Published: July 2011
Editorial: Academic practice and values
The articles in this issue illustrate a range of roles and responsibilities that higher education staff take on within their broad remit of academic practice. As the Higher Education Academy completes its consultation on its review of the UK Professional Standards Framework this is a good time to consider the roles of staff in teaching and learning. The collection of papers here clearly demonstrate the roles of staff in and designing and evaluating methods and resources for both teaching and support of learning. These are familiar roles which we expect of all teachers.
The papers in this issue demonstrate their authors’ professional values as well as these familiar roles. Sarah Stevens shows the importance of being prepared to reconsider the choices made previously to the extent of challenging the accepted orthodoxy of how teaching is conducted within the discipline, demonstrating her ‘commitment to incorporating the process and outcomes of relevant research, scholarship and/or professional practice’. Donna Hurford and Andrew Read expand our notion of academic practice even further talking explicitly their professional commitments to collaboration such as through engagement with professional networks and dialogue. Whatever the exact shape of the revised Professional Standards Framework, it will continue to be based on professional values such as those we have seen here. I hope that by reading and contributing to BeJLT we, as a community of higher education teachers, can promote our professional values and make them more visible.
Sarah Stevens opens the issue on familiar ground with a paper describing the rationale behind choosing particular teaching methods for students within the final year of the Architecture degree at Oxford Brookes University. This exploratory investigation demonstrates the value of collecting student feedback in evaluations of established pedagogic approaches. In this case Sarah finds that whereas the rationale for the critique is well established as supporting constructive learning, students report that the ‘crits’ generate anxiety and promote strategic approaches to learning. This study is a useful reminder of the need to evaluate not only new teaching methods, but to be prepared to revisit our assumptions for established methods.
Patrick Baughan’s reflects on the creation of StudyWell, a suite of interactive online resources for students at City University, which has been created to support students as they develop strategies for ‘positive study skills’, ‘plagiarism prevention’ and ‘academic honesty’. Like many universities around the world which have drawn on Jude Carroll’s holistic approach to plagiarism prevention (Carroll 2007), these student-focused resources complement course teams’ work in designing out plagiarism by ‘designing in’ effective study strategies. As well as demonstrating what is becoming established practice in institutional approaches to academic conduct, this paper shares an approach to the familiar issue of how to draw together advice and guidance for students into a single, accessible, web-based resource.
Donna Hurford and Andrew Read share a model for collaborative research and writing developed from their experiences of working together. In this paper they take ethnographic approach to retrospectively analysing the records of their everyday practice. They note that there are aspects of our practice (such as collaborative writing) which lack a critical framework and aim to create a model which might be of use to others in understanding their professional collaborations.
In my previous Editorial, I wrote about the review of BeJLT which was undertaken earlier this year and the changes in Editorial Board membership and article types. A further change is that from this issue on, we will be moving to a ‘by paper’ publishing model. This means that papers will become live on the BeJLT website as soon as they are ready, reducing the time taken to publication. If you would like to receive notifications when new papers become available, please register to join our Mailing List. We are also exploring ways of making better use of social media and hope to have something to report on that next academic year.
Rhona Sharpe, Editor
From 1 October 2011 Chris Rust will be working two days a week in a new position in the Senior Management Team as Associate Dean (Academic Policy) reporting to Professor John Raftery, PVC (Student Experience) managing a number of cross-university
The aim of this project was to gain an insight into what helps and hinders students in understanding what exactly they are required to do to succeed in their assessment tasks. To do this we aimed to capture students’ reactions to the assessment tasks and the additional guidance offered to students in course handbooks. Forty-seven students gave their reactions in five minute interviews in the course of a 30 minute study advice tutorial. The analysis of these data identified three recurring themes: (lack of ) clarity in the assignment brief and its purpose, the accessibility of the language and vocabulary used, and the consistency and quality of documentation related to the assignment (primarily the course/module handbooks). Where the ‘match’ between tutor and student expectations is effective, students will find clarity, comprehensible language, clearly structured guidance, and thoughtful, communicative guidance. Where there is a ‘mismatch’ between tutor and student expectations, students perceive these qualities to be absent, and are less clear about what they have to DO. The observations in this study will be of interest to course teaching teams in devising assessment tasks and to study advisers working with students and/or staff in identifying what works in matching student and staff expectations.
The paper relates an explorative investigation into the ‘critique’ (where students present their design project to a panel of critics in front of their peers) to identify its potential as a pedagogic approach founded in a constructivist ideology. Qualitative data was gathered on the critique experiences of a sample of final year undergraduate architecture students through questionnaires and interviews. It was found that engrained paradigmatic assumptions generated power imbalances inappropriate for a constructivist approach. The critique was found to generate anxiety and both extrinsic and achievement motivation, leading to surface learning through the prioritisation of graphic communication over design. A new form of review addressing these findings is proposed as the basis for further research.
The StudyWell project involved the construction of a new website for students and staff at City University London. The purpose of StudyWell is to integrate existing resources in the University on plagiarism prevention and good study into a single place, and supplement these with a range of new, interactive resources for users. The site takes a positive approach to good study and plagiarism prevention, through its provision of quizzes, activities and case studies, and is aimed at users at both the host institution and to the external community. This paper discusses literature and other data sources which informed the development of StudyWell and argues that, when developing enhancement initiatives of this type, a meso educational change approach should be deployed: one that accounts for the diverse needs of different users and workgroups in school and departmental contexts. The paper also considers the design and construction of the site, summarises results of initial evaluations, and comments on the aforementioned theory and literature in light of development of the site.
As collaborative researchers and writers we sought a means to support critical reflection on our practice. We drew on broadly ethnographic methods when gathering data, and adapted a model we had used elsewhere (Hurford and Read, 2010) as a tool to support reflection. We wanted to find out if the model was adaptable to and useful in a new context. We found that the model facilitated the identification of, for example, tacit assumptions about ‘good practice’ to a certain extent. However, we remain mindful that the model we applied to our practice was one we devised and adapted ourselves. This raises questions for those engaged in developing strategies to evaluate aspects of practice which are seen as difficult to measure, particularly where the practice evaluated is their own.