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Volume 4, Spring 2013

Conversations about pedagogy and teaching underpinned by research enquiry

Editor: Stewart Cotterill Assistant Editors: Camille Shepherd and Laura Gubby A publication of the Learning and Teaching Development Unit II

Contents Page 3


Page 37 Transforming assessment through the TESTA project

Yaz El Hakim, Director of Learning and Teaching

Tansy Jessop and Yaz El Hakim

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Page 47 An exploration of the impact that the educational environment has on student learning

Stewart Cotterill, Editor

Research Articles

Stewart Cotterill

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Personal tutoring from the perspective of the tutor

Page 55 The introduction of a new strategic approach to employability among undergraduates

Laura Gubby and Nicole McNab

Page 19 The importance of adopting a philosophy of imagination, creativity, and innovation in youth sports coaching

Richard Cheetham

Page 65 Experiencing the Brecon Beacons: A wider context for learning

Richard Cheetham

Sharon Witt

Page 25 Effective feedback: The student perspective Sabine Bohnacker-Bruce



Forward certain circumstances. Interestingly the articles point to something quite powerfully - learning works best when structures, learning environments and learning opportunities are thought through thoroughly, build on previous findings or propositions and help build stronger communities of practice (which communicate effectively and collegially). For example, the environment that a teacher creates on one module may not be the same environment as another generates, but the structure must be owned by the community if it is to be successful. Coherence across the modules for assessment, resources and spaces, and programme organisation seem to be a core part of that. The articles are varied, well written and show an excellent discourse around elements that our staff are passionate about regarding the staff and student experience. It is another excellent contribution to a national community of practice and learners who I am sure will benefit from this publication.

The year of 2012 has been challenging for the Higher Education sector, particularly for staff who have lost colleagues through voluntary redundancies, seen posts frozen when colleagues have left and have had more work to do picking up the slack. However, as the sector moved into the Academic year 2012-13, we saw signs that we were weathering the storm well and must continue to do so in the future, whilst teaching students to the best of our ability, how to learn to the best of their ability. All the while, creating a vibrant and passionate context across the sector for a community of learners to revel in and look forward to be being immersed in everyday they can. But a university is not a university unless it is creating knowledge and sharing knowledge outside of its physical boundaries and in an age of digital solutions, this e-journal looks to share the knowledge that has been submitted to the editorial panel. The publication of research is an integral part of the education community and being evidence-informed should be something that we all attain to being in our professional careers.

Yassein El Hakim Director of Learning and Teaching

The articles in this years’ version include some fascinating articles which are both thought provoking and helpful in working within



Editorial become ever tighter while student expectations continue to rise. All staff involved in supporting student learning are challenged to continue to seek new and innovative approaches to supporting learning that are able to motivate and inspire learners, while continuing not to exceed the considerable constraints that exist. All of this is taking place at a time where a technology revolution is significantly changing what is possible and desirable in Higher Education. Students are increasingly technology savvy and expect their Higher Education experiences to follow suit. I am encouraged to see that colleagues across the University, in Faculties and Departments, are seeking to meet this challenge and to explore new approaches

The fourth volume of Capture seeks to further celebrate the significant contributions made across the University of Winchester in the area of Learning and Teaching. This volume is composed of a range of different articles ranging from original research, to position pages, and reflections on current expertise and practice. Over the forthcoming papers the reader will find interesting and thought provoking articles on personal tutoring from the perspective of the tutor; adopting a philosophy of imagination, creativity and innovation in sports coaching; an exploration of what constitutes effective feedback from the perspective of the student; an update on the TESTA project and how it can be used to transform assessment; an exploration of the impact of learning environments on student learning; a new approach to developing employability among undergraduate students; and a reflection on the use of slow pedagogies and eco-pedagogical approaches in field work.

to maximise student learning that builds on existing strengths, while also looking to the future. 2013 represents an evolution for Capture. This year we are looking to move to a bi-annual publication with a second issue to be published in the Autumn. This reflects both the increased demand for the publication and the increased interest in publishing in Capture. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the contributors that made this issue possible: the design team at the University of Winchester for producing such a well designed publication; to Camille Shepherd and Laura Gubby for helping throughout the review and editorial process; and to the University of Winchester for continuing to invest in the enhancement of learning and teaching and the development of the staff at the University.

In my brief time so far here at Winchester I have been enthused by the commitment of staff across the institution to continually enhancing the quality of the student’s learning experience and the commitment demonstrated to innovative practice. All of the authors who have successfully negotiated the submission and editorial process should be proud of the quality of the work submitted and the vivid pictures they paint regarding pedagogies, practice and progression. I am sure that the Capture audience will find the authors contributions both interesting and thought provoking in relation to their own practice and development.

Dr Stewart Cotterill Capture Editor

Within Higher Education, the stakes keep being raised year on year and the challenges keep evolving. Funding continues to 5


Personal Tutoring from the Perspective of the Tutor Laura Gubby & Nicole McNab


on personal and academic guidance (Myers, 2008). Similarly, Earwaker (1992) suggests that a Personal Tutor is “a lecturer who is responsible for keeping a watchful eye on the student’s work and progress on an individual basis” (p.45). It is clear from the literature that Personal Tutors have responsibilities concerning either academic advancement, personal development, or both. However, Myers (2008) recognises the ambiguity surrounding the actual practise of Personal Tutoring in HE, identifying that the implementation of meetings can either be for individual students or for a group of students at the same time; they can be executed due to the request of the student or the tutor; and can focus on academic development or personal growth.

For the personal tutor scheme to be successful, problematic areas need to be recognised in order for amendments to be made to create a more inviting environment for students, and in turn a clearer and more able role for the tutor. This project aims to discuss how well equipped staff feel they are, and to generate ideas and suggestions focussed on how the personal tutor process can be positively developed for both staff and students. This research adopted a cross faculty approach in order to generate a more holistic project. Ninety-nine quantitative questionnaires were completed across faculties, with an additional eight semi-structured interviews equally spanning faculties. Initial findings emphasise that a ‘one size fits all’ model would not be appropriate, with all interview respondents acknowledging that departmental cultures vary and a rigid system imposed ‘from above’ would not be encouraged. Gender and age did not prove to be a problem for tutors, and generally opinions suggested that students do not perceive these demographics to be issues. Time, on the other hand, is an issue, as is the concept that those who care more for research get more recognition than those who spend time caring for and looking out for students.

Previous literature into Personal Tutoring has mainly focussed on the nursing sectors, with comparatively less research being conducted in non-medical fields. The reoccurring themes that arise when looking at Personal Tutoring Scheme studies are the limited time that tutors have available and the complex issues and confusion regarding the differing roles of the Personal Tutor. Academic guidance is identified as a key responsibility of the Personal Tutor (Owen, 2002; Rickinson, 1995). In research conducted by Hart (1996), when staff were asked to rate functions of this system they rated academic support as the primary objective. In addition, literature recognises that Personal Tutors are also responsible for personal guidance (Freeman, 2000). Corresponding with the values from staff research, students often describe the Personal Tutor system as a system whereby they

Introduction Traditionally the role of the Personal Tutor stemmed from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, whereby Personal Tutors were provided to offer a parental role to students during the transition from home to university (Dobinson-Harrington, 2006). More contemporary understandings of Personal Tutoring focus 7

Personal Tutor are also clarified. This clarification would help to ensure that tutors understand their responsibilities, and also appreciate when they have exceeded the capabilities of their role and personal tutees should to be referred to Student Support.. This scheduled talk could also improve the transparency of the system for students as roles of both the Personal Tutor and Student Services are clearly defined. To further enhance a less ambiguous Personal Tutoring scheme, staff should be given the opportunity to attend workshops held by Students Services. This would provide staff with the chance to make links with Student Services, and also gain a greater understanding of their role in comparison to the roles of Student Support (Stephen, et al., 2008).

can confer over academic development and personal issues (Sosabowski, Bratt, Herson,Olivier, Sawers, Taylor, Zahoui, & Denyer, 2003; Dobinson-Harrington, 2006; Stephen, O’Connell, & Hall, 2008; Rickinson, 1995). This combination of social and academic guidance is often deemed as the pastoral model (Watts, 2011). A significant amount of research acknowledges the need for Personal Tutors to take on a pastoral role in addition to academic support (Stephen, et al., 2008; Hart, 1996; Dobinson-Harrington, 2006; Malik, 2000). Personal Tutors are understood as listeners who provide a basic counselling service for students with problems (Hart, 1996), and who are expected to aid tutees with personal transitions that surface when moving away from home (Dobinson-Harrington, 2006). Despite this assertion, tutors are often not comfortable taking on this counselling role (Stephen, et al., 2008), and instead feel that their comfort zones straddle academic issues (Hart, 1996). Nevertheless, tutors frequently considered themselves as the first port of call for students who need a variety of university services (Sosabowski, et al., 2003).

Arguably, the entry of non-traditional students in higher education has led to a number of different needs (Stephen et al., 2008). This has meant that central student support systems need to be in place to support the Personal Tutor system (Rickinson, 1995). However, Watts (2011) maintains that students would still prefer to see their allocated Personal Tutor rather than student support. This is emphasised by Bowden (2008) who found that students often do not seek help from Student Support because they think their problems were not severe enough, they did not want too many people knowing their problems, or they were not at ease with the process.

The roles of the Personal Tutor are sometimes extended beyond pastoral and academic care purely for the welfare and progression of the student. The Personal Tutor System can also be viewed as a tool to aid retention as the marketplace of Higher Education gets evermore competitive (Owen, 2002; Stephen, et al., 2008; Rickinson, 1995; Bowden, 2008). The combination of both social and academic guidance is extremely important for student retention (Thomas, 2002). In Bowden’s (2008) research into nursing students who considered leaving university, six out of eight students recognised their Personal Tutor when discussing influential advice. Similarly, in research by Rickinson (1995), it was apparent that students often engaged in conversation with their Personal Tutors before withdrawing.

Training Some tutors do not feel that they are prepared or qualified to take on the role of a counsellor, they are primarily academics after all (Hart, 1996). Others feel that training would be surplus to requirements because the skills and attributes needed for Personal Tutoring come naturally to those that choose to lecture (Owen, 2002). Often, though, Personal Tutors can see the benefit of completing a certain level of training in counselling skills, in order to feel better equipped for their role (Rutherford, 1995; Owen, 2002). Owen (2002) suggests that if training is too much of a burden on time and resources, then all Personal Tutors should be provided with a manual which details exactly what their role encompasses and how they might go about successfully dealing with such requirements (Owen, 2002). Arguably though,

Student Support Stephen et al. (2008) argue that it is beneficial to have a scheduled talk by Student Services during lecture time, whereby the roles of Student Support are discussed, and the responsibilities of the 8

towards mass higher education has also meant that students with a background in highly pedagogic teaching, or less previous knowledge, are more dependent upon additional support (Dobinson-Harrington, 2006).

an advantage of providing training workshops for Personal Tutors is that they can be prompted on the importance of key responsibilities (Rickinson, 1995). The importance of tutors’ understandings of the scheme is highly important for the successful execution of a Personal Tutor system. In research completed by Malik (2000) 87% of tutors suggested that they would be more inclined to initiate meetings with students if they felt they had a good understanding of the Personal Tutor scheme.

Tutors are often very conscious of time commitments and anxious about Personal Tutoring, particularly if it does not explicitly form part of their timetable (Owen, 2002). Even when time is allocated to roles such as Personal Tutoring, the time is often not sufficient (Hart, 1996). Dobinson-Harrington (2006) explains that Personal Tutors who succeed to high standards, do so by working hours above their standard weekly expectation, and often at the expense of research (Dobinson-Harrington, 2006).

Attributes Irrespective of whether training is required to provide specific counselling skills, particular attributes are thought to be beneficial for Personal Tutors to possess. These qualities include availability and approachability (Owen, 2002; Sosabowski, et al., 2003), empathy, and being an understanding listener and friendly (Sosabowski et al., 2003). In addition to these traits, Stephen et al. (2008) recognise that students need commitment and encouragement from their Personal Tutors. Other characteristics such as gender and age are seen by students to be less important attributes, whilst some tutors view them as highly relevant (Owen, 2002). In research conducted by Owen (2002) a number of tutors had fears over generational understandings and perceived difference, whilst some men also assumed that female students may not feel comfortable discussing certain matters with them. In an attempt to counteract the repercussions of differing characteristics between tutors and students, a relationship needs to be built over time. To ensure more robust links between the pairings, students should be allocated Personal Tutors that actually teach them for a substantial amount of time each year (Sosabowski, et al., 2003; Owens 2002).

In amalgamation with tutor concerns over time commitments, students also seem aware of the limited time that tutors have available (Stephen, et al., 2008). Students recognise that tutors are extremely busy, and do not utilise the Personal Tutor system for fear of encroaching on tutors’ busy schedules (Owen, 2002; Stephen, et al., 2008). Therefore, students often regard Personal Tutoring as disappointing and hurried, resulting in problems not being sufficiently solved (Dobinson-Harrington, 2006). A consequence of this is that students often turn to alternative tutors; this continues to increase the unacknowledged additional work for some individuals (Stephen, et al., 2008).

Where Does the Responsibility Lie? Whilst tutors discuss the limited time they have available to dedicate to Personal Tutoring, arguments arise regarding whether it is a Personal Tutor’s duty to take time and arrange meetings, or whether students should take responsibility. Research conducted at the University of Dundee medical school found that 28% of students asserted that they initiated meetings and 72% of staff suggested that they did. Despite the relatively low initiation by students, 83% wanted more frequent Personal Tutor meetings, yet were seemingly unwilling to initiate them (Malik, 2000). Nevertheless, there tends to be disparity between the level of engagement of tutors and tutees within the Personal Tutor system (Watts, 2011).

Time restrictions A reoccurring theme within the literature is the move towards mass higher education and the resulting time constraints that impact upon the Personal Tutor system (Stephen, et al., 2008). Due to these time restrictions, Personal Tutors can seldom give anymore than negligible help (Dobinson-Harrington, 2006), even when they are concerned (Stephen, et al., 2008). This lack of time is has a negative impact upon students since the move 9

visited their official Personal Tutor once a year or not at all, and numbers declined after the first year, demonstrating an ambiguous need for the system.

Some tutors feel it is their responsibility to arrange meetings, whilst others believe that students are of an age where they should be taking responsibility (Owen, 2002). On occasion students reject the idea of tutor initiation completely, viewing it as interfering, these students prefer meetings organised only when they feel they are necessary (Sosabowski, et al., 2003). Conversely, some students experience difficulties that they are not willing to openly share, and thus being chased up by their tutor gives them the opportunity to talk through issues (Owen, 2002). When staff in Sosabowski, et al.’s (2003) research were confronted by a student desire for more meetings, tutors asserted that both parties should be jointly responsible for the arrangement of meetings.

Suggestions for a successful Personal Tutor system include training staff to increase confidence and competence, and instilling a defined number of Personal Tutor session per academic year to instil a more transparent requirement of the system (Sosabowski, et al., 2003; Stephen et al., 2008). This research aims to investigate what problems exist within the current Personal Tutor system at the University of Winchester, by understanding the Personal Tutor system from the point of view of the Personal Tutor.

Rigid Vs Flexible Structure There is huge variation in Personal Tutoring from individual tutors within the same institutions, to Personal Tutoring systems at different universities (Owen, 2002). Owen (2002) and Watts (2011) explain that there is need for a more structured approach to Personal Tutoring, one that is not solely dependent on the dedication and enthusiasm of select members of staff (Owen, 2002). This would result in students getting the support they need without having to book a meeting to declare failure (Watts, 2011). Despite this assertion, less rigid Personal Tutor systems are also endorsed for their merits. Sosabowski, et al., (2003) suggests that a flexible approach can be successful for students and staff within some departments.

Method Participants A qualitative research methodology was adopted in order to focus on meanings and descriptions through first person accounts (Berg, 2004; Denzin, & Lincoln, 2008). Qualitative research endeavours to generate depth and detail, which can often be lost when producing generalisations through quantitative research (Denzin, & Lincoln, 2008; Berg, 2004). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with two members of staff from each faculty (8 interviews in total), and lasted between 45-60mins, Interviews provided a dialogue with a rationale in order to gain information (Berg, 2004). The interviews were recorded (Merriam, 2009) to obtain accurate and precise information. A semi-standardised interview was used with prepared questions and topics to cover, but with the opportunity to deviate or probe for further answers (Berg, 2004). The sampling technique used for the interviews was both random and purposive, whereby two people from each faculty were required, but within that sample the researchers randomly contacted individuals. Adler and Clark (2010) explain how purposive sampling is common in qualitative research. Interview data was then transcribed and manually coded.

Problems with Personal Tutoring Schemes Myers (2008) asserts that there is little clarity regarding the methods and success of Personal Tutoring schemes. Previous Institutional Audits completed by the QAA demonstrate that some students convey a lack of understanding regarding tutor roles, and state that tutors are often difficult to meet with (Myers, 2008). As a result of this, students access other support options that they are comfortable with. If these sources are informal they are likely to be tutors without an official title, who are not recognised or resourced for the additional work (Myers, 2008). Relating to this, Sosabowski, et al. (2003) completed a study that suggested the majority of students in a specific undergraduate programme 10


In addition to academic advice, literature demonstrates the importance of the role of the Personal Tutor when discussing personal problems (Stephen et al., 2008; Hart, 1996; DobinsonHarrington, 2006; Malik, 2000). Within this research most of the Personal Tutors agreed that they would listen to personal problems, but were aware of their capabilities when dealing with such problems. There was a differing degree with regards to the willingness of tutors to get involved and offer solutions. Interviewee A had a lot of empathy for students; he explained how he would listen to anyone who needed to talk, mirroring a counsellor role (Hart, 1996). Interviewee B, on the other hand, discussed issues of time and accusations of misconduct, and instead took a purely academic role with immediate referrals for personal problems. On the whole, most tutors were happy to listen and be the first port of call for personal problems, judging when it was appropriate to suggest alternative help (Hart, 1996; Stephen et al., 2008).

