"One of UCL's great strengths is the way in which excellence in research feeds into excellence in teaching and vice versa."

Dr Simon Banks, Department of Chemistry

Alan Parkinson in discussion with students

Change one thing

Innovation is an integral part of good teaching – but incorporating new techniques and strategic priorities into everyday practice can seem easier said than done. That’s why we’re inviting staff across UCL to change one thing about their teaching. Here are 30 ideas to get you started.

You can cut straight to an area of particular interest using the linked list below or just scroll down to browse.

Encouraging engagement

“I like to use a system called ‘Predict, observe, explain’: rather than just talking students through the theory then demonstrating it in the lab to prove your point, get them to predict the experiment’s outcome through a vote. This gets them engaged and, ultimately, more interested in the result.”
Dr Paul Walker, principal school-facing teaching fellow (SLASH), CALT

Bert De Reyck converses with students

“Incorporate a short writing task into your next teaching session. Halfway through the class, give students ten minutes to write a postcard-length explanation to their grandmother of what the class is about. Students should take special care to consider the purpose, audience, and form of their writing. Short writing tasks aid learning by putting students in the place of the teacher by asking them to explain a subject, concept or problem to a specific audience. They are easily adaptable and they help students develop their writing skills and prepare for larger pieces of assessment.”
Dr Nick Grindle, senior school-facing teaching fellow (SLASH), CALT

“Leave the students with a mystery: it might be a trick question that they can get to the bottom of or an old, discipline-specific dilemma that they never will. Perhaps take an important principle of your topic or discipline and ask something like, "What would society look like if everyone grasped this really well?" These ‘big questions’ will give the more attentive students a bigger space in which to grasp important principles but also allow more distracted students an opportunity to see the theme from a different angle. Open questions nag at people and get their minds working at odd moments between teaching sessions when something unexpectedly reminds them of the conundrum.”
Dr Jason Davies, senior school-facing teaching fellow (BEAMS), CALT

“Ask students to suggest one exam question they’d like to be asked on a particular topic. This gets them to think about things from the expert/examiner’s point of view. You could offer a prize for the best one to avoid silly suggestions.”
Dr Paul Walker, principal school-facing teaching fellow (SLASH), CALT

“Take an article that’s relevant to your subject from a newspaper/magazine/website. Spend a few minutes at the start of the lecture getting students to use the material from your previous lecture in order to enhance the article’s meaning. I think this helps in three ways: (a) applying knowledge is important in itself; (b) some students learn much better when the material is related to something ‘in the real world’; and (c) it helps students answer questions in job interviews.”
Dr Liam Graham, lecturer in the Department of Economics and Provost Teaching Award winner 2009

“Think on your feet: always be prepared to change tactics or activities mid-stream. Adapting to the group that you are teaching produces better results than inflexibly sticking to your teaching plan. Brief, interesting digressions are a useful tactic for holding the interest of a class, especially when teaching the technical points of language.”
Dr Helen Beer, lecturer in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies and Provost Teaching Award winner 2007

“Stop your lecture halfway through and get the students to explain one thing they’ve understood to the people around them. When you’re obliged to teach something yourself you learn it more deeply than you had done previously.”
Dr Paul Walker, principal school-facing teaching fellow (SLASH), CALT

Unusual teaching methods

“We hear a lot about object-based learning, but image-based learning can also be useful: ask your students to upload a photo of an image they’ve found in UCL’s archives (the Art Museum is a great resource for this) to Flickr (assuming they’ve obtained the copyright, which they generally quite enjoy doing), then get them to annotate it and analyse it. This can also be done with buildings: send them out to photograph a building, then discuss on Moodle what it might be used for, whether it’s a good use of space etc.”
Dr Nick Grindle, senior school-facing teaching fellow (SLASH), CALT

Students study a skull in an object-based learning session

“Try flipping the lecture. Prerecord your lecture and ask the students to watch it online prior to the timetabled teaching slot – you can test whether they’ve done so by asking them to submit questions via Moodle based on specific things you’ve said – and then spend the contact time discussing the subject with them. This guarantees engagement and also means that students get the most out of their time with you, discussing the points that really interest or perplex them.”
Carl Gombrich, programme director, BASc

“Request a space in Moodle for your second-year students where they can run a session for the first years. A course in Moodle doesn’t have to be full of resources; a single discussion forum could be all that’s required for students who have already been through a module to share their experiences and advice with students who are just starting out. This encourages collaborative learning and enhances key skills such as information transfer and communication.”
Matt Jenner, learning technologist, E-Learning Environments (ELE)

“Ask students to draw a cartoon – or even a stick figure – to illustrate the topic they’re learning. Students often get quite conceptual when they do this. Alternatively, you could ask them to write a haiku/limerick/joke. They’ll gain a deeper understanding of a subject from thinking about it in a different light.”
Dr Paul Walker, principal school-facing teaching fellow (SLASH), CALT

