Feb 8 2016

Resource of the week

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LSE’s first ever Education Strategy has been published to the School’s website today, to coincide with news of a major investment in education and student experience. Its core vision – that LSE leads in the provision of research informed social science education – is underpinned by a set of objectives, activities and key performance indicators designed to refresh LSE’s distinctive educational tradition.

We’ll be posting lots of features over coming months and years about how the Strategy is being brought to life and welcome contributions (see our About page for contact details) from across and beyond LSE.



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Feb 4 2016

Integrating digital and information literacies in course curricula

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Claudine Provencher, 2013, croppedJane Secker photo for blogIn advance of an Academic Development Programme workshop on this subject next Wednesday (see the booking link at the end of the post), during which participants will explore the concepts of information and digital literacies, how they relate to student learning and how they can be incorporated into courses and programmes, Jane Secker, Copyright and Digital Literacy Advisor in LSE’s Learning Technology and Innovation, shares her views on various aspects of these literacies with Claudine Provencher, Senior Academic Developer in LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre.

What is your definition of information and digital literacies?

Information and digital literacies are key players in the knowledge, skills and behaviours that underpin learning, and part of what you could call ‘learning literacies’, which also include media and academic literacies. Information literacy is a term that was first coined over 40 years ago and it’s widely used by librarians. Its importance has been recognized by UNESCO as essential for lifelong learning and a human right. It’s about knowing how to find, evaluate, manage and use information in all its forms, and it extends way beyond simply finding the right information to complete an assignment at LSE. It is also about being able to evaluate the information you find and how to use it to construct new knowledge. Meanwhile digital literacy is a more recent term, but the two overlap considerably. Digital literacy is more than just IT skills: it’s about knowing how to use technology appropriately, knowing which sources to trust online and how to manage your digital identity and wellbeing (which means knowing when to switch off technology sometimes!). In both digital and information literacy, ethics are really important, so knowing how to use other people’s ideas appropriately, understanding citation conventions and respecting intellectual property and copyright are significant issues of concern as well.

What are the main challenges involved in integrating information and digital literacies into course curriculum?

One of the biggest challenges is getting time in the curriculum to help students develop these abilities in the context of their studies. Many academic colleagues expect LSE students to have these skills in place when they arrive at LSE, forgetting that our students come from all around the world and may not have learned how to find and evaluate information or use technology for academic purposes. There is also a challenge because the notion that all students are very ‘tech savvy’ persists, despite much evidence to the contrary.

While there exist some generic information and digital literacy skills, there are many that are closely related to academic practices within a discipline and so, to be meaningful to students, information and digital literacies should ideally be developed as part of their studies, not in optional extra sessions.

One of the other challenges is how these literacies are assessed in a course, particularly if the main form of assessment is an end of year exam. One of the best ways of developing and assessing them may be through independent research, opportunities for which exist both within departments, when students are tasked with undertaking an extended essay or dissertation, and through initiatives like the Teaching and Learning Centre’s LSE GROUPS.

Another challenge, which may not be as explicit, comes from the way reading lists are developed. Typically, at LSE, we provide students with highly structured reading lists, which means that learning how to evaluate and select resources is already done for them. This is not the case everywhere and other universities privilege alternative approaches such as inquiry based learning, for which students are given more project based work where they have to come up with a topic, carry out research and perhaps present an annotated bibliography, discussing why particular sources are valuable.

Should academics think about it at course level or at programme level?

I think both are important, and the best way to develop these abilities in undergraduate students is to embed them across the three years of a degree. In the first year, students need guidance on what good quality sources are, and how to use highly structured reading lists but, as they progress through their studies, they can be set assignments that help them learn to do research for themselves and select their own sources of information. Some disciplines lend themselves more easily to the development of information and digital literacies: history, for example, where it’s vital that students learn how to evaluate sources. However, there are opportunities in all subjects to teach students about how knowledge and information is structured within their discipline, and about specific conventions such as citing and referencing sources correctly.

Could you provide us with a few examples of successful integration of these literacies?

At LSE undergraduate students who undertake a dissertation or long essay often get an opportunity to develop their information literacy skills; however, this often comes relatively late in the course of their studies. I’ve worked with Dr Wicher Bergsma in Statistics to integrate information and digital literacies into an undergraduate statistics course he teaches (ST312, Applied Statistics), where students have to undertake a critical investigation and collate statistical data on a topic of their own interest. In the course, there are now three sessions taught by library colleagues and me where students learn how to undertake a literature search, going beyond simply a Google Scholar search, find data sets and learn how to cite and reference.

