Blog posts

Project: Adapt To Postgrad

Authors (ordered alphabetically by last name): Anna Maria Jones, Danielle Kurtin, Tianshu Liu, Georgia Simmons, and Alisia Southwell

What is Adapt To Postgrad (ATP)?

Anna Maria Jones

Adapt To Postgrad (ATP) is an online, non-credit bearing course developed within the Faculty of Medicine to support PGT students with the transition to Master’s-level learning, in advance of and during their study. The ATP course piloted in September 2020 and has thus far received overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, with 84% of over 200 students who completed the evaluation survey for its largest module, ‘Module 1: Preparing for Master’s study’ indicating that they found the course to be useful. Many staff and students across the Faculty and Institution have had input into the ATP course, particularly our student partners (funded by StudentShapers) who have played a pivotal role in its development and pilot evaluation. The ATP student partners give their insights into the course’s design and evaluation below.

How does ATP help?

Georgia Simmons

Created in partnership with staff and students within the Faculty of Medicine, ATP was introduced as an online, pre-arrival short course targeted at improving the transition to postgraduate study at Imperial. The course was designed to (1) provide students with key information for their upcoming study, (2) prepare them for what to expect of Master’s-level study, and (3) direct students to resources and services available to them. ATP addresses the transition to postgraduate study in a manner reflective of the independence Imperial wishes to cultivate in postgraduate students, as well as introducing students to active learning

Anatomy of ATP

Danielle Kurtin

Adapt To Postgrad is composed of three Modules. Module 1 is the only pre-arrival module and comprises the bulk of ATP. Within Module 1 students engage in 9 Units covering topics such as ‘What to Expect at Imperial College London’, ‘An A-Z of Helpful Resources’ and ‘Learning How To Learn in Online Environments’. This last unit was designed to aid the transition to remote learning due to COVID-19, which added another layer of difficulty to the transition to postgraduate study. At the end of Module 1, students complete an Action Plan for their Master’s-level learning experience. Module 2, which is released in late October, provides students the opportunity to check in with the goals they previously wrote and assess what further support they may need to achieve them, or whether they need to re-strategise having experienced some of what Master’s study is like in actuality. Finally, Module 3 provides support for ‘outduction’ where students reflect on their postgraduate journey, and support them in a strong finish of their program.

 a diagram depicting the anatomy of ATP, as explained in the paragraph above

This was ATP’s pilot year!

Alisia Southwell

A diagram which displays the following facts: 673 students enrolled, 632 accessed the course, 257 completed module 1, 229 completed the reflection record

For ATP’s inaugural year, we wanted to understand student engagement, how long it took students to complete the course, and how useful they found ATP. For Module 1, we analysed student engagement in two ways: (1) We looked at the number of students who enrolled, completed each individual unit, and completed Module 1 as a whole; (2) We looked at the activity (recorded as number of clicks) per unit and corresponding time points. The course opened a few weeks before the first term, and we could see that there was plenty of engagement in the first few units leading up to the time that courses began (over 600 students accessing the course!). As the term progressed, we observed a dip in engagement, both in unit completion and in number of clicks. Reminders helped to increase engagement, and there were noticeable spikes when emails were sent out to students.

A graph of the number of students who started versus completed each unit

We were also able to look at how long it took students to complete each unit. For example, we learned that Unit 5 took particularly long for many students, so we opted to split that into two units for next year’s delivery. We have not yet been able to conduct evaluation for Modules 2 or 3 and so we are less sure of engagement for those, but as they were not pre-arrival components we suspect that it may be less so than with Module 1, recognising the intense nature of Master’s study.

What students say

Tianshu Liu

Since Module 1 was the first to launch and is the largest module, we wanted to hear from students about their overall feeling towards this Module as this could help us better plan for Modules 2 and 3, as well as update Module 1’s design for the next academic year. We included a survey at the end of Module 1 and conducted two paid focus groups (thanks to funding from ICL’s Medical Education Research Unit and TF Development Fund), hoping to get as much student feedback as we could. We received plenty of valuable feedback!

Some particularly positive survey we received from is shown below:

“I felt really unprepared starting my master’s but [ATP] reminded me of why I wanted to do a master’s in the first place and how to make the most of it… thank you for creating ATP!”

“As an overseas student, I feel a little more confident about my Masters”

“It helped me discover more about how I learn and what I need to implement in order to be successful in my course”

“It was very helpful to reflect on my past learning experiences to be better prepared”

“Changed my perspective on what a Master’s degree is about, what is required of me and what I can gain from this degree. I think its such a good course and would really recommend it”

“Addressing potential worries before the course is amazing. The section about online learning was also particularly reassuring since I was concerned about this myself.”

“Hearing from two students that have already experienced this and listening to their tips was great”

We are grateful for all of the feedback we have received from students who have undertaken the ATP course, and we hope that some of the improvements that we have put in place as student partners will further enhance the way that the course supports incoming PGT students for years to come.

If you would like to learn more about the Adapt To Postgrad online course, you can visit our webpage or email us at adapttopostgrad@imperial.ac.uk !

Project: online asynchronous academic communication workshops for Imperial students

Image of Rebecca White

Andrew Northern and Rebecca White

For a number of years, the Centre for Academic English (CfAE) has run a suite of academic communication workshops called Communicating Science Successfully (CSS).

These workshops were developed in response to three factors:

  • Feedback from teaching staff in academic departments
  •  Student need observed by CfAE teachers in our courses and workshops
  • Student requests for further support in particular areas.

