Category Archives: Academic Development

Teaching for Researchers – an accredited teaching qualification

The Teaching for Researchers Course has been running for two years already. We are delighted to report that as of March 2012, 88 Research Staff and Postgraduate Research Students have successfully completed the course!

This Learning and Teaching development opportunity allows those who complete it to receive a recognised qualification as Associate Fellows of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA). Researchers who completed the course have gone through the application process successfully and found the interaction with HEA effortless. As a result the University is increasing steadily the number of staff with a recognised teaching qualification.
The interest in attending this course has been remarkable and the feedback we have received demonstrates that researchers appreciate this development opportunity. The fact that the provision is accredited by a recognised professional body makes it attractive and highly beneficial in terms of professional development aspirations. Furthermore, our participants have been very positive about the whole learning experience.

The opportunity to meet up with other researchers across the University and form a cohort over two academic semesters is also valuable. The discussions over lunch, during the sessions, the peer support that is ongoing through the process and the feedback from tutors are all highly valued and commended by our participants.

The course makes use of VITAL, the University’s virtual learning environment for uploading learning material, submission of assessment tasks and feedback. This gives participants the opportunity to experience the benefits (and occasional challenges) of using an online learning environment. Our aim as tutors is to offer researchers the opportunity to experience the whole teaching practice as it currently happens in classrooms across the University.

Finally, we are delighted to announce that following the very positive Skype meeting with our External Examiner in February 2012, we have received confirmation that the class of October 2011 has now completed successfully the Teaching for Researchers course. Certificates have already been issued and our participants can start applying to obtain their accredited qualification by the HEA. Congratulations to the class of October 2011!

For more information about this course, please contact us: Christos Petichakis,; Stuart McGugan:

Chemistry Department wins funding for internationalisation project

We are delighted to announce that our application, “Developing strategies and activities to improve interactions between home and international students and to enhance teaching and learning”, for the joint HEA/UKCISA funding and also for the Faculty of Physical Sciences funding was successful.

This project will run by the Chemistry Department and the Centre for Lifelong Learning Centre. The purpose of this project is to identify and develop some of the skills needed in inter-culturally competent graduates prepared for life as global professionals by generating strategies to facilitate interaction between home and overseas students that is mutually beneficial to all students and staff. The aims are to:

  • develop new strategies and introduce new activities to make the student experience enjoyable and applicable to international and UK students,
  • extend the existing peer mentoring scheme at UoL in order to train new mentors for international students,
  • implement the peer assisted learning in our department to help with academic and personal development,
  • set new induction activities for international students on their arrival in order to engage home and internationals students with each other,
  • examine how to enhance the teaching and learning methods, such as incorporating collaborative group projects, and other inclusive forms, into teaching and
  • generate guidelines and online resources for staff and internationals students before starting the academic year 2012-13.

We would like to invite staff members involved in the area of internationalisation to take part in this study. We anticipate that the results will easily be adapted for any department within the University of Liverpool. Finally, I would like to thank Ian Willis for his consistent support to get this funding and also for his future help in this project.

Building a new picture of student learning in Curriculum Review

The Undergraduate Curriculum Review is central to enhancing the student experience and Educational Development is working with programme teams in all faculties, using a variety of approaches, based on the review type and programme team needs.  The Curriculum Coordinators Team coordinates and informs curriculum review activities, requests, enquiries and resource support across the University.

We are building up a picture of the various ways in which staff and students contribute to curriculum development.  The curriculum is conceptualised as the entire student learning experience.  Curriculum Review activities over the last year have seen some key areas emerge: student engagement, internationalisation, module options, assessment and feedback, blended learning, enhancing employability, skills development, and research-led teaching.

Curriculum Review Workshops – deliberations and discussions! Our work draws on a range of expertise in the university on learning and teaching.  Further, institutional strategy also informs curriculum review; currently, Enhancing Student Employability, Elearning, Information Literacy, and Learning & Digital Literacies Skills. Educational Development is developing a web site with initial advice and guidance for staff.  In collaboration with the Teaching Quality Support Division and Computing Services, we are developing learning and teaching resources for the Online Programme Planner a new tool that enables programme teams to build a programme of study including changes to specification forms.

You may be interested in trying out the new module specification planning tool, or for any curriculum review query, do contact us at:

Teaching at university for doctoral students: raising awareness amongst the postgraduate community

Evidence from the past decade suggests that postgraduate research students (PGRs) are increasingly being used to support the teaching needs of an expanding UK higher education sector. This growth has both pros and cons. On the one hand, teaching opportunities can provide PGRs with valuable income and learning experiences, while on the other, the casual employment of PGRs raises issues of ‘exploitation’ and, if inadequately supported, lead to poor quality teaching.

Anna Pilz and I were recently invited to speak at an event held at Salford University for postgraduate student representatives. I am responsible for GTA training at Liverpool while Anna is a final year research student in the Institute of Irish Studies who has gained a range of teaching experiences during her postgraduate study. She is currently writing up her thesis on the topic of ‘Late 19th Century Irish Drama’.

