LTS News 12

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					                                     LTS NEWS
                                                                                        Issue 12 ■ December 2007

 Comparing Staff and Student Perspectives
  on the Cambridge Learning Landscape
                                           Report of the LTS Lunch
                                              ‘Movers & Shapers’

The Learning Landscape Project (LLP) is a two-year project, chaired by Pro-Vice-Chancellor Melveena
McKendrick, with a broad remit to describe teaching and learning practices and processes in the University and
Colleges. With support from their Project Board and Steering Group the project team are working with staff,
students, and alumni to create a ‘map’ of teaching and learning at the University.
The Project is consultative by design, and the LTS Lunch was one of a series of workshops and meetings with staff
and students. At the Lunch the team used a structured discussion method known as ‘Movers & Shapers’ to compare
and contrast staff and student perspectives on learning and teaching at the University.

Format of the Lunch: ‘Movers & Shapers’                     Benefits of the ‘Movers & Shapers’ method
The aim of the session was to investigate the difference    The method worked by challenging preconceptions and
between the ‘official’ version of learning and teaching     introducing new ideas. Therefore, the themes and
at the University and the views of students and staff in    arguments which evolved though the process were
order to create a more comprehensive picture of the         tested and refined under pressure.
learning ‘landscape’ at the University.
                                                            One advantage of the method over traditional
With participants’ consent the session was recorded so      discussion group arrangements was that the ‘group-
that the ideas could be captured and fed back into the      think’ and ‘loudest voice’ syndromes tended to break
project.                                                    down. Active questioning in a supportive environment
                                                            encouraged all attendees to participate and the different
The topic for discussion was ‘which part of the
                                                            group dynamics created by the rotations resulted in
Cambridge experience do students learn most from?’.
                                                            interesting discussions. Although one academic present
For the initial discussion participants were grouped
                                                            commented that the students didn’t necessarily have the
according to their usual role in the University. This
                                                            comparative experience to know what was best for
resulted in one group of students, one of academic staff,
                                                            them it was interesting for the LLP team to discover
and two groups of academic-staff. Discussions were
                                                            what students valued most.
steered by a member of the LLP team.
After fifteen minutes, participants randomly selected a     Limitations of the ‘Movers & Shapers’ method
card designating them as a ‘mover’ or a ‘shaper’.
                                                            Time was the primary limitation during the LTS Lunch.
Movers progressed to the next group where the shapers
                                                            With only ten minutes between rotations the
summarised their discussions to the incoming movers,
                                                            discussions were rushed and often had to be
while the movers questioned and challenged the
                                                            prematurely curtained. Several participants commented
shapers. After ten minutes the movers rotated again and
                                                            that it was frustrating to rotate midway through a
the process was repeated with the perspective adopted
by the previous group of shapers having refined the
movers’ opinions.                                           A number of participants also suggested that it would
                                                            have been interesting to reverse roles so that they could
Participants reconvened for a debriefing session after
                                                            try being ‘movers’ rather than ‘shapers’.
the second rotation.

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                                                                                            Issue 12 ■ December 2007

