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ISSN 2050-9995 (Online)

Journal Mar–May 2006 This edition of the Teaching Fellows Journal has been restored from an archived online edition, hence the simplified form. Please note - Some links and content within this document may now be out of date.

Edinburgh Napier University is a registered Scottish charity. Reg. No. SC018373


Contents 2 Editorial 5 Eureka! 7 Reports 10 Review corner 12 Web spotlight

Edition Editors Angela Benzies Senior Teaching Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Academic Practice Coordinator of the Teaching Fellowship Scheme Margaret Nairn tfj Web Editor and Publications Officer Educational Development, Bevan Villa, Craighouse Campus, Edinburgh Current enquiries to: Office of the Vice Principal (Academic) Sighthill Campus, Sighthill Court, Edinburgh EH11 4BN Email:

Editorial Paula McNulty, Lecturer, School of Communication Arts, and Sandra Cairncross, Senior Lecturer and Senior Teaching Fellow, School of Computing, discuss ways to enhance support for our students at Napier in order to strengthen retention How can support aid the retention of Napier students? Increasingly there is agreement within higher education institutions that it is crucial to support our diverse students with various approaches pastorally as well as academically. Support enhances the quality of the student learning experience. It’s vital for us to realise that students need strategic, proactive assistance with their welfare and progression as well as in their studies. Personal support is only one mechanism for providing students with opportunities to make the most of what the university has to offer. An integrated approach to study must be adopted. This is key to providing students with incentives to learn and for them to feel they are part of the university ‘life’ or ‘vibe’. Napier has a tradition of being student-focused and responsive, long recognising the importance of personal support to develop and enhance student academic achievement. More recently a range of initiatives has been introduced to further enhance proactive approaches. Implicit in these initiatives is recognition that student support is the responsibility of us all – not just colleagues with specialised student guidance roles. All schools have been asked to produce student support strategies for the current session. These embrace inclusion of socially integrative events during programme induction and at module level, offering students one-to-one development interviews and assigning Personal Development Tutors to each student. A variety of approaches has emerged within this framework. Schools have recently completed an interim evaluation of the measures introduced so far. A summary will be presented to the March meeting of the Academic Board. The normal practice of formally confirming students who have withdrawn from programmes usually occurs at the programme boards in June and September when students are offered an appropriate exit award. In the run-up to this final decision every process of support and guidance needs to be robustly in place to help the student make an appropriate choice.


Proactive student support strategies, engaged with from first contact with the university, could contribute greatly to our overall student retention. In some schools and faculties students are made aware from the beginning of their programme, and each year, of access to staff through an open-door policy, designated office hours on staff timetables and the personal development tutoring system. Students are also continuously encouraged to express and develop themselves through a network of social activities with peers, including extracurricular activities.

Some operate the year tutor system, ie one or two staff having responsibility for one level, or the cohort system, ie one or two members of staff follow a cohort through the four years. Others allocate students within each year between the programme team.

• informal conversations

We have no evidence to suggest that one particular way is more productive. While we aim to provide a comparable experience for all students it may not be that ‘one size fits all’. Schools should reflect on what worked and what didn’t work so well. No matter what approach is chosen it’s important that all students are offered the same basic support and guidance. Notes, such as the PDT Handbook (available online from the Student Retention Project website), can be a useful starting point in promoting consistency while allowing schools and programmes to adapt to local contexts, eg appointing ‘international support tutors’ for international students as a second point of contact.

• open-door policy

The role of the PDT

Currently students are supported in a variety of ways by schools, and from programme to programme, for example: • personal development tutors

• telephone accessibility • email accessibility • guidance on other information points, ie student support services • feedback (developmental) • coaching/guidance on resits • main school office – for information and guidance • peer learning • social events with peers. Ensuring all staff are aware of the various methods of support that exist in their school/faculty leads to a more coherent approach. What we need to decipher from current activity is what is working for our current student cohort, what isn’t, what elements of student support need to be contextspecific and what can be implemented institution-wide to aid student retention.

