Teaching Stories

An American Indian Holocaust?

Sam Hitchmough, Director of Teaching and Senior Lecturer in American Indian History

Historians of any field constantly grapple with a thorny mass of official histories and unofficial/vernacular histories, histories that are constructed, invented, exaggerated or politicized, narratives and counter-narratives, memories, hagiographies, teleological narratives or triumphalist epics, even when the events are relatively recent. Often, history is rescue work, uncovering voices and perspectives from the past that have previously been lost, disassembling and reforming our understandings. Historians are, as a result, regularly accused of re-interpreting past narratives from modern standpoints with active agendas, of retro-fitting, or else attempting to re-engineer our societal foundations and ‘re-remember’ events in certain ways.

Teaching American history is one such minefield: frequently a triumphalist history, a story of empire, destiny and progress. A predominantly white, male, Euro-centric narrative has been rightly challenged, particularly in the past 50-60 years, and whilst this has resulted in important revision, the way that American national history is presented and taught is still problematic at many levels. Amongst the most overlooked histories (and indeed communities) are American Indian, and when we give due weight and space for discussion to arguments forwarded by scholars of American Indian history (both American Indian and settler) the challenges to the celebratory narrative of the American national project are numerous and robust.

There has been a steadily growing body of academic work that makes the case that American Indian experiences in the U.S. should be discussed with reference to the terms ethnic cleansing and genocide. Whilst not making significant inroads into school curricula, these arguments have nonetheless gained widespread traction in academic circles as well as growing references in popular culture. There is, however, another layer of argument that is fearsomely controversial and is a debate that many historians have preferred not to engage with at all.

Can, and should, American Indian experiences be referred to as a Holocaust? Some argue that this should encompass over 500 years of interaction since 1492, whilst others focus more directly on 19th and 20th century experiences of successive U.S. administrations. The implications of this argument are profound and the debate around it fierce.

There is not a consensus on this amongst scholars of American Indian history, and it also creates debate amongst scholars of the Holocaust, with one prominent Jewish historian, for example, suggesting that we should ‘dare to compare’ the two experiences, whilst others claim the Holocaust in the Nazi era is ‘phenomenologically unique’ and resists all comparison. The comparisons explored involve apparent similarities between the American ideology of Manifest Destiny and the Nazi ideology of Lebensraum, both giving rationale for the annexation of land for a perceived to be superior race, the official Removal policies of successive U.S. administrations and the forced marches in Nazi Germany, and terminology utilized in the U.S. that frequently and openly called for extermination of ‘inhuman savages’. Whilst this already carries some pedagogic challenges, some have gone a step further and suggested that closing the door to comparisons, those that wish to conceive of the Holocaust as unique and that the term remains exclusive to events in wartime Europe, are actually committing the great crime of denying a holocaust elsewhere.  

How can this debate be utilized as a lens through which to explore the teaching of difficult topics? More broadly, how can we use cases like this to effectively share experiences and strategies that can be adapted to make a whole range of teaching difficult subjects less daunting?

I can share some reflections on the way that I have taught the question of whether the word Holocaust can or should be used; I have taught this using a debate format for nearly ten years in two different universities.

Focus on the question comes roughly half way through a course on American Indian history from the 1830s to the 1950s, so the first few weeks deal with context and major emerging themes in terms of American Indian ideologies and U.S. policy. Arguments around ethnic cleansing and genocide are introduced and scrutinized in order to broach issues of applying modern terminology to past events.

Two weeks are typically set aside for a debate about whether the word holocaust should be used to describe American Indian experiences. One or two further weeks are used to reflect on the debate, largely online so that other topics can be moved onto.

Key staging posts:

Length: These are 2-hour sessions

Debate: Should the word Holocaust be used to refer to American Indian experiences in the U.S.?

Form: 2 groups, one arguing that it should, one that it shouldn’t.

First session:

  1. ‘Space.’ It’s been useful having short discussions about the nature of academic learning spaces (in addition to the introductory session that talks about learning expectations and the adoption of a shared learning model), including freedom of expression so long as doesn’t cause offence, the validity of opinions that might be different to our own.

