ESLTIS: A conference for teaching focussed academics

From July 19-21 I was in the beautiful city of Sheffield attending #ESLTIS2017 (Enhancing Student Learning through Innovative Scholarship).

It was great to connect again with a national community of teaching focussed academics. There were some interesting talks although for me the most productive sessions were hands on workshops: one dealing with embedding external partnerships within the curriculum(enterprise @sheffielduni); one on team based learning . Both will directly inform my activities over the next year. Themes of most resonance to me:

  1. Programme Level Assessment
  2. Enterprise Engagement
  3. Peer Learning
  4. MOOCs
  5. Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL)


ESLTIS is starting to gain momentum – this is the third year of running, and some of the papers from last year have now been published.

I presented 2 posters; one on Gamification and one on a mobile app Agile development of a mobile app.

Both were well received and I had some great conversations, including one with Kirsten Bartlett ( ) a cognitive psychologist who (correctly) challenged me to define whether the approaches I presented were really games (answer: not always).

Theme 1: Programme Level Assessment

Thuis approach appears to be growing in popularity – a quick search reveals activity across the HE sector. In any case, the approach is one that I am intending to use on our new Engineering Business Management MSc.

Claire Allam & Joan Upson talked about a specific example; remodelling of the law curriculum. I noted how collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders is key.


For example, use of programme level assessment requires buy-in of teaching staff who actually get a payback (reduced assessment load). Students should be involved from the outset including actively helping with market research, assisting with design and even delivery of new units. Central services are in a great position to ask the ‘have you thought about’ questions and benchmark with other institutions. Accrediting bodies will advise on whether programme design inadvertently make things difficult for accreditation. One point I thought was interesting was that there are 3 distinct levels for which agreement and buy in is required: the skills map (ie programme ILOs); the curriculum map (content, structure, assessment); and delivery model (who, when).

As I mentioned above, I am intrigued by how different institutions are handling programme level assessment. In this case, they are using a ‘spine’ model (central programme level spine) and an enhanced role for a programme/academic tutor.

I had a good conversation with from @sheffielduni about how this model might work in the context of Mechanical Engineering.

Theme 2: Enterprise Engagement

Anna Nibbs and colleagues from the University of Sheffield Enterprise Academy  talked about their framework to #embedenterprise using these axes:

  1. authentic problem solving
  2. innovation and creativity
  3. risk-taking
  4. taking action
  5. true collaboration

This was an interactive workshop and I found the guided activity – rather like creating a business model canvas – extremely useful. Colleagues on my table were very helpful, suggesting aspects that I had not considered, for example: remote working with global companies; linking students with apprentices in the organisations; using the projects as a placement ‘taster’ for companies not yet ready to make the commitment of hosting a full year placement student.

Theme 3: Peer Learning

Probably my favourite session was the experiential workshop on team based learning.

The @KeeleUniversity ‏team (Laura Hancock, Graeme Jones, Chloe Howe, Tess Phillips, Daniela Plana and Natalie Brown) gave a great workshop showing how TBL can be used in the foundation course of a chemistry degree. The basic pattern is simple; students do some pre work and are tested on this using an individual test. After the tests are collected in, the team collectively answer the (same) questions. Graeme Jones showed compelling evidence for the efficacy of this approach


 Although these questions are multiple choice (and thus have a defined ‘right’ answer), they are followed by an open ended application activity which allows for deeper engagement with the subject.

The applications are wide ranging, I immediately thought about applying it to Engineering Management, and to first year Mechanical Engineering tutorials. A different approach would be needed for each but I think (after chatting with the Keele folks) I have a pretty good idea of what might work. I am looking forward to trying it out.

TBL allows what I would call horizontal learning – ie unlocking the knowledge in students heads, and allowing them to learn from each other. This stops us being the central point of failure. Indeed apparently one member of staff can comfortably handle a session with 120 students.

A perhaps more well known approach to peer learning is peer assisted learning (PAL). Although PAL (& PASS – peer assisted study sessions) are well understood terms, one thing I hadn’t thought about is the value of the feedback you get from PAL leaders on the programme. For example, being seasoned learners, they can differentiate between activities that need improvement, and those unpopular/challenging activities that students come to appreciate once the learning has ‘bedded in’ ( the Design exercises in years 1 and 2 are good examples). In addition you can involve the PAL leaders in co-creation of new activity.

Theme 4: MOOCS

To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of activity around MOOCs – the MOOC hype cycle certainly seems to have hit a lull. I went to one talk on a finance MOOC which chimed with my experience creating and running Make an Impact. One problem that still hasn’t quite been cracked is one of peer learning on MOOCs. This currently relies on active moderators monitoring threads and intervening with strategically placed ‘catalyst’ comments and questions. I am hoping that SNA might be able to help us identify the places where these interventions are likely to have maximum impact (chance to plug our study on this).

@durham_uni ‏ is looking at creating a MOOC (internal) to support PGT induction.


As the picture shows, there are 4 main areas:

  1. Arriving
  2. Enhancing Independent Learning
  3. Developing Academic Communication Skills
  4. Actively Managing your Career

We are doing something similar – it might be interesting to compare notes.

Theme 5: Scholarship

Being a scholarship conference, there was of course much talk of Scholarship in Teaching & Learning (SoTL). A related concept is that of digital scholarship – for example,  talked about the use of social media in student learning and assessment. This encourages open reflective practice as championed by people like David Baume and Catherine Cronin . For example in ‘open blogging’, scholarly work can be tagged and searched by topic, word cloud, twitter, email alerts and other social media. I liked the phrase ‘working out loud’ (cf Chip Bell’s thesis that great leaders learn out loud). This reminded me that on a recent trip to , I was interested to learn that they embed digital scholarship into their undergraduate curriculum (at least in humanities).

The conference concluded with another hands on workshop on creating your own scholarly paper, with an example target of PESTLHE. This was quite useful but perhaps the most challenging (and potentially transforming) suggestion was that we should write for 10 minutes every day (blogs, papers, anything) just to exercise the ‘writing muscle’. (and similarly reading). Apparently staff that have implemented this practice have doubled their scholarly output.

And Finally

There was a plug for #LTHE Chat – this runs every Wednesday on twitter. It’s a 1 hour chat, with 6 questions. Of course the chats are archived and storify’d. *

Overall, ESLTIS is fast becoming a fixture in my calendar. ESLTIS2018 is going to be in Bristol – I might see you there!

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1 Response to ESLTIS: A conference for teaching focussed academics

  1. What an informative and useful post, Steve – many thanks. Thanks also for the kind mention 🙂 I saw some activity on the #ESLTIS17 tag on Twitter but your post put a great deal of context around that. Sounds like it was a very useful and timely event. Best of luck with all your plans, particularly in sharing within your Mech Eng department (my background also). All the best.

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