Month: November 2018

Managing student expectations and understanding of what it means to be an Imperial student

Dr Tiffany Chiu, Teaching Fellow in Educational Development, Educational Development Unit

Dr Freddie Page, Strategic Teaching Fellow, Dyson School of Design Engineering

The Learning and Teaching Strategy aims to establish a supportive and inclusive scholarly community which helps students with the transition to study at Imperial. To achieve this, the Strategy has stressed the importance of “managing expectations and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to play an active part in our academic community”. We recognise the challenges of the transition from school to university where expectations of university students are not always made explicit and transparent, which are central to inclusive and diverse learning and teaching practices.

Anecdotal evidence from staff conversations, especially at Imperial, has highlighted the increasing concern that students are taking a pragmatic approach to their education. That is, students are over-emphasising academic outcomes/grades, and overlooking the holistic aims of higher education, such as the importance of transferable and higher-order skills development. To support the development of an inclusive culture of diversity, we need to generate conversation and discussion on what it means to be a university student and what we expect from our students within our curriculum. For establishing a platform to initiate this kind of conversation, we have used the Ideal University Student survey as part of induction exercises in the Dyson School of Design Engineering to discuss any potential mismatches between student and staff expectations. This survey is an ongoing educational research which looks into views and expectations of what it means to be a university student, from the perspectives of students and staff in higher education. Below we briefly describe how this exercise can be facilitated in class:

We used the final part of the first year Design Engineers’ induction to the department talk to run a segment titled University Learning. We wanted to build upon students’ thoughts on the most important qualities of a university student before prompting them, so we asked students to spend 5-10 minutes completing the ideal university student survey ( individually before moving to discussion. The survey contains fifty-one qualities related to university learning, and students had to score how important they thought each was. After students completed the survey, they discussed in groups their ideas on the most important features of a student in Design Engineering and then submitted their answers to a Mentimeter poll. Students were also asked to respond to their thoughts on tutor expectations (i.e. What do you think the tutors think the most important features are?).

During the whole class discussion, we asked students to elaborate what they had agreed was important and why. This cohort identified ‘innovation, ‘collaboration’, and ‘critical thinking’ as being particularly important and thought that their tutors might also expect students to have ‘good communication skills’ and to get ‘enough sleep’.

We also discussed the relative weighting to the degree of the first year and the master’s project (the project carries more weight than the total first year). With these discussions, we hope students are able to see the university is a journey that supports them to develop their identity as an engineer, rather than focusing heavily on chasing every last mark. We also showed students what employers often look for when recruiting graduates, and what our programme’s learning outcomes are and how they align to this. We hope that by reinforcing this attitude throughout the degree, students are able to take more responsibility for their learning and see our programme as a framework to help them to succeed. Ultimately, we hope to support our students to become well-rounded independent graduates with a high level of self-efficacy.

To find out more about this project, please visit the Ideal University Student website. If you would like to discuss how you can use this exercise to manage student expectations, please drop us an email.

Dr Tiffany Chiu (

Dr Freddie Page (





Embedding Academic Literacy within the Curriculum

By Andrew Northern, Teacher of English for Academic Purposes, Centre for Academic English

You may be familiar with the concept of academic literacy, but what exactly does it mean in the context of Imperial? Is it the ability to identify what is relevant from a lecture or a reading text? Is it the ability to communicate your science effectively to your target audience in speech and in writing? Is it the ability to recognise the need to adapt the way you communicate your science to an increasingly interdisciplinary audience? Academic literacy encompasses all of these abilities and more, and is thus an integral part of learning and engaging with science. Moreover, it is also a vital part of the Learning and Teaching Strategy and its drive towards a more inclusive curriculum in which the student experience is enhanced through active learning.

Here’s a quick example sentence to show you how successful communication of science to a target audience requires more than just accurate grammar and vocabulary  ̶  it requires academic literacy:

Using this theoretical background and a wide range of well-known qualitative research methods, this paper reports on the specific innovative management processes that were at work in the development of two new products over the last four years that were outside the core business of the Chilean forestry firm described earlier and which were nevertheless successfully developed.”

The risk is that the value of the work described in the sentence above may be clear only to the scientist and not to the intended reader or listener. As a result, the mind of the latter may start to wander away from the science and its impact may be lost. What if the information were organised and communicated as below?