    We’ve also discussed the importance of the art of argument: this is an exercise that reveals how effective arguments are constructed, nuanced and critiqued. As such, students are reminded they may wish to engage with the debate as devil’s advocates (for some students in the past this seems to have offered a degree of objectivity that they’ve preferred)
  2. Why do students think this is an important question to ask? Are there aspects of the debate that students imagine will be difficult or controversial? This can be a short written exercise that is useful post-debate, and I’ve also read some of them out beforehand.
  3. I’ve often asked at this point how students feel they most effectively learn about difficult subjects, not necessarily to get fully-formed responses but to encourage them to think that others may learn differently, and to prepare them for the range of tasks involved in reflecting on the debate.
  4. Knowing the debate question, the group is split into two by sign-up. If the numbers are uneven then any absent students are added to the smaller group.
  5. The groups spend some time discussing their possible arguments, assign reading to do over the week.
  6. I show groups the VLE pages dedicated to the debate – online discussion pages for each group, suggested readings, and a whole-group discussion forum. They are encouraged to communicate with each other over the following week.
  7. The ‘architecture’ of the debate is discussed. Depending on the size of the group, various roles are sometimes introduced: ‘debate facilitators’ (one student who acts as a ‘chair’ if discussion needs to be re-focused) and student ‘scribes’ (one or two students who take fairly detailed notes that capture key points, to be made available to entire group afterwards).
  8. ‘Conduct’ is discussed and earlier points reiterated about the nature of academic expression, that debates flourish when multiples voices and perspectives are heard.

Second session:

Ensure that the space is appropriately configured so that students don’t need to raise their voices and don’t have defensive lines of tables/desks in front of them.

  1. The first 30 minutes is used for the two groups to reconvene and run through their arguments. They are reminded to present two or three short and precise points that act as springboards for discussion.
  2. A coin toss to see who starts. One side then forwards its two/three key points, the other side does the same, and then it’s an open discussion that usually uses the points as hooks.
  3. The debate itself has around 60-65 minutes to run.
  4. I’ve found it important that the debate doesn’t run up to the end of the session – some sort of reflection is crucial. Each side is asked to reflect on how they felt it went and to identify three points that the opposing side made that they found persuasive.
  5. Discussion of what the most challenging and difficult questions/points were – what did they think were the best ways n which to tackle these?

Possible related tasks: in the past I’ve asked students to create posters that reflect the debate, write up reviews of the debate for fictitious magazines or newspapers that can either require objectivity or else op-eds work well. Students have also engaged in a post-debate online discussion forum.

I’m particularly interested in how we teach difficult subjects, the kinds of pressures and challenges (and often pitfalls) that they create (to the extent that in some cases we can become relatively vulnerable) and how these subjects affect the learning environment and the student learning experience. In the case-study here I’ve known that many students will be upset by the topic, some will get angry, and that some have had relatives who died in, or survived, concentration camps. In some cases I’ve followed up in the next session with a silent debate for around 30 minutes. This is an opportunity to have students in smaller groups, of around 4 or 5, focus on specific points from the previous week’s full debate and explore them further. These are often the most contentious or controversial, and it’s interesting to use the silent debate format as an alternative as it often allows students who might have been frustrated or subdued during the debate to have an opportunity to express their opinion in a different setting.

I’d be very interested in talking with anyone about the challenges of teaching difficult subjects, perhaps with a view to writing up a number of case-studies that might prove useful to colleagues across the university.

News

BILT welcomes colleagues to the team

With the new focus on curriculum development, BILT has expanded its team!

Firstly, we have two new members of the core team. Amy Wilson has now been made permanent BILT administrator, and Dr Ash Tierney has joined the team as an Education Developer.

BILT has also joined forces with the Educational Development Team from Academic Staff Development, which includes Louise Howson, Emilie Poletto-Lawson and Julian Kendell.

We also welcome Dr Mohammad Golam Jamil and Dr Isabel Hopwood-Stephens as TESTA researchers, who will play a key role in the implementation of TESTA across many programmes in the University.

Professors Paul Wyatt and Nigel Savery have also joined BILT in part-time seconded roles as Senior Academic Developers, assisting with curriculum transformation project.

We are also being joined by four new Student Fellows, who will be starting in October. The students will be working on projects aimed at improving the student experience, including: wellbeing in the curriculum; active, collaborative learning; challenge-led, authentic learning and students as researchers. Their names are Toby Roberts, Emily Kinder, Owen Barlow and Marnie Woodmeade.

News

Introduction to 2019-20 from Sarah Davies, BILT Executive Director

Welcome to a new academic year! BILT are expanding our activities this year, while building on key areas of existing work. We’re hard at work planning how we continue to support you and build a community of practice at Bristol around learning and teaching innovation and enhancement.