Personal Development Tutoring Systems From September 2005 every student who is registered on Nimweb should have been allocated a Personal Development Tutor (PDT). It’s important that a wide range of academic staff (0.5 and above) are involved in this formal pastoral student support. There is no universal commonality in organising PDTs. It can vary from programme to programme, school to school.

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Under university policy two meetings take place each academic year, one of which generally occurs early in trimester 1 after the student has commenced the programme and is preparing for first assessments. An option to enhance this process would be some form of ‘data capturing’. Some programmes/schools have advanced systems, others are still piloting. Meetings are for the student’s benefit and issues of confidentially must be respected. Students can be encouraged to keep their own records. Ownership should reside with the students and it should be left to them how much of this they wish to share, eg in a portfolio. Staff, meantime, can usefully record which students appear and perhaps make a note of any issues and/or referrals (again with the student’s permission). Continuing discussion about records will be helpful.

Risk points There are ‘risk points’ that affect students throughout their HE experience. An interview procedure prior to taking up a place at university has been highlighted as one activity that can be used to identify ‘at risk’ students. Not all programmes use interviews but those that do find it vital to ensure our ‘student support’ ethos is communicated as it may have implications on students’ selection of the university and their retention. Other major identified risk points are during induction week, before first assessments and during the examination periods immediately before and immediately after Christmas.


Risk signs Commonly agreed ‘at risk’ signs for our students include: • non-submission of assessments • poor attendance • lack of participation in class.

letter is more personalised correspondence than that generated from NIMROD. It congratulates the student on their trimester achievements and attendance. At the end of the trimester this information is given to administration staff for filing as part of the module reporting system.

With the development of a more inclusive culture these signs should become easier to identify and more immediate support and guidance can be introduced.

A number of students have expressed gratitude for this pastoral care, saying it has helped them regain focus. The system is not without flaws but on the whole it has created a closer working relationship between students and lecturers.

Using assessment to support and guide

Bridging Courses to help participation

Frequently it’s the non-submission of an assessment that alerts us to the disengagement of a student. Unfortunately in some cases this can be too late to help the student complete the current programme of study or indeed change to another more suitable programme. Therefore we need to consider early ways of identifying these problems such as short, summative forms of assessment within classes.

Two programmes, BA (Hons) Communication and BA (Hons) Photography, Film and Imaging, run a bridging course for three weeks prior to trimester 1. These courses are for ‘at risk’ students coming from further education and entering direct into year 2 or 3 of the programme. The courses focus on bridging the gap between FE and HE and cover key theoretical issues. Elements are available online.

One successful method is formal ‘self-assessment/ analysis’ processes in conjunction with all coursework assessments. This is a proactive method of monitoring student progress and capturing their thoughts on their work, used sometimes to initiate strategic discussions with students.

In Computing direct entrants from FE are offered an opportunity to take part in a two-day orientation programme, ‘Signposts to Success’, lead by Faculty Advisers of Study. Students taking part feel better prepared and integrated, and feedback suggests their confidence and motivation is increased.

The ‘traffic light approach’

If the end is nigh?

From session 2005/06 the School of Communication Arts and the School of Design and Media Arts have been operating a new system based on registers. The system operates using a ‘traffic light approach’ – green, amber, red. Both schools consistently keep registers of attendance: in the past there was no formal method of acting upon this information but in the new system the module leader is responsible for informing the programme leader if a student has been absent without a doctor’s line or other communication for more than two consecutive weeks. The programme leader/deputy is then responsible for authorising and activating a process through which a member of the administrative team generates a formal letter to the student concerned – the ‘amber letter’.

We need to identify students displaying dissatisfaction and who are potential withdrawals as early as possible and to encourage them to discuss their options with us. If we work in an ‘open-door’ environment the majority of students should feel comfortable about discussing these issues with staff who can then have better control on retention issues. Any student leaving a particular programme should be offered the possibility of transfer to another programme, including customised programmes. Withdrawing completely should be the last option.