Interview data representing a small cross-section of staff demonstrated a large variation in the number of personal tutees that tutors are responsible for. These varied between approximately 16 to 130; with most tutors estimating that they have between 35-45 tutees over three years of cohorts. One tutor suggested that they receive no details of their personal tutees, and thus the onus relies upon the students to introduce themselves (Interviewee A), whilst all others explained that an initial meeting is set up so that tutors can identify and meet their tutees.

The Role of the Personal Tutor With regards to the role of the Personal Tutor in delivering academic advice and personal support, previous research demonstrates that students perceive the Personal Tutor scheme to focus on both pastoral and academic problems (Sosabowski et al., 2003; Dobinson-Harrington, 2006; Stephen at al., 2008; Rickinson, 1995). This research into staff expectations, demonstrated that there were mixed feelings regarding the suitability of the Personal Tutoring system as a tool for academic advice. Interviewees B and D saw academic advice as the primary role of the Personal Tutor (Hart, 1996), asserting that, “if a student has mental health problems but their academic work is fine, then they shouldn’t really be coming to see me” (Interviewee D). Similarly, Interviewees A and C saw value in the academic side of Personal Tutoring (Owen 2002; Rickinson 1995), but did not assert that it was the primary role as such. Conversely, opposing the idea that academic advice is an important role of the Personal Tutor, the merits of visiting subject specific tutors for academic help were explained by Interviewees G and E, “the disciplines are very different and people want different things from you so I think students recognise that quite early on and will go and speak to module tutors about academic stuff” (Interviewee G). Interviewee G also acknowledged that since her department ran study skills workshops, a number of Personal Tutors in that department would turn students away if they arranged meetings for general academic help without attending the workshops.

Previous literature reveals how roles of the Personal Tutor can often be broadened beyond academic and pastoral care solely for student development and wellbeing. Owen (2002) argues that the Personal Tutor system can also be used as a strategic tool for retention, yet tutors in this research resisted such an idea. Despite this, when they considered it more closely, nearly all tutors recognised that it could inadvertently help with retention (Stephen et al., 2008; Rickinson, 1995; Bowden, 2008). Interviewee B explained how he gives extra time to the weaker students in a hope that dropping out is quashed, and Interviewee A praised the system, “the system has always seemed to me to work absolutely beautifully: we lose very few students” (Interviewee A).

The Nature of Referral and Student Services Similarly to research by Sosabowski et al. (2003), all Personal Tutors saw their role as highly valuable as the first port of call. They all acknowledged that a familiar face within the department was of utmost importance “if that’s not the role of the Personal Tutor I don’t really know what is and I don’t really understand why we have them” (Interviewee G). Unlike Myers’ (2008) assertion that the Personal Tutor scheme is all but redundant with 11

is just a flowered up version of what grades they got basically” (Interviewee E). To ease this scenario, tutors that have the most communication with students should provide references (Interviewee A). This is usually their Final Year Project tutor since they have regular student meetings (Interviewee D).

the availability of Student Services, this research demonstrated that Student Services without a Personal Tutor system would simply not suffice, but similarly Personal Tutors value the importance of Student Services, “well, if it wasn’t for Student Services I think I’d have had a nervous breakdown” (Interviewee B). Rickinson (1995) agreed that Student Services act as a good central support that aids the role of the Personal Tutor.

Training and Support for Tutors Malik (2000) explained how 87% of tutors involved in his research asserted that they would be more inclined to initiate meetings if they had a good understanding of the Personal Tutor system. To gain understanding, some interviewees explained that they read a booklet of guidance each year and considered it “pretty clear” (Interviewee E) and a “laudable scheme” (Interviewee D), whilst Interviewees F and H asserted that these guidelines were not enough, and 31% of questionnaire respondents argued that they did not receive enough guidance. Myers (2008) asserted the general ambiguity of Personal Tutor schemes, which Interviewee A emphasises by labelling processes “vague”, whilst most interviewees also confessed to a deal of confusion over the responsibilities of Personal Tutors, “I don’t think it’s very clear what a Personal Tutors role is here, I really don’t” (Interviewee G).

Deciding when referral should take place is generally a judgement call by the individual tutor. For example, Interviewees G and E refer students, “when I am in a position where what I say could have an impact on that person’s emotional wellbeing, where I’d feel like I suddenly have to be really careful about how I deal with a situation ” (Interviewee E). Unfortunately, because there are no systematic links between Personal Tutor staff and Student Services, referral is not usually to a specific Student Services advisor. Interviewee H was the only tutor that held detailed knowledge about the roles of Student Services, in some cases knowing exactly who deals with various issues. She took the initiative to collect fliers and information when she first started the job to facilitate a better understanding. Similarly, Interviewee B had established links with Student Services by inviting them to give a session on academic conduct. Stephen et al. (2005) saw this as a positive tactic since it encourages students to consider the role of Student Services and Personal Tutors. Other tutors were keen to gain more information, Interviewee F agreed that a summary document listing the Student Services available along with names and phone numbers would be useful for Personal Tutors.

Training sessions in order to better understand the roles and responsibilities of the Personal Tutor, were seen as advantageous by some and problematic by others. Some interviewees argued that training is not necessary because important problems should be referred to the experts in Student Services, whilst others saw it as advantageous to have some degree of training. Nevertheless, each and every tutor that recognised the benefits of training for listening skills explained that there was little time to take on additional training (Interviewees H, G and F). Owen (2002) suggests that if time constraints impact upon training, then a very clear guide which details exact roles of the Personal Tutor is necessary.

References Personal Tutors were also seen to have specific roles within the generic notion of academic and pastoral guidance. Tutors suggested that the need for a Personal Tutor often does not transpire for students until the third year when they realise that they need a reference and that their personal tutor does not know who they are (Interviewees F and E). Tutors find it very difficult to write references if their tutees have not engaged with the scheme, “they end up with something rather generic which

The Importance of Key Attributes Aside from training staff to be successful Personal Tutors, previous research demonstrates that particular personal attributes have an impact upon the system. When asked what the 12

Time Limitations

main attributes were for Personal Tutors to possess, there was considerable overlap from most tutors. Being someone who is prepared to listen was a reoccurring response (Interviewees F, B, G, C, and A) agreeing with previous research (Sosabowski et al., 2003). Also, being approachable was seen as a key attribute (Interviewees H, D, C, and E), which was also seen as an important attribute in previous research (Owen, 2002; Sosabowski et al., 2003). A number of other characteristics were individually recognised, these included being empathetic (Interviewee E), trustworthy (Interviewees H and D); and not being judgemental (Interviewee A). More surprisingly, Interviewee G suggested that tutors have to be adaptable in order to deal with unexpected problems, and to be able to hide annoyance if someone turns up during a busy time.

It was evident from the eight interviews conducted, that only two of the Personal Tutors had minimal issue with time constraints of Personal Tutoring. This complied with questionnaire data that revealed that only 21% of tutors feel that they have enough time to complete their duties. Six interviewees explained how the system could not work to its full capabilities whilst tutors had so many tutees and so many other responsibilities (DobinsonHarrington, 2006). Interviewee F explained that students who did not come to see her were a secret blessing, and she was not going to take the time to chase students. Similarly, Interviewee D went so far as saying that a lecturer no longer at the university used to ask students not to go and see her, demonstrating the reluctance that tutors feel when trying to juggle Personal Tutoring at the same time as so many other duties.

In the previous literature, age and gender were seen as determinants for differing Personal Tutor experiences. Interviews demonstrated that this is also the case at Winchester, with Interviewees D and E seeing age as a contributory factor, “in the past, when I was younger, I would say I would get more female students coming to me with gynaecological questions; termination and so on. I rarely have that now” (Interviewee D); and Interviewee E acknowledging gender differences, “if it’s a sort of sensitive personal problem, sexual problem, you know, they obviously wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to a man about it”. Interviewees B, E and F elaborated by explaining that they would feel uncomfortable talking to a female about a highly personal problem. These arguments are consistent with findings from Owen (2002) who discovered that some men assumed that female students may not feel confident talking to them. Interviewee G is young and female and sees gender and age as a contributing factor to the high number of students that come to talk to her, but she then goes on to explain that a high number of students also go to see one of the older male members of staff quite regularly, and asserts that this is less about gender and age and more to do with his nature. So it would seem that age and gender may have an impact to some extent, but this can possibly be overcome with the right personality attributes.

A frequent concern was that staff are not given allocated time to carry out Personal Tutor duties (Interviewee H), “I don’t think it’s in our staffing model so there’s no specific time allocation for Personal Tutoring” (Interviewee C). Interviewee D agrees, “It’s loaded into a category which is probably currently called ‘administration’, like attending meetings”. Clearly the lack of time obviously dedicated to Personal Tutoring is highly resented, “I don’t want a first year student coming to me with all their essays to go over their standard of work - I don’t have the time for that. I think that student should be going to a workshop at Student Services” (Interviewee D). Interviewee D further explains that doing this with 50 students would be “a joke” and agrees with Sosabowski (2003) that Personal Tutoring responsibilities should not be in excess of staff resources. Interviewees A and B were more positive about time constraints associated with the system. Interviewee A saw the success of Personal Tutoring as a priority above research (DobinsonHarrington, 2006), while Interviewee B had no problems with


time as he concentrates his tutoring on academic issues, advising students to visit Student Services with any pastoral issues.

who acknowledge that there must be a happy-medium between independent learning and contact time.

Student Responsibility

Rigid Versus Organic Systems Rigid structure, Agendas and Record Keeping

Despite tutors previously admitting to a lack of time, a frequent assertion was made about the laziness of some students (Interviewees H, D, and A) (Stephen, et al., 2008). Interviews demonstrated that students should be held at least partially responsible for arranging to see their Personal Tutors (Owen, 2002), “we’re not psychic, so if they’ve got an issue it’s their responsibility to make an appointment with us” (Interviewee G). Questionnaire respondents agree that students should be held slightly more responsible than staff. Despite this, previous research suggests that students often appreciate tutors that instigate interaction (Stephen et al., 2008; Malik, 2000). In this research, only one tutor suggested that the onus of arranging meetings should not always fall on the student since they pay for a service, “if they’re not happy about something then we have to deal with it because they pay our wages effectively” (Interviewee G). However, the Personal Tutor system is voluntary for students and therefore they are held solely responsible for attending meetings (Interviewees E, F, H and G).

Interview data clearly shows that tutors in different departments hold different views regarding the rigidity of the Personal Tutor system. When asked whether records of meetings should be kept or agendas should be followed, one respondent firmly stated “It would drive me round the bend and I wouldn’t do it if somebody asked me to” (Interviewee A). Both Interviewees A and C argued that such a formality would begin to mediate the relationship between tutor and student. Additionally, Interviewees D and E argued that compulsory structured meetings were not sustainable due to the staff to student ratio. On the other hand, Interviewee G saw the benefits for a rigid tutorial system (Owen, 2002; Watts, 2011). She believed that group meetings should take place on a regular basis, with each session focussing on a relevant topic. Interviewees G and C believed that such meetings were most important in the first year in order to familiarise tutees with their tutor, and also to provide an opportunity for students to stay behind for informal one-toone discussions without the difficulty of having to book a formal meeting with a tutor to admit failure (Watts, 2011). Questionnaire data demonstrated that 54% of tutees strongly disagree or disagree that there should be mandatory regular personal tutor meetings, whilst 11% strongly agree that there should be.

Previous research also reveals that very few tutees visit their tutors more than once a year, and after the first year the numbers decrease (Sosabowski, et al., 2003). This was consistent with questionnaire data which suggested that 56% of tutees only saw their tutors once a year, with just 18% arguing that they see their tutees more than 3 times per year. Suggestions for the reasons that few students meet their Personal Tutors include; because tutees are not sure if they are going to the right place for certain issues (Interviewee H), or because they are intimidated (Interviewees G and A). This intimidation could be linked with student worries about taking up tutors’ ever decreasing time (Stephen et al., 2008; Owen, 2002). Nonetheless, Interviewee A explains that there is not a problem with students who do not meet with their Personal Tutor regularly; he argued that some people work better independently. This disagrees with Stephen et al. (2008)

Organic Systems of Personal Tutoring In addition to a rigid approach, it is evident that there is a place for a more organic style of Personal Tutoring, whereby students simply talk to tutors with whom they feel most comfortable (Interviewees F, E and A). This person would often be someone that teaches them or someone that they have generally built rapport with (Interviewee E) (Owen, 2002; Sosabowski et al., 2003). Tutors seemed to accept this organic system and argued that they already treat non-tutees in the same way that they treat their personal tutees “they might be my personal tutee, I don’t 14

staff or students are responsible for arranging meetings. Clear guidance could be provided either through workshops or guidance documentation depending on departmental requirements, and the schemes could be re-evaluated through investigations with tutors and students to find out if improvements have been made or where further clarification or improvement is needed.

really make a decision or distinction of whoever needs to talk” (Interviewee E). Several interviewees asserted that if a tutee decides to see someone other than their Personal Tutor it is often for a reason, and therefore they should not be turned away (Interviewees A, D, C and H), demonstrating the importance of an organic system over a rigid and structured system. Nevertheless, problems can occur within an organic system such as the way in which a few tutors may be inundated or swamped with tutees (Stephen et al., 2008), “people say ‘oh so and so was really good at helping me’, and everybody then goes and sees that person” (Interviewee F). Additionally, the organic system whereby tutors are available to talk to any student made the general university Personal Tutor scheme redundant (Interviewees D, F and A) (Owen, 2002).

Author biography: As an Associate Research Assistant, Laura works on various projects in the LTDU including providing research support for TESTA, helping to edit internal publications, and undertaking qualitative research. She has a Masters degree in the Sociology of Sport, and is currently undergoing a PhD that utilises qualitative methodologies in order to investigate the gender perceptions of children that play korfball. With experience in lecturing, many of Laura’s research interests also fall within the field of learning and teaching. Assessment and feedback have become a specific interest since her involvement with the TESTA project.

A Single System It is clear from examples of rigid and organic systems, and differing departmental cultures, that a generic Personal Tutor system would not be suitable for all departments. All tutors interviewed recognised that a ‘one size fits all’ model would not be appropriate (Sosabowski et al., 2003), “It would be regrettable I think if you saw something imposed from the centre on a variety of different good practices” (Interviewee A). It is apparent that tutors appreciated that what may work for one department may be a monumental failure for another, and thus a single central system should not be impressed upon all departments.

References Adler, E. S., & Clark, R. (2010). An Invitation to Social Research: How it’s Done. Fourth Edition. USA: Wadsworth. Berg, B. L. (2004). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. 5th Edition. USA: Pearson Education. Bowden, J. (2008). Why do Nursing Students who Consider Leaving Stay on their Courses. Nurse Researcher. 15(3): 45-58.

Conclusion It is clear from this research that no one, single method of personal tutoring exists at Winchester, and that staff would not be susceptible to a specific, unified scheme designed and implemented from above. Despite this, tutors expressed an ambiguity regarding their roles and responsibilities, and in order to create a degree of standardisation within departments it may be useful for a number of models to be generated in order that each department could adopt the most suitable, for example ranging between organic and rigid systems. Each model should explain responsibilities of the Personal Tutor clearly and precisely with regards to referral, time allocation and knowing whether

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2008). Introduction: the discipline and practice of qualitative research’ in N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.) Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials. 3rd Edition. London: Sage. Pg 1-44. Dobinson-Harrington, A. (2006). Personal Tutor Encounters: Understanding the Experience’. Nursing Standard. 20(50): 35-42.


Stephen, D. E., O’Connell, P., & Hall, M. (2008). ‘Going the Extra Mile’, ‘Fire-fighting’, or ‘Laissez-faire’? Re-evaluating Personal Tutoring relationships within mass higher education’. Teaching in Higher Education. 13(4): 449-460.

Earwaker, J. (1992). Helping and Supporting Students. Rethinking the Issues. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University. Freeman, R. (2000). Faculty Mentoring Programmes. Medical Education. 34: 507-508.

Watts, T. (2011). Support on Schedule: Timetabled Personal Tutor support helps students to handle competing demands. Nursing Standard. 25(40): 6.

