Satisfying the 300+: The Challenge of Teaching Large Cohorts

At the Learning and Teaching Conference last month we were treated to an awesome presentation by Dr Ali Al-Ataby, the winner of the annual Sir Alastair Pilkington Prize for excellent teaching. In his presentation, entitled ‘Satisfying the 300’, Ali explained how he has turned what was considered to be a boring and difficult, yet required, module with a large failure rate into one of the most popular and successful in Electrical Engineering and Electronics (EEE).

Science and Engineering are really tackling the challenge of teaching large cohorts with lots of good practice across the Faculty. I was reminded that I attended another fantastic event last term. Run by Dr Kathy Johnson in Science and Engineering and introduced by Mark Bowen, a whole day was dedicated to large group teaching with invited speakers from within and beyond the University, giving thought provoking and entirely practical strategies for teaching modules for groups of up to 600 students.

Executive Pro Vice Chancellor for Science and Engineering Professor Ken Badcock opened, underlining the importance the Faculty gives to the quality of the student learning experience. He was followed by five speakers, from Liverpool, Manchester and The Open University.

teaching large cohorts

Key messages from the session emphasised the importance of:

  • Students having the opportunity to interact with one another, something that can be done very well online.
  • Students feeling connected to the lecturer. They will overcrowd a live lecture rather than sit in an overspill and they need to know their lecturer is concerned about their learning. This requires planning and insight that takes as much effort as all other aspects of the teaching. But, it can be done.
  • A blended approach with on-line activities and discussions which can significantly enhance the student learning experience because the very nature of the large scale course means that there are many ideas, points of view, and knowledge to bring to the debate and insights to share. Well planned online elements are valued by staff and students.
  • Module efficiency was a key consideration for staff – including excellent administrative staff and well trained teaching assistant support.
  • Selecting tools that work for students, not simply like for like replacements for those that work face-to-face, but approaches that meet the aims and intended learning outcomes of the modules.

The presenters were (click the links for short interviews):

Dr John Moriarty (Manchester) – Feeding the four hundred – case study with a large class.

Dr John Marsland (Liverpool) – 3000 students and counting! Assessing and engaging large cohorts.

Erik Clark (Liverpool student) – Strategies for large cohorts – a student perspective.

Dr Matt Murphy (Liverpool) – Using more than just lectures to teach classes of 500+.

Dr Anne -Marie Gallen (Open University) – Developing large scale undergraduate engineering modules using VLE-based approaches.

 

You can view Ali Al-Ataby’s full conference presentation here.

 

Anne Qualter, Centre for Lifelong Learning

Internationalisation, Integration and Student Satisfaction

The University of Liverpool can be justly proud of its international outlook (reflected in a Times Higher Education score of 79.5) and in the numbers of international students we attract. These ‘structural indicators’ are, according to a new report by Spencer-Oatey and Dauby, important pre-requisites for student integration and hence the development in our graduates of the ‘global skills’ that leading employers are increasingly placing high on their agendas.

Structural indicators may be a pre-requisite, but Spencer-Oatey and Dauby (2015) argue that they are far from sufficient. A diverse mix of students “can impact substantially on the social reality of the student” and that impact may not always be positive. Most universities in the UK see the benefits of internationalisation, but capitalising on this diverse mix needs work. A stark finding from the research carried out for the report is that the greater the proportion of non-UK students, the lower that students of all backgrounds rate their satisfaction. That is not to say that students don’t want an international experience; indeed research at the University of Warwick suggests they more than want it – good students expect an international experience. The question is how to provide an enriching international experience for all.

What is clear from the research is that creating richly diverse learning and social communities is the way forward. Intercultural skills need to be nurtured. This means within the department and the classroom as much as in their wider living and social life. Home and overseas students’ sense of belonging and hence their satisfaction increases substantially where they have been able to make friends with students from other countries. International students find this harder than home students, and some groups, such as Chinese students, find it particularly difficult.

So, what are the conditions for achieving positive contact and integration? Members having;

  • equal status
  • common goals
  • institutional support
  • perceptions of similarities between groups (something that good group work can support)
groupwork
Group work between home and international students can aid integration.

In another report Spencer-Oatey et al (2014) address ways in which integration can be achieved. They suggest that “integration is a process of mutual accommodation where the students and staff from the host culture have to be as open to engaging with difference and ultimately to change as the international students at that institution”(P6). Using a number of case studies this report offers ideas drawn from a number of UK universities. These focus mainly on activities outside the academic department such as shared reading groups where students read the literature from each other’s countries and through discussion develop a deeper understanding of each other; or student halls with a mix of residents engineered to be multicultural and where students were required to make special application; a music centre that encouraged ensembles of instruments from around the world. There are also examples within curriculum activities such as where students were asked to observe and reflect on their own and other’s behaviour during small group work, and so learn how to work better as a mixed team.

