Parallel 3

Developing communities for learning

Induction week is important for students’ transition and engagement with their degree. It affects students retention and success through the establishment of friendship, social integration and sense of belonging to the university community; informing students with degree expectation, and available learning support and tools to build their confidence; to develop a connection with staff and school.

School of Life Sciences designed a hybrid induction week for 2020/21 academic year, over 379 students and more than 35 staff participated. The induction week included three elements: first was campus-based programs talks, the second was online students group meeting with their tutors, the third was an online pub quiz organised by level 5 and 6 students.

The second element included academic project, students worked in groups to complete an academic task and produce a scientific poster that was presented to tutors and peers. Several digital tools were used, including screencasts and Sways to introduce the project, simulation labs, and how to screencasts and Sways to analyse and present data, and academic writing. Microsoft team was the platform to meet students live, and it was used with BlackBoard to provide information to students.

Students feedback showed the success of all the aspects of induction week, students felt welcomed 64.9%, connected 32.4%, excited and optimistic 39.2%. Also, this induction project provided staff and students with confidence and experience to use online platforms for teaching and learning.

Graduating pharmacy professionals should be competent and confident in completing tasks (in the stimulated environment), in preparation for their pre-registration training year (GPhC, 2011). Authentic assessments should require students ‘to perform meaningful tasks that replicate real world challenges’ (Mueller 2006). An authentic group assessment was designed and implemented, with final year MPharm students as co-designers. Short audio recordings of answers to real-life cases replaced a written theoretical paper; design was such that the assessment could be completed in any location (including online)

The mock and main authentic assessments were evaluated using an online mixed-methods questionnaire; adapted for tutors and students accordingly. Thematic analysis was used. Ethics approval was obtained.

52% (56/108) of MPharm students and 5 tutors participated in the mock assessment evaluation; 49%(53/108) of MPharm students and 5 tutors participated in the main assessment evaluation. The assessment evaluated mostly positively; forming recommendations regarding student confidence, key skillset developments, team-work and case design. Findings suggest that staff also developed various skills.

This assessment meets course ILOs, professional regulations and HEA practices, and is strongly underpinned by pedagogy. Findings are transferrable to other disciplines and of particular interest to educators aiming to improve the authenticity of teaching and assessments, thus skill development and graduate quality.


  • GPhC (2011) Future pharmacists: Standards for the initial education and training of pharmacists. London: General Pharmaceutical Council.
  • Mueller, J. (2006). Authentic assessment toolbox: What is authentic assessment? Available at: [Accessed on 09.12.20]

Foundations of Computational Theory and Programming (FCTAP) was a new module designed to run as part of the new Foundation Year (FY) curriculum in 2020/21. The onset of Covid-19 led to a rapid, pedagogy-informed transformation into an online module, initially as a ‘worst case scenario’ contingency. Although this posed several challenges, it also presented the opportunity to rethink traditional methods of teaching and explore different learning technologies. Tools such as OBS and Microsoft Stream were used to create engaging lectures, while traditional problem classes became a means of monitoring student engagement dynamically through formative assessment. MS Teams allowed programming sessions, which traditionally gave the students individual tasks to work on, to instead implement team-based learning to develop both programming skills and an online student community.

This talk describes the changes that were made, reflects on how successful this transformation has been and suggests lessons to learn for a post-Covid world. Comparisons are drawn between this module and its predecessor, Computers and Programming, including a brief look at potential ways of building a more inclusive ‘decolonised’ curriculum. Particular attention is paid to the importance of developing online subject-specific communities in the FY, and how this was achieved.

Reflector: Dr Katherine Haxton

Reflections of Parallel 3

Our rapid shift to digital teaching has left a lot of our sense of normality in the debris behind us, not lease, the traditional trappings of what it is to belong in the communities of the university. Rebuilding the familiar opportunities for collaboration and community have been a significant challenge in the uncertainty of the 2020/21 academic year. Parallel session three focused on how communities can be developed in this new reality, and there was much to learn on what digital tools can help us enhance communities going forward.

Like all good stories, this session began at the beginning with an account of the School of Life Sciences induction week programme. Nawroz Kareem took us through a whole school approach to the induction, one that made use of a spectacular range of digital tools including virtual experiments (Learning Science), interactive diagrams to provide easier instructions (Genially), and other activities to encourage engagement with personal tutors and more social activities. The downside of using a broad selection of digital tools is the sometimes awkward integrations between them however Sway was used effectively to overcome this.

We shifted gears from first years to finalists with Rebecca Venables describing using an action research process to enhance assessments for final year Pharmacy students. Through careful planning and a pilot in January, the May 2020 assessments in the new format were more authentic and enabled vicarious learning within groups of students, a hallmark of a developing community. The old version of the assessment was a combination of multiple choice questions and long answer questions, and while the students could prepare for the long answer questions with a selection being examined in a traditional manner, students largely worked alone. The authentic upgrade required students to work in groups to answer three questions, replicating professional practice within the discipline.

Replicating the informal interactions and vicarious learning that takes place in laboratory teaching has been challenging in a digital or socially distanced manner. Adam Wootton (Computer Science, Foundation Year) emphasised the need to build up the identity of the students and noted that even within the large cohort in foundation year and the broader curriculum, identifying as computer scientists early on was key to building a sense of community within the class. Adam chose emphasise the ‘authentic university experience’ in his design, with video lectures filmed against a green screen (bed sheet), embedded Sways into the KLE to ensure that everything looked like it was on the same platform, and designed the teaching to make it look like it had been digital from the beginning. By adapting the Team Based Learning methodology, Adam devised virtual computing labs in which groups of 4 – 5 students collaborated to complete three tasks. For problem classes, students were encouraged to email in their answers in order to get the solutions, and then self-assess their own work. The valuable problem class time was then spent on trouble shooting and asking questions.

Three very different approaches but all with the same goal: bring students into the communities and help them feel part of things, and do so using an array of new digital tools. The thought, care, and sheer hardwork that has gone into all of this work is significant.

Recording: developing communities for learning