A ‘red letter’ is sent out if the student has not responded to the amber letter within two weeks. In order to ensure we are rewarding as well as reprimanding, a ‘green letter’ is sent to students after examinations in trimester 1 and trimester 2. This


All students who leave a particular programme, especially if they are leaving the university, should be offered an ‘exit interview’. The information from this interview might be used for potential future development of services, useful primary data. We can formalise the method of invitation to the student first, then refine the process further. As an institution we could have a formal process for passing on this information and follow it up with

formal communication outlining the many possibilities offered by Napier and an invitation to further explore options. This would be in line with our overall commitment to doing what is best for students. We can improve communication, ensuring staff are aware of support mechanisms such as the Retention Project Officer in Student Support Services and how staff can use these resources. We can streamline the transmission of information regarding ‘at risk’ students. Though we are bound by legal and regulatory issues, we need a more strategic approach to notifying staff of an issue so all involved can help. One proposed method is to involve administrative staff more. Using this method could build a confidential record of the issues. Such a process needs careful planning and to be considered holistically.

Final thoughts? As an institution actively looking to enhance student retention we can enhance student support. There is

no universal solution to the problem; if there were someone would be making money from it somewhere. What we need to consider as a changing institution is: • standardised approaches to PDTs with local adaptations • targeted support tutors for specific ‘at risk’ groups • absence management systems • developing an integrated team approach to student support rather than individualistic ad hoc activities • building better communication networks between staff • administrative development. Session 2005/06 changes to induction, PDT, social activities and development of inter-cohort relations are only the beginning.

Eureka! Re-discovering the Higher Education Academy Subject Centres Dr Linda Juleff, Senior Teaching Fellow, School of Accounting and Economics and Regional Convenor, Economics Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy (ESCHEA) offers us five tips for engaging with and getting the most out of the HEA Subject Centres The 24 Subject Centres of the Higher Education Academy were originally established in 2000 under the auspices of the Learning and Teaching Support Network. During their five-year lifespan each centre has developed its own unique identity, but all share the common purpose of enhancing learning and teaching activity.

So how can we engage with them? 1. As a source of information The Subject Centres provide a first port of call for information regarding a whole range of learning and teaching issues. Their websites can be accessed either directly or via the HE Academy Subject Network page. From something as simple as a list of recently published textbooks to debates on learning and teaching issues, there’s something for everyone!

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Typical resources available include: • reports on learning, teaching and assessment issues • databases of learning and teaching materials • case studies • question banks • textbook lists • newsletters. Need new ideas regarding a learning, teaching or assessment issue? Contact your Subject Centre to see if they can help. 2. As a focus for continuing professional development Many Subject Centres run national conferences and/ or workshops on areas of interest in learning and teaching with a specific application to their particular cognate discipline(s). In addition, some centres will arrange for the delivery of workshops in individual university departments – contact your Subject Centres for details. Current workshops being offered by a number of centres include:


• use of problem-based learning

found on the Subject Centre websites.

• embedding sustainable development in the curriculum

Examples of previously funded projects include:

• using Virtual Learning Environments

• problem-based learning

• Personal Development Planning.

• computer-based learning and simulations • encouraging reflective writing skills

Alternatively, if you have an idea for a workshop that is not currently being offered, the Subject Centre staff will be happy to help you to develop it. 3. To access subject-based educational research One of the original, and continuing, purposes of the Subject Centres was to facilitate both intra-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary exchange of research relating to learning and teaching issues. The Higher Education Academy identifies key issues in educational practice. The Subject Centres then take these themes and research and apply them within the context of their particular disciplines. Some of themes that have been identified include: • assessment

• enhancing students’ mathematical skills • student recruitment and the widening access agenda • student retention • the student voice. 5. Networking Get actively involved with your Subject Centre. Go to its events, meet people from other universities, find out about shared problems and issues – no learning, teaching or assessment issue that you face is unique to you. Still unsure if you want to get involved?

• employability

Examples of how Napier staff are involved include:

• e-learning

• attending events

• widening participation.

