National Teaching Fellowship for York Lecturer

Congratulations to Anne Phillips, Senior Lecturer in Diabetes Care in the Department of Health Sciences, who has been awarded National Teaching Fellow status by the Higher Education Academy.  This prestigious award recognises excellence and outstanding achievement in learning and teaching in higher education.

Anne will receive the award at a gala event in London in the New Year and will also receive £5,000 HEFCE funding to further enhance learning and teaching initiatives and her own professional development. Anne will also become a member of the Association of National Teaching Fellows, an active community of passionate and enthusiastic professionals working to enhance learning and teaching in their institutions and the sector.

Supervising students

Our latest monthly post from the Forum committee, Jill Webb from the York Management School reflects on academic supervision; the post was written by Jill in May but we felt this was a good one to post as we look forward to a new intake of students and a whole new set of personal tutees. 

I can’t believe it’s already May, I have two writing deadlines, hundreds of scripts to mark, a couple of presentations to pull together and I need to see my twenty-five personal tutees. I’ve booked some time for them but before they drop in I’m secretly hoping that they’ll be quick, so I can get on with my ever increasing list of things to do. Then, in they come, we start chatting and I remember how this is fun, VERY interesting and important both to me and to them. Hopefully, it encourages them to reflect and means that they get help when they need it. For me, it helps me to understand my students as people and reminds me how diverse they are. Hopefully this will lead to better programme and module design.

I’ve tutored Jiang for three years, in the first year she seemed like a model student with great grades but she was a bit withdrawn. After a year of tutoring her I didn’t feel I really knew her, she was polite, she attended meetings but conversation was limited. In her second year she had an absolute crisis of confidence and had developed a firm belief that she wasn’t normal. She really thought that she was the only person in the world going through friendship problems and struggling with the course.  When things started going wrong, she started to open up a little bit and I was able to convince her to see the Open Door team.  They helped enormously and the change over the past year has been transformational. Jiang developed new friendship groups, contributes in class and asks for help when she needs it. I can’t help thinking though, that the change in Jiang may have been possible without the crisis had we done more to help her integrate with her classmates and generally cope better with what can be a challenging first year.

Jiang is closely followed by Nina who is in her second year. Nina is a sporadic attender and she doesn’t contribute much in class. It’s really hard to get anything out of her. However, after a year of tutoring her, a lot of open questions and a few silences, I find out she’s hugely engaged in university societies and has strong, active connections to volunteer organisations in her home country. She seems to be a completely different person when she’s talking about her interests to the quiet character who struggles to make eye contact in class. I wonder whether it’s possible to find ways to better connect to our students and tap into their natural enthusiasm.

Finally, I see Joel, another second year. He’s done okay in year one assessments but I can see that his 2:2 average has given him a bit of a knock. He’s not admitting that he’s lacking in confidence or that anything in particular is wrong. I can see that it’s going to be difficult to get him to access the broader university support that he needs to improve his writing skills. I’m also concerned as he’s enrolled for the placement year, he says that he’s attending the employability sessions but somehow, I doubt it. He lacks direction and is already talking about swapping off the placement track as his mates aren’t planning to do a placement and he wants to sort his accommodation. I see a lot of students like Joel who never seem to get beyond a 2:2 although they’re probably capable of a 2:1. They’re at uni but I don’t get the feeling that it’s changing them or that they identify with the subject or the course. These are often the ones who don’t get a grad job in their third year. In Joel’s case I really don’t feel that my motivational chats are having an impact and I’m a bit lost as to how to help.

The next day I attend a really good meeting where we map our modules to the new draft programme outcomes and discuss the changes we want to make. I can see that some of the principles embedded in the York Pedagogy have the potential to help students like Jiang, Nina and Joel.

