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University teaching: insights from a Business Professor of the Year nominee

November 15, 2012 Leave a comment

A month ago, Dr Nick Motson and Professor Meziane Lasfer from the Cass Business School at City were nominated by their past and present students for the Business Professor of the Year award in the ‘only global contest to recognise and reward excellence in Business teaching’.


I wasn’t surprised that Nick had been nominated for this prestigious award, as last year he invited me to peer review one of his lectures and it was there that I witnessed first-hand why he was (and indeed remains) a popular lecturer at Cass. My review ended with this:

Nick on the whole you do a fantastic job of asking your students many questions throughout your lecture, this shows that you really care about what they think. You have a good rapport with your students and your teaching style is energetic and enthusiastic – this really brings the lecture alive. It is clear that you spend a lot of time preparing for your lectures and thinking about how they will be delivered in a way that is interesting for your students and I think your students genuinely appreciate this.

So what is the secret to Nick’s successful teaching approach? I recently interviewed Nick to find out more, starting at the beginning of his teaching career less than a decade ago…

Following completion of a Banking & International Finance degree at the-then City University Business School (now the Cass Business School), Nick worked as a trader in investment banking from 1992 – 2005, gaining a wealth of practical industry experience. From 1999 – 2001 Nick studied for a Masters in Finance at the London Business School and it was during this time that he realised how much he enjoyed studying. Encouraged by his Masters experience, and spurred on by supportive guidance from a lecturer who taught him during his undergraduate days, Nick subsequently saved up to study for a PhD at the Cass Business School, which he began in 2005. Nick’s PhD study was in part funded by the Foundation for Management Education (FME), who offered him a two-year fellowship in exchange for contribution to teaching and research at Cass. Nick credits the FME for helping him make the transition from industry to academic teaching, and further with later funding him through the International Teachers Programme (ITP – a development programme organised by a group of 11 leading business schools located in Europe, North America and Asia).

Towards the end of his PhD, Nick was approached by Cass to teach as module leader for several electives as part of their MSc programme. Armed with pedagogic know-how and industry experience, in 2006 Nick set about developing his modules, including ones on Hedge Funds and Structured Products which proved very popular amongst students.

The key to Nick’s teaching success is his ability to bring current, real-world case studies and issues in the classroom, using a teaching by questioning approach to encourage active student engagement. This is a boon for students and employers alike. For example, Nick uses his lectures to actively demonstrate the Bloomberg Terminal (a suite of financial software tools), and the practical skills that students learn from these sessions have been described as excellent by future employers (see also cass case study). A leading investment bank also fed-back to Nick that the product knowledge exhibited by his former students is impressive and better than that of students from other business schools.

Nick is modest of his teaching success, saying he is lucky in that the topics he covers are inherently practical and of great interest to him, adding “if you haven’t got passion for the subject, it is very difficult to teach”. Nonetheless it is clear that Nick devotes a significant amount of time in preparing his modules and lectures to ensure that they remain practically relevant and up-to-date for his students entering into a rapidly evolving industry. His strategies for doing so are simple:

1)      Maintain links and contact with industry to stay on top of differing trends and establish an understanding of the skills that employers want. Nick does this by working as a consultant trainer for private bankers, teaching them the same subjects as for his Cass students whilst simultaneously learning from key experts also involved in the private training courses. In addition, Nick advocates partnering with industry organisations – he describes working with the CAIA (Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst) association in a mutually beneficial way. Here Nick offers to teach 60% of CAIA’s curriculum for a particular programme, and Nick’s students benefit since this comes with the assurance that CAIA’s topics are up-to-date with market needs. Furthermore, Nick describes that associations like CAIA can help run events for students, and offer students to sit their accredited exams at a substantially reduced cost.

2)      Keep in touch with your students to keep in the loop. Nick uses social media like LinkedIn to keep in touch with his former students and learn from them how the market is evolving and has changed since they were students on his course. Nick brings this knowledge into his teaching and has even had one former student invite his boss into a lecture as an external guest speaker.