• presenting at regional and national events

4. To obtain funding for subject-based educational research Interested in an area of educational research, but need money for fieldwork? Subject Centres fund ‘mini-projects’ where you can bid for up to £5,000 to help with your research. These can be used in a variety of ways – to fund collaborative work with other institutions on a particular theme, to cover the costs of surveys or interviews with students or practitioners, and to allow the results of these projects to be disseminated within and between Subject Centre networks. Further details and application forms can be


• authoring learning, teaching and assessment materials for a Subject Centre • being the area representative for a Subject Centre • formally representing Scottish dimensions • winning grants • teaching with staff they know through their network. Haven’t got the time? You don’t know what you’re missing!

Reports Kendall Richards, Academic Support Adviser, Faculty of Engineering & Computing, and Helen Godfrey, Academic Support Adviser, Faculty of Arts & Social Science, report on the ATLAANZ Conference 2005 Shirley Earl, Head of Learning & Teaching Development, Senior Lecturer and Senior Teaching Fellow, Educational Development, relays reactions to QAA Scotland’s oneday conference on Quality Enhancement Themes ATLAANZ Conference 2005 report by Kendall Richards and Helen Godfrey The ATLAANZ Conference 2005 took place in November 2005 at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. The conference was attended by about 120 delegates from New Zealand, Australia and the UK. ATLAANZ has been established for at least eight years as New Zealand and Australia develop the role of Academic Support Adviser in their colleges and universities. The annual conference is held in different parts of New Zealand and Academic Support Advisers make contact with each other at a more local level. This report aims to give a flavour of our experience of presenting our own paper, entitled Dunedin to Dunedin: supporting students in the changing world of education, and of attending the conference sessions and exchanging views and ideas with other delegates. There were three themes for the conference with parallel sessions over the three days: • supporting the profession • supporting learning and learners • supporting learning through technology.

Keynote address: Professor Alex Radlof, Dean of Academic Development in Science, Engineering and Technology, RMIT University, Melbourne Professor Radlof discussed the purpose of universities in the 21st century suggesting that it is to produce rather than simply provide instruction. In her address she discussed the implications of this statement for those who support learning. Radlof argued that 20th century education models

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were at odds with human cognition, a theory supported by the work of Halpern and Hakel (2003) and Barr and Tagg (1995). These authors argue that it is our responsibility not to transfer knowledge but to create environments to discover and construct knowledge, thus helping to make our students part of a learning community. Radlof supports a ‘constructivist’ education model involving active learning, group-based and collaborative activities where the instructor acts as facilitator, model mentor and coach — the ‘guide on the side’ as opposed to the ‘sage on the stage’. The 21st century student is now mature, diverse, and vocational, has multiple commitments, is a commuter and has an awareness of cost and prestige. Radlof described the current role of the Academic Support Adviser as a ‘fixer and stirrer’: • remediation • limited input to design of the learning environment • marginalised. She highlighted some of the challenges to the profession in Australia and New Zealand including the classification of academic support as ‘nonacademic’; staff on short-term contracts with a lack of recognition; lack of research opportunities (which she considered a grave error). Radlof suggested that the Academic Support Adviser should be a ‘mover and shaker’: • part of a leadership team to produce learning • a designer of the learning environment • advisers on policy and systems • embedded in the organisational structure • someone who engages in the scholarship of teaching. This address was a stimulating start to the conference and many of the points that Radlof raised were discussed throughout the conference.

A brief summary of the sessions attended Several papers discussed the use of research in evaluating the effectiveness of academic support and the debate seemed to be between the difficulties of


quantitative research and carrying out qualitative research, which did not always satisfy institutions.

attitude and had an understanding of academic terms needed for their studies.

Two presentations discussed approaches that had been taken to address poor performance on firstyear modules. The presentation by Lesley Proctor (University of Otago) discussed an approach to improving student skills by encouraging more effective use of the library to carry out research for a sociology essay. A series of activities helped prepare the students for writing the essay and this project seems to have been successful in addressing retention and developing study skills.

Jacque van der Meer’s (University of Otago) presentation Spoon-feeding or mind-reading? focused on the need of first-year students for explicit communication of the tutors’ expectations. He suggested that many assumptions are made regarding students’ understanding of terminology and methods, for example blackboard.

