‘Rich Exchanges: Learning and Teaching’ – Education Conference at University of Wolverhampton

Another day, another conference (it’s been conference season lately!)…this time ‘Rich Exchanges: Learning and Teaching’ Education Conference 2015 at the University of Wolverhampton where I recently taught and assessed the MA Fine Art course (February to May 2015). The day focussed on the theme ‘group work and team-based learning’ through short interdisciplinary (and very technologically minded) papers. Attending these kind of events is part of my continuing professional development (CPD) in my world of teaching in Higher Education, whilst building insight, context and knowledge (basically getting my brain in gear) for completing a Masters of Education in Academic Practice in Higher Education) at BCU (the same university where I am currently completing my PhD) this Autumn. As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m interested in the internationalisation of (art) curriculums, and the assimilation of international students to the UK education system, specifically to art school. This will become my thesis topic for the MEd…which I’m sure you’ll be hearing about. Anyway, on with notes from the conference!

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The opening introduction was provided by the university’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Geoff Layer. He stated some of the things we need to talk about are in the context of where the university is at…at a crucial time as to how we go forward as a university from a number of factors, more students, more progressing from year 1 to 2, more graduating, more going into jobs than every before with the largest proportion of working class students and with disabilities than any other university with a focus on diversity in gender and ethnicity. Academics and students must develop curriculums and learning styles as to where they want to go…not from complex systems. Students are our partners in the educational system…they are always in mind, where the curriculum is fit for purpose for what they want to do. How do students learn? And where are we trying to get them to? Geoff referenced the Tomlinson report that talks of designing learning to the needs of the students. We are moving towards the social model of education to remove the barriers. How do students engage in group work? How prepared are they for it? The LaTTE project at University of Wolverhampton look towards the future and the spaces that academics and students will need, expect and will achieve highly in…work to their potential in.

After the introduction, the first session was ‘Group work – what students have told us’ by Sophie Williams. They opened by citing feedback from students on “group work”:

  • Feeling bullied or excluded by peers in the group;
  • Group not ‘pulling their weight’ – often cite that they’re doing all the work
  • Feeling aggrieved that everyone gets the same mark
  • Cannot work with someone else in the group, usually a co-presenter
  • Fell they will fail if they are made to work with the group or their grade with be dragged down

In terms of feedback:

  • Given to whole group not personal enough
  • Marked unfairly compared to rest of group
  • Made to do things last-minute which makes them feel uncomfortable

They noted academic misconduct such as collusion, copying and more. However, positive feedback included:

  • Alternative, more interesting and enjoyable form of assessment
  • Teaches valuable skills
  • Helpful academically
  • Some requested more group work
  • Good mixed with other types of learning, such as seminars, quizzes, Q&A etc

Negative feedback included:

  • Unfairness of group put in
  • Unhappy students
  • Students not sharing same academic targets
  • Felt it was a waste of time
  • Lack of contribution from others
  • Group work should be more closely monitored
  • Unsatisfactory amount of group work
  • Un-enjoyable and un-engaging
  • Difficult to organise around placement
  • Difficult to balance with work and home-life – ‘unsuitable’ and ‘too intensive’

Conclusions are that more group work is needed as many feel they’ve got a lot out of it. Questions to consider include:

  • How are groups decided or formed?
  • Is the weighting on group work correct?
  • How can we support students more with issues in the group or is that part of it and the learning process?
  • Can we deal with poor contributions from individuals in a better way?
  • How are students graded as a result – is it fair?
  • How do we ensure students aren’t embroiled in Academic Misconduct?

How do we put a value to the work they are doing? There are always people who won’t work as hard…is this just human nature? Is peer review and student critique needed?

‘Am I an I or a T? Exploring how group learning through blogging, critical incident sharing and the use of social media can support becoming and belonging in Higher Education’ by Julie Hughes and Graduate Teaching Assistants. They began by asking Who? Why? What? How? Where? citing their diversity of backgrounds and research disciplines…each department has engaged their GTA different in relation to the students needs. Students have a voice it’s just too often that we don’t hear it. It is about building a community of practice.

  • Belonging…how can group work foster this? Fitting in – group identity – ‘breaking the silence’ – safe space to feel authentic and legitimate;
  • Becoming…building a community. Challenges – new experiences – group work – our learning. Group blogging and sharing perspectives online…sharing through different theoretical lenses. Negotiating needs that transpire from different voices;
  • Challenging…challenge students in diverse ways with new methods and approaches. Digital debate – discussion – in class resources – role play. Provided the development of soft skills of team work, confidence, presentation…employability skills.