Speaking about the future, Nick tells me that there are a couple of exciting developments on the horizon, enthusiastically pointing out a range of new programmes currently being considered for approval, in addition to further partnering with other organisations. Given Nick’s successful teaching track record, I’ve no doubt these new programmes will be highly popular amongst students.

I wish both him and Meziane well in going through to the next round in this year’s Business Professor of the Year contest.

Siân Lindsay

Siân Lindsay is a Lecturer in Educational Development at the LDC and is the LDC academic liaison for the Cass Business School at City University London.

The first episode in the Educational Vignettes podcast – an interview with Dr Keith Pond from the School of Business and Economics at Loughborough University

May 21, 2012 1 comment

Presenting the first episode in our Educational Vignettes podcast series!

With the Cass learning development showcase coming up on May 22nd, and themed on ‘Efficient and Effective Feedback’, Sandra and I (at the LDC) carried out a sector review of other business schools across the country, to see how they were performing in terms of their National Student Survey scores for assessment and feedback. The School of Business and Economics at Loughborough University is third in the country in this respect, with 77% of the students there satisfied with the feedback they receive:


University Guide 2012: Business and Management Studies (available online from The Guardian website)

Earlier this month Sandra and I spoke with Dr Keith Pond, Associate Dean for Teaching at the Business school at Loughborough. To listen to some insights into the assessment and feedback practices at his school please go here:

Dr Keith Pond, ADE for the Business School at Loughborough University

Dr Keith Pond, ADE for Teaching at the School of Business and Economics at Loughborough University

During our chat with Keith we spoke about the assessment and feedback projects being undertaken at his School, how he ensures consistency of feedback, what he thought his students liked about the feedback they received on their assessments in addition to how they manage the process of giving feedback on exams at Loughborough.

Sian Lindsay and Sandra Partington are LDC liaisons for the Cass Business School at City University London.

New communities, spaces and places: inspiring futures for higher education

January 25, 2012 1 comment

Each year the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) holds an annual conference for its members, with a dedicated preceding conference for members who are newer HE researchers. Having helped co-ordinate Newer Researcher events over 2011, along with colleagues Patrick Baughan (from City) and Saranne Weller (from Kings College London), this was the first year that I was co-convenor for the Newer Researchers conference.

The theme for the conference was: New communities, spaces and places: inspiring futures for higher education – a theme which Patrick, Saranne and I spent an afternoon deciding on thanks in part to a creative thinking technique called synectics (helpfully facilitated by former City colleague Uma Patel). We wanted a theme which would convey postivity in a time of increasing uncertainty, especially in the HE sector. We further wanted to widen our net and appeal to researchers engaging in Learning Technology-based research.

We received over 80 abstracts for paper presentations by newer researchers in the UK and across the world. After spending the summer months sending out abstracts for review and making final decisions, we accepted a total number of 50. The conference was held over 2 days at the Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales from 6th – 7th December 2011. We were happy to learn that most of the accepted authors were able to secure funding to attend the conference, despite tightening departmental budgets.


A view from the Celtic Manor resort

We were lucky enough to arrange not one but two keynote presentations from highly-regarded academics – Dr Paul Ashwin from Lancaster University, and Professor Grainne Conole from the University of Leicester.

Paul’s talk was fascinating and gave researchers an honest and frank account of what HE research is really all about. Basically – its messy! As a relatively new HE researcher myself, I thought Paul’s talk helped to desmystify the process of HE research and helped me to consider how to conceptualise it better. Paul’s talk was very well received by the other newer researchers, you can view his presentation’s slides here.

Grainne’s talk tackled a different subject and was equally fascinating. Grainne took us on a journey of learning technologies, exploring how they have evolved and how we can navigate our way through them in the future. I enjoyed Grainne’s take on e-pedagogies and she also sparked lots of interesting discussion around the use of open resources and in particular open publication – should we publish our research exclusively online via blogs? will doing so attract greater interest in our work? Or is traditional publication by submission to journals better? What are the implications of doing both? Hmmm… You can view Grainne’s presentation on slideshare here

So overall another really good conference by SRHE – looking forward to the next one!