Hart, N. (1996). The Role of the Personal Tutor in a College of Further Education: A comparison of skills used by Personal Tutors and by student counsellors when working with students in distress. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling. 24(1): 83-96. Hughes, A., & Menmuir, J. (2002). Being a Student on a Part-time Early Years Degree. Early Years. 22(2): 147-161. Malik, S. (2000). Students, Tutors and Relationships: the ingredients of a successful student support scheme. Medical Education. 34: 635-641. Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons. Myers, J. (2008). Points for Debate: Is Personal Tutoring Sustainable? Comparing the trajectory of the Personal Tutor with that of the residential warden. Teaching in Higher Education. 13(5): 607-611. Owen, M. (2002). Sometimes you feel you’re in niche time – The Personal Tutor System, A Case Study. Active Learning in Higher Education. 3(1): 7-23. Rickinson, B. (1995). Increasing Undergraduate Student Retention Rates. Desmond British Journal of Guidance and Counselling. 23(2): 161-172. Sosabowski, M. H., Bratt, A. M., Herson, K., Olivier, G. W. J., Sawers, R., Taylor, S., Zahoui, A., & Denyer, S. P. (2003) Enhancing Quality in the M.Pharm Degree Programme: Optimisation of the Personal Tutor System. Pharmacy Education. 3(2): 103-108. 16


The importance of adopting a philosophy of imagination, creativity and Innovation in youth sports coaching. Richard Cheetham


encounter the countless young people inspired by the London 2012 Olympics, and who are more likely to shape their sporting experience. If the iconic sporting role models have sparked imagination and led many to take the first step towards joining a sports club or team then what is the second step? The answer is to find equally inspired and effective coaches who can provide engaging, imaginative, dynamic, innovative and creative coaching sessions. This challenge is demanding yet essential to ensure the momentum of interest in sport is not lost and to recognise that “the drive to inspire all athletes to their full potential is one factor that propels great coaches to the heights they achieve” (Schempp, McCullick & Mason, 2006: p.148).

As a result of the London 2012 Olympic Games, but also previous sporting successes (Bradley Wiggins’ win in the Tour de France for example), a wonderful legacy of increased participation in sport at all levels could become evident. Many of those inspired and trying sport(s) for the first time will be arriving at clubs wishing to begin the pathway to, if not the Olympics, some involvement in sport. Coaches need to recognise there is clear evidence that they are the most significant influence on continued participation (Smoll & Smith, 2002) and that quality coaching and support are essential in the development of sport (Nash & Sproule, 2009). Sports governing bodies recognise that this once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase their sports at a home Olympic and Paralympic Games could prove to be the best source of marketing.

This article is based upon a series of conference presentations by the author to sports governing bodies in 2012, including British Cycling and Sports Coach UK, on the importance of imaginative, inspirational and creative coaching in order to engage these young people as they begin their involvement in sport.

Introduction In the midst of all the celebrations at the closing ceremony for the Olympics, one hand written banner carried in by an athlete was visible as the representatives from all the countries entered the arena for the ‘last hurrah’. It simply read “Thanks coach”. Has all the talk of legacy and inspiring a generation focussed enough on the role of the coach? It is the medal-winners performances that captured the imagination of many and show what can truly be achieved. The remarkable sporting arenas demonstrate excellence in provision and design. Yet it is the coaches that first

Role of the coach – A traditional view Among academic research there is a traditional view of coaches and coaching. Stafford (2011) and Jones (2006) recognise the complex nature of defining the role of the coach, but expectations generally include expertise, interpersonal skills and performance development of those in their charge. Cote & Gilbert (2009) refer to a more holistic approach whereby being ‘more than a coach’ 19

Within this multidimensional and demanding role the following section focusses on the attention that should be paid by coaches and coach educators to developing their role even further and the impact this may have.

includes the ability to strengthen and maintain relationships with athletes / participants and to constantly be prepared for learning from each session and each season. Becker’s (2009) research among athletes, in this case from team sports, identified the role of a coach as being judged by “more than just a win-loss record” (p.93). Numerous coach attributes were highlighted, however what was crucial was the ability to teach and inspire along with the lack of fear in trying new things. A coach that is always learning and “prepared to bring new things back to the team” (p.99) often strengthened the relationship and made a lasting impression on athletes. Some coaches talk of adjusting and tinkering to find a small but significant difference in their session planning and others wish they had more time to spend thinking of ways to do this: such is the challenge of balancing this role alongside a full time job (Nash & Sproule, 2009). It can sometimes be a case of “think, think, think but never do” (Anthony, 2012, p.18). Jones (2006) notes that there is too often (especially among novice coaches) a focus of organisation over imagination in the sport setting. There appears to be an “over-value” placed on a rigid, prescriptive structure and delivery (Robinson, 2011) from the educator beyond an emphasis on what is more of value to those taking part such as enjoyment and fun (two fundamental elements identified as motives for children taking part in sport, Lockwood & Perlman, 2008). More time is spent on managing the group rather than creating an enjoyable, highly motivational climate. Frequently identified by participants is the desire to have fun and enjoyment (McCrindle, 2007; Horn, 2008) and from a coaches perspective to ensure a “positive experience” (Nash & Sproule, 2009, p.133). Perhaps the words of one respondent from Nash, Sproule and Horton’s (2008) research into perceived roles and philosophies among nine coaches are of greater significance; “the main role for me is to make sure if they are eight, nine, ten year old that they’re still playing in their 20’s. If I’ve done that, then I think I’ve succeeded” (p.545). Light (2008) supports this with the acknowledgement that long term participation in organised sport, and making it an integral part of a participant’s life, is central to the development of youth sport.

Imagination and innovation can be the ‘cocktail ingredients’ of creative coaching Imagine a beach, any beach but use the imagination. This could be based upon a place already visited, one seen in a magazine or on television, or one you dream of visiting. How detailed and how vivid was the imagination from that simple task? Were the images from the white sands of the Whitsundays in Australia or were they from Blackpool? What was it like to be free of inhibition in imagining? Lehrer (2012) believes that if one can imagine then inevitably one can be creative, and that creativity is not the preserve of the few, the ones often referred to as geniuses. Csikszentmihalyi (1997) and Anthony (2012) encourage the search for new ideas from the most unlikely of sources. Therefore it would seem appropriate that any presenter on the subject of using one’s imagination would be required to lead by example. One method of introduction that was used in a series of coaching conference presentations by the author began by asking the audience to draw a picture of a watering can. This was later changed at future events to draw a picture of a house as it led to greater discussion. Nothing beyond that simple instruction or direction was given, just these few words. The drawings produced by the audience were predictable only with a few exceptions. The most common image produced was a standard watering can pouring water (even though it was not ‘tipped’ in some cases) into potted plants / flowers. That was the outcome from the first exercise and the house? Well I hoped they would use a better imagination for a second and try and move away from the square house with four windows, chimney, garden fence and path leading to the front door but that is what everyone drew! And yet how many people actually live in a house like that? When challenged, members of the audience commented that they were fearful of trying something new for fear of getting it wrong. The task 20

good creative coaching practice. Robinson (2011) emphasises that any pace of change needs to be matched with an equally dynamic change in how coaches think. Creativity through thinking differently will allow participants (and the sport they are involved in) to “survive and flourish” (p.5). Coaches cannot expect the new generation to respond to methods from another era as they have been shaped by different cultural experiences and demand a more thought provoking experience (McCrindle, 2009). Lockwood & Perlman (2008) highlight that youth sport coaches often “coach the way they were coached” (p.30) which could perpetuate the authoritarian, highly prescriptive sessions which can disillusion those eager to learn and explore. The challenge for the sports coach today is to “create meaningful learning experiences that connect to young people” (Rossi & Tinning, 2011, p.282) and to be open-minded. As one coach commented “everyone and every situation is different, so I can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach” (Nash & Sproule, 2009). This challenge has to have imagination, creativity and innovation at the core.

asked of them had set no boundaries. It was low on description and yet high on freedom of expression (although the group did not recognise this, which could be reflective of their athlete / learning experiences). The inspirational and enthusiastic coaches referred to in the research earlier by Becker (2009) held no fear of innovation, learning and implementing new techniques and strategies. One wonders what they would have drawn. Imaginative / creative thinkers do not fear boundaries and any perceived ‘rebellious’ innovations are often introduced as a result of a desire to change (Robinson, 2011). This is often not for the sake of change but to remove the status quo and to improve things where a need is identified (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997).

Imagination and Coaching How does the exercise on imagination mentioned earlier relate to sports coaching? How can this be contextualised to the audience to show relevance to their work? The justification given (alongside improved athlete performance) was that not only when drawing but also when coaching, imagination is important to prevent the emergence of a generation of coaches limited on ideas and short on creativity. Coaches should not regard the only innovators to come from industry and science but from their own discipline also. Furthermore, it was to initiate discussion on whether coaches feel they are able to throw off the reigns and become as Ryan (2011) states “mavericks… bending the rules [which] can bring about change for the better” (p.34), and how something different can have an impact (Anthony, 2012). Schempp, McCullick and Mason (2006) talk of skilled coaches “defying convention” (p.155) as they learn from outside the confinement of one sport. If sports participation is to be increased and sustained then coaches may need to learn to be imaginative, innovative and creative and to appreciate the impact of such approaches. The impact might well be measured in retention, motivation, performance and application of effort from participants.

Are all coaches capable of this, or is it an attribute of the few? Can thinking be changed to enable more people to gain this skill, resulting in a more creative and dynamic coaching environment and a more engaged audience? Shenk (2011), in his book The Genius in all of us, steers clear of those who say that genius is a gene occurring in some and not others. There should not be a feeling that creativity and innovation are comparable to a physiological trait possessed by sprinters with the consequence that it is not therefore possible to have ‘genius’, or imaginative and creative thought. Robinson (2011) states “Everyone has huge creative capacities. The Challenge is to develop them” and that the creative “icons” are not confined to Einstein and Picasso: creativity can be taught (p.3). The constraints on this could be traced back to how we were taught / coached. Here the session content may have been high on replication of the movement / skill demonstrated and involved repeated practice. There is a desire to move away from adopting an autocratic commanding role, setting and controlling the task, and allow athletes the opportunity to learn through exploring in more meaningful (and diverse) activities (Kidman & Hanrahan, 2011).

Innovation and Creativity It is this need for the combination of imagination and innovation (alongside coaching knowledge) that forms the foundation of 21

Becker (2009) and Jones (2006) note that it is the experienced coaches who are more likely to display these traits as they can draw on ideas from the ‘most unlikely of places’, and are not fearful of the ‘cross-fertilisation’ of ideas from other sports. Lehrer (2012) regards one the most important talents in turning imagination into creativity, is to imagine what could be designed differently, what could be introduced that has never been tried and what the impact would be. Johnson (2010) compares the infinite numbers of thoughts and ideas to the endless number of life forms in the oceans as more species are discovered. Ideas through imaginative thought are the same. Have you ever thought of using children’s space hoppers to teach mountain bike riders and horse riders about developing balance? Including ‘human’ noughts and crosses to teach players to communicate and find space? Or using jigsaws and playing cards to improve decision making? These could be an interesting sessions to introduce to challenge the athletes, but also to prevent and reduce mid-season performance drop. Wayne Bennett, former Brisbane Broncos and Australian Rugby League coach is clear about the need for imagination in coaching and training “if you always do what you did, you will always get what you always got” (cited in Kidman & Hanrahan, 2011, p. 16). Kelley & Whitman (2006) refer to going “Beyond the Devil’s advocate” (p.2) where the innovator is not deterred, enthusiasm not dampened.

increases due to more life (and sporting) experiences from which to draw. If the change then encourages an imaginative, creative and innovative setting with increased motivation which “exudes optimism” (Anthony, 2012, p.17) with these values at the centre of the coach’s philosophy, then it can inspire a generation and have a long lasting legacy for young people and sport.


Cote, J.,& Gilbert, W. (2009). An Integrative Definition of Coaching Effectiveness and Expertise. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching. 4(3):307-323.

Author Biography Richard, a Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching joined the University of Winchester in 2005 from New Zealand. His approach to teaching has been recognised by achieving the University Chancellors Award in 2010 (the first one to be awarded as a result of student nomination) and was short-listed for the 2010 Times Higher Education award for Innovation in Teaching. He is a Coach Educator for London South and Hampshire RFU as well as continuing to coach at his local club Basingstoke RFC.

References Anthony, S. (2012). The Little Black Book of Innovation. Boston, USA: Harvard Business School Publication. Becker, A. J. (2009). It’s not what they do, it’s how they do it: Athlete Experiences of Great Coaching. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching. 4(1):93-119.

The approach to coaching in more recent years has seen a shift to a more professional focus (Nash, Sproule & Horton, 2008) as a result of successive governing body policy and general government policy pertaining to elite sport development. Yet there is still a significant reliance upon volunteer coaches at grass roots level to support sports provision in the UK (Nichols, 2004). If there are new ways of supporting these coaches which can be introduced to make them “better skilled and more knowledgeable” then “they will be able to meet the challenges in modern sport” (Schempp et al., 2006, p.161). Robinson (2009) highlighted that as childhood is left behind and its ‘boundless energies’ there is a perceived decrease in the belief that individuals can be creative. This is, in his view, not the case as potential / capacity

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity. Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial. Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink. The Power of Thinking without Thinking. New York: Little, Brown and Company. Horn, T. S. (2008).’Coaching Effectiveness in the Sport Domain’ In T. S. Horn (Ed) Advances in Sports Psychology, 3rd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics (p.239-267).


Jones, R. L., Armour, K., & Potrac, P. (2004). Sports Coaching Cultures: From Practice to Theory. London: Routledge.

Robinson, K. (2009). The Element: How finding your passion changes everything. London: Penguin.

Jones, R. L. (2006).The Sports Coach as Educator. Reconceptualising sports coaching. London: Routledge.

Robinson, K. (2011). Out of our minds. Learning to be creative. Chichester: Capstone Publishing Ltd.

Kelley. T. & Littman, J. (2006). The Ten Faces of Innovation. Strategies for heightening creativity. Exmouth: Profile Books.

Rossi, A. &Tinning, R. (2011).’The Young Player as Learner.’ In I. Stafford (Ed.) Coaching Children in Sport. London: Routledge (pp.278-289).

Kidman, L. & Hanrahan, S. J. (2011). The Coaching Process. A practical guide to becoming an effective sports coach. 3RD Ed. London: Routledge.

Ryan, W. (2012). Inspirational Teachers Inspirational Learners. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing. Schempp, P. G., McCullick, B., & Sannen Mason, I. (2006). In R. L. Jones (Ed.) The Sports Coach as Educator: Re-conceptualising sports coaching. London: Routledge.

Lehrer, J. (2012). Imagine. How Creativity Works. Edinburgh: Cannongate. Light, R. (2008). Sport in the lives of Young Australians. Sydney University Press. Sydney.

Shenk, D. (2011). The Genius in All of Us. London: Icon Books Ltd.

Lockwood, P. & Perlman, D. J. (2008). Enhancing the Youth Sport Experience: A Re-examination of Methods, Coaching Style and Motivational Climate. The Journal of Youth Sports. 4(1):30-34.

Smoll, F. L., & Smith, R.E. (2002). Children in Youth Sport: A biopsychosocial perspective. Dubuque, IW: Kendall Hunt. Stafford, I. (2011). Coaching Children in Sport. London: Routledge.

McCrindle, M. (2007).Understanding and Engaging with the New Generations. Coaching Australia. 11(1): 4-5.

Starko, A. J. (2010). Creativity in the Classroom, 4th Ed. London: Routledge.

MORI, Sports Coaching in the UK, Sports Coach UK, Leeds, 2004. Nash, C. S., Sproule, J. & Horton, P. (2008). Sports Coaches’ Perceived Role Frames and Philosophies. International Journal of Sports Sciences and Coaching. 4(3):539-554. Nash, C. S. & Sproule, J. (2009). Career Development of Expert Coaches. International Journal of Sports Sciences and Coaching. 4(1):121-138. Nicholls, G. (2004). The Volunteer Army. Recreation. 63(2):24-26.



Effective feedback: The student perspective Sabine Bohnacker-Bruce


This paper is based on a research project initiated by the Learning and Teaching Committee of the University of Winchesters’ Faculty of Business, Law and Sport, in response to results in the National Student Survey’s section on Assessment and Feedback. In spite of the successful implementation of various policies for improving the quality, quantity and timeliness of feedback in the faculty, student responses were less positive than expected, especially with regard to the timeliness of feedback and its formative value, confirming the observation of Robinson and colleagues quoted above.

This paper discusses part of a research project on effective student feedback carried out with staff and students in the Faculty of Business, Law and Sport at the University of Winchester. An online questionnaire was used to explore students’ perspectives on the practical aspects of feedback delivery, such as timeliness, legibility and feedback format, as well as students’ use of and engagement with feedback. The findings indicate that legibility of hand-written feedback remains a problem for a substantial minority of students. Students generally considered feedback timely only when it was returned within two weeks. Individual verbal feedback was considered the most effect way of ensuring students’ engagement with feedback, even though many students’ preference was written feedback.

The researcher was asked to explore staff and student perspectives on feedback practice in the faculty. The objective of the research was to investigate their respective views on what constitutes effective feedback and to establish some practical parameters of how feedback should be best delivered to ensure effectiveness. The aim of the research was to develop internal recommendations for effective practice and thereby enhance satisfaction with feedback for both staff and students.

Introduction Feedback has long been considered a crucial part of student learning and remains a regular subject of academic research (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Price et al., 2010). Various studies have confirmed the importance assigned to feedback by both staff and students, but also show that students are frequently dissatisfied with the feedback they receive. Robinson, Pope and Holyoak (2011, p.2) observe that:Student ratings of satisfaction with feedback are consistently lower than other teaching and learning elements within the UK higher education sector. However, reasons for this dissatisfaction are often unclear to teaching staff, who believe their students are receiving timely, extensive and informative feedback.

