Annual Academic Symposium 2016: Student Engagement

Annual Academic Symposium 2016: Student Engagement

The theme for this year’s Symposium was Student Engagement. The topic complements the QAA (Scotland) Student Transitions Enhancement Theme, exploring common themes around how students, at undergraduate, taught postgraduate and research postgraduate levels, engage with their university experience. It will showcase effective practices and hear perspectives from staff, students and employers.

The Symposium took place on the afternoon of 28 April. The keynote presentation was delivered by Dr Alex Buckley, University of Strathclyde and formerly Surveys Manager at the Higher Education Academy. Dr Buckley developed the UK Engagement Survey (UKES), directed at undergraduate students across the sector in a move to measure student engagement rather than ‘satisfaction’. His keynote will explore these differences using examples from both the National Student Survey (NSS) and the UKES.

The keynote was followed by parallel workshops and poster sessions exploring the theme in more detail.



Professor Peter McGeorge

Professor Peter McGeorge is Vice-Principal for Learning & Teaching, with responsibility for leading the University’s commitment to continually improving the quality of academic experience for our students, achieving the benefits of our curriculum reform project, and widening access and participation.

Professor McGeorge studied Behavioural Sciences (Psychology/Zoology) at the University of Nottingham before completing his PhD in Experimental Psychology. He moved to the University of Aberdeen in 1990 to become a post-doctoral research fellow and subsequently a lecturer in the School of Psychology. In 2004 he became the Head of School of Psychology within the College of Life Sciences and Medicine and in 2010 was appointed Vice-Principal for Learning and Teaching.

Peter McGeorge has a broad range of research interests and publications covering the area of visual attention in both healthy and clinical populations.


Alex BuckleyAlex Buckly Photo

My role is to support and develop university-wide initiatives to improve learning and teaching at Strathclyde.

My work is focused on three areas: supporting our work around student transitions (the current enhancement theme); developing and embedding graduate attributes at Strathclyde; and sharing effective practice in L&T. I also lead on Strathclyde’s TESTA pilot. Before arriving at Strathclyde in October 2015 I was Surveys Manager at the Higher Education Academy, where I developed the UK Engagement Survey.

Prior to that I taught applied and professional ethics at the University of Leeds, after receiving a PhD in philosophy from the same institution in 2008.


Liam Fuller

My name is Liam Fuller and I'm the elected officer responsible for the remit of Education & Employability at AUSA. This also includes being responsible for Academic Representation where I help facilitate the Class and Programme Representatives

I was elected in March to represent all students to the University and beyond on education and employability issues and points - below you can find my manifesto and updates for the year so far.

They year ahead will see an exciting change with the way in which AUSA coordinates its academic representation - 'reps'. We will be launching Reps Matter sessions where reps can come along to chat, learn new skills and become effective  listeners and deliverers of feedback within their courses. You can follow all the updates on the Academic Rep webpage.


Dr Mirjam Brady-Van den Bos

Dr Mirjam Brady-Van den Bos is a Teaching Fellow in the School of Psychology, and has developed an increasing interest in pedagogical research since completing the PG Certificate in H.E.

Learning & Teaching in 2015. She is especially interested in how students learn, the role of lecturer-student interaction in learning, and how students use feedback.



Dr Darren Comber

Dr Darren Comber is Senior Educational Development Adviser in the Centre for Academic Development.

A Geographer by background, his interests now lie in understanding more about student motivation for learning and its relationship with teaching.



Karen Stewart, Chief Human Resources Officer, Anderson Anderson & Brown LLP

Karen StewartKaren joined the firm in 1991 as a newly qualified Chartered Accountant. She developed her role in audit and corporate services and was promoted to Senior Manager in 1995. While managing a client portfolio, Karen also had responsibility for recruiting, training and coaching staff, a role that she found very rewarding.

In 2007, Karen took up a whole new challenge with the firm when she was appointed HR Director. Karen was promoted to Chief Human Resources Officer in April 2015 and, with the advantage of having trained as a Chartered Accountant and working her way up to Senior Manager in a client service role, Karen continually strives to enhance the training and career development opportunities available throughout the firm.


Jessica Middleton, Human Resources Advisor, Anderson Anderson & Brown LLP

Jessica MiddletonJessica joined the HR team in 2015 having gained a number of years of generalist HR experience across a range of sectors including accountancy, retail and travel and tourism.

Jessica completed her CIPD qualification in 2009, after previously gaining a law degree, and is an Associate Member of the CIPD. Jessica’s role within the HR team is to provide day to day HR support and to contribute to the long-term development of the HR function.



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Keynote: Student engagement and surveys in UK HE

Dr Alex Buckley

Student engagement is a slippery concept.  Internationally there is wide disagreement about how it should be understood, and in the UK there is added complexity. Historically, student engagement in the UK has been taken to refer to students’ roles in decision-making (e.g. through student representation systems and participation in university governance). However, there is also growing interest in students’ engagement with their own learning, which is closer to how engagement is understood elsewhere in the world.

This growing interest is most clearly seen in the development of the UK Engagement Survey (UKES), which is the UK adaptation of an instrument widely used across the globe. UKES was first introduced in 2013 and is being used by 31 institutions in 2016, including the University of Aberdeen.

In this talk I will explore the complexity and confusion around student engagement, and locate the development of UKES in that context. I will discuss the relationship between UKES and the National Student Survey, and explore the prospect of using measures of student engagement as indicators of teaching quality, for example in the Teaching Excellence Framework.


Student Perspective

Liam Fuller

Liam will touch on the importance of Personal Tutors in supporting students; importance of academic representatives in highlighting issues and supporting best practice.

Staff Perspective

Dr Mirjam Brady van den Bos, School of Psychology and Dr Darren Comber, Centre for Academic Development

In the Flipped Classroom, instructional and homework elements are reversed (compared to traditional lectures), leaving class time free for active engagement with the learning material and interaction with peers and lecturer. The method is becoming become increasingly popular, yet little systematic work has been done to assess its effectiveness and the factors that make it successful. To this end, a qualitative study was carried out in the School of Psychology, where one of the authors (Brady) ‘flipped’ five of her Level 2 lectures on ‘Personality’.

Student opinion on this ‘flipping’ was gathered through questionnaires (with scales and open-ended questions) and semi-structured interviews. From this, several themes emerged with respect to the question ‘what are the factors that make the Flipped Classroom successful?’, in particular People factors (e.g. lecturer and student characteristics, staff attitude, peer learning) and Organization factors (e.g. discipline-specificity, timetabling).  

On the basis of the findings a model is proposed which indicates the relative trade-off between staff effort in creating a flipped classroom and consequent student learning payback, with practical suggestions for enhancing student learning in an efficient manner.

Employer Perspective: HappyPeople@AAB- Engaging our Future Talent

Karen Stewart, Chief Human Resources Officer and Jessica Middleton, Human Resources Advisor, Anderson Anderson & Brown LLP

AAB approached the current academic year with the overall aim of building a stronger relationship with the University of Aberdeen.  We wanted to raise the firm’s employer profile, provide information to students on the opportunities available to them in a medium-sized firm, make sure we are reaching the most capable and high quality students, and inevitably increase the number and quality of University of Aberdeen graduate applicants received.   We certainly feel we have achieved this aim, and we couldn’t have done this without the fantastic support we received from Dr. Zachary Hickman (University Employer Engagement Coordinator).  Our presentation will talk about our journey working with Dr. Hickman and the Career Service team and the many opportunities this presented to us, along with summarising the benefits of employer engagement.