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At one point, there was focus on the process of the ‘art crit’ by Laura Onions (I knew Laura from teaching the WLV Fine Art department and it was great to hear her talk about her experiences of teaching). She had created a 6 point handout as to what crits are and how they take place to give to students…it instigated a student-led social form of learning, giving new recognition of their peers with honest insights vital to their community of practice, gave them new direction in their work, learn new methods that suit their own practice. The effect on sense of belonging, importance of a community of practice and going beyond teaching knowledge to make sure that group teaching avails – GTA.

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‘Is there an app for that?’ by Dan Collins from the Faculty of Art. He opened by referencing the previous speakers and use of a safe space where in photography they have a common room where they socialise and come together. How a simple app might improve communication and interaction…through nurturing. How can we share content more effectively and get people talking and working together? Dan cited other local university’s apps including iCity at BCU (my home university and I have this app!), myAston and DerbyUni. He spoke of how to get the app idea for University of Wolverhampton off the ground referencing do-it-yourself app creation platforms appypie.com, appmakr.com and ibuildapp.com. He created – ‘The Photographer’s Friend WLV‘ app…student-friendly IOS and Android.

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What should the app do?

  • Contact staff directly – I need to get in touch quickly, this made it easy
  • Access WOLF – easier to logon
  • Make equipment bookings
  • Check out prices
  • Follow technical ‘how-to’ links – extending support beyond the walls of the building
  • Share photography and experiences – a forum to discuss linked to Flickr, transcend levels of hierarchy and extend to future collaborations
  • Link to our subject Facebook page – empowering group culture and peer-to-peer communication

With no reported bugs and dead links…40 downloads so far with positive responses…social media buttons to be added. It  is a practical app supporting group work and team-based learning. Student feedback:

  • Like look and feel of the app
  • Everything in one place
  • Useful to contact staff do easily
  • I like being able to book kit on the way
  • The Flickr group sounds great, I can’t wait to upload photos
  • It’s my new toolbox for studying here

‘Indulging in trivia or cutting edge pedagogy? Using Socrative as a teaching tool’ by Sam Pryke. He began by asking the attendees to download Socrative. What is Socrative? A teacher web platform and student app on smart phone or tablet that allows for sift and efficient questions and answers. ‘A classroom tool for visualising and measuring student understanding in real time’. Is it a good idea to have quizzes in Higher Education teaching setting…association with pub quiz, game show or primary/secondary teaching. It sits within the remits of a formative assessment…monitor student learning. It relates to memory, the role of the quiz to build memory…part of implicit memory, emotion and memory. Students feedback stated that it was a good way of finishing a lecture as recapping, encouraged spontaneous interaction, added a competitive twist, different/non-traditional style of teaching. Sam then asked the attendees to engage in a quiz through the Socrative app so we could experience it in action…I took a few screenshots so you could get a sense of its visual design and interface.

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‘The laptop ensemble as learning platform’ by Mat Dalgleish, Richard Burn, Lee Clarke, Christopher Foster, Alex Dudley and James Prosser. He began by showing a video example from the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk). Networked laptops, gestural controllers, acoustic musicians where sound is processed or electronic. Dates back to the late 1970’s ‘League of Automated Composers and The Hub from San Francisco. Born from a “garage culture”…transition from analogue synthesisers to music-capable computers (early 1970s). Spread of DIY computing and development of early network protocols.

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Wolverhampton Laptop Ensemble started in January 2015 part of MSc Audio Technology module 7MU007…musical human-computer interaction with 5 members and 2 non-playing staff. Development cycle took ten weeks – group ideas generation; individual prototyping/sketching in hardware; network protocol design, and collective testing. What is Open Sound Control (OSC)? It is a protocol for networking controllers, computers, syntheises etc. to make things talk. It produces not just sound collage and real notes. It transforms the act of programming from a solitary thing to a face-to-face real-time activity and problem solving, and encourages students to actively consider and create their own tools rather than simply use tools created by others. Better understanding of complex design issues through participation in performance (understanding through doing). Prompts consideration of ethics such as licensing issues…how might code/artefacts/information produced be useful to others?

