Tuesday, 28 April 2009

How to boil an egg

Every now and then our team shares ideas about their teaching - things that have worked and things that haven't. One of the problems I'm often faced with is wanting to make learning experiential but being limited by teaching large numbers of students (50+), in a short space of time (1 hour) in an inappropriate teaching space for experiential learning (a lecture theatre).

One of my particular frustrations was (is) trying to teach presentation skills by telling rather than by doing (because of the limitations mentioned above). This isn't anything ground breaking  but here are a couple of slides I've used recently to try and get students experiencing what it's like to present from a text heavy slide versus a visual slide. I get them to pair up and have a go and then take feedback on how they found it.

Does anyone else have any bright ideas?

Monday, 27 April 2009

IT peer support

Well, the IT peers support paper has been sent to our Student Experience Enhancement Committee and we'll wait and see what they say about it on 8 May. The paper requests funding for a 12 month 0.5 post to coordinate an IT peer support scheme. The costs of the project don't include the cost of paying students to do the peer support because we're asking for volunteers to join an IT peer support programme validated by the Leicester Award. We're hoping it will prove an innovative and helpful way of extending the IT peer support available to both campus-based students and distance learners alike. Do you know anyone else who is doing something similar? Does anyone have any advice.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Remembering the milk

By moutzouris
This is going to make me look like a complete geek, but here we go...

In January I starting using Remember the milk (RTM) to help me get more organised. More specifically I'm using it to adopt the Getting things done (GTD) system (which I might blog about some other time when I've finished the book (!), but thanks to ffolliet for getting me into it). But after a useful, albeit brief, meeting yesterday with Jo Badge and Gareth Johnson I thought I'd note down how I'm using RTM.

Getting things done involves 5 stages
  1. Collect
  2. Process
  3. Organize
  4. Review
  5. Do
...and remember the milk (RTM) is helping me with all of them. I needed something that was useable for both a PC and an iPod Touch and allowed offline access. Most of what follows aren't my ideas, but things I've found from various RTM forums (especially this one on a GTD set up and this one on useful searches). So this is just a record of the technical stuff (it's a bit dull, but if you're interested read on).


I just have two regular lists; inbox and processed (which I call '|' so it takes up the least room on the tabs)


Most of my tags I give a prefix so they are appropriately grouped.


My context tags I prefix with c_ (I tried @_ but I didn't fint that as intuative). So context tags are things like:
  • c_office
  • c_phone
  • c_email
  • c_web
  • c_home
  • c_errand
So you can see I use the sytem for home stuff as well as work stuff - which I didn't think I'd like but actually I do.


Status tags I prefix with s_ and I have just the standard four:
  • s_deferred
  • s_nextaction
  • s_someday
  • s_waiting


Project tags I prefix with p_ (I bet you're beginning to see a pattern here!) and so are things like:
  • p_lts2010
  • p_tutorials
  • p_itpeersupport
These will be fairly meaningless to you but are very specific to me - and I have loads of them because GTD defines a project as something with more than one action.


Reference tags I prefix with r_ and are things like:
  • r_itswg
  • r_plone
  • r_homegroup
  • r_itpeersupport (a lot of my reference tags link to projects)


This helps create the tickler file and are a means of setting how many days before the action needs doing you want a reminder (days, weeks, months).
  • zzz_1d
  • zzz_2d
  • zzz_3d
  • zzz_1w
  • zzz_2w
  • zzz_1m

Smart lists

Because I have smart lists I only need 2 manual lists. The search code for my smart lists is as follows.

Next actions



NOT(due:never OR due:today) AND NOT (list:zzz)



ZZZ ( a bit of a monster)

(tag:zzz AND dueAfter:now) OR (tag:zzz1d AND dueAfter:"1 day of now") OR (tag:zzz2d AND dueAfter:"2 days of now") OR (tag:zzz3d AND dueAfter:"3 days of now") OR (tag:zzz4d AND dueAfter:"4 days of now") OR (tag:zzz5d AND dueAfter:"5 days of now") OR (tag:zzz1w AND dueAfter:"1 week of now") OR (tag:zzz2w AND dueAfter:"2 weeks of now") OR (tag:zzz1m AND dueAfter:"1 month of now")


I also have a smart list for things I need to do tonight (if I feel like it!).
dueBefore:today OR due:today AND tag:c_home
It's not a perfect system, but it is a system - and it's working well for me. I'm feeling more on top of things and less hassled. Do you have a system? Do you need one? What do you think?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

New web address

I'm just playing round with the poll feature really, but wondering what people thought for for a web address for Student Development (this wouldn't replace existing ones e.g.

Whatever we choose for the web address would also be the same for the central email address (again, not replacing any existing ones).

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Thinking about a new online tutorial

The most useful thing for me about giving my presentation at our Teaching and Assessment Network (TAN) the other week was the discussion afterwards about what should happen next. So far I've only developed two tutorials, one on plagiarism and one on posters (although the one on plagiarism does have 16 different versions). For a while I've just not had the time (what with writing a book with Jon Scott and everything) but I'm very much hoping that I'll be able to create another one over the next few months. There were a couple of suggestions from the TAN crowd; something on revision and exam skills and something on analysis or criticism. Since having had a conversation with Simon Rofe in International Relations I've decided to try and develop something on the later, with the working title What is analysis? (although I really must come up with something better than that).

