Newcastle Educators

A peer educator network

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.


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!

“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!




Give Me Some Thinking Space(s)!

This is the day after our Learning and Teaching Review here in the School of Modern Languages. Why am I mentioning this in a blog post about thinking space? Because, as could be expected, the report recommended creating a common room for our UG students but did not mention anything about creating both the time and the space for colleagues to meet and have a casual chat over a nice cuppa. To be perfectly honest, we do have a staff room but it is rather on the small side and, as most of my colleagues would say “Who’s got time for a lunch break these days?” anyway…

The idea to write a blog about thinking space(s) started nearly two months ago (!) when the team of Newcastle Educators met to discuss plans for this academic year. After toing and froing trying to find a time that suited everyone, we met up in the Ridley Atrium in the School of Medicine. If you are from HaSS or SAgE and you’ve never ventured that side of campus, you should really go and have a look for yourselves. What an amazing space for staff to meet! It is inviting, spacious, calm and for staff and research students ONLY. The Ridley Atrium, I noted, was the perfect place for us to meet to discuss our teaching. Not that I am against shared spaces for staff and students… However, it is nice, for a change, to be able to have a chat about the ups and downs of your teaching without fearing you some of your students might hear you. This led us to discuss the general lack of meeting spaces for staff apart from Schools’ staff rooms. Would it not be nice to have accessible and inviting staff meeting spaces that would attract people from all Faculties? This would certainly encourage ad-hoc cross-fertilisation in learning and teaching! I doubt this would be enough, though. There is ever-increasing on our time and even lunch meetings are becoming tricky to plan. I wonder if we should not also recognise the need for thinking space in our busy lives…

More than that, maybe we should all recognise that sometimes “wasting” time allows you to “gain” some time! This sounds rather counter-intuitive but let me explain… Going for a cuppa with a few colleagues may very well lead to a relaxed conversation which could help you find creative solutions to challenges you are facing! Similarly, you may find it difficult to complete your application to the Higher Education Academy or to attend an event on learning and teaching – you may even come to see them at a waste of time when you have some many other urgent things to do. Oh, how I can relate to these feelings. Maybe, though, you should see these two as important thinking time on your practice that could very well make you gain time in the future. So please, from time to time, get out of the rat race and carve some thinking space for yourself – a great first step would be to come and join us to our 2nd event in the Teaching Excellence Series (Educators’ Perspectives) on Thursday 15th December (Lunch will be provided, so please register for a session on I look forward to seeing you there!

Written by JC Penet

EDUBITES Teaching Excellence Series

EDUBITES – Teaching Excellence Series

With increasing developments and discussions around teaching excellence in the sector, the Edubites sessions this year will be delivered as a Teaching Excellence Series to discuss this topic from a range of perspectives.

Everyone is invited and welcome to attend as many of the sessions as they wish.

As always, Edubites offers you the opportunity to share your practice and discuss issues or points of interest with other colleagues, so please do come prepared to contribute.

Lunch will be provided, so please register if you wish to attend.

Teaching Excellence Series Update

We have been busy planning the TES sessions, which has included engaging others (of course, for their perspectives) and one of the most interesting groups to engage has been our students.

Across our 3 Faculties, we have been posing the following question to our students:

“what you feel ‘teaching excellence’ is?”

The response has been both interesting and enlightening, and is one which we shall be sharing at our February event.

As we gear up to our first event next week, let us ask you the same question:

“what you feel ‘teaching excellence’ is?”

Please add a comment with your thoughts…

Supporting Reflective Practice event

Across all disciplines, for learners and for ourselves as ‘learner-educators’, self-reflection plays an important role in enabling us to articulate what we have really learned through our study and practice by examining ‘where we have been’ and ‘where we are going’. ‘Supporting Reflective Practice’ was a great topic to begin the series of EDUBITES events, which are intended for educators to gather and discuss issues of importance to practice and personal development.

Furthermore, James demonstrated to us how we can map what we do to the UKPSF, in order to support us in obtaining recognition from the Higher Education Academy, which is becoming even more important in light of new measures such as the forthcoming TEF.

Key to this is the ability to evidence what we do, and how we do it, as we seek to achieve higher recognition for our work by demonstrating support for others, and for the leadership of teaching.

Many of you will be aware that LTDS link their development sessions to the UKPSF standards, so if you are looking to fill some gaps, you could find a relevant session here. Newcastle University’s Staff Development Unit workshops are also linked to the UKPSF.

The Case Studies LTDS have collected are also useful. The ePortfolio can help you to record and share evidence with others, and also has a mapping to UKPSF (quite a number of the group did not know this).

James, and his colleagues have undertaken some research which shows that 96% of educators feel that reflection is important, whilst only 2% currently use a framework for reflection. Without doubt, the most important tools to help educators and their students with reflective practice are ‘being able to record and sort through evidence and commentaries, getting into the habit and sharing your experiences’.

Through his research, James has identified a gap in the availability of a dedicated reflection tool which enables you to understand and practice the various levels of reflective practice, and conduct that practice within your work/lifestyle. They are working on a reflection toolkit which could address this gap, so watch this space. At this point in the event, a lively discussion was had. We look forward to inviting you to help trial the toolkit during its development.

Finally, if you are looking for a guide for Reflective Writing to use yourself and with your students, we would recommend the 2012 text ‘Reflective Writing’ (Pocket Study Skills) by Williams et al. available in the Robinson and Walton libraries.

Are you involved in the use of reflective practice at Newcastle? You can get in touch with members of the EDUBITES group directly –

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