‘Can collaborative software tools be used to identify patterns of learning and student engagement modules’ by Steve Garner and Alix Bergeret. He referenced the use of open source software/project management apps including Basecamp “Chaos, Organised” – it helps you wrangle people with different roles, responsibilities and objectives towards a common goal. The other software is GitLab which provides version control, backup for software, a timeline of updates, ability to raise and resolve issues. The software allows for collaboration and peer-to-peer help. The two tools between them generated a lot of user data from 194 students of which 91% were engaged. Steve went on to examine the user data, how users engaged with the software and when. How can we use this data and software in the future? The study showed that there were outside of contact time contributions, it was a measure of teamwork, an opportunity to roll out to international students, and showed a need to improve visibility of reports to students and staff.


After another standard conference lunch…or in the case of wordgirl a jacket potato instead of sandwiches as they had no gluten-free option…it was time for the afternoon sessions to begin starting with ‘The University of Wolverhampton Race Car Team: A new ‘formula’ for teamwork’ by Paul Lister, Wael Abdou and David Tucker. Dave presented on the new courses they’ve been putting together at the Telford campus relating to a new “suite” of engineering courses. When we talk about group work or team work in engineering there is a traditional approach such as a through a group project in a specific module. In the new courses, it is almost everywhere, nurturing group work…as it is in employment…best preparing them for the world of work. Instead of modules, the course is constructed through a way of being, a course ethos…creativity, employability, professional standards, sustainability and USP.

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The importance of the 40 credit project module – ‘Practicing to be an engineer’. There are also ‘Club’ activities that are extra-curricular…be part of a professional team, part of a design exercise, prototyping, production and testing. The USP’s are things that cannot be done elsewhere, by other people in any other way. Include  other professional accreditation as part of the course and bring in external consultancy, perspectives and support.

“You can’t get experience until you’ve got the job, you can’t get the job until you can get the experience…experiencing a small possibility can open up endless possibilities in life.”

Dave went on to speak of a renegotiated model of Bloom’s taxonomy as shown below and the notion of a “semester-ised” model of teaching.

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‘Students with Asperger’s syndrome participating in group work’ by Stephanie Brewster and Olivia Sismey (student). How can we make our teaching and learning practices more inclusive…the increasing number of students with Asperger’s and autism spectrums (from 2003-04 there were 80 students, 2013-14 there were 2415 students – note shift in categorisation of students). They talked about the particular challenges group work can present to students with Asperger’s. Difficulties include social communication and interaction (small talk, picking up on facial expressions, socially awkward, unusual patterns of eye contact), restricted behaviour and interests, sensory sensitivities, planning/prioritising  and associated mental health conditions including anxiety.

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Benefit of group work is:

  • Can be used both teaching/learning and assessment
  • Responds to diverse learning preferences
  • Development of subject knowledge
  • Employability (agenda)
  • Transferable skills
  • Encourages autonomy and commitment

Challenges for students with AS:

  • Admission into university – use of interviews and group work
  • Confidence, physical presence in groups, busy place, with strangers
  • Communication – knowing what is appropriate, may speak too much or not at all, or appear disengaged from rest of group
  • Speaking when around strong personalities
  • Group work within lectures without prior warning
  • The need for organisation, structure, time and management; other students may not follow along with it
  • Stress from new situations
  • Lecturer’s “implied expectations” – the hidden curriculum
  • Not fully understanding the task

Strengths of students with AS:

  • Using written media/electronic communication
  • Attention to detail (e.g. Harvard referencing)
  • Following structure, meeting grading criteria
  • Looking at things from a new angle
  • Highly gifted in some specific areas
  • May be good at organising other students
  • Deep study and in-depth knowledge
  • Honesty – saying what you think, often bad at lying (can be a challenge too)
  • Tendency to be logical so task gets done efficiently
  • Tendency for perfectionism

Strategies to try:

  • Allow time for development of skills
  • Consider preferences for blended learning, classroom layout, choice of group members and group size
  • Get to know the student’s strengths and difficulties. Don’t presume
  • Provide independent study options
  • Give clear instructions on task
  • Brain in hand – app to help with situations (see below) and anxiety levels and time planning
  • Sensory room (in planning) – to calm down if stressed


‘Emotional Intelligence in Educational Practices’ by Gobinder Gill. He currently teaches at Birmingham Met, one of the partner colleges to University of Wolverhampton. He began with a critique of emotional intelligence (key issues) referencing Daniel Goleman’s book ‘Emotional Intelligence’:

  • Empirical scientific research versus popular research
  • Model interpretation (trait (feeling now) versus ability (performance tests))
  • Measurement interpretation (self-report versus maximal performance)
  • Research design and method

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He went on to speak of his research article ‘Emotional Intelligence and Reflective Practice in Tutorial Settings’ (2014) and the methodology of the research. “Reflective practice enabled practitioners to enhance their own emotional intelligence skills, specifically self-awareness and self-regulation…educational establishments needs to implement the use of emotional intelligence within teaching practice.”