A fresh take on the classroom clickers (aka ‘PRS’)

October 28, 2011 1 comment

Just yesterday I attended and presented at the first European Turning Technologies User Conference at the University of Surrey. Turning Technologies are the US-based manufacturers of the classroom clickers / PRS that we use here at City. The keynote for the day was none other than Harvard Professor Eric Mazur, developer of the ‘Peer Instruction’ model of teaching and learning. His keynote and all other recordings from the day are on YouTube here

What I presented on:

I talked about and demonstrated a TurningPoint technology called ResponseWare  (RW) and discussed how I had piloted this with Cengiz Turkoglu and his students from the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (SEMS) at City last year. RW basically enables students to vote with their mobile devices as opposed to the regular clickers – this technology brings with it many practical and pedagogic benefits (but also some challenges too!). I also talked a bit about how we knew that our students weren’t really happy with the idea of using their mobile devices in class, but trialled RW with them nonetheless! The slides from my presentation which explained what happened can be found here

ResponseWare at the University of Surrey

Paul Burt and his colleague Ceri Seviour at the Centre for Educational and Academic Development (CEAD) at the University of Surrey gave a presentation on their experience of using RW. They started off with giving some background about their highly successful clicker library loan system, which has seen zero losses in clickers since it was introduced 4 years ago! However, they explained that one problem they faced was that students perceived the non-return fine of borrowed clickers as a significant risk – this was reducing engagement in the technology. Further, they knew that over 80% of their students owned some kind of internet-accessible mobile device so why not make use of these? A further justification for using RW was that it removed the headache of worrying about mixing channels (seasoned clicker users will know what I’m talking about here!).

Paul and Ceri then discussed their very recent experiences of using RW:

  • They piloted with 80 RW licences initially, now have 450 (since Sept ’11). Each RW licence is available for 2 years and is based on concurrent use.
  • They use a simple Outlook calendar to manage the distribution of licences across the University, this is working well and since the start of the semester they have had several lectures (sizes ranging from 100 – 350 students) using RW
  • They were given significant IT support throughout and this was highlighted as key to the success of the project  – this was necessary in order to troubleshoot problems relating in particular to the WiFi
  • They found that students own many more mobile devices than they had anticipated and many had non-English configuration (which made running around trying to troubleshoot on Chinese language devices almost impossible!)
  • They did experience performance issues which are as yet undiagnosed but they are working on it, e.g. students experienced quite a significant lag in displaying the polling results on their mobile device screens. It remains unknown whether these issues are related to the WiFi connections or are a TuringPoint server issue.
  • Student evaluations of RW are on the whole quite positive – 59.%% said they liked the concept of using voting technology in lectures and were happy to use their own device to vote with

Tips for a successful RW experience

Paul and Ceri helpfully outlined some tips for getting the best out of RW:

  1. Generate helpsheets not only for staff but also for students
  2. Set-up a website that contains links for direct access to the RW app for a variety of different mobile operating systems for students (TurningPoint has one but it is too US-centric and confusing for UK-based students)
  3. Before you start, seek assurances about the capacity of the WiFi for mobile devices in the classroom where you intend to teach. WiFi access points may indicate that they can support 128 connections, but actually they may only support half this number (i.e. 64) when connecting up mobile devices –  this is due to some technical point which I’m still struggling to get my head around but Paul said does happen and we have to watch out for this!

Using clickers to support the marking and moderating process

Fellow Brit Dr Abby Cathcart now based at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) talked to us about her experience of teaching (and assessing) cohorts of up to 1250 students! In addition to widely differing class sizes, Abby also jokingly contrasted the average climate of Sunderland (where she worked 4 years ago – 9C) with that of Queensland (a sunny 26C !). She admitted that the first time she heard about clickers she thought they were ‘edutainment’, but after her experience she is completely convinced of their pedagogic potential, especially in terms of improving feedback to students.

