5 Jan




By submitting my work here I declare that:

– This work is my own

– If this is a group project, each student has contributed to the work in accordance with the set criteria

– The work of others used in its completion has been duly acknowledged

– Experimental or other investigative results have not been falsified

– I have read and understood the University Policy on the Conduct of Assessed Work (Academic Misconduct Procedure)*

It is the Student’s responsibility to be aware of this policy and procedure.


Post 6 – Peer Observation with Penny

7 Dec

Penny observed me teaching a Masters group of 2 students. It was supposed to include some students from other courses, but they were not involved at the last minute leaving me with a group of two students. Based on my previous work, I decided to try and have a more discursive approach with the students. This would allow them to relate the theory to their own experiences and provide a vehicle for formative feedback at the end of each stage (Biggs and Tang 2011). The session was one hour long and dedicated to Comfort Theory, understanding how people experience comfort in buildings. I decided not to blind people with information and references, giving only two key ones, but consider some main learning points, that would be built up by the students trying to consider their own experience, discuss it and link it back to a theoretical structure. I have 4 main learning objectives;

  • What is thermal comfort?
  • Why is thermal comfort important?
  • What elements influence thermal comfort?
  • How can we research it as a problem in the built environment?

There were two students I had met before, both with an architectural background. One student (A) is 50 years old, and has good practical experience and is quite vocal. The other (B) is very withdrawn and has less experience.

Initially, the session went well, with some contribution from all in attendance. Each considered their own experience gave examples around the complexity of comfort. Student A did tend to dominate, but B contributed initially. However, as the session went on, Student B was less and less willing to engage. While with student A it was interesting to see how the session shaped their understanding of the field, organising their own ideas into a structure, Student B struggled to get involved. This made it difficult to assess whether the student had learned anything.

In the post-observation session I discussed with Penny why it was difficult to engage with student B and considered the following issues.

  • Cultural – student B is Chinese and, although has decent command of English, may not be as aligned with the more discursive approach that I tried to adopt to move away from the Jug and Cup model I had used previously, but which student B might be more familiar. This might be an extension of learning style for the student, but I feel it might be more to do with the learning culture the student is used to (Illeris 2009). This may link to the students view of the asymmetric power relationship between student and teacher (Knight 2002), that the student may be more comfortable with. I have looked at the HEA internationalisation section (HEA 2012) to try and see how I could specifically make this group work better. The lack of choice for the students in terms of selecting groups (there are only two students), the cultural differences in terms of nationality and age, as well as personality differences all make it is difficult nut to crack. I need to develop tools to deal with these kinds of audience – both UK and overseas work will require me to recognise that this is a context I will be working in more commonly (UKPSF V4) as the University relies on more overseas students.
  • Group Size – with 2 students, Student B was very exposed and was unwilling to say the wrong thing. Student A is more confident in what he said, but was willing to be wrong, as well as disagree. Some of the problems highlighted by Ramsden (2003) apply here, particularly around one student dominating and not interacting with one another due to the role of the tutor.
  • Pressure – by directing questions specifically to student B, I might have been making them uncomfortable, making them feel singled out. On the flip side student A is very confident with a lot of experience to draw on. I think student B’s feelings about the process affected the learning (Moon 2004)
  • Relationship with Students – Student A and I have practical experience and share a similar cultural background so in a short space of time a relationship has developed. It is easier to talk with him and as the lecture went on it became more focused on our exchanges. Student B is hard to engage with. Ramsden (1979) identified the relationship between student and teacher as a key part of the learning experience.

What might I do differently?

I did prepare an activity, which was a form of case based learning (Biggs and Tang 2011), but given the small nature of the group it was difficult to cover the learning points in the way I would have wanted to in the time available. Thinking about it differently I would have used the module tutor to split the group and engage with Student B on an individual basis during that activity. I think this approach would have had several advantages.

  • This would allow me to separate the students and stop B dominating the group discussion.
  • It would have allowed me to talk individually with student B and work on developing a relationship that might make them more comfortable. This is a major disadvantage with the way I am used as a teaching resource. I’m currently “parachuted in” to give guest lectures which, while it allows me to bring research to these students (UKPSF V3), it does not permit me to build relationships with less forthcoming students who require more time. This is distinct from how Penny works as a consistent presence in a specific Module.
  • It would have allowed me to understand if any learning was taking place and develop a follow up strategy. While the discursive/ questioning (UKPSF K5) approach to evaluating the effectiveness of what is happening works better than my previous “Death by PowerPoint” approach, it still puts some students at a disadvantage. I need to develop more formative assessment and feedback approaches during lectures and other types of session.

