Repurposing hackathons to engage students as partners

We, as institutions, are brilliant at listening to students and engaging them in conversations about their teaching, learning and general experience of university. However, when it comes to finding fresh and innovative ways to improve the student experience, it is often left to committees, boards and senior management.

Here at the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching we’ve decided to try a new, playful, student-centred approach, allowing us to get real, in-depth, authentic feedback from students.

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Dancing in the boundary lands through “interesting times”: educational development in the third space

“May you live in interesting times” is a commonly quoted curse, and HE has definitely been going through interesting times for far longer than we might like to admit. Most recently a few “interesting” aspects have been: Brexit; a pandemic; government consultations on funding and regulatory arrangements; and public and press rhetoric about university standards and politics on campus. As educational developers we occupy many spaces in universities, which are often the first to bear the brunt of interesting times. There has been a great deal of discussion on the SEDA Jisc list and in blog pieces here about strategies to adapt to these interesting times and we often support each other with solutions, or at least a listening ear.

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Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Reflective Practice

Opportunities for Meaningful Outcomes

In January 2022 we were delighted to facilitate a two-hour webinar where we explored how best to engage in continuing professional development (CPD) and the opportunities for reflective practice.  The basis of the webinar was a recent SEDA special on Reflective Practice which we collaborated on.   As we know here are a wide range of ways to engage in CPD – both formal and informal.  The formal approaches highlighted focussed on accredited / unaccredited programmes, workshops and conferences, where reflection of learning is often more structured, either as a requirement of the programme or conference funding. The informal approaches explored included discussions with colleagues, reading literature and mentoring, where the reflection on learning may be less structured but iterative.

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The Importance of Trust in Nurturing Student Engagement Online

Positive relationships between students and instructors are crucial to meeting students’ academic and socio-emotional needs as outlined by the American Psychological Association (APA). As university educators, we contend that trust is an essential ingredient in these relationships. While teaching is inherently relational, we argue that models of “good teaching” must include trust to acknowledge that learning is not simply a cognitive process; it has affective elements. Evidence from student perspectives suggests that, for them, “good teachers” show attention, affection, and appreciation as part of the teaching process. If a student trusts that their teacher is engaged in and cares about their learning journey, as a unique individual, they are more likely to meet their academic goals.

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Possibilities for Change – Evaluating Academic Development

Academic Development is a straightforward enterprise.  The idea being that academic development interventions influence lecturers’ conceptions of teaching and learning and this in turn brings about changes in practice.  If these changes are representative of a range of pedagogic approaches that foster student-centred active learning, then this can impact positively on student learning (Gibbs, 2010). Job Done! However, despite this simplicity, evaluating it is a complex task and as a result the literature (and SEDA mailing list e.g.  Hancock, 2021) is peppered with debates about what and how to evaluate; and what value should be attributed to results. These debates have taken place against a backdrop of shrinking funding for pedagogic projects including academic development across the UK sector, which has led to confusion about the purpose of evaluation. Is it to save out skins? Or to evidence how, where, and to what extent our practice impacts on the student learning experience? Luckily – and as you are probably aware, these are the same endeavour. So why are we finding it so hard to do, and how can we do it better? Existential questions beyond the remit of this blog, but I do want to use this space to comment on three issues which if addressed could, perhaps make evaluating academic development less onerous. These are raising awareness of existing practices in evaluating academic development, challenging how we measure learning, and suggesting that we use other trends in HE evaluation to further our own agenda.

In terms of directly evaluating our impact on lecturers and triangulating this with institutional metrics there is some brilliant and very accessible work being done on data use by for example the QAA with Liz Austin and Stella Jones Devitt, and work that has specifically looked at how to evaluate academic development (Bamber, 2020; Baume, 2008; Kneale et al, 2016; Spowart et al., 2017; Spowart and Turner, 2021; Winter et al., 2017). Upskilling ourselves as part of routine academic development practice is a solid first step.

