Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Warwick, 6-9 September 2006
The Department of Plant Sciences at the
Under the auspices of the Cambridge-MIT Institute's Pedagogy Programme, a
two-year research and development project concerned with the development of
small-group teaching is being undertaken. The research element of this project
endeavours to illuminate current practice and identify areas in which
evidence-based development might take place. The development element will
include professional development activities and the production of curriculum
resources including appropriate online material. This is a multi-method study
including a series of student questionnaires; focus groups of students;
semi-structured interviews with staff members; and the collection of video of
small group teaching. In this paper we report selected findings from the
'student data' of the first year of this project.
The questionnaire conducted with two cohorts of students (2nd and 3rd year Undergraduates) used a double-scale questionnaire in which students were asked to report both on the prevalence of a range of teaching and learning practices and on how valuable these were in supporting their learning. This type of questionnaire instrument is particularly appropriate because the data it generates is suggestive of areas for changes in practice. The gaps between 'practices' and 'values' (across both cohorts) suggested that students valued activities which improved their understanding of how elements of the course were interrelated; which related course content to 'authentic' examples; and those in which teachers made explicit the characteristics of 'high quality' student work. Small group teaching, in the view of most students, was best used to extend and explore concepts introduced in lectures rather than simply reinforcing them or assessing student understanding.
Data gathered through focus group activities illuminated the questionnaire data, providing detailed accounts of how students managed their own learning, and the roles played in this by lectures, small group teaching and other resources. Students identified the processes of planning and writing essays as key learning activities during which they integrated diverse course content and reflected on problematic knowledge. Questionnaire and focus group data suggested that students had less clear views regarding the value of collaborative learning, peer-assessment or activities such as making presentations to other students. When students talked in positive terms about these activities, they often referred to the learning benefits of preparation for the tasks rather than of the collaborative activities themselves. These views may provide indications of potential barriers to changes in learning and teaching environments, and suggest that any such changes may have to be carefully justified to students in terms of benefits to their own learning. Many of our findings are broadly in accord with other work on teaching and learning in Higher Education settings (such as the 'Oxford Learning Context Project' and the 'Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses' Project) in that 'deep learning' and 'authenticity' in learning activities are valued by students and that the introduction of specific formative practices (such as sharing notions of 'quality') would be welcomed. At the same time, amongst the students in our sample, a view of learning as an individual process of 'learning-as-acquisition' predominates over a view that it is a social process of 'learning-as-participation', and this will inform the planning of the 'development' aspect of the project. We conclude with a discussion of how the approach we have used might be more widely applied both within and beyond the Cambridge-MIT partnership. We also identify potential affordances of, and barriers to, the development of research-informed teaching in Higher Education.
Since 2004, a series of projects have taken place at the
University of Cambridge which have involved the Departments of Engineering and
Plant Sciences in collaboration with the Centre for Applied Research in
Educational Technologies (CARET), funded by the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI);
and a parallel (but not identical) set of projects have also taken place at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
These projects were designed to develop an evidence base which
would enhance teaching and learning
within undergraduate courses as part of iterative process of development and
research. This paper reports the results
of a series of research activities intended to illuminate and explore student
perspectives on teaching learning in the context of a specific undergraduate
course: namely, the 2nd Year Plant and Microbial Science (PMS)
course. Potential outcomes for this
process included the identification of
elements of teaching and learning environments at Cambridge, particularly
within small-group settings; the identification of teaching practices with the potential to improve
student experience and learning outcomes (and as a result to inform
decision-making by teachers as to how, when and with whom to employ specific
practices); and the
It was fortunate that links already existed (at the project and individual levels) with researchers working within the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP), a coordinated research initiative funded by the UK government through the Economic and Social Research Council (Pollard, 2005). Now comprising over fifty research projects ranging from pre-school to professional education, the TLRP also seeks to encourage cross-sector collaboration and the development of overarching educational ‘themes’ and integrative theory. Several projects, in particular the ‘Enhancing Teaching and Learning in Undergraduate Education’ (ETL) project (Entwistle, 200) and the ‘Social and Organisational Mediation of University Learning’ (SOMUL) project (SOMUL, 2005) provided good methodological and analytical frameworks for our work. Some of the research approaches and user engagement strategies employed were derived from the work of the TLRP 'Learning how to Learn' project; although this project was concerned with learning (and specifically with assessment) in schools, it had an integrated design involving exploration of student, teacher and organisational learning (James et al., 2006) and it provided a useful model for the type of expansive development and research processes envisaged for project work in Plant Sciences at Cambridge.A further driver for the project was the fact that while lecture content within undergraduate courses at
1. A questionnaire designed to document reported teaching and learning practices on the PMS course from a student perspective, together with their attitudes towards those practices.