This said, each session does feel like progress. I started the session with a specific idea about engagement, feedback and evidencing learning, which is massive progress from where I started in September. I am generally pleased with how the session went. The fact that I have recognised a problem and identified a potential strategy means that I have some basis on which to make improvements.


Biggs, J., Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Fourth Edition, Maidenhead, McGraw Hill,

Higher Education Academy (2012) Teaching International Students – Group Work,, Last Visited 03/01/13

Higher Education Academy (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. Higher Education Academy [online]. Available at (Accessed 19 Dec 2012).

Illeris, K. (2009) A comprehensive understanding of human learning, Chapter 1 in Contemporary Therories of Learning: Learning theorists in their own words, ed Illeris, K., Oxon, Routledge

Knight, P.T. (2002) Being a Teacher in Higher Education, Milton Keynes, Open University Press

Moon, J. A. (2004). A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice. Oxford, RoutledgeFalmer.

Ramsden, P. (2002) Learning to Teach in Higher Education, Oxon, RoutledgeFalmer

Ramsden, P. (1979) Student Learning and Perceptions of the Academic Environment, Higher Education, 8, pp411-427

Post 5 – Observation with Penny Cook

4 Dec

Homer (Simpson) once observed, “It is easy to criticise and fun too.” Observing Penny, who has more teaching experience than me is relatively daunting; I do have a feeling that I might not be qualified to judge practice armed only with a big bag of theory and limited experience. However, I did learn a lot.

Penny’s group are a Masters cohort of mainly overseas students. As Penny identifies in her observation sheet, they are lively, ask lots of questions and are prepared to debate.  Penny teaches statistics in healthcare. I am pretty interested in statistics from the perspective in the fact I am aware that a little learning is a dangerous thing and I can used them pretty irresponsibly out of ignorance rather than malice! The group has about 25 students and they are mainly overseas, with slightly more women than men. There may have been a question around different leaning cultures, but this does not seem to be an issue for engagement  (Illeris 2009). The majority of the students engaged with both Penny and each other in an open way. The lecture was about tests of association and difference, looking at Chi Squared and Goodness of Fit Tests. I came and observed the second hour.

I entered the room and Penny introduced me and then I went and sat at the back of the room. The room was laid out cabaret style, so there were about 5 groups of students, who interacted with one another as well as with Penny – this kind of layout seemed well suited to both student and teacher interaction. This seems to correlated with work done by Betoret and Artiga (2004) which showed different room layouts served different teaching styles. When I came in Penny as dealing with the results from an activity that had been done in the first hour regarding an association between illness in a sample and eating fish. There were good questions that she fielded well and clearly. Despite clearly knowing a lot about her subject the early part of the session was really well paced with a well-structured and deliberate pacing through the example, with plenty of pauses for questions and feedback to provide formative assessment of learning (Biggs and Tang 2011).

About 10 minutes after I arrived there was a short break, which Penny used to talk to her students in groups. She spoke to a group nearest me and obviously knew her students and engaged with them in a really genuine way. This type of movement and engagement appeared to encourage the students to get involved with each other and Penny (Bryson and Hand 2007), she clearly looks for ways to include students who might not otherwise engage. The shape of the room clearly helped the students interact with Penny and with each other. There was a good balance of where she stood in the room at different times to match each different activity she was doing.

After the break there was some short discussion on the Goodness of Fit Test and a concise plenary to round of that part of the lecture. This was followed by an activity sheet, which had 4 examples for the students to work through. This took about 25 minutes. I liked again that Penny “worked” the room and managed to get around all the groups rather than concentrating on the easy engaged ones. I think this is conscious on her part in an effort to build a relationship with her students. I think there is a good balance of authority and approachability in the way Penny interacts.

After the worksheet was completed, Penny went through the answers. She did not have enough time to go through at the same pace earlier in the lecture. It might have been better to split the worksheet into shorter sessions and have more feedback, or possibly have a student group present their answers. I think having too long an exercise, which the group clearly engaged with, meant losing out on assessing and feedback time towards the end of the session.