The session, which was attended by representatives from throughout the North West Region, reviewed areas of teaching activity for postgraduate students and the potential benefits that this type of work offers. Discussion then went onto explore concerns about this form of teaching and how the postgraduate community could address these. This formed the basis for an agenda that participants could take forward into their practice. The session was very well received and is another example of the value of the good working relationship that exists between Educational Development and University of Liverpool Guild of Students.

Evidence from the past decade suggests that postgraduate research students are increasingly being used to support the teaching needs of an expanding UK higher education sector. This growth has both pros and cons. On the one hand, teaching opportunities can provide PGRs with valuable income and learning experiences, while on the other, the casual employment of PGRs raises issues of ‘exploitation’ and, if inadequately supported, lead to poor quality teaching.

Stuart McGugan

Teaching in Pakistan

Recently Janet Strivens and I visited the University of Health Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan for two weeks as part of a British Council funded INSPIRE project. INSPIRE stands for International Strategic Partnerships in Research and Education.  These are 3 year partnerships set up to develop closer multi-level links between Pakistan and UK universities. They  require the involvement of different activities and different departments.

Our project’s overall aim is to ‘enhance learning and teaching in medical education in the Punjab’.  Just a bit of background, UHS is a ‘hub’ university and administers the examinations for medical education throughout the Punjab, that’s 30 affiliated Medical and Dental institutions, both public and private, in Pakistan’s most influential province, population 80m.  So the potential for impact is significant!
The challenge is to make sustainable, locally owned improvements that last beyond the duration of the project.  We’re working on systemic enhancements, one of the most tangible being an introductory teaching programme for all new medical educators that will be delivered locally by qualified staff and at an international standard.  With staff from throughout the Punjab we’ve been agreeing on programme content with critical thinking, active learning and using technology getting plenty of interest.  Paul Duvall also came and taught for one week and has posted his E-learning experiences at elearning@liverpool.

Links between the universities are strengthening in other areas.  We have just reached agreement for 10 PhD students per year, for the next five years, to come to Liverpool to study.  They will come primarily to the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences in areas most likely to contribute to health improvement in Pakistan and that are aligned to UoL’s strategic research areas. In addition, staff from UHS have visited the university to discuss our experiences and systems in Knowledge Exchange and innovations in Medical Education. It’s an example of a teaching based project contributing to several of the University’s strategic goals and making a valued contribution in an important region for the university’s international reach.

As part of the visit Janet and I went to four regional universities to run seminars.  This took us from the south near to a desert area, to the industrial heartland and finally to a more mountainous region.  Wherever we went we were very warmly welcomed and treated to the renowned Pakistani hospitality, which involves plenty of official ceremonies, photographs and excellent food.

We managed to make local and national press. Clearly Pakistan attracts negative headlines in the world press but we were kept very secure and not able to go out and about.  Nevertheless we got a sense of a fascinating and complex country. We are learning how to adapt our UK systems and experiences to a new context, as it is essential not to attempt to just transplant our ‘ways of doing things’.  This means getting to grips with Pakistani traditions and practices in medical education, understanding how staff are rewarded and motivated and working out how the university system operates.  Only then can we usefully discuss how we can adapt our programmes to local needs, build in sustainablilty and local ownership, whilst ensuring international standards.  Not surprisingly this involves lots of meetings, lots of listening and plenty of tea :).

It’s been a  brilliant experience for us and it would be great to hear from others with comparable experiences.

Ian Willis

See University news item. recent visit of UHS Vice Chancellor

Supervising Doctoral Students – threshold moments

We have all experienced those times in our research when we simply cannot move on, we are stuck! It could be in formulating a research question, finding ways to cope with and interpret data, finding a ‘lens’ through which to look at our project, even putting pen to paper. Sometimes you feel like a rabbit in the headlights, frozen in the face of the challenges rushing towards you.  We know all about it as researchers, and we know that our research students must go through it. The question here is, are there ways to characterise these barriers to progression?  And if so, can we use this as supervisors to help students find strategies to overcome these barriers to progress?

On 6th December a small group of us attended a seminar given by Dr Terfot Ngwana from Bishop Grossteste University. Terfot is a social scientist currently teaching on the University of Liverpool on-line professional doctorate in Higher Education. We discussed the various models that describe approaches to student supervision, which Terfot characterised as bureaurocratic, didactic and collaborative. Although at times we need to adopt all three, the most productive is the last of these. The supervisor here is the designer of the intellectual learning experience, structuring the learning with and between individual research students, promoting social skills, challenging and being challenged by students and allowing the student’s role in the relationship to shift as they develop.

So what about the sticking points? Based on his own experience of supervision Terfot made links with the work of Meyer and Land (2005) and their theories on threshold concepts which he described as critical moments of irreversible conceptual transformation. We can describe these as ‘Aha! moments’, or times when  ‘the penny drops’. That is, when a real ontological shift takes place in the thinking and understanding of how a specific discipline is structured.  This is the point when our discussions took off, we began to share our own experiences of such moments, and the often painful times when the penny simply would not drop, when the way forward wasn’t clear.

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