Our CSS workshops are grouped so that they can be accessed according to need:

When we moved online, we made these workshops asynchronous, meaning they are available upon registration as a boxset through Microsoft Teams and SharePoint and can be accessed by students and academic staff across the university 24/7 from any location and completed at their own pace. In this way, we serendipitously managed to achieve our long-held aim to support all Imperial students, on all campuses, no matter their timetable. You can hear more about our approach here.

We were keen to keep the interactive nature of the workshops, so each workshop consists of bite-size Microsoft Stream videos which are embedded into a Microsoft Form with follow-up interactive activities. The workshop videos include captions for accessibility, as well as Forms quiz questions to check understanding and add an element of “gamification”. Once students have completed the questions, they have the opportunity to attend a live Q&A session on Teams, where they have a chance to chat with a CfAE teacher and ask questions. The advantage of this learning design is that it’s iterative: students can watch the videos, receive instant feedback from the concept-checking questions, watch the videos again, and then, where necessary, get further live support from CfAE teachers.

A screenshot of one of the online asynchronous sessions

 

An additional benefit of these workshops is that that they allow for easy embedding into degree courses at all levels, meaning students can benefit from expert input on the key academic communications skills and conventions they need to excel in their course assignments. Several departments (including Computing, Mechanical Engineering and the NHLI) are already taking advantage of this and we welcome further requests from departments to include links to these workshops on their online learning platforms. We also complement these workshop videos with tailored support for specific student cohorts within departments through live follow up sessions where CfAE staff answer students’ questions about their academic communication needs.

Michelle Mtuda

I am currently doing my MSc full time in Cardiovascular and Respiratory Health at the NHLI, and I was informed about the CSS sessions by a teaching fellow on my MSc course. I gave CSS a go because I knew that the ability to communicate science successfully is not something that comes naturally; I knew it required training and continuous practice. People may assume that it is just learning how to write English fluently with no grammatical errors, but it’s a lot more than that! Using CSS has really helped me tap into my critical thinking skills; especially now that I am moving up the education ladder, the way my mind operates also has to elevate to match that. CSS has been the perfect place to turn to help me evaluate my communication skills, especially with the robust and in-depth modules that are done at Master’s levels.

I have completed the following:

  • Writing a Lab report – I found this one particularly useful as one of my assignments was focused on conducting my own research and testing out my own hypothesis- much different to what I was doing during my undergraduate programme, and CSS provided me with key concepts that I needed to consider when communicating my findings. I realised good scientific communication requires planning and evaluative writing as opposed to just descriptive writing.
  • Listening Strategies – I believe listening strategies are fundamental to becoming an efficient student. Sometimes it can be challenging to absorb everything being taught during lectures or seminars. One thing I have found is that having a balance when it comes to note taking during teaching is key. Some students may prefer taking notes throughout the entire lecture, but with the help of CSSs Q&A sessions, I realised that can be counterproductive for me as I end up focussing on trying to get everything down as opposed to listening. CSS helped me identify an effective strategy that works well for me.
  • Reading Strategies- The reading strategies session was very useful for me. I was able to able to gain an understanding on how to thoroughly analyse each section of an article through CSSs strategies. I found myself asking questions about why and how authors came to certain conclusions in order for me to gain the overall picture which are questions that I would not have even thought of before.

My overall experience has been phenomenal. I was initially worried about getting the right support and “mentoring” from the college given the fact that most of my master’s degree has been done at home due to the pandemic and I asked myself if I was going to receive the same impact as I would face to face but I did – in fact more than I expected through the CSS sessions. The videos and quizzes were great! I feel that the best way for people learn is through being tested in some way as it allows the brain to recall more in future. I found the approach of using videos highly engaging and I was able to get most of the experience.

My academic communication has improved drastically through the course of the year. I now feel more confident in my writing, and I am seeing the rewards. There’s always room for improvement but I feel that the CSS has been able to provide me with a firm foundation when it comes to scientific communication and writing effectively. It has also laid a perfect ground for me as I begin writing my thesis, I have learnt that as well as thinking about me as the writer, I must keep the reader in mind and think about taking them on a journey through my research writing as opposed to using simple descriptive writing. Students at Imperial will most certainly benefit from the help that the CSS sessions can provide. They can receive adequate guidance and develop their critical thinking skills when it comes to essay writing and planning.

Project: Student Driven Peer-learning in Biomedical Data Science

As a lab scientist, what would you do if you need to analyse the data you have collected but you have never done it before? The DS helper team, which is a student-led activity organised within the MRes in Biomedical Research, is here to help you. The project is characterised by different forms of peer-to-peer learning, whose aim is to create an open, friendly, instructive environment where students can reach out in case of issues with data science related topics and can learn some data science if interested. The basic assumption of this initiative is that students with a more technical background have already gained knowledge in different aspects of the field, and can, therefore, share their expertise with students with a more biological training.

Dr. Timothy Ebbels

Dr Tim Ebbels

The MRes in Biomedical Research is a large research based masters degree aiming at training the next generation of leaders in Biomedical Research. It brings together around 80 students from diverse disciplines across 8 streams, each of which is focussed on a specific research area. Students spend most of their time pursuing two long research projects, and this “on the job” training is complemented by a weekly core programme of lectures, seminars, practical demonstrations and journal clubs.

The research community is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of bioinformatics and data science skills these days. From gene sequencing to image analysis, the ability to understand how artificial intelligence and informatics algorithms can complement and accelerate traditional lab-based research, is becoming more and more important. The Data Science Stream of the course specifically recruits students from a physical sciences, engineering or mathematics backgrounds, who want to apply their skills in the biomedical environment. Coming into contact with their peers on other streams, who have a more biological training, provides the ideal opportunity for cross-disciplinary interaction.