A previous paper (Bohnacker-Bruce, 2011) presented the findings of the first part of the research project, namely academics’ perspectives on effective student feedback. This paper discusses one part of the findings from research with students, namely the results of an online questionnaire, which focused on the practical, or procedural (Robinson, 2011) aspects of feedback delivery, such as timeliness, legibility and feedback format, but also gave students an opportunity to comment more widely on their use 25

The questionnaire was posted on SurveyMonkey and the link e-mailed to all students in the faculty (approximately 1,300), and also posted on the student homepage of the university intranet. An incentive of a prize draw for book tokens to the value of £50, £30 and £20 was offered. The survey was open for a period of 5 weeks. The questionnaire responses were automatically compiled by SurveyMonkey.

of, and engagement with, the feedback they receive. Qualitative data from focus group research with students, which further investigated students’ perceptions of effective feedback, is referred to but not fully explored in this paper due to space limitations.

Methodology As required by the University of Winchester’s research policy, the project was approved through departmental ethics procedures. The researcher employed a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods for the research with students (Miles & Huberman, 1998; Cousin, 2009). Data was collected in three stages, firstly with a pilot focus group, followed by an online questionnaire, and finally with three further student focus groups. Data from the pilot focus group was used to inform the design of the online questionnaire; the data provided by the questionnaire responses was further explored by the final focus groups.

135 students in the faculty (10.3%) accessed the questionnaire, and 114 (8.7%) completed the questionnaire, with a response from 9.1% of all undergraduate students, and 4.1% of all postgraduate students. 21% of respondents were male and 79% female. 94.8% of respondents were undergraduate students (24.6% from Year 1, 32.5% from Year 2, 37.7% from Year 3), while 4.4% of respondents were postgraduate students. As respondents were self-selecting, representativeness is not guaranteed, however, the number of respondents makes the inclusion of a wide range of student views likely.

In order to ensure that students had sufficient experience of feedback, participation in the focus groups was limited to students in years two and three, while the questionnaire was open to all students in the faculty, including postgraduate students.

Findings and Discussion Feedback types

The online questionnaire was devised by the researcher in consultation with two colleagues and revised following input from the pilot focus group. The final version consisted of ten subject questions and 25 Likert-scale statements, plus three sociodemographic questions asking respondents’ gender, year of study and programme studied. The ten subject questions focused on different aspects of feedback, namely types of feedback such as written or verbal (Questions 1 and 2), the timeframe for feedback (Questions 3-6), formats of written feedback (Questions 7-8) and student engagement with feedback (Questions 9-10). All questions required students to select one answer from a range of options. Where appropriate, a comment box inviting more detailed answers was offered, allowing for qualitative contributions. The 25 Likert items also related to the aspects described above, along with additional aspects such as feedback quality and clarity, and were designed to triangulate data from the subject questions.

Question 1 asked students how effective they found different types of feedback, with effective feedback defined as feedback “that students engage with and respond to”. The most effective type of feedback was seen to be verbal feedback given to the individual student (i.e. a tutorial), followed by written feedback given to an individual student by email, and written feedback on the cover sheet. Student opinion on other forms of feedback including group feedback on the Learning Network, group feedback in a seminar or lecture, feedback from peers, or discussion of work in groups, was far less conclusive (Table 1).


taking this course of action. This may merely be an indication of individual students’ different preferences, but it may also be indicative of variations in practice between individual lecturers, departments and universities. In response to Likert item S1: Lecturers encourage me to discuss my work and the feedback with them face-to-face, 53% of participants in this study agreed with the statement, while about 25% disagreed, which would indicate mixed practice.

Table 1: Question 1 - Effectiveness of feedback types Effective feedback is defined as feedback that students engage with and respond to. How effective do you find the following types of feedback? Please select one option per row. Very Quite Not very Not effective effective effective effective at all Written feedback on 34.3% 59.7% 5.2% 0.7% cover sheet Group feedback on 0.7% 50.0% 44.8% 4.5% the Learning Network Written feedback to 48.5% 42.5% 6.0% 3.0% student by e-mail Verbal feedback to the individual student 65.9% 28.1% 5.9% 0.0% (e.g.tutorial) Group feedback in a 15.8% 42.9% 38.3% 3.0% seminar or lecture Feedback from peers or discussion of work 10.4% 54.1% 25.9% 9.6% in groups

Data in this study confirms the importance to many students of the availability of individual verbal feedback, even when students do not actually avail themselves of this opportunity. In the comments section for these questions, most comments emphasised students’ desire for individual verbal feedback, such as this statement: “I think there should be more opportunities to get one-to-one feedback from lecturers.” Where this type of feedback was available, students expressed appreciation, as indicated by this comment: “Having received written feedback for a particular tutorial, I was offered the opportunity to chat through conceptual ideas further. This was most informative and took the feedback/content to another level.”

Question 2 asked students what type of feedback they personally preferred – independently from how effective they considered this type of feedback, as asked in Question 1. 57% of respondents preferred written individual feedback and 41.5% preferred verbal individual feedback.

Clearly, for large cohorts of undergraduates, individual tutorials or other individual verbal feedback would be difficult to accommodate and students are aware of lecturers’ logistical limitations. However, one student suggested: “[Taking into account] the perspective of the lecturers, general feedback in a seminar/lecture would be acceptable if there was an opportunity to discuss on a one–to-one basis for those who wanted it.”

There could be several reasons why more students preferred written feedback, even though verbal feedback was considered more effective than written feedback in Question 1. While written feedback remains available for future reference, students may be concerned about not being able to correctly and completely remember verbal feedback once some time has passed, even when notes were taken at the time. Furthermore, while verbal feedback may be seen as most effective in terms of learning outcomes, it is potentially an awkward experience for students, particularly if the work to be discussed is of a low standard. Brown (2007) found that students expressed reluctance to approach lecturers regarding feedback. Robinson et al. (2011, p.6) report that nearly 40% of research participants in their study stated that they would arrange a meeting with their personal tutor to discuss their work, which leaves a majority of over 60% not

Individual written feedback is seen as effective and is the preferred option for the majority of students. However, for a minority of students whose preferred option is individual verbal feedback, the lack of availability of this is a source of dissatisfaction. Therefore, making individual verbal feedback available is likely to increase overall satisfaction with feedback provision in a cohort of students, even if only a minority of students take advantage of the opportunity.


Timeframe for feedback

The next question, Question 5, investigated students’ perception of the actual timeframe for receiving feedback. Faculty guidelines recommend that academic staff mark and return work within 15 working days (3 weeks)but in no more than 20 working days (4 weeks), and statistics from the faculty office confirm that this is achieved for nearly all assignments. More than 90% of students confirmed that the target of three to four weeks is met for group work and mid-module written assignments and nearly 95% for presentations. Final assignments were perceived to take the longest to return, with nearly 20% stating that it took more than four weeks to receive the feedback.

Question 3 asked students to select their ideal time frame for feedback on a range of assignments, including mid-module written assignments, presentations, group work assignment and the final assignment. For mid-module written assignments and group presentations the majority of students considered 1-2 weeks the ideal timeframe to make the feedback most effective, followed by 4-7 days. For final assignments students allowed for a slightly more generous timeframe: while the majority also selected 1-2 weeks, this was followed by 3-4 weeks. For presentations, however, the majority (39%) selected 3 days or fewer and around 30% selected 4-7 days.

Question 6 asked students after what period of time they thought written feedback becomes irrelevant. A majority of 38% selected the option When the next assignment has been handed in, which had been added at the suggestion of the pilot focus group. 11% of students on the other hand selected Time does not matter. 4% selected 1-2 weeks, 10% 2-3 weeks, 21% 3-4 weeks, and 15% 4-6 weeks. This question drew a number of comments, several of which emphasised the importance students assign to the timeliness of feedback in order to make it effective. One student noted: “Sometimes feedback from one assignment is too late to have a sufficient amount of time to make it effective.” Other comments on this issue included: “Some assignments do come back too late to influence the next one.” and “I think it is important that assignments or at least feedback from them needs to be returned to students before their next assignment is due in order for them to read and work on the areas for improvement highlighted in feedback.”

While Question 3 focused on the ideal timeframe for effective feedback, Question 4 asked students about an “acceptable and realistic” timeframe, taking into account the needs of both students and staff, and the size of module groups. The greatest difference in the answers concerned the timeframe for feedback on presentations where the majority (36%) selected 1-2 weeks, with 28% opting for 4-7 days. For mid-module and group assignments the majority of students still opted for 1-2 weeks, however, the second largest groups now chose 2-3 weeks, rather than 4-7 days as for Question 3. For the final assignment 46% selected 2-3 weeks as an acceptable timeframe, followed by 23% for 3-4 weeks. The critical timeframe of two weeks indicated by these results has been confirmed in other studies, as Brown (2007, p.45) notes:

These comments indicate clearly that students mainly considered the effectiveness of feedback in terms of it informing the next assignment. This perspective was also observed by Price et al.:

This study also finds an almost exact agreement from participants with McDonald’s (1991) view of two weeks being the maximum amount of time that students are prepared to wait before receiving feedback... there is a psychological period of time beyond which feedback begins to lose its effect, and…students appear very clear as to what this period of time is.

Most students, even when they did see the feed-forward function of feedback, took a more short-termist view than staff of the timeframe in which they could apply the feedback. The consequence of this difference was that students often considered feedback from staff to be vague and ambiguous because they 28

could not immediately apply it to another piece of work. Instead, students were often looking for explicit instructions about how to do better next time, and much feedback did not conform to this wish (Price et al., 2010, p.285).

such as voice recognition software, as suggested by Robinson et al. (2011, p.8).

However, there were also comments that emphasised that quality of feedback was more important than speed:

In this section the preferred format and legibility of written feedback was explored. Question 7 asked students: How would you like to receive written feedback? Current practice in the faculty consists of either typed or hand-written feedback on the cover sheet only. The options of Hand-written on relevant sections of assignment and Set out in a table against the marking scheme were added at the suggestion of the pilot focus group. The majority of students (42%) chose Hand-written on relevant sections of assignment as their preferred format, while 25% selected Typed on cover sheet. 13% preferred to receive feedback electronically and 10% would like feedback Set out in a table against the marking scheme. Only 4% opted for Handwritten on cover sheet only, while 6% did not have a preference.

Format and legibility of written feedback

“It’s better to get clear, useful and individual feedback, even if it takes slightly longer to receive work back with a grade.” “Granted that lecturers have busy schedules, I still think that feedback on assignments is one of the most crucial aspects of the learning process as it allows for you to assess how well you have understood the module/assignment criteria. Rather than lecturers simply rushing through this process, it should, in fact, be an area that they spend the most time on - we pay them enough after all!” Finally, there was just one lone sympathetic student voice acknowledging: “I am fully aware of the reason it takes lecturers 3-4 weeks to return feedback and this is fully acceptable“.

Less than a third of students therefore receive feedback in their preferred format, while the majority of students do not. These results are to an extent surprising, as students generally prefer typed feedback to hand-written feedback, as discussed below. However, an explanation may be the difficulties students described in working out which particular section of their assignment a comment on the cover sheet referred to, which would suggest that a more effective system of cross-referencing these comments to the relevant section of the assignment is needed.

Likert statement S20 followed up a suggestion made by the pilot focus group and asked students whether they would accept general feedback to the group in exchange for receiving their grade more quickly. However, 71% of students disagreed with this statement, while only 16% agreed, confirming the importance assigned to individualised feedback. This data suggests that a central reason why students require quick turnaround for feedback, ideally within two weeks, lies in their narrow interpretation of the purpose of feedback, namely to inform the next assignment. There is then clearly a need to broaden students’ understanding of the purpose and function of feedback, particularly in large undergraduate cohorts where a two-week timeframe for feedback is unrealistic. At the same time, innovative ways of facilitating a speedier turnaround should be explored, for example by taking advantage of new technologies

Question 8 addressed the issue of legibility of hand-written feedback, which students frequently raise as a problem. Students were asked whether they were able to read hand-written feedback. Just 7% responded with Yes, handwritten feedback is no problem for me, and a further 62% with Depends on the lecturer but it’s okay most of the time. However, 27% of students stated I struggle quite often to work it out and 4% claimed I usually can’t decipher it. These percentages are in line with other studies, for example Robinson et al. (2011, p.5): 29

voice recognition software or the use of a database of pre-written comments to generate personal reports for students, should be considered.

To be useful it is important that feedback can be easily read. The majority of feedback provided to these students is hand-written rather than electronic. Results indicate that 71.1% of our students report that their feedback is always or usually legible. However, this does indicate that approximately 30% (or 50 students) in our sample felt that sometimes the feedback that they receive is not legible, which is of concern.

As students are obliged to submit their written assignments typed rather than hand-written, it seems inconsistent not to apply the same rules to written feedback provided by academics. While the switch from hand-written to typed feedback will eventually occur naturally, with increasing numbers of academics themselves more at ease and proficient with electronic forms of communication than with hand-writing, a more proactive approach to this aspect of feedback delivery is desirable. This may require active intervention by senior management in order to ensure timely progress.

In the comment section for Question 8 there were several strong statements asking for feedback to by typed, such as the following: “I think that all feedback should be TYPED as I often struggle to understand or read the comments written to me.” In addition there were several unprompted comments on lack of legibility of written feedback in other sections of the questionnaire, which indicate that for some students this is indeed a critical factor in the delivery of feedback. This section was complemented by two Likert items (S2 and S13), which further probed students’ preferences with regard to typed or hand-written feedback. The responses to these two statements initially seem contradictory, as over 77% of students agreed that all feedback should be typed (S2), and yet over 52% also stated that they don’t mind handwritten feedback (S13). One explanation for this inconsistency may be a comment added to these questions, where a student stated: “I have no preference between typed or handwritten feedback as long as it is legible.” Students who can always or usually read their lecturers’ handwriting do not mind receiving this type of written feedback. Nevertheless, given a choice, the clear preference for most students is typed feedback.

Student use of feedback Questions in this section explored students’ perspectives on their use of and engagement with the feedback provided. Question 9 asked students what they do with the written feedback they receive. According to students’ responses 93% always pick up marked assignments and another 6% pick up marked assignments most of the time. 81% stated that they always read the feedback, with another 18% reading it most of the time. These figures may be somewhat surprising to academics whose office shelves hold stacks of uncollected assignments, and is likely to reflect the selfselecting sample of respondents containing a higher than average ratio of more engaged and diligent students. 73% of students claimed that they always keep feedback they receive for future reference, with another 13% holding onto it most of the time. However, just 33% stated that they always refer back to feedback from a previous assignment when they start a new assignment, with another 26% taking this course of action most of the time.

Discussing their findings on legibility, Robinson et al. (2011, p.8) point out that while academics may feel that handwritten feedback is more personal, feedback cannot be useful if it is illegible. They also draw attention to students’ declining experience with deciphering handwriting due to an increased reliance on technology and conclude:

Data from this question was triangulated with two Likert statements. While some lecturers believe that many students do not read the feedback given, 86% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement Most of the time I do not read the feedback given (S11). 60% of students even claimed to refer back to feedback on previous work when beginning a new

One simple method of improving student satisfaction with feedback is to increase the legibility of comments given. More time effective methods of providing typed feedback, such as 30

assignment (S17), which closely matches the response in Question 9 (see above).

distribution curve, with the majority of respondents, 35.6% and 39.1% respectively, choosing the ‘neither/nor’ middle option.

Two further Likert statements explored students’ use of feedback with regard to the stage of a module at which the feedback is given. About 55% of students agreed that they are more likely to read feedback given for the first assignment in a module (S6). Nevertheless, nearly 70% of respondents disagreed with Likert item S15: Feedback for the final assignment in a module is of no use to me as I have moved on to the next module. This poses a challenge to an approach that focuses feedback on assessments carried out in the earlier parts of a module and provides marks only for final assignments.

Question 10 asked students how effective they thought different approaches would be in encouraging them to engage with feedback. By far the most effective approach was seen to be a face-to-face meeting with a lecturer to discuss the assignment, followed by the option of having to collect grade and feedback from the lecturer rather than the faculty office, and being sent feedback by e-mail before receiving the grade. Verbal feedback given to the group during a seminar or lecture attracted a mixed response, while group feedback posted on the Learning Network was seen as the least effective approach (Table 2).

Three Likert items (S3, S8 and S16) explored opinions about student engagement frequently heard from academics and students alike, including participants at the pilot focus group, and previously in staff interviews (Bohnacker-Bruce, 2011). Over 55% of respondents agreed with the statement I am more interested in my grade than the feedback (S8), while a substantial minority of 25% disagreed. However, someone being more interested in their grade than the feedback does not necessarily indicate that feedback is of no interest to them at all. Data from this research shows very clearly that students assign high importance to feedback and this is also evident in other research:

Table 2: Question 10 - Effectiveness of approaches to encourage student engagement with feedback 10. How effective do you think would the following approaches be in encouraging you to engage with feedback? Please select one option for each row. Very Quite Not very Not effective effective effective effective at all Lecturer invites me to discuss my work and 75.2% 20.7% 4.1% 0.0% the feedback face-toface. Grade and feedback have to be collected 34.7% 40.5% 21.5% 3.3% from the lecturer. Lecturer sends me feedback by e-mail 21.5% 47.1% 21.5% 9.9% before I get my grade. Group feedback is posted on the Learning 7.4% 36.4% 42.1% 14.0% Network. Verbal feedback is given to the group 14.9% 40.5% 33.9% 10.7% during a seminar or lecture.