2. A second questionnaire designed to document students' assessments of their self-efficacy both in relation to generic skills and behaviours as well as those specifically developed in the PMS course.
3. A series of student focus groups in which they discussed learning, teaching and assessment.
4. Interviews with teaching staff about the teaching practices they reported using, their perceptions of students as learners and the factors which support and constrain effective small-group teaching
5. Video data collected during small group teaching activities
6. Documentary analysis of course materials: course outlines, lecture notes, practical documentation, essay titles, past examinations, examples of student written work and resources produced by teaching staff to support student learning.
This paper will concentrate on the first three of these – the 'student' data sets and research activities; although it will also present an emerging analytical framework which draws on common elements of all of these data sources and those from other projects funded by the Cambridge MIT Institute.
Typical double-scale questionnaire item
In the context of our study, it was not known with any
confidence how frequently particular activities took place, so the values on
the scales are nominal rather than referring to specific time intervals
('weekly' or 'monthly') and this was made clear to participants. In any case, absolute values were of less
interest than the comparative differences between the practices reported and
values expressed. If values exceeded
practices, this was taken to indicate teaching and learning activities which,
while rare, were highly valued by students and in which levels of practice
might be increased; if practices were higher than values, this was taken to
indicate areas of practice which, while common, could be used less often. One special case is a low rating of a
practice on both value and practice, which was of interest as it might
correspond to teaching and learning approaches so unfamiliar to students that
they were unclear as to what affordances they might offer. One use of these 'value-practice gaps' is to
indicate potential areas for intervention and change in practice - or at the
very least the initiation with teaching staff of discussions as to whether
intervention is desirable and feasible. Changes in 'gaps' can then also be
The questionnaire was first trialled and subsequently
piloted with groups of 3rd Year undergraduate students who had taken
the PMS course in the previous year before being administered twice to a group
of 50 PMS
students. Of these, 37
completed and submitted questionnaires in Autumn term (a 74% return rate) and
28 went on to also submit questionnaires completed in Summer term (76%); hence, 56% of the total class returned both
questionnaires. Although these are fairly high response rates given the
voluntary nature of the questionnaire, the sample size is small overall
(n<30). Mean values and mean
value-practice gaps were calculated based on the two administrations of the
questionnaire. The inventories from
which items were drawn (Entwistle, Hounsell and
McCune, 2002; Trigwell and Ashwin, 2003) had been used in questionnaire
instruments the data from which had then been subject to factor analysis; so it was therefore
to see whether the findings from this questionnaire confirmed these earlier
analyses, albeit with appropriate levels of caution given the small size of our
sample. Trigwell and Ashwin's (2003,
68-69) factor structure covers a range of issues beyond the scope of our
questionnaire, but we did find elements of their factor structure useful in accounting
for variance in our results when we carried out confirmatory factor
analysis. Preliminary exploratory factor analysis
(PCA using Varimax Rotation) suggests that the items load onto three components
which account for about 40% of variance in relation to student responses as to
the value of activities. These
three components correspond to conceptual categories concerned with 'explicit
learning and feedback', 'authentic and relevant learning' and 'engagement and
motivation'. (It proved much more
difficult to develop a compelling factor structure for practices,
possibly a reflection of the fact that students were reporting on their
experiences with a number of different tutors who employed different teaching
practices). The process of developing
this factor structure and its relation to the development of the broader
Responses were largely consistent across the two administrations, confirming the 'baseline' role of the questionnaire ahead of any interventions planned for the following (2006-2007) academic year, although there were a number of differences which are described below. By far the largest value-practice gap (on both administrations, and 0.8 greater than the next largest gap) was 'assessment criteria or model answers are used to help me understand how well I am doing in my studies'. Other items with large gaps where values exceeded practices on the first administration are shown in Table 1.