With Tansy Jessop, formerly BILT visiting professor, joining the University as Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, we’re sharpening our focus on research-informed teaching and evidence-based practice, and will be building links with and between existing faculty-based educational research communities to raise the profile of evidence-based teaching practice across the institution.

We’ll be continuing to champion students as co-designers and partners in their educational experience, building on the work of our BILT student fellows and our summer hackathon. If you haven’t already, do have a look at the outputs from our 2018-19 student fellows (links available below) – their short video round-up is a good place to start. We have four new BILT student fellows starting in October, and I’m really excited to see what they achieve.

The BILT hackathon, during which we brought 8 students together for a four-week period in June-July to explore, and design solutions to, some key educational challenges facing the university, was certainly one of my highlights of last year, and we want to build on this approach going forward. This year’s hackathon outputs and lessons are available in this short report (UoB only). We’re also raising the profile of students as researchers at Bristol, and will be supporting students to submit abstracts for the British Conference of Undergraduate Research in Leeds in April.


Assessment and feedback has always been a key theme for BILT, and this year we’ll be working with a selection of programme teams to review their students’ programme-level experience of assessment and feedback, through the TESTA process. TESTA was developed by a team including Tansy Jessop, and has been used nationally and internationally to improve assessment patterns to foster deeper learning. We’ll also be working with programme teams across the university who are reviewing or redesigning their programmes, including in support of the Temple Quarter initiative.

We’re also very excited that the CREATE team within academic staff development are moving into BILT, so that we can work together to provide a joined-up staff development offer on learning and teaching for both new and more experienced staff. We’re also reviewing how we can best support individuals and teams through guidance and resources – whether text-based, videos or our new podcast series – so if you have a question or challenge about learning and teaching, do please let us know, so we can shape our resources around those real life challenges.

On top of all that, staff across the university continue to work on our funded projects and fellowships, and will be reporting progress, findings and recommendations through our blog. My thanks go to those staff who have recently completed their BILT fellowships and have been publishing on the blog – a selection of their reflections can be found below .
We look forward to working with you in 2019-20!

A few of the Student Fellows outputs
Zoe Backhouse created a zine about assessment.
Johannes Schmiedecker undertook research on learning analytics and big data.
Lisa Howarth produced a video series on learning spaces.
Phoebe Graham and Corrie Macleod started the ‘Humans of Bristol University’ blog series.

A few reflections from our outgoing Academic Fellows
Tensions with Programme-Level Assessment‘ by Helen Heath.
Summary of a team-based learning masterclass from Paul Wyatt.
Should all assessments be inclusive?‘ by Emilie Poletto-Lawson.

News

Blogs 2018-19

We’ve pulled together all the blogs that we’ve published and organised them into five categories: teaching practices; event summaries; musings; interviews; musings and introduction.

Teaching Practices
Event Reflections
Interviews
Musings
Introductions

Teaching Pratices

Five Things to try in your Teaching Next Year

Assessing Celebrity Cultures

Week Three of the Student Hackathon: Six Takeaways

Wellbeing in Education – what if building flourishing institutions was the answer?

Gamifying Histology

Should we go ‘The Whole Hog’ with programme-level assessment?

Student Voices: Learning Analytics

Introducing Student as Producer: A Bristol perspective

Teaching Stories #8: James Norman

Teaching Stories #7: Aydin Nassehi

Teaching Stories #6: Ksenia Shalonova

Teaching Stories #9: Erica Hendy

Teaching Stories #3: Lucy Berthoud

Teaching Stories #4: James Norman

Teaching Stories #2: Ann Pullen

Students Talk Spaces

Is there any link between design thinking and essays?

