Learning Community

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Sean Walton, Senior Lecturer Computational Foundry - College of Science

Developing Community with Large Groups

Sean describes the work that lead to his Excellence in Learning and Teaching Award in 2016:

“I was awarded an excellence in learning and teaching award in 2016 for my work delivering a foundation module in the College of Engineering. Many of the students on that course were either recent school leavers or people who had not been in formal education for quite some time. My core aim was to bridge the gap between a more socratic style of teaching in schools to the didactic style of teaching more often found in universities.
To do this I split each week’s teaching up into two parts. In the first session I delivered a lecture to the large group and in the second session I ran two example classes, one for each half of the group. Splitting the class up like this allowed me to talk to each student once a week, even if only a brief ‘How are things going?’. This quickly built up trust between me and the students, something which is near impossible to achieve with large group teaching, which meant I could really push them with tough questions.
Splitting the group up in this way also enabled me to do weekly formative assessment tasks, informally peer marked, without adding to my workload. I also tried to build an ethos of community and cooperation in the class by encouraging students to come to my office hours in small groups and work together in example classes. Not only did this reduce my workload, it helped tackle the problem of differentiation – the knowledge gap between students in the class was enormous. By building a sense of community students stopped trying to compete and started supporting each other.”

Sean describes the long-term impact on his practice:

Two key lessons came from this, firstly the idea that lectures are simply not effective in isolation and secondly the impact a feeling of community and trust can have on empowering learners. The sense of community is probably the most significant factor. Something I noticed when starting my role in Computer Science was that students were afraid of working together and helping each other because of the plagiarism detection tools we use. I spend a good amount of time trying to reduce that fear at the start of the year. Another key takeaway is that on-line communities are not as effective as they might seem. Often, they have a negative impact on community building because they invariably allow students to post anonymously. Much like on social networks, such as twitter and reddit, this breeds negativity and hostility – which is not a good learning environment. It is therefore essential to encourage students to attend lab sessions and talk to each other in person.


Jafar Ojra, Senior Lecturer – School of Management

Jafar is know for his calm and approachable style. Here his students describe his committed approach that led to his Excellence in Learning and Teaching Award in 2018:

“He takes all the seminars which is very helpful and is quick to respond to queries. He is also really easy to approach and he really does go the extra mile to make sure all of his students are performing to the best of their ability.”

“He set up an accounting Facebook group to enable students to help each other but he also makes himself available through email and comments on the Zeetings slides.”

“We can get hold of Jafar through the Accounting for Business Facebook group. Jafar puts up announcements on there, extra questions and engages with us in a really effective way.”

“He has the ability to make everybody feel calm and welcome, it is clear that he enjoys his job as he goes above and beyond with effort every lecture. He is definitely the most easily approachable lecturer that I have.”

“Jafar is the most committed lecturer I have experienced, he thrives off the energy of his students, working his hardest to make his lectures the best and also the most enjoyable.”


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