It is notable
that while the largest gap
Table 1: High Value-Practice Gaps from Student questionnaire Data
Assessment criteria or model answers are used to help me understand how well I am doing in my studies
Teachers provide helpful feedback on my progress
Tutorials help me to have a clear idea of how the course is structured
Tutorials help me to focus on the importance of integrating concepts rather than learning rules and laws
I receive useful comments (orally and/or in writing) on my work
Tutorials help me to develop new ways of thinking rather than just extending specific knowledge
Tutorials help to develop problem-solving skills
Teachers help me to link together the different parts of the course
Tutorials help me to develop analytical skills
Teachers make it clear right from the start what they expect from students
Tutorials help me understand what is required on this course for me to do well
A small number of items produced negative value-practice gaps, representing student dissatisfaction with the practices involved. These related to activities oriented towards 'surface learning' (Entwistle,1981; Ramsden, 1992):'tutorials are more about me showing how much I have learned rather than developing my understanding' (mean v-p = -0.5 stdev = 1.1 ); 'I am mainly asked questions which require recall of facts' (mean v-p = -0.2 stdev = 1.1) and 'I am assessed on what I have memorised rather than what I have understood' (mean v-p = -0.5, stdev = 1.4). Practice ratings for these items were low compared with other items (all with a mean of less than 3 on the value scale), but it seems reasonable to interpret this as meaning that despite these being less common activities, they are still more prevalent than the student sample would prefer.
administration of the questionnaire returned very similar values to the first
(albeit with a smaller sample size).
There were, however, some items where there were small (but generally statistically insignificant) differences
perhaps reflecting the changing teaching and learning environment over time
(and particularly in the light of the important second year exams which were
imminent). Practices such as 'concentrat[ing] on learning just
those bits of information I have to know to pass examinations' were apparently slightly more
common, while the value attached to
'teaching ... techniques and procedures rather than arguments and
reasoning' had showed a statistically significant increasep < 0.05), possibly in response to the
demands of an assessed practical course and upcoming practical
administrations of the questionnaire, a series of focus groups were held
involving a subgroup of the students who had completed the questionnaire. These had multiple purposes; in addition to
providing a better insight into the perspectives of students on teaching and
learning, they also served as opportunities for the research team to collect
qualitative data to triangulate with questionnaire data, to illuminate further
some of the patterns in the questionnaire data and to validate some of the
emerging hypotheses and constructs. The
focus groups were organised to form a coherent series as we wished to ensure
that participating students would find these activities engaging and
worthwhile. Each of the four sessions
with each group had a distinct theme: “Learning in different settings”,
A pilot series of four focus groups was run with third-year students as preparation for those with the second-years. The third-year focus groups were intended primarily to verify the appropriateness of topics for discussion, and to ensure that the practical aspects ran smoothly (although some issues arose from these groups which will be discussed further). The pilot also provided the opportunity to test the best way of recording the content of the discussion. Sound quality using video and microphones proved poor, and given the need for informality and for division of the group into twos and threes, it was decided not to attempt to use multiple microphones or microphones attached to individual participants. Instead, detailed notes were taken by one of the researchers, and participants were encouraged to note down any issues prior to 'feeding back' to the larger group and these notes were also collected. Researchers met immediately after the focus groups to review notes, to make additional observations and to offer immediate reflections.