Although the programme already provides some training for all students in bioinformatics and statistics, there is little formal teaching time available to cover all aspects. Some students find they need a little more help in this area and the Data Science Team was conceived to fill this gap. I should emphasise that this initiative has been developed by students for students, and academic faculty only provide support as needed. This approach has the advantage of encouraging student engagement, while clarifying that it is not a required element of the programme.

Valentina Giunchiglia

Valentina GiunchigliaThe advent of COVID-19 put many students in the position of not being able to go to the lab on a daily basis. As a consequence, the data analysis part of every research project has become more prominent. At the beginning of the year, I realised how difficult it would be for students coming from a wet lab background, and probably doing a project in a predominantly wet-lab research group, to start working in data science.

I wanted to create a platform where students could feel free to ask any kind of question, without being worried about making a bad impression, and where they could receive indications on how to start programming, where to look for information, or even how to begin their analysis from students that had already been in the same position. This is why I started the Data Science Helper Team project, which was possible thanks to the interdisciplinarity of the course.

As part of this project, my aim was both to provide general knowledge necessary to work in the field, and to address the specific questions that each student might have as part of their projects. To do this, I organised introductory lectures, ranging from general Python/R coding tutorials to more specific data science techniques, clinic sessions, where each student could book a call with members of the data science helper team to discuss specific project-related issues, and a discussion forum, where students could post their questions and wait for a written reply from a member of the team.

an image demonstrating the feedback loop nature of the initiative

The Data Science helper team was possible thanks to a group of students in the data science stream that voluntarily offered to join the activity, either by giving the lectures or joining the clinic sessions. Each of them has knowledge in different areas of data science, and could, therefore, provide help on the topic they know best.  To date, the project has been helpful not only for some of the biologically trained students, but also for some students in data science. They were able to use this opportunity to learn a new programming language, deepen their knowledge in data science methods, but also gain confidence in what they know and learn how to share this knowledge with other students. In addition, it created a friendly environment where students could meet other people from the masters programme that share the same interest in data science, which is not currently easy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on a first evaluation survey shared within the cohort, the students that joined the activities of the DS helper team found it useful, engaging and helpful.

An image which outlines some student feedback

Overall, the Data Science Helper Team project shows that peer-to-peer learning can be beneficial to students as both learners and teachers. For this reason, we believe it would be advantageous to continue this project in the next year, and, potentially, expand it to other courses.  Of course, there are some difficulties to overcome, mainly related to the fact that the availability of each student is highly dependent on their time-zone, stream timetable and lab hours. Also, at the beginning, it is harder to get students involved, mainly if the activity is still not well-known. However, the fundamental structure is now all set, and the material of the lectures is also publicly available here https://github.com/valegiunchiglia/DS_sessions/, which means that in the next year the management of the project would not only be easier, but could potentially improve and reach a wider audience. If this sounds interesting to you and would like to know more, further information will be provided during the “Talking Teaching” seminar on the 12th May.

Project: Embedding Critical Thinking into a new STEMM module – Personalised Medicine: Hope or Hype

Personalised Medicine: Hope or Hype, is a new 5-ECTS, level-6, 10-week, I-Explore STEMM module, that is offered to all undergraduates across the College, irrespective of their disciplinary boundaries. The module has been designed in partnership with Studentshapers to embed critical-thinking, multidisciplinary teamwork and identity-formation, in-line with I-Explore objectives. Within the module, the innovations, challenges and limitations of personalised medicine are used to catalyse student discussions and reflection, providing a safe space for students to think aloud and debate if it indeed represents ‘Hope’ or ‘Hype’.

Profile picture of Latha RamakrishnanDr. Latha Ramakrishnan, Module lead and Biomedical Education Transformation Fellow, Faculty of Medicine:

The concept of personalised medicine, that patients can be stratified based on clinical and genetic profiles and that diseases can be prevented/managed differentially depending on individual needs/conditions, excites me, each time I come across a related publication. I wanted to share my enthusiasm and apprehensions about personalised medicine with the students and in-turn learn how they perceived the development of this field. Therefore, I conceived, obtained College funding and approvals to develop this idea into a cross-disciplinary module. Throughout the module, I have employed scenario-based learning through 3 characters, linking core-concepts with disease predispositions, as applicable to personalised medicine. During the sessions, we direct students to explore articles representing both hopes and hypes of the field, prompting them to investigate high-level issues through various stakeholder-lens. We also empower them to critique hyped areas, but in-turn propose multi-disciplinary solutions to convert hypes to hopes, and thus become vigilant consumers of personalised medicine. I ensured that the cognitive load for non-disciplinary students was manageable and therefore designed a spiral curriculum, with only breast-cancer and diabetes as examples across all sessions. Similarly, I have embedded blended-learning as a standard, with students exploring pre-session materials asynchronously and working in engineered cross-disciplinary teams during the synchronous sessions to solve clinically relevant problems.

Three PhD students worked as partners to select appropriate content to ensure inclusivity and engagement from all student backgrounds. The Studentshapers’ creativity led to the birth of Chris, Jane and Alina, the 3 avatars central to the module learning design. The Studentshapers designed these characters on an animation website ‘Powtoon’ but also built-in ethnic and gender diversity to ensure inclusivity. Together we also embedded medical predispositions within the 3 characters, so that the topics of discussion were always relevant and connected to the storyteller avatars, as they crisscrossed the module. The Studentshapers further generated short animations in which the avatars directly address and pose questions to students and urge them to think critically, the varied perspectives.