The reading I’ve done seems to indicate that academic engagement is, for the most part, the key to more general engagement.  We can really make a difference to students by thinking carefully about module design and delivery. These are the questions I’m asking myself:

  • How can I integrate some of the broader university support into modules? This may improve take-up and ensure that those who actually need the support get it.
  • Can I create opportunities for students to draw on their own interests and to share this in class? This might bring some of our students’ the natural enthusiasm into the classroom.
  • How can I provide more opportunities for students to engage socially in modules? I need to think about how students might work together in seminars, as part of assessment or in more wide-ranging study groups. Social engagement is important to fostering a sense of belonging which improves retention and success.

Also as a Programme Leader I need to think about engagement from a course perspective. This isn’t just organising social events or being approachable and friendly, although these things have a part to play. The ‘What Works’ literature provides some great ideas, for example a longer induction with a focus on activities, small group work and broader opportunities to mix with staff and fellow students.  Many universities have also introduced peer mentoring schemes, where second or third year students mentor first years. I recently attended a validation event at another university where the both mentors and mentees said this had really made a difference to how they felt about the course.

I can see how some of these ideas might really help students like Jiang, Nina and Joel. Also, fostering a greater sense of belonging in our students might make working with students even more interesting than it already is.

Jill Web, York Management School 

Please note students referenced in this post are fictional. 


L&T Session B4: Exploring learning gain

John Robinson Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students

AbstractReferences | Recording

Professor John Robinson Pro Vice Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students facilitated a highly interactive session on exploring the meaning, measurement and implications of learning gain. John used the teaching space creatively to take participants through the history of thinking about learning gain by using the walls to create a giant timeline.



Since 1983, there has been frequent reference to “Learning Gain” in the educational literature and methods for improving student engagement, assessment design, etc. have often been advanced on the basis that they increase Learning Gain. But there is still no widely-agreed definition of Learning Gain. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) held a conference on learning gain in 2015 whereby Learning Gain was broadly defined as “an attempt to measure the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development made by students during their time spent in higher education”. Five ways to categorise methodologies for measuring learning gain were proposed: standardised tests, grades, self-reporting surveys, other qualitative methods (such as the York Award) and mixed methods. Following the conference, HEFCE research projects in learning gain were launched whereby the University of York is participating in a programme led by the University of Warwick on using a range of methods, including longitudinal and cross-sectional approaches, to test and develop tools to effectively measure learning gain related to the curriculum and employability.

John then gave participants the opportunity to explore the timeline whilst empowering them to choose which aspects of learning gain (to include engagement, satisfaction and measurement) they would like to explore in groups. Groups then reported back to discuss their findings.


To conclude, universities claim that their own graduates have the necessary skills to be successful. However, it is imperative to test such claims in an appropriate and fair manner in order to enable universities who can demonstrate significant learning gains in their students to prosper. It is hoped that our unique York Pedagogy with distinctive programme learning outcomes will provide us with a good platform to deliver on demonstrating a significant learning gain for all of our students.

This highly topical and engaging session provided participants with a unique insight into learning gain and helped us all to consider as to how we can demonstrate and maximise learning gain for our students at the support, departmental and institutional levels.


Glenn Hurst, Department of Chemistry, University of York


L&T Session B3: From building research skills to professional development: using blogging in humanities teaching

Emily Bowles, Department of English and Related Literature

AbstractPresentation | Recording

This workshop introduced the potential of blogging: not only to support existing learning outcomes and course-specific skills, but also to extend modules further and incorporate careers skills at the programme level, adding value for Humanities students that will assist them in the most common areas of graduate employment.

LT Event Talk 109.jpg

Although blogging forms part of some degree programmes, such as the Computer Science ‘Skills, Knowledge & Independent Learning’ module, it has much more to offer Humanities teaching in helping students develop key academic skills and skills for the workplace than has been recognised. This year, as a PGWT for ‘Global Literatures’ in the English Department, Emily had developed a blog for which students produce all content, improving their independent research, referencing, close reading and confidence with the material. Students were also exposed to basic principles of digital marketing, including how to write effectively for Search Engine Optimisation and for a non-specialist audience.

