Public seminars

The Learning Institute has a regular public seminar programme on higher education each term. The seminars are open to everyone and there is no need to book in advance.

Seminars take place on Thursdays of weeks 1, 3, 5 and 7 of each term, and are held in the seminar room on level 2 of Littlegate House, St Ebbe's Street.  All seminars will run from 4pm to 5pm.

If you would like to be added to the research seminar mailing list, please contact us on research or (01865) 2-86811.

View the archive of previous seminars run for the previous 2 years. 

Trinity Term 2016

The speakers for Trinity Term 2016 are:

Dr Jackie Tuck (Open University)

Week 1 - Thursday 28 April 2016

Working at the Textface: Academic teachers engaging with student writing in the disciplines

In recent years, research has yielded a great deal of insight into students’ experience of writing. For a number of reasons, less research attention has been paid to student writing from the perspectives of teachers. Yet if we are to fully understand how best to develop students’ academic literacies, arguably we must take account of the experience of those who do the huge bulk of work with student writers in UK universities: academics teaching in the disciplines. I will discuss a study which set out to explore the complex lived realities of practice around student writing from disciplinary teachers’ perspectives. The research centred on fourteen academic teachers in a wide range of institutions, spanning Russell Group, post-1992, recently established universities, and Oxbridge. I used an ethnographically informed methodology to explore pedagogies around writing as social practice, situated within and shaped by specific institutional contexts. Drawing on interviews, observations, audio recordings and texts, this approach threw new light on a taken-for-granted aspect of academic life. The study exposed the extent to which writing is in danger of becoming drained of meaning in the academy, a grey area of responsibility and an institutional “hot potato”, resistant to attempts to connect it with knowledge-making and learning in the disciplines. More positively, it also draws on the visions and practices of study participants to propose the nurturing of “hospitable spaces” for more meaningful work with student writers in the disciplines.

Prof Gwen van der Velden (University of Warwick)

Week 3 - Thursday 12 May 2016

The student voice in the private sector: an exploration of non-traditional models of engaging students against a background of changing policy

Prof Gwen van der Velden will share insights from research undertaken in five major private providers (for-profit as well as not for-profit) into the ways private institutions engage with students. Aware of common assumptions of commercial interests and consumerist behaviours, Gwen has found that in reality private institutions behave in far more sophisticated ways. Nonetheless, it is rare to find that an elected independent student voice is established structurally, putting into question how students’ interests are served and protected in governance and quality.

The findings of Gwen’s most recent research will be set against a background of developing national policy, which aims to ‘level the playing field’ for private providers within the HE sector. Private provision is growing with a wide range of institutions entering the market, including institutions charging higher fees than possible in the traditional sector. International experience shows that early regulation is required to ensure high quality private sector growth, but that this should not stifle the innovatory advantages new higher education institutions can bring to the wider sector.

Prof Paul Ashwin (Lancaster University)

Week 5 - Thursday 26 May 2016

Why would going to university change anyone? The challenges of capturing the transformative power of higher education in comparisons of quality

In this seminar, I will examine the tensions between the transformational potential undergraduate degrees and ways we have of measuring and comparing the quality of those degrees nationally and internationally. I will argue that what makes higher education a higher form of education is the relations that students develop to knowledge through the study of particular bodies of disciplinary and professional knowledge. Given this, I will argue that this needs to be central to the ways in which we understand and measure the quality of an undergraduate education. I will review current ways of measuring quality and argue that they do not capture these aspects of an undergraduate education and so are not fit for purpose. In conclusion I will argue that higher education researchers have a responsibility to develop more valid ways of comparing the quality of undergraduate degrees.

Dr Duna Sabri (Kings College, London)

Week 7 - Thursday 9 June 2016

Researching the causes of differential attainment

This paper will draw on research undertaken in 2015 for a HEFCE report entitled 'Causes of differences in student outcomes'. The original report explored some of the factors which lead to differences in students’ outcomes in higher education. In this talk, I will focus on an issue which is not extensively discussed in the report, but which came to interest me in the course of the research. This issue is how a range of universities have gone about researching differences in students' outcomes, particularly what research strategies they have undertaken, and what their approaches say about the assumptions they make in relation to causality. These assumptions are constantly formed, remade, and sometimes adjusted as the research progresses: from commissioning through to fieldwork, analysis and final reporting. The nature of these assumptions, I will argue, has particular significance for the communication of what are often emotionally and politically highly charged findings. I will illustrate this argument with examples from an ongoing institutional research project.