The results…of this study suggest that extensive feedback is both read and valued by students regardless of the grade awarded. This contradicts previous literature that suggested that grades are ‘all-important’ (Stothart 2008; Wojtas 1998) and this suggests, in contrast to the views held by Butler (1987), that students are still keen to look beyond simply comparing grades with their peers (Robinson et al., 2011, p.8). Statements S3 and S16 explored the link between student ability and use of feedback, suggesting The students who need the feedback the most are the least likely to read it (S3) and Able students are more likely to read the feedback (S16). The spread of responses for both these statements followed a similar standard

Quality of Feedback Although the questionnaire was overall more focused on exploring the procedural aspects of feedback delivery, some aspects of feedback quality were explored through additional Likert 31

However, it is also possible that a lack of understanding of the feedback discourse means that students are mistaking feedback which is presented differently as being different. It may be that although the feedback appears to be different when taken at face value the same advice is being given just in a different way.

statements. Over 90% of students agreed that Feedback should give specific direction for improvement (S12), and nearly 80% agreed that Feedback should be specific about the limitations or failings of a piece of work (S14). However, only around 65% of respondents agreed with the statement Lecturers make it clear what I need to do to improve my work (S5), while over 20% disagreed. Quality of feedback attracted many comments from students in various sections of the questionnaire, ranging from the entirely negative to the fairly positive, as the following two comments illustrate:

Other aspects of Feedback Several Likert items related to less quantifiable aspects of feedback, such as clarity of feedback, encouraging feedback and the linking of feedback to the marking scheme.

Clarity of feedback

“I can’t think of one instance where feedback on an assignment has been useful. I have never been given any specific areas to improve on (and this isn’t because my work is always good, because it isn’t) which is the most useful constructive criticism a student needs for improvement.”

Two very similar Likert statements (S19 and S22) explored the clarity of feedback, asking students whether they understood lecturers’ comments and the feedback. Although very similar, there was a noticeable difference in the responses. About 38% of respondents agreed that they often do not understand what lecturers’ comments mean, while only 28% agreed that they often do not understand what the feedback means. This difference may indicate that the majority of students are able to understand the feedback overall but sometimes do not understanding particular comments. An example of this can be found in the following student comment: “Also, although someone might write in feedback “you need to be more critical” this has never been discussed in a class: “how” to be critical”.

“My lecturers are usually very good at giving lots of feedback, generally this is supportive comments and ways/ areas that need improvement. They also try to keep us informed as to what is going on with the marking.” Students did not generally make explicit their definition of good quality feedback; the closest a student came was the following description: “It needs to prove they have read and understood your work.” On the other hand, students were very descriptive of feedback that did not meet their expectations, such as: “Feedback needs to be more detailed. Instead of saying improvements need to be made, be specific on what improvements these are.”, and “Feedback is of varying quality dependent on the lecturer. One memorable one being “Some parts good, other parts not”.” Indeed, variations in the quality of feedback were a common complaint, attracting a number of student comments.

Encouraging feedback In previous research on feedback with academics (BohnackerBruce, 2011) there was strong evidence of lecturers routinely giving students some positive feedback, whatever the quality of the student’s work. This was reflected in the students’ responses: 65% of students agreed that lecturers manage to make a positive comment, even when the work submitted was not of a high standard (S7). However, from the discussions in the student pilot group it became clear that students found this confusing, and Likert statement S23 was added to the student questionnaire to further investigate this. 74% of students stated that they found it confusing to get positive feedback when being given a poor

Variation in feedback was also reported as a problem by participants in a study by Robinson et al. (2011, p.8), for which the authors offer the following explanation:


feedback effective. However, it is also clear that the effectiveness of feedback can be affected detrimentally if these aspects are not dealt with adequately, if the “conditions for effective feedback” are not in place. It is therefore important to ensure that the procedural aspects of feedback are as conducive as possible to the effectiveness of feedback. For instance, legibility is a necessary pre-condition for effectiveness of feedback. It seems self-evident that in order for feedback to be effective, students need to be able to actually read it. However, this research indicates that for a substantial minority of students this is not the case consistently. To exclude any difficulties with legibility, all written feedback should be typed rather than hand-written. Feedback that students cannot read is a wasted effort and likely to frustrate students and increase their dissatisfaction.

grade, and equally, critical comments alongside a good grade. One student noted: “It is not useful feedback when they don’t give consistent marks across the board, i.e. when a lecturer gives you a good mark and some bad feedback and then your friend a really good mark and loads of bad feedback”.

Link to marking scheme During previous research on feedback with academics, variations in practice regarding the link between feedback and the marking scheme became apparent (Bohnacker-Bruce, 2011). Some staff members habitually used the marking scheme in their feedback, usually because this had been standard practice in their previous places of work, whereas others did not make the link explicit. Four Likert statements (S9, S10, S18 and S21) were used to explore this further.


With regard to timelines of feedback, this study, like several others, indicates that students only consider feedback timely if it is returned within two weeks. The likely reason for this is a short-term perspective on the central purpose of feedback, namely to inform the next assignment, rather than to contribute to students’ development in the longer term. This situation presents academics with a challenge, as a timeframe of two weeks is usually unmanageable for larger cohorts of undergraduates. While there is probably no single solution to this problem, active management of students’ expectations through clear explanations of the purpose and processes of feedback may make a longer timeframe more acceptable to students. At the same time, where smaller cohort sizes or the increased use of technology allow, feedback given within two weeks is likely to increase student satisfaction with feedback provision, while not, however, necessarily making the feedback more effective.

This paper presented student perspectives on practical, or procedural, aspects of feedback delivery, and on their use of and engagement with the feedback received. Price et al. (2010, p.287) point out that “measures such as timing, frequency, quantity or externally judged product quality can only indicate that some of the conditions for effective feedback are in place. They cannot prove that feedback is effective”. It is undoubtedly the case that the procedural aspects of feedback do not make

While individual verbal feedback was acknowledged to be most effective in encouraging student to engage with feedback, written feedback was the preferred format for a majority of students. Written feedback is considered the norm and accepted as effective and practicable for both staff and students. However, the availability of individual verbal feedback for those students who chose to make use of it increased students’ satisfaction with

Over 70% of students agreed that feedback should be linked directly to the marking scheme (S9), while just 6% disagreed, showing a strong support from students for this approach. Current practice does not consistently follow this approach and 44% of students agreed with S18 Lecturers don’t seem to relate their feedback to assessment criteria. On the other hand, 50% of respondents agreed with S21 I can see how my feedback relates to the assessment criteria and 38% agreed that lecturers make it clear how the mark was arrived at (S10). These responses are likely to be a reflection of the differences in practice students encountered.


feedback provision, and where it was not available decreased their satisfaction. Bearing in mind increasing demands on academics’ time, realistic ways of facilitating the provision of individual tutorials need to be found. One possible arrangement could be the offer of a ‘feedback clinic’, scheduled during a seminar following the return of an assignment, and running alongside the seminar, where students can sign up for a five- or ten-minute slot with the lecturer, taking a short absence from their seminar task. This and other effective arrangements already in use should be disseminated more widely and become part of normal practice.


Students in this study strongly challenged perceptions that they do not actually read the feedback provided, or that they are only interested in their grade. Instead they clearly expressed their appreciation of feedback that best serves what they consider to be the main purpose of feedback, namely to give practical advice on how to improve their performance in their next assignment. Satisfaction with feedback is likely to increase if it is provided in a way that meets these expectations. At the same time, students’ understanding of the more long-term aspects of feedback needs to be developed and expanded, to ensure they can take full advantage of it for their learning and performance.

Gibbs, G., and Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students learning, Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 1(1), 3-31.

Bohnacker-Bruce, S. (2011). What is effective feedback: The academic perspective. Capture 3, 7-14. Brown, J. (2007). Feedback: The student perspective. Research in Post-Compulsory Education 12 (1), 33–51. Cousin, G. (2009). Researching Learning in Higher Education: An Introduction to Contemporary Methods and Approaches. New York and London: Routledge.

Gibbs, G. (2010). Using assessment to support student learning. Available online at: [Accessed 18/12/2012] Miles, M., and Huberman, M. (1994). Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook 2nd Edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Author Biography National Student Survey (2008, 2009, 2010, 1011). [Last accessed 07/09/2012 ] Available from:

In her role as Learning & Teaching Fellow Sabine conducts research on aspects of Learning and Teaching and manages the Winchester Research Apprenticeship Programme (WRAP) in the Faculty of Business, Law and Sport, engaging undergraduate students with academic research. She has a Masters degree in Philosophy and Religion and her current PhD research is on the formation of Church of England ministers’ beliefs about other religions. Sabine’s first degree is in Advertising and Marketing and she has previously worked in Publishing, Communications and Marketing for a range of organisations.

National Union of Students (2008). NUS Student Experience Report 2008 [Accessed 07/09/2012] Available from: http://www. NUS_StudentExperienceReport.pdf Nicol, D., and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice, Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218. Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 501-517.


Poulos, A., and Mahony, M. J. (2008). Effectiveness of feedback: the students’ perspective, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(2), 143-154. Price, M., Handley, K., Millar, J. & O’Donovan, B. (2010). Feedback: all that effort, but what is the effect?, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(3), 277-289. Rae, A., and Cochrane, D. (2008). Listening to students: how to make written assessment feedback useful, Active Learning in Higher Education, 9(3), 217-230. Robinson, S., Pope, D. and Holyoak, L. (2011). Can we meet their expectations? Experiences and perceptions of feedback in first year undergraduate students, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, DOI:10.1080/02602938.2011.629291, p1-13. Weaver, M. (2006). Do students value feedback? Student perceptions of tutors’ written responses, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 31(3), 379-394.



Transforming assessment through the TESTA Project Tansy Jessop and Yaz El Hakim


the lives of our students. The design of assessment systems may contribute to a host of unintended and unwanted consequences for student learning, which may only be visible at programme level.

In 2009, the University of Winchester won a grant of 200k from the Higher Education Academy to conduct a National Teaching Fellowship Project on programme-wide assessment and feedback practices on seven programmes in four universities. The Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment (TESTA) project has captured the imagination of many universities in the sector, expanding to ten times its anticipated scope in three years, with at least seventy programmes having undergone the TESTA process in some twenty universities in the UK, Australia and the Netherlands. This article explores some of the key findings of TESTA, while providing some insight into its success and sustainability as an externally funded learning and teaching project.

Across the sector, HEA Subject Centre and FDTL projects, reflecting on the importance of assessment, have largely focussed at module level. Knight and Yorke (2003) describe one of the main consequences of modular degrees as the depletion of formative assessment opportunities (see also Rust, 2000; Yorke, 1998). The modular system has divided course credits into semester long units, in order to facilitate transferability across universities in the UK, and within countries who are signatories of the Bologna process. As a consequence, students study for degrees in discrete units, in compressed time, with the need to measure and accredit their achievements being the main drivers for a largely summative assessment diet.

Introduction Why programme assessment?

Recently, there has been a resurgence of research interest in programme-wide assessment reflecting anxieties that degree coherence, progression, and ‘slow learning’ are at risk in modular degrees (Bloxham & Boyd, 2007; Claxton, 1998; Gibbs & Dunbar-Goddet, 2008; 2009; Knight & Yorke, 2003; Knight, 2000; Rust, 2000). In the literature, there is recognition that changing assessment to improve student learning will require a whole programme approach. In responding to sector wide problems in the design of assessment, the ASKe CETL (Price et al., 2008) have developed an ‘assessment manifesto’ for improving student

Research demonstrates the centrality of assessment for learning (Ramsden, 1992; Knight, 1995; Boud & Falchikov, 2006). Assessment influences student perceptions and their satisfaction with higher education, reflected year in and year out in low scores on the National Student Survey, which in turn spawn university league table rankings. Assessment requirements profoundly influence the study behaviour of students (Innis, 1996; Gibbs & Dunbar-Goddet, 2007), while assessment outcomes affect graduate opportunities (Boud, 1995). Assessment demonstrates what we value in teaching and learning, and significantly shapes 37

t To develop a deeper understanding of patterns of assessment in different disciplines and universities

learning through assessment, emphasising formative assessment and feedback, reducing summative assessment and raising questions about written criteria and feedback.

t To work with whole programme teams in developing evidence based assessment designs based on educational principles

Research has demonstrated that institutions have distinctive ‘assessment environments’ that frame programme, discipline and module-level practice (Gibbs & Dunbar-Goddet, 2007). One institution may have one sixtieth of the formative-only assessment of another, nine times as much summative assessment, and half as much written feedback delivered four times as slowly (ibid, 2007).

t To engage students in the research process, including as paid research assistants, facilitators of focus groups and participants t To ‘measure’ or use proxy indicators to measure improvements in student learning

The TESTA project grew out of evidence and literature to suggest that assessment regimes in UK higher education strongly favoured a diet of summative assessment over formative, and that this was detrimental to student learning. In parallel, a growing body of research was suggesting that modular degree structures were having deleterious effects on assessment design and student learning through an emphasis on the module’s assessment rather than the coherence of the whole programme’s assessment diet. The importance of the TESTA project has been in its emphasis on gathering empirical evidence on whole programme assessment regimes, which are shared with programme teams in a context of tried and tested assessment and feedback principles (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004; Nicol & McFarlane-Dick, 2007). The project design has underscored the value of collecting robust and particular research data, which presented a case study of the typical student’s assessment experience across a whole degree programme. TESTA identified a need for programme teams to engage with the ‘big picture’ of what assessment and feedback regimes looked like from a student perspective, and to identify and address problematic patterns. In essence, it seemed that change required whole programmes to take a new approach.

t To leverage change in institutional QA arrangements.

The TESTA Methodology

What TESTA aimed to accomplish

TESTA is based on a triangulated research methodology drawing on the conceptual foundation of Gibbs and Simpsons’ (2004) paper on the conditions of assessment that improve student learning. The reasons we adopted this methodology over others was that it combined qualitative and quantitative methods; it was a tried and tested, published methodology; and we needed to present robust programme data to teams. Gibbs and Dunbar-Goddet (2007, 2009) had published on distinguishing university and programme-level assessment environments using this method, and we knew that it discriminated features of programme environments. The TESTA methodology uses three tools to triangulate data. These include a programme audit which consists of a qualitative interview with the programme leader and a content analysis of programme documents; the use of a quantitative questionnaire to determine students learning behaviour in relation to assessment and feedback patterns in the programme; and finally focus groups with between three and eight students to provide explanation for some of the phenomena suggested by the audit and questionnaire.

The aims of the TESTA project as originally stated in our bid remained constant. These were to:

The Programme Audit

t To improve student learning by changing assessment patterns at the programme level

The programme audit consists of a discussion with the programme leader over programme documents to elaborate and quantify the ‘official’ assessment regime, as well as sampling 38

written feedback from the administrator. The purpose of the audit is to discover what assessment and feedback a typical student might expect over the course of a three-year degree programme. The audit captured data on the following aspects of assessment on the programme:

t Use of feedback

t Number of summative tasks

t Deep approach

t Number of formative tasks

t Surface approach

t Varieties of assessment

t Learning from exams

t Proportion exams to coursework

Focus Groups

t Appropriateness of assessment t Clear goals and standards

We conducted two to five focus groups per programme with 3-10 final year students in order to provide textual explanation for scores on the AEQ, and cross check the audit data. The discussion ranged from types of assessment, how assessment influences effort, what feedback is like, when it reaches them, how useful it is, perceptions of online, oral and written feedback, ideas about ‘feed forward’ and how they achieve a good ‘nose’ for quality.

t Amount of written feedback in word counts t Calculation of ‘formal’ oral feedback through tutorials, generic feedback etc t Overview of criteria, learning outcomes, course docs.

Assessment Experience Questionnaire (AEQ)

Pre and post-intervention data collection

The AEQ is a survey developed by Gibbs and Simpson (2003). The AEQ has been used widely to measure the extent to which students experience various conditions of learning at modulelevel. The version used in this project had been revised to distinguish between programme environments (Gibbs & Dunbar Goddet, 2007, p.10). It consists of 28 statements clustered into nine scales linked to conditions of learning from assessment, with one overall satisfaction item. Students respond on a five point Likert scale, which ranges from strongly agree (5) to strongly disagree (1). The nine scales on the AEQ are:

The design of TESTA included pre and post intervention cycles of data collection to try to assess impact. Five out of seven programmes have undergone a full TESTA cycle of data collection. In most cases interventions ran from September 2010 for one year, before we started a second cycle of data collection. This entailed a repeat of the AEQ, programme audit and focus groups to try to capture data about the effects of various interventions. The technical process of collecting postintervention data is much simpler than the complex process of discovering impact, given the number of different variables at play on any one programme, and wider institutional changes in at least one of the four institutions.

t Quantity and distribution of effort t Coverage of syllabus t Quantity and quality of feedback


Research representation and participation: catalysts for change

In TESTA we used an approach to change, which is similar to three categories in Land’s ‘Orientations to Academic Development’, in Eggins and Macdonald (2003). Our work drew on the following orientations:

An early version of TESTA was piloted by Gibbs and Dunbar Goddet (2007; 2009) at three well-known universities. This early version did not contain the key change elements of a carefully constructed programme case study, and a formal event for programme teams at which this case study was discussed and findings negotiated. In the TESTA project, the formulation of case studies drew on Richardson’s (1990) work on academic writing, and research on the pedagogic use of case studies (Kreber, 2001), which suggests that “case studies should tell a good story, raise a thought-provoking issue, contain elements of conflict, promote empathy with the central characters, lack an obvious, clear-cut answer, take a position, demand a decision and be relatively concise” (Gross-Davis, 1993, p.162, in Kreber, 2001). The formula we adopted for representing qualitative data from focus groups used the notion of headlines and supporting quotations, which proved a powerful incentive for lecturers to read the quotations. Richardson (1990) argues that in most social science research, readers skip over the quotations and read the interpretation, and we wanted to reverse this trend and encourage lecturers to listen to the student voice.

t The researcher: this orientation sees evidence as being the most influential way of influencing colleagues and assumes a rational-empirical approach to change. t Interpretive hermeneutic: this approach prizes dialogue to balance different views, and draws on multiple perspectives to bring about new shared understandings of practice. Land describes this orientation as conversational. t Discipline-specific: this orientation works within the grain of disciplines, respects different disciplinary traditions and sees these as the product of a situated community of practice (Wenger, 1991).