This workshop discussed the challenges and benefits of blogging in practice, including student feedback, and introduced delegates to methods of incorporating social media into degree programmes more easily as both formative and summative assessment.


L&T Session B1: Learning from Experience: widening participation students in Sociology

Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Merran Toerien, Department of Sociology

Abstract | Presentation | Recording

Dr. Gareth Millington and Ruth Penfold-Mounce presented their initial results in a recent project undertaken with Dr Merren Toerien designed to understand the experiences of widening participation (WP) students studying in the Sociology department. They discussed the results of the project which explored key themes – formativLT Event Talk 79.jpge experiences of schooling, influence of parents and guardians on choices, why they chose to study at university level, why York and why Sociology.

The department recruits a number of WP students who are mature, from lower socio-economic backgrounds or from a British minority ethnicity. Given that they are successful in their recruitment of these students they undertook the project to create a knowledge base for the sociology department on their student’s perceptions of studying at York and also hoped to create a tool-kit which other departmentLT Event Talk 82.jpgs could use to help them with their recruitment of WP students.

One of the most insightful findings was that WP students have both diverse and complex backgrounds and therefore they cannot be seen as a homogenous group. It needs to be recognised instead that each individual has intersecting multiple needs. They also discussed the identity of the students where they found that many do not see identify primarily as a student but rather their identity is as a carer or parent or it might be more closely linked to their occupation.

Rather than finding their WP status as something that held them back, the study found that many students used their previous experiences or background to their advantage. They found that some students thought that their ‘working-class work ethic’ enabled them to work harder than their middle-class counterparts. They did see themselves in deficit by coming to university but instead valued their previous experiences and skills.

They presented their tool-kit for departments in which highlighted:

  • The importance of liaising with schools in advance of the students’ applications as they found that the greatest influence on the students’ decision to apply is their school.
  • The role of the parent through the application process.
  • Making the course information accessible and not overload students in the first week.
  • Making the research relate to the student’s personal experiences.

This interesting and engaging session showcased the value of WP students to York. Departments should be encouraged to explore what these students can teach their peers as they have possess a driven focus to get the most out of their university experience. They are also great key graduate ambassadors who can inspire students from similar backgrounds to apply to the university.

Madeleine Mossman, Learning Enhancement, University of York 

L&T Session A5: Engaging students with employability within the programme

Janice Simpson, Vicky Barton and Claire McMahon, Careers Education Advice and Guidance 

Abstract | Presentation | Recording

After a thought LT Event Talk 52.jpgprovoking start to the conference with Tom Banham, Director of Employability and Careers at the University of York, it was a timely transition to host and participate in this inspiring workshop. After an overview of key context, Janice, Vicky and Claire outlined three unique case studies which sought to engage students and develop employability, responding to differing programme needs.

Each activity was characterised by the forging of effective partnerships between academic and careers staff, promoting dialogue and designing activities tailored to individual student communities.

The three diverse examples included skills reflection in Theatre, Film and Television (TFTV), the development of a flood defence care study in Environment and embedding an exploration of careers within a social research methods module in Sociology. The benefits and challenges of each case were highlighted in reflective summaries. Each articulated the dynamic and evolving nature of the activities undertaken, identifying clear motivations and suggestions for improvements, such as the refinement and timing of objectives and activities.

Lively group discussion followed. Facilitated by careers staff, delegates were challenged to consider:

* What are you doing well in terms of embedding employability in your department?

* What could be improved?

* How could you overcome any challenges?

Our concluding thoughts included the following:

  • Introducing employability at a very early stage – e.g. via engagement with employers and including a focus from student recruitment days onwards
  • Embedding employability in programme learning outcomes
  • Increasing engagement between academic and careers staff
  • Challenging and enabling academic staff to creatively ‘free up’ parts of the syllabus to engage in employability-related activities
  • Considering the value of formal credit-bearing activities which enhance employability within programmes

Helen Bedford, Health Sciences, University of York