Below are summaries and associated information for the individual projects that have been funded at Heriot-Watt under the “Evidence for Enhancement: Improving the Student Experience” Enhancement Theme.

Expectations and Experiences of First Year Languages Students in their Transition from Secondary to Higher Education

Project Lead: José María Conde (SoSS)

This study looks at the first-year experience (FYE) among HWU students enrolled in language degrees and aims at enhancing student experience and retention rates. It analyses students’ expectations and concerns at the beginning of their Higher Education experience, and tracks how their experience evolves, whether their expectations are being met, and how, at two further points over their first year. At the beginning and half way through their first year, anonymous online surveys were used, and anonymous interviews will be conducted at the end of April.

This study will serve as a basis to identify elements that make this key period smoother, as well as the ones emerging as having a negative impact upon their FYE. Dissemination materials and recommendations to enhance students' FYE experience will be designed and the study design might be replicated in other schools or institutions.

Engage earlier with hardware in Robotics – Infrastructure for Formative and Peer-Based Feedback

Project Lead: Dr Katrin Lohan (MACS)

Co-Investigators: Dr Christian Dondrup (MACS), Dr Frank Broz (MACS), Dr Keith Brown (EPS), Dr Maruo Dragone (EPS), Mr. Talal Shaikh (MACS), Professor Lynne Baillie (MACS), and Professor Helen Hastie(MACS)

Robotics is a growing field in Heriot-Watt University. Over the past 5 years, substantial postgraduate teaching and research funding has been acquired and HWU is leading in both areas in Scotland. With growing student numbers, fields with specialised hardware requirements, such as robotics, face issues of accessibility of this hardware and trained technical assistants for students, as well as a decrease in contact time with their lecturers.  

This project aims to build on techniques such as continuous integration servers and code clinic approaches, which have been developed in the past projects, e.g. “Closing Software-Based Assessment Feedback Loop – Infrastructure for Formative and Peer-Based Feedback”. The goal is to extend such past work to function with the existing teaching hardware, e.g. the COZMO robot and to build a Remote Robotics Lab (RRL).

While it is not our intention to open the HWU RRL to the world, HWU students will be able to remotely access a COZMO robot to test their source code on. This will be safeguarded by a Continuous Integration Server, which automatically compiles their code and runs automated tests before it is allowed to interact with the robot. Additionally, to increase retention of students throughout the university as a whole, we can open the RRL to other schools. This will allow students from the School of MACS to engage and collaborate with students from other schools and vice-versa. Hence, this will create a more inclusive learning environment and will allow students from other schools to try their hand at computer science in general and robotics in particular. 

Improving Retention: Understanding the challenges for students with disabilities

Project Lead: Dr Tessa Berg (MACS)

The retention of students with disabilities in higher education is at a critical juncture. In order for universities to reflect the diversity of society, students with disabilities need to not only be present on our campuses but also actively engaged in the learning process and the overall educational experience in order to be successful in reaching their educational goals of completing a degree. The influx of students with disabilities and the diversity among them mandates a broader view of learning and development within University.

We know from research that students with a disability have a significantly lower chance of completing their education than students with no disability. We focus our attention on students with a disability as we believe that many of the challenges, faced by disabled students can also be challenges faced by many non-disabled students and thus improvement solutions will benefit the wider population of students. In this study we will examine and evaluate current activities to support and retain disability students within the School of MACS at Heriot-Watt University.

This study is qualitative and of two parts. Firstly, we will design a comprehensive questionnaire that will be sent to UG and PGT students with a declared disability in the school of MACS. In particular, focus will be on areas of personal tutoring, learning spaces, learning support, mitigating circumstances, suspension of study and support when returning from a TSS.  Secondly, we will run a focus group workshop asking disability students to come to a rich picture collaborative drawing session wherein we will explore further some of the prevalent information gathered from the survey. In the focus group session we will surface perspectives using ‘possible-selves theory’ concepts to draw out students’ hopes, fears and potential futures.

The results of this study will lead to a better understanding of challenges faced by students with a disability. It is likely that our survey questionnaire will produce wide and diverse results and thus it is important to delve deeper into more complex retention issues with the rich picture tool. The wider outcome of this research would be to better understand motivations and barriers in order to encourage disability student empowerment and assist in the building of a resilient inclusive community in Higher Education in Scotland. We believe that disability students have diverse, unique and complicated challenges to contend with and this enquiry research seeks to identify common perceptions and issues relating to retention. 

