Thursday, December 11, 2008

Improvements in Maths

The Guardian on Wednesday reported an improvement in the performance of pupils in maths and science in England.

In a test of puils from 59 countires, maths perfomance of 14 year olds has risen from 18th place to 7th, and from 7th to 5th for science

Does this mean that in a few years tiem we can look forward to first years with better developed numeracy and analytical skills?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The First Year Experience of Higher Education in the UK

The HEA has published an extensive report by Mantz Yorke (who has spoken at this Uni a few times) on the first year experience of students in the UK.

This makes interesting reading, especially in terms of identifying what we need to do, and indeed already do, in terms of student retention.

The report can be downloaded from

The conclusions from the report are:
  • the majority of students are positive about their first year
  • there has been little change over the years about the reasons for non-continuation of studies
Yorke highlights the following pointers as a result of the study:
  • poor choice making by students applying to courses - institutions need to be accurate in describing what is on offer
  • quality of teaching - this can be poor enough to be the reason for leaving, especially for older students. The implication is that a mode of teaching and learning is needed whereby students are quickly engaged in academic work and provided formative feedback at an early stage, so that they can gain an appreciation of expectations. Four things follow form this: allocation of resources has to reflect importance of the first year;teaching approach must be centred on student development; mechanisms are needed to enhance chances of students developing a supportive network of peers and those teaching first years must have a strong commitment to teaching and student learning.
  • social integration - possible issues with local students who do not have the benefit of living in communal halls
  • resources - for some this was an issue, but most students were happy with the level of resources provided
  • managing expectations - programme organisation is seen to be key, especially in communicating details of cancelled teaching sessions. Management of student expectations is increasingly important and students need to know what they can expect, what the limitations of provision are and that they will be treated with consideration.
Two possible trends are identified:
Although finance remains problematic for students, is maybe becoming less salient in the reaosns for students leaving. Secondly, there is a growing perception that the value for money students receive is dependent on the amount of staff engagement with them. This increasing consumer-like expectation on the part of students is a challenge for institutions on how to deal with "value for money".

Yorke concludes that institutions need to "bend the odds", in favour of student success, by reviewing policies and practice. "Students will not put up with what they perceive to be a poor quality experience when they are committing substantial amounts of money to their education."

NUS Survey - Student Experience

The NUS has just published the results of a major survey into the student experience. The report covers everything from choosing a course and university and accommodation and welfare services to student employment and bullying.

In the category of choosing a university and course, 31 per cent of students were motivated to choose their university because it was close to home; however, in the lowest socio-economic groups (D and E), this figure rose to 53 per cent.

For our Faculty, over 50% of undergraduate students in Stoke are from Staffordshire LEA, whereas the figure for the Stafford campus is about 20%.

In regards to coursework and feedback, however, 25 per cent of students had to wait more than five weeks for feedback on their coursework. Only 25 per cent of students received verbal feedback on their assessments. I think we all know our students' view fo feedback, based on results of Viewfinder and NSS!

The full report is available from

Monday, November 10, 2008

Re-Engineering Assessment Practices in Scottish Higher Education

This is a really useful set of resources, published by Strathclyde University, and funded by the Scottish Funding Council. The website is

Some of the reources include:

Principles of good formative assessment and feedback.

  1. Help clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, standards).
    To what extent do students in your course have opportunities to engage actively with goals, criteria and standards, before, during and after an assessment task?
  2. Encourage ‘time and effort’ on challenging learning tasks.
    To what extent do your assessment tasks encourage regular study in and out of class and deep rather than surface learning?
  3. Deliver high quality feedback information that helps learners self-correct.
    What kind of teacher feedback do you provide – in what ways does it help students self-assess and self-correct?
  4. Provide opportunities to act on feedback (to close any gap between current and desired performance)
    To what extent is feedback attended to and acted upon by students in your course, and if so, in what ways?
  5. Ensure that summative assessment has a positive impact on learning?
    To what extent are your summative and formative assessments aligned and support the development of valued qualities, skills and understanding.
  6. Encourage interaction and dialogue around learning (peer and teacher-student.
    What opportunities are there for feedback dialogue (peer and/or tutor-student) around assessment tasks in your course?
  7. Facilitate the development of self-assessment and reflection in learning.
    To what extent are there formal opportunities for reflection, self-assessment or peer assessment in your course?
  8. Give choice in the topic, method, criteria, weighting or timing of assessments.
    To what extent do students have choice in the topics, methods, criteria, weighting and/or timing of learning and assessment tasks in your course?
  9. Involve students in decision-making about assessment policy and practice.
    To what extent are your students in your course kept informed or engaged in consultations regarding assessment decisions?
  10. Support the development of learning communities
    To what extent do your assessments and feedback processes help support the development of learning communities?
  11. Encourage positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem.
    To what extent do your assessments and feedback processes activate your students’ motivation to learn and be successful?
  12. Provide information to teachers that can be used to help shape the teaching
    To what extent do your assessments and feedback processes inform and shape your teaching?

