Newcastle Educators

A peer educator network

Learning Excellence Series 2017/18

Hello everyone! As we draw an end to our Teaching Excellence Series (now seen in Newcastle’s Gold in the TEF!), we focus our attention away from the input and on to the output. Please sign up here to join us for lunch and interesting discussions throughout this academic year…

EDUBITES 2017_18 (002)

Please let us know if you would like to contribute a session within this schedule, or indeed as a new session under this theme, we would be happy to make the arrangements for you, and we’ll also serve our infamous Edubites lunch!

Featured post

Embedding skills and careers in compulsory Maths and Stats modules

We’ve recently finished teaching our compulsory skills and career management module (10 credits) for Stage 2 Single Honours Maths and Stats students. This module aims to give our students the time and space within their curriculum to plan, develop and reflect on what they want to do next. We cover technical skills such as LaTeX (a mathematical typesetting package) and Excel (a particularly sought after skill from employers), Career Management techniques including career planning, CV and cover letter writing, application forms and interviews and an introduction to the idea of enterprise. The module is completed via a reflective report.

The module is completely different to anything else they have done before:

  • it is completely assessed during the module;
  • it focusses on each student’s individual skills, not overall subject knowledge;
  • it makes more use of marking criteria than other maths and stats modules;
  • for a maths and stats module there is a lot of writing and reflective thinking!

Is it valuable? Yes! Feedback from students shows that students see benefit in taking this module. Prospective students and parents are persuaded that when they come to study Maths and Stats at Newcastle, we understand the need for students to develop excellent mathematics skills but also have an eye on their future.

Have we got it right? Not quite yet! Further feedback does seem to show that we’ve over-assessing and this has taken the focus away from the student’s learning.

What could we have done better? We could have reduced the number of assessed elements involved. We have 3 group projects, 2 group video submissions, an individual careers portfolio and a reflective essay which when written down in a list does seem just a bit too many! The marking criteria were always going to be a new idea for our students as maths and stats assignments are typically “right” or “wrong” and this has proved to be an additional challenge. We believe that video assessment is a great way to encourage different types of communication – but our advice is to use it sparingly. The outcomes from the group work were really good, but the students are not keen on being marked for work that some group members didn’t really get involved with. A number of students reflected that working with their friends was quite stressful.

We’ve reflected (perhaps too much!) on what to change, and after the Edubites session on Educator Perspectives on Feb 8th (thanks Katie and Charlotte) we’ve realised that we should:

– relax the amount of assessment;

– give more training on using marking criteria;

– support the students more so that they have scope to decide for themselves how they are going to meet the learning outcomes.

How we are going to do this is yet to be finalised but we are determined to get it right!

We would be happy to hear any thoughts and suggestions that will help us with our (now annual) task of developing the module further. Please contact Phil (

100% Experiential Teaching…

At our last EDUBITES, a few attendees wanted tools and ideas for engagement and more exciting teaching methods for students and educators. We each individually have many of these to share, and are developing ways that we might do that more easily…watch this space!

On Monday 13th Nov 17 I attended an excellent webinar ‘Teaching without a Textbook’ delivered by fellow educator pals in the US Whilst the context is in my own field of enterprise and entrepreneurship, I think the tools are applicable to education in general. Therefore I thought this would be a great place to share a recording of the webinar, and accompanying write up of the tools and approaches.

Find out more about Teaching without a Textbook here, watch the recording here, or view the resource guide here.

Why not suggest your own, by sending us a blog post to upload, or by adding a comment below.