Analysis of the focus group data showed that one of the main concerns for students (and one which they couched both in terms of their own learning and the things which teachers could do in order to support them) was making the role and purpose of specific course content and learning activities more explicit. While it was recognised that course documentation included learning objectives and that criteria for assessment were made available, these were seen as being too general and were not operationalised in terms that students fully understood and (more critically) in ways that could inform their management of their own learning. Similar criticisms were made with respect to the advice and feedback provided by some teachers; the formal tutorial reports which were used to report progress were described as being 'too generic' and several students reported only 'knowing how they were doing' once they had received end of year examination results. While expertise and enthusiasm for the subject was regarded as important, the most effective tutors were characterised as those who were took an interest in student learning, responded to individual and collective difficulties and offered specific advice and targets. Students said that ideally the feedback that they should receive would combine written comments and some kind of predictive grades 'to show where they should be aiming'; this applied as much to work which was well received as much as to that which was deficient in some way – one of the students reporting that one of the most depressing occurrences was to have written work returned with the comment 'that's fine'.
these specific issues led to several broader questions
(which were not originally part of the planned schedule of the focus groups)
being raised by students. The first was
the extent to which norm- and criterion-referencing was used in assessment
processes, and how appropriate and 'fair' these were; students were particularly concerned about
the comparability of 'firsts' across subjects and across institutions and
students drew comparisons with the national criteria used in the grading of 'A'
and 'AS' level qualifications. The
second was the extent to which there was any
While the focus groups were originally intended to explore attitudes to teaching and learning amongst second year students, and those involving third-year students were intended as a pilot, there were a number of differences between the attitudes of the two groups of students, especially in relation to their participation in 'authentic' learning activities, the different methods deployed to engage with and synthesise course material and their role as potential participants in broader academic activity. These raised some additional questions about the differences between student populations – specifically, those who had chosen to specialise (or were likely to do so) in Plant and Microbial Sciences (and might also be considering postgraduate study in that area) and those who were studying Plant and Microbial Sciences as a course element subsidiary to another subject.
A good example of this pattern concerned attitudes to learning activities – both those that were organised by tutors and those that students undertook independently. Second year students described a range of activities which helped them synthesise the diverse course content; examples included: essay writing; watching natural history documentaries on DVD and extending the information provided by the presenter with concepts and insights gained from the course; rewriting lecture notes (in a limited number of cases as 'mind maps'); and annotating images and diagrams. What was evident was a tendency amongst the second year students to associate 'learning' with 'knowing' and 'memory', particularly in relation to the course content delivered addressed in lectures. When researchers enquired about learning strategies, some students consistently responded with accounts of how they remembered information. The role of teachers was generally defined in terms of 'explaining' those areas which the students found difficult and there was an expectation that they would have both subject knowledge and the ability to help students to understand it – one third year student stating that 'I want my tutor to know everything – or at least to pretend they do'(2). Teachers who were perceived as not knowing course content, or who withheld explanations or advice in order to stimulate independent student learning were viewed in a negative light.
While some second year students made reference to essay writing as a learning activity, third year students argued that this represented the main learning opportunity within the course – rather than just being a form of preparation for examinations, or a means of assessment or monitoring. They also stressed how project work, which as final year students they were involved in as a major course element, represented a significant opportunity to synthesise information, develop new techniques and extend their knowledge and understanding beyond the scope of the taught course. Their emphasis on these activities may represent their additional experience and opportunity to reflect on this; but may also be a result of their increased orientation towards the 'authentic' and participatory activities that the final year course involved. In this context, essay writing was perceived by some students as a preparation for academic and professional activity and was accompanied by departmental activities such as seminar presentations and preparation of work for academic publication.
These orientations towards 'learning as acquisition' and 'learning as participation' mirror the two 'metaphors for learning' identified by Sfard (1998) but it proved important to explore with students not only their attitudes towards different learning activities but the rationales which informed them. Second year students responded more positively to some 'participatory' activities such as group work and projects, peer assessment and student-led seminars (with some appreciating the absence of a ‘big academic’). This may be linked to their concern with 'covering' course content, and activities which contributed to their getting a good grasp of core concepts, involved peers 'explaining' areas of difficulty, and in doing so equipped them for examinations were viewed in a positive light. It should be noted that such activities were quite rare on the whole, and students from both groups had to be prompted before mentioning these as examples of learning activities in which they had participated (a pattern confirmed by the low 'practice' ratings in the questionnaire for peer learning activities).