Abby’s main use of the clickers was in marking teams, where for 1250 students, marking teams are typically made up of 25 tutors, all of whom have varying levels of experience and opinions. She uses the clickers to collect opinions from all 25 markers  about student work, as in the past she found that one or two voices (usually the experienced tutors) would tend to dominate when all tutors met. Marking novices would rarely speak up  if they thought their opinion would rock the boat.  Abby found that more graders participated in the moderation discussion when clickers were used, with markers commenting that they felt ‘bolder’ and ‘more confident and prepared’. The paper outlining Abby’s work can be found here

Using clickers to highlight feedback for students

Finally Dr Cathcart also talked about strategies that she uses to improve the way students engage with the feedback that is given to them. She found that nearly 45% of her students didn’t even bother to collect the feedback she had so painstakingly written for them (this is in line with national figures). She also took into account a point made by Phil Race where he said that students must receive feedback on their assessments within 48 hours otherwise there is no point in doing it! To overcome this, Abby really emphasises to students at the start of the course that giving them feedback is ‘something we do really well’ and that students can expect high quality feedback on their assessments. Abby gets her students to understand their assignments and the assessment criteria for them by showing them a sample from a real piece of student work in relation to an assessment criterion, then having the students use the clickers vote on which mark they would give it. This is followed up by group work where students discuss the mark – as Abby says this ‘springboards a social construction of how to make sense of the assessment criteria’.

Final Thoughts

I’m glad I attended this conference. I’ll admit I did think it was going to be very corporate and that TurningPoint were going to try and sell stuff to me. However I couldn’t have been more wrong and its focus was on the practical and the pedagogical in equal measure  – so highly useful and thought-provoking too. Looking forward to the next one!

Surveys in Sixty Minutes

Focusing on a popular tool in the HE researcher’s toolkit – the survey

Sian Lindsay, Lecturer in Learning Development

Ajmal Sultany, Research Assistant

Learning Development Centre, City University London

What we did in a nutshell

For one of the LDC’s monthly research and journal club meetings, we decided to present on what we have learnt from carrying out several surveys in our own research in the LDC. Survey design is a bit of a minefield for newer researchers and we have found the literature explaining ‘how to do surveys’ pretty mind-numbing to say the least! Some of the literature explaining survey design can also be unnecessarily complex. So we wanted to provide our participants with a condensed, simple and interesting journey through the world of surveys in Higher Education, in other words, surveys in sixty minutes!


We used Prezi to present with, combining this with diagrams made using PowerPoint, to create a “PowerPrezi” (a term coined by Ajmal) – please access our PowerPrezi here

In the beginning there was… Higher Education Research

We kicked off our presentation with a discussion about the field of Higher Education (HE) research; this led onto us saying how important the use of surveys are within this field. So what do we mean by HE research? Well:

  • It’s a relatively ‘new’ field, being defended as a “valid a field of intellectual inquiry as any specialised discipline” by Studies in Higher Education Editor-at-the-time Tony Becher in 1976
  • We discussed the field as having little or no ‘border control’, permitting access into it from a variety of other academic fields, using Bruce MacFarlane’s 2010 refugee/nomad/tourist/native analogy to describe who HE researchers today are

What are surveys?

We like Creswell’s 2009 definition of a survey as “a quantitative or numeric description of trends, attitudes or opinions of a population by studying a sample of that population”. Ajmal explained how surveys have evolved over time, with Charles Booth’s “Inquiry into Life and Labour in London (1886-1903)” providing an early example of social cartography, where using surveys each street in London was categorized to indicate the income and social class of the people living there

We described why we used surveys and described how effective survey design should follow a process of exploring the literature relevant to the research question first of all – this would not only help in question design, but would also allow you to discover whether similar surveys had been carried out around the topic you were researching – so avoiding reinvention of the wheel. We then discussed how survey design was also underpinned by theory, and finally how the questionnaire itself was at the heart of survey design.

It all boils down to three things

Toward the end of our presentation we focused on three key aspect of survey design:

1.       What are you going to ask? (the questionnaire) – we’ll talk more on this below

2.       Who are you going to ask? (survey sampling) – this is always tricky to explain, and in our session we still struggled. A great guidance on this can be found on the Qualtrics website, on their Sample Size, What’s the Deal? page

3.       How are you going to ask them? (different survey modes)

11 top tips for writing effective questionnaire questions

Here’s our 11 top tips for writing good questions for surveys, we based some of these using guidance from Cohen et al (2007) – please click on the image below to see a larger and more readable version of it:

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