Three visits, three takeaways

‘myopportunities’ and the launch of the Bristol Futures Engagement Opportunities badge

Informal exploratory writing: three activities you can try with your students

Teaching Stories #1: Rulers for all

Update on the ‘Rethinking Spaces’ theme

University of Bristol Teaching Space Principles

Implementing a Mental Wellbeing Toolbox: Reflections on integration into the veterinary curriculum and identification of opportunities for wider application

MAP Bristol

The LeapForward Project

Developing a guide to support the use of video in undergraduate assessment

Building Confident Engaged Researchers Through Active Partnership and Problem Based Learning

Testing the use of digital technologies for field based education to enhance graduate confidence and preparedness

Evaluation and benchmarking of the new Biochemistry MSci Research Training Unit

Event Reflections

Team Based Learning Masterclass

ABC Learning Design: Presentation and Q&A at UCL

ABC Learning Design: Workshop at UCL

Embedding Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the Curriculum – Advanced HE Workshop Reflection

Bristol Teaching Awards 2019

Learning Games #3

Photos from BILTs Pedagogical Pub Quiz

#Digifest19: The technology conference encouraging more human interactions

Insights from attending UWE’s Festival of Learning for an afternoon

Getting Creative in the Archive – University of Bristol Theatre Collection

Bristol Conversations in Education: Does School Design Matte? 16/1/2018

Learning Games #2

Event Summary of ‘Making IT* Happen: from strategy to action’ at the University of Leicester

Reflections on Dorothea Smartt and Travis Alabanza events

On attending University of Bristol’s Gender Research Centre and Centre for Black Humanities joint seminar: A conversation with Dorothea Smartt

‘Why is my curriculum white?’ Towards imagining what our curriculum might look like were it researched, taught, and learned from Black Queer-Trans perspectives

Using Games in Teaching

Easing the transition of undergraduates though an immersive induction module

Exploring Microsoft Office 365 for Teaching and Learning

Interviews

Humans of Bristol Uni… Lizzie Blundell

An interview with… Lisa Howarth

An interview with… Alan Emond

Humans of Bristol Uni… Walker Grevel and Patrick Shannon

An interview with… John Gilbert

Humans of Bristol Uni… Dr. James Norman

An interview with… Bruce Macfarlane

In conversation with a fourth-year Liberal Arts student

An interview with… Alex Forsythe

Humans of Bristol Uni… Damien McManus

Humans of Bristol Uni… David Bernhard

Humans of Bristol Uni… Emma Robinson

Humans of Bristol Uni… Bex Lyons

Humans of Bristol Uni… Thomas Jordan

Humans of Bristol Uni… Mark Schenk

Humans of Bristol Uni… Tricia Passes

Humans of Bristol Uni… Jez Conolly

Humans of Bristol Uni… Alix Dietzel

An interview with… Chris Adams

An interview with… Michaela Borg

Musings

My Retirement from Competitive Baking

Snow days and the death of lecturing

Our Yearly Round-Up and Key Student Lessons

Our time with BILT: Empowering Students to Impact their Learning and Teaching

Strategic Students and Question Spotting

Confessions of an Engineer

Hackathon is go!

What’s in a grade?

Bristol wasn’t B(u)ilt in a day: On Learning and Building

This is why I teach

Teaching Space as a Teaching Lab

Understanding technology horizons in a new context

Why I am making a Zine about Assessment

My Flirtation with Dungeons and Dragons: Musings on Leaving

Surveying the Students

No lecture theatres? No problem!

Should all assessments be inclusive?

Time for a new approach to our generational differences?

The A-Ha Moment

What exactly is Bristol Futures and what does BILT have to do with it?

Tensions with Programme-Level Assessment

The Gap between Pedagogy and Design

Utilising Student Voice in Learning Support and Transition

More good news for Education and Pedagogy Researchers in SSL!Introduction to 2018/19 from the BILT Director

Introductions

Meet the Associates… Ash Tierney

An introduction from Tansy Jessop, our Visiting Professor

Meet the Student Fellows… Corrie Macleod

Meet the Student Fellows… Lisa Howarth

Meet the Student Fellows… Johannes Schmiedecker

Meet the Student Fellows… Zoe Backhouse

Meet the Student Fellows… Phoebe Graham

Meet the Associates… Sam Hitchmough

Meet the Associates… Humphrey Bourne

Meet the Associates… Fabienne Vailes

Meet the Associates… Amy Walsh

Meet the Associates… Sian Harris

Meet the Associates… Imogen Moore

Meet the Associates… Steffi Zegowitz

Meet the Fellows… Zoe Palmer

Meet the Fellows… James Norman

Meet the Fellows… Christian Spielmann

Teaching Stories

Five Things to Try in your Teaching Next Year

We sent round bookmarks to academic staff outlining five new things they could try in their teaching – this post includes more detail about those things and where you can get support to try them.

1. Get Moving – Spend five minutes of your session moving the furniture around to create a more dynamic learning environment and energise your students.