In the final focus group of the series the question of
acquisition and participation models of learning were revisited and Sfard's
(1998) distinction used as a starting point for discussion. Echoing Sfard's own warning as to the danger
of choosing 'only one' metaphor for learning, students were keen to point to a 'cross-over'
or combination of the two metaphors in all learning environments. That said, they associated learning as
acquisition more with their experience of learning at school and in the early
parts of their undergraduate courses (particularly lecture courses); third year
students, with their greater experience of project work, identified this as
representing a shift towards learning as participation. Practical classes earlier in the course were
seen in terms of acquisition
Third year students, who had more experience of working directly with academic staff on research activities, were interested in Sfards' assertion that under the participation metaphor (represented, amongst others by Wenger (1998) 'Communities of Practice' a prime concern of teachers is the preservation of domain-specific practices and a professional community. They characterised their year group in terms of those who did not intend to continue to postgraduate study, and for whom the acquisition metaphor provided a better description, and those who were already considering an academic career (and who were recognised as such by staff) for whom the participation metaphor provided a better match.
A final issue that emerged from the focus groups was the fact that the environment which we had established, in which groups of 4-8 individuals took part in activities centred on enquiry, was a novel one for the students for students who for the most part characterised their teaching and learning environments as comprising lectures, small group tutorials, practicals and individual study. Furthermore, students reported that the focus groups represented their first opportunity to explicitly discuss teaching and learning, to share ideas and to voice concerns about teaching and learning issues. At the end of the series of focus groups, all groups were asked to make suggestions for improvements to teaching and learning, and in all cases, there was a consensus that 'sessions like these' should take place - possibly in the first term of undergraduate courses.
An important aspect of the project is assessment of the
impact of evidence-informed development of small-group teaching practices.
Evidence (including the questionnaire and focus group data described here) has
been collected to indicate changes with the potential to have a positive impact
on student learning, and repeated administrations of the practice-value
questionnaire will provide evidence of how practices and attitudes change as a
result. At the same time it is also
important for the project to have a means of analysing the impact of those
changes on student achievement; clearly one measure of this would be student
performance in examinations, and the project team intend to use raw examination
scores as one measure of change – both within and between cohorts of students. Another approach is to measure self-efficacy
as part of a strategy which matches the broader aim of academic courses to
increase the confidence in their abilities of their students. The Plant and Microbial Science course which
is the subject of this research is part of the Natural Sciences degree at the
Self-efficacy refers to beliefs about one’s own capability
to learn or perform behaviours at designated levels and in specific domains
(Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997). The nature
of self-efficacy has been researched across a range of contexts and has been found
to be related to clinical problems; to management of stress and pain and
activities such as smoking; and to athletic performance (Pajares, 1997).
Self-efficacy has also received increasing attention in education
Self-efficacy measures are varied: they range from those
designed to describe generalised self-efficacy (which iscorrelated with a broad
notion of self-confidence); through the self-efficacy to perform a set of tasks
involved in pursuing a domain-specific career or activity such as setting up a
business; and to more narrowly defined confidence to perform specific tasks
With this in mind the questionnaire included a range of items to include self-efficacy in relation to general academic and scientific ability as well as domain-specific items derived from the course objectives, (including both those that were generally perceived by teachers to cause students difficulty and those that caused few problems for them). Other items were selected to investigate levels of student self-efficacy in relation to potential threshold concepts identified within the course. General items included 'Carrying out scientific experimental data analysis' and 'Communicating with peers and academics in a scientific environment', while more specific items included 'Understanding how the mechanisms of photosynthesis are affected by environmental conditions' and 'Understanding strategies adopted by bacteria and fungi to cope with major environmental challenges'. One item was included which related to a topic that had not been addressed in the course, allowing a check for the validity of individual student responses (or alternatively their disinclination to acknowledge a low level of self-efficacy on any item).