I really enjoyed the two things Penny did at the end of the lecture. The first was testing understanding by a quiz on selection of tests. People responded and explained why they had selected their answer. I really liked the plenary session where Penny contextualised the lecture in the wider context of the previous learning to show how the different statistical techniques fitted together and addressed different contexts. She used different approaches to mix up the learning experience, potentially playing to different learning styles (Healey and Jenkins 2000).

In our follow up we discussed a few things with regards to the difference in our approaches. Penny does not have masses more teaching experience than me, but we have markedly different personality types that do contribute different strengths and weaknesses. I think Penny will write more about this and I am looking forward to see what she thinks.

My major thoughts about this session were;

  • Penny takes time to build relationships and that has a positive effect – she knows her students and how they engage. I think this is something I need to do better, even through I have fewer opportunities – I need to engage with this process to ensure that I can better understand individual learners (UKPSF V1), assess and give formative assessment (UKPSF A3) and ensure that I am supporting students properly (UKPSF A4). All of these are difficult to do unless I know students well enough to understand their needs and issues.
  • Penny mixes up learning approaches, even in quite a short space of time – there is a mixture of lecture, activity, group work, Q & A and it makes for a richer learning experience – she has really considered different modes of engagement. I have referred in the past to having a “bag of tricks” and this is something I am a little further on in developing, but Penny has shown me there is a lot more to learn – this said progress has been made (UKPSF A1) in developing different learning activities.
  • Penny uses a lot of informal ways to formatively assess the students. I have since used these slightly more informal ways to ensure that I am getting better feedback for myself and for students during lectures (UKPSF A3) which can help me shape things better.
  • Penny is not a natural performer – and this probably works to the students advantage – I think it makes her more thoughtful with regards to the student experience. I think the introvert vs extrovert teacher in terms of real learning  can be misleading. Rushton (et al 2007) identifies extroverts as being better teachers, but this study considered how they were viewed by their superiors rather than considering the learning that takes place. I think it is a common misconception. As an extrovert(ish) person when my wife viewed me on YouTube lecturing she said “You really love it up there don’t you!”. Extroverts do, but it is not necessarily good teaching – even though it might look like it.


Betoret, F.D. & Artiga, A. G. (2004): Trainee teachers’ conceptions of teaching and learning, classroom layout and exam design, Educational Studies, 30:4, pp 355-372

Biggs, J., Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Fourth Edition, Maidenhead, McGraw Hill,

Bryson, C, & Hand, L. (2007): The role of engagement in inspiring teaching and learning, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 44:4, 349-362

Healey, M. & Jenkins, A. (2000): Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory and Its Application in Geography inHigher Education, Journal of Geography, 99:5, 185-195

Higher Education Academy (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. Higher Education Academy [online]. Available at (Accessed 19 Dec 2012).

Illeris, K. (2009) A comprehensive understanding of human learning, Chapter 1 in Contemporary Therories of Learning: Learning theorists in their own words, ed Illeris, K., Oxon, Routledge

Rushton, S., Morgan, J. & Richard, M. (2007) Teacher’s Myers-Briggs personality profiles: Identifying effective teacher personality traits, Teaching and Teacher Education 23, pp 432–441

Pre-Observation Form

4 Dec

Pre-observation Form
Form for recording details for your teaching observation


Observer’s Name

Penny Cook

Date & Time

Thursday December 6th 1.00pm


Maxwell 407 or 714c

Module & Session title

MSc Sustainable Design – Introduction to Comfort Theory

Number of learners



The group is made up of two students who are from an Architectural background. One is older and quite experienced and the other is an overseas student. The Module Co-ordinator has asked other students to participate and I am not sure about the background of the students.


Learning outcomes to be achieved during the session

  • What is thermal comfort?
  • Why is thermal comfort important?
  • What elements influence thermal comfort?
  • How can we research it as a problem in the built environment?

Brief session outline

I am aiming to give a basic introduction to the principles of Comfort Theory. I will handle each learning point by starting with a discussion – comfort is a subject that people can get a handle on intuitively based on their own experience. After each discussion point I will try to open up the points with a recap.

I have one task concerned with how Comfort might be measured. I have three categories of data and I will give them 10 minutes or so to research and 2-3 minutes to feedback on possible options.

I want to close with them thinking about the concept in the context of their own disciplines (what ever they might be!)

I will then have a short plenary concerning the main issues.