Kerry Hunter (University of Technology, Sydney) discussed a project to improve the performance of students studying Leisure, Sport and Tourism. Tutors identified that the students did not seem to have sufficiently developed reading and writing skills. Through embedding these skills into the curriculum the performance of the first-year students improved. The Academic Support Adviser was involved with the teaching and developed subject-specific activities to develop academic skills in critical thinking, critical analysis and development of logical arguments in essays. The students had a series of assessments, which concluded with a major essay and an exam. Both these sessions provided useful points that are relevant to our students at Napier. Do we expect students to know how to develop critical thinking and write and develop arguments or discussion in essays without giving them opportunities to practice with non-assessed and small-assessed pieces of work? An interesting approach to orientation was discussed by Roger Baxter and Kim Edmonds (University of Newcastle, Australia). Students from Asia and Africa attended a seven-week, non credit-bearing programme designed to familiarise and develop academic and social skills. They were taught for four days each week and had time for a social programme. Students had a series of assignments to complete including: • compiling a bibliography • oral presentations • a major essay • a draft peer review. The programme, which was compulsory, had proved very successful with students reporting that they were satisfied with the programme. Tutors reported that the students were motivated, developed a peer group


He claimed that students were expected to be mindreaders and that staff had to be clearer about what they expected from the students regarding their academic work. Jacque gave a quote from Read et al (2001) that seemed to express this point: Scrambling in the dark for an understanding of ‘the rules of the game’ they have found themselves playing. A lively discussion followed. (Here is the full reference for those of you who are interested: Read B, Francis B, & Robson J (2001) Playing it safe: undergraduate essay writing and the presentation of the student voice British Journal of Sociology, 22(3) 387–399.) Jennifer Anderston (RMIT) discussed the experience of teaching design students using a cross-disciplinary approach. The students were required to present their design projects with visual materials and explanations relating their ideas to the work environment. The students were assessed by a panel that required the students to demonstrate critical reflection. This experience was thought to benefit both staff and students in the learning process. Our paper Dunedin to Dunedin: supporting students in the changing world of education (download in pdf format) introduced the changes to higher education in Scotland since devolution with a particular focus of the Napier experience. Using examples of case studies we argued that initial research supports the view that an embedded approach to learning support is an effective model in addressing progression and retention. We concluded by suggesting that a range of strategies need to be in place to support students in addition to embedding skills in the curriculum. There is a need for workshops and one-to-one support for those who crave it. Further research will be carried out to assess what we do and identify good practice. Other presentations addressed retention, design of

library spaces, in-class support using peer tutoring and IT literacy.

Conclusion The conference was an excellent learning experience and enabled us to make new contacts, discuss issues that we are addressing at Napier relating to teaching and learning, retention and progression, and cultural issues. Delegates were interested in the work that we carry out with our students and we realised that we have many examples of good practice at Napier. Conference delegates agreed that there does not seem to be one way of addressing academic support but a range of strategies need to be in place including embedding skills in the curriculum to make them relevant to students and workshops which can highlight or remind students about strategies they can use to improve their communication skills. There will always be a place for one-to-one sessions with students who have particular needs but improving academic skills provision for all students will mean that the individual sessions will focus on those who really need this kind of support.

Shirley Earl relays reactions to QAA Scotland’s conference on Quality Enhancement Themes On 27 January 2006, QAA Scotland welcomed a full complement of 270 delegates to its Third Annual Quality Enhancement Themes Working Conference in West Park, Dundee, 12–15 Napier staff included. Coming from CMT, central services and across all faculties Napier staff presented a keynote (Professor Joan Stringer – The quality enhancement framework: opportunities and challenges for the sector) and variously attended most of the twelve workshops on offer. In some workshops we were genuinely and challengingly engaged; in others we were talked to a lot. Yet others spurred us into action. Thus Napier staff responded in differing ways.

