Exploring innovative approaches

The Education Enhancement Fund (EEF) has, since its inception, created a legacy of projects where many seeds have been sown and flourished into the broad landscape of innovation, enhancement and good practice that can be seen across the University today. Project funding has enabled staff  to develop innovative approaches to teaching and learning, ranging from creating an outdoor learning environment of peatland mesocosms (isolated, miniature peatland ecosystems) to using LEGO® Serious Play® as an enquiry-based learning methodology.

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EEF funds have played a valuable role in curriculum development opportunities provided by the new Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (CTL), which opened its doors to students in October 2018.  Funds were used to employ student interns to develop a suite of materials for laboratory practicals across STEM subjects as part of this curriculum development. Through the efforts of 27 interns from different disciplines, a variety of learning resources were created such as online pre- and post-lab materials (including online assessment and feedback) and videos.  These resources were developed over a two year period (2015-17) to enhance the student laboratory experience and included the development and evaluation of an Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) that provided a proof-of-concept educational technology solution and evaluation tool for students. 

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‘The Birmingham Bog’ was developed within the ECOLAB facility on the University campus, bringing hands-on field-based experiences to large cohorts of undergraduate students and helping them to link theory to practice.  In recognition of this hugely successful enhancement work, project leader Nick Kettridge (School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences) won a HEFi Award for Educational Innovation in 2017-18.   

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EEF funds also enabled staff to explore the application of LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) in the Higher Education context. The project included facilitator training, piloting workshops and creating online resources to support innovative pedagogic approaches to learning and teaching.  Over 100 staff and students through 14 workshops and other sessions engaged with using Lego as a learning resource and LSP is still a feature of HEFi’s Showcase Series today. The HEFi Lego sets are regularly loaned to staff around campus who use the “serious play” methodology in their own teaching. 

Innovation has been an important driver in our digital education projects, demonstrating how digital tools can be exploited in different ways. For example, digital assessment tools were developed to enable ‘speed grading’ within Engineering to give students quick personalised and comprehensive feedback. A high-quality teaching aid for basic neurological examination was produced for medical students to improve their confidence and clinical performance when undertaking patient assessments. The use of IPad technology for a Field Ecology Module provided a shift away from conventional delivery of fieldwork skills in the Environmental Biology and Science programme.  

As with many of these innovative projects, relatively small amounts of funding have led to significant achievements. The Stats Guru App, developed in 2013 to assist psychology undergraduate students in their understanding and analysis of statistics, is now used worldwide. The App, which is available through top operating systems for mobile phones, tablets and through Canvas, became embedded within research methods modules on the Psychology BSc programme and went on to become commercialized for wider use beyond the University and the UK. University staff can gain access to the App by contacting Dr Jonathan Catling.

Funds were also used to create and pilot an Online Induction Module to showcase the University’s leading technological and pedagogical skills, signposting students clearly to sources of support and help, and providing a formative and instructive platform to give all incoming undergraduates greater knowledge and confidence as they began their studies. The first iteration of the project provided students with a number of pieces of work to complete, which included a self-evaluation academic skills quiz, a requirement to create a piece of reflection, an avatar ‘game,’ and an Exit Poll. This induction module saw an 89% enrolment by the start of the 2016 academic year. Today, all incoming first year UGs and PGT students have the opportunity to reflect on their reasons for coming to university: to consider the academic skills challenges they will face and how they might overcome them; get the chance to see examples of extra-curricular opportunities they might pursue; and understand where and how to access any support they might need. Thanks to EEF funding, a subsequent follow-on project entitled ‘Implementing an Integrated Pastoral Care network’ has also led to significant change in the way incoming students are prepared for arrival at University. 

Contact us for more information: hefi.projects@contacts.bham.ac.uk.