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

“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.

“Ticked Off: Towards Better Assessment & Feedback”

17th Annual Blackboard Users Conference: “Ticked Off: Towards Better Assessment & Feedback”, Durham, 5-6th January

On 5th and 6th January, Sara Marsham and I headed to Durham Business School for the 17th Annual Blackboard Users Conference to present a workshop that sought to encourage educators to use (more) electronic marking and suggested GradeMark (part of the TurnItIn suite) as a tool to do so.  The conference attracts a mixed audience of learning technologists, librarians, administrators and academics from around the UK and further afield as well as a large number of Blackboard employees, both repeat and first time attendees.

The conference opened with a keynote session delivered by Dr Susie Schofield on “Translating evidence-based principles to improved feedback practices” using the “interACT” study she has been involved in as a case study. We had heard Susie speak about this previously as we invited her to a HEA-funded workshop on electronic assessment we hosted in Newcastle in 2013.  Susie made the point that students can avoid bad teaching through self-study but cannot avoid bad assessment, even though new lecturers are (generally) required to attend courses on teaching but not on setting assessment.  She emphasised that students must be aware of what aspect of a task they are being assessed on; is it the most creative solution, the most accurate, etc.

Our session took place after lunch on the first day. It was well attended and all the IT logistics from both Durham and Newcastle worked perfectly!  The first day was rounded off by a conference meal at Durham Castle, the former palace of the Bishop of Durham and the place where students of University College eat their meals every day.


The second day started with the second keynote from Alan Masson from Blackboard on “Better Assessment & Feedback: The Blackboard Perspective”. Throughout the conference we attended a number of talks.  Highlights included Patrick Viney from Northumbria University, who discussed the management of 800+ undergraduate Business School student projects using PebblePad which seemed an interesting tool, especially as both Sara and I are Module Leaders for research project modules.  Emma Mayhew from the University of Reading described using short personal capture videos to make dynamic screencast videos on all aspects of assessment and feedback based on the knowledge that a visual stimulus aids retention of information.  This gave us food for thought and something to potentially implement as part of our electronic marking and feedback project.  Chris Graham and Christian Lawson-Perfect from the School of Mathematics and Statistics at Newcastle University presented on the Numbas software using the example of how they supported Stage 1 Psychology students with their numeracy skills.

Overall it was a very worthwhile conference with a friendly and welcoming audience and organising committee. Sara and I are happy to chat with any colleagues would like to know more about using GradeMark or marking rubrics.  Do you use electronic marking in your practice?  What benefits has this brought over paper-based marking?

Slide can be found here:

Alison Graham

School of Biology, Newcastle University

Creativity in Science Teaching

I’ll be honest, when I was invited to co-organise the Creativity in Science Teaching Symposium on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology SEB+ Committee I was concerned about the event. It was so different to any meeting I had attended or seen advertised and I wondered who it would attract – would we get enough keynote speakers, would anyone submit abstracts, and would anyone even attend!? Thankfully those concerns were unfounded – keynotes were queuing up, we had abstract submissions from all over the world, and around 40 delegates attended the Symposium at Charles Darwin House, London from 12th-14th December 2016. Unfortunately I do not have enough space in this post to detail everyone’s contribution so check out #SEBCST16 on twitter for a full account.

After a welcome from us organisers, our first keynote Mark Langan from Manchester Metropolitan University really set the creativity scene with his session on Adult Play and Learning – he gave the audience a pass the parcel for us to play with. Each layer was a journal article page with a quote relevant to his talk; the ‘unwrapper’ received a sweet from Mark’s childhood and read the quote to the group. The game really kept us entertained: we were curious to find out what the next quote (and sweet!) would be. We thought this was an approach that could be integrated into our teaching and help students take the key learning outcomes from our sessions.

Day 1 finished with a workshop session facilitated by Lucy Tallents from the University of Oxford. We arranged ourselves in groups to consider what challenge or goal we would like students to tackle collaboratively. Possibly swayed by the overall question, after much discussion our group went for the importance of getting students to understand that collaborative learning means working together, not working independently alongside each other. We had to develop this idea as a group and consider the learning objective; what resources or skills would we need to implement it; what key guidance would we need for students; and how would we assess/provide feedback? After 10 minutes discussion we had to send an ambassador from our group to another group and had a few minutes to share our idea and receive feedback. The ambassador brought the feedback to their group, where we had the opportunity to refine our original idea. The workshop cumulated in us sharing our idea with everyone. This approach was very well received and got us thinking not only about the challenge Lucy set us, but provided insight into ways we could use collaboration in our teaching. The approach would be possible to embed in both large and small group teaching across all disciplines.

The second day saw a change in focus with Gemma Anderson from Falmouth University introducing us to morphological relationships between animals, minerals and vegetables and using drawing to recognise patterns in nature using isomorphology theory. Gemma’s approach struck a chord with many as in this digital age students always ask us why they cannot just take a picture using their phone and have to draw instead.

Our next keynote, Mark Feltham from Liverpool John Moores touched on the issue of creativity in assessment. There are many ways in which we teach creatively but then assess using reports, essays and posters. Mark shared his approach to teaching experimental design and statistics using the makers approach – students chose how they want to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge. This allows them to take ownership through the stages of think – make – learn – share. One of the key aims of Newcastle Educators is sharing of ideas and practice and Mark emphasised how important sharing is – he brought his students to the Maker Faire in Newcastle and started MAKEFEST to encourage engagement with the maker approach.