(As with the frequently visited #lthechat – If you would like more of a window into enterprise education and approaches and you use Twitter, or are happy to search Twitter via Google, take a look at #ented)

posted by Katie Wray

EDUBITES Learning Excellence Series 1: Exploring and Supporting Learning at Newcastle

The first EDUBITES of the year kicked off with a look at what Newcastle University has to offer in support of learning. Marc Lintern, Director of the Careers Service started off with insight they have collected about students’ perceived readiness for employment. They have used an interesting metric of Decide, Plan, Complete and Confirm, which was very useful. You will not be surprised to hear that the vast majority place themselves in the ‘still deciding’, and ‘planning’ stages. When comparing subjects, we might assume there are significant variations, but the data also shows the situation to be the same. The Careers Service have also had a look at how many students have work experience, and so we look forward to receiving the full outcomes of the study when they are available. Our Careers Service play a significant role in the exploration of careers and the support for learning which will enable students to identify a suitable route for them (acknowledging the constant increase in portfolio careers). It was pleasing to hear the emphasis on happiness in our careers. Next up we had Jo Geary from the Library, who showed us the ways in which our libraries are collecting student feedback and using an iterative approach to get our spaces right. From spaces that provide a ‘place to think’, which went unused, to mirroring the working environments that graduates will experience in their careers, which works very well, Jo’s emphasis was on creating spaces that promote learning, and that the success of those spaces is measured through the student voice. Dr Chris Graham, Director of eLearning for Maths unpeeled a sandwich of services which they have designed to support the learning of maths and related subjects. A student-led approach has unpacked some of the most common issues for learning, and his work has unpacked some accessibility issues with online content across devices. Finally, Dr Helen Webster gave us a brief digest of the wealth of approaches The Writing Development Centre use to build skills they can apply to future work. It is still the case that writing is the most common end product to demonstrate learning, what are your favourite routes to evidence and demonstrate learning?

We hope that this session gave a taster of the challenges and approaches at Newcastle University to aid learning, and that you can reflect on these services and the approach you take in your own teaching. The four guests we heard from are more than willing to help support your learning approach, so just get in touch via the links above – the slides from the event are available on our SlideShare page.

We will ask at each EDUBITES this year what you have to share and what needs you have that this community might be able to help with, either through EDUBITES sessions or through identifying and shaping other events across the University. Here is a snapshot of your responses this time. If you have anything to offer, or to ask, please do. We will let you know what progress we make with these at the next EDUBITES event on 13th December 2017.


  • More exploration of tools to present learning resources online and engagement with resources
  • Tools to make students participate during lectures
  • Volunteers to talk PGRs through applications to HEA for Associate Fellowship (pilot programme via experiential route)
  • Ideas to deliver a lecture in a more exciting way (for educator and students)


  • Careers provision
  • International educator community
  • Teaching study skills and understanding student perspective


  • Engagement / Student awareness of their development / Partnership
  • How we can get involved in careers advice in schools
  • Pop up specialist learning sessions; e.g. referencing, speed reading

If you see something here that you can help with, or that takes your interest, please drop us a line at

Posted by Katie Wray (


We have created a SlideShare page to share presentations from our Edubites sessions.


Slides from 2016 onwards are available for you to view and download.

“Stop, collaborate and listen”

On the 20th and 21st July, Sam Nolan and the ESLTIS gang brought together the third annual ESTLIS conference in Sheffield. It was great to arrive and see some familiar faces as we all sat down over two days to absorb and take part in discussion around collaborative learning.

A panel discussion on ‘Collaborative Leadership: The role of teaching academics in the TEF era’, with Jane Pritchard, Anne Tierney, Alistair Warren and David Read was one of the first sessions. It got slightly heated when a few people were discussing the use of evaluation scores in performance review. Another interesting point raised was to do with the need/demand for continual innovation and ‘how much innovation should we really be carrying out?’ What is wrong with maintaining and evaluating good teaching methods that work? For those from institutions who perhaps did not do so well in the TEF there were some difficult conversations and opinions on the process. While TEF was clearly on people’s minds at this conference, the panel discussion was pretty much where the focus on TEF ended for me. It was nice that it did not dominate the conference and, as the parallel sessions kicked in, we all naturally focused on our teaching and sharing good practice thereafter.