The scope of TESTA The TESTA project has generated large volumes of data from eight universities including statistical data from the AEQ = n. circa 1200; qualitative data from programme audits (n= 23) and focus groups (n = 47 with 274 students). TESTA expanded beyond its funded remit to support the conduct of research in more than four times the number of universities envisaged, and more than ten times the number of programmes planned, demonstrating its value for money, and strengthening the credibility and generalizability of its research findings. The expansion occurred in spite of the widespread perception and reality that the TESTA methodology is complex and resource intensive, involving statistical analysis of survey data; qualitative analysis of more than a thousand pages of focus group transcripts (47 focus groups at an average of 25 pages each) and negotiating access to students and potentially sensitive data. The quantitative data were analysed using the statistical package SPSS and qualitative data have been analysed using Atlas ti, qualitative data software. The main findings reported in the next section reflect this large data set.

The single most powerful moment in the TESTA process was the meeting with programme teams over their case studies, which they had not yet seen or read. Prior to this meeting we met with the programme leader over their case study to ensure that the data did not compromise ethics or confidentiality. The programme team meeting was framed as a collegiate conversation, with a strong developmental focus. The TESTA researchers presented the case study as unfinished business rather than the ‘final word’ about a programme, because we knew that lecturers would add context to our interpretation, fill in gaps and correct misinterpretations. In every case the meeting proved to be a catalyst for thoughtful change by programme teams, and presented a rare opportunity for a whole team to catch sight of what the entire programme assessment pattern looked like and how the assessment process was experienced by students.


TESTA findings

students lack confidence in their own judgement of what constitutes ‘good’.

The findings discussed below demonstrate assessment phenomena on 23 programmes at eight UK universities with which the TESTA team have worked closely.

t Students can expect to receive an average of 5,808 words of written feedback which equates to 150 words per summative task over the course of a three year undergraduate degree, yet on average students do not rate the quantity and quality of feedback highly, scoring a mean of 3.34 on a 1-5 Likert scale. In focus groups they describe feedback on assessment tasks as coming too late to be of use, partly because it often comes after the close of a module. Both the timing and timeliness of feedback impact on its usefulness. Electronic administrative procedures may also work against the use of feedback, especially where marks are released electronically, and written feedback is administered on paper after the release of marks. In some cases students describe the quality of feedback as so variable in quality, lacking in developmental focus, or general in tone, that it lacks usefulness.

t The ratio of summative to formative assessment is much higher in almost all programmes, averaging at three summative to one formative event, and with doubtful evidence that all students are required to complete the formative tasks. TESTA defines formative assessment as required, unmarked and eliciting feedback from peers, tutors or through electronic feedback. This ratio of high summative to low formative occurs in spite of overwhelming evidence that formative assessment helps students to learn. t Student effort scores on the AEQ are low with a mean of 3.67 on a 1-5 Likert scale, where 5 is strongly agree, indicating that students generally do not agree that the programme assessment pattern encourages high levels of effort, distributed within and across modules. The assessment pattern on most degree programmes allows students to work in fits and starts. The common pattern of two summative assessments per module with very little formative assessment is consistent with low effort levels.

t The TESTA process has shown that many programmes’ assessment demands are built up from the module to the programme so that lecturers often see the programme through the lens of their own modules. Modular assessments are often developed in isolation and without relation to the whole programme. The full assessment pattern is not apparent until it is mapped across the whole programme. Mapping often demonstrates a lack of clear sequencing and progression through a whole programme, with students experiencing new and varied forms of assessment at odd points, and not gaining mastery of particular forms.

t In spite of well documented modules and programmes, outlining aims, learning outcomes and assessment tasks reasonably clearly, the vast majority of students on programmes are not clear about goals and standards by the final year of their degree, giving a neutral response with a mean of 3.38 on the AEQ to questions about understanding goals and standards. In focus groups, factors that hinder their capacity to make judgements about quality include inconsistencies between lecturer expectations and marking practices, and a seemingly ‘thin’ and somewhat tacit relationship between assessment criteria and lecturer marking standards. Without intentional strategies to help students internalise goals and standards,

TESTA Change Outputs TESTA generated local level changes within degree programmes to address particular findings. The most common change in assessment design was the inclusion of much more formative assessment, often using techniques like blogging or reflection papers, or multi-stage assessment with gateway points which students had to complete formatively in order to progress to


being widely used by the global higher education community, although this does not directly show impact.

summative points. Through TESTA evidence, degree programmes became much more attuned to sequencing assessment tasks and variety to help students gain mastery, and the linkages and connectedness across modules. In two cases, whole programmes revalidated their degrees to reflect more programmatic forms of assessment across modules, and reinforce conceptual connections across linked modules. In one case this affected the credit weightings of the degree and led to an approach that built on coherent strands.

t Members of the team have published three peer-reviewed publications and one online publication on HEA Escalate subject centre website. We have published an article in the SEDA journal, Educational Developments, looking at aspects of the research and change process adopted in TESTA. We have published a paper in Active Learning in Higher Education exploring the relationship between quality assurance processes and assessment design, and we have published a case study of a teacher training programme’s TESTA findings on the Escalate website at There is one disciplinary paper on Arts and Humanities’ students’ perspectives from TESTA data which has recently been accepted for publication and is in press in Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 12(1).

The value of cycles of feedback on which students engage and reflected was captured through a simple programmatic feedback sheet on one programme which required students to cut off the development points from one set of feedback, staple this to the next task, and comment on how they had responded to the feedback. On a few programmes, particularly those with many fractional and part time staff members, students described inconsistent marking standards and practices. Within these programmes, whole teams practised standardising their marking in workshops to develop stronger common marking standards and approaches.

t The TESTA project leader/lead researcher has trained 12 researchers in six institutions to undertake the TESTA process, and colleagues from nine institutions have undergone intensive workshops on undertaking the research the methodology.

TESTA Research outputs t TESTA was the theme for the HEA Change Programme on assessment and feedback in 2011/12. This has generated a fresh community of practice between seven different institutions who are using TESTA for a variety of different purposes and contexts:

t TESTA has helped more than 20 UK institutions and more than 70 degree programmes to think more programmatically about their assessment and feedback patterns (see Appendix A), using a tried and tested research methodology t TESTA has developed and refined a case study format that can be found at The lead researcher has written more than 20 case studies for use by programme teams.

t As a tool for periodic review (Coventry University); t On postgraduate programmes (Essex University); t With flexible and craft/studio-oriented programmes and more recently to support periodic review (Dundee);

t TESTA has been widely disseminated to more than 30 live audiences (circa 1500 people in total), including 10 keynote addresses, and one major online event (JISC Expert Session at Annual Conference), and has website hits of approximately 7,000 visitors since was launched in September 2010. The widespread dissemination indicates that TESTA is

t To strengthen assessment and feedback processes across five faculties (Birmingham);


workshops and analysis; improving students’ use of feedback through requiring self-reflection; and managing the return times of feedback through planning hand in dates more carefully, for example. Finally, change processes have incorporated some institutional changes to quality assurance practices to facilitate ‘fast track’ processes for evidence-informed, pedagogically driven changes to assessment design.

t To enhance feedback processes (London Metropolitan & Robert Gordon); t Using less resource intensive research processes (Keele). t TESTA findings have been used by universities (for example, East Anglia) to inform an institutional review of assessment and feedback, as well as by whole faculties (Arts and Social Sciences at University of New South Wales) to leverage programmatic changes to assessment & feedback.

Conclusions TESTA has gained an international reputation as a valuable National Teaching Fellowship project because of its focus on programme-level assessment, its robust research process and its roots in educational principles about teaching and learning. The success and growth of TESTA in the four partner institutions which started with seven programmes and grew to more than twenty programmes is matched by expansion beyond the partner institutions to a further 13 UK universities, and one Australian university. Altogether some 70 programmes have undergone the TESTA process.

t TESTA is the seedbed for a successful 190k bid to the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) for a three-year institutional change project to investigate and bring about enhancements to assessment and feedback using technology, called Feedback and Assessment for Students with Technology (FASTECH). The website can be found at:

TESTA Outcomes The main outcome of TESTA has been to change the way participating programme teams think about assessment and feedback processes. TESTA has challenged a view of assessment through the lens of ‘my module’ and restated the value of a collaborative programme-wide assessment design, which attends to sequencing, timing, linkages and student learning across the whole programme. Within this paradigm shift from a modular to a programmatic view of assessment, and through discussion with programme teams, the value of formative processes has been underlined, and many lecturers on programme teams have begun to wrestle with strategies to embed formative processes in ways which students take seriously. One of the most successful interventions following TESTA has been the insertion of a final year module which requires students to enter and comment on each other’s academic blog posts across the year, and incorporates face to face discussion of these blog posts in seminar groups. The success of this process has been measured through post-intervention data collection, and improved NSS scores on assessment and feedback. Other change processes have addressed variations in marking standards through team marking

As a research tool, a way of thinking about assessment, and a call to more programmatic approaches in how students learn, TESTA has had a profound influence in the lead institution and the partner institutions. It has influenced the partners and many other universities and academics in their thinking about assessment - to view the whole programme, to prioritise assessment for learning, to sequence tasks carefully, to reduce summative assessment in favour of formative, and to encourage dialogue and closer working between colleagues about what standards mean. As a way of improving student learning from assessment, we do not yet have enough evidence to make bold claims. Against a backdrop of widespread institutional change, it has been difficult to measure the influence of single programme interventions on student learning. Given that on most programmes, interventions have only run for one year, it is difficult to make judgements based on data from one year of implementation.



The value of TESTA seems to lie in getting whole programmes to discuss evidence and work together at addressing assessment and feedback issues as a team, with their disciplinary knowledge, experience of students, and understanding of resource implications. The voice of students, corroborated by statistics and programme evidence has a powerful and particular effect on programme teams, especially as discussion usually raises awareness of how students learn best. TESTA evidence has shown itself to be a catalyst for action and change in the interests of improving student learning, again and again.

Adams, J., & McNab, N. (In-press). Understanding Arts and Humanities Students’ Experiences of Assessment and Feedback, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 12(1). Bloxham, S., & Boyd, P. (2007). Planning a Programme Assessment Strategy. In Developing Effective Assessment in Higher Education, (157-75). Berkshire: Open University Press. Boud, D., & Falchikov, N. (2006). Aligning assessment with longterm learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 31(4) 399-413.

Acknowledgements The authors wish to thank the Higher Education Academy for their generous funding of the TESTA project; the University of Winchester for their unstinting support and resourcing of the project; the partner universities – project leaders, programme leaders, academics and students – for their enthusiastic participation; and Graham Gibbs for his wise counsel, and the research methodology on which TESTA is based.

Boud, D. (Ed.). (1995). Enhancing Learning through Selfassessment. London: Kogan Page. Claxton, G. (1998). Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind. London: Fourth Estate. Feedback and Assessment for Students with Technology (FASTECH) (2011-14) A JISC-funded project. Website available at: Accessed 2 July 2012.

Author biography Gibbs, G., & Dunbar-Goddet, H. (2007). The effects of programme assessment environments on student learning. Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from York/documents/ourwork/research/gibbs_0506.pdf

Dr Tansy Jessop is a Senior Fellow in Learning and Teaching at the University of Winchester. She leads the TESTA National Teaching Fellowship Project which is funded by the UK’s Higher Education Academy, and she project manages FASTECH, a JISC funded project designed to enhance assessment and feedback through technology.

Gibbs, G., & Dunbar-Goddet, H. (2009). Characterising programme-level assessment environments that support learning. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(4) 481–9.

Yassein El Hakim is the Director of Learning and Teaching, and Head of the Learning and Teaching Development Unit (LTDU). In addition to his position as Director of Learning and Teaching he is now a co-lead of the NTFS Project - TESTA as well as being the institutional lead for the JISC Project - Co-gent, and the leader of the Benefits Realisation project. Following the successful bid of FASTECH (a 2 year funded project by JISC), he is also the technological lead for the three year project.

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 1(1) 3–31. Gross-Davis, B. (1993). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. In C. Kreber (2001) Learning Experientially through Case Studies? A Conceptual Analysis. Teaching in Higher Education, 6(2) 217-228.


Price, M., O’Donovan, B., Rust, C., & Carroll, J (2008). Assessment standards: a manifesto for change. Brookes eJournal of Learning and Teaching, 2(3). Retrieved from:

Innis, K. (1996) Diary Survey: how undergraduate full-time students spend their time. Leeds: Leeds Metropolitan University. Jessop, T., McNab, N., & Gubby, L. (2012). Mind the gap: An analysis of how quality assurance procedures influence programme assessment patterns. Active Learning in Higher Education, 13(3) 143-154.

Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London: Routledge. Richardson, L. (1990). Writing strategies: reaching diverse audiences. Newbury Park, California. Sage.

Jessop T., El Hakim Y., & Gibbs G. (2011). The TESTA Project: Research Inspiring Change. Educational Developments, 12(4) 12-16.

Rust, C. (2000). Opinion piece: A possible student-centred assessment solution to some of the current problems of modular degree programmes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 1. 126 31.

Jessop, T., Lawrence, P., & Clarke, H. (2011). TESTA: Case Study of a Change Process. BA Primary, University of Winchester. Retrieved from:

Shulman, L. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus. 134(3) 52-59.

Knight, P. (2000). The value of a programme-wide approach to assessment. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 25(3) 237-51.

TESTA (2009–12). Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment. Higher Education Academy, National Teaching Fellowship Project. Retrieved from:

Knight, P. (2001). Complexity and curriculum: A process approach to curriculum-making. Teaching in Higher Education, 6(3) 369–81.

Yorke, M. (1998). The management of assessment in higher education. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 23(2) 101-116.

Knight, P., & Yorke, M. (2003). Assessment, Learning and Employability. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Knight, P. (Ed). (1995) Assessment for learning in Higher Education. London: Kogan Page. Land, R. (2003). Orientations to Academic development. In H. Eggins, & R. Macdonald (Eds.). The Scholarship of Academic Development (34-46). London: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press. Nicol, D.J., & McFarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2)199-218.



An exploration of the impact that the educational environment has on student learning Stewart Cotterill


effective environments in which students can be both motivated and inspired.