2. Live Lecture Polling – Introduce online polling for instant learner feedback and to encourage active learning.

The Digital Education Office exist to support with this sort of activity – get in touch with them to find out more here.

This comprehensive bibliography on classroom responses systems includes subject-specific examples.

3. Start a Podcast – Create informal engagement with your subject by starting a podcast and invite your students to take part.

We can help you set up your podcast using our equipment and advise you on any purchases you may want to make, as well as how to make the podcast available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. We can also put you in touch with staff who have set up podcasts for their subject to provide additional support.

4. Explore the City – Students love to feel connected to our city and it makes learning memorable when concepts are connected to reality.

The Engaged Learning team exist to support academics in partnering with community organisations and businesses.

There are many examples where academics have used the city and its history to connect learning to a space. Two excellent examples are the MAP Bristol project, undertaken with a BILT grant in 2017/18 by Chris Adams, and the Bristol Futures open units.

5. Gamify Learning – Whether it is a points-based system for engagement or a tailored card game, games can make difficult content more accessible and enjoyable to learn.

Suzi Well and Chrysanthi Tseloudi run a ‘Learning Games’ event, where staff come together to discuss their ideas and examples of game-based learning. Any upcoming events will be shared in the BILT Briefing.

The BILT Discretionary Seedcorn Funding is available for staff to apply for small amounts of money (up to £1500) – last year three games were developed from this funding.

500 Words, News

My Retirement from Competitive Baking

Yesterday, after an excruciating three-week wait, it was the Education Services Charity Bake Off Final. I had made it through to the final after winning my heat (cheese and rosemary scones, if you must know) and I had been practising for my chance at winning the title ever since.

I was as happy with my cake as a novice baker could be, having opted for a chocolate and passionfruit cake, and eagerly awaited the results as the morning went on. By the time it came to 1pm, when colleagues from across the office gathered around waiting our Director to announce the winner, I was actually nervous.

I didn’t win. I didn’t expect to win – there were some amazing cakes on offer from some equally amazing bakers – but no one likes to lose do they? I spend the afternoon texting my husband about how I was never going to bake again and fanaticising about throwing my rolling pin away when I got home.

And I don’t plan on entering another baking competition; I didn’t like the waiting around for weeks not knowing what the result is going to be – yet this is exactly what so many 17 and 18-year olds are going through today.

Having sat their exams months ago, they have spent their summer nervously awaiting the results that will determine their future. Whether they go to university or not, and whether, if they do choose on university, that university is their ‘first choice’, or whether they have to go though ‘clearing’ (an awful process and even more awful word to use for it – surely there is a better way it can be done?*).

But there is no option for a university student to ‘never bake again’ – doing a degree is like a three-year baking competition. For the few students who do well in all of their assessments this is fine (read: smash the soufflé), but for the majority of students who struggle though at least some of their degree, the process of endlessly awaiting the next result is hugely detrimental for their wellbeing – and yet we continue to assess in this way.

As an adult, we don’t experience this same kind of stress. The wait to hear if you’ve been accepted for a mortgage, or if your latest paper has been accepted in to journal, is about as close as we come. But these are annual occurrences at best and, as adults, we have the experience of know we can always resubmit a paper or apply for a different mortgage. I wonder if we experienced the continual insecurity and nerves that students face around assessment that we would still choose to assess in this way?

One way to reduce this insecurity could be a move towards more formative assessments and less summative assessment may be one approach, or a move away from numerical grading may be another, but it is difficult to know what balance could be reached between keeping students motivated while still removing the carrot of a grade they are happy with.  

So, while I’ll be hanging up my apron for the foreseeable future, I’ll be thinking of all the students starting in September (and coming back) who will be facing another year of blind bakes and wondering what we can do to help reduce the anxiety around results and assessments this causes.  

*If this area interests you, I highly recommend this WonkHE piece on making university admissions truly inclusive – including two very viable recommendations.  

Amy Palmer

Teaching Stories, Uncategorized

‘Snow’ days and the death of lecturing…

The following post was written by Alison Blaxter, a BILT Associate and Clinical Teaching Fellow in the Vet School.