Whilst the sector is good at conceptualising how to evaluate learning it tends to be less good at putting it into practice. A cursory glance at in most in-house module evaluation formats tells us that. The emphasis on Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) instruments over those which capture learning gain, learning transfer, students’ behavioural, emotional, and cognitive engagement, and subsequent engagement in life long and life wider learning, means that we do not often have the right data to answer our own question. Creating awareness of these alternatives to SET is an essential endeavour because measuring student anything takes place outside of academic development units and so we need others to measure learning for us. This then should be core business via our PGCerts and in our sphere of influence across the institution. Once others are evaluating learning properly, we will be in a better place to evidence our own contribution.

The focus on evaluation as underpinning evidence-based practice is being laid at the door of HE in many ways. One which I see as offering academic development possibilities is the OfS Access and Participation Plan mechanism to eliminate inequality in access and participation in UK HE. This has brought about significant changes in how the sector creates, manages, and uses data on and by students. Within Universities data analysis for the OFS is evolving as its own enterprise as interventions underpinned by theories of change, iterative evaluation strategies carefully developed conceptions of value are put into place. These interventions are often modest but linked through different aspects of the student/university cycle. This sort of project offers academic developers’ opportunities to be part of institutional interventions advising on how learning is and can be embedded, the sharing the data produced – and a seat at the (often senior level) table where these projects are discussed. Evaluation of these projects is often innovative which can be adopted within our own evaluation practice, fostering creativity in method and dissemination.

With the financial pressures on the sector looking set, and the imminent reinstating of institutional TEF, generating positive evidence-based impact ‘stories’ continues to be important. So, let’s ask the right questions, get ourselves sat round the right tables and then shout our value loud!


Jennie Winter, Professor of Academic Development at Plymouth Marjon University. Her current research interests are teaching sustainability in Chinese higher education and decolonising curricula in non-diverse contexts.

References

Bamber, V. (2020). Our Days Are Numbered: Metrics, Managerialism, and Academic Development. Staff and Educational Development Association

Baume, D. (2008). A toolkit for evaluating educational development ventures. Educational Developments, 9: 1-6.

Gibbs, G. (2010). Dimensions of quality. York: Higher Education Academy.

Hancock, J. (2021) SEDA discussion ‘Evaluation of the impact of learning and teaching development’

Hughes, J., McKenna, C., Kneale, P., Winter, J., Turner, R., Spowart, L., & Muneer, R. (2016). Evaluating teaching development in higher education: Towards impact assessment (literature review). York: Higher Education Academy.

Kneale, P., Winter, J., Turner, R., Spowart, L. & Muneer, R. (2016). Evaluating Teaching Development activities in higher education. Higher Education Academy.

Spowart, L. & Turner, R. (2021) Institutional Accreditation and the Professionalisation of Teaching in the HE Sector.

Spowart, L., Winter, J., Turner, R., Muneer, R., McKenna, C. & Kneale, P. (2017). Evidencing the impact of teaching-related CPD: beyond the ‘Happy Sheets’, International Journal for Academic Development, 22(4): 360-372.

Winter, J., Turner, R., Spowart, S. Muneer, R. and Kneale, P. (2017) Evaluating academic development in the higher education sector: Academic developers’ reflections on using a Toolkit resource. Higher Education Research and Development. 36:7 1503-1514

The FFYE program: Enhancing inclusion with a community of transition practice

The First and Further Year Experience (FFYE) program at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia represents a sustained institution-wide approach to building an engaged academic and professional community. Implemented in 2011, its commitment to the transition, retention and success of students from low socio-economic status (LSES) backgrounds has deepened inclusive educational practice and enhanced the student experience for all students.

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Getting decolonial praxis right!

There is a wide acknowledgment of the need to decolonise higher education (HE). There are many definitions of what it means to decolonise, but most analyses agree that to decolonise means to challenge how colonial systems and relationships create the logic of cultural, social, political and intellectual domination in an education system that maintain hierarchical relationships between different ways of knowing and how these ways are framed.

