Students Staff

11 March 2016

New Work-Based Learning resources

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — rcwind @ 11.55 am

Dr Steve McMellor, Learning and Development Adviser, discusses UoE’s commitment to Work-Based Learning and updates us on some exciting new resources to support WBL at Essex

What is Work-Based Learning at Essex?

Work-Based Learning (WBL) is defined at Essex as learning outside the classroom – through placements, visits or projects for an employer or client – that is also connected to the curriculum. It is increasingly becoming an essential part of modern higher education. It has long been recognised that both students and the institutions at which they study benefit from these new forms of practice-oriented learning at the workplace: increased collaboration with industry and the public sector, more relevant degree schemes, better skilled students with clear career outlooks and higher employability.

WBL and Enhancing the Student Experience

WBL should have clear relevance to the learning outcomes of students’ academic programmes, be appropriate to the level of study, and promote a deeper engagement with their disciplines (through using and reflecting on the subject knowledge and/or transferable skills). It should be owned by students, valued and promoted by academic departments, and form part of an active engagement with external organisations and communities. WBL is a shared responsibility. It should enrich the student experience and broaden individual students’ career horizons. It should also make students more confident in their abilities, and make them more ambitious in their aspirations. WBL should be open to all students, and not just a few. WBL should be beneficial to the organisation offering the opportunities as well as the student and the University.

The University of Essex’s Commitment to WBL

The University of Essex’s Education strategy aims to ensure that “all students have the opportunity to undertake community/work-based learning and to develop a framework that allows credit/recognition for student employment or community/work-based placement”. The University aspires to achieving 10% of UG students undertaking a substantial period of WBL as part of their degree by 2019, and for WBL to be an increasing feature of PGT provision.

The Work-Based Learning Hub at Essex

To support this aspiration, the Work-Based Learning Hub has been developed to support staff in considering the availability of WBL to their students through their own modules and courses. The WBL Hub has been developed in collaboration between the Employability and Careers Centre and Learning and Development and consists of two parts: (i) The Knowledge Bank and (ii) The Work-Based Learning Toolkit.

The Knowledge Bank

The Knowledge Bank provides a repository of information resources, documents and academic articles on Work-Based Learning. It is directed at academic staff wishing to investigate, create and promote new WBL and work placement opportunities for their students. It is also a tool for staff involved with the provision and administration of placements to share resources and ideas, as well as providing access to information across faculties.

The Knowledge Bank covers a range of WBL definitions, good practice guides, examples of successful placements, materials for students, academics and employers, examples from other universities and links to pedagogic literature and web-links; all really valuable resources if you wish to explore WBL in more depth.

The Work-Based Learning Toolkit provides a suite of summary information about Work-Based Learning at Essex. We introduce three models for WBL at the University of Essex, along with details of what you need to do to establish them on your courses. There is information on Health & Safety issues and further guidance links and FAQs to help you decide which type of WBL is best for your students and, most importantly, what you need to do to make it happen.EE-Essex Way

There are a number of tools and downloads that will help with your Curriculum Review work and aid your on-going reflections on the current level of employer engagement that your courses offer.

The WBL opportunities which we have introduced are divided into full placement years; SK701, the E&CC generic placement year module; and a wide range of short-term projects and collaborative research placements.

Existing provision of the range of different types of WBL across all faculties is described in a number of short videos.

There is an extensive FAQs section that covers a wide range of questions in relation to the processes and procedures for developing WBL opportunities for your own students, as well as examples of paperwork.

How to Access Your New Resources…

The Work-Based Learning resources can be found by searching for ‘WBL Toolkit’ or ‘Knowledge Bank’ on Moodle or directly at

For further information and support in developing WBL opportunities please contact your relevant Faculty Placements team;

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6 October 2015

Flipping the Classroom in Teaching Conflict Resolution

Han Dorussen and Theodora-Ismene Gizelis from the Department of Government at the University of Essex describe their experience of ‘flipping’ classroom lectures in Conflict Resolution and share their conclusions and advice for effective ‘inverted teaching’.

Turning learning on its head

Conflict Resolution Seminar

Conflict resolution students making good use of class time

Flipped classroom is an increasingly used method of on-line assisted teaching. It is also known as ‘inverted teaching’ or ‘blended learning’, or even—and in our opinion somewhat inaccurately—as ‘peer instruction’. It combines the on-line delivery of lectures with in-class seminars and activities. Flipped classroom allows students to become active learners, absorb information at their own pace and then work through the material and its applications in the classroom.

What’s different about flipped classroom?

Whereas traditionally, students are expected to read and prepare for the lectures ‘at home’, flipped classroom allows students to watch actual lectures outside the university.  These are delivered as relatively short – in our case, three 15 – 25 minute each – videos covering key topics, concepts and ideas.