It’s August and bright sunshine but time for reviewing my teaching year.  I was remembering the ‘snow days’ we have had over the last few years. The vet school in the heart of the Mendip Hills briefly closed its doors for business and students because of snow at the end of January. Those of us providing animal care stayed to deal with emergencies but I was also due to lecture that day and the undergraduate students missed my well-crafted lecture on reproduction in cats. Instead I recorded the lecture on mediasite at my desk and it was up on Blackboard the next day. In the case-based session at the end of the cat and dog reproduction course the students didn’t express any significant difficulty with the material, nor were there a disproportionate number of questions from the content of that lecture in comparison to the others in the series.

This and a fascinating keynote speech on the formation of memory at the VetEd, the veterinary education community’s annual symposium  (https://vetedsymposium.org/) by David Shanks at UCL started me thinking about the benefits of lecturing. Lectures are a way in which we can decide as instructors what knowledge our students need and deliver it in a relatively quick and easily produced way to classes of infinite size. We also know that students who have a learning style where listening is key to their development of memory and understanding this form of knowledge transfer may be highly appropriate.


However, we also know that active learning where the learner is engaged in activity associated with the material is a better model to aspire to. There is evidence that  such an approach improves, among other attributes, critical thinking, decision making and creativity (Freeman et al. (2014). My understanding from David Shanks keynote address is that memory formation and the ability to apply information increases where testing is an inherent part of the learning process, Fascinatingly, testing before, during and after novel information transfer improves memory formation.  (Yang C., Potts R., and Shanks D.R. (2018))

 We now routinely use audience response systems such as ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Mentimeter’ to deliver in-lecture quizzes, we use case-based-learning in medicine and veterinary medicine to apply knowledge immediately to specific professional contexts, we promote ‘flipped classroom’ teaching with students preparing in advance for whole cohort interactive teaching and team based learning where peer interaction is pivotal to the learning process or other forms of peer assisted learning are celebrated. Our new accelerated graduate entry programme for the vet course (AGEP) has adopted case-based learning with an emphasis on active participation in a self-directed environment as its core. Do traditional lectures still have a role?

There is also the issue that I don’t always enjoy lecturing. The majority of my teaching is in the work-place where I am fortunate to mentor and teach veterinary students at the end of their undergraduate career on a one to one basis. Dealing with illness and health in real patients, with all the uncertainty this entails is an exciting and stimulating teaching environment. When I lecture the sound of my own voice for a long period of time can feel tedious and I get bored without the great stimulus I get from face to face teaching, so I plan active participation throughout the 50 minutes and my ‘lectures’ can be  noisy and chaotic.  

So my vision of the future involves lectures being pre-recorded, perhaps divided into smaller chunks of material and delivered in the context of a whole variety of resources to a student – videos, audio, text, quizzes and tasks.  Once established our face-to-face time becomes available to guide and mentor students by cultivating their curiosity, facilitating creative application of knowledge and engaging them in a more direct and personal way.  Could lectures as we understand be obsolete?

Freeman et al. (2014), Active learning increases student performance in science engineering and mathematics PNAS 111 (2) 8410–8415

Yang C., Potts R., and Shanks D.R. (2018) Enhancing learning and retrieval of new information; a review of the forward testing effect. Science of Learning 3(1).

News

Team Based Learning Masterclass

Dundee, 26th June 2019

There were two masterclasses running in Dundee – an introductory and an advanced session.  This was the advanced session.  Although the number of attendees was small at around ten, everybody had some experience of running team-based learning. 

All the activities and discussions of the day were run in a team-based format and this included the usual items such as:

  •   Individual readiness assurance test
  • Team readiness assurance test

Having read papers about this approach to teamwork it initially seemed unnecessarily complicated to me but, now that I’ve been through it a couple of times, I can see the value in it.  It’s actually very straight forward in practice.  In all cases the tests have been quite challenging in that they ask for the best answer when several of the answers could be correct.  This prompted discussion in the teams (and it meant we didn’t get everything right first time).  This made me think about my own approach to teamwork questions and how valuable this aspect is.  The ‘appeals process’ was then a discussion about our thoughts before moving on to consider how to address team-based situations like the same person verbalising a team’s answer and different methods for students to evaluate each other.

As is often the case with these sessions, it is the people you meet who are often the most interesting part of the day and their experiences gave me some ideas for the upcoming team-based work we will be starting in the School of Chemistry next term.  One colleague talked about how she got the students to give their team a name and draw up a social contract.  I’d been thinking about how we would need an introductory session to the team-based format and these seemed like great ideas to help cement a group together. I’m going to incorporate these ideas this year. 

