Jul 2 2015

LSE academics share their summer reading recommendations

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As has become a tradition on the LSE teaching blog, our last post of the academic year features holiday reading suggestions from academics at the School. This year managing editor Jane Hindle asked some of those of who have been guest speakers at the recently launched LSE teaching cafés to tell us about the books they would recommend as summer reads.


Bob Babajanian smallBabken Babajanian, Institute of Public Affairs

I am a big fan of Nordic Noir, which I think is unique as it often combines gripping plots with socially relevant themes. My latest favourite is Anne Holt’s 1222. It’s a murder mystery set in a remote Norwegian mountain hotel during a snowstorm and its main character is paraplegic police detective Hanne Wilhelmsen, who is a bit grumpy and has a dry sense of humour.

My second recommendation is a memoir, My Grandmother by a Turkish author Fethiye Çetin. As a young student, Fethiye discovered that her grandmother was an Armenian, something that her family never spoke about. She was one of tens of thousands “hidden Armenians” who survived the 1915 genocide and subsequently had to conceal their true identity for fear of discrimination and stigma. It’s an incredibly touching and powerful story about the implications of violence and exclusion for the lives and identities of ordinary Armenians and Turks.

Get in touch if you would like more recommendations on Nordic Noir or Armenia!


Clare HemmingsClare Hemmings, Gender Institute

I’m a devoted Kazuo Ishiguro fan and so was prepared to grab The Buried Giant in hardback, hoping it wouldn’t disappoint like his last book, Nocturnes. Ishiguro is the consummate genre author, trying his hand at a new style each time, but always focused on the interlocked fortunes of place and time. Who could forget the brilliant pacing of The Remains of the Daywhich appeared to be about a manservant and what he discovers about his employers in wartime, but is as much about the ‘Englishness’ of an afternoon drive through the countryside towards lost love? Or the uncanny, irritating familiarity of the pianist’s replayed dream sequences as he never quite makes it to the station, in The UnconsoledOr, again, the extraordinary day trip of Never Let Me Gowhere we are all reminded of what it means to feel like a ‘double’ in search of an ‘original’ self? Here too in The Buried Giant we are asked to follow the book’s protagonists on a journey, this time through ‘Ancient Britain’ in search of a lost son and elusive memories. At one level, the book is bewildering in its narrative simplicity: we encounter Sir Gawain and his trusty steed; a boy and a warrior become unlikely companions on their way to kill a dragon; an ageing couple trudge on through the countryside in search of what they can’t remember but know they have forgotten. But on their way through the unforgiving landscape, the two elderly walkers (and the reader) begin to glimpse the building blocks of a brutal past that is as contested as it is obscured, and in his inimitable way Ishiguro reminds us that memory, nation and our relationships to one another are intricately bound up in unexpected ways. I thought it was ‘thinner’ than other Ishiguros when I was reading it, but since finishing it – and perhaps appropriately – I can’t quite put it out of my mind. When Ishiguro proposes we hitch our fortunes to a wagon (or any mode of transport) we know it will be a melancholic confrontation with self as much as with nation and (both ordinary and extraordinary) violence, and ultimately the question of historical responsibility. Should you take it on holiday? Absolutely: but in paperback or on a kindle.


Nancy_Holman smallNancy Holman, Geography and Environment

What will I be reading this summer … a very good question! We have only recently purchased a house after eight years of housesitting up in London so all of our books, which have been packed away in various places, have suddenly come back into our lives. I am therefore a bit spoilt for choice. I suspect that on our holiday in July I will take with me Cinque Romanzi Brevi by Natalia Ginzburg. She is one of my favourite writers. I love the way that she deals with relationships, family and ways of life. She also has the added benefit of being pretty straightforward to read in Italian, which is about all that I can manage!