I am not going to blind them with references – I will give them a core reference and suggest it is a big area that they can look into themselves based on the core texts. I really want them to frame the area and ways in which it might be assessed.

Rationale for session

I am aiming for a discursive approach to explore the basic concepts. This is a reasonably new area to these students, so I am looking for them to explore some of the basic concepts, which they may choose to build on in their project work.


Are there any aspects of the session you would like the observer to focus on?

Interaction with students


Feedback and Evidence of Learning

Remember to send this to your observer as far in advance of the session as possible.

Post 4 – Mixed Reality Game

19 Nov

Mixed Reality Game

I am going to reflect on the mixed reality game. I think this is essentially a question about creativity in teaching. I found this quite a difficult session. I think (hopefully) that this does not mean I am uncreative, but possibly that I was at this stage a little bit more reactionary in my teaching practice. Professionally, I am always amazed when people get locked into patterns and are unable to think about the problem more clearly, but I probably got locked into this myself with this task – also it was raining! I think I also need to be clear that we are talking about creative approaches to teaching rather than teaching creativity, of which there is a lot of literature.

If I am going to understand the game I need to think about creativity. It can be defined in various ways; Taylor (1988) defines it as “a many splendored thing”. Ike trust or knowledge, words we use in everyday life can have a range of meanings once the semantics starts being picked at. Creativity is viewed as producing new things or ideas, ways of doing things, and experimenting (Jackson 2005). Taylor’s model suggests for perspectives of studying creativity; environments, products, processes and people. Barron and Harrington (1981) tie up conceptions of creativity with intelligence and problem-solving. The conclusion drawn in the paper are that creativity and traditional perceptions of intelligence are not directly linked, rather there are a series of sub-categories of mental process that can be identified as making up creative thinking from a psychological perspective.

  • Associational abilities – the ability to draw new or unconventional associations between ideas.
  • Analogical and metaphorical abilities – the ability to draw analogies and use metaphor
  • Imagery abilities – the ability to imagine (Hall et al 1985) pictures of alternative outcomes
  • Problem-solving abilities – the ability to apply knowledge to real-world problems

Jackson (2005) highlights the importance of creativity; it is a fundamentally human characteristic, it is integral to any profession, it is an essential life skill and a good response to complexity.

If we have this base working definition of creativity as a linked between imagination, connective intelligence and problem solving – all concerned with the abstract manipulation of ideas, how does this mean I should reflect on the game?

The objective of the game was for the PGCAP students to exercise their creativity in the selection of an item that would allow them to creatively teach a particular threshold concept (Meyer and Land 2006) that might be difficult for them to understand. This is me wittering on about it – please note obsession with subject knowledge and anorak!

My favourite was Robert’s which can be found on this clip. I think this a perfect use of metaphor to explain an idea.

This is seems to be an exercise in understanding metaphor and using it to communicate a complex idea. This has been a struggle for me during other sessions, when we are asked to pick pictures that describe how we feel – I have not been able to do this on two separate occasions. If I was to consider my previous observations I might consider that I am more verbal/ written, relying more heavily on stories as opposed to more complex visual metaphors. I felt the game did not play to my cognitive strengths, but if I thought about it again I might have done better than this.

This leads to the question of how can I teach more creatively in a way that suits me. I found an abstract, but could not access the full paper (Sawyer, R.K., 2004), which outlined the problem clearly for me.

“Although comparisons with performance were originally intended to emphasize teacher creativity, they have become associated instead with contemporary reform efforts toward scripted instruction that deny the creativity of teachers. Scripted instruction is opposed to constructivist, inquiry-based, and dialogic teaching methods that emphasize classroom collaboration.”

When I used to work as a professional facilitator for construction project teams, this is what we would describe as going “off piste”, meaning we had started to understand the needs of the project team and would bring our knowledge directly to bear on their problems. I don’t think this is entirely what creative teaching is about, but it was grounded and interactive, which I think are elements of a creative approach.

Gibson (2010) highlights a number of factors;

  • Flexibility and a willingness to take risks
  • Disciplined improvisation
  • Active participation of students
  • Collaborative, enquiry based and problem based learning
  • Use of metaphor (curses)
  • Style and pace of delivery
  • Reflection for students

I have my observation with Penny when I will try to do something a bit more outside the box. I only have one hour, so I need it to be well-designed, but I also need to take a few risks. It will be on comfort theory, with some activity.