Our penultimate keynote bucked the presentation trend and went PowerPoint-less. As a creative writer John Wedgwood Clarke from the University of Hull started with a personal anecdote and shared work from his Leverhulme funded project. He described using autobiographical journeys to allow time for personal reflection in our scientific journey – he asked undergraduate students about their founding moment; when did they realise they had become a “biologist”. This is something we can relate to – we start in academia as a subject-specialist in our discipline, but when do we realise that we are “educators”?

Our final keynote was a colleague we had seen present many times on Box of Broadcasts and using BoB in teaching. For this session, Chris Willmott from the University of Leicester demonstrated how students create videos as a type of authentic assessment. When he proposed this approach one colleague was concerned that students would not be able to say anything meaningful in five minutes – hmmmm, no comment! Chris gave us tips on what to do if we use student videos in assessment and shared some student submissions that are available from his website, BioethicsBytes.

The Symposium ended with a discussion on how we can encourage colleagues to adopt more creative/engaging/active approaches to teaching, and how we assess creativity in our teaching. Throughout the Symposium delegates were invited to give responses to these questions using MeeToo, which informed our discussion. Delegates highlighted what they would take away and incorporate into their delivery and share with colleagues. The discussion was very lively with everyone leaving motivated and determined to tackle the CAVEs (Colleagues Against Virtually Everything) within our institutions. So, in the end the Symposium was not what I expected – instead of me and the co-organiser sitting in a room on our own with a huge tray of sandwiches, we spent three days with colleagues who were enthusiastic, engaged, inspirational and willing to try different things. One take home message for me was the amendment of the CAVE acronym to CAKE: Colleagues Advertising Kreative Education – thanks to one of the presenters Roy Erkens for this (and for encouraging us to stand up and move in our taught sessions!).

There is definitely scope for us all to be more creative, either in the delivery of our teaching and/or in how we assess our students so we’d love to hear what creative approaches you take in the comments below.

Dr Sara Marsham, December 2016







Sharing Our Work Across the Pond

In November me and Alison Graham from the School of Biology attended the 2016 Symposium on Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Banff, Canada. We saw the Symposium advertised on twitter and decided it would be an excellent opportunity to share our GradeMark work with an international audience (the location of course had nothing to do with our decision!). I’d never been to Canada before though Alison had visited previously, so much planning went into our trip with regular weather checks in the weeks leading to our departure. Our arrival in Banff coincided with a spell of unseasonably warm weather at a time when the UK was receiving its first snowfall of the winter – to say we felt cheated was an understatement!

The warm weather mirrored the warm welcome from our hosts, Mount Royal University in Calgary. Brett McCollum, the Acting Academic Director of the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, set the scene of the Symposium by inviting us to “share, challenge and support” each other over the three day event. The delegates were mostly Canadian but there were also many from the States and someone had even made the trip from Australia! We attended a pre-Symposium workshop entitled “Next Steps: Developing Your SoTL Project/Broadening Your SoTL Perspective” led by Wallace Lockhart from the University of Regina and Brad Wuetherick from Dalhousie University. They invited us to focus on a current or planned SoTL project and following from JC’s previous blog, this provided us the opportunity to spend some dedicated thinking space to consider two projects – one in progress on academic reading, and a potential new project about future-proofing HE teaching. The workshop was followed by an Opening Reception and Banquet, giving us the opportunity to get to know our fellow delegates and discuss how teaching practices differed between our respective countries. The first keynote was delivered after the Banquet when David Pace from Indiana University shared his work on “decoding the gap” between what we as educators expect our students to be able to understand from our teaching, to what the students actually understand, by breaking down activities into smaller, more manageable tasks. Discussing these concepts with Alison after the keynote made us both realise that this is something we do as a matter of routine at Newcastle, so it was reassuring to see that our teaching would be considered as a good example of this!

The Symposium got in full swing the following morning with eight parallel sessions followed by the poster session. We presented our much loved and well-travelled GradeMark poster, and had lots of interest in how we have incorporated GradeMark into our assessments. We took the chance to encourage delegates to attend our oral presentation the next day, which clearly worked as our session was very full. Our presentation covered our work in more detail and explained how we have created assessment-specific marking criteria, engaged the students in the use of these through dedicated taught sessions, and how the success of this has led to us using this model in a range of modules in both academic skills. Our presentation was well-received and initiated much discussion and sharing of practice, particularly with colleagues at the University of Regina and we look forward to hearing how they have adapted our approach.


Of course the Symposium was not all hard work; we tried our hand at curling, and took the chance to explore the beautiful Canadian scenery with a ride up the Banff Gondola (where we finally got to stand in the snow!) and a trip to a drizzly Lake Louise. Much wildlife was spotted with encounters with elk, muskrats and even a distant spot through the trees of a grizzly bear foraging grain from the train tracks!

Next year the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning will be hosting their Symposium in Calgary (see link or follow @issotl17 on twitter for updates) – we can highly recommend going! While it was a very successful trip and we both came back with lots of ideas to incorporate into our practice, I came away thinking about our impact and how we can evidence what our newly found colleagues might take from our work. How do we follow up those delegates that may change their practice as a result of interacting with us at the Symposium – we’d love to hear your thoughts!




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