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Developing and implementing a range of innovative assessment techniques, for example, intrigued one delegate. They arrived back and set about enquiring whether the value of interactive classroom and group response systems was being considered. It is. In sharp contrast a separate delegate was confounded by apparently total solutions being proffered with uni-dimensional confidence. One Napier delegate who attended Key aspects of the first year expressed not dissimilar frustration, wishing fervently to move beyond talk to action. A further delegate returned enthused and eager for forthcoming Scottish benchmarks on Embedding employability within the curriculum. The Flexible delivery: models for design and delivery session visited powerful frameworks related to dimensions of flexibility; useful, our delegate considered, for both individual lecturers and for validation and review. An ably chaired Researchteaching linkage in enhancing the learning experience session centred on scoping the potential for a threeyear enhancement theme, possibly to run from 2006/07–2009/10. A delegate returned from that and acted to ensure forward plans would allow us to address rich cross-university veins here. Since 2004 the one-day event has gained momentum; it has now become an established part of the Scottish higher education calendar. In summary, this annual event is interesting, so much so that it is worthwhile noting in January diaries and registering for 2007 when notice appears. Two years ago staff from across Scotland appeared to attend from duty. Now we know that, though reactions may be diverse and stance and perspective argued, the event will be a good one. For everyone who attends particular strengths lie in the growth of a community of practice and in efficient organisation of a comprehensive retrospective, workin-progress and prospective view of Scottish quality enhancement. Editor’s note: A summary of the event, presentations and papers are now available from the conference website.


Review corner Two book reviews for this quarter’s tfj from Elaine Mowat and Tom Grassie

approach is just what you need to turn a promising idea into a workable exercise.

Elaine Mowat, Academic Development Adviser Online Learning, Educational Development, reviews 75 e-Learning Activities: Making Online Learning Interactive by Ryan Watkins (2005)

The 75 activities are grouped into five general sections: Introductions and Icebreakers; e-Learning Skills; Collaboration and Team Building; Elaborating on Course Content; and Increasing Interactivity.

San Francisco: Pfeiffer ISBN 0-7879-7585-0 352pp If you’re keen to use the online environment for more than just the distribution of course materials, then this book is an excellent place to start. 75 e-Learning Activities provides ideas for a variety of activities which can bring purposeful discussion, meaningful collaboration, and a good measure of fun and motivation to your course, whether it’s campus-based or run entirely online. Presented in a recipe-style format, the book describes 75 stand-alone activities, each broken down into ten elements: • activity summary • goals • collaborative learning (the recommended group size) • recommended e-learning experience (a level of familiarity with e-learning required) • mode (synchronous or asychronous) • time required • materials • preparation • process • facilitator notes. This consistent format makes it very suitable for dipping into, as it’s easy to scan through the contents, identify an idea that might be suitable, and then to home in on the detail to see exactly what’s required to run it. The format also provides a blueprint for any new ideas that occur to you (and these recipes will surely spark some original thoughts or adaptations in the reader): you’ll automatically be planning them in terms of the headings provided. This structured


Introductions and Icebreakers provides a bank of ideas for those crucial first stages in your course when you need to get online interaction off to a positive start. At this stage learners need to get to know each other, feel comfortable with interacting online and generally enjoy logging in to their course. Most of the ideas presented here will be familiar to anyone who has been involved in traditional training or online tutoring (such as Let Me Introduce, Find Someone Who, Tour My Favourite Website) but what’s really useful is the accompanying information about implementation of the activity. Take, for example, Worth a Thousand Words where students share pictures with each other to illustrate their interests, background or experiences. The recipe here provides not only the plan for preparing and running the activity, but also sample instructions for learners on how to copy a picture from the web, a small but significant time-saver. The Facilitator Notes suggest how each activity can be taken further or fanned out across your course eg in the case of Worth a Thousand Words it’s suggested that you encourage learners to attach images and illustrations to their discussion postings throughout the course. As a new online learner, one of my most memorable experiences was from a fellow student who sent the group a clever cartoon he had just drawn, commenting on one of the course topics. It’s exactly this kind of interaction that can endear you to the online experience and help you go on to work in a deep and constructive way with fellow learners. As the author points out (p146): many times I find that learners can master the most challenging topics more easily when we have developed constructive online relationships through the introduction of these e-learning activities during our discussions of less demanding concepts or tasks. The next two sections e-Learning Skills and Collaboration and Team Building propose activities that will support learners in developing the skills to become good learners as well as effective group members online. Covering items such as an e-learning readiness self-assessment task, an expectations discussion, and exercises to establish group norms, these are generic