Principles of good assessment design

Assessment design should:

  1. Engage students actively in identifying or formulating criteria
  2. Facilitate opportunities for self-assessment and reflection
  3. Deliver feedback that helps students self-correct
  4. Provide opportunities for feedback dialogue (peer and tutor-student)
  5. Encourage positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem
  6. Provide opportunities to apply what is learned in new tasks
  7. Yield information that teachers can use to help shape teaching
  8. Capture sufficient study time and effort in and out of class
  9. Distribute students’ effort evenly across topics and weeks.
  10. Engage students in deep not just shallow learning activity
  11. Communicates clear and high expectations to students.

Universities Face Degree Revolution

At least, that was the headline in the Observer on 9/11/08.

This week DIUS will publish a series of papers which will consider the following: "Traditional university degrees may be radically overhauled, with thousands more students studying part-time, employers funding degrees and universities forced to reveal what benefit they actually give to students."

One of the papers which will argue that the cost of higher education is 'beginning to erode and blur the current distinction between full-time and part-time study', with two-thirds of full-timers doing paid jobs during term, has been written by Christine King.

Other proposals mooted in the article include:
  • Greater flexibility in the way people study in HE
  • Universities publishing more detail of student outcomes
  • Changes to the academic year
  • Review of the degree classification system.
All in all, a fundamental look at how universities operate - watch this space!

The Observer also published a feature in the review section of the paper on "Does a degree really set you up for life."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

International Student Recruitment - the Obama Effect

An article on the Guardian website, suggests that Barack Obama winning the US election could have an effect on UK universities who recruit overseas students.

Since 9/11 UK Universities have benefited form tighter visa restrictions for those wishing to enter the US. However relaxation of US visa rules, at the same time as a tightening of UK visa regulations, together with the feel good factor of a Democratic win could have a major effect on recruitment of overseas students into the UK.

More details here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sally Brown, Leeds Met, on "A Respect for Marks"

There's a long article this week in the Higher by Sally Brown of Leeds Met. I met her briefly at a conference there last year, which was all about retention, but I've been aware of her work for many years.

In this latest article she reflects on her work, and especially on assessment. A typical paragraph is:

"If we want students to behave like effective learners, for example by selecting and using relevant sources rather than just downloading stuff from the web, we need to privilege these behaviours by according them marks. Rewarding slovenly scholarship is daft. If we set predictable tasks, we should not be surprised when students plagiarise."

Ring any bells? Many of the assignments I have dealt with as plagiarism cases were those where the question was essentially "Research and write about something in your non-native language."

Worth a read.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I've been visiting secondary schools recently, choosing one for my eldest son. At two of them I saw firstly images and then a presentation on "Shifthappens".

This was originally created for a presentation at a high school in the US, entitled "Did You Know?". Since then various other versions have been created, and released on YouTube.

The wiki describing the project is at

Initially the presentation was created as a means of prompting discussion about education for school aged students. But it is equally applicable to much of what we do as well.

Questions that it raises for us are:
What do we think it means to prepare students for the 21st century?
What skills do students need to survive and thrive in this new era?
What implications does this have for our current way of doing things?
Do we need to change? If so, how?
How do we get from here to there?
What challenges must we overcome as we move forward?
What supports will we need as we move forward?
What kind of training will we need to move forward?

(taken from

This is the UK version of the video:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On line Resources for Learning

We all know there's lots of material on the web we can use for teaching - and there's an awful lot that students can copy and paste and submit as assignments!

Much of the material is not always structured in a way to be used for teaching and learning processes. Jas (our e-learning coordinator) has built up a collection of resources that she can share, but I thought the following two might be of interest (for those who have not come across them before).