Chris, Jane and Alina, the 3 avatars central to the module learning design.
Chris, Jane and Alina, the 3 avatars central to the module learning design.

Profile picture of Laura MereweatherLaura Mereweather, PhD Student, Department of Immunology and Inflammation

and

Reneira Seeamber, PhD Student, Department of Computing:

The Imperial StudentShapers programme has allowed us to work as Profile picture of Reneira Seeamberpartners with the module lead Dr Latha Ramakrishnan and the session leads in order to build the STEMM Module, Personalised Medicine: Hope or Hype. Aside from providing us with an insight into the behind the scene aspects of academic teaching, it also enabled us to develop a range of professional skills. This included practical skills such as proficiency in a number of digital platforms such as Microsoft Sway, Panopto, Mentimeter, Padlet and Powtoon, which are commonly used to produce educational materials. Perhaps more importantly, we were able to improve our information communication skills as well as critical thinking. Critical thinking was a key cornerstone of the module, and we wanted students to assess material and think from different viewpoints about the future of personalised medicine. In order to identify the correct pre-session materials, we had to first develop these skills ourselves, before conveying it to the students.  We refined our own critical thinking skills through working together in an inclusive environment and being able to benefit equally from the different perspectives of each team member, whether staff or student. The fruitful collaboration with students and staff from different academic backgrounds and research interests led to the nurturing of ideas and translation of these into a successful module.

We shortlisted relevant peer-reviewed publications at the right level for students from varied disciplines. Furthermore, the module highlights the impact of media on portrayal of personalised medicine stories. The module enables students to compare media news items to primary research articles, and in doing so, identify gaps or misalignments in information relay. In all, the learning experiences students are exposed to, during the module will hopefully remain important for the rest of their education and career. To ensure the module was inclusive to students across the College, we broke-down the high-level biomedical concepts into lay terms to help students from non-biology disciplines and also created additional resources like biology refresher-guide. To highlight the advantages of multidisciplinary work, we also created a video explaining our PhD research and experiences of working with varied disciplinary researchers to solve our broad research questions.

Session leads’ experience of working with StudentShapers:

The module brings together several experts researching on this field from within and outside the Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Anne Burke-Gaffney from NHLI who leads the session on ‘Drug Development’ commented ‘The Studentshapers input brought my thoughts and ideas to life both figuratively and literally-through animations. They helped me decide, how best to pitch the learning for students from a range of disciplinary backgrounds.’ Dr. Vijesh Bhute from Chemical Engineering who leads the session on Biomarkers said ‘Working with Studentshapers significantly improved the quality of content of the I-Explore STEMM module. I think the idea to include relatable characters was important to make the content more accessible to students. Finally, the organization of content on Microsoft Sway platform by the Studentshapers has made it much more engaging.”

Students from all faculties have shown great levels of engagement with the module sessions until now. Further, an aligned educational research project is underway to explore and evaluate if this module indeed aids in the development of critical thinking and multidisciplinary identity formation within these students.

Project: reinventing the highly interactive Change Makers modules for online learning

The ‘Change Makers’ Imperial Horizons programme offers a range of module options that challenge students to learn and work in diverse and often new ways in their approach to global issues and the wider world. Being one of the College’s most interactive learning experiences,  moving online while retaining the social elements of the classroom has been an interesting challenge.

Below, Dhanya Mahadevan and Dr Elizabeth Hauke tell us about how the Change Makers modules have been reinvented. Dhanya Mahadevan is an intercalating medical student studying Medical Sciences with Global Health and is a student in the Change Makers third and fourth year module: Lessons From History. Dr Elizabeth Hauke is a Principle Teaching Fellow and the Change Makers Field Lead.

Headshot of Dhanya Mahadevan, Change Makers studentDhanya Mahadevan, Change Makers student:

Change Makers modules within the Imperial Horizons and I-Explore programmes offer us the chance to study a highly interactive module parallel to our degree. Alongside opportunities to develop skills and knowledge that might not the focus of our core degrees, these modules also offer us the opportunity to meet and work alongside students from other disciplines, getting to know people that we otherwise might not meet.

This past year, with its unprecedented circumstances, caused education institutions across the nation to rethink their methods of delivering education to adapt to the pandemic safety regulations without compromising on the quality of teaching. The Change Makers transition to online learning has retained many interactive, practical and skill-based activities, and has been a positive experience. But what has happened to all the, perhaps more social, elements that go alongside a new learning experience – how have we built new relationships and looked after each other online when we’ve never met in real life?

Headshot of Dr Elizabeth Hauke, Change Makers Field LeaderDr Elizabeth Hauke, Change Makers Field Leader:

This year has seen a complete reinvention of the Change Makers modules. We have gone back to the drawing board and designed our learning experiences from scratch – specifically to support students through this difficult period. We have retained our core values – helping students recognise and exploit their own knowledge and experience, facilitating students to work together in meaningful teams and to become confident and independent in their research and learning.

We have created a virtual classroom within which to collaborate with our students, we have produced an interactive online handbook, and we have implemented a rolling 24 hour class, with video briefings, documented discussions and multiple opportunities for live engagement to support students irrespective of their time zone, connectivity or accessibility limitations.

And we have been really pleased with how well our design has been working. We’ve gathered lots of feedback from students, we’ve learned a lot and tweaked a lot and feel really proud of the work that went into transforming our learning encounters with students.

