October 18, 2019, by Stephanie McDonald

Division of Academics, Researchers, and Teachers in Psychology (DART-P) conference 2019

In our last meeting of PLATE we discussed and reflected on the innovative, thought-provoking talks and posters presented at this year’s Division of Academics, Researchers, and Teachers in Psychology (DART-P) conference.

Keynote presentation

Niamh Stack (University of Glasgow) gave the first keynote presentation which focused on transforming teaching in difficult times. Niamh spoke about the NSS, Augar, Brexit, and TEF as the four horsemen of teaching. During the times where the NSS has such a high impact upon Universities, are we focused on making students happy perhaps at the expense of really challenging them to deliver their best work? We have the ability to help people and, as Niamh suggested, it is important to “humanise our colleagues” especially in a time where academics face high levels of stress due to multiple demands. Niamh went on to say that Universities need to facilitate learning and to build a sense of community among students. Thinking about the difference between equity and equality, as not all students need the same thing, is also key for a positive student experience. Niamh further talked about the psyTeachR website as a depository of resources and the importance of sharing information and resources within the academic community.


Danijela Serbic (Royal Holloway University of London) delivered a master class on embedding employability in final year research projects. Teaching practices focusing on employability which were embedded in final year projects include employability-focused lectures, some of which were delivered by students, and formative oral presentations focusing on the knowledge and skills students had gained from their project work. Students were advised to imagine they were delivering their presentation to an interview panel for their dream job, followed by questions. The focus was to recognise skills acquired, to report on skills, and to reflect on these skills. Student presentations were peer reviewed. Students rated the presentations as offering good practice for the real world. We thought that the way oral presentations were utilised within the final year project was a good way to enable students to practice and develop key transferable skills which are much needed in the workplace, not just within the context of a research career.

Within the context of employability, Rachel Bromnick from the University of Lincoln presented her ‘talking jobs’ podcasts, a series of YouTube videos to support students’ career development learning. Students are often faced with a wide range of choices in relation to career pathways and this can be overwhelming. Rachel’s employability podcasts, where students act both a co-creators and the intended audience, provide a flexible and accessible way to convey employability-relevant information.

Statistics anxiety

It appears that statistics anxiety is still very much a prominent issue in psychology courses, and some of the talks centred around this topic and how we may address this early on in our courses.

I presented our recent work on students’ experience of learning statistics and being assessed on statistics as part of their course of study (Stephanie McDonald, Andrew Reid, Christopher Madan; University of Nottingham). We were particularly interested in investigating the prevalence, perceived causes, and potential impact of statistics anxiety on students. Findings of this work provide insights into the challenging aspects of the course (e.g., maths content), the negative impact of assessment (e.g., potential memorising content rather than deep learning), and ways and in which we can enhance the students’ learning experience through, for example the use of technology, active learning, and continuing engagement of students with the content throughout the academic year.

Alexander Marchant (London South Bank University) highlighted that students still experience anxiety when discussing their experience of learning statistics, however, self-efficacy appears to increase within the academic year. Students report fear of statistics teachers and lower scores on the Statistics Anxiety Rating Scale (STARS) in relation to perceived worth of statistics.

These findings highlight the need to take a holistic approach when investigating the various factors associated with statistics anxiety, and the impact of this on students, and to address this in multi-dimensional interventions embedded within the curriculum.

Assessment and feedback

Megan Barnard presented her work on using staff-student dialogue to assess learning approaches and fit-for-purpose assessments, for which she has won the DART-P early career researcher award! Key messages from this piece of research include that some of the traditional assessments in HE are perceived by both staff and students as merely testing memory, as opposed to the way they are intended to be designed. Coursework, rather than unseen examinations, appear to empower students to deliver their best work. These findings provide food for thought on how we can best move forward in designing assessments which are truly fit for purpose.

Following along the same lines as Megan Barnard, Emma Birkett (University of Nottingham) presented her work on improving critical thinking through flipped lectures within a traditional exam-based module. Emma’s work indicates that engaging activities within learning sessions can improve critical thinking, but overuse of summative exams may drive students to employ surface approaches to learning to the detriment of their studies. A key message on how we should design curricula.

Mirjam Brady-Van den Bos (University of Aberdeen) talked about the innovative use of ‘assignments videos’ in her modules. Mirjam developed videos outlining the rationale of assignments and marking schemes to support students in preparing for their assessments. Students felt that they benefitted from these videos, and particularly liked the fact that these resources featured the lecturer’s talking face. We thought this was a very nice resource to complement modules and something that we will consider developing in our own modules.

Within the context of utilising technology to facilitate students’ engagement with their assessment feedback, I presented the development and initial evaluation of the Psychology Feedback Dictionary used at Nottingham. This resource contains some key terms that markers often use in their feedback, along with definitions and explanations for these terms. The dictionary also contains some examples and tips on how students might address these areas in future work, as well as links to activities and further resources. Students reported greater understanding of feedback and more confidence in using their feedback to prepare future work, following engagement with the feedback dictionary.

Emma Whitt (University of Nottingham) presented findings from a study utilising an interactive board game to assess students’ learning in Biological Psychology. Following participation in the game-based seminar and a quiz-based seminar, students recalled more facts covered in their teaching sessions compared to before taking part in the seminars. These findings demonstrate the positive effects of quizzing via games within the context of learning in HE.

Keynote presentation

During the second day of the conference Victoria Bourne (Royal Holloway University of London) gave the second keynote talk. Victoria spoke about developing teaching excellence and raising our profile in Higher Education. Some tips include being mentored by others, the importance of networking for academics at any level in their career, developing your expertise and teaching identity, and identifying ways of influencing teaching, not just at institutional levels, but the Higher Education sector, and psychology in the UK more broadly. Evidence-based practice was emphasised. Speaking from her own experience, Victoria highlighted the importance of engaging in pedagogical research and disseminating this widely; some examples include sharing data from one’s own teaching practice, publishing individual case studies, and sharing one’s resources with the academic community. Victoria also highlighted the importance of supporting others in their journey; mentoring individuals from A level students all the way up to well established academics, and influencing colleagues through developing training opportunities, for example. A truly inspiring talk!

Students as mentors

Emma McDonald and Abigail Jones (Birmingham City University) delivered a master class on student statistics mentors. In their first year statistics seminars, students are being supported by a workshop mentor who is typically an UG student in the year above. The mentor supports students with in-class activities and answers students’ questions. Emma and Abigail commented that students have found this to be a useful initiative, where mentors were seen as role models and helped to enhance students’ confidence in completing the course requirements. This great initiative encourages students to be actively involved in developing a sense of community and in supporting the student learning experience; something which could potentially fit in with our peer mentoring scheme in psychology at Nottingham.

Alana James (University of Reading) talked about the impact of mentoring A level pupils on undergraduate students in relation to their employability and personal development. Findings from this work demonstrate benefits to mentors. Some challenges for mentors were also highlighted, such as time management. This great initiative will support both students before they enter HE and the UG mentors to enhance their employability skills. We considered whether this is something we could integrate into our Nottingham Advantage Award Public Engagement module.

We also attended a very interesting and interactive talk by Masda Yuka (Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences) on incorporating light aerobic exercise in classes and investigating the effects on learning. A fun way to keep students engaged in teaching sessions!

We would highly recommend the DART-P conference to teachers and researchers in psychology in further and higher education at any stage of their career! We look forward to DART-P conference 2020!

What did you think of the conference? If you have any comments about this article, feel free to tweet us at @notts_psych.

Written by Stephanie McDonald (Assistant Professor, School of Psychology).

Posted in AssessmentAttainmentProfessional competenciesStatisticsTeaching Tools