The mixed reality game has taught me I am rubbish at visual metaphors! It has given me a chance to think about what creative teaching might be. However, I do think I need to balance quality with novelty, as people are paying for me to help them and too many risks that don’t pay off might end up alienating the “customers”. Creative teaching is a practice-based skill that I am still developing.


Barron, F., Harrington, D. M. (1981) Creativity, intelligence and personality, Annual Review of Psychology, 32, pp. 439-76

Gibson, R. (2010): The ‘art’ of creative teaching: implications for higher education, Teaching in Higher Education, 15:5, 607-613

Hall, C., J. Pongrac and E. Buckolz, (1985). The measurement of imagery ability. Human Movement Science 4, 1077118.

Higher Education Academy (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. Higher Education Academy [online]. Available at (Accessed 19 Dec 2012).

Jackson, N, (2005) Making higher education a more creative place, Journal of the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, 2, 1, pp. 14-24

Meyer, J.H.F., Land, R. (2006) Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge, Routledge, Oxford

Sawyer (2004) Creative Teaching: Collaborative Discussion as Disciplined Improvisation, Educational Researcher, 33, 2, pp. 12-20

Taylor, C. W. (1988). Various approaches to and definitions of creativity. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), The nature of creativity (pp. 99–121). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Post 3 – Observation – Chrissi

12 Nov

This is my third post (I am playing catch-up a little here!) about the observation that I had with Chrissi. The class were a project group, who as part of their final year undertake a practical project, In this case we are looking at proposals to undertake a refurbishment of the Maxwell Building for a change of use. This is a good example of problem-based learning in principle (Albanese & Mitchell 1993), but at this stage it is being presented as a series of lectures covering the main topics that need to be addressed. This is me addressing the class in my dulcet East Midlands drawl.

Here are some people being bored by me

There is more of me delivering this lecture on YouTube – I uploaded it so everyone can have a look if they are interested. I found this quite helpful to be honest.

A couple of days after this lecture I met with Chrissi and considered what had happened. Her view (although she has a right to comment if I missed anything out or misrepresent her in any way) is as follows;

  • I connected well with the audience and appeared friendly relaxed and approachable. I think this is a skill set learned from my professional days where I would undertake a lot of presentations. It is not something that has worried me too much. I don’t mind standing in front of people. However, good presenters do not necessarily make good teachers.
  • I tried to cover too much material in too shorter a time. As when David monitored me – I did not consider if I was losing people or not. I think this is driven by two issues. Firstly, I am used to active professional audiences who were generally attending in their own or work’s time. Secondly, I have no feedback strategies. I do not block my material into sections and have some feedback.
  • Despite being a good presenter, there is an engagement issue in the model I use. I need to have more tools that get people thinking. I recently covered a lecture for another member of staff and I did try to think about this. I still am not quite getting it right but I am getting better. I need more of a model that revolves around tasks and much better summative assessment.
  • The room layout is a bit of a difficult issue. The slides are shown behind a lectern which I essentially “hide” behind. I don’t think this is a style issue, rather the design of the room. However, I need to think of strategies to work around this. I also used room size as an excuse which Donald Clark notes is probably a bit of an excuse – link to the lecture here

I had the same group the following week and tried to identify possible approaches to address some of these problems. The actions I took were as follows;