Creating the right learning environment is crucial to ensure that students engage in the learning process. Well-structured learning environments can both inspire and motivate students to learn. This in turn generates a desire and thirst for knowledge in the student that academic members of staff can then seek to facilitate. The development of effective learning environments in higher education has become increasingly prioritised by higher education institutions. This approach to understanding learning environments in universities appears to reflect an increasingly ‘consumer’ focused student body, and higher education institutions attempt to further quantify the quality of their products. The development of effective learning environments and the adoption of innovative approaches to education can often be limited by the historical approaches that universities have taken to educating students. Contemporary pedagogic research has increasingly highlighted that the traditional lectureseminar approach to facilitating learning does not really support effective learning. As a result, the quality of the student learning experience is being compromised. This paper explores some of the factors currently limiting the development of effective learning environments and considers relevant questions and possible solutions. In particular this paper explores the input that students have in the design and delivery of the learning environment and explores recommendations to enhance the development of

Introduction Often in Higher Education academic staff focus too much on the taught aspects of the programmes that they write and deliver. While this is an important consideration this taught aspect contributes the smallest component of the overall module. In all module descriptors there is a much larger allocation of time for independent learning but little real clarity regarding how this time is structured. Indeed, depending on the module descriptors that you read this independent study time can account for between 70-80% of the total time for the students on the module. Yet, in constructing a module of learning, academic staff often just focus on the lectures, seminars and assessments without really considering the students learning environment holistically. Despite this general focus, there is increasing evidence that the learning environment can impact upon the degree of motivation experienced by the individual student (Ramsden, 1984; Pintrich, 2003). The student learning environment encompassing all of the components that link together facilitate student learning. More specifically, Grabinger and Dunlap (1995, p.10) suggest that the following factors are central to the implementation of a rich learning environment: 47

advocates that the knowledge representations generated by student learning are mental representations similar to mental models. Also, that student learning is demonstrably helped by the exchange of experiences and information, which in turn encourages the student to construct their own knowledge, concepts, and meaning (Driscoll, 2000). Deejring and Chaijaroen (2011) further hypothesised that learning environments that are built upon constructivism can help to construct knowledge more effectively than a lecturing-based approach to learning. The implication here is that linear instruction in the form of lectures, tutorials, and seminars will fail to achieve the most important educational objectives because of the over simplification of the materials and information presented to the student. This oversimplification then reduces the individual’s ability to transfer knowledge to new domains (Spiro, et al., 1992).

t Evolves from and is consistent with constructivist philosophies and theories; t Promotes study and investigation within authentic (i.e. realistic, meaningful, relevant, complex, and information-rich) contexts; t Encourages the growth of student responsibility, initiative, decision-making, and intentional learning; t Cultivates an atmosphere of knowledge-building learning communities that utilise collaborative learning among students and teachers; t Utilises dynamic, interdisciplinary, generative learning activities that promote high-level thinking processes (i.e. analysis, synthesis, problem-solving, experimentation, creativity, and examination of topics from multiple perspectives) to help students integrate new knowledge with old knowledge and thereby create rich and complex knowledge structures; and,

Increasingly, evidence is emerging that suggests that the majority of student learning takes place outside of the lecture or the seminar (O’Neil & McMahon, 2005). So how is this occurring? Is it accidental or has it been planned? There is often a misconception by staff and students that students need to be taught to learn, but this is simply not true. Admittedly there are some aspects of specific subjects that lend themselves more readily to being taught, such as an introduction to specific software programmes, but in the main students learn when they are interested in the topic. This is a simple truth, but if you really consider the implications, this realisation can be significant in impacting upon the way that learning activities and learning experiences are planned.

t Assess student progress in content and learning-to-learn through realistic tasks and performances. An effective learning environment has also been described as, a learning community that “includes the content taught, the pedagogical methods employed, the sequencing of learning activities, and the sociology of learning” (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991, p.6). Central to our understanding of learning environments is the utilisation of constructivist philosophies. These constructivist philosophies are exemplified by an approach that focuses on the construction of knowledge rather than the transmission of knowledge (Chaijaroen & Khanjak, 2008). It is now suggested that learning environments that help the student to develop the ability to construct knowledge and to learn by themselves are both effective and desirable (Deejring & Chaijaroen, 2011). To this end developing constructivist learning environments is one way in which this can be achieved. This constructivist approach

Building on this idea, one of the key responsibilities of academic staff should be to motivate and inspire the students to engage in learning (Bryson & Hand, 2007), then crucially look to facilitate and not to control the learning that takes place. In a lecture, students with iPads or laptops might become really interested in a specific idea, and as a result go online to find out more about it. At the end of that lecture the students might have learnt a lot about a topic, though it is not explicitly the learning that the academic member of staff was planning. So, significant learning 48

and implementation of the learning environment? Indeed, if you look at definitions of engaged learning in the literature they all suggest that students should be given an active role in the learning process (Wolf-Wendel, Ward & Kinzie, 2009). There is increasing evidence from a number of sources that suggests that students are looking to experience more integrated learning environments that are characterised by a greater embedding of ICT (NUS, 2010).

has taken place, but it might not be in line with the specified learning outcomes. This in turn raises a question about the importance of learning outcomes in the current context (Hussey & Smith, 2003). Can you really inspire and motivate students to learn if at the same time you are seeking to ensure that all students learn the same things? Learning outcomes appear to be more focused on delivery, and as a result become teaching outcomes rather than learning outcomes. Can you really control what someone learns? By overly controlling the learning that should take place you are less likely to inspire and motivate. Universities have become increasingly focused on teaching students what they need to know to pass assessments rather than looking to help students to learn. Indeed, universities in recent years have become overly focused on managing learning through things that are measurable and recordable. Unfortunately this has resulted in an overly constrained and regulated environment. It is right that universities seek to ensure the highest quality in their provision, but this should not be at the expense of the students learning experience. One casing point is the way that universities seek to engage with the student body. Often there is a continued focus of gaining student input into the quality assurance processes of programmes. But, this is usually in the form of feedback on the delivery of modules and not specifically on the development and design of the courses and associated learning environments.

There is also clear feedback from the student body that they do not feel that the majority of academic staff are currently sufficiently skilled to be able to do this (NUS, 2010). If this is the case we (as academics) are guilty of delivering a learning experience based on where we feel comfortable rather than where we need to be to enhance student learning. As students become increasingly based in technology this demand is going to increase. One particular challenge here relates to how universities support academic staff in up-skilling to be able to embed new technology and media into the learning environment. IT departments should have a team of expert trainers who engage with academic staff on a regular basis to enhance their understanding and acceptance for these new systems. Indeed it can be argued that these IT experts should be based in faculties, and potentially even in departments, to achieve the greatest synergy between the disciplines and the delivery. This should not be in addition to, but should be central to, the running of academic departments. Also, the provision of IT support needs to be a proactive rather than a reactive process. This could be achieved by helping academic staff to evolve their practices instead of waiting for them to have the time and drive to attend a course.

This feedback is often achieved through ‘requiring’ students to complete module evaluation and through trying to ensure student representatives attend programme/course committees. If students deemed this contribution to be important they would engage, but students vote with their feet by not attending, and the evidence suggests that we are asking students the wrong questions, and looking to engage them in the wrong discussions. Instead of asking students “was the module guide clear?”, or “are the library resources appropriate?”, why not treat the students like adults and bring them into the design and development of their learning experience (Mihans, Long, & Felten, 2008). While academic staff and universities are experts in higher education, current students are the experts in student life and how students learn. Why not seek to engage students in the design, evaluation

To develop the most effective learning environments there needs to be recognition on both sides that learning in higher education is a partnership between the academic staff and the individual students. To really empower this relationship there needs to be recognition of the role that both groups fulfil. Firstly, academic staff need to recognise that it is no longer possible to be an expert in all aspects of their discipline. Also, with the half-life on knowledge reducing (Kember & Leung, 2005) it is exceptionally difficult to be an expert in all aspects of a discipline. So the role 49

design and pedagogy in higher education (Jessop, Gubby, & Smith, 2011). Jessop et al. (2011) explain that the physical spaces that buildings create influence how people interact and relate within them. Lecture rooms often place the academic member of staff at the front, standing up, while the students are all grouped together in rows sitting in front of them. This portrays a teacher-pupil dynamic, and in this context both parties usually assume the roles that the environment dictates. Also, the use of technology in these environments is used in a very static way, and is often focused on the member of staff. Indeed, the physical space of the room often dictates the role that students will adopt. The more inclusive the physical environment the more involved the students will become in the process of learning.

of academic staff has evolved to be the facilitators of learning rather than the fonts of all knowledge. Academic staff can, though, be the guides for students in making sense of the knowledge that is out there, and in pointing students towards appropriate and reputable sources of information. Students too have to recognise that learning is something they have to take responsibility for and engage in (Bovill, Cook-Sather, & Felten, 2011). Paying significant fees to study at university does not mean that they are somehow going to be ‘taught’ everything that they need to know. Students need to view the fees as the membership fee for an exclusive club. A little like paying a gym membership. Like being a member of a gym, if you do not turn up and put the required effort in you will not get any associated benefits. So, while the academic staff are there to help and guide they ultimately cannot teach the students anything they do not want to learn. What the academic staff can do though is to seek to inspire the students by excelling in the areas they are experts, and by helping to ensure that the right environment exists for exceptional learning. Indeed, Bovill et al. (2011) suggested that if students and staff can break down the power differential between them there is the opportunity for “students to experience the freedom to become critical thinkers and critical beings in the world” (p.134).

Suggestions for enhancing the quality and design of the learning environment Kember and Leung (2005) suggested that the academic curriculum in higher education should include the development of key intellectual, interpersonal, and coping skills, as well as an appropriate professional and disciplinary knowledge. Intellectual skills include such skills as critical thinking, creative thinking and the capacity to deal with ill-defined problems. Interpersonal skills relate to communication ability, teamwork skills, interpersonal skills, leadership skills. Coping with an uncertain future focuses on flexibility, adaptability, and information technology skills. Students also need to develop self-regulatory skills such as time management, self-control, goal setting, developing an effective work/life balance, and the ability to pursue lifelong learning. So maybe a different starting point in designing a programme of study would be to take these higher order skills and look at how they can be developed, rather than retrospectively thinking about which ones might be covered in a module after the content has been determined.

There is evidence that the learning environment can also determine whether students adopt a surface or deep approach to learning (Gijbels et al., 2008). If the module is built around an assessment, students will engage in as much endeavour as is required to complete the assessment. However, if the assessment was built around student learning, the students would potentially engage in a far deeper approach to their learning. Indeed, the ‘this is what you need to know to pass the assessment’ is quite a constraining approach. There are many aspects to the learning environment. One aspect with particular relevance is the physical environment in which students learn. Current uses of the physical environment are often very limiting and can reinforce an unequal power relationship between staff and students. Indeed there is an increasing body of literature that focuses on the relationship between architectural

In looking to develop effective learning environments Kember, Ho and Hong (2010) suggest eight key elements that need to be considered to maximise the environments effectiveness. These include: establish interest, allow choice, establish the relevance of the subject, consider the type of learning activities that will 50

be most effective, develop understanding of key knowledge, implement effective assessment of learning activities, develop close academic-student relationships, and develop a sense of student belonging in the peer group.

Bovill et al. (2011) also suggested the following four approaches: to enhance the effectiveness of the learning environment:

Establish interest - This reflects the individuals’ specific preferences, but is also strongly influenced by the curriculum design and the nature of teaching. Linked to this is the ability to link the topic to the students’ lives, making the content relevant.

ii) Support dialogue across differences in both position and perspective;

i) Invite students to be partners in the learning process;

iii) Foster collaboration with both students and academics taking responsibility for learning and teaching;

Allow choice – By widening the potential content students are able to tailor the course to their specific interests and needs.

iv) Serve as intermediaries to foster new relationships between students and staff.

Establish the relevance of the subject - This relates to establishing interest, identifying that demonstrating relevance is an effective way to promote interest.

These guidelines appear to further reinforce the importance of the relationship between the academic staff and the students, developing a more equal position in the learning process.

Consider the type of learning activities that will be most effective – In particular this relates to being relevant to the associated profession that relates to the topic. Linking the content to the relevance for future career success is important.

Conclusion Creating the right learning environment is crucial to ensure that students engage in the learning process. Well-structured learning environments can both inspire and motivate students to learn, but often it takes a leap of faith from academic staff to make the required changes to maximise the effectiveness of the learning environment. In order to facilitate the development of the most effective environments we need to understand how students learn most effectively. This can only really be achieved through engaging the students in the discussion. By entering into this dialogue academic members of staff can reap the benefits of understanding the students’ perspective to construct an empowering and inspirational environment in which the responsibilities for learning are clear on both sides.

Develop understanding of key knowledge – The focus needs to be on core knowledge, rather than peripheral or abstract knowledge relating to the subject. The academic should then focus on teaching this key knowledge. Implement effective assessment of learning activities – These should be designed to facilitate learning as students often focus on the completion of assessments. Develop close academic-student relationships – This is achieved more readily by academic staff who demonstrate availability, friendliness and helpfulness to their students.

Author biography Stewart is a Research and Teaching Fellow in the Learning and Teaching Development Unit (LTDU) at the University of Winchester. He has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is the programme leader for the Postgraduate Certificate in Learning

Develop a sense of student belonging in the peer group – Cohort identity is important, as is the size of the groups in which the students learn.


and Teaching in Higher Education (PGCLTHE) and module tutor for the Practice of Teaching in Higher module on the programme.

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The introduction of a new strategic approach to employability among undergraduates. Richard Cheetham


it is how these can be used and further developed for current and future undergraduates in sport studies.

The importance of improving the employability of graduates has become a source of research, strategy and discussion in recent times (Fleming, Martin, Hughes & Zinn, 2009; Collins, 2011; & Universities Scotland, 2012) and is “high on the agenda for Higher Education Institutions” (Rae, 2007, p.605). Essential to the education of students is the need to prepare them to be ‘work-ready’ and to develop the right skills and approach that improve their chances of gaining ‘graduate employment (Minten, 2010; Universities Scotland, 2012). Employers of graduates have ‘raised the bar’ therefore making it more challenging and selective in order to gain employment. To quantify this, when it came to recruitment in 2010, 78% of them set a minimum of a 2:1 degree as essential (AGR, 2010). Trought (2012) emphasises that students need to think about their future and future employability skills from ‘day one’.

What was the rationale behind such a project? The Secretary of State for Higher Education, David Willets called for Universities to provide evidence of their employability and ‘job-readiness’ strategies (Trought, 2010). Willets regarded it as a responsibility that was deemed essential due to the increasing number of graduates entering the market place and specifically in sport concerns were voiced regarding their transition into employment (Minten, 2010, p.68). Institution and subject led employability initiatives have the potential to be a blue print as successful interventions for undergraduates and to start to change the “deeper cultural problem of the introverted nature of academic institutions” (Rae, 2007, p.608) that centres on the “discipline of research and course curricula”. Rae (2007) emphasises that career planning and development for meaningful employment opportunities should be at “the core of academic provision” (p.609). There is an obligation to introduce innovative and engaging schemes in order to ensure greater connection with employers and the workplace. Yorke (2006) states that “achievements outside the boundaries of the discipline are generally considered to be important (in the recruitment process)” (p.2). These achievements are to be found in the additionality that exists in programmes and the opportunities available both in addition to and outside academic study.

The purpose of this article is describe the design of an employability strategy established at department level not solely by using existing research and discussion on employability but also the application of views of recent Alumni who have gained related graduate employment on the key factors that contributed to and enhanced their successful career development whilst studying at the University of Winchester. It is their views that can give an insight into the work-based relevance, key advantages and specific skills attributed to their degree programme. Subsequently 55

skills gained and specific personal development. It could also be viewed as extremely important that references can be acquired from those they have worked with in volunteering, internships or placements to support the ‘traditional’ academic reference. This can help to provide information on practical application, work based skills and suitability of them for the post applied for. In line with recommendations from the Burgess Report (2007) the rapidly changing market place needs to be met with the adaptation of degree programmes to provide for and represent as achievements, both informal and formal learning opportunities. Trought (2012) refers to the “currency of experience” which is crucial when being faced with the ‘do you have any experience’ question on the application form or at interview (p.xxii). A “strong knowledge base alone does not guarantee a new graduate employment” and that “support for university work placements [are] as an important contributor to graduate skills development for employment” (Bell et al., 2003, p.191 cited in Fleming et al., 2008). Trought (2012) and High- Fliers Research (2011) both found gaining practical work experience as an invaluable requirement for those entering the employment market. Employers want and have an expectation of an aptitude that differentiates them from nongraduates and that regardless of the programme followed they will display skills and attributes essential for the workplace.

Increased competition in the employment market within sport and a belief that a competitive and enriched degree programme would attract potential and serve existing students combined with an appreciation that “young people realise increasingly that simply having a degree is insufficient in itself” (Rae, 2007, p.609). These were the key driving factors in the rationale behind this project The project aims to introduce a structured year plan of events targeting all sport students which provide employment based activities and learning opportunities. This will be used as a support and guidance structure in terms of career and personal development as well as designed to enrich the student experience at subject level. It is also coherent with the University of Winchester Strategic Plan (2010-2015) which emphasises the ‘embedding of employability skills in the curriculum’ as well as offering “the best preparation for life after university, equipping you with the skills to stand out from other graduates and secure the graduate-level job you want” (Why Winchester, 2012, p.15)

How shall employability be defined? For the purpose of this article employability use the definition by Yorke (2006) who refers to; “A set of achievements – skills, understanding and personal attributes – that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefit themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy”. (p.8)

Collins (2011), Trought (2012) and Fleming et al. (2008) comment on providing industry based skills and opportunities for students to create awareness, of demands of the work place and an understanding of the ‘work culture’. Collins (2011) states it is crucial that the gap is bridged between employment and higher education in sport related programmes and that the growth the industry has experienced needs “creative graduates” with “sector based skills” (p.26). Bell. Crebert, Patrick, Bates & Cragnolini (2003) cited in Fleming et al (2008) highlight that ‘capabilities’ (practical application) are considered to have “greater influence on success in the workplace” (p.191). The continued professionalization of sport at all levels (Fleming & Ferkins, 2008 in Beckett & Kemp, 2008) and the industry sector increasingly requiring graduate qualifications as a minimum entry further should therefore lead to Higher Education adapting

This definition is a useful guideline when reflecting on the programme design and its content.

Highlighting the importance of enhancing employability skills One of the main challenges faced with the embedding of specific employability skills or programmes has been highlighted as the lack of it being a ‘module outcome’ and that it needs to be addressed more in a “holistic learning approach” (Rae, 2007, p.608). Employers need to be able to differentiate graduates from similar degree pathways by the range of enrichment activities graduates become involved with, individual initiatives taken, 56

All of these are designed to support a comprehensive enrichment programme valued by staff, students, the University and of course the future employers.

accordingly. The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics showed clear evidence of the place sport has in the British culture and that the post games legacy could lead to increased variety of career opportunities and continued investment. It is crucial that the degree programmes offered in sport innovate and show commitment to employability initiatives to enhance the ‘work readiness’ of graduates and at the same time to enhance the credibility of their course.

The Student Experience In order to support the employability study and the resulting programme design, research among sport graduate alumni was conducted. The reflection of the student experience can be an invaluable source of guidance and feedback within any faculty or department. The following methodology highlights the process used to collate such feedback.