The rewards for both university and students are high where explicit and concerted efforts are made to promote integration. The consequences of not putting effort into this are quite serious and probably, given current league tables, fairly quick to present themselves.

Anne Qualter

‘Education is the proper employment, not only of our early years, but of our whole lives.’

CE blog 1

‘Education is the proper employment, not only of our early years, but of our whole lives.’

William Roscoe, 1817 (painting by Martin Archer Shee (1815-17)

Last term I attended a special lecture on the history of Continuing Education (CE) at Liverpool, delivered by Dr Anna Pilz. Based on archive material going back more than one hundred years, Anna’s lecture built on and extended what we knew from her booklet, Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool (commissioned to celebrate the centenary of CE’s home, 126 Mount Pleasant) which started life in The Royal Institute, opened by William Roscoe in 1817. Reading his motto inspired me to be more determined than ever to support and promote today’s CE.

I was fascinated and delighted to learn that the idea for local university lectures had been first mooted by suffragist Miss Anne J. Clough who, with others, established the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women in 1867. In the same year the Council invited James Stuart of Trinity College Cambridge to give a lecture. He was so impressed he took the idea back with him and inaugurated university extension lectures in his own institution. The idea spread to London, Oxford and back to Liverpool, becoming the ‘Society for University Extension in Liverpool and District’ in October 1899, operating under the auspices of the brand new University College Liverpool.

From reading Anna’s report we already knew about the huge number of people who attended lectures before the First World War, and had read of the often heroic efforts on the part of staff and students to continue learning and teaching during the privations of the two wars . But her lecture brought it to life, and made us realise just how precious learning is.

Continue reading ‘Education is the proper employment, not only of our early years, but of our whole lives.’

EdD residency and graduation

July has been a rewarding month for the Centre for Lifelong Learning and all involved with the EdD. We ran our second residency and celebrated two further graduates from the programme.

The residency is an opportunity for students on the programme to come to see the university, share their experiences and ideas and meet with staff. It is an optional extra as the programme is fully online. Students came from all five continents for four intensive and enjoyable days at the Foresight Centre (pictured above).

Whilst there is plenty to report I think the residency is far better summed up by Gertrude Rompre’s reflections on her experience and on the notion of ‘doctorateness’:

 

Donning the robe of doctorateness: Reflecting on the EdD Residency at the University of Liverpool

I will admit that it is a somewhat vain question: “What will our doctoral robes look like when we graduate from the Online EdD Programme from the University of Liverpool?” On the other hand, perhaps it’s not such a trivial question. As a learner who needs to begin with the end in mind, imagining myself dressed in the appropriate robes, crossing the platform, and hearing my name spoken as the degree of Doctor of Education was conferred upon me, is an important part of my learning process. I need to visualize the end while I am still very near to the beginning. These reflections on the EdD Residency revolve around the ways the residency allowed me to both envision the end but also challenged me to embrace the journey and the present moment, a multi-dimensional approach to doctoral study that, I suspect, is key to success.

Envisioning the end

Paul Ricoeur suggests that “imagination is the power to open to new possibilities, to discover another way of seeing” (Ricoeur, 1995, 281). The EdD Residency served to fuel our collective imaginations as doctoral students. One of the ways this was done was through student presentations and pecha kuchas. Pecha kucha presentations – 20 images described for 20 seconds each – were new to most of the participants. The exercise proved to be a highlight. A format which challenged us to think about our research interests in a concise and creative fashion, the pecha kucha allowed us to exercise the faculty of the imagination and envision our future doctorateness.

The term, ‘doctorateness’, is a strange one. It is a word cobbled together, however, to describe an important process. It points to the deeper reality underlying the doctorate, the fact that we are creating for ourselves a new identity, an identity where we will be addressed as “Dr.” Early on in our doctoral studies, we explored that theme of becoming a doctoral practitioner. It is only now, at the residency, that I am realizing the depth of the transformation into which I have plunged myself. For example, I commented, at dinner, to Dr. Willis how I have noticed faculty colleagues in my own institution engaging with me in a different way now that they know that I am a doctoral student. He reminded me that it was a two-way street and that I, likely, am entering into the dialogue with a new set of vocabulary and contexts as well. Doctorateness is creeping up on me!

Continue reading EdD residency and graduation