MIT has, for a number of years, run a project on open courseware. They provide a variety of materials - lecture slides, course outlines etc, and have a number of lectures on iTunes as podcasts. Have a look at MIT.

Another really useful site is from the OU at LearningSpace. Here the "units" are structured like our modules, many have built in formative tasks and all can be used free of charge provided OU is recognised.

If resources like this match what we need, surely there is a case for using these instead of always re-inventing the wheel?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

First Year Student Opinions

The survey of first year student opinions has now closed. Thanks to everyone who responded - we will be using the information gathered to improve our recruitment activity and welcome week for next year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sunday Times University Guide

On 21st September 2008, the Sunday Times published it's annual University Guide. As well as its version of league tables (available here), they also provide a short summary of the institution - click here for more.

Friday, September 19, 2008

University league tables

This is an extract of the league tables produced by the Guardian - I've shown the top of the table, the middle where we are (which shows an improvement from the previous year) and some of our obvious competitors.

The Guardian table is compiled using metrics for: teaching quality; feedback as assessed by students in the NSS; spending per student; staff-student ratio; job prospects; value added and entry qualifiactions.

More details on the methodology are available.

1 Oxford
2 Cambridge
3 London School of Economics
4 Warwick
5 St Andrews
6 Imperial College
9 Edinburgh
10 Loughborough

56 Birmingham City
57 Oxford Brookes
58 Glamorgan
59 Gloucestershire
59 Ulster
61 Bangor
62 Central Lancashire
63 Brighton
63 Bradford
65 Bath Spa
66 UWE Bristol
67 Staffordshire
68 Queen Margaret
69 Aberystwyth
70 St Mary's UC, Twickenham
71 Anglia Ruskin
72 Sunderland
73 Portsmouth
74 Worcester
75 Coventry
76 Northumbria
78 Sheffield Hallam
79 Northampton
80 Chester
81 Teesside
82 De Montfort
83 Swansea
84 Newport
85 Thames Valley
86 Salford
87 Chichester
88 Kingston
89 Canterbury Christ Church
89 Huddersfield
91 Bedfordshire
92 Manchester Met
93 Leeds Trinity & All Saints
94 Marjon (St Mark and St John)
95 Cumbria
95 Winchester
97 Leeds Met
98 Derby
99 Swansea Met
100 Hertfordshire
105 Abertay Dundee
113 Wolverhampton

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

National Student Survey

Results of the national Student Survey have now been published - the responses are made by students completing their awards, unlike our own Viewfinder which is for students in earlier levels of awards. The results can be found at Unistats

Monday, September 15, 2008

Student Views on Plagiarism

Another video from the Higher Education Academy looks at student views on plagiarism. We didn't get time last week to cover this subject, but will run a sesion during the year on this very important topic.

Student Views on Assessment and Feedback

This is the video from the Higher Education Academy that John used in the awaydays relating to assessment feedback.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A vision of students today

This the video I used in my presentations last week

A longer lecture, also by Michael Welsch of Kansas State University, A Portal to Media Literacy, is also worth watching.

Helicopter parents

One thing that came out of one of our awaydays was the need to engage with parents at open days. This was a very timely comment, as parents can have a huge impact on the choices that their children make. Some of the suggestions were that we should provide separate sessions for parents at open days, which could focus on the issues they are interested in, eg student finance and employability, while prospective students are shown around faciltities.

The Guardian published an article about the influences parents have on young adults, not just students, and describes how some organisations are dealing with this phenomenon.

Managing Student Expectations

There's a thought provoking article in this week's Times Higher (or THE as it's now called). Available to download from here.

Staff awaydays

Hi - thanks to everyone who atended the awaydays last week (one comment I had wa sthat we were not really "away", but at least we all spent some time away from our offices and labs!).

Feedback has ben generally really positive, and you've provided me with plenty of suggestions of other things you would like to see in future development sessions.

This week, as well as being around to welcome new students, I'll be compiling all the reponses you've given regarding Viewfinder. Once I've gone through them, I'll put together an action plan which I'll circulate.


This blog is written by Mike Hamlyn, Faculty Director for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Computing Engineering and Technology at Staffordshire University. It's for me to point to items fo interest that I find, and for staff and students to share their comments.