However, we have also been aware that this is only half the story. We’ve worried and thought a lot about how our students might feel without all the informal social elements of the classroom. Greeting each other upon arrival in the classroom, waving at a friend in another team across the room, chatting about deadlines, grocery shopping or Netflix – these seemingly minor moments are critical to how we build relationships and successfully work together. And feedback from students has shown that they know what they are missing out on, and it is important.

For that reason, we’ve tried to dedicate as much effort to supporting communication and facilitating the social elements of relationship building alongside the intellectual aspects of learning in our modules. We’ve set up hundreds of Zoom rooms so that students can meet up in pairs and have in depth conversations while completing their work, we’ve switched up sessions to facilitate more in depth discussion and negotiation within teams and we’ve encouraged students to reflect on their experiences and recognise that valuable learning can occur alongside these interactions – even if it might feel a little different to studying more intensely alone.

Headshot of Dhanya Mahadevan, Change Makers studentDhanya Mahadevan, Change Makers student:

This year I am studying the Lessons from History module which allows us to explore, in depth, various disaster events throughout history, from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to the LA Riots. The module follows regular structured cycles of three weeks and all assignments are completed in groups via Zoom. Each cycle requires initial research from which we create a structured knowledge base of everything we learn. During our second session we are given a mini quiz on the topic encouraging us to research enough so we could talk about the same topic in detail if we met our course leader at a dinner party in five years’ time! As opposed to being a stressful test, these became exciting opportunities to see how much information we had retained from our research.

We have to create a question on our topic by the third week for which we write a 250-word response. The freedom of choosing an angle has allowed us to work to our strengths, identifying aspects of the topic most interesting to us. However, writing a short essay between 5-7 people can be a challenge to coordinate – but we have worked really well as a team to come up with a great strategy. Each person plans a rough answer (e.g. in bullet point format) prior to the session. We then select the most relevant points from each member and collectively work on the essay’s flow and readability.

To change up the pace and give us more opportunities to bond as a team each cycle has been adapted slightly. For example, before Christmas we could choose any disaster event to study. We had to prepare materials and a quiz for another team, and we were given the opportunity to present our findings via any creative method. For example, my group presented our research on the War on Drugs through a ‘virtual dinner party’ with members from different countries discussing their situation and stance. With less structure and more flexibility for how we worked in this cycle, we had deeper discussions and as a result, we really got to know each other a lot more. So, whilst the pressures of deadlines in our main degrees were mounting leading up to Christmas, our Change Makers module became a relaxed, enjoyable environment I looked forward to.

The support we have been provided with at times when we’ve been feeling unwell, when the stress of our degree has been affecting our performance or when the mental health burden of external factors often associated with lockdown has been overwhelming, have been excellent and our teacher has remained an approachable and reliable point of contact. The openness of our communication really reduces the fear and stress ahead of deadlines, and often increases our chances of meeting them.

From prioritising our mental health in a trying time globally, broadening our awareness of important issues throughout history and challenging our teamwork, the Change Makers module has proven to be a rewarding experience. Having to study at home full time makes teamwork something to look forward to, and the challenges that inevitably arise from disruptive internet connections and the coinciding of other deadlines have bonded us as a group even more, facing them together with patience and communication.

Project: New Department, new programme approach

The Allergy programme has been designed for students with a wide range of background skills in Allergy, who require a detailed understanding of the scientific basis of allergic disease, evidence-based approaches to diagnosis and treatment, critical evaluation of the literature and core research in the field.

The programme is specifically designed to be multidisciplinary and therefore suitable for a range of healthcare professionals working with children and adults with allergic diseases, including doctors with different backgrounds (paediatricians and paediatric trainees, Allergy trainees, GPs, chest physicians, ENT, dermatologists), as well as specialist nurses, dieticians or nutritionists. It is also suitable for basic scientists, as it will enable them to develop a deep understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying allergic diseases, from clinical presentations to diagnostic tests and innovative management strategies that will help inform future basic research in Allergy.

Following the restructuring of the department of Medicine within the Faculty of Medicine, the Allergy Programme has recently transitioned to the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI). NHLI has an outstanding international reputation in research and teaching in its field, including Allergy. Joining the NHLI education family is providing the programme with privileged infrastructure and support that will greatly benefit students going forward.

Dr Marta Vazquez-Ortiz, Programme Lead:

An image of Dr Marta Vazquez-Ortiz, author of the next two paragraphsI have been the Allergy Programme lead since 2015. It is an absolute pleasure to work with our faculty and module leads, who are amongst the world’s leading researchers in Allergy, as well as very experienced clinicians. We are a very dynamic team continuously working on improving and innovating to deliver a programme of the highest quality.. Every year we incorporate new elements to ensure it is fully up to date as Allergy is such a rapidly evolving field. We focus on active and student-centred learning. For this we use engaging teaching strategies to ensure students’ active participation and interaction, both with our faculty as well as their student peers. Students have plenty of opportunity for group work, peer support and feedback. As they have diverse backgrounds and share their strong interest in allergy, they find it a very rich and positive atmosphere. We promote a challenging yet open, enjoyable and friendly learning environment where students can ‘learn by doing’ and bring their own cases and challenges for discussion.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we had to move to multi-mode delivery, with a strong remote delivery component in 2020/21. At first, the team felt we would very much miss the close relationship and face-to-face interaction with our students To adapt our teaching to the new remote format, we have produced high quality asynchronous materials such as pre-recorded mini-lectures. At the same time, we have put a strong focus on delivering meaningful and attractive interactive live teaching sessions to replicate the learning experience on campus. We are very happy and proud to see that our students have embraced the new environment. They have engaged extremely well with our faculty and their peers in a range of formats and activities to get the most out of their time with us. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback and we will continue to work hard to adapt to the challenges posed by the pandemic. We look forward to sharing our lovely ‘cheese and wine’ events with our students on campus in the near future, and in the meantime we will continue to enjoy our eCoffee meetings.