‘Development of the new 2014 MPharm: An integrated, non-modular programme featuring small group, enquiry based instructional approaches’ by Colin Brown. He referenced the use of an integrated programme with a spiral curriculum, 120 credit years rather than modules…component parts of education and training must be linked in a coherent way…progressive, dealing with issues in an increasing more complex way until a right level of understanding was reached. He also referenced Harden’s Integration Ladder when creating a new curriculum.

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Harden's integration ladder

Realising student potential through questioning:

  • Didactic teaching versus enquiry-based learning?
  • Skills?
  • Learning culture?

Summary of integration approaches:

  • Modular versus thematic approach
  • Position of assessments and LOs
  • Contemporary teaching methods
  • Enquiry based learning – problems/cases (enquiry based learning and team based learning)
  • Team teaching
  • Body systems approach
  • Skills embedded throughout
  • Alternative learning culture

‘Teaching to learn in music – what’s the problem?’ by Kevin Stannard and Laura Thompson (student). He began with a mnemonic for ENSEMBLE. Exciting New Singing Experiences >> Musical Bonding and Learner Engagement. Laura say musical bonding as how you interact with each other and how you connect to the music to give a good performance. We have to find different methods to teach methods for the different individuals, group dynamics, the trained singer versus the untrained singer. The first thing is to get the ensemble to listen, to blend. In group creativity what is the desired outcome? Are we reworking to create new ‘solutions’? Through singing his showed the power of solo, duo, trio, quartet, quintet, sextet, septet, octet…demonstrate how a configuration comes together and can work. It is reliant on the three Bs – blend, balance, beauty (and the 4th beauty is buzz – achieved when you are in a performance scenario). It is the sum of the whole – maximising the potential of the whole group.

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“Hands together, eyes closed.” Then we will begin…

It is about flow, element, presence, richer exchanges, out of comfort zone. Exploring the Nexus between Shared singing Experience and a Musically Blended Learning Environment. ENSEMBLE. (A choral flash mob of a presentation that was a needed dynamic intervention…loved this!)

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The final presentation was ‘A discourse on working collaboratively…are the benefits constructive or destructive…?’ by Sarah Elsey and PGCE students. What are the factors that influence them (PGCE students) as they face teaching? Here talking about Communities of Practice – CoP. Key points to consider (Wenger, McDermott and Synder 2002):

  • Critical mass is needed to sustain interactions
  • shifting perspective moving from idea that mastery resides with the experts to mastery residing with members of CoP
  • Making a longer term commitment to a form of open-ended professional development (Buysee, Sparkman and Wesley 2003)
  • Sustaining the CoP over time
  • Ensures academic support and pastoral care is provided

Constructive or Destructive? A discourse on working collaboratively…are the benefits constructive or destructive? What works well/better? More constructive than destructive…

  • Student more empowered by own learning in this setting
  • Professional studies constructive in professional development…often feeling in charge of own professional development
  • Drop-in sessions to meet with peers and lecturers
  • Bespoke vision gives students more ownership over learning
  • More opportunity for team work and to share knowledge collectively, this contribute to the design and content of lecture(s)
  • Peer-to-peer support for academic work
  • Discussing the interpretation of the title of an assignment and around learning theories, both applied to real teaching practice
  • Social media support through Facebook, giving clarification to assignments and lectures, different to a university forum, however, it has highlighted confusion and provide Chinese whispers…positive and negative


  • Transition to ‘Learner-Centre teaching’
  • Whole sessions are useful and trainee-led/bespoke modules are more powerful (Retention/engagement)
  • Facilitate and integrate effective discussion is journey not a process
  • Needs consideration for the current pedagogy in HEI
  • Consider designing courses to support the traditional convention of Teacher Training
  • And in the future…emerging themes are further mini research projects…journey into trainees…tracking NQT years.

Concluding thoughts…today has been about the community of practice…the belonging…that group work can bring us to be part of it, whether it is belonging to a choir or a subject discipline…that you are not alone, that you have a safe environment to share…private for students and staff to communicate. It is important that this “safe space” is available. Motivation…the importance of motivation for group work that enables the group work activities.

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