tasks which will be of value to courses of all subject areas and levels. Elaborating on Course Content also presents ideas applicable to most levels and disciplines of study, with the focus on encouraging learners to extend their engagement with course topics. For example, Telling a Story and Critical Incident involve learners in sharing stories and real-life problems relating to course content; In the News asks learners to relate news articles to course topics; and My Reactions encourages them to share and compare responses to course readings. There are also some nice examples of turning traditional practices on their head – such as learnercrafted (as opposed to tutor-directed) scavenger hunts and case studies, or a FAQs exercise, where it’s the tutor who identifies the frequently asked questions and the learners who work together to answer them. Increasing Interactivity takes on board the importance of active participation with others, and suggests a variety of activities that will support those skills of critical thinking, reflection and team work that we are keen for learners to gain from higher education. Once again, it’s the consistent format and practical bent of this book that make it so worthwhile. Let’s say, for example, you’d like to set up an online debate. You know what you want students to discuss, but what preparation is required, what timescale should you allow and how can you promote participation? Take a look then at Structured Controversies, in which learners debate alternative positions on topics related to the course content. Along with the outline for the activity comes detailed guidance on appropriate group sizes, the time required, how to present the question and assign teams, together with sample instructions for you to use or adapt. You might want to involve a guest expert in your online discussions – consult Meet an Expert which advises as to the time and materials required, provides guidelines for etiquette and participation and sets out a detailed walk-through of the process to help ensure everyone gets the most out of the experience. If you lack the time or experience to prepare an activity effectively, these guidelines will really help you avoid the pitfalls of online discussion, such as unclear instructions, poor pacing, unmanageable group size, tutor dominance or lack of feedback. In addition to the 75 activities, this book offers more than eighty practical tips for online course design, covering topics such as designing effective e-learning, teaching online, and using discussion boards. As the author himself points out, most of these tips are

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well-known and not a revelation to instructors or trainers; it is, however, useful to have them brought together here. Additional features of the book include a selection matrix to help identify which activities are most likely to work in your course, a glossary and a CDrom which usefully provides sample texts and model instructions for some of the suggested activities, ready to print out or copy and paste. What this kind of ‘tip and recipe’ format book can’t offer, of course, is an exploration of some of the more nitty-gritty dilemmas of online learning. For example anyone introducing such activities to their course will have to think about assessment – do you indicate the value you place on such exercises by assessing them? If so, how do you measure contributions? By the quantity of messages? The quality? What are the criteria for quality? Beyond pointing out that ‘it is often beneficial to associate some aspect of the learner’s performance assessment with quality participation in the e-learning activities’ (page 8) there are few pointers here, and you will have to look elsewhere for discussions of possible approaches, accounts of good practice and sample marking rubrics. This is not a quibble with the book though, because it achieves exactly what it sets out to do, providing 75 sound suggestions for e-learning activities, together with thorough, easy-to-follow guidelines for implementing them. Highly recommended for anyone with a module up on WebCT!

Tom Grassie, Lecturer, School of Engineering, reviews Realizing the College Dream with Autism or Asperger Syndrome: A Parents Guide to Student Success by Ann Palmer (2005) Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers ISBN 1-84310-801-1 176pp £13.99 Ann Palmer uses her own experiences of raising a child with Asperger syndrome to present a detailed account of the challenges faced in integrating her son into American mainstream education. In discussing her son’s specific behaviours, she introduces the key features that define Asperger syndrome highlighting, in particular, that individuals are typically most comfortable with a clearly defined daily routine, are sensitive to change, and often find it hard to make friends and socialise. The author uses her family’s experiences with a variety