Dr James Trayer, Paediatrics trainee, Ireland:

An image of Dr James Trayer, author of the next six paragraphsUndertaking the MSc Allergy  programme at Imperial  has been a very enjoyable and beneficial experience which has proved very useful in my daily clinical work as a general paediatric trainee in Ireland.

The teaching is delivered by lecturers who are actively involved in cutting-edge allergy research and are passionate about their field as well as being very approachable. The majority of the teaching was delivered face-to-face which gave me a chance to meet other health care providers working in allergy services from all over the world. The teaching weeks involved lots of interactive and group work which fostered a collegial social environment.

As well as traditional lectures, there is also a hands-on clinical component which introduced us to allergy clinics and oral food challenges. We learned how to take a focused allergy history and how to perform skin prick testing. As a clinician, I really enjoyed this practical component and have found it to be particularly useful in my daily practice.

As well as teaching in allergy, there is a strong focus on clinical research in the course. Teaching sessions on performing a literature search and how to use reference management software have been essential both for completion of the MSc research project, and also for anyone involved in clinical research as part of their work. This was an area that I struggled with previously, so I have found this to be incredibly beneficial and have been putting these skills to use in research projects undertaken as part of my training. The final year of the MSc involves completing a research project and writing a thesis. While this is supervised locally, I have found the lecturers at Imperial to be eager to support me and to offer their help with any issues that arise.

Since the restrictions related to the COVID 19 pandemic have been in place the course has transitioned to a virtual format. This has combined a blend of pre-recorded lectures and interactive sessions with the lecturers. Given the logistical and technical challenges this posed, the move has been remarkably smooth with a very successful and enjoyable teaching week in September.

I would encourage anyone with an interest in allergy to consider the MSc programme at Imperial College London. It has proved invaluable to me as a paediatric trainee with an interest in working in a paediatric allergy service.

Get involved:

The programme is offered on a part-time basis as a postgraduate certificate, diploma or a full MSc, and allows students to develop advanced knowledge and practical skills to optimally diagnose and manage allergic diseases at all ages.

For more information on the programme including entry requirements, visit the MSc Allergy programme webpage or contact the programme administrator, Jen Haley, by email at allergypgs@imperial.ac.uk

To hear from more of our MSc Allergy students, visit Meet our students.

 

Project: ImpVis

The ImpVis logo

ImpVis is a staff-student project dedicated to helping students learn abstract STEM concepts by helping them develop a more intuitive, visual understanding. The aim of ImpVis is to create custom-made, interactive visualisations that are well-aligned with the learning objectives of the module they are being used in. The project is targeted at three main audiences: learners, instructors, and creators. This underpins the design of the recently launched website, which is centred around three environments: ‘Learn’, where visualisations are presented in collections and linked to specific modules; ‘Teach’, which lists all our stand-alone visualisations categorised by topic area and ‘Code’, outlining our visualisation development process.

Dr Caroline Clewley, ImpVis project lead:

Image of Caroline Clewley, author of this section of the blogAt the time of the inception of ImpVis, I had recently completed a Masters in Education that was focussed on how students learn difficult, abstract concepts in special relativity – the module that I taught at the time. One of the outcomes of my MEd project was that visualisation plays an important role in gaining a deeper understanding of abstract concepts and students would often go in search of visual resources for self-study. However, one of the major hurdles to finding existing resources is that they often do not align well with the course: they may use different terminology, symbols, or simply focus on different learning objectives. Creating your own visualisation that suits your needs as a lecturer is challenging as it requires a wide skill set (not to mention plenty of time): programming skills, in-depth subject knowledge, an eye for visual design as well as an intimate understanding of how students learn and which concepts they struggle with and why. If you do manage to create a useful visualisation, the next challenge is to ensure it is straightforward for students to engage with it in an effective manner.

We set up ImpVis to address these challenges, focussing on three key characteristics:

      1. Students and staff work in partnership to design and develop the visualisations, combining their expertise to create effective learning tools.
      2. Any visualisations we create are easily accessible: there should be no software to download or install, no plugins needed, no need to sign up to any services, and minimal restrictions on the users’ platform or device.
      3. The visualisations are designed in such a way that they can be implemented in a wide variety of learning and teaching settings (e.g. a lecture, self-study, part of a problem class, etc) so that each can be used in a way that is most suited to their learning objectives.

Working in partnership with students is fundamental to our project. Our main principles of working in partnership are simple: we respect the expertise each partner brings into the project, we have mutual ownership of both the work process and the final product, and we have shared responsibility for the project overall with everyone taking on specific, co-negotiated roles. I have always believed working in this way has a positive impact on our student partners, but at the time of inception I could never have guessed how it would transform my own experience as well. There are many students who stay with us throughout the years – you end up working truly as collaborators towards achieving a common goal, which in turns results in strong relationships. This has resulted in a dedicated and inclusive community working on ImpVis both in term time and over the summer breaks.

Despite the pandemic, we are still running our weekly term-time Code & Crisps sessions, though it is now ‘bring-your-own’ crisps as we meet virtually. During these sessions we work together on the project: improving visualisations, discussing new ideas and inducting new members to the community. Experienced students act as mentors to new people and help them learn the coding and design skills needed to create visualisations. As we grow, we are moving towards a model whereby we have a core team of students in the summer working on innovation within the project and supporting satellite projects – projects run all over College by small groups of staff and students creating visualisations for their specific modules.