Revitalising Assessment & Feedback practices at Heriot-Watt University

Project Lead: Dr Margaret King (Registry)

This project employed a Project Officer to engage students and staff in in-depth inductive interviews to make detailed recommendations to improve how we, at Heriot-Watt University, conduct assessment and feedback practices.

The work reviewed sector wide practices whilst utilising qualitative data gathered through interviews and triangulated with survey responses to ensure validity of issues identified.

The work will produce a report detailing these issues and possible solutions. It will then seek approval from the University’s Student Learning Experience Committee for the enacting of these solutions.

The Revitalising the Student Survey Process at Heriot-Watt

Project Lead: Dr Maggie King (Registry)

This project employed a Research Assistant to engage with students and staff to make detailed recommendations to improve how we, at Heriot-Watt, close the feedback loop.  The work has reviewed best practice from across the HE sector in the UK and has gained approval from the University Committee for Learning and Teaching to deliver a series of signature enhancements from Academic Year 2018/19.  They are:

  • Creating of a Survey Week in Teaching Week 10 (12 November – 19 November);
  • Refreshing the Course Feedback Survey and Annual Survey questions;
  • Guiding students and academics on importance of feedback;
  • Ensuring that the feedback loop is closed within the same semester with Course Feedback Survey responses being interpreted and disseminated quicker.

This Project has been characterised by extensive consultation with academics from every School and campus.  The operational delivery in 18/19 of these enhancements will be considered annually and have been mainstreamed as part of a core learning and teaching function.  Without the detailed focus afforded by the enhancement themes project, this vital work would likely not have been able to happen and without such widespread engagement from the community.

Final Report

Closing Software-Based Assessment Feedback Loop – Infrastructure for Formative and Peer-Based Feedback

Project Lead: Robert Stewart (MACS)

This project closes the feedback loop for computer programming laboratory assignments. A GitLab based software infrastructure is being developed to encourage student interaction with peer-based code review, and automated code testing to scale the marking of programming assignments to large student numbers. Code quality peer review will raise student awareness on how to construct correct, well documented and easily maintainable software. The automated code testing dashboard will enable course leaders to gauge progress of an entire class for all programming assignments easily. The 24/7 offline nature of code feedback using GitLab's discussion comments and automated testing features will the relieve time pressure usually experienced by large student numbers during scheduled lab hours.

The framework is designed to work for multiple programming languages and will be scaled across campuses, with collaboration currently between Edinburgh and Dubai for 1st year software development courses in MACS. It will also scale across schools, with collaboration currently between MACS and EPS in Edinburgh.

Maximising the benefit of formative feedback to students’ learning

Project Lead: Dr N Hendrik Nahler (EPS), Dr SJ Greaves (EPS)

In Science subjects, students regularly receive feedback for their assignments. Feedback identifies areas in which students require further development and provides aid in this development. However, the effectiveness of this feedback is often not followed up or quantified, meaning the feedback loop is not closed. In one of our 2nd year Chemistry courses, we introduced a method that encourages the students to engage with the feedback provided and in turn feed back to their facilitators whether the feedback led to improvements in the identified areas, therefore closing the feedback loop. Throughout this project we will assess the effectiveness of this novel feedback approach using student surveys and interviews as well as monitoring the development of key skills in course work and exams.

The outcome of this project will inform further improvement of feedback in this course with the aim to benefit other Science courses.

Exploring Student Views of Good Practice: An evaluation of Student Lead Teaching Awards (SLTAs)

Project Lead: Denise McCaig (HW Student Union)

Learning and Teaching Oscars Research Project - Summary

This project critically analysed the Student-Led Teaching Awards at Heriot-Watt University known as the Learning and Teaching Oscars (LTO). This was instigated due to demand to hear the viewpoint of students and what criteria they look for within learning and teaching. The qualitative data gathered from LTO nominations from 2011-2018 was analysed, to derive conclusions and identify key themes across the data about what students believe constitutes teaching excellence. A selection of recent winners of the awards were also interviewed to gain an insight into their teaching methods, which have been successful in the eyes of students.

After qualitative analysis was conducted, key themes were identified across nomination data. These were approachability, quality of feedback, challenging and stimulating teaching techniques and devotion to supporting students. It is no surprise that students value staff being approachable and providing them with support. However, one theme that is perhaps surprising is students feeling challenged and stimulated by approaches to teaching. This feeling of being challenged potentially comes from enjoyment of lecturers’ teaching techniques, creating a desire among students to test themselves.

Overall the project has provided a fresh perspