Monday, 28 March 2011

Thing 3 - the Learning and Teaching Support initiative

After completing Thing 3

You will
  • know what the LTS initiative is
  • have a good idea how its resources, events and networking opportunities can be useful to you

What is LTS?
We asked Alice Benton, head of the Education Section, what LTS is and who it's for:
"It's for everyone! It's for administrators and academics interested in teaching and learning provision. It's our way of trying to disseminate good practice across the University.
LTS lunches often discuss pedagogic concepts

There's the lunches, where we focus on a particular topic people have suggested to us as of interest, so if you have an idea for a topic let us know. The lunches are supposed to be helping networking as well - that's part of the philosophy behind LTS.

The database is a collection of examples of particularly innovative or effective ways that departments tackle particular issues, collected here in the office from periodic teaching reviews, things that have been highlighted by external examiners, and through our annual quality update exercise. There's a form on there for people to nominate examples of good practice, so if people are doing things that they think will be of interest to other people then please do let us know.

The Have You Tried guides - we're particularly keen to work on those - are where we've identified through our own internal quality assurance mechanisms topics that seem to be of particular concern to departments, and we've tried to draw together from our various sources, including the database, examples of how different departments have tackled things. They're exactly what they say - just ideas to try.

Then there's the newsletter as well, which goes out at least once a term, where we follow up on the lunch and we highlight issues that have been discussed in the University or topics that might be of interest to colleagues."
LTS Ideas and Examples page

A brief tour of the University
It might be helpful to have a picture of how LTS fits in the University. LTS was established by the Education Committee of the General Board (GBEC), the University's central body for educational matters. One of the things GBEC does is create a four-yearly Learning and Teaching Strategy for the University, in which the LTS features. The Education Section is GBEC's secretariat and amongst other things has a general interest in teaching, being responsible for making sure the University's programmes and processes meet the Quality Assurance Agency's requirements for UK higher education programmes.

Step by step instructions

Explore the LTS website

  1. Go to the Education Section's website and click through the link to the LTS pages (or go straight there).  You'll be presented with links to three further pages. Have a look around.
  2. In the Ideas and Examples section, click through "Enter the database". It sounds more ominous than it is; all you you should see is two drop-down selection boxes and a search box. 
  3. Click 'search' without typing anything.  You'll get 71 results - everything in the database! Select an institution or theme from the drop-down selection boxes to narrow them down.   Click through to look at some of the examples in more detail.
Blog Thing 3!
A usual we've got three questions for you, plus a specific one for this tool.
  1. What did you expect from LTS initially?
  2. Having explored the LTS resources, were your expectations borne out or were you surprised? In what ways do you see this being useful for your own curriculum designs?
  3. What would you like to see from the LTS initiative?
  4. How do you think about the model of peer-sourced support for curriculum designers? Is it comparable with other institutions you are familiar with?
If you're interested
There are three things you can do to get more involved with LTS.
  1. If you'd like to be added to the newsletter distribution you can email
  2. Let Katherine know if there are topics you'd like to see, for LTS lunches or Have You Tried? guides.
  3. Can you think of innovations and particularly effective practice in your own institution which aren't in the LTS database? Examples could be anything to do with teaching and learning, feedback to and from staff and students, assessment, student engagement, policy, organisation or transferable skills. Nominate them for inclusion using the online nomination form.


  1. Cambridge’s LTS database of effective teaching practice is fundamentally similar to CloudWorks, albeit without the social aspects and elaborate web interface. None of our respondents were aware of its existence, though several knew of the LTS initiative generally. Feedback was mostly of the “I’m not angry, just disappointed” variety. 13things Blog Trial summarises the mood: “I think it is a good idea, but as a useful resource it needs someone to look at it regularly to check if the contents are still up to date.” Reflections on Science Education and Communication says “it’s a good start but I really don’t think that it’s enough.”

    The quantity, usefulness and up-to-dateness of the content was questioned, particularly by mrj10: “There are just seven Teaching Methods and 19 Learning Resources ... this would not seem a very rich resource of new ideas. Most of the dozen or so examples that I looked at in the database were anodyne, acontextual and not in anywhere near enough detail to do anything with.” Having been involved in several of them himself only sharpened his criticism: “the descriptions are a reasonable summary of what happens, but give little sense of the work involved in getting these things to happen”. Reflections on Science Education and Communication said “I didn’t find anything that was really to do with curriculum design. Perhaps if the links had worked then I would have done ... I wondered whether the database needs an overhaul?” Socratic Investigations questioned whether sharing effective teaching practice across disciplines is even possible: “means necessarily point to and presuppose ends that reflect the substantive background or immanent form (occasion/motive) of the means ... In order to avert this scenario, curricula should be shaped as much as possible from within disciplines themselves”

    Socratic Investigations suggests “LTS might be more effective if it were introduced by a formal clarification of the raison d'ĂȘtre of LTS, including an exploration of the general problems that LTS was set up to respond to”. mrj10 clearly has inside knowledge that LTS was originally set up in response to QAA feedback, as speaking from experience he adds “meeting the Quality Assurance Agency’s requirements is more about demonstrating that procedures are in place (and appropriately documented) rather than necessarily providing something that would be useful for those involved in delivering the “service ... what is reported is [not] a deliberate misrepresentation of what happens, but [the] incentives in the process are towards the presentation of a simplified and sanitised positive story.”

    mrj10 and Reflections on Science Education and Communication make highly congruent suggestions for improvement.


  2. [Continued...]

    In terms of content, Reflections on Science Education and Communication says “What I’d like to see is cutting-edge teaching and learning initiatives and nitty-gritty discussion of how they might be implemented in Cambridge. A managed wiki perhaps with invited guest articles and someone to check that all the links still work and the information is all current and that old information is still available but archived. Talks by experts in the latest pedagogical theories and practices would be great. Other universities have specialist researchers in teaching and learning at HE, why not invite them to speak?” Reflections even provides an example: mrj10 says “I’d like to see examples of successful course designs with enough detail to see how they might be adapted to my requirements”

    In terms of community, mrj10 says peer-sourced support “sounds like it should be something that I would be in favour of ... although the LTS events are said to be open to any member of the University, it seems that the system operates primarily through Quality Contacts and so doesn’t seem particularly peer-sourced ... [I’d like to see] names and contact details of people who have an interest in different learning approaches and who are willing to discuss their experiences” . Reflections on Science Education and Communication states “My interest is primarily in supervisions and college teaching ... [I’d like] nn opportunity to network with people from different departments.”

    These are well considered comments and the conclusions I take away from them are 1) a facilitated community of practice could be genuinely helpful, at least in the view of our participants, 2) LTS ‘as is’ has insufficient resource to be really useful - it needs more in-depth case studies on interesting course designs with lots of detail, with some suggestions of their wider significance, and possibly a more or less full-time facilitator/organiser/editor/ promoter for events, talks, and networks.