Michael Scott smallMichael W. Scott, Anthropology

Glass-fronted boxes full of surprising encounters among commonplace objects: a broken wine glass, old clay pipes, fading scraps of newspaper, a cork or wooden ball, bubble-like glass spheres, a doll, the image of a hotel façade, a tiny cabinet of drawers, coloured sand, cut-out reproductions of birds – birds of all kinds: a horned owl, downy woodpeckers, an eclectus parrot, an umbrella cockatoo, winter wrens, a scarlet macaw. Enclosed in these boxes are not merely odd combinations of ephemera, but miniature worlds offering ceaseless new discoveries.

In preparation for my particular explorations of Joseph Cornell’s creations in Wanderlust, the upcoming exhibition of his work at the Royal Academy of Arts, I’m packing Lindsay Blair’s study of Cornell’s own journey to establish his artistic and personal identity, Joseph Cornell’s Vision of Spiritual Order. And, I’ll be charting my own course with the aid of the captivating reproductions of his work in Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday (essays by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Richard Vine, and Robert Lehrman).



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Jun 29 2015

Resource of the week

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In advance of Thursday’s post which features the summer reading recommendations of several LSE academics, our resource this week is designed to encourage guilt free fiction reading. Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function by Christopher Bergland reports on a study by neuroscientists that showed how the brain benefits in various ways from reading novels.

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Jun 25 2015

From summative to progressive assessment: the use of second term exams at LSE

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Neil McLeanIn the first of an occasional series looking at the effects of the new shape academic year on educational practice at LSE, director of the School’s Teaching and Learning Centre Neil McLean highlights the opportunity that January exams offer for a review of assessment models

In 2015/16, 10 undergraduate and 29 MSc level courses at LSE will hold exams in Week 0 of Lent Term. This shift to a second exam period demonstrates the distinction between progressive and summative assessment models, which underpins how departments might want to consider the use of the January window available in the newly structured academic year.

Progressive assessment, as the name suggests, is designed to generate progress in students’ learning. This approach is characterised by multiple assessments during a course which lead to a final grade. In US higher education, the progressive approach is captured in the notion of the grade point average, which reflects the students’ on-going learning and achievement throughout the course. In the UK, the approach is more associated with teaching in quantitative disciplines, where understanding of substantive content builds as the course progresses, and student understanding has to be tested regularly to ensure that there is a solid basis for learning the increasingly complex material delivered throughout the course.

In contrast, a summative model is one where assessment takes place at the end of the course. This approach is underpinned by an expectation that students need time to develop and bring together knowledge from across the whole course. Assessment during the course is therefore formative, and designed to encourage synthesis of different course themes into a more nuanced and informed understanding. This approach follows the Humboldtian tradition, where there is a sense that during such a course students aren’t ‘ready’ for assessment. Rather, they need time to see and grasp how the course content inter-relates in order to develop perspective and be able to reflect critically.

While this approach has often been associated with learning in qualitative disciplines, at LSE the practice of final examinations has tended to apply across the range of taught degree programmes. This though seems to be changing with the new academic year structure. In 2015/16, core undergraduate courses in Economics, Maths and Statistics (EC102, MA100 and ST102) will trial assessment after the first term’s teaching, with the students’ scores counting for a significant proportion of final grades. The rationale is twofold. Firstly, Lent Term week 0 (LT0) exams will focus student learning on the substantive content of the first term, thus setting up the use of this content to underpin their learning in the second term. Secondly, feedback on the LT0 exams, given during Lent Term, will allow students to identify any areas of misunderstanding they have from the first term’s material. They will then be able to approach office hours with specific questions to ask.

There is a similar logic to the adoption of an LT0 exam by some of the School’s master’s level half unit courses. Across MSc programmes at LSE, Michaelmas Term half units often set up more applied Lent Term half units. Assessing these ‘foundational’ half units offers students focus to their Michaelmas Term work, in that the revision process makes course themes and content clearer, and, it is hoped, leads students to integrate the theory and methods of their first term’s learning into the more applied approach required of their Lent Term half units. Examples of this kind of half unit course adopting an LT0 exam are Economic History’s Historical Analysis of Economic Change (EH401) and Social Psychology’s Contemporary Social and Cultural Psychology (SP400).