  • Thought more closely about the learning objectives of the course as whole – we had a recently refurbished building on campus, so we went to look at it. I asked the group to take photos and come back and report on what they had found. This active approach really helped some people and I think I got more feedback than the usual 2-3 people. I like the idea of the flipped classroom, much in the way the PGCAP works (Water-Perez and Dong 2012). I don’t think it is implementable right now, but I am developing a Master’s Course for which it would be perfect. I think there are some issues that need to be addressed between my focus on research and how this links more effectively with teaching, specifically within the context of the Built Environment discipline (Griffiths 2004) – covered by K3 within the UKPSF. This linkage with research also considers V3 – where I use research materials to form the basis of the teaching materials.
  • Engaged in a student led activity – One of the students had asked a really good question as to how you might define retrofit strategy. This was the last 10-15 minutes of the lecture on a Friday, so people were fading. I did some slides but did not show them. I put the question back to them as a result they worked towards an answer as a group. I think this was made easier by the previous activity. I think this feels like a progress around A4 – by engaging the students better I feel a better learning environment is developed.
  • Reduced number of slides – slides are a comfort blanket. I like how it can lend structure but too many ideas is not helpful. I think this helped me move away from using Constructive Alignment as a concept to structure things and more as learning outcomes. While I probably understood this for my previous post, I did not execute this as well as I might have done for the lecture itself. I looked at a study into boredom among students in lectures (Mann and Robinson 2009) who identified that one of the major contributors to boredom is PowerPoint. I think less is probably more!
  • I tried to use the room differently, but it felt a bit artificial to be honest. I think my view of being at the front of the classroom is quite an engrained behaviour which is further exacerbated by the layouts of rooms and AV equipment. I need to think more about this.
  • I need to consider some of the specific issues of teaching my subject area. I am broadly Built Environment, although I bleed occasionally into the broader social sciences. Ashworth (2006) highlighted that the Built Environment area was “fast moving” and subject to a lot of experimentation in teaching approaches. Built environment can be subject to quite a prosaic approach focused on explicit competences, but I do feel that that Newton (2009) does recognise that this can hamstring us in our teaching approaches, as he favours more transformative approaches to counter this.This has implications for addressing K3 within the UK PSF.

I am still very much developing. I think being a good presenter has made me think less about teaching and learning that is going on a more about my “performance”. The lecture I undertook last week made me realise that I am looking at what I am doing with a critical eye and looking at how I can improve things. I have noticed whilst editing my previous post that my practice has moved on a little bit, both David and Chrissi noticed the same problems. I feel that Constructive Alignment was in my comfort zone, whereas thinking about the actual teaching and learning practices is essentially new to me.


Albanese M A & Mitchell S (1993) Problem-based learning: a review of literature on its outcomes and implementation issues. Acad Med, pp. 68: 52-81.

Ashworth, A. (2006) Practical Suggestions for Lecturers in the Built Environment, Journal for Education in the Built Environment, Vol. 1, Issue 2, August 2006 pp. 1-2

Biggs, J., Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Fourth Edition, McGraw Hill, Maidenhead

Clark, D. (2010) Don’t Lecture Me, Keynote Presentation, Association of Learning Technology, 7th September Nottingham UK,

Griffiths, R. (2004): Knowledge production and the research–teaching nexus: the case of the built environment disciplines, Studies in Higher Education, 29:6, 709-726

Higher Education Academy (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. Higher Education Academy [online]. Available at (Accessed 19 Dec 2012).

Mann, S., Robinson, A. (2009) Boredom in the Lecture Theatre: an investigation into the contributors, moderators and outcomes of boredom amongst university students, British Educational Research Journal, 35 (2), 243-258

Newton, S. (2009) Transformational Higher Education in the Built Environment, Journal for Education in the Built Environment, Vol. 4, Issue 1, July 2009 pp 100-112

Warter-Perez, N, Dong, J (2012) Flipping the Classroom: How to Embed Enquiry and Design Projects into a Digital Engineering Lecture, Proceedings of the 2012 ASEE Section Conference, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Post 2 – Observation – Constructive Alignment?

11 Oct

For my first observation, which was undertaken by my mentor David Baldry, I tried to apply some of the principles of Constructive Alignment (Biggs and Tang 2011). The lecture is part of series based around a “pretend” project. Third year students work to identify how they might retrofit the Maxwell Building for alternative use. The idea of the material is to provide them with information to help them shape their project. I considered the constructively aligned objectives as to how might we give the students the right tools to approach a building in a way a practitioner might. The MDP (possibly only in my mind) is an exercise in applying ideas to solve a problem. The lectures have been used to support the research element. This lecture is concerned with framing the problem – providing an overarching context, in which new knowledge can be connected. While I do think Constructive Alignment has a lot to offer, Norton (2009) highlights some of the concerns I have; that it can make HE teaching more like training. Norton indicates that this is not what Biggs meant, but the process orientation of learning can mean that it is danger of becoming mechanical – I think it is something to watch out for in my own practice.

David observed the lecture and made the following points.

