Excellence in Education

Teaching case studies

Curiosity-invoking, boundary-pushing, inspirational

Teaching case studies 

Law: students serve their local communities

As well as providing a law clinic on campus, Essex Law Clinic takes law into the community by targeting its service to local areas of deprivation where clients face considerable problems in accessing advice due to cost and other barriers.

Students advise in churches, schools and charities in areas of law, such as family and housing, where clients can be vulnerable and issues, challenging. Due to this, students, who are intensively trained, gain a valuable insight into the importance of law, access to justice and the crucial lifeline that pro-bono legal advice provides to so many.

Students who volunteer in the Clinic are encouraged to reflect in writing on their experiences and supervisors engage in a dialogue them on this reflection whereas reflection is built into two clinical modules in which students embed their case experience into a programme of learning about legal practice.

History: hands-on developments for the curriculum

When students take History at Essex, we believe deeper involvement in their studies will help to deepen their understanding. As such, some recent exciting curriculum developments are aimed at giving students more hands-on experience to gain new skills.

A new module for 2019, History in Schools, is designed for students who are considering a career in school teaching. It gives them an opportunity to experience planning and delivering history curricula in schools, so they get a taste of what it‘s like to be a teacher, and it will support their applications for training.

Another new module is in public history, Sharing the Secrets of Colchester Museum, which gives students a unique opportunity to apply historical knowledge and research skills to help Colchester Castle Museum connect their collections with the communities that they serve.

Government: presenting capstone research

Students from the Department of Government host a two-day student conference each year where 250 participants can present their own capstone research project to peers and students from other departments.

The conference helps to boost students’ confidence by giving them professional practical experience of presenting and articulating their research findings. It is also an encouraging environment where students can hear and respond to constructive feedback, plus an opportunity to network and discuss shared subject interests. Based on this success, the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies and Essex Business School are now also hosting their own student conferences.  

Plans for a festival of learning, to offer 15-minute bite-size sessions that any student, from any department can attend, are also underway. 

Computer science: bringing ideas alive through video

Dr Hossein Anisi is a lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering. He was looking for new ways to enable students to present their assignment work and project results to best effect, while also helping to reduce any potential anxieties about giving a presentation.

So he devised a system whereby students could demonstrate their products at home, using simple digital cameras or mobile phone technology. They could then upload their videos to Moodle for their peers to view.

This also helped to develop students’ abilities in presenting and communicating about their products to others, adding to their employability skills. 

Art history: a fresh look at seeing 

In 2018 Dr Matt Lodder, a lecturer in the School of Philosophy and Art History, co-presented a pan-European TV series called The Art of Museums.

In it, Matt explains why the philosophy at the heart of the show matches the way he likes to teach art history.

He says: “What I want to press with my students from day one is that historical knowledge and context is important, but before that happens the thing you have to do is look at the work of art and see what you think of it, and trust your instincts to start with… I want to empower looking, and seeing.”

Teaching case studies 

Law: questions, questions

Niall O’Connor, a lecturer in the School of Law, has successfully increased student preparation and engagement, by providing a comprehensive reading list with both required and further reading, but also precise questions that students are called on to answer in the lecture.

There are usually two elements to the questions provided. First, what are the students’ thoughts on this issue? This is an open-ended question that most students should be able to answer regardless of their level of preparation. And second, what does the law have to say on the issue? This requires students to identify the relevant material on the reading list and to conduct their own research.

But before calling on students for their answers, they can discuss the issues in small groups, helping those who may be nervous about sharing their ideas to the whole group to test them first. Students have responded well to this approach and participation in class has improved as a result. 

Hotel management: more than just a game

Adrian Martin, vice principal of the Edge Hotel School, has devised a game for hotel management undergraduates whereby they apply their learning to turn a badly-run hotel into a profitable one.

Students get an information pack – including human resources files, financials and marketing data – and must also deal with unexpected issues during the game. Throughout, they are shown the impact of decisions made, as well as other teams’ progress. The exercise encourages creativity, decision-making, and strategic thinking and student feedback is universally positive.

One student said: “The sense of achievement when we managed to turn it around was amazing… it’s given me the confidence to go in to management… it made me realise how much we learn on the course… I learnt loads, but it didn’t feel like a lesson.” 

Exercise science: using tech to get the best 

Dr Ben Jones, from the School of Rehabilitation and Exercise Science, has introduced ‘feedforward’ – using videos or GoPros to enable students to reflect upon and apply their learning – to help assessments.

Students are videoed during practical coaching sessions, and can then watch the video and talk through it with the lecturer, applying learning and insight gained a week later. This also offers the student some ownership of the process, and also gives them greater responsibility to act on new learning from watching themselves and talking through their reflections.

To support this, Ben has also developed a screencast to guide his students through the course’s Moodle pages, which includes a Moodle welcome email and an introduction to new modules using screen capture email video, Snagit 13. Ben  also uses personal emails with voice tutorials prior to meeting his students, paving the way to a more personal connection, which has been well-received by students. 

Mathematics: mind-sets that help everyone

Alexei Vernitski is a senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, who teaches mathematics to a wide variety of students, many of whom do not have a strong mathematical background.

To help them, Alexei has developed innovative confidence-boosting approaches to learning mathematics, based on Carol Dweck’s ‘growth mind-sets’ and Jo Boaler’s ‘mathematical mind-sets’. He has subsequently promoted new mathematics teaching approaches to colleagues in his department, across our University, and at other universities.

Alexei strongly believes in the need to make mathematics education evidence-based, leading the Mathematics Education research group within the department, and collaborating with other departments such as the Centre for Brain Science in the Department of Psychology.