                                     What do students learn most from?
                              Summary of discussion at the last LTS Lunch
Participants were asked what part of the Cambridge               said ‘this is the basic experiment, go on and
experience students learn most from. The intention was           do what you want’, and really encouraged you
to engage participants with the LLP themes and to add a          to do some more... I thought it was brilliant…
qualitative dimension to previous surveys on student             and there were a handful of us who kept doing
learning preferences and alumni attitudes to learning.           the extra experiments, and we thought he was
Perhaps surprisingly, supervisions and lectures were not         brilliant. Other people really disliked him
the main topic of discussion, although some participants         because he wasn’t giving them enough
later commented that this was probably because their             information.
place in teaching and learning is often taken for granted.
                                                             One participant asked whether the Cambridge student
Student participants distinguished between learning          experience may become closed or inward looking. In
facts and more general skills such as critical thinking      response, a student commented that the intensity of the
and personal development. Both undergraduate and             student experience was warranted:
graduate students commented that relatively                       The culture is very accepting of a high
unstructured time could provide unexpected and lasting            workload and a high diversity and I think that
learning opportunities.                                           is part of Cambridge. Going to three lectures
For example, one PhD student felt that having the time            in the evening that aren’t on your syllabus is
to plan your own study was particularly beneficial:               perfectly normal and accepted.
     I just have so much time here to do what I              The students felt that academic ‘high flyers’ weren’t
     want, think about what I want, go where I               always the best supervisors, because they sometimes
     want, structure my life exactly how I want to...        didn’t have the time or motivation to address specific
     that freedom seems to have also freed me up             student needs.
     to think more expansively, and in different
                                                             An undergraduate student raised the difficulty of joint
     times and places.
                                                             supervisions where one student wants to go beyond the
Another student felt that the opportunity to reflect on      lecture material and others would prefer to consolidate.
future career options was one of the most important          In response, an academic staff member suggested that
learning experiences.                                        there may be broadly two different subject groups:
                                                             those which expect students to learn the syllabus and
Proximity to eminent researchers was also cited:
                                                             those which promote independent thinking.
    You’re in an environment where, if you’re
    open to the possibility of learning, not                 The topic of independent learning polarised student and
    necessarily when you expect it in the                    staff opinion.      For example, an English lecturer
    structured place but just independently just in          suggested that students learn most from supervision
    your day to day activities, then there’s a lot for       essays and a Professor of Law thought that students
    you to take out of it.                                   learn most through relatively structured work in
                                                             libraries alongside their peers. By comparison, students
Learning experiences were not restricted to particular       did not refer to independent learning in terms of private
learning environments (i.e. lectures, supervisions or        goal-oriented study so much as a broad range of
labs) but were often gained through extra-curricular         unstructured learning opportunities.
activities such as attending debates at the Union or
lectures outside of the syllabus.                            Further Movers & Shapers sessions are now being
                                                             conducted with participants in the ‘Day Experience’
Students saw varied approaches to teaching and learning      study, in addition to sessions aimed at cognate
as both an advantage and a disadvantage. For example,        disciplines, which will follow up on topics drawn from
supervisions and practicals varied greatly depending on      consultations with students and staff.
the approach of staff:
     I’m a scientist, and I feel practicals are a very       For more information please visit the project website:
     important part of what I do... One practical  
     demonstrator took the whole class and sort of                 Matthew Riddle, Research Associate (CARET)

                                                         Next LTS Lunch . . .
                     The next LTS Lunch on Monday 18 February will focus on electronic detection of plagiarism.
                     Further details will be posted on the LTS website nearer the time:

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                                                                                          Issue 12 ■ December 2007

                                     P-V Questionnaire
    A tool for stimulating change in teaching practices in Higher Education

The P-V Questionnaire is a novel style of survey tool, which records both the conceptions of
value and also the frequency of occurrence of specific practices in a community.

                                                                                         The Department of Plant
                                                                                         Science’s practice-value

The questionnaire was constructed with thirty items,        ∗   supervisions help me to focus on the importance of
each of which had two five-point Likert scales. This            integrating concepts rather than just learning rules
differs from traditional single-sided Likert scales and         and laws;
double-sided Likert scales, as each item or stimulus is
assessed by the participant in terms of two distinct and    ∗   supervisors provide enough helpful feedback on
orthogonal variables. The two scales were concerned             my progress.
with 'frequency of practice' and 'value'. The items were
derived from the list of practices identified by the ETL    Bottom four practices which are often used but not
project, and from inventories developed by Trigwell and     valued:
Ashwin in their work on small group teaching at the         ∗   supervisions are more about me showing how
University of Oxford.                                           much I have learned rather than developing my
The practice-value (p-v) gap questionnaire seeks to             understanding;
highlight aspects of teaching where frequency of use        ∗   I am assessed on what I have memorized rather
does not match how useful students’ perceive such as-           than what I have understood;
pects to be. By subtracting ‘practice’ from ‘value’ for a
particular statement, areas of teaching in which            ∗   I am mainly asked questions which require recall
practices do not match values may be flagged up. This           of facts;
data can then be used to highlight areas suitable for       ∗   the emphasis in teaching in supervisions is on
target by high-leverage strategies for improvement in           techniques and procedures rather than arguments
teaching; repeat administrations may indicate the               and reasoning.
success of such interventions; and the data can also be
used to facilitate discussion of teaching practices, with   Development response:
lecturers and supervisors.
                                                            ∗   supervision workshops run to discuss issues
Example from the Department of Plant Sciences                   highlighted by large practice-value gaps;
This example is based on the administration of a            ∗   supervision workshops run to discuss how to give
practice-value gap questionnaire to Natural Sciences            feedback on essays;
Tripos second year students in Plant Sciences during the
                                                            ∗   exemplar essays produced, demonstrating 1st, 2.1
2005–2006 academic year. The questionnaire was
                                                                and 2.2 standards for each lecture block;
designed to investigate student experiences of small-
group teaching (supervisions), and guide the                ∗   student essay writing workshop run using
development of new resources for students and teachers.         exemplar essays to make assessment criteria
Top four highly valued practices that are not carried       ∗   self tests and additional electronic resources
out often enough in supervisions:                               developed for students and made available in a
∗    assessment criteria/model answers are used to help         CamTools Virtual Learning Environment.
     me understand how well I am doing in my studies;       With thanks to the TfLN team for allowing us to
∗    supervisions help me to have a clear idea of how       reproduce this article.     The full article, with
     the course as a whole is structured and what is        references, is available as a pdf document on the
     expected of me;                                        TfLN website:

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                                                                                             Issue 12 ■ December 2007

                                    QAA Institutional Audit: Lent Term 2008
The University is currently preparing for a QAA Institutional Audit to be conducted next term. Our Institutional
Briefing Document will be submitted on 17 December and CUSU will also submit a briefing paper from the student
perspective. The QAA Audit Team will conduct a three day Briefing Visit from 21-23 January 2008, during which
the details main audit visit will be discussed and planned. The Audit itself will take place from 25-29
February 2008.
The Audit will include two departmental ‘audit trails’. These trails will be used to secure additional evidence to
allow the Audit Team to make judgements on our management of standards and quality assurance and enhancement.
The QAA will use recent Learning and Teaching Reviews as the basis for making their choice of Departments or
Faculties for audit trail. We have submitted to the QAA a list of Faculties and Departments reviewed in 2005-06 and
2006-07, and have contacted those Faculties and Departments to warn them that they may be one of those selected
by the QAA for audit trail.
The audit trails will not be subject reviews; the team will look for evidence to support claims we make in our
Institutional Briefing document about our processes and how these work on the ground. Departments subject to
audit trail will not be expected to produce their own briefing documents, and won’t be mentioned by name in the
final report. Findings will, however, be included in the main text.
Further information is posted on the Education Section’s website at:
                                                                      Alice Benton, Head of the Education Section

                                Results of the Cambridge Alumni Survey 2007

The Cambridge Alumni Survey was conducted on                  important characteristics of good teachers, as identified
behalf of the University’s Learning Landscape Project.        by alumni, were:
The Survey was carried out on Saturday 22 September
                                                              ∗   possessing an excellent command of the subject or
2007, during the Cambridge Alumni Weekend. The
intention was to discover what, in hindsight, alumni
perceive as the major benefits of having studied at           ∗   having high expectations and challenging students’
Cambridge, and how their learning experience could                thinking;
have been altered or improved. Fifty-two alumni from
                                                              ∗   being sympathetic to students’ concerns.
nineteen Colleges participated in the survey and
respondents’ year of matriculation ranged from the            The most important ‘problem’ areas experienced in
1940s to the 2000s.                                           relation to learning and studies at Cambridge were:
The Survey asked alumni to reflect on their experiences       ∗   feedback on work and progress;
of learning and teaching at Cambridge. ‘ Learning’ was
                                                              ∗   transition from school to University.
considered in a very broad sense, including both formal
and informal learning opportunities and activities. A         These issues still resonate today and LTS Lunches to
list of characteristics that alumni perceive as relevant to   share ideas for improving the student experience are
‘good practice in teaching’ was compiled from                 planned for later in the academic year.
respondent’s answers.           Comparison with recent        A copy of the full Report of the Cambridge Alumni
educational research from the Department of Plant             Survey 2007 may be obtained on request. Please
Sciences strongly suggests that the characteristics of        contact a member of the Learning Landscape Project
‘good teachers’ and ‘good teaching’ are perceived to          team for further details:
remain constant over time, although the curriculum and
mode of delivery of teaching may vary. The most                Dr Catherine Howell, Research Associate (CARET)

                                                      LTS News
The February edition will focus on ways of providing constructive feedback to students on their academic
performance and progression. Suggestions for future editions are welcome. We are also happy to include adverts for
LTS related activities i.e. conferences, workshops or projects. Please contact Madeline McKerchar at the Education
Section, Academic Division, 4 Parson’s Court.
Tel: 01223 332583                         Email:                         www:

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