server generated an automatic email to all 53 second year Plant and
Microbial Science students with links to the online questionnaire which they
were invited to complete. A response rate of 62% was
achieved (31 out of 50), of whom 62% were
female (the proportion of female students on the course also being 62%)
and of whom 39% intended to take Plant and Microbial Sciences as their third
The most striking aspect of the results gained from this questionnaire was that students were generally very confident about their scientific abilities, both general and domain-specific. On a nine-point Likert scale of 1 to 9 (with 1 being 'not confident' and 9 'completely confident'), the mean score across all items was 6.7 (stdev =1.5, n=31). Even on the item which referred to the topic not covered in the course, the mean was 5.8 (stdev = 1.7, n=31), and while this is significantly lower than the other items (t = -2.4, p <0.05), it does suggest that only a very small number of students were willing to acknowledge a level of self-efficacy below the mid-point of the scale on any item. There were two areas of significant difference in levels of self-efficacy. Firstly, female students reported significantly higher self-efficacy on plant science specific items (t = 6, p <0.05) but there was no significant gender difference for the general scientific items. Secondly, those students who had chosen to continue with plant sciences reported significantly higher levels of self-efficacy on the plant science specific items (t = 2.06, p <0.05) but there was no significant difference with general scientific skills.
These data collected on self-efficacy are of interest in their own right and it is clear that repeated administrations of this research instrument could provide useful information both about the progress of individual students and cohorts as a whole, particularly if it were extended across other courses in the Natural Sciences; it would be useful to discover whether those students not intending to continue with Plant and Microbial Sciences have higher domain-specific levels of self-efficacy in the subjects in which they do intend to specialise. However, they also raise some important issues when compared with the other data described here.
Students appear to be confident about their
'understanding' of specific course content (as evidenced by self efficacy
scores) and their view of teachers' roles (gathered in focus groups) suggests
that they value highly teaching and learning activities designed to help them
develop this understanding. At the same
time, they expressed considerable concerns about their ability to demonstrate
this understanding particularly by writing
essays under examination conditions. Amongst the
themes to emerge from the practice-value questionnaire w the
needto have more clarity as to teacher and institutional expectationsbetter connections made between learning activities
explicit demonstrations of success criteria and models of 'quality'. This disjunction between 'understanding' and
'being able to show your understanding' may lie at the root of students'
expressed concerns about the assessment system and their demand for greater
transparency and accountability.
It is worth noting, however, that there was a belief on
the part of the
These student data have been used in two ways. The first is the identification of a number of specific 'high-leverage' strategies which have been identified primarily through the use of the practice-value questionnaire. Some of these have been used to inform interventions to be put in place in the Plant and Microbial Sciences course in 2006-2007, including:
· Making lecture notes, presentations, practical handouts and notes, essay lists and previous examination questions available in a standard format within a 'wiki' within the Camtools Virtual Collaboration Environment hosted by CARET. This is 'searchable' so that students can identify areas of commonality across the diverse aspects of the course.
· Identifying and more explicitly 'signposting' key concepts and areas of problematic knowledge (including 'threshold concepts'), together with their scope, relevance and explanatory power.
· Making available annotated essays in each substantive area of the course including exemplars of work at different grades and including examiner comments. Tutors will be supported in using these as part of formative assessment activities rather than simply as 'model answers'.
· Linking course materials to external resources including websites, publications (from access points such as 'Web of Science') and case studies.
The second role for these data is in informing the development of a broader, overarching explanatory framework; this has emerged from existing literature (Entwistle et al, 2002; Trigwell and Ashwin, 2003); from the explanatory factor analysis on the practice-value gap questionnaire; and from qualitative analysis of the focus group described here; and also of interviews with teachers involved in the course. This involves six main elements, which have framed discussion within the research team and have also proved to be a useful point of departure for discussions with subject teaching staff (although they are not intended to be a 'plan of action' but rather, a means of identifying areas for further study and potential action). The first four elements are concerned with teaching and learning practices, and primarily involve reflection and possible changes in practice on the part of teachers and students:
· Making Learning Explicit: this includes sharing and revisiting learning objectives, discussion of success criteria and relating specific learning activities to broader course objectives and vocational priorities.
