Digest of Good Practice Identified Through General Board Review

Digest of Good Practice Identified Through General Board Review


Examples of Good Practice Identified 2005-6


This document is a digest of examples and instances of good practice in learning and teaching, collated from:

  • the University’s formal quality assurance processes (General Board Review, Annual Quality Statements; External Examiners’ Reports,);
  • the work of the University’s committees;
  • LTS Lunches; and
  • interaction between officers of the Education Section and other parts of the University.

Not all the examples identified by the above processes are listed here. The sum total of good practice operating in the University’s teaching institutions far exceeds the relatively few examples that are identified here. Rather, examples which represent novel practices, or which are particularly appropriate for disseminating to other parts of the University, have been included.

It is also worth noting that no evaluation of the instances and examples of good practice has been undertaken and that a number of them have been identified by external examiners and reviewers, or agreed by consensus in various meetings by academic and administrative staff.

These examples are provided for Faculties and Department to consider and reflect on in order to inform or develop their own local processes, and not here endorsed as the “right” or “best approach.


Faculty of History (Learning and Teaching Review) - March 2005

  1. The excellent service and extended opening hours of the Seeley Library (made possible by resourceful use of fines income for additional staffing). The Librarian was commended for the practice of providing College Libraries with reading lists on which ‘most-used’ books were identified.
  1. The Faculty’s outreach initiatives include an active Schools Liaison Officer; the Faculty’s participation in the Sutton Trust programme; and involvement in projects for targeting teachers in low participation schools and areas. The Faculty was also actively engaging with the appropriate examination boards on possible changes to the A-level syllabus.
  1. Induction activities; in particular, the recent introduction of ‘Study Skills’ classes for first year students. The Review Board considered that the Study Skills courses could ‘usefully be adopted’ in other Faculties and Departments. The Study Skills Programme consists of four lectures designed to ‘help manage the transition from School to University’. In 2005-6 the four lectures were: ‘Study Skills’, ‘Essays: Addressing the question’; ‘Essays: Structuring the Answer’, ‘Essays: Writing with Authority’. Follow-up workshops are held in Colleges. The Faculty also run a programme of lectures for first year historians entitled ‘Preliminary Historical Argument and Practice’.
  1. Mentored Lecturing Arrangements for PhD students.
  1. Documentation and support provided to Directors of Studies.
  2. The document College Supervision in History: a guide for supervisors is available on the Faculty website at:

Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy (Learning and Teaching Review) - May 2005

  1. Dissemination of Information Technology for the Promotion of Materials Science (DoITPoMS) Teaching and Learning Packages and other support packages. DoITPoMS is a collection of self-contained teaching and learning packages used by students to supplement teaching. DoITPoMS is a national initiative.
  1. The Materials Science online community (a CamCommunity hosted by CARET) has a number of subgroups – some of which are used more regularly than others. The sub-group communities are used by staff and students to share lecture notes and other resources, and some individual course forums have proved useful for sharing/discussion of model answer scripts. All first year graduate students are registered in the ‘1st Year Graduate Students’ subgroup where the survey facility is used for feedback. The most successful subgroup is the ‘NanoMPhil’ subgroup which is used extensively by students, lecturers and course administration staff to share lecture notes and materials. This course is lectured by staff from different departments and the file store and message facilities make cross-department communication easier. This sub-group has been successful because it was ‘owned’ by the student representative. Note: CamCommunities are currently being migrated to CamTools (see item 33).
  1. The Review Committee noted particularly that the use of on-line feedback had a positive impact on the teaching skills of staff.

Department of Pharmacology (Learning and Teaching Review) – May 2005

  1. Comprehensive student information on the department website, including a set of web pages for each of the undergraduate courses. Each set of pages contains:
  2. Lecture Lists for all terms
  3. Handouts (if provided by Lecturer)
  4. Past Examination Papers
  5. Course Organiser details
  6. Link to a printable timetable
  7. Student Feedback details (including names and contact details of student reps)

A separate area of the site outlines the software available to students for ‘computer-aided learning’. The site also contains areas with information for especially for Directors of Studies and Supervisors.

  1. The Department uses a system of peer review of teaching to encourage reflection on teaching and asks peer reviewers to provide constructive, positive feedback on lectures. The scheme is co-ordinated by the Secretary of the Teaching Committee who compiles a list of lecturers and observers. All staff in the Department are involved and the system is compulsory. A third of UTOs are observed in any one year. The scheme is not reciprocal. Junior members of staff are matched to more senior lecturers. Any lecture may be observed, with the exception of the first lecture in a series and the observer is provided with a form to record observations. Observers are asked to identify at least one thing that might improve the lecture. The written report is then discussed by the pair and the report is returned to the Secretary of the Teaching Committee.