Initiative and interaction

“Research has found that only 40-46% of a lecture’s content is remembered by students. Making a lecture interactive is a good way of helping them remember more, though if the students are unused to this mode of teaching make sure you explain why interaction is important. Get people involved right from the beginning of the session by asking them to vote on a controversial issue: they will instantly become engaged because they’ll feel that they have some degree of power over the lecture’s outcome. A start-of-the-lecture vote is also a good way of ascertaining students’ prior knowledge: if they haven’t grasped the ‘anchor’ on which the lecture’s content is based, they won’t be able to learn anything.”
Dr Rosalind Duhs, senior school-facing teaching fellow (SLMS), CALT

Students work together using audio equipment

“Instead of asking ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a lecture, try asking your students to each come up with at least one question to share in groups. Anything that the groups can't answer between themselves can then be put to you either in class or via Moodle.”
Dr Jenny Marie, senior school-facing teaching fellow (BEAMS), CALT

“Stop a lecture briefly when a key element has been presented and ask students to think about their interpretation then explain it to the people around them (in pairs or groups of three or four). Or, if you’re in a seminar, get students to discuss concepts with each other before explaining their shared understanding to you. They will often find it easier to understand challenging new concepts if they discuss them with their peers because being at similar stages of learning will make their explanations simpler to grasp. Shy students will also find it easier to speak in class if they are presenting ideas they have already explored with their peers.”
Dr Rosalind Duhs, senior school-facing teaching fellow (SLMS), CALT

“Post a discussion point on a Moodle forum and require students to respond to each other. Provocative discussion points will be particularly effective in encouraging engagement. Students’ understanding of a topic will benefit further from reading other groups’ postings.”
Dr Rosalind Duhs, senior school-facing teaching fellow (SLMS), CALT

Critical thinking

Students study an object under a spotlight

“Try to teach students to engage in a ‘deep’ approach to their learning and studying. This means examining new facts and ideas critically, tying them in to existing cognitive structures and making links between ideas. A deep approach can be encouraged by teachers if they: show personal interest in the subject they are teaching; bring out the structure of the subject; ensure plenty of time is dedicated to key concepts; confront students' misconceptions and engage them in active learning; use assessments that require ideas to be used together; relate new material to what students already know and understand; relate what they are learning to the real world; allow students to make mistakes without penalty and reward effort; be consistent and fair in assessing the intended learning outcomes, and by doing so establish trust.”
Dr Mark Weyers, senior school-facing teaching fellow (SLMS), CALT

Embracing technology

“Try and make Moodle courses accessible to all students, including those with disabilities or Special Educational Needs, by giving images meaningful alt tags, providing alternative formats (eg auditory content complete with transcripts), using a consistent navigation and layout with logical structure, keeping key information at the top of the page, and giving folders, link and documents meaningful headings. Visit the Accessibility webpages for more information.”
E-Learning Environments (ELE)

Students work together at a computer

“Ask students to tweet their questions during a lecture and then respond after the lecture via Moodle. This will avoid interruptions, show you the areas which people have the most questions about, allow those whose first language is not English to ask questions without having to worry too much, show that some questions are superfluous as they will be answered during the remainder of the lecture, and show students you are willing to try out ‘their’ technology.”
Sonja Van Praag, faculty information support officer (Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences) and Silva Services owner

“Spend some time practising talking to camera or recording yourself on a mobile phone – it’s amazing how quickly you’ll start feeling comfortable with it – and then start recording all your lectures using Lecturecast so that students unable to attend due to timetable clashes or part-time jobs are not disadvantaged.”
Carl Gombrich, programme director, BASc

Global citizenship

“Encourage students to consider how the discipline has international relevance, and design assignments and case studies that are internationally significant for small groups to consider. You don’t need a particular international expertise to do this, just invite students to suggest how their own cultural background or country of origin could provide a useful context.”
Elizabeth Grant, principal school-facing teaching fellow (BEAMS), CALT

Two female students walking together

“Recognise that students are individuals and will be engaging with learning through their own prior experience and world views. Design activities that encourage learners to share their own understanding with each other and with you. Small groups or pairs can work nicely, providing you the opportunity to check students’ understanding without creating unnecessary discomfort for less-confident students. This also encourages the sharing of alternative views and knowledge and can encourage intercultural dialogue.”
Elizabeth Grant, principal school-facing teaching fellow (BEAMS), CALT