In response to the need to decolonise, scholarly work has applied decolonial and postcolonial theories to HE, focusing on unjust and unequal power relations with regard to knowledge production, cultural, institutional and policy relations, curriculum and pedagogy. Yet, little has been written in HE journals on how and to what extent the Western mono-version of universities is actually being challenged in curricula, pedagogic, cultural and linguistic practices on the ground in university classrooms. Hence, the need for the special issue in Teaching in Higher Education, titled: Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis that myself and my colleagues (Kathy Luckett and Greg Misiaczek) were very pleased to curate.

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Revamping an archaic promotions process and career structure

Success, Strategy, Business, Solution

Smith and Walker’s (2021) blog on the 17th November chimed with a two year consultation we ran whilst developing the Birmingham Academic Career Framework. Before the pandemic was on anyone’s radar, we commenced the largest consultation project in the University’s history. Although we did not know that at the time! The driver behind this work was to develop a new career framework which:

  • was clear, transparent, equitable and inclusive;
  • supported the implicit and explicit values of the University; and
  • encompassed and celebrated what it means to be an academic at Birmingham.

In theory the concept was relatively simple.  However, the reality was far from plain sailing. 

We began with tackling what we thought would be the easiest of all of the elements – promotion.  We wanted to ensure decisions were more transparent and that it was easier for the diversity of work that academics undertake to be recognised.  We also knew that, like many institutions across the sector, it is citizenship that make the university run effectively.  Furthermore, these kind acts and willingness to support one another, can have a such a positive impact on the entire University.  With this in mind, we devised the following promotion thresholds and attributed points to each of them which varies with the promotion level:

  • citizenship;
  • pathway specialism; and
  • overall excellence 

Is it as simple as collecting points?  No!  Whilst we have indicated how points could be attributed to different activities, we have stressed the importance of making a positive contribution.  After all, is that not what universities are all about?

Can people skip thresholds if they are excellent? No! We want to celebrate not only excellence but the support that colleagues provide to others. To be clear, a highflying researcher who does not demonstrate appropriate citizenship will not be promoted – this was an interesting point to land at one of the UKs leading research intensive universities. 

We also took the opportunity to redefine our existing academic pathways and introduced new ones. We did not want colleagues undertaking valuable work but ending up in a career cul-de-sac.  

In the end, we developed three new career pathways: Education, Research and Education, Enterprise, Engagement and Impact.  For a long time, we debated naming the first pathway as Education and Scholarship.  However, we realised like Smith and Walker (2021), that there was no accepted universal definition of scholarship.  The more we tried to pin this term down, the more knots we ended up in.  In the end, our approach was to acknowledge that scholarship is research but in a different name.  In defining it this way, we acknowledged that those on the Education pathway frequently undertake research and that research represents a spectrum of activity. This helped to breakdown the stigma that can exists in some intuitions between those who have research explicitly in their terms and conditions and those that do not.  In the end, we felt that we ended up with a nice, simple solution to what quickly became a rather complex and emotive problem. 

However, the rest did not go as smoothly, but that is another story for another day!


Mark Sterling has been Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Staffing) at the University of Birmingham for the last three years.  Prior to this role, he has held a number of senior leadership roles at Birmingham.

LinkedIn:  Twitter: @sterling_mark

Do you know what’s going on? The first-year undergraduate perspective

Have you ever sent an email to students containing some vital piece of information about an assessment, or a change in where they have to access their class, only to be inundated with unrelated responses about completely unrelated things?  ‘Hey miss ive been meaning to ask you……’.  It can be really frustrating!

Why do they do this? Because it’s easy.  They see a message from me, and it prompts them to ask me that thing that has been on their mind for a while.  Suddenly all they have to do is to click ‘reply’ and they can ask me that question.  So why not use this to our advantage?

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What, So What, Now What? Covid-19 as a Critical Incident in Practice

The past eighteen months have seen educational developers navigating the emergency closure of our campuses and a changed landscape in higher education due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. In this post, we suggest that the experience of these sudden changes to educational practice might be considered as a critical incident inspiring deep reflection. We suggest that tried and tested reflective frameworks for critical incident analysis are likely to be more useful than methodologies aligning with formally designed educational interventions.

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