Another kind of assessment development at the MSc level is illustrated by LSE’s LLM programme, which moved two years ago to an ‘all half unit’ model in order to maximise choice of options and balance assessment across the courses. Rather than a sense of progression between terms, students here combine half unit courses into an overall area of specialisation. This is almost a semester model, where courses are complementary but do not necessarily interlink. Under this model, assessing some courses in LT0 allows the department to spread the assessment (and marking) load across the year.

Note to LSE academics: Should you wish to discuss the use of LT0 exams, or any matter relating to assessment, please contact your Teaching and Learning Centre departmental adviser.





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Jun 22 2015

Resource of the week

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As a prelude to Thursday’s feature which will look at the new Lent Term Week 0 exam period being adopted by some 39 LSE courses in 2016, and the consequent shift to a more progressive approach to assessment, this week’s resource – Conditions Under Which Assessment Supports Students’ Learning by Graham Gibbs and Claire Simpson (Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, issue 1, 2004/05) – provides an overview of educational research into the influence that choice of assessment model seems to have on student learning. The article summarises a number of other meta-studies and proposes conditions under which assessment (wherever this takes place in the course) will encourage learning.


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Jun 18 2015

LSE and Imperial College partner to deliver GROUPS

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Claire Gordon, 2013, croppedDebra_Humphris for blogFollowing on from Monday’s resource on student partnerships, Claire Gordon (left), director of the LSE GROUPS programme, interviewed Debra Humphris, Vice Provost for Education at Imperial College, about the new LSE/Imperial GROUPS initiative taking place here at LSE at the end of Summer Term. This year LSE GROUPS, which for the past five years has provided undergraduates with the opportunity to spend two weeks working in cross-disciplinary, cross-year groups on a research project, will be welcoming 25 students and 2 research supervisors from Imperial to the programme.

Why were you interested in joining up with LSE to participate in the GROUPS undergraduate research project programme?

It’s fairly obvious that there are no single disciplines that are going to be able to solve the complex problems that are facing society and our students, who study STEM subjects, are also interested in learning alongside students from the social sciences. So the opportunity for our students to be part of what is an extremely well organised undergraduate research project with LSE students is really exciting. The feedback I have had from students and staff alike so far is that everybody thinks this is a great idea.

What do you think the Imperial students will bring to the programme?

Imperial students will bring a very scientific, experimental, quantitative view of the world but not to the exclusion of an understanding of wider disciplinary views around social change. Many of our students have wide-ranging interests and I think you will find quite a lot of them who are really interested in particular topics, whether that’s coming from a scientific point of view or from their social context, and who want to make a difference to the world.

What will they gain from collaborating with LSE social science students on a social science project?

The understanding of different mind-sets, different theoretical approaches, and different views about life. There are obviously quantitative social sciences but there is great value in the qualitative disciplines, and we all have a lot to learn from ethnography, anthropology, philosophy. The theoretical plurality will be very interesting and revealing for students from both institutions.

What do you see as the value of interdisciplinarity in higher education in particular for undergraduate students?

Our role in higher education is to create the opportunities for students to develop, whether that is in forging a disciplinary base of knowledge or in making decisions about where they want to go in life. As research at our respective institutions becomes more interdisciplinary we owe it to our undergraduates during that development journey to expose them to the range of disciplinary perspectives. So if you take the example of climate change. We both have Grantham Institutes and they illustrate the fact that there’s a whole set of disciplines that need to come together to really address issues such as climate change and sustainability. You cannot do it in a uni-discplinary focus. So it’s that broad range of perspectives which add greater value than seeing the world through a single disciplinary lens.

Would you like to see more collaborative ventures with LSE in the future?

Personally I think that we are two extraordinary institutions in an amazing global city and we bring strengths from both of our perspectives. For the students on GROUPS, I hope that collaboration will open their eyes and their thinking, and I am absolutely sure that from a research point of view there is potential for greater collaboration.

LSE/Imperial GROUPS will host a conference on Friday 3 July, at which the students’ research will be presented. To find out more and book a place, please email tlc.groups@lse.ac.uk


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