Positive points:

  • Well paced delivery with clear voice projection to all parts of the room.
  • Extensive and rich teaching content
  • High quality presentation material
  • Valuable use of illustrations and anecdotes to reinforce the message.
  • Competent and informative responses to the few questions which were asked

Some matters to attend to:

  • Need for more checking of understanding amongst the audience
  • Take care to avoid use of acronyms or a specific vocabulary which the audience may not be familiar with.
  • Emphasise the beginning and end of the lecture i.e. firstly explain what you intend to talk about and then at the end summarise the key issues or learning points
  • This lecture was delivered as part of the briefing of students for a project – it would be helpful if you could emphasise where what you are saying will directly apply to their project

My reflection on David’s Observation

  • I do think I present well – I pull together good material and I do know what I am talking about. I have good experience and practitioner context to draw upon. However, the presentation of material does not equal teaching. All of the positives from DB’s feedback are related to subject knowledge, wed to good practical understanding. Being able to talk coherently abut a subject does not equal good teaching.
  • I treat the students like practitioners, which is positive. However, I assume a certain level of knowledge that is not always there. I have no idea if learning is taking place, as feedback is non-existent. I could have given an exercise about how they might apply the ideas to their project.
  • I present too much material too quickly.

One of the issues is that I planned it like a presentation rather than a learning experience. The mind mapping exercise allowed me to think more deeply about the constraints. I was due to teach a small group the same content. This meant I did do things differently when planning the material. The mind map helped me consider the structure of what I was doing in a more detailed way. The group was very small (2 learners), but the format did mean it was easier to constantly deal with feedback as gain an understanding of what people did or did not understand. This issue does crop its head up again in my next observation with Chrissi, due to differences in the group.

The pre-planned session, was much easier. I actually understood the objectives of the session far more clearly. The planning allowed me to rethink what was in the “jug”. Rather than throwing a bunch of current practice and products, I considered what I was trying to teach and used the material to frame a single core concept, which was around the questions individuals ask when undertaking a retrofit. Many of the slides were the same, but there was less of them and a core “threshold” concept was included – that of an emergent retrofit process.

If I consider what I have taken away from the two sessions and the thinking in between are as follows;

  • Reflecting as to what we want learners to achieve and how we might go about that is pretty important and easily ignored. This was my first lecture in a structured programme and I need to get to grips with the essential core of what we are trying to achieve in the constructive alignment approach. This includes getting to the heart of the material in search of the “threshold concept” (Meyer and Land 2006) around which everything else can be more effectively framed to give a student better access. I think this is starting to reframe my conception of teaching, more in line with A2 in the UKPSF, which I feel is progress.
  • I am a good communicator, but not a good teacher (yet). I am enamoured with the transmission of practice and subject knowledge, rather than thinking about the learners. The issues of widening participation highlighted by Biggs and Tang (2011) are of particular relevance to Built Environment. We have people who might not be viewed as traditionally academic with different learning styles to my own (Honey and Mumford 1982). I need to have a better bag of the craft of teaching tools to address this element of the PSF framework (V1) – however, I feel the recognition of the problem is a good first step!
  • Although I recognise I am at the start of developing my skills as a teaching as opposed to an enterprise or research academic – if I don’t put any feedback in what I am doing I am never going to understand how people are progressing and whether what I am doing is effective. I am also missing out on an opportunity for learners to reflect on the knowledge (Moon 2004), which is at the core of the MDP project – it is essentially practitioner focused, but using a structured experience. The development of feedback approaches (UKPSF A3) is a major issue that needs to be addressed.

I am just going to close this bit with a discussion I had with my wife who is a teacher. She teaches primary school and when she is with colleagues they discuss teaching practice all the time – the subject knowledge is almost irrelevant. They have workable processes to ensure constant feedback and assessment, as well as tools and tricks developed over watching each other and learning from practice. 30 ten year olds probably presents a bigger challenge than tired and apathetic undergraduates. What I think this means is that subject knowledge gets in the way of thinking about teaching and learning as an academic.


Biggs, J., Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Fourth Edition, McGraw Hill, Maidenhead

Higher Education Academy (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. Higher Education Academy [online]. Available at (Accessed 19 Dec 2012).

Honey, P. , Mumford, A. (1982) The Manual of Learning Styles, Peter Honey, Maidenhead

Meyer, J.H.F., Land, R. (2006) Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge, Routledge, Oxford

Moon, J. A. (2004). A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice. Oxford, RoutledgeFalmer.

Norton, L (2009) Assessing student learning, in A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, eds Fry, H., Kettridge,S., Marshall, S., Routledge, New York

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