Academics have many draws on their time: research (grant applications, writing papers, speaking at conferences), teaching (planning lectures and workshops, delivering teaching, marking), and administration (committees on all of the above and more – admissions, marketing, student education, research, outreach). Most of that is just keeping things afloat, and so we sometimes lack the time to develop new ideas and discuss interesting and novel ways of working. Over the past couple of years I have been the “Academic Champion for Blended Learning” in the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds, and that has meant that I have spent a fair amount of time horizon scanning for teaching technology and working with early adopters. However, trying to roll-out big initiatives (like our brilliant new lecture capture system) can be hard because staff have limited time to engage. Recently, I tried something new to give colleagues an opportunity to talk about teaching: “Pedagogy and a Pint”.
The format is simple: all staff with any interest in teaching (that could be academic staff, learning technologists, lab technicians) can get together informally for a drink in an evening to discuss teaching in an unstructured forum. We ran our first event last week, at which we had small but enthusiastic crowd of four: one lecturer and two learning technologists. However, even with a small group (lots of people were interested but couldn’t attend because we arranged it at short notice – my fault entirely), we discussed some interesting topics:
- Rapid audio feedback after assignment submission – a colleague from another school in the faculty talked a bit about their experiences providing rapid audio or video feedback after assignments or exams. As soon as a pile of marking lands on their desks they read the first 10 and then provide a few general comments about how “the class” has performed. This allows the students to get an idea of their performance while the staff plough through the nitty-gritty of marking. Apparently it goes down very well, and as described in case studies describing the technique elsewhere here and here.
- Textual analysis for open comments on module evaluations – we get a lot of scores out of five on our module evaluations, and the scores are used as an indicator of whether a course is running smoothly. However, for staff the open text box at the end (“Do you have any other comments about the module?”) is much more useful because it is here that the students can tell us what went well or poorly. The trouble is quantifying those qualitative statements. One option that we have not yet tried is textual analysis, which could help to avoid the subjectivity (not to mention the time taken) in analysing hundreds of comments. This can be done easily in R, as in this example of text mining the works of Shakespeare.
- Recording suites that are underused – there are rooms for recording audio and video tucked away in different parts of the university – facilities that could be very useful but which are poorly-advertised. With the new lecture capture system, some staff would like to record lectures ahead of time to use a flipped classroom approach but struggle to find time and space to record in peace. Chatting about these sorts of facilities has helped open up new opportunities for staff.
- Funding opportunities for teaching – the University runs a series of substantial teaching projects, such as the Gatsby Plant Science TREE, to develop educational tools and resources for undergraduates and the wider public. However, funding can be hard to come by. We discussed a variety of options that could expand the scope of the TREE – which you should check out, as it is a considerable resource for plant science teaching – to assist in recruiting students to undersubscribed areas of plant science.
So, as you can see, we discussed a lot of topics and it was great to hear more about what was going on elsewhere in the faculty. I’m hoping that this kind of informal event will bring out a few new faces as well, who might be put-off by committees and meetings.