· Motivation, Engagement and Contingency: this includes teachers not simply being expert in their field but encouraging and engaging with student learning and the problems they may encounter. It includes the notion of teaching 'contingently' by using diagnostic activities and questions to explore student understanding and misconceptions and responding accordingly.
· Authentic Learning: this includes teaching with 'real-life' examples and through case studies, but also 'modelling' the authentic strategies and activities of experts in the field.
Student Self-Regulation and
Two further themes are more concerned with course team, department and institutional activities.
· Constructive Alignment, Synthesis and Throughlines: this theme borrows from the work of the ETL project (Entwistle et al., 2002) and concerns the alignment of learning activities, assessment processes and student priorities. It represents an underpinning to the themes listed above, so for example the job of teachers in 'Making Learning Explicit' would be easier if the different elements of a course were closely integrated. This is the level at which the provision of the online resources mentioned above is conceptualised – as a set of resources for teachers and students to frame specific teaching and learning activities
· Transparency and Accountability: This further extends the organisational level of the framework, and introduces issues such as the application of standards, inter-institutional differences and social aspects of teacher-student relations.
The data presented here, then, are perhaps best seen as a 'baseline' evidence base, not only useful as for comparisons and evaluation of any intervention, but also the basis for informed decision making and managed change. If the data help identify what changes might be made, the analytical framework points up some of the tensions which might be felt and factors which might support or hinder those changes. While there are some specific changes in practice which would seem to have broad support across staff and students, others may be harder to implement (even if all parties believe them to be desirable). Both staff and students expressed an unwillingness to reduce the examination system to what one student described as 'hoop-jumping', so the process of introducing 'Making Learning Explicit' strategies should be introduced will need to be carefully managed so as not to have detrimental effects on what we have termed 'Student Self-Regulation and Independence'. In the same way, any introduction of activities involving students in peer learning may (on the evidence of the practice-value questionnaire and the focus groups) not be successful if it is seen solely as a social exercise to develop collegiality within the student cohort, and would have to be reframed in terms of its learning benefits to individuals or as an 'authentic' and transferable activity in which it important for students to gain experience and expertise.
The 2006-2007 academic year, then, represents an opportunity
for an expansive programme of research and development into teaching and
learning at individual, classroom and organisational level, with the
progressive elaboration and extension of an evidence base and the development
of explanatory frameworks informed by both teacher and learner
perspectives. It also represents an
opportunity to develop a replicable process of evidence-informed development of
practice with potential applications across the
The project team would like to thank the staff and students of the Department of Plant Sciences and staff at CARET for their participation and support; and the Cambridge MIT Institute for its funding.
1. Author names are presented alphabetically following the corresponding author: Patrick Carmichael, CARET, 16 Mill Lane, Cambridge, CB2 1SB. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Another student in this discussion expressed a view that it was reassuring to imagine that one's teachers were 'omnipotent' – on reflection researchers decided that they probably meant 'omniscient', although it is impossible to be sure.
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 Another student in this discussion expressed a view that it was reassuring to imagine that one's teachers were 'omnipotent' – on reflection researchers decided that they probably meant 'omniscient', although it is impossible to be sure. Threshold concepts are described by Meyer and Land (2005) as concepts the understanding of which is transformative, integrative, probably irreversible, context-specific and often problematic. They are associated with 'conceptual change' models of teaching and learning and their study forms another element of the work of the project and of an associated ESRC/EPSRC project funded under the Technology-Enhanced Learning Programme ('Transforming Perspectives: technology to support the teaching and learning of threshold concepts' RES-139-25-0361). See Carmichael et al (2006 forthcoming) for further details.
This document was added to the Education-Line database on 20 December 2006