As you do at any conference, I hunted out the familiar Newcastle faces over lunch, Sara Marsham and Alison Graham to be precise. I happened across a few good posters (including Sara and Alison’s on student perceptions and attitudes to reading). One in particular, ‘A collaborative, interactive approach to teaching metabolism’ by Alice Robson, Bristol, was very useful to me and gave good insight in to engaging students with a particularly dry subject matter simply by using interactive technology but with carefully considered, effective questioning. Standing talking to Alice by her poster, we were joined by a thermodynamic chemist with a similar interest in delivering complex pathways #nomultidisciplinebarriersineducation.

Unfortunately, the perils of the parallel session format had prevented me from attending Sara and Alison’s workshop on ‘The future of learning and teaching’ – I have asked and I do hope they run it in Newcastle again! As the sessions unfolded around ‘collaboration’, a common issue/comment that arose was that some students saw their involvement in co-design/delivery in a less positive way and expect staff to lead the teaching and deliver what they need to know. I think it is important we enter into these collaborations to encourage students to lead their learning rather than the teaching. Dominic Henri, Hull, focused on the autonomy needed for group work and provided the students with an excellent framework for successful learning in a group project. It has inspired me to question my students this year, when they meet their seminar group for the first time, in what they believe it takes to work in a group successfully rather than telling them how to do it!


Dominic Henri, Hull. Transitioning pre-certificate students to autonomous learning: independence through group work

As I delivered my presentation on ‘Learning about ageing through sustained collaboration with students and older members of the public’, I had a good pulse of tweets and stole the below photo from David Read. As always, this conference is a supportive environment for any speaker and the support was also evident through social media (incidentally the number of tweets about the conference #ESLTIS17 topped the previous two years).


Dr Luisa Wakeling presenting her work on collaboration

Keeping with the social media theme over dinner, I was very pleased to sit next to Sue Beckingham, Sheffield, who I can only describe as a legend in the use of social media in learning, teaching and scholarship. Sue was there at the conference talking about ‘Celebrating innovative scholarship through social media’. Over the beef and mash, she informed me how important our LinkedIn profiles are in disseminating our achievements and interests, and excitingly, we spoke about a theme for an up and coming LTHE Tweetchat @LTHEchat. This is a twitter forum on a Wednesday evening at 8 pm during academic teaching time.

Before I knew it, Day 2 came and Anne Tierney told us that there is more to a teaching fellow than simply teaching and the term ‘teaching-only’ is a grave misunderstanding of the role. Collaboration is vital to us succeeding in increasing the reputation and value of pedagogical research to institutions. Post coffee and pastry (OK, pastries!), Colin Bryson, Newcastle, with his students, led a great workshop for us to think about how students can drive their own curriculum, not just for a small module but one that could span the three years of a degree programme! Could they cope with this freedom? Could we give them a get out clause after one year? So many considerations for an effective collaborative learning experience.

Vanessa Armstrong, Newcastle, gave a great presentation around matching employer’s expectation of our graduates to what skills graduates actually have – another level of collaboration with stakeholders to ensure the success of our students. To follow, a fabulous workshop on getting published delivered by Jane Pritchard, Bristol, provoked our thoughts on what it takes to make a good article and the points of view of editors and reviewers. I do not think I have written so many useful notes!


Jane Pritchard, Bristol, Workshop: Writing for publication in T&L journals and the ESTLIS17 Special Issue of PESTLHE

I have learnt over these two days that there are so many levels of collaboration. From methods to allow students to work collaboratively in a teaching session, to students and members of the public getting involved with design, delivery and evaluation of the curriculum. There is no optimal level of collaboration and what might work for some students/staff/discipline, may not for others. ESTLIS17 provided a friendly and collaborative environment where ideas about innovations in collaboration were shared, contacts exchanged and tweets galore to remind us all we are part of a much bigger collaboration.

