Blog posts

CHERS awarded Advance HE funding for ‘Inclusive institutions: enabling and supporting culture change’ project

Author: Dr Tiffany Chiu

Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship at Imperial College London (lead) and the University of Reading are funded by the Advance HE’s Collaborative Development Fund 2022 on the ‘Inclusive institutions: enabling and supporting culture change’ project.

The team will collaborate with the AdvanceHE to showcase the impact of their current Supporting the Identity Development of Underrepresented Students (SIDUS) work that aims to promote inclusion, diversity and support success for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) underrepresented students and to develop a diverse and inclusive academic culture and community for all. The SIDUS work embeds an active and authentic student voice where interviews were conducted with 110 undergraduate STEMM students from underrepresented groups at Imperial College London and the University of Reading. The team worked with three student partners through the Student Shapers scheme at Imperial to co-produce student and staff support materials informed by these rich interview data. These pedagogical resources have been disseminated and implemented at Imperial and Reading to foster an inclusive and diverse culture. The team plans to create a suite of evidence-based examples/case studies of pedagogical implementation and impact to support institutional culture change.

Dr Tiffany ChiuImages of the SIDUS team members, Senior Teaching Fellow in Educational Development and Project Lead for the AdvanceHE and SIDUS projects at the Imperial College London said:

“The team wishes to undertake this project as part of our wider and strong commitment to share, reflect and disseminate good practice that drives culture change at Imperial, Reading and beyond.”

“We are excited about this project. The support of AdvanceHE will enable us to extend our current work, gather robust evidence of the impact of our initiatives and disseminate our research-informed resources more widely across the higher education sector.”

Prof. Martyn Kingsbury, Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship at Imperial highlights:

“Imperial has recently been granted Bronze status by Advance HE’s Race Equality Charter, demonstrating the College’s strong commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for all concerned. This project hence is very well aligned with the College’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Strategy and Learning and Teaching Strategy.”

“We will continue to work with colleagues across the College to actively integrate and embed our pedagogical materials into student support and teaching and learning, accompanied by a review of the impact of the materials and culture change on students’ learning and the academic community”

Dr Billy Wong, from the University of Reading, added, “The cross-institutional nature of our project allows us to appreciate how to contextualise the pedagogical materials we have created, and how it can complement existing EDI works and initiatives.”

New focus on research into education for Department of Physics

Interviewer: Sarah Saxton

Headshot of Michael FoxA new team of teaching fellows and researchers is focusing their efforts on improving education within the Department of Physics.

The informal grouping – the Physics Education Group – began work in 2021. I spoke to new Senior Teaching Fellow, Michael Fox, to find out more.

How did the Group come about?

This is really part of the Department of Physics’ response to two main things. Firstly, the publication of the College’s Learning and Teaching Strategy in 2017, which set the direction to think about physics teaching as a research-based activity. Secondly, the annual National Student Survey (NSS) had highlighted some areas of improvement for physics teaching. This led to the creation of additional teaching and research posts such that we now have ten people in the Physics department with a focus on delivering and continually improving the educational experience of our undergraduate students.

What is the main focus of your work?

I am part of the Strengthening Learning Communities project, which is a 3-4 year project that Mark Richards and Vijay Tymms helped set up and now supervise. It can be thought of in two integrative parts: one quantitative and the other qualitative. The quantitative element of the project is examining ten years of data from past physics students to identify any attainment gaps in between different demographic groups, allowing us to target interventions and ultimately find ways to address the gaps.

We’re looking at lots of different demographic characteristics, including sex, gender identity, ethnicity, race, school background and socio-economic background. The data includes both Department and College level data which is all anonymised before we use it.

It sounds like a big data set…

It is, we’ve seen over 2,000 undergraduate students through the Department over the last ten years and we have data on attainment in each of the modules that they have taken over the three or four years of their degree. Each student studies between 5-10 modules a year so it’s a lot of data. We also have all of the department-level data from a decade of NSS results.

What made you suspect that attainment may be affected by demographics?

We’re building on a previous small-scale study within the Department that looked at some of this data and which found some clear differences between demographic groups. We wanted to look at a bigger data set and leave no stone unturned in our analysis of it.

And the project also has a qualitative strand?

That’s right, this is the second part of the project, where we have a PhD student, Amy Smith, who is looking into physics students’ sense of belonging, both to physics as a subject as well as to the Department of Physics at Imperial. Sense of belonging may affect retention in physics as well as attainment. One possible future avenue of the qualitative work is to speak to physics alumni about their time at Imperial. Through their historic data their experiences are already feeding into the project, but numbers can only tell you so much about the lived experiences of students.

I understand your partnership with the Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship has had a huge impact on the project?

It absolutely has, we’ve been lucky to have had fantastic support from CHERS. This is the first time the Department has been able to invest in research into physics education and we’re all physicists who have moved into physics education at different stages in our careers. Camille Kandiko Howson from CHERS is a member of the Strengthening Learning Communities project and her insights and support to the team have been invaluable.

Will you be involving students in the project?