Several resources from the Masterclass are included but additionally here is some useful info:

www.teambasedlearning.org

This website has all sorts of information and resources for team-based learning but needs a subscription to access most of the materials. 

Dr Simon Tweddell is a National Teaching Fellow and Consultant-Trainer in Team-Based Learning. Contact him on: s.j.tweddell@bradford.ac.uk

Other class organisers were Dr Prabha Parthasarathy from Imperial College and Joy de Vries-Erich from University of Amsterdam

Further resources on team-based learning can be found here.

Paul Wyatt, July 2019.

Teaching Stories

Strategic Students and Question Spotting

The following piece was written by Helen Heath, a BILT Fellow, Reader in Physics and (soon to be!) University Education Director (Quality).

Why do we think that students being strategic in their learning is a bad thing? Is this an example of emotive conjugation as brilliantly illustrated by Anthony Jay and Johnathan Lynn in the “Yes Minister” series, “I give confidential security briefings. You leak. He has been charged under section 2a of the Official Secrets Act.” ?

“I only have time for important things, you have concentrated on the wrong things, students are question spotting rather than learning.”

Academics are very strategic in the tasks they decide to undertake. They pick tasks that will result in promotion, they tune their lectures to give students what they want to get those good questionnaire responses and they leave jobs undone that they have decided are not worth the time and effort. Yet we seem to criticise students for the same behaviour. We decide not to read the majority of the 200 papers in the Senate pack. Quickly reviewing the headings and deciding what matters to us. This is sensible use of precious time. A student decides they don’t have time to read and understand the whole textbook so they will look at previous examinations and see what topics are more likely to come up and this is “question spotting”.

But is “question spotting” such a bad idea? There is some sense academically. If a question (or a variation of a question) about the same topic appears every year then the examiner is giving a message that this is a topic they regard as important. We might hope that students had realised what were the key topics in other ways. We might stress these key topics in our lectures. We might like to think our students were able to just “get” what is key but that’s a high-level skill and the key topics may only be obvious when they have reappeared in subsequent years. When students are struggling with the nuts and bolts of a subject it’s not surprising that they can’t manage to see the wood for the trees.

Many weaker students are known to find difficulty with scaffolding their learning and identifying the key elements that will enable them to succeed later. They use every piece of information they can to work out what these key topics are and that includes judging what we regard as important by what we assess them on. The topics we choose to place an emphasis on in our final assessment must be import so question spotting is a way of understanding what it is that academics regard as important.

I’d suggest that this strategic planning is not only useful for passing examinations but it’s a useful life skill. The difficulty arises where students question spot and learn by rote with no understanding. The symptom of this in Physics is often a good response to a question that looked like the one that was asked but was slightly different.

The HEA training materials used in the programme focussed assessment training for the pilot project encouraged academics to consider what are the threshold topics in their area. There is much written about threshold topics in physics a recent paper even suggests that there are too many threshold concepts in physics to count them (“Identifying Threshold Concepts in Physics: too many to count” R. Serbanescu 2017). If this is the case, we need to guide the students by deciding what we think is key. If we fail to do that then we shouldn’t blame the students for looking at what we indicated was key by our assessment. Assessment does drive learning and if we are assessing the same topic repeatedly then it is driving the students to learn that topic.

One mechanism we have tried in physics which has some advantages is giving the students a list of questions of which a subset will be a people be guaranteed to appear on the paper and make up ~40% of the material. These direct students towards the bare bones of the course. If they can answer this set of questions they should at least be able to reproduce the basic information in the course Looking our definition of what constitutes a third class performance in assessment (“some grasp of the issues and concepts underlying the techniques and material taught” UoB 21 point scale 40-50 descriptor) the ability to simply regurgitate with reasonable accuracy some basic concepts could be seen to meet these. Ideally students would want to go further but, in some cases, they haven’t had the time to absorb that particular piece of knowledge and digest it in the depth we would expect. While there are still time constraints on the acquisition of knowledge in a Higher Education programme inevitably almost everyone will come up against a concept that they are unable to grasp before the assessment.

And is learning by rote so bad? I do not set out to prove Pythagoras’ theorem every time I need to use it for a question.

Forms of assessment should have a range of tasks that test both use of tools and deeper concepts, but students should not be criticised for directing their learning towards topics they think are likely to come up in an examination. By putting these topics on the examination regularly we have declared them to be important.