The fourth ESLTIS is in Bristol in 2018 – Newcastle Educators will share details with you when they are released.

Luisa Wakeling, August 2017

School of Dental Sciences,

Learning through Games & Play

I recently attended a HUBS workshop in York on “Learning through games and play”.  When the registration form asks you what your favourite game is and how long it is since you last played with Lego®, you know it is going to be a good day!  These facts were put to good use in the initial icebreaker activity.  Everyone’s answers to the questions on the registration form were printed on small cards along with numbers and all the participants played a Top Trumps®-style game to get to know each other.

We then heard examples of how people had used games in learning and had a go ourselves.  Pen Holland from York described an activity on species sampling she does with her ecology students during the rainy winter months to prepare them for being out in the field once spring starts.  Each table was given a mixed population of Lego® bricks.  We had to sample this population by removing handfuls of Lego® from the bag.  The ultimate aim was to create a species sampling curve but the first step was to decide how many different “species” of Lego® we had in our sample.  This led to a much heated debate!  Were all the red ones the same species?  Were the small bricks juveniles of the same species as the larger bricks?  Some also had spots stuck on them.  Were these individuals ill?  Every group constructed a different species sampling curve as we all had different ideas of what a “species” was.  However, that was the point!  This activity got everyone talking about how to define a species which is a key ecological concept.  As part of Pen’s module, student groups work on the same “population” of Lego® throughout the semester and learn more about it as time goes on.  This was an excellent activity to get everyone talking and I will be using this as an induction activity for our Stage 1 students in October.

Biochemistry jigsaws John Morton 1John Morton from University of South Wales described how he uses jigsaws to assess students on a biochemistry course.  John created a series of “tiles”, each showing one part of a biochemical pathway e.g. a molecule or an arrow or a translocation event.  Students then had to assemble the parts to show the correct pathway.  Often they had not been taught the pathways before in class and so were given time to carry out independent research and make notes before returning to class to assemble the jigsaw.  The students liked the activity and nominated John for a teaching award.

Biochemistry jigsaws John Morton 2


We then heard from Sam Butcher (a Newcastle pharmacology graduate) who showed us Labster – a suite of virtual laboratory simulations.  Current research by the company includes investigating the use of tactile gloves so that the user can simulate touching the laboratory equipment as well as seeing it.  They are also looking into the use of webcams to gauge user emotions and adjust the difficultly of the simulations accordingly.  Impressive stuff!  Mel Lacey talked about her experience of implementing a Society of Applied Microbiology Educational Resources grant to build an app exploring the relationship between form and function in bacteria.  “Bacteria Builder” is due out for iPhone and android imminently!

Lunchtime labyrinth

At lunchtime we were treated to an array of board games set out that we could play and we were encouraged to think about potential ways to adapt the rules of these games for learning activities.  My table tried “Labyrinth”, a game I had not played before but was soon hooked.  Lunch finished far too soon!

After lunch Louise Robinson from the University of Derby gave the keynote.  She discussed how gaming involves several behaviours that we would like to promote in students’ learning e.g. repetition of a skill until it is mastered.

One of the main benefits of using game-based learning in the classroom is the freedom to fail – where students can learn from mistakes in a low- (or no-) stakes environment.  Louise pointed to a survey carried out in 2009 by Miles Berry and Terry Park Life Louise RobinsonFreedman who asked children what their favourite thing you do with technology at home and at school was, and how ICT at school could be made more like ICT at home.  Games featured prominently in the answers to all of these questions.  Louise pointed out that 2009’s children are 2018’s university students so the next generation of HE students are likely to be open to the use of games in learning.  Louise also described her success in teaching SPSS to students by re-naming mark ranges as “ninja” and grandmaster” etc. rather than first, 2(i), and so on.  She described how students actively wanted to achieve the higher levels!  We also got a chance to play a board game Louise has created about wildlife conservation.  Unfortunately we had to stop just as we were getting in to it!