“We used this theoretical background together with qualitative research methods to map and analyse the specific innovative management processes used to develop two new products at the Chilean global forestry firm. Despite being outside the core business of this firm, both products were successfully manufactured over the last four years.”

Dividing the information into two sentences enables the reader/listener to pause and process before taking in a new piece of information. The reader/listener can appreciate the value of the scientific work as it is given prominence in the second sentence. The meaning in the original sentence also becomes clearer and more accessible with the use of active verbs (“We used…to map and analyse”) and more explicit linking (“together with” instead of ‘and’). An awareness of the reader/listener ensures that the science is communicated successfully and effectively.

The Centre for Academic English (CfAE) is a team of academic literacy experts who specialise in the communication of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine. We provide courses, workshops and consultations that cover all areas of academic literacy and are available to all members of College, including academic staff.

You may have attended our workshop as part of Imperial College Education Day 2018. Specifically, in terms of the undergraduate curriculum review, the CfAE team is collaborating and sharing our expertise with departments across the College. Our mission is to ensure that Imperial College students can have the academic literacy competence they need as lifelong learners and science communicators, both on their degree course and in the workplace. You can find a detailed overview of the broad range of ways we are working to embed academic literacy in the undergraduate curriculum here.

Visit: Centre for Academic English, Level 3 Sherfield Building, South Kensington Campus

Academic Promotions – Educational Research

The College is launching a new promotions framework for staff whose primary focus is teaching. It is designed to recognise achievements in the delivery of the College’s educational mission, for example innovating curricula and pedagogy, educational scholarship, and educational research and evaluation. It also recognises those that have taken up national and international leadership roles which support the College’s mission to excel and to lead in the field of Higher Education.

What has changed?

We’ve put in place a revised career structure which allows for two distinct career pathways for learning and teaching staff:

  • A practitioner pathway enabling educational practitioners to access promotion based on their contribution and impact
  • An educational research pathway for staff focussed on scholarly activity and research within higher education, as opposed to research within their own subject discipline
Diagram showing the Learning and Teaching Job Family Structure
[Top row of diagram] The Practitioner Pathway progresses from Assistant Teaching Fellow to Teaching Fellow to Senior Teaching Fellow to Principal Teaching Fellow to Level 6.
[Bottom row of diagram] The Educational Research Pathway follows the same career route as the Practitioner Pathway until the level of Senior Teaching Fellow, at which point colleagues may choose to progress to Associate Professor in Education and Professor of Education thereon.

A new pathway

The new career pathway for staff focussed on educational research, leading to Professor of Education, is now live. New job titles also include Associate Professor of Education and Reader in Education. Titles are conferred to reflect disciplinary context, e.g. Professor of Engineering Education, Associate Professor of Digital Education, Reader in Higher Education etc.

Staff currently within the Learning and Teaching job family and the Academic and Research job family may apply for promotion via this pathway. Staff should also be aware that research responsibilities will be included in their contract, and they will therefore be considered as ‘research active’ for REF.

Who decides?

The Promotions Committee will include the Assistant Provost (Learning and Teaching) and the Director of Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship, in addition to the Vice-Provost (Education).

What are the criteria?

Staff will be expected to have influence and impact at Faculty/College Level, be making a significant contribution to the delivery of the Learning and Teaching Strategy, and be increasingly involved in educational research and scholarship. They should also be contributing to the field of pedagogy and enhancing day-to-day practice.

What is considered ‘educational research’?

The College anticipates that most educational research will fall into the following four categories:

Practice – reporting aspects of pedagogic practice. Written by practitioners, for practitioners; case-study type approach; local context.

Research – reporting pedagogic research studies, presenting empirical data. Related to practice of authors or others, but focus is presenting data and conclusions; used as evidence.

Theoretical – range of evidence to present, clarify or critique pedagogic theory or theoretical frameworks. Written by academic theorists.

Policy – presenting vision of ‘best practice’, using evidence. Written by government, professional bodies, senior practitioners etc.
The educational research output is expected to be of the highest quality, in line with expectations from other disciplinary areas represented within the College.

It will take time for colleagues, and the College in general, to develop expertise to this level.  In this context, it is important to recognise that there may be other markers of quality, and different approaches to establishing a ‘profile’ and evidencing ‘impact’, which may not be typical in other disciplinary areas.

How can I find out more?

Further guidance is available in Appendix 5 – Criteria for Promotion for Senior Learning and Teaching Staff