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ABC Learning Design: presentations and Q&A at UCL

Emilie Poletto-Lawson is an Educational Developer (based in Academic Staff Development) and a BILT fellow working on the BILT theme of inclusive assessment. 

This blog of a follow up from the blog post “ABC Learning design: workshop at UCL” which presented how the ABC Learning Design approach works. In this post, we will explore how colleagues at other institutions are using the kit.

First of all, many thanks to Clive Young and Nataša Perović for giving away a complete kit to all participants. It was extremely useful when reflecting back on the day. It is worth noting that all the ABC resources are available on line under a Creative Commons licence Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.

Here is what the kit looks like:

This photo shows the content of the kit: “Tweet and Share” document, set of cards, document with additional activities, blue tack, stickers, a blank action plan, a guide on how to run the workshop and a recap document.

I personally find the material very inviting and a great testimony to the hard work of all involved. After our hands-on session, Clive and Nataša opened the second half of the morning with a history of the project and update on what it is now and where it is being used. This was then followed by presentations by colleagues from other institutions who shared their take on the method.

Gill Ritchie and Ben Audley from Queen Mary, University of London

First of all, Gill Ritchie from Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL), presented how the ABC for Learning Design has become part of their PGCert Academic Practice programme. In the module “Teaching with learning technologies ”, participants are introduced to the technology wheel and a set of amended cards that contain the technology available at QMUL. They are then expected to design an online activity by December, that they then try out between January and April before writing up their reflection on how it went for their PGCAP.

The image is the technology wheel created by the ABC team based on the 6 learning types. Available here.

The updated version of the wheel by QMUL aims at highlighting what is available and supported by experts within the institution while being less daunting than the pedagogy Wheel Model  developed by Allan Carrington based on Bloom’s taxonomy that can be seen as offering an overwhelming amount of options. The University of Reading also created its own version (link  here ).

The wheel and activity types cards from the ABC kit are used with participants to discuss possibilities within their teaching leading to what sounded like fruitful conversations. If you are interested in finding out which technological tools the University of Bristol supports, you can contact the Digital Education team .

Gill’s presentation was then followed by her colleague’s, Ben Audsley, dental electronic resources manager in the School of Dentistry at QMUL. Ben supported lecturers with the transition of a module on dental public health to be fully online for distance learning. His approach was to look at the topics for each week and to then think about the technology that could be introduced to support learning. He used the kit focusing on the online suggestion of activities. It was interesting to note that his biggest challenge was to keep staff on track.

Luke Cox from the London School of Economics

Luke Cox, from the London School of economics, introduced a very interesting element in the process: using a critical friend. His presentation was on designing distance learning process and the way he approached it was to request having the course designer and a critical friend together to work and reflect on the design. He identified, actually, getting that critical friend in the same room at the same time as the designer as the biggest challenge.

Arthur Wadsworth, Moira E Sarsfield, Shireen Lock and Jessica Cooper from Imperial College London

The presentation by colleagues from Imperial College London was a great follow up to Luke’s as further to the critical friend, they suggested involving graduate teaching assistant (GTA). I believe this would be a fantastic opportunity to give GTAs a voice and to make them feel more strongly part of the community so long as their time is compensated and at an appropriate point of their studies. Colleagues at Imperial identified that lecturers and teaching fellows are not ready for the 25% module transformation in engineering objective they have. They also added a “fixed approach to teaching and learning” as a key issue. Their solution is to show a sign of remission from leadership around the area of workload and availability.   

Peter Roberts from Goldsmiths, University of London

Peter Roberts from Goldsmiths, University of London, adapted the cards so that instead of names of activities they list verbs. He then adapted the concept to an online activity on Trello , creating a deck with the learning activities (acquisition, collaboration…) to then drag and drop to create their design online.

This image shows an example of Trello to plan your weeks of teaching. Thank you to Peter Roberts for sharing this screen capture.

He also recommended the use of “Learning Designer ” developed by Laurillard at UCL, originally for school teachers.

Another online approach was mentioned in the questions following the presentation. The University of Lincoln has developed “Digital Learning Recipes” to support staff with the technological side of the design. The website gives examples of activity for each learning type and it is then followed by extra resources on the tools available and guides to use them.

And those were just lessons learnt from the morning!

Many thanks to Clive Young and Nataša Perović for sharing the ABC learning design and providing a kit to take home as well as inviting colleagues from other institutions to share their take on the method. It was a very insightful day and I look forward to finding out what’s next.