Also at LSE, it’s worth mentioning the Library’s role in supporting and developing digital and information literacies – academic staff can contact their Academic Support Librarian for advice – and the Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy project (SADL), which has 45 undergraduate student ambassadors involved in participatory workshops and initiatives designed to share and embed good practices across the student community.

Finally, if I can insert an extra-LSE note, there’s a project I’ve been involved with in my capacity as Chair of the Information Literacy Group which has some relevance. TeenTech brings school students together to work in teams on projects and we’ve built research and information literacy skills into the judging criteria for these projects. So here students are expected at an early age to find and evaluate information and show how their idea builds on the work of others.

There are several interesting ideas in what you have just said. To conclude, could you say a few words about what you think could be the main benefits of a closer integration of information and digital literacies into course and programme curricula?

Students with highly developed information and digital literacies will get better marks and be able to develop more effective critical thinking skills. There will be fewer incidents of plagiarism and students will be better equipped when the time comes for them to undertake independent research. Last but not least, students with good information and digital literacies are highly valued by employers, as they know how to research a topic when they are not given a reading list!

The Integrating information and digital literacies in the curriculum workshop takes place on Wednesday 10 February, 12:30-14:00.



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Feb 1 2016

Resource of the week

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Making sense of the huge amount of information that we can access and being able to assess and organise that information using digital technologies has become one of the main challenges faced by students. Traditionally seen as the remit of academic librarians, the task of developing these literacies among our students is increasingly seen as something that can be facilitated through the careful design of academic courses and programmes. This idea will be discussed in greater detail in Thursday’s post, an interview with Copyright and Digital Literacy Advisor Dr Jane Secker.

Meantime, similar themes are discussed in today’s resource, Transforming information literacy conversations to enhance student learning: new curriculum dialogues (Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, vol. 9, no. 3, 2012) by Fiona Salisbury and her colleagues at La Trobe University. The article makes a compelling case for collaborative relationships between academic librarians and course conveners, and proposes a model for embedding the development of information literacy within disciplines using the idea of constructive alignment as the guiding principle. Examples from eight disciplines are provided and lessons from those, based on interviews with academics, are discussed.

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Jan 29 2016


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It’s been a quiet week on the blog, but just before the week’s out a couple of pieces of news to share.

Claire Gordon, 2013, croppedFirst, a Higher Education Academy report written by our very own Claire Gordon and UCL’s Dilly Fung has been published. Rewarding educators and education leaders in research-intensive universities (PDF) analyses promotion and reward practices across the UK’s Russell Group institutions to address whether and how those practices are changing to meet the needs of such institutions in the coming years. Claire shared some of its early findings in a post on the blog last year, The future of research based education.

Second, two recent graduates from the Department of Government will be representing LSE at next week’s Posters in Parliament exhibition. Sophie Donszelmann and Matthew Pennill produced posters based on research they did as undergraduates here and will be showcasing them in The Jubilee Room at Parliament next Tuesday (2 February) in an event that is free and open to all. Sophie’s poster, Social movements against mining in Guatemala: a case study of static political cultures and fluid civil societies is in Exhibition One (12:30-13:30) and Matthew’s, Expectations, preferences and voter turnout: an application of prospect theory to the calculus of voting, in Exhibition Two (14:00-15:00). Registration for the event, open until 12:00 on Monday, is through Eventbrite Posters in Parliament.

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Jan 21 2016

LSE’s Academic Registrar on the Green Paper and TEF

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LSE Academic Registrar Mark Thomson spoke to Senior Academic Developer Claire Gordon about the School’s response to Fulfilling Our Potential, the latest Green Paper on higher education reform, and the Government’s proposals for a Teaching Excellence Framework

As the School Registrar what do you see as the key policy changes proposed in the Government Green Paper and how might these impact on education at LSE and the research intensive sector more broadly? 

The first thing to say is that the hue of this Green Paper is deeply verdant. It is big on high level proposals, but quieter on the detailed processes by which they will be operationalised. Some of the regulatory reforms it proposes will require new legislation, the Government appetite for which is uncertain. So there is much still to play for.

The proposals for a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) have the potential to influence teaching at the School and across the sector. Briefly, the Green Paper proposes that a TEF will ‘identify and incentivise the highest quality teaching to drive up standards in higher education, deliver better quality for students and employers and better value for taxpayers.'(1) The better an institution’s teaching (as judged by a panel on the basis of a qualitative statement and a basket of metrics), the higher the TEF level it will be awarded; and the higher the TEF level, the greater the fee cap uplift an institution will be able to charge.

