Thursday, 28 January 2016

HEA STEM 2016 - 28-29 January 2016 - Transforming teaching and learning in STEM

HEA STEM 2016 - 28-29 January 2016 East Midlands Conference Centre

Inspire to succeed:
Transforming teaching and learning in STEM
An exciting day of discussions on innovation, employability and engagement.  The landscape of teaching and learning is moving at such a fast pace - with new technological advances students can learn in more ways than ever now and our teaching needs to be responsive to this.  Keep the dialogue going on Twitter #HEASTEM16 

Simon Heath's incredible artistic skills bring teaching to life
Blogsquad team !

Lego Mindstorm Challenge

Thoughts on Day 1

What a fantastic first day! Many thanks to the HEA for inviting me to come up to Nottingham and blog at this fascinating conference.  I have a Psychology background, but I currently teach Statistics in a Criminology department, so there is so much for me to take in from all of these sessions. I am well aware that I have been able to capture just a small snapshot of all that has gone on this first day at the HEA STEM conference. I have been to a range of talks, seminars and workshops, engaged with some of the delegates face to face, and many more virtually.

Following a warm welcome from Professor Sean Ryan, (Head of STEM - HEA), Professor Stephanie Marshall (Chief Executive of the HEA) gave a keynote address to all delegates. Stephanie spoke of the four dimensions of teaching excellence (Planning and delivery, Assessment, Contributing to the Profession, and Evaluating & Reflecting).  Stephanie also spoke of how we need to consider student engagement  and what is the 'added value' students are getting at the end of their degree. For me this is something that is so important given today's competitive job market.

I have been a participant on one of the staff focus groups on the 'Learning Gain' project Stephanie mentioned. In the focus group we discussed exactly this issue - what are students getting from their degree, and similarly - what are students (and their future employers) expecting students to gain from their degree programmes.  There is no easy and quick answer to this - but certainly employability, transferable skills, flexibility, a willingness to learn and a professional attitude were some of the themes that arose in our single focus group (as well as subject knowledge of course!). Of course I am just speaking for our small group. I look forward to seeing the findings from this project.  There were many questions in Stephanie's Q & A session, and one particular question was regarding how we convince universities to be more innovative in their teaching. Stephanie said that staff need to 'gather evidence, be patient, don't be afraid to ask questions, be persistent'. Organisational change moves slowly, but things do change, and they will eventually if there is sufficient momentum, we can all be part of this.

Alecia Dunn & Dr Patrick Rosenkranz from Newcastle University did an engaging talk on their work with Psychology undergraduates showing that enterprise challenges really helped students empathise with veterans and put their psychological skills to good use. Noel-Ann Bradshaw of the University of Greenwich then got us all thinking about how staff can further embed employability into the curriculum for maths students. The suggestion is that employability needs to integrated with core material, and not be stand alone units for it really have the most impact. Dr Helen Hooper from Northumbria University next spoke about her work looking at how volunteering has had an impact on students in STEM subjects. What was interesting here was that only 20% students who did volunteering from STEM subjects were male - this needs further exploration - i.e. is lack of engagement just related to volunteering, or is the lack of engagement more widespread?  Helen found that students reported that volunteering had wide impact including improving employability, transferable skills to name but a few.

I was lucky enough to get one of the 20 seats available in the Lego Mindstorms session presented by Dr Mark Zarb & Dr Angela Siegel from Robert Gordon University. This was a practical session, enjoyed by all participants including myself! Mark and Angela found that using a set of Lego Challenges over 6 weeks, 1st year computing students were able to transition into HE just that bit easier, and learn a whole load of skills along the way, including group working, communication skills, confidence and gaining a social support structure - inspirational stuff! The day for me conclude by listening to Neville Palmer of Southampton Solent University who showed us his prototype for feedback, which certainly looks very promising. Certainly if there is a way to improve the feedback that students get, given the limited time pressures academics have then this does seem like an exciting project, watch this space on this one!

Are you at the conference, if so, what have you enjoyed so far?