There will be quite a few ways for students to be involved in the project. Last term, I supervised a BSc student project looking at using machine learning to help process qualitative data. Additionally, Amy Smith and Jessie Durk, a postdoctoral researcher on the project, have already run a Student Shapers project to learn from the experiences of students during the pandemic to help this year’s first-year students settle into undergraduate life. As well as the possibility of future Student Shapers projects there will be opportunities for undergraduate researchers to get involved in analysing and interpreting the data. And as we identify issues that need to be addressed in the way that physics is taught, we want to get students to propose and help us evaluate new ways of doing things, which will ultimately inform our decision making.

Supporting Inclusion, Diversity and Success for STEMM Students

Authors: Dr Tiffany Chiu, Dr Órla Murray, Katarzyna Zukowska and Marine Coispeau 

The Supporting the Identity Development of Underrepresented Students (SIDUS) project is funded by the Excellence Fund for Learning and Teaching Innovation. It aims to promote inclusion and diversity and support success for STEMM students to foster a diverse and inclusive academic community for all, especially amongst underrepresented groups.

The project has two phases – ‘Research’ and ‘Pedagogical materials development and implementation’. In the research stage, the team conducted 110 interviews with STEMM students from underrepresented groups at Imperial and the University of Reading to explore their lived experiences. We focused on areas such as sense of belonging, disciplinary and professional identities and career intentions, including suggestions on how university can support underrepresented students.

The pedagogical materials development stage built upon these rich interview data. During the summer of 2021, we worked with three dedicated Student Shapers – Marine Coispeau (Life Sciences), Danai Bili (Physics), and Katarzyna Zukowska (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) – to produce our pedagogical materials in collaboration with a professional illustrator, Raquel Durán. We are now disseminating these resources across the College to support students and staff supporting students, particularly with more emotional elements of their student experience. We have already distributed 4,000+ bookmarks!

Images of the SIDUS team members

It was exciting to get to turn our research into creative outputs like these, and particularly getting to work closely with the students. Their creativity was inspiring and allowed us to translate research data into materials that would speak to other students and provide essential information on how to navigate university life and the complicated organisation of the College and the Student’s Union.

We identified themes and powerful quotes from our interview data and used them to inspire a series of bookmarks, posters, and a student guide to Imperial (pdfs available online). We also produced a staff guide to using the materials with suggested activities for incorporating these materials into teaching and supporting learning, induction events, and other pastoral support systems like personal tutoring.

SIDUS posters

An image of a SIDUS posterAn image of a SIDUS poster

A Student’s Guide to Imperial

The cover page of the          A Student’s Guide to Imperial

SIDUS bookmarks

An image of the SIDUS bookmarks

Our student guide, bookmarks, and posters highlight important student issues and concerns using interviewees’ own words. Then we identified relevant student support services at the College and other online resources to redirect students to the appropriate information and services to help them access support.

In our research, we found that many students found the transition to university challenging, particularly those from very underrepresented groups. While we aimed our materials at all students, we paid particular attention to the experiences of students from underrepresented groups, highlighting issues like racial microaggressions, accessing mental health services, and imposter syndrome, and ensuring our illustration portrayed a wide array of students and society events to encompass a diversity of student experiences. We also wanted to ensure that all students gain an understanding of the barriers and challenges that underrepresented students face, to encourage greater literacy around social inequalities that unfortunately are still very present across STEMM disciplines and universities.

images of the three student partners

Katarzyna Zukowska: “I particularly enjoyed the process of creating the materials, from analysing data to writing content and designing. It felt like I was really contributing to the student community and the topics we were touching upon in the handbook were often very relevant to me personally. I was drawing from my own experience on issues such as imposter syndrome, wellbeing, finding a sense of community and identity at university, but at the same time I was deeply reflecting on these topics, identifying helpful approaches and solutions.

“It’s true that doing something for others benefits both sides, and by producing materials to help other students I improved my student experience too. I feel very empowered by the work I have done on the project and I think it gave me courage to stand for a role in the Wellbeing Student Representative network. Throughout the project, we discussed a lot about the importance and impact of diversity and inclusivity, which made me much more aware of the challenges that students from underrepresented backgrounds face, by getting to know these perspectives I learned how to be a better ally.”

Marine Coispeau: “A Students Guide to Imperial” or the Handbook I never got and wish I really did. Fear of not belonging, Imposter Syndrome, Imperial Academic and Social expectations etc are major themes which not only appeared in the SIDUS interview data but also resonated with my own worries as a student. Seeing that these worries were shared, this empowered me to reassure and make a difference for both current and new students. Particularly, when it came to identifying gaps in current resources such as what to expect at Imperial after a week/month/term, the importance of a healthy work-life balance, understanding clubs and societies. Being able to design and conduct Bookmark, Handbook and Poster campaigns as well as contribute to the dissemination of these materials on campus was a beautiful way to give back to the Imperial community.”

Want some SIDUS bookmarks? Request your copy now!

 We believe in the power of authentic student stories and evidence-based resources to support students with their transition to and progression through university. Please use/signpost these resources to your students where relevant! Read more about the SIDUS project here and let us know what you think about these materials by filling in a brief form here.

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?

Profile image of Georgia SimmonsGeorgia 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

Profile image of Danielle KurtinDanielle 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!

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

Profile image of Alisia SouthwellAlisia Southwell

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

Profile image of Tianshu LiuTianshu 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.