So here are my (and Simon Rofe's) early thoughts on what it might include.

Key areas to cover

  • An explanation of how analysis (or criticism) is different from narrative (or description)
  • Suggest different ways of using evidence to analyse/critique ideas
  • The importance of the relevance of evidence to the point you're trying to make
  • The importance of using your own words to express your views
  • How to link paragraphs to develop argument


An activity of some kind around the following quote from Joseph Heller, Catch 22.
"...the corporal and Colonel Korn both agree that it was neither possible nor necessary to educate people who never questioned anything."

Possible structure

Scene setting – these four students all read the same books, all used the same quotes and all worked hard on their essay – but they all got different marks…

Part 1 – stepwise creation of a paragraph using two quotes (each paragraph version is one submitted by one of the four students)
  • only description
  • paraphrase
  • analysis
  • comment
Part 2 – the creation of a second paragraph to link with the first using two additional quotes.


As with the plagiarism tutorials I plan to develop and refine this with one department (International Relations) and then adapt it for other disciplines if it works. These are only very early ideas, but I thought I'd put it up to get some early comments...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Disciplinary Action workshop at ALDinHE 2009

At the ALDinHE 2009 conference Steve Rooney and I ran a workshop entitled Disciplinary Action: Working with subjects-departments to design and deliver academic skills training and resources.

We began by introducing ourselves (we're very polite), then explained a bit about how the Student Learning Centre has evolved over the years and gave a brief overview of the workshop. We then ran our first activity - getting delegates to place their service  on a spectrum (a piece of masking tape sneakily stuck on the floor before hand) representing the location of the services that they offer - central at one end, departmental at the other. We had no idea how people would arrange themselves, but as it turned out there was a fairly even spread - including representation at the extremes. There were people who considered their services purely departmental (because they were based in a particular faculty or department) and others who considered theirs purely central. We had an interesting discussion at this point about whether being located in a department meant that the skills training offered in this context was therefore 'embedded'.

Our second activity involved introducing a second spectrum, specificity, to get delegates to think about whether the learning development interventions they offered were generic or discipline specific. At this point we revealed our one and only slide; a simple 4 box model, as shown on the right. In groups delegates placed the different types of interventions their services offered (individual consultations, resources, central teaching, skills modules, etc) into an appropriate box. This was to encourage them to think about the appropriateness of the interventions they offered.

Finally delegates looked at a case study to encourage discussions around what embedded skills training actually means and how it can be improved. I've long had the notion that  skills modules are the thing to aim for when working with departments, but preparing this workshop has got me thinking about whether or not it should be. Whilst it might be embedded from my point of view, is it embedded from the students point of view? Do students perceive skills modules as integrated or do they perceive them as silo-ed? What do you think?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

ALDinHE conference 2009

I've just returned from the ALDinHE 2009 conference at Bournemouth University. I've not been to many conferences, but the ones I have been to, more often than not, have left me underwhelmed. This one, however, was different. Stimulating keynotes, a wide choice of workshops, time to network, brilliantly organised and a cracking conference dinner.

Monday's keynote was from Dr Dennis Hayes entitled From flagellation to therapy: what are students learning today? Dennis, with Kathryn Ecclestone, is the author of The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education. His presentation was thought provoking and controversial (especially in this context). I must say I enjoyed his straight talking (many didn't), even though most of his assertions seemed to be based on anecdotes. He had loads of time for questions, which was just as well, because there were loads of questions. Conversations (often heated) spilled over into lunch and well beyond. It really did the job of encouraging debate.

Tuesday's keynote was from Professor Alan Mortiboys entitled Using Emotional Intelligence in Learning Development- what does it mean for the tutor to use emotional intelligence in learning development, and why is it important? Alan is the author of Teaching with Emotional Intelligence. His presentation was much less controversial, but I thought had much less content. I was struck by his comment that we should aim for emotional as well as cognitive learning outcomes. He got us to do various activities around developing our emotional intelligence as learning developers.

I also attended some very useful workshops, not least one entitled The magic resource maker. Many of the workshops I went to though weren't really workshops, but rather presentations with a few minutes for questions at the end, which was a little frustrating. Not that I mind presentations (although I can't cope with many after a keynote), I just don't like them being called workshops.

However, even though the keynotes and some workshops were very stimulating, perhaps the most useful aspect was meeting colleagues from similar services to ours from across the UK. I particularly enjoyed meeting people I'd previously met on Twitter, including Becka Currant and John Hilsdon. The image below is a wordle formed from the tweets of the conference, which might give you a flavour of what went on.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Developing online tutorials at Teaching and Assessment Network

There are the slides and audio of my Teaching and Assessment Network seminar that I did on 25 March at the University of Leicester. Just putting them here really to kick off this blog as it's Friday afternoon and can't summon up much more energy!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Careers after biological sciences

Here's a brilliant new video from Chris Willmott in Biological Sciecnes on studying medicine after biological sciences. Chris has developed a raft of resources including videos and presentations for bioscience students. He gets alumni to come and present to students on different careers. Areas covered so far are:
  • Clinical Trials
  • Conservation
  • Cosmetics
  • Forensics
  • Formulation technologist
  • Healthcare Science
  • Journalism
  • Manufacturing Scientist
  • Medicine
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmaceutical Industry
  • Recruitment
  • Teaching
More info can be found at I've also linked it to the blog roll.