Apart from watching the videos, students are still expected to study assigned readings. Seminars are reserved for further explanations, answering questions and discussions, and applying analytical tools. During the seminars, students have time to prepare (or finish) presentations and assignments and engage in other activities such as simulations.

Using flipped classroom in humanities and social sciences

In 2014 we were awarded a Teaching and Learning Innovative Fund (TALIF) grant for developing flipped classroom in one of the core post-graduate modules – in Conflict Resolution – in the Department of Government.

In this module we combine academic content—covering standard topics such as causes of conflict, theories of negotiations and mediation, peacekeeping and state-building—with more practical elements such as group exercises, presentations and different types of simulations.

Our initial goal was to build on the existing strengths of the module and use flipped classroom to provide content and material for self-study in advance of lectures via a combination of 30-45 minutes lecture videos, articles and web material, thus maximizing the time available for practical work in seminars.

Implementing flipped classroom

Making the videos was very time consuming. It was necessary to rewrite existing lectures to ‘fit’ the video format. Most importantly, the videos needed to be quite short. As is generally known, the maximum time span for attention in regular lectures is about 20 minutes. If anything, it seemed to be shorter for the on-line videos. This may have been because of the format—students generally watch the videos from a small screen—or because there are more distractions at home compared to the classroom situation. Devices used to watch the videos are, of course, also a source of distraction with frequent incoming messages.

We posted the videos (alongside other supportive materials) on a dedicated Moodle page. The videos were assigned to particular weeks and only became available about five days before the relevant seminar. Access was restricted to students who were actually enrolled on the module. Moodle provided us with statistics about the students who had (or had not) opened the videos. (Of course, this did not necessarily mean that they had actually watched them!)

Since it was crucial that students engaged with the videos (and readings), we added small quizzes to follow each film. These included multiple-choice questions about the material covered in the videos and relevant readings. Students could only open the next video, if they ‘passed’ the quiz – they were allowed two attempts – and received a small contribution mark for doing so. Following the seminar, videos were opened to all registered students.

Did you mind being flipped? Student feedback…

Somewhat to our surprise, students really appreciated the on-line quizzes. They quickly became an important part of our lecturing because they allow us to identify the problems students have early on. They function similarly to asking questions during the lectures. Whereas students are often reluctant to respond to questions in public (and weaker students tend to be even more reluctant), the on-line quizzes don’t present this barrier. The feedback that we received via the quizzes guided us in the seminars. It also helped us to identify students who were struggling with the material, and to invite them for additional tutoring.

The benefits of flipped classroom

Apart from some inevitable teething problems, our experience of teaching in a flipped classroom format has been positive. It allows for more teacher-student interaction and students appear to be better prepared when they come to the seminars. There are also some unanticipated benefits, in particular the ability of identifying ‘weak’ students by means of on-line quizzes.

When asked about the main benefits for them, students emphasized the additional time for activities in the seminars. They also expected seminar activities, such as the simulations, to be relevant for ‘real life situations’. Most of them looked forward to the addition interaction with fellow students. There was also a generally positive attitude towards using new technologies: ‘new experience, more fun’. Of course, most students could also identify some potential problems. A few people were worried about technical aspects or being easily distracted when watching the videos at home. The most common concern was, however, ‘can’t ask questions when we watch videos at home’.

Top tips for effective flipped classroom

We found videos should have a clear ‘take-home message’ and it works best if you explain a concept or a specific argument. It is much more difficult to communicate effectively in a short video contrasting approaches (such ‘realist’ and ‘liberal’ approaches to mediation) or highly technical models (such as a bargaining game). As all teaching, videos benefit from focusing on topical and engaging examples, but events (and our understanding of these events) may change quickly. Of course, it also takes time for lecturers to get used to being taped.

Videos need to be edited carefully to make sure that they are presented clearly, requiring the involvement of professional staff. However, the format allows for a lot of creativity if you have the budget. It’s possible to include moving images or to present from more imaginative locations than the lecture room. It is possible to include short interviews, turning the videos into mini-documentaries.

Conflict resolution students conducting a simulation

Our students conducting a simulation

And then there is the question of what to do with the additional seminar time freed up by the flipped lectures. All we would say is that it is vital to use this time effectively and to tailor the content of these group sessions to reflect the experience the students have had with the videos.

In summary…

The format does require a significant investment from the lecturers (and support from their HEI). Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear to us that continuing to use flipped classroom will require us to keep investing. In short, from a teacher/university perspective, the flipped classroom would appear to be an effective but not necessarily cost efficient way of teaching.

To read more about Han and Ismene’s flipped classroom project, click here.

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