Department of Earth Sciences (Learning and Teaching Review) – November 2005

  1. Assigning two members of staff in addition to the supervisor to act as ‘friends’ of each Research Student. The ‘friends’ take a particular interest in the student’s project and formally review progress and problems with both student and supervisor independently at the end of the first and second years. Students have noted that ‘friends’ were active in ensuring skills development, encouraging conference attendance and highlighting funding opportunities.

ANNUAL QUALITY STATEMENTS (from interviews conducted in the Long Vacation 2005)

Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic

  1. The Departmental Secretary maintains an alumni database, which records information about ASNC students and is updated with current information (career, contact details, etc.).
  1. Graduate students (with support from senior members) organise a colloquium each year, (Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic) which attracts speakers from other universities.
  1. The Department holds Teaching and Learning Workshops at the end of the Michaelmas and Lent Terms, at which topics such as supervisions, language-learning, and summative assessment are discussed in a two-way dialogue that has enabled both informal student feedback and the sharing of good practice.

Institute of Criminology

  1. The MSt courses are taught in intensive study blocks using a mixture of lectures, seminars, case and project work. They include a ‘synthesising session’ at the end of each taught week to check learning, discuss themes and apply skills that have been taught.
  1. MPhil students not only have an individual supervisor, but have access to specialist thesis advisors where appropriate. The Institute conducts an initial needs assessment and students complete a training log on an ongoing basis. This is periodically reviewed by supervisors so that advice can be given regarding ways of making best use of the training programme (particularly methods). In addition, MPhil students are invited to produce a practice essay in the first part of the first term. This is marked by supervisors and students are given written feedback – to help facilitate a cultural transition with regard to marking systems as well as to indicate what is expected at postgraduate level before students submit work for formal assessment. With the formally assessed essays students are given both written and oral feedback.
  1. PhD students may attend a specially-created seminar programme. The seminar programme endeavours to develop generic/transferable skills for PhD students. Seminar topics are decided in conjunction with the students.
  1. Students on the MPhil courses complete a termly seminar course questionnaire. At the end of the year a group meeting is held where students work in small groups to identify issues for feedback. Students are then asked to translate their concerns into positive statements about the course. These are posted around the room and each student is asked to rate the statement. The ratings and issues identified are then discussed. The information is anonymised and written into a report which is presented to the Departmental Meeting by the MPhil Director.

Faculty of English

  1. The Faculty collects a variety of data (e.g. performance by paper, by gender, number of students taking each paper; changes from year to year): these are considered by the examiners, the Planning and Resources Committee and the Faculty Board. Recently, the Faculty undertook extensive analysis of the marking profiles of examiners (and any gender bias) but discerned no conclusive patterns. It is intended to continue to use marking profiles of individual examiners to aid Chairs of Examiners in assigning “marking pairs”.
  1. Students themselves devise questionnaires, with the help of Faculty Officers, on the Faculty’s provision, and undertake analysis of the responses. In addition, questionnaires for each course or paper are conducted, and the results are provided to the individual lecturer and their appraiser. The Faculty have an online feedback form for graduate seminars:

Centre for International Studies

  1. All graduate students are invited to attend a two-day induction event, which is held away from the Centre in order to encourage the mixing of staff and new students. As the event is intended to be social, informational and inspirational, staff from the Centre give talks about their research interests in addition to general introductory information.
  1. Students are required to sit a “scoping” diagnostic examination in their first week. The two-hour examination covers general principles and background knowledge of international or European studies and asks students to outline their thesis proposal. Its purposes are:
  2. to help the Centre identify appropriate research supervisors in cases where students’ interests have shifted markedly from the time of their original application;
  3. to assess the student’s competency in English in order to arrange additional teaching if necessary;
  4. to compare the quality of the work to the original application in order to identify any potential ethical issues, including plagiarism;
  5. to assess the background of students in order to advise them on course choices and appropriate supervision.


Classical Tripos

  1. Comprehensive marking and classing criteria.

[Note: the Classical Tripos marking and classing criteria are available as a resource on the LTS Forum]

Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos

  1. Comprehensive marking and classing criteria, including very clear advice on double-marking. The MML green booklet “Instructions to Examiners” was considered exemplary by several of the External Examiners.

[Note: the MML Instructions to Examiners booklet is available as a resource on the LTS Forum]

Earth Sciences: NST Part III Geological Sciences

  1. Project work includes a self-assessment component which helped the External Examiner to appreciate any real or perceived problems. Students are asked to submit with their report a short (less than one side of A4) self-assessment of the research project commenting on the suitability of the topic as a Part III project, the level of training and advice received, the adequacy of departmental resources provided, and any factors that affected – adversely or beneficially – the progress of the research. Students are advised that, in some cases, for example where extenuating circumstances may have impeded progress, the self-assessment document could influence the examiners’ grading of the work. They are also advised that their comments will help the Department to “optimise the educational value” that future students get from their projects.