Looking ahead at the next academic year, we are very excited to be running an I-Explore STEMM module together with the Virtual / Augmented Reality (VR/AR) group. In this module, 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates from all over College will be able to learn about interactive visualisations and VR/AR as well as design their own visual learning tools for their peers to aid their understanding of STEMM concepts.

Robert King, Imperial College London Physics MSci graduate 2020:

A picture of Robert King - author of the following paragraphTaking part in the ImpVis project was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of my undergraduate degree. During my four years in this project I have had the opportunity to work both as a summer UROP student and as a term-time mentor and I have seen how this project has developed from a small set of ideas to a rich suite. One of the most amazing parts of being part of ImpVis is that I have not only witnessed this transformation, but I have had the chance to directly mould it by collaborating directly with a diverse team of staff and fellow students.

As a physics fresher I had little to no previous experience in web development or making educational resources however through working on ImpVis I have had the chance to greatly develop these skills. Indeed, after these four years I am considering a further career in educational technology and being a part of ImpVis has allowed me to develop a comprehensive slate of professional experience in this field.

Working with the amazing network of ImpVis collaborators consisting of cross departmental students and staff members has also allowed me to develop my leadership and teaching skills. In the past few years of the project I have served as a technical lead and mentor for new students to the project.  Working as a technical leader, my main objective has been to work towards developing a modern yet approachable platform for students and their staff partners to develop the visualisations on. During the development, we worked as a team to discuss and narrow down different design approaches for how visualisations should be structured to be of greatest educational value both in the context of a student at home and of a lecturer. Being a mentor to my peers has also been a great experience, working collaboratively to help teach budding developers the skills and tools they need to build their own visualisations.

Get involved:
ImpVis can help in your STEM courses too. Visit our website to find relevant visualisations that are freely accessible, or even create your own collection of visualisations for your module. Publishing a collection on our website is easy: sign up as a user, request instructor permissions and create a new collection via your user dashboard.

Whether you are a student or staff, if you want to create new visualisations for your STEM module, get in touch with us and we will help you set up a partnership and get started on the development process.

Education Transformation: Transforming pedagogy and enhancing the staff-student experience across Faculty of Medicine postgraduate teaching

by Dallas Alexandrou, Operations Manager (Postgraduate Education), Faculty of Medicine Centre

Education Transformation LogoThe Faculty of Medicine (FoM) PG Education Team is launching a new approach to supporting postgraduate programmes as they address challenges, identify opportunities, and enhance the student learning experience.  This new approach is called Education Transformation.

FoM Postgraduate Teaching has successfully completed the process of Curriculum Review for 20 distinct programmes and now, supported by the College’s Learning and Teaching Strategy, we are moving into this new phase of Education Transformation as a way of developing educational solutions, working in collaboration with programme teams and other colleagues.  Education Transformation goes beyond ‘what we teach’ to tackle how we teach, how the students know they’re learning, and how the students ‘belong’ while they’re here.

All FoM PG programmes completing Curriculum Review can submit project proposals to Education Transformation, bidding for resource allocation. These proposals will be subject to a rigorous review process, governed by the Education Transformation Board. Project proposals are welcomed from single programmes or clusters of programmes, and resources to support education change, including digital development, will be made available to successful proposals.

At its simplest, the aim is to transform pedagogy and enhance the staff-student experience across postgraduate teaching in FoM.

For further information, please go to the Education Transformation web pages, and if you have any specific questions, please direct these to: EducationTransformation@imperial.ac.uk.

The Teaching Fellow Development Fund: Bhakti and Neha’s trip to Kyoto

The Teaching Fellow Development Fund supports Teaching Fellows and Learning Technologists in pursuing development opportunities. Bhakti Visani and Neha Ahuja (School of Public Health) were recently invited to present at a conference in Japan and the Teaching Fellow Development Fund helped them get there. Read about what they learnt at the conference in their blog post below.

By Bhakti Visani and Neha Ahuja (School of Public Health)

As two GP trainees currently taking an OOPE to do a medical education fellowship, we were both extremely lucky to go to Kyoto, Japan for the WONCA Asia Pacific Region (APR) Conference 2019 in May this year to present our experiences and learning in this post.

Neha and Bhakti at the WONCA conference

Why were we there? South East Asia’s primary care systems are currently in their infancy, but there is a strong drive to improve its standing and recognition because, as has been consistently shown across the world, high-quality primary care is the bedrock of a high performing health system and has the ability to reduce all-cause mortality, increase life expectancy, lower health inequalities and reduce costs amongst many other benefits.

This was one of the biggest lessons that was reinforced for us. Do we truly appreciate what we have until its gone? Often forgotten in the UK, this shows why we should invest our time and energy into high quality primary care and create a passion for it in our students too.

Amongst talks about the benefits of Primary Care, we also learnt from a myriad of streams including mentorship, education, quality improvement and surviving in the profession as a young doctor.

Dr. Felicity Goodyear-Smith gave us examples of a patient and clinician engagement programme (PACE) with doctor-patient dyads co-creating research. This was a great insight into forward movement in social accountability where the key stakeholders have ownership of the studies, use the findings and assist in dissemination. This of course raises questions about the implications on the professional boundaries in the doctor-patient relationship, and this short BJGP article explores their thoughts. If you are interested in the project, you might find this paper on PaCE gives a good insight.