I picked up lots of useful ideas from this workshop (I’ve already bought some second-hand Lego®!) and met people interested in working with us on a new project on game-enhanced learning in the biological sciences.  If anyone from Newcastle University or elsewhere would be interested in being involved, please get in touch.

Have you used games in your teaching?  How have the students responded?

Alison Graham, August 2017



The Future of Teaching & Learning

In July, Sara Marsham and I travelled to the Enhancing student learning through innovative scholarship conference in Sheffield to deliver a workshop on “The future of teaching and learning”.  Not much to cover in 50 minutes!  The idea for this workshop came out of discussions we had as part of the Learning Spaces Working Group that Sara chairs and I am a member of.  This group was set up as part of the SAgE Faculty’s Science and Engineering Excellence Project Learning and Teaching Review.  The Learning Spaces Working Group was tasked with reviewing our learning and teaching facilities and considering how we can maximise student and staff satisfaction, inspire learning and teaching, and optimise our facilities.

The Edge

The idea behind the workshop was to see whether we could predict how students in HE will learn in the next five to ten years.  We wanted to consider which practices are currently embedded along with those which have been tried but did not become embedded, only become partially embedded or have not yet become embedded.  Then follow this by asking whether the practices that did become embedded had any common features that would enable us to predict which practices are likely to become embedded in the future – useful to know when designing new learning and teaching spaces that we want to last!

We introduced the workshop by explaining our rationale and gave two examples of practices we believe to be embedded (audience response systems and employability) and two which are not, at least not yet (flipped classrooms and game-enhanced learning).  We asked participants to think about upcoming or existing developments or trends in their institution and indicate on a timeline when they were introduced into learning and teaching practice in their institutions.  This led to a very varied set of suggestions from chalk and talk to social media, lecture capture, electronic marking, and virtual reality fieldwork.  It was also interesting that different groups showed similar innovations on the timelines at different points, possibly reflecting the interests of the group members or their institutional priorities at different times.

The second task we put to participants was to identify similarities between those activities that have become widely embedded.  Student demand, ease of use and inclusivity were all highlighted as features of activities that have stuck around.  Lack of appropriate spaces and time to train staff in new technologies were identified as possible barriers.  Behind the scenes support like timetabling was also mentioned as being key.  Something as simple as half an hour to move the furniture in a room can make all the difference to how a session is run.  We were also challenged on our definition of “embedded” in this context – but we left that open for participants to interpret however they liked!

We brought everything together with a final discussion led by Sara.  A final message that came over strongly was that a bottom-up approach, either from students or staff or both, may have more longevity that a top-down push.  You can access all of our slides including the notes from the discussion from either or

What are your thoughts on future approaches to L&T in HE? – leave a comment to let us know of any other activities that have become embedded in our practice at Newcastle, and your thoughts on why these have longevity.

Alison Graham, August 2017


The Teaching-Research Nexus

In July I took a trip to Gothenburg to present at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Meeting, in the SEB+ Section session on the teaching-research nexus. I was very interested in making a contribution here following a piece of work I conducted in 2015-2016 on the links between teaching and research at Newcastle, which is supporting the development of our new Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Strategy.

Prof. Susan Rowland was the first invited speaker presenting on Authentic Large Scale Research Experiences where undergraduate students undertake relevant, discipline-specific research as part of existing practical components of their programmes. This was followed by Dr Katherine Hubbard, who continued with the theme of authenticity illustrating their student conference through which final year undergraduates present their independent research to first and second year students. The attendance of all students allows them to build a research community and provide and receive peer feedback. Students reported increased self-confidence in taking part in this great initiative. Dr John Love presented on behalf of Dr Sara Burton on the challenges, opportunities and next steps for research-led education. This included a discussion on how to incorporate the opportunity for students to experience failure in their programmes – something regularly discussed at our Edubites sessions. I was up next presenting a summary of my findings and how our students perceive the links between teaching and research. I found that whilst overall students valued being taught by research-active academics, they did not base their decision to come to Newcastle on our research activities. Prof. Graham Scott brought the first part of the session to a close by considering whether we should think beyond skills and knowledge when we design research-based learning activities, and ensure a real and authentic learning experience. Undertaking independent field-based research (often in novel environments) increased student motivation and their willingness to engage with research.