of support agencies and personnel through elementary and high school education to demonstrate how challenges were met and overcome. With the benefit of hindsight, in respect of these earlier schooling years, she recommends how, through involving her son more in decision-making, he would have been better prepared for change. At each key stage she confirms the need for a clearly defined transition plan and to maintain the quality of communication between the school and home. An additional feature of Asperger syndrome is that many individuals find it particularly hard to learn a second language. As many American colleges and universities require a second language qualification for entry, this is clearly an issue when selecting a high school curriculum, an institution, or a programme of study. In addition, when selecting an institution, the author also highlights the necessity for a responsive student support network. The contrasts between the school and tertiary education system and the distinction between the services provided are made clear. In school, support mechanisms were automatically established; at college special needs students are required to advocate for themselves. The school curriculum is relatively prescribed but both the American higher education

system and ours allow a great deal more flexibility in the choice of courses available, which highlights the need for careful planning wherever a special need is involved. Through ‘paving the way’ and discussing the difficulties encountered at key stages in the education process, the author clearly provides help and encouragement for parents of a child with Asperger syndrome. The main strength of the book, however, lies in its consideration of preparation for adult life within the further education system. There is clearly a sense of both stepping out, and of letting go, with the author again highlighting key stages in the process for both herself and her son. The title states that this is a guidebook for success. While it’s clearly of value to parents of children with Asperger syndrome, the book is of limited value to non-specialist teachers and lecturers. Through providing an insight into key difficulties experienced by individuals with Asperger syndrome, the book encourages teachers to provide a supportive and accessible learning environment. In my view, however, anyone with an Asperger syndrome student would gain a broader overview and more practical benefit by teaming with Napier on-campus specialists than by reading this particular parent-perspective guide.

Web spotlight EdDev’s Christina Mainka updates us on Napier’s progress in tackling plagiarism using Turnitin®UK (formerly JISC PDS) which we first spotlighted nearly two years ago in the tfj After the pilot phase with 5 schools and 18 members of academic staff, Napier now subscribes to the text matching service Turnitin®UK. The software service is maintained and supported in the UK by the JISC Plagiarism Advisory Service. Turnitin®UK is a software programme that enables detection of matching text from the internet, formerly submitted UK papers, databases such as Proquest, and other electronically submitted written work. To date over 2000 customers worldwide use the service including education institutions, law firms and information services primarily to detect unoriginal text in written work but, increasingly, to submit their own work in order to document and protect its originality.


Informed by pilot phase survey results, JISC PAS recommendations and user responses from Australian and US HE institutions, Turnitin®UK should be used as an educative rather than a punitive tool. Enrolling students on the service allows them to submit their own work and monitor their referencing skills, assisted by colour-coded ‘originality reports’. The software also includes tools such as a gradebook, mark-up feature, discussion board, calendar, peer review tool, paper revision function, library database of metrics, topic questions and rubrics to support peer- and tutorevaluation of written work. There are significant implications about how Turnitin®UK will be used for teaching, learning and assessment and how it will be managed and operated so engagement with the service at Napier is being encouraged. Turnitin®UK demonstrations at LTA level have been carried out in some schools already and more are planned for the spring. Currently, 100 academics and nearly 800 students are using the service at Napier.

Educational Development runs weekly staff workshops where academics can create their own user accounts and practice using Turnitin®UK’s main tools. Lively discussions around effective means of deterring plagiarism inevitably arise: the two most common misconceptions, that a) Turnitin®UK is a technological magic bullet and b) that it encourages misuse by students, are eventually dispelled! For school workshops or software demonstrations please contact Christina at

References, further reading and useful resources: Training Material. Available at http://www. Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) (2005) A review of GCE and GCSE coursework arrangements. Available at Strathclyde University’s Re-Engineering Assessment Practices in HE (REAP) project explores Turnitin®UK’s assessment features. Available at http://www.reap. [all URLs last accessed March 2006] Resources page (handouts, tips, help). Available at home.html

Mar-May 2006


Mar - May 2006 Teaching Fellows Journal  

Restored web version of the Edinburgh Napier University Teaching Fellows Journal