 

Weighing scale to symbolise that "Nothing we do in medicine is risk-free. It’s all a balance."
Nothing we do in medicine is risk-free. It’s all a balance.

Another stark idea that was floated was about doing too much medicine. Dr. Iona Heath gave a powerful talk on the harms of overdiagnosis as well as our misconceptions on the benefits of multiple interventions. We already know that the burden of adverse drug reaction in the UK is high, with a report in 2006 showing that they result in 250, 000 UK admissions a year!

If you are as interested in this as us, you may find these links useful: Preventing Overdiagnosis and Choosing Wisely UK.

We also had the pleasure of learning about the cultural considerations in teaching and learning in a truly cross-cultural workshop run by none other than our wonderful colleague Dr. Maham Stanyon!

Picture of Dr. Maham Stanyon

Kyoto itself was beautiful to explore; full of Shrines, Pagodas and Zen gardens that seemed to be taken straight from a dream!

A pagodas and Zen garden in Kyoto

As an added bonus, we had an extra few days before the conference to try some local delicacies like Japanese curry, Ramen, Mochi and Melon-Pan! We dressed up in traditional kimonos and even came across geisha down an unsuspecting alley.

Despite the flaws in our UK primary care system, this opportunity reaffirmed our choice to be GPs and to be proponents for investing in a system that has the potential to truly have large scale health impacts when done in the right way.

 

 

 

Seeking out opportunities to learn from others – similarities and differences between UK and US higher education

By Lucy Heming, Senior Assistant Registrar (Quality Assurance and Enhancement)

A picture of the study tour cohort visiting Capitol Hill.

In May 2019, I travelled with 11 colleagues from universities across England and Scotland to America for a study tour arranged by the Association of University Administrators. We spent a week in New York City and a week in Washington, D.C. visiting universities, higher education bodies and the Department of Education. The purpose of our tour was to explore three themes: Student Expectations, Experience and Success; Research and Teaching; and, Funding in Higher Education.

We visited 11 HE institutions while we were there, covering a range of types: publicly funded and privately funded; UG focussed and PG focussed; community colleges and four year universities… What became apparent through our visit was the similarity of challenges facing higher education institutions in the US, to our own institutions in the UK and across the different types of institution in the US. There were also parallels to the work I am involved in at Imperial as part of the Quality Assurance and Enhancement Team and working closely on supporting the implementation of the Learning and Teaching Strategy through the Learning and Teaching Committee.A poster describing aspirations for students at Rutgers University (I am authentic, inclusive, responsible, resilient, engaged, a scarlet knight, Rutgers)

A big theme in the US was student success and how this was described and perceived. Given students in the US largely pay higher fees than students in the UK, it is not surprising there is a public, media and governmental narrative around the need for students to reap a financial benefit from their time at university. These debates are present in the UK and are particularly pertinent right now following the release of the Augar report. However, all of the institutions we spoke to defined student success more broadly than financial returns, seeking to ensure students had a well-rounded education, that students who were not entering with the same cultural and educational capital as others were given opportunities to thrive and that all students understood what it meant to be a good citizen and part of a diverse and inclusive community. This was seen, for example, through Columbia University’s ‘awakening our democracy’ discussion series and ‘engineering for humanity’ focus, programmes at all institutions to specifically support first-generation entrants, and Northern Virginia’s Community College focus on educating students in healthcare professions which would be directly of use to the local community (marrying up employment prospects with community needs).

The work Imperial College is doing in implementing the Learning and Teaching Strategy and specific developments such as I-Explore clearly align with these efforts, promoting inclusive learning and teaching approaches and curricula and providing students with opportunities to engage with other students on disciplinary and non-disciplinary studies. Discussions underway on how the College can build on internationalisation opportunities, widen participation further and enable all students to share their cultural capital in curricula and extra-curricula activities also tally with similar discussions in the US.

Connections between research and teaching are very important for Imperial and equally as important for most of the HEIs we visited in the US. As undergraduate students tend to follow a general education syllabus in the first two years of their studies before specialising in a major in their final two years, the modules with the most direct connection to research in the US HEIs tended to be at postgraduate level. However we saw good examples of the opportunities for students to explore the research in which their lecturers are engaged through assisting on research projects in their undergraduate years, similar to Imperial’s successful Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP). An example of this was at Rutgers University which runs a 10 week paid summer science programme where undergraduate students undertake lab work, along with in-year opportunities.

Rethinking curricula and learning and teaching methods was evident in the US institutions we visited. At American University, Faculty Learning Communities were being developed to enable staff with a similar interest to work together on generating and implementing ideas. These were staff driven but centrally funded and had been formed around areas such as decolonising the curriculum. Faculty were also being trained on how to have conversations around difficult subjects and were then training other faculty, sharing knowledge and building support networks for each other. This reflects models being used at Imperial by the Educational Development Office and Education Office about equipping staff to learn from each other and identify their own areas of transformation.

This opportunity to learn from other institutions and colleagues helps inform the way in which I will go about my job in future. I would encourage others to make the most of opportunities to do something similar.

To find out more about the Association of University Administrators, go to https://aua.ac.uk/ or email your branch advocates, Lucy Heming and Jon Milner-Matthews at aua@imperial.ac.uk

To find out more about the study trip, you can search #AUAUSA2019 on social media channels or read the blog posts at https://aua.ac.uk/aua-usa-study-tour-aua-blog-part-one/ (part two will be available soon). A full report on the visit will be available in the Autumn.

You can also hear Lucy’s thoughts on the similarities and differences between UK and US higher education on the ‘NACUBO in brief’ podcast here or wherever you usually download your podcasts.