Online Student Feedback

  1. Faculty of Computer Science and Technology: the on-line course questionnaire ( in place since 1995; has saved considerable time and effort in the collation of the data collected, and allowed the results to be displayed quickly and easily to everyone with access to the Department’s server (cl.cam.ac.uk). Students provide their email ID, more in order to monitor who has responded: the answers given are anonymised on submission.
  1. Clinical & Biomedical Computing Unit:on-line feedback questionnairesused by students taking clinical attachments as part of the medical course. It is part of the Educational Resources Web (ERweb) site ( which is a personalised web-based teaching and learning environment and allows teachers to make resources available to support the course: from course objectives and information, to formative and summative assessments. In order to maintain high response rates for student feedback, CBCU operate a system whereby students may only review their results for an attachment after they have provided feedback.

Local Support for Examiners

  1. Some Faculties/Departments have designated Continuity Officers who attend Examiners’ Meetings to ensure links with previous years’ procedures are maintained. In the Faculty of Computer Science and Technology a member of staff has acted as Examinations Continuity Officer for several years and is able to make sure that good practice is carried forward from one year to another as well as briefing Externals.

Peer Review of Teaching

  1. Department of History and Philosophy of Science: the ‘Buddy System’ of peer review is designed to be informal, unthreatening and requiring only minimal time commitment from participants. Each year everyone who lectures in the Department (whether they are a member of the Department or not) is invited and encouraged to participate in the system. Lecturers are asked to find a ‘buddy’ and attend at least one of each other’s lectures.

The scheme involves no written assessment, but is co-ordinated by the Departmental Administrator. The only formal requirement is for ‘buddies’ to inform her when they have selected a buddy (by the end of Michaelmas Term) and when they have completed the observations and meeting. The DA reminds lecturers of the scheme by email, and also sends gentle reminders to those who have not completed the process.

  1. Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic: a termly peer review exercise involving junior or new staff (including graduates undertaking substitute teaching). Individual teachers are reviewed by another member of staff in an established post.

The Director of Undergraduate Studies co-ordinates the systems. The Director matches the reviewer with the lecturer, usually on the basis of loosely similar subject area, but not always, so as to create ‘cross-pollination’ between different subject areas. The scheme is not designed to be reciprocal, but can work that way.

The reviewer is provided with a dedicated Peer Review Observation Sheet. The form asks reviewers to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the lecturer under review in a number of categories, including: clarity of objectives; planning and organisation; methods/approach; delivery and pace; content (currency, accuracy, relevance, use of examples, level, match to student needs); learning resources (handouts OHP etc). The Lecturer under review is asked to make any comments, and any action agreed between the Lecturer and Reviewer is recorded. The form is signed by both parties.

[Note: ‘Case Studies’ of the Peer Review systems (including the one in the Department of Pharmacology (see item 10) have been posted as resources on the LTS Forum]


  1. Faculty of History statement on Plagiarism:

[Note: the Faculty of History statement has been posted as a resource and example of good practice on the LTS Forum]


  1. CamTools

CamTools is an all-in-one, web-based suite of tools for teaching, learning, research and administration hosted by CARET. It is a free service that works through a web browser and does not require software to be downloaded.

The Department of Plant Sciences CamTools site is an example of good practice in developing and using CamTools learning environments. The Plant Sciences team found that the wiki tool on CamTools was an ideal way to create web pages, even for people with limited experience. Their wiki tool is used for information on course modules (lecture notes, past examination questions; exemplar essays) and self-test exercises. The wiki also includes a glossary and an image gallery. CamTools allows administrators to set the ‘permission’ level for editing the Wiki – currently Plant Sciences students are not permitted to do so, but different lecturers can. The ‘syllabus’ tool includes information on aims and learning outcomes; assessment and teaching methods; links to course handbooks, reading lists; information about examinations and essay marking. Lectures, practicals, seminars and are listed on the ‘schedule’ tool.

The LTS Forum is also hosted by CamTools

  1. CamTOES

The on-line student feedback tool is designed to improve the process of gathering feedback from students on lectures, practicals and group teaching. It has been warmly recommended by those departments who have previously used it (under the name CamTOES), and CARET has now made it available to the rest of the University.
Using the on-line tool, Faculties and Departments create questionnaires for their students to fill in. These questionnaires can be based on a standard departmental questionnaire or varied as appropriate for the course. Departments then create a list of the students taking the course, and each student automatically receives an email to ask them to fill in the feedback form. All the responses are anonymous, but the system knows who hasn't responded and can prompt them with a second email. The system then automatically collates the responses into a easy-to-read report, which can be circulated. Any inappropriate responses to questions can be deleted from the system by administrators.

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