Sara presenting

Dr Sara Marsham presenting in the teaching-research nexus SEB+ session (Photo by Simon Callaghan)

The second part of the session continued the theme from the first presentation, with another invited speaker Dr Sara Brownell presenting on CUREs (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences). This led to much discussion as Sara suggested that to be of benefit to students, CUREs must be novel and the outcomes should be of interest to the wider discipline. Many in the session thought that as long as the work was new to the student and developed their skills as a researcher, it was a significant challenge to expect it to be novel to the discipline in some subject areas. Anne Tierney shifted the focus to the approaches undertaken by teaching-focused and research-focused academics. Anne suggested that teaching-focused academics were more likely to approach research-focused academics about discipline skills than vice versa, and that teaching-focused academics were more likely to go to discipline seminars to upskill their knowledge of current discipline developments. This is something for Newcastle Educators to consider – while we have great engagement with Edubites, do we need to do more to encourage research-focused colleagues to attend?

Other presentations in the session included a lively talk from Dr David Smith who challenged our perceptions of why students sit in particular places in lecture theatres; Dr Dominic Henri on students perceptions of their autonomy, which again raised the issue of giving students space to fail; Prof. Ros Gleadow on work integrated learning, though making the point that as many academics have no idea of what the ‘real’ working environment is like, how can we prepare our students…!?; and Dr Lucy Tallents going rogue and delivering an interactive workshop getting us to think about opportunities for enhancing research-led teaching, and what support might be needed.

The session finished with a discussion led by Graham Scott and Katherine Hubbard on how to take the SEB+ Section forward – do you see anything here, or have your own ideas, for things that you would like to see Newcastle Educators consider?

What next for SEB+

Ideas for how the SEB+ Section can continue to support colleagues (Photo by Katherine Hubbard)

Of course I could not leave Gothenburg without engaging in some important networking!

Can you spot me amongst the crowds? (Photo by Simon Callaghan)

Sara Marsham, July 2017

A busy conference season

The end of undergraduate teaching always comes with a sense of achievement for getting another cohort of students through our degree programmes, and an opportunity for us to reflect on our teaching over the summer. Over the last few weeks members of Newcastle Educators have been sharing their teaching practice and learning from others by attending a range of conferences and meetings.

First up, Claire attended the Assessment in Higher Education conference in Manchester and heard from a range of speakers on their innovative assessment and feedback. This overlapped with Phil heading north to Edinburgh to present work on embedding employability and transferable skills in the second year of a Mathematics and Statistics degree at the Horizons in STEM conference. Sara travelled a bit further afield to present work on the links between teaching and research at Newcastle in the Teaching-Research Nexus session at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Meeting in Gothenburg. Back in Newcastle, JC and Vanessa delivered a workshop on employability at the Employability and Student Enterprise Conference organised by our Careers Service. At the same event Phil presented his Horizons in STEM session for colleagues on campus.

We now have a couple of weeks to recover before Sara and Vanessa head to Sheffield to catch up with James and find out what he has been up to since his move. They are both presenting at the Enhancing Student Learning through Innovative Scholarship conference – Vanessa on matching Bioscience undergraduate skills and employer expectations, and Sara will be delivering a workshop on the future of HE teaching.

This busy time of year provides us with excellent opportunities for networking, gathering ideas and thinking about what we might do in the future. You can follow what happened at these events at our twitter page @NewcastleEduca1, and keep checking back on the blog as we’ll be posting some detailed reviews of some of these events and what we have taken from them.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