HEFCE Catalyst bid success for Keele University

Posted on 05 December 2016

Keele University has been successful with its two bids to the HEFCE Catalyst fund to support two new learning and teaching projects for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The 18-month projects will develop and evaluate small-scale, experimental innovations with specific cohorts of learners, with a focus on active student engagement. The projects will address a wide variety of themes including learning analytics, interdisciplinary learning, academic and employability skills, peer-assisted learning, assessment and student co-creation of learning resources.

The first project will be led by Dr Ed de Quincey in Computer Science, to work with a small cohort of undergraduate students to develop a student-centred learner analytics timeline to support students’ understanding of their learning activity.

The second project will work across all three Faculties, involving the Schools of Geography, Geology and Environment, Nursing and Midwifery, Humanities and Keele Management School, to draw together interdisciplinary perspectives on key world challenges. This is being led by Dr Zoe Robinson, Director of Education for Sustainability, and Reader in the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment.

The Catalyst funding allows HEFCE to deliver on its strategic aims for higher education, delivering innovations in learning and teaching, and addressing barriers to student success.

Dr Ed de Quincey’s project, ‘Learner Centred Design for Learning Analytics’ will aim to allow students to drive the Learning Analytic (LA) user experience.

Learning Analytics has the potential to identify at-risk learners and provide intervention to assist students in achieving success.

Dr de Quincey’s recent research into the subject of LA identified that the majority of LA systems were targeted at lecturers and teachers, with very few examples being co-developed with students. Therefore, the innovative project will aim to allow students to drive the LA user experience, rather than being driven by the technology or the data.

Dr de Quincey commented:

“What we are doing, which I think is different, is to use students in the development process right from that start, so that Learning Analytics can be more student centred than current attempts, which tend to be focused on the data and the lecturer viewpoint.”

“What we also want to do is to see how Learning Analytics can be integrated into the classroom/lecture to try and make students more aware of the resources we are putting onto Virtual Learning Environments. To do this we will be using Keele students in the development process both as users i.e. finding out from them what they want and also training up some student ambassadors to go and run sessions where this information gathering happens.”

Dr Zoe Robinson’s project, involving postgraduate students, is titled ‘Unmaking Single Perspectives – a listening project’.  The project aims to explore the use of conversation as a tool to help students develop an understanding of alternative perspectives to key world challenges, using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as a focal point for the conversations. 

Dr Robinson explained:

“The project explores a novel approach to interdisciplinary learning, developing students’ skills in questioning and listening in order to understand someone else’s perspective. Students don’t often get the opportunity to develop these kinds of one-to-one communication skills, and this project aims to explore the pedagogy around this skills development, while enhancing students’ interdisciplinary learning and boosting their confidence in these settings.  Conversations with students from different disciplines will be focused around key world challenges, represented by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, as greater interdisciplinary understanding and working is imperative to the achievement of these goals and sustainability more broadly. The conversations, with the students’ permission, be recorded, archived and potentially broadcast where appropriate, allowing a greater range of people to benefit from the understanding which is developed” 

A total of 139 bids were assessed, with 67 universities and colleges awarded funding to develop small-scale experimental innovations in learning and teaching.

Professor Trevor McMillan, Vice Chancellor at Keele University, commented: 

“We’re very pleased to have been successful in both of our Catalyst funding bids. Thanks to the hard work of the bidding teams, and their passion for innovation in education, we’ll be able to deliver two programmes that will not only develop our students, but also break down wider barriers to success – a key objective of HEFCE’s.

Importantly, these multidisciplinary projects will put our students at the centre of the learning experience, allowing them to help shape innovative approaches to learning and teaching.”

HEFCE will work with the projects to support their networking, evaluation and dissemination, so that the innovations and lessons learnt are shared with other providers across the whole higher education sector.

HEFCE’s Chief Executive, Madeleine Atkins, said:

“We were delighted by the level of interest from universities and colleges in developing new ways of working and are pleased to be funding such an exciting range of learning and teaching innovations. We look forward to working with the project organisations to share the lessons across the sector.”

In addition to the two projects being led by Keele, Dr Mary Corcoran, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Keele, is contributing to a Catalyst-funded project led by Lancaster University, to research how students on academic Criminology degree programmes can translate their knowledge and skills into work-based settings.