Category Archives: Blogs

Designing assessments that are meaningful, equitable and manageable in UK higher education

Designing assessments for very large classes is often a problematic experience for academic staff, a challenge that is magnified in today’s highly internationalised student environment. In this post, which has been published on the Higher Education Academy website, I discuss the considerations and constraints that must be taken into account when designing assessments that are meaningful, equitable and manageable for both staff and students alike. The post will be of particular interest to the “newbie academic” or those facing the challenges of large class teaching for the first time. You can read the post here

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Getting Started in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Once a year myself and a colleague deliver a session to participants in the New Academic’s Programme at The University of Manchester entitled “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL)”.  Our aim in this session is to spark interest in  the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as a valuable and legitimate scholarly activity.  The slides, which are available in Slideshare here, provide an overview of what SOTL is, how it is similar and yet subtly different to pedagogic research, and tools and techniques for getting started.  It is a resource that I wish had been available when I was starting my academic career and I hope it is useful to you as a means of reflecting on and improving your teaching practice in Higher Education today.

Moving from individual to group based coursework

The holy-grail of assessment in large class HE teaching, IMHO, is finding an assessment process that is in equal measure meaningful, equitable to students and manageable for me as a busy academic.

Iron triangle of assessmentI have blogged on this topic previously, and a couple of years on I want to share my experiences of moving my coursework from individual to group-work on a large international post-graduate taught module.

In previous years the coursework element of my MSc unit on  Project Finance for Infrastructure has typically comprised an individual essay with a strict 6 page limit (including all references, diagrams etc) on a topic which requires students to critically appraise the theories of project finance and to compare them with what happens in practice on a real project case study.  Although I had a brief dalliance with a group based wiki assessment in 2009, the technological issues that arose had me retreating to the safety of a word based individual essay in 2010. This academic year (2014/15) I decided that enough was enough. My rationale for moving to group-work was largely pragmatic: I wanted to reduce the burden of marking, yet try to ensure that the assessment remained meaningful and equitable.

Here is what happened and what I have learned from the process. Continue reading Moving from individual to group based coursework

Reflections on Large Class Teaching

As academics, I think we can often feel like this image here of an overloaded truck.  There are many competing demands on our time: research, teaching, administration, student experience and the all important NSS.  Who doesn’t feel like this some days ?overloaded truck Senagal- Credit Daniel Penney

Large class teaching can be one more pressure that we have to deal with.  There are myriad challenges to address, such as managing student expectations, being available to students but also having a life outside work, and perhaps worst of all the relentlessness and never-ending nature of the marking.

In the early days, when I asked for help about how to deliver good teaching to very large classes, a distinguished elder scholar who shall remain nameless retorted “I just wouldn’t do them” – not that helpful to a newbie academic!  My hope today is to offer tips that are a bit more useful than that, yet grounded in the reality that large classes are not going to go away and we as academics need to deal with them. (A copy of the presentation on which this blog post is based is available on Slideshare ) Continue reading Reflections on Large Class Teaching

Getting started in Blended Learning

This post arose from a seminar on “Blended Learning” held for probationary academics in Blended Learning Scalesthe School of MACE at the University of Manchester in October 2014. In it myself and Professor Andy Gale gave short presentations on the subject of Blended Learning which are available to download here( Blended Learning MACE 15th Oct 2014 AW Gale and Blended Learning MACE 15th Oct 2014 FC Saunders)

I hope the resulting short post may interest those of you who are just starting to explore the potential of blended learning

What is blended learning?

“Blended learning refers to any time a student learns, at least in part, at a bricks and mortar location and also through online delivery with student control over time, place, path or pace” (Source:”). Continue reading Getting started in Blended Learning