Feb 26 2015

LSE Teaching Café launches!

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Managing editor Jane Hindle reports on the inaugural LSE Teaching Café held earlier this month

The idea of academic staff discussing their teaching over coffee is hardly new – it’s a format that has been used at LSE’s Teaching Symposium and is doubtless widely practised at departmental awaydays and other events – but the LSE Teaching Café offers something a little different.

LSE Teaching Cafe pic 7The aim of the cafés is to promote interdisciplinary conversation about contemporary teaching at LSE. To that end, a series of ‘hot topics’ has been drawn up – from ‘innovation in assessment’ to ‘using the extra term time weeks’ – one of which will be addressed at the café each term. Academics who have particular experience of or interest in the topic are invited to facilitate the conversation at each café table and so the forum for a genuine sharing of practice is established. Moreover, it is a deliberately informal setting, the ready availability of croissants, fruit and coffee and the pink painted wall of the Fourth Floor Café’s reception area providing the necessary ‘separation’ from day to day work.

LSE Teaching Cafe pic 1For this inaugural café, three academics who are assessing students through ‘unusual’ projects were invited as facilitators:

  • Dr Babken Babajanian from the Institute of Public Affairs whose MPA Capstone projects are assessed to the value of a full unit through a combination of written report, client presentation and supervisor assessment;
  • Professor Clare Hemmings, whose student conferences in the Gender Institute’s ‘Sexuality, gender and globalisation’ MSc course contribute a possible 30% (from a combination of abstract, presentation and participation in the conference) of a full unit mark; and
  • Dr Paul Keenan from the Department of International History, whose first year undergraduate group research projects are assessed for up to 50% (part individual and part group allocated) of the total unit mark.

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Feb 24 2015

Resource of the week

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As a prelude to Thursday’s feature on our inaugural LSE Teaching Cafe, this week’s resource is about building a learning community among faculty. Although based on the experiences of scientists, Enabling a Culture of Change: A Life Science Faculty Learning Community Promotes Scientific Teaching (PDF) describes how faculty in a research intensive environment managed to initiate and maintain a dialogue about teaching and learning that enabled the participants to make significant changes to how they think about student learning and how they approach teaching.

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Feb 19 2015

Academic writing skills in Social Policy

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Claudine Provencher, 2013, croppedLSE academic developer Dr Claudine Provencher reports on an innovative series of ‘skills surgeries’ taking place in LSE’s Department of Social Policy

 

For the last two academic years, LSE’s Department of Social Policy has provided essay writing support surgeries to students of SA100, its core course for first year undergraduate students. The surgeries provide individual support for students with writing formative essays on the course. This initiative was developed out of a recognition by Dr Isabel Shutes (the course convenor for SA100) and her colleagues that first year students can face particular needs when making the transition to higher education, especially in essay writing skills. It forms part of a set of wider initiatives taking place in the department aimed at improving students’ experience of advice, guidance and feedback on their coursework, including workshops on essay writing for undergraduate students.

The surgeries are led by the class teacher of each group of students registered on SA100 (currently about 60 students in total), in contrast with the first year of the programme when they were all offered by the same GTA. It is hoped that asking the specific class teachers to provide the surgeries will result in a better integration of them with the formative coursework attached to SA100, a better rapport between the students and the teachers involved, and a better knowledge of each student’s individual needs.

Four surgeries are provided over the academic year. The first one, in Week 8 of Michaelmas Term, happens after the first formative essay has been submitted and marked. At this stage, all students are asked to meet with the class teacher for individual feedback, a further change from last year when attendance was voluntary and meant that some students, quite often those who needed assistance the most, did not attend. A second Continue reading

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Feb 16 2015

Resource of the week

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One of the main messages communicated to new academics and GTAs joining the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education offered by LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre is the need to locate teaching within the specific disciplinary context in which it takes place. A similar line of reasoning has been proposed regarding the provision of study skills in general and academic writing skills in particular.

This is the main argument of Doing away with ‘study skills’ (PDF), a paper published in 2006. In this article, Ursula Wingate, a senior lecturer in language in education at King’s College London, proposes that ‘learning how to study effectively at university cannot be separated from subject content and the process of learning’. However, acknowledging the practical difficulties in implementing such an approach, the author suggests that a useful way forward would be for universities to ‘encourage academic staff to integrate the development of learning into their teaching’. A specific example of how this is being done in LSE’s Department of Social Policy will be the subject of our post on Thursday.

Readers keen to explore this subject in greater detail may also want to revisit an earlier post, Developing students’ academic writing: more than a skill to be taught, which covered similar ideas.

 

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Feb 12 2015

Active learning in LSE’s Department of Statistics

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LSE academic developer Mark Baltovic reports on the project based class work and alternative forms of assessment that have been incorporated into several of the Department of Statistics’ undergraduate courses

Statistics may not be a discipline immediately associated with active learning, but at LSE there has been a determination to build elements of it into some core courses. In the Department of Statistics’ half-unit ST201 (Statistical Models and Data Analysis) and ST312 (Applied Statistics Project) courses, for instance, project based work is used both to develop students’ learning and to contribute to overall assessment.

  • In ST201, students work in groups of 3 on a project that forms 20% of their final summative assessment (the remaining 80% coming from a more traditional examination).
  • In ST312, students work individually on a research question to produce a presentation for the entire group (accounting for 10% of their final summative assessment) and a written report detailing their research question, methodology and results (which accounts for 90% of their final summative assessment).

A pivotal aspect of both projects is that students must find their own data sets from real world sources to generate their research questions. While they are given some preparatory guidance on finding data (by LSE Library’s Academic Services), their biggest hurdle is often not necessarily the availability of relevant data, but rather its quality. Instead of working with the artificial and sterile data sets that are typically produced to support formative assessment activities, students have to confront the same problems that practising statisticians face in their research. They soon learn that they must make compromises in what they seek, that there are trade-offs to be made when seeking viable data. To get anywhere with their work, they are forced to make subjective judgments and possibly adapt their methodology to accommodate the constraints they come up against. As a result, students on these courses learn the ‘trade’ of statistics by effectively becoming statisticians during their projects. And the projects illustrate what Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger (2004) call ‘one of the four guiding principles of the constructivist approach to active learning … that such “authentic tasks” are vital for successful and meaningful learning’.

The group work component of ST201 is an example of ‘co-operative learning’, which typically calls upon students to work in small groups to complete learning activities structured and guided by the teacher. To succeed, students need to interact socially with their peers, and thus must develop interpersonal and small group dynamic process skills. By incorporating the development of such skills directly into the nature of the activity, another of the principles of active learning – that learning is enhanced by social interaction – is brought into play.

Those same principles can be seen at work in ST327 (Market Research: An Integrated Approach). As before, real world examples are used to develop fresh case studies each year that explore the ideas discussed in lectures. Students work in groups of 5 or 6, select a case study, and then play the role of a market research company whose task is to make a bid to the company analysed in their case study. Summative assessment is comprised of:

  • a group presentation of their bid (accounting for 15% of their individual final summative assessment);
  • individual essays based on their group work (accounting for 25% of their final summative assessment); and
  • a formal examination (accounting for the remaining 60%).

This blend of assessment formats reflects a growing belief in the department of the fairness and appropriateness of such approaches. There is an openness to still further new ideas for assessment – such as peer assessment using various e-assessment platforms – and certainly a feeling that the reduced proportion of marks accrued via formal examination (previously this was 70%) has been a positive move.

Moreover, students are responding positively to the new approaches. TQARO feedback on the courses has been favourable, and enrolment numbers this year are double those of last year. Indeed, this is indicative of a wider trend in undergraduate statistics education. A recent review of pedagogic research in this field over the past two decades (Kalaian and Kasim, 2014) identifies the significant and positive impacts that co-operational and collaborative learning methods have had in general, highlighting the principles outlined above as being central to such approaches and to successful learning. In the mean time, LSE’s Department of Statistics continues to explore new ways of delivering teaching and learning to its students.

Bibliography

  1. Cooperstein, S. and Kocevar-Weidinger, E. (2004), Beyond active learning: a constructivist approach to learning, Reference Services Review, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 141-148.
  2. Kalaian, S.A. and Kasim, R.M. (2014), A Meta-analytic Review of Studies of the Effectiveness of Small-Group Learning Methods on Statistics Achievement, Journal of Statistics Education, vol. 22, no. 1.

 

Many thanks to Dr James Abdey (ST327) and Dr Jose Pina-Sánchez (ST201, ST312) for their information and insight into their courses.

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