CCTL Teaching Forum 2018

On Tuesday 17th April, I attended the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning (CCTL) Teaching Forum 2018. There I discovered another uniquely-designed building, Murray Edwards College, complete with aquamarine fountains, rising servery and petal-constructed dome! I can also confidently say that the topics up for discussion were all passionately contested with the result that a vast range of concepts and viewpoints were tabled throughout.

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Happily, the opening panel discussion covered the topics of inclusive learning and teaching at Cambridge, so I think this very much set the tone for the rest of the day.

Panel Discussion: Inclusive Teaching and Learning at Cambridge

Chaired by the Pro-VC, Professor Graham Virgo, the panel gave short presentations on the problems that inclusive teaching and learning poses.

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The concept of an affirmative model over a difference model was pushed for. Essentially the affirmative model is a universal design that makes inclusive learning and things like lecture capture easier to implement.

It was unsurprising to learn that a student’s perception of teaching is most influenced in their first year. We need to implement models that can influence more positive feedback. One solution was to make teaching flexible.

One of the panel members spoke of decolonisation, a need to decentralise planning and to support the planners. It was suggested that the dynamics of power need investigating.

A practice that emerged was for a teacher to try 1 minute of silence for every 20 minutes of teaching. This would give students the chance to reflect and question what they have learned. “Give students a chance to invest in their own learning”.

A “sabateur” teacher challenges barriers – this was fantastic stuff!

A Cambridge Education: personal reflections

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, did reflect on his time here but also took the opportunity to give the attendees an overview of his thoughts on teaching and learning and the need to challenge our own methodology.

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He said that the University was in the privileged position of “operating at the edges of knowledge” and made a point of reminding us that “students are not consumers!” (a more recent way of thinking that, frankly, appalled him). They are, rather, the managers of their own education and should be given the opportunity to be exactly this. Lecturers are mentors or guides and “there are better ways than simply giving information through lectures”. To paraphrase him: Stop talking! Supply information passively. This allows for interpretive, inclusive learning. There are a variety of assessment tools out there. Let’s consider them.

I think you’ll agree (even if you missed it), an impassioned, radical and hugely thought-provoking speech.

What Do Students Want? Perspectives from the Student-Led Teaching Awards on “good teaching”.

Martha Krish, the CUSU Education Officer, brought us a carefully-considered and strong message that came from the awards process.

  • Challenge: Challenge us as students. Help us expand our own horizons.
  • Clarity: Feedback on essays is important. But be constructive and clear with what you expect of us.
  •  Care: Pay attention to our own ideas. Let us know you care about, not only the information you are giving us, but that you care about us as people.

Developing an Online Tool to Support Transition to UG and Master’s Level Study

Helen Murphy of the English Faculty Library spoke about the CamGuides project, a tool to aid information literacy, and the challenges posed by the concept for her and the large team behind her.

The tool must be:

  • An introduction to Cambridge
  • Deal with preparing to become a student
  • Integrate with known software and technology
  • Enable information literacy resource discovery

It must be a collaborative tool to help encourage social interaction. It must encourage participants to make connections. She must assess its own context by offering room for reflection. It must have a legitimate direction. It must be multi-modal. There must be an assumption of competence leading into higher education compliance.

There are some student barriers to transition to consider though. Workload, Anxiety, Integration. Is social media another barrier to be considered? Are we working in a vacuum?

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Although in its infancy, Helen urged us to help spread the word when the time comes. You can follow the team’s progress at: https://twitter.com/cam_iln

Learning from Lecture Capture

Dr. Dee Scadden gave us a quick run-through of the Lecture Capture process currently being employed in a small number of venues.

Trialled in 2015, initially as audio podcasts only and then supplemented by slides, Lecture Capture videography started a few years later by employing the tool Panopto.

It required enabled rooms outside which notices were placed to inform attendees of procedure. This was supplemented by an opt-in release form to be signed by lecturers. If I’m correct, attendees were assumed to be willing participants.

As a result, 88% of lectures in those locations were recorded.

There was a fear from lecturers that “students would stop coming” but in a survey 70% of students they would attend regardless as more could be gleaned from being there. Another fear that it would “increase the workload”. Again, 80% responded that they felt this was unlikely.

Positives to emerge from the feedback, was that students who missed the lectures, could catch up nearer to exam time.

There were real concerns from teaching staff in the room which were tabled.

  • “Will I appear on YouTube the next day?”

This seemed a little odd, because if students were to record the lectures on their mobiles, this might happen regardless. Official lecture capture seemed to provide a well-researched, Moodle/Raven-restricted and legitimate alternative (with the option of editing prior to release) and if it is beneficial to students, in terms of practice and inclusivity, then surely it is essential.

Panel Discussion: Assessment, Student Learning & Examinations at Cambridge

Again, chaired by the Pro-VC, this broached the subject of breaking down the barriers to student learning. After Class Lists were brought up as a remaining issue and CUSU’s position was made clear once more, the floor turned its attention to the subject of the three-hour final year exam and the problems it posed for students.

Alternative models were tabled and it was agreed generally that it was a system that all staff need to consider whether to deconstruct so that we can properly challenge it.

The general impression of teaching and learning I took away from the forum, is that we are slowly but surely pushing to move away from a focus on teaching assessment to one of learning assessment. The opportunity to expand, deconstruct/rebuild or even scrap, the narrow teaching guidelines we currently use is there and is being supported at the very highest level. Exciting times!


The resources for the CCTL 2018 Teaching Forum are now online in the following locations.

  1. https://www.cctl.cam.ac.uk/events/teaching-forum/teaching-forum-resources/teaching-forum-posters
  2. https://www.cctl.cam.ac.uk/events/teaching-forum/teaching-forum-resources/teaching-forum-2018-resources

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