19 May 1999
Location: Coventry University TechnoCentre

SEDA One Day Event

7th SEDA Annual General Meeting and Skills Workshops

19 May 1999, Coventry University TechnoCentre

Following feedback from the SEDA membership, and the success of the SEDA Fifth Birthday Celebration held in May 1998, the SEDA Executive Committee organised an event around the 7th SEDA AGM which included a programme of skill’s workshops. Each session lasted 90 minutes and aimed to help develop the skills of staff and educational developers.

The following sessions took place:


  1. Developing the Use of Learning Technologies: overcoming the barriers – some scenarios Chris O’Hagan, Dean of Learning Development, University of Derby

After a short introduction the workshop will divide into groups to consider some scenarios which propose institutional, departmental and individual problems in integrating technology into teaching and learning. The workshop will conclude with group feedback and a plenary discussion to seek to identify key problem areas and help articulate the roles of those supporting the introduction of new methods. The scenarios will hopefully provide a framework for participants to introduce their specific concerns and institutional / departmental problems, as well as their experience in dealing with these, into the discussion.

  1. The Challenge of Introducing Personal Skills to Science Students and Science Students to Personal Skills Brian Smith, Chairman of the Physics Department and Director of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Sussex

Are budding scientists different from any other group of people? Leaving aside the stereotype of the absent-minded professor in a white coat pouring smelly concoctions from one test-tube to another, are there particular features which characterise the scientific mind? This workshop explored the challenge of developing a personal skills element within the framework of traditional Science departments, sharing some techniques which have been tried with some degree of success at Sussex. Issues which need to be addressed include:


Scientific ‘laws’ and objectivity

Scientific language

Precision and uncertainty in science

Dealing with facts and opinion

Qualitative and quantitative model making

Critical thinking versus scepticism

Fuzzy decision making

The power of science lies in its objectivity. Scientific ‘laws’ are generalisations which summarise observations. Apples are not forced to fall to the ground because of the law of gravity. They fall because of a gravitational force which may be described by the law of gravity. Scientists are trained to be objective, to work with hard evidence and to be cautious about ill-defined situations.

The language of science is mathematics, which is eminently suitable for describing reproducible events, including those that can only be handled statistically. Occasionally there are scientific revolutions in which previously held convictions are turned upside down, but these are rare. The science encountered at school and as an undergraduate is likely to be well established, with little room for personal opinion or an alternative view point.

So how does this affect the behaviour and mind-set of the typical science student, perhaps compared with that of a contemporary arts student? In the first place, a science student is likely to have been programmed to look for ‘correct’ solutions to problems. The more mathematical the subject, the more likely this is to be the case. Give a physics student a problem with seemingly too much or too little information and panic sets in. “I couldn’t do the first question because I didn’t know what the size of the box was, or answer the second, because I couldn’t see how to work all the given data into my calculation”.

Research science is different, by definition. At the frontiers scientists find themselves wrestling with too much or too little information. Much of the skill of a successful research scientist comes into play when deciding which parameters are significant in a given situation and making intelligent estimates of relevant but missing data. At this level, inspired guesswork becomes part of the equation.

An arts student is taught to express and justify an opinion, whereas a science student is programmed not to go further than the established facts permit. Given that life is full of imprecise and un-scientific situations, this puts the science student at a disadvantage in terms of utilising academic skills in a range of out of class activities.

However, one advantage that a science student might have over an arts colleague when thinking about issues concerned with people, management and organisations, is that he or she is likely to be more familiar with the use of models to represent situations. A model is a way of thinking, a means of representing the essential features of a situation from a particular viewpoint. It is only useful so long as it works, i.e. is sufficiently accurate and serves a purpose. Most of the models encountered when describing management or human behaviour are qualitative rather than quantitative, and offer possible insights rather than precise predictions or outcomes.

Lastly, individual science students tend to be more comfortable when working independently. Many lack experience of working in a group. Given that many activities these days depend on team-work to be successful, this puts them at a disadvantage in later life.

These were the issues that were explored by a small but very hard-working and highly-motivated group!

  1. Creating a Learning and Teaching Strategy Dr Liz Beaty, Head of Learning Development, Coventry University

HEFCE has a new teaching quality enhancement fund which will specify that each university must have its own teaching and learning strategy. Across the sector there are many institutions beginning to design or refine their strategies and policies. Research on current practice shows a lack of sophistication in strategies where they do exist. This workshop will explore the need for and use of teaching and learning strategies and share our current experience. Bring any current strategy document with you.

  1. Encouraging Reflective Learning Dr Lorraine Stefani, Senior Lecturer in Academic Practice, Strathclyde University

The intention of this workshop is to explore methods of encouraging reflective learning. One of the major problems lies in succinctly explaining the concept of reflection to many student groups. Faced with a barrage of jargon which includes such terms as self-assessment, self evaluation, self control, reflection, critical analysis etc. are we in danger of confusing students as to the purpose of reflection because of different terminologies? Can the allure of new technologies be harnessed to support reflective learning? Can we put old heads on young shoulders? These questions will be the basis for an interactive, exploratory session on the way forward with reflective learning.

  1. Universities as Learning Organisations: Implications for Staff and Educational Developers Su White, Teaching and Learning Co-ordinator, University of Southampton

The structure and dynamics or organisations are changing. The drivers to become more responsive, resilient and self generating are strong. How does the “last cottage industry” respond to such drivers? What is the role of technology in such change? Surely of all organisations Universities must be well placed to behave as learning organisations? This workshop will explore what is meant by a learning organisation, look at the experiences outside the HE sector, and discuss the role of Staff and Educational Developers as enablers and participants of such change.

  1. Getting Started in Educational Writing Dr Gina Wisker, Principal Learning and Teaching Adviser, Anglia Polytechnic University and James Wisdom, Head of Educational and Staff Development, London Guildhall University