inclusivity, reciprocity, empowerment, trust, challenge, community, responsibility. (these are in HEA documentation)

 Evernote Snapshot 20150106 111209

Learning and teaching assessment
Flipping the classroom
Personalisation of learning
Peer education
Active and collaborative learning
Broad vision (University of Westminster)
Subject based research and inquiry
Embedding research and inquiry based learning
Student as producer – University of Lincoln
Boutique UG research schemes
Think Ahead: SURE
These examples still need to be considered within the process. Examples above aren’t necessarily partnership, but the process needs to be considered.
Scholarship of teaching and learning
Students are often the focus rather than the partners of any research.

Institutional examples

University of Exeter – voluntary scheme where student research their teaching and learning environments and report outcomes to the staff student committee in their School. This has had high impact.

Curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy
Students often surveyed at the end of their course, but not often consulted at course design / approval stages.
This is one of the more challenging aspects of partnership. Often institutions/academics don’t want to give up any control in this area.

How do we embed partnership beyond the discrete activities that goes on?

Case studies:

 Evernote Snapshot 20150106 112830

  • Significant change to existing practice/processes needed.
  • Inclusivity and scale: who is able to participate?
  • Power relationships and blurring identities: dominance of hierarchical relationships, access to resources. Experience of partnership in one context may have a problematic impact on hierarchical relationships elsewhere. Partnerships can place staff and students in different roles.
  • Reward & recognition: staff motivated by paid job role, what motivates students? Need opportunity to be full members of partnership – ensure access to larger agendas and history of projects (e.g. induction & ‘outduction’ of sabbatical officers) – students have a time limited engagement with their institution.


Areas for further exploration

  • Pedagogies of partnership: disciplinary research – are there disciplinary approaches to partnership?
  • Sharing lot of successes but need to learn from failures. Where does it not work and why?
  • Impact: longer term, explore potential ways of using existing institutional data more smartly to look at impact of partnership on broader learning experience.
  • Ethical implications of engagement through partnership.
  • How different student demographics engage with partnership/levels of impact at different intersectionalities (e.g. gender, race, age).

Mick Healey website – case studies with students as change agents.


What is reflective practice?

There are substantial benefits in being a reflective student. Research shows that students who are reflective when learning will have a deeper understanding of their subject.

What does being reflective mean?

There is a lot of research around reflective learning.

David Kolb – Experiential Learning

David Kolb is an American educationalist whose work focuses on experiential learning. Experiential learning is learning that takes place from experiences. He developed a learning cycle that shows learning taking place initially from experiencing a situation, then reflecting on that situation, forming generalisations and concepts, and then applying the knowledge learned. (click the image to enlarge)

Kolb experiential learning cycle


Donald Schön – Reflection-in-action/Reflection-on-action

Reflection does not just take place after an event. Schon explained that reflection, albeit quick and less considered reflection, can take place during an event as well.

Graham Gibbs – Reflective Cycle

Gibbs expanded on Kolb’s experiental learning cycle. He described a structured debriefing process to enable reflection. (click the image to enlarge)

Graeme Gibbs Reflective Learning Cycle


Further reading:

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think In Action, Basic Books.

Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. in C. Cooper (ed.), Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.

Gibbs, G. (1988) Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods, Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, . London: Further Education Unit.

Improving knowledge retention with voting systems

Marina Sawdon, a lecturer in Medical Education at Durham University asks voting system questions as part of the lecture each week. Some of those questions address topics covered in previous weeks, not just the topic covered that day. She is able to use this to demonstrate to students that they are retaining knowledge. In fact, the number of correct answers goes up when she re0tests students on earlier learning. Marina badges this as an additional form of feedback to students and she has had very positve reactions from her students to these interventions. 

See for a full article on her work in this area.