 Parallel Workshops

Workshop 1: Engaging students online: reflections from the MyAberdeen Retention Centre pilot

Dr Andy Yule, Dr Sara Preston and Dr Mary Pryor

School of Biological Sciences and The Centre for Academic Development

Identifying ‘students at risk’ is only possible if we have meaningful data regarding their engagement with their courses. In this digital age, we need to engage students online as well as face to face. In this workshop we will facilitate a discussion on course design considerations, as well as data / communication considerations, when designing engaging online activities which will hopefully also enable you to identify how your students are engaging and performing on your course.

Workshop 2: Enterprising Researchers: Supporting enterprise and employability through collaboration with employers        

Dr Lucy Leiper

The Centre for Academic Development and Careers Service

Together the Centre for Academic Development and the Careers Service are undertaking a unique project which brings together academic researchers with business, industry and local government.  Through this project we are empowering researchers to recognise and exploit their unique skill set, beyond the academy and importantly to highlight the benefits of recruiting researchers with local and international employers. This workshop will showcase the project using case studies and will explore both researcher and employer perspective on the value of researcher skills.

Workshop 3: The power of collaboration: working together to evolve active learning tools into powerful professional development experiences

Dr Derek Scott
School of Medical Sciences

One of the challenges in developing and refining teaching/learning materials is finding the right partners. This workshop will describe the impact of local and national collaborations, using the LabTutor teaching and learning platform (ADInstruments, NZ) as a common focus for development and delivery of teaching materials.

We will demonstrate how LabTutor and its cloud-based successor, Lt, have been used for various UG and PG innovations in medical sciences in both Aberdeen and RGU, allowing both staff and students to author new learning materials and improve student engagement/achievement. We will show how best practice is shared across a Scottish Universities users network, and how this group collaborates with ADInstruments and is supported by NHS Education Scotland (NES).

Finally, we will demonstrate how Lt has allowed a group of different stakeholders to collaborate on a postgraduate course deliverable by NES throughout Scotland, and why Lt may be a powerful learning resource for a range of disciplines outwith the medical sciences.

Workshop 4: Working Together: Engaging Employers in Student Learning

Mrs Wendy Rudland
Business School and Careers Service

Universities across the UK view student engagement as central to enhancing the student learning experience. This workshop will provide an overview of a new innovative undergraduate third year course, Working Together: Employability for Arts and Social Sciences which is designed to enhance students’ career development learning.

The course provides students with the opportunity to develop and practise key employability skills and attributes through a group consultancy project with an external organisation. During the course students experience the issues that surround the work environment, including the pressures of working to a deadline and the challenges of working with a group of colleagues towards a common aim.

Running for the first time in the academic year 2014-15 the course requires engagement from external organisations in order to provide an authentic and experiential-based learning approach for the students.

This workshop will explore how this three-way partnership between the Business School, employers and the Careers Service has been developed to stimulate student’ creativity and engagement in learning.

Workshop 5: Using Game-Based Learning Approaches in Teaching

Dr Vasilis Louca

School of Biological Sciences

There is strong evidence to suggest that game-based learning can be an effective approach in increasing student motivation and engagement and subsequently improving performance. Its use within the higher education setting is still relatively limited.

This study investigated the impact of the introduction of game-based approaches in a level 3 undergraduate biology course. This mandatory course is often unpopular with students due to its strong quantitative component; as a result student disengagement, poor attendance and low academic performance are not uncommon. Five non-compulsory “challenges” were introduced and points were awarded to students for completion and performance at the “challenges”. Students could only progress from one level or “challenge” to the next after successfully completing the previous one.

The running total of points was made available to students on a leaderboard displaying avatar names the students have submitted themselves. The study results indicate that applying such approaches to teaching helps engage students and improves their academic achievement. Students maintained very high (>75%) levels of participation and engagement in undertaking the “challenges” across the duration of the course. Scores earned as part of this component correlated significantly with continuous assessment scores, but not with final exam grades.

The workshop will provide an overview of the findings from this study and discuss how to build upon this for more extensive future applications of game-based learning.


19 Posters exploring the Student Transitions theme were displayed.