Feedback and assessment

“Using Turnitin for online marking works well on many levels. We run several large classes that involve assessed work, which used to be handed in via paper copies. The students now upload all their files to Turnitin (which means they are routinely checked for plagiarism too) and staff then use the marking tool associated with this programme to mark the work and give online feedback. There are advantages all round: as a course organiser it saves enormous amounts of time in that the work is automatically logged in, it doesn’t have to be sorted and delivered to markers, returned to the students or the marks entered manually. When staff mark online they can save comments that relate to common mistakes and just drag these onto each piece of work, saving them from repeatedly typing the same comment. Individually tailored comments can then be added as required. Students benefit as we are able to turn work around more quickly, improving the feedback process.”
Dr Amanda Cain, teaching fellow in the Department of Structural and Molecular Biology and Provost Teaching Award winner 2011

Gillian Lacey-Solymar discusses work with students

“When giving feedback, write a brief summary of your view of the assignment, balance negative with positive comments, use constructive criticism to provide positive suggestions for improvement, ask questions which encourage reflection about the work, and explain all your comments. It can also be useful to suggest follow-up work and references and offer the opportunity to discuss specific problems with the assignment face-to-face.”
Dr Rosalind Duhs, senior school-facing teaching fellow (SLMS), CALT

“Record audio feedback for group work and deliver it to students using a discussion forum in Moodle, set up using separate groups. Alternatively, you can provide a written response. Using a separate groups forum allows students in the same group to view and discuss the feedback amongst themselves, without other students being able to see these discussions. See Moodle Miniguide 13: Groups and Groupings for more information on how to set up and use groups with your Moodle discussion forums.”
Jessica Gramp, learning technologist, E-Learning Environments (ELE)

“Try swapping out 5% of an essay in exchange for a blog which students must post to periodically. The students can use the blog as a proposal for the main body of work, a micro-research journal, a draft outline or just a way to process thoughts. This continual contribution towards something that can remain private to themselves can help students recognise signs of development as they progress through the module.”
Matt Jenner, learning technologist, E-Learning Environments (ELE)

General advice

“When you’re writing on the board or on a student’s work, use non-joined-up writing – this makes it easier for dyslexic students to read.”
Dr Rosalind Duhs, senior school-facing teaching fellow (SLMS), CALT

Dave Chapman presenting with a flip chart

“If you teach small classes, get to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses. People learn so differently and the trick is to play to their strengths while unobtrusively addressing their weaknesses. Similarly, look out for shy students. Allow time to build their trust: with care, shy students will flourish. With insensitivity, they won't.”
Dr Helen Beer, lecturer in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies and Provost Teaching Award winner 2007

“When preparing documents or slides, use Sans Serif fonts (eg Verdana or Arial), no smaller than 12 point, left justified, to help make them easy to read for all. Visit the Accessibility webpages for more information.”
E-Learning Environments (ELE)

“Enjoy yourself! As an academic there can be an awful lot of pressure resulting from the many responsibilities of the job. Accept that you will be spending quite a bit of time teaching, and take steps to ensure that you enjoy that time. It can be immensely rewarding and satisfying to deliver a well-structured lecture, or to carry out an unusual or interesting tutorial task. We have a great deal of control in the way we teach, so exploit that. If you don't like a module you've inherited, change it. If you find part of the course boring or irrelevant, your students are sure to agree, so think about whether it's really necessary. Try to enhance your time-efficiency too: streamlining the administrative aspects of a course means you have more time to think about the material and the process of teaching. If you enjoy your teaching time, your students will too.”
Dr Ben Hanson, lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Provost Teaching Award winner 2011

Case study

“Numeracy skills are vital to Biochemistry as it's a quantitative science. Sometimes students struggle to get to grips with the maths so since 2005 we have developed various ideas to try and help them.

“With numeracy, it’s all about practising: you might understand something when you first learn it, but if you don’t practise you’ll forget. We were finding that students commencing third-year projects were too embarrassed to admit that they’d forgotten how to do number-based tasks learned in year one, so we introduced pre-lab Moodle quizzes for second-year students so that they would find it easier to remember how to do calculations in the third year and also to help them understand the mathematical work being done by lab technicians when preparing solutions.

“The project has really evolved – some of our students have even started making animated educational movies using plasticine characters [see below] – and it's been an effective way of helping students to realise that asking a question or forgetting something doesn’t make you silly.”

Prof Elizabeth Shephard, vice dean education, biosciences, Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology

Here'e the video made by Elizabeth's students (credits below):


Production team: Dan Yee, Dalmeet Singh Chawla, Dee Norval, Beth Berry
Graphic design: Robin Celebi
Funded by a grant to Elizabeth Shephard and Amanda Cain from the UCL Teaching Innovation Fund
Copyright: Biosciences@ucl 

Find out more

To find out more about teaching and learning methods and training, contact the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT). Or, if you’d like to explore e-learning options, get in touch with E-Learning Environments (ELE).

Page last modified on 28 jan 13 12:18

Tell us about the inspiring teaching and learning taking place in your department: email teaching.learning@ucl.ac.uk