What are the fundamental skills and opportunities that are provided currently? The following activities are identified as providing transferable skills and enrichment opportunities that are currently embedded into the sport studies courses. These include group assignments, presentations, report writing and critical thinking, practical skills (within sports coaching and sport science), research and problem based learning. Fleming et al. (2008) and Trought (2012) note these as competencies that are deemed relevant and applied within the workplace. These are common requirements and generic to most undergraduate courses not exclusively sport but it is how these are regarded by the students and future employers as ‘specific’ and ‘adapted’. In addition Sport Studies has provided opportunities for students in these areas;

Method Ten former students (6 female and 4 male) who completed degrees in the Sport Studies department from 2008 to 2012 who were currently employed in the UK in related careers were asked to complete a four question qualitative questionnaire adapted from that used by Universities Scotland (2010). The questions were related to opportunities taken and experience gained while studying that have served them well in their quest for employment, a reflection on things they wish they had taken advantage of and advice they would give current students. These were sent via e-mail with attached details of question purpose. The careers the alumni were involved in included postgraduate study (PhD) and lecturing, sports marketing, elite sports performance, sports development and sports coaching / teaching. All qualified as graduate employment careers.

t Volunteering and internships (with local sports teams) t Guest speakers from specialist areas in sport (employers, paralympian and former Olympian as well as practicing sport psychologist have been invited in the past).

Findings Of the ten participants contacted, 7 provided responses in the time set in order to complete the research. The key responses from the data collected were used.

t The opportunity to complete sport governing body coaching awards (rugby union, tennis and football for example) t Gain awarding body accreditation in sport science (BASES – British Association of Sport and Exercise Scientists)


t Take part in WRAP (Winchester Research Apprentice Project)

The opportunities and skills that enhanced employment prospects were volunteering, student ambassador (supporting a variety of marketing activities at the University including open days and 57

I feel the following opportunities / activities / skills enhanced my employment prospects the most were…


school visits), involvement in sport societies and work placements were identified as both significant and essential. These provided experiences that underpinned academic studies and allowed students to have contacts from outside the department and the University.

The knowledge and skills I gained from my degree which helped me significantly in my career and career development included…

In terms of knowledge gained from the degree, presentations were noted as exceptionally useful in succeeding at job interviews and helped in teaching. These are one of the key assessment requirements on each of the four sports disciplines and their relevance was stated by Alumni B;

“Being a student ambassador enhanced my CV and enabled me to work with school groups, which is ultimately the career path I chose. It helped me decide where I wanted to go”.

“Presenting was a key skill which I developed at University. At the time some people can feel uncomfortable doing them but the more you do them the more normal they feel. I’ve gone on to use this skill regularly since and it is a fantastic skill to have in your armoury in the work environment but also not forgetting almost every interview I’ve ever been to has included having to do a presentation.”

(Alumni B) This is consistent with the comments made by graduates from Universities Scotland (2012) who believed that new experiences helped them understand the career discipline better and the jobs that they would be able to attain with the degree. Trought (2012) regards any link between work and learning as strengthening connections as well as volunteering which develops skills and gains recognition from the partner organisation. As Alumni H stated;

Presentations had been given a high ranking by leisure graduates in Bell et al (2003) as they regarded developing this skill as essential for their employment prospects. This was for many a new experience and yet one preferred to be perfected in front of their peers as opposed to leaving it to any future interview or work based activity.

“It was always my dream to work in high performance sport and when a voluntary placement with the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) came up, I jumped at it”.


Minten (2010) and Yorke (2006) believe that only by exposing students to these experiences can they appreciate the demands and expectations required. Consistent with research findings (High Fliers, 2011) meaningful related work experience was regarded as crucial. Volunteering can help to form an opinion about career choices. Emma Ewan in Scotland (2012) a BA (Hons) graduate in fine arts commented “take advantage of everything” and that the “transferable skills would help me get other jobs in the future” (p.12). Trought (2012) emphasised that with the findings on graduate employment in 2011 over a third of “entry level (graduate) positions” were filled by those who had already worked for them through either placements or internships (on a voluntary basis).

Was the use of guest speakers useful and relevant? Please could you provide details to support your comment?

The use of guest speakers has been a concerted effort in order to provide contemporary and practical insights into each of the disciplines covered. Feedback about one particular speaker proved that his talk was extremely inspirational and the practice of using guest speakers was clearly vindicated. Alumni N had obviously benefited from one such invited guest “Colin Javen’s guest speaker event was particularly inspiring. Hearing the challenges that he faced after his accident and how he fought to succeed in his goals was inspirational in a society 58

out there so that when opportunities arose, people knew who I was and I had built a positive reputation for myself.” (Alumni K)

that focuses on inability rather than ability. Seeing what someone else could achieve in a physical condition far less able than myself has challenged me to push the boundaries of what I believe I am capable of achieving.”


Based upon my experience my advice to current sport undergraduates would be…..

Of the same speaker Alumni K reinforced this further; The final question asked of the Winchester Alumni centred on the advice they would give to those currently studying for their undergraduate degree.

“Guest speakers at Uni were extremely influential and definitely encouraged my motivation. In particular, a guest speaker that left an imprint in me was the gentleman who became paralysed through cliff diving, yet broke down all of his barriers and drove around Africa which originally was perceived as impossible. When I find it difficult to break down barriers for clients to engage them in recreation, I take a step back and think about other ways to problem solve… If the guest speaker was able to break down such unimaginable barriers to physically drive through Africa then there is no reason why I can’t find a way to engage individuals who have a disability into their local community in a valuable capacity. He was a true inspiration.”

“Get as much relevant experience as possible. You need to stand yourself out from a large crowd” (Alumni K) “Use the networks of the staff in the university and maintain good working relationships.” (Alumni L) “Work hard and make the most of your degree, you only get one opportunity.” (Alumni B) “There are so many great tools offered at the University of Winchester and I definitely encourage students to work hard and make the most of all of the opportunities offered.” (Alumni F)

The Universities Scotland (2010) review findings also commented favourably on the use of guest speakers as ‘inspirational’, a part of the essential involvement in the full range of opportunities available and a part of the Higher Education experience. Students are often appreciative of the lecturing staff to identify and invite guests who can instil confidence, encourage thinking and lead to change in aspirations.

“The key to working in any area is gaining experience.” (Alumni L) “So many people want to get into Sports Development that you need to get your foot in the door early! Get as much experience as possible by coaching, volunteering, offering to help with council/ school sports events etc. Whether you want to get into Sports Development or not it’s important to BE PROACTIVE and get as much experience in your field or as many areas as possible so you stand out!” (Alumni E)

An industry specialist who had visited to discuss local sport initiatives also highlighted the internships and placements available in sport development. The speaker invited students to apply and one of those questioned for this research was successful.

The results supported findings from employers (Yorke, 2006; Minten, 2010; & Trought, 2012) who emphasise the need for experience and the qualitative comments found from recently employed graduates in the Universities of Scotland (2012) study. The talk of setting yourself apart, appreciating the lecturing staff as an invaluable source of knowledge and experience as well as

“Whilst carrying out internship roles, although I wasn’t paid, I was placed on many courses and my hard work eventually paid off as it led to a paid role. Job searching was a full time job in itself! But it definitely paid off and undoubtedly worth all the effort. Networking is absolutely essential in terms of getting your name 59


maximising what is on offer throughout the degree and university life. Innovation in employability strategy – the use of research findings.

A workshop designed to provide support and advice from former Sport Studies Undergraduates on preparation for careers in sport and how best to make the most of the course and the University.

Yorke & Knight (2006) do not believe that there is a one size fits all model of embedding employability. Current and future labour markets alongside student recruitment can greatly influence the design and implementation of such initiatives therefore creating a series of unique programmes. Therefore any blueprint for success needs to be both generic and subject specific in content. However, fundamental to any strategy development needs to be led by “what could we do?” and “what will the likely impact be”? Subsequent ‘impact’ findings after the first year of the new strategy need to measure the difference it has made to all involved. Reflective practice is an essential element in the modification, development, promotion and sustainability of this and any new initiative. Crucial is the collaborative approach with external partners, lecturing staff, the careers service and the students themselves. Holden (2008 cited in Beckett & Kemp, 2008) regard an” integrated embedding of employability as the most effective way to achieve full engagement by students” (p.29). These have been shown in the feedback from the research that views and opinions of those who have benefited from the degree programme clearly shown an importance placed on

Contemporary sports coaching and sport science initiatives:

Impact and discussion of the results on the strategy development

t Sports Coaching and Development – Coaches forum – elite coaches from fencing, rugby and gymnastics

t Street Games Project t AEGON Schools Tennis Coaching Award t Sports Coach UK – Developing Adults and Young People Through Sport t Rugby Football Union – TAG Rugby Teaching Award t ISAK Qualification - The International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry Guest Speaker Programme: A series of four individual guest speakers for each of the courses with sports studies to present on specific areas. t Sports Management – Marketing manager Gatorade UK

A year-long structured programme of activities and events has been developed and embedded into the courses based upon the research findings. It is felt that this will be the beginning of a continual review and evolving intervention in order to maximise impact and benefit to the students. The outline is as follows;

t Sport Science – GB Paralympian rower t Sport Studies – British Olympic team Sport Psychologist Careers Service: “Preparing for the workplace”:

The Employability Strategy for sports undergraduates 2012-2013 t Year group presentations on the benefits of using the careers service with content designed as appropriate for each year.

Alumni Presentation (all year groups) – “Graduate experiences – life after University and the search for employment in sport.”

t Where to search for careers in sport? 60

attributes necessary to have effect in the world” (Jackson, 2011, p.vii cited in Kemp & Atfield, 2011). Therefore it is hoped that the findings from this research will give confidence and help to colleagues when designing their own course related / specific employability direction through the sharing of good practice. Higher Education as with the employment market is a dynamic and changing environment therefore the requirements of graduates and the work place are a relationship that needs to continually be reviewed and strengthened. The motivations for such an initiative within the sport studies department could be summarised as a (greater) understanding aspects of the real world (Coll & Eames, 2004) and that the added value of the courses through such innovation could have significant impact both in the future and to enhance the current study programme.

t CV Writing The employer workshop –“what the industry wants - insights and expectations”. t A number of employers from local and national organisations have been invited to meet current undergraduates. The purpose is to discuss what enhances employment prospects and the changes and developments in the sport and leisure industry sector. Sport Internships: t Progression of pilot scheme linking sport students to local sports teams and clubs to gain experience in coaching, performance match analysis and marketing and sport science application.

References Beckett, N., & Kemp, P. (2010). Enhancing Graduate Employability in business management, hospitality, leisure, sport and tourism. Newbury: Threshold Press.

Strategy review – qualitative analysis from student feedback: t A reflection from students on the employability strategy in order to accurately review impact of the programme and to provide opportunity for dissemination with University Learning and Teaching seminar.

Bell, B., Crebert, G., Patrick, C-J., Bates, M., & Cragnolini, V. (2003). Educating Australian leisure graduates: Contexts for developing generic skills. Annals of Leisure Research, 6(1) p.1-19. Coll, R.K., & Eames, C. (2004). Current Issues in co-operative education. In R. K. Coll and C. Eames (Eds.) International Handbook for Cooperative Education (p.270-282). Boston, MA: World Association for Cooperative Education.

Whilst there are areas of change that will be included in the future (introduction of community sports coaching module for voluntary placements) these initiatives form part of a defined structure and not an individual, ad hoc course or module approach.

Coll, R. K., & Zegward, K. E. (2006). Perceptions of desirable graduate competencies for science and technology new graduate. Research in Science and Technology Education, 24(1), 29-58.

Conclusion As has been stated employability activities designed as part of the course and embedded into programmes are vital aspects of provision for undergraduates. As Rae (2007) points out University staff need “encouragement, inspiration and updating on current practices” (p.616) when implementing enterprising and innovative employment related strategies. The challenge when embedding employability programmes is “to discover the combination of knowledge, skills, capabilities, qualities, dispositions and other

Collins, M. (2011). Endorsing Sport Degrees for Employability: Skills Active, Sports Coach UK and IMSPA working together. Heslington, York: The Higher Education Academy. Fleming, J., Martin, A.J., Hughes, H., & Zinn, C. (2008). Maximizing work integrated learning experiences through 61

identifying graduate competencies for employability: a case study of sport studies in higher education. Asia – Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 10(3) p.189-201.

University of Winchester (2012) Why Winchester? Undergraduate study 2013. Our top ten reasons why you should choose the University of Winchester.

High Fliers Research (2011). ‘The graduate market in 2011’ Retrieved from:

Willets, D. (2010). House of Commons debate, 8 July 2010, Column 511, Daily Hansard – Debate. cm100708/debtext/100708-0001.htm

Jackson, N. (2011). The ‘wicked’ problem of enhancing graduate impact. In Kemp, P. & Atfield, R. Enhancing Graduate impact in business management hospitality leisure sport tourism (p.vii-xiii). Newbury: Threshold Press.

Yorke, M. (2006). Employability in higher education: What it is what it is not. Heslington, York: The Higher Education Academy. Yorke, M., & Knight, P.T. (2006). Embedding employability into the curriculum. Heslington, York: The Higher Education Academy.

Kemp, P., & Atfield, R. (2011). Enhancing Graduate impact in business management hospitality leisure sport tourism. Threshold Press: Newbury. Minten, S. (2010). Use Them or Lose Them: a study of the employability of sport graduates through their transition into the sport workplace. Managing Leisure 15 p.67-82. Rae, D. (2007). Connecting enterprise and graduate employability: Challenges to the higher education culture and curriculum? Education + Training 49 (8) p.601-619. Trought, F. (2012). Brilliant Employability Skills: How to stand out from the crowd in the graduate market place. Harlow: Pearson. Harlow. Universities Scotland (2010). 360 Degrees Equipping Scotland’s Graduates for Success. Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services. Glasgow. Scotland. Universities UK (2007) Beyond the honours degree classification: Burgess Group Final Report. London: Universities UK.



Experiencing the Brecon Beacons: a wilder context for learning. Sharon Witt

Author note

How can a ‘slow pedagogy or eco-pedagogical approach’ to geographical fieldwork transform the depth of student’s learning about place, landscapes and sustainability?

Sharon Witt is a Senior Lecturer in Education in the Faculty of Education, Health and Social Care. She is a member of the Early Year Primary Committee of the Geographical Association and Hampshire Primary Geography Champion.

This think piece explores an immersive and playful wilderness experience undertaken in the Brecon Beacons by twelve undergraduate teacher trainees and two tutors. This project, funded by the university Learning and Teaching Development Unit, adopted a slow pedagogical approach inviting participants “to pause … in spaces for more than a fleeting moment” in order to explore the possibilities of place and search for meaning within the landscapes (Payne & Wattchow, 2009, p.16). Along this journey I worked with “emergent purposes”; “creating spaces for growth to inform my understanding of what was experienced individually and collectively in the context of changing and unpredictable conditions (Clarke, Egan. Fletcher & Ryan, 2006, p.408 ).

References Clarke, H. Egan, B. Fletcher, L., & Ryan, C. (2006). Creating case studies of practice through Appreciative Inquiry ‘ Educational Action Research, 4 (3), 407-422. Peters, R.S. (1965). ‘Education as Initiation’. In R.D. Archambault, (Ed.). Philosophical Analysis and Education (pp. 87-112). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Payne, P. G., & Wattchow, B. (2009). ‘Phenomenological Deconstruction, Slow Pedagogy, and the Corporeal Turn in Wild Environmental / Outdoor Education’ Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 14, 5-32.

From a complex web of individual and collective responses themes, such as risk, uncertainty, escape and the power of place are beginning to emerge that require further investigation through the data . Yet the evidence is clear - this form of ‘discovery’ fieldwork which values serendipitous, immersive learning has much potential for personal and professional development encouraging students to ‘travel with a different view’ ( Peters,1965:110); it could offer an alternative challenge to more traditional geographical fieldwork experiences . 65

As a researcher I was keen to value the participants’ lived experiences, but there was not one story, but multiple stories. Which story should be told and who decides?

What is the best way to capture the sense of awe and wonder in inspiring landscapes? “At first glance you are overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and vastness of the wilderness, but on a closer look you can notice the detail, how the stream flows, the sound of sheep and nothingness”

It is important to value different ways of seeing, knowing and being in landscape as student responses to places are not always language based.


How do participants feel about a silent journey alone into the wilderness?

What experiences help encourage participants to develop a profound sense of being in place?

“It was nice to just sit and be. I don’t think I do that enough, I’m always thinking about what I need to do”.

“Having my feet in the stream makes me feel part of the wilderness”.

How do we prepare students for uncertainty? “I’ve never been on a walk before when I don’t know the destination, or the route, or the distance ...Today I didn’t have to worry about which path to take .I could spend time looking around me and noticing things .I was far more immersed in the experience, seeing the whole of the environment … I suppose I experienced it much as a child would do, having fresh eyes and lots of questions”


“The feeling of an incredible amount of water rushing in front of you and the spray soaking you to the skin is pretty much indescribable, in a good way… It was certainty the most amazing thing I have done in recent months and right up there in top moments ever”

A challenge of this research is to capture the intensity of feelings experienced within inspiring landscapes.

What implications did this research have for professional practice? “Whilst I’ve always known that taking children on fieldwork is beneficial, I’ve felt that the amount of work that needs to go in means that sometimes it is just not worth it. But actually having been on this visit I have truly realised that the experience far outweighs everything else and I feel much more confident about running a wilderness experience with children.”

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