At the School level, we’ve been developing the Education Strategy since the TEF was but a twinkle in the Tory manifesto’s eye. The Education Strategy aims to demonstrate the School’s commitment to enhancing its teaching, and its proposals are not a response to or driven by external factors like the NSS or TEF (though take their implications into account). Rather, it contains the sorts of things that an institution for which high quality education is a strategic imperative ought to be doing, and ought to care about.

Briefly, in relation to some of the Green Paper’s other policy proposals, we welcome the emphasis on widening participation and social mobility, though urged in our response a more nuanced approach to categorising disadvantage. The reformulation of HEFCE and OFFA into a new regulatory body – the Office for Students – is silent on the new body’s funding remit. That raises concern about the implications for the dual funding system.

The lack of real detail around some of the proposals make their potential impact difficult to judge. The TEF itself will be subject to a further technical consultation later this year, in fact. Some research intensives are likely to re-energise their teaching provision, while making strong representations about maintaining the dual funding system to secure the vital contribution that research makes to the quality of their teaching programmes.

What areas of concern has the School highlighted in its response to the Government Green Paper and why?

We made the general point that that TEF section of the Green Paper overstates the problem it is trying to solve; namely, that teaching is the ‘poor cousin’ to research. Although there is always room for improvement, Graham Gibbs notes in a recent Higher Education Policy Institute report that ‘[T]he scale and sophistication of current teaching improvement efforts in higher education in England is, despite its patchy implementation, amongst the highest in the world, and with measurable positive consequences.'(2)

We expressed some concern with what is known about the machinery of the TEF itself. Composition of the panels will need to command the trust of those institutions being assessed, and their memberships will need to be competent to judge the sector’s range of different teaching missions and objectives. It will also be a challenge for the panels to assess interdisciplinary teaching via the methodology proposed.

Drilling down into some of the questions the proposed metrics might ask, we wondered how ‘career readiness’ could be assessed when the critical thinking and evaluative skills students will have learned on their programmes suit them to a range of initial career options. We were also slightly concerned about the implied need to test students beyond that required for their degree to determine levels of ‘learning gain’ achieved. This struck us as slightly sadistic. A focus on ‘teaching intensity and contact time’ overlooks the social science teaching approach that helps students develop the skills necessary for independent study (i.e. alongside formal teaching contact). These are skills that do not decay, and serve our graduates well in the labour market.

Some of the proposals around the new Office for Students raised my colleagues’ eyebrows. David Coombe, Director of the Research Division, noted elegantly in the School’s response that ‘[We] are concerned that the division of responsibility for the governance and funding of teaching and research between the Office for Students and Research-UK, respectively, will undermine the crucial contribution that research makes to the quality of our teaching programmes. Furthermore, the undergraduate teaching focus of the Office for Students runs the danger of neglecting the postgraduate perspective. The three elements of research, education and knowledge transfer are intrinsically linked, and if there is to continue to be public regulation of the UK’s globally leading universities, this should ideally be through a single, arm’s-length body that values all three equally.

As former head of TQARO and now School Registrar, do you think it is possible to measure teaching excellence? 

A great question, one that takes us into ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ territory. There is no single proxy for assessing teaching excellence. But there are approximations: NSS and internal survey data, student performance results, external examiner reports, DLHE data. We can use these data to triangulate towards a judgement about the relative quality of teaching on a particular course or programme. For our internal purposes, this approach to assessing teaching quality allows the School to enter into conversations with departments when the quality indicators return an adverse judgement; or to celebrate and reward teaching when the judgement is positive.

What do you see as the challenge of identifying appropriate metrics to measure teaching excellence?

The main challenge is to do with the homogeneity of institutional mission across the sector. To quote Gibbs again, ‘[H]igh institutional outcome measures are achieved largely by the best students being attracted to the best institutional reputations, but neither student quality nor reputation tell us much about teaching quality or provide leverage to improve teaching quality.'(3) For our internal teaching quality processes, we use a range of measures that we consider ‘in a LSE way’, i.e. by considering them in the context of the academic histories and cultures of the departments to which they are applied. It will be a challenge for the TEF to devise a suite of metrics that take into account an institution’s specific mission and aims, on the one hand, while, on the other, providing the kind of broad comparability upon which fine-grained TEF level decisions will be based.


  1. Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (2015), ‘Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’, p. 18.
  2. Gibbs, G. (2016), ‘Teaching: Responses to the higher education green paper’, Higher Education Policy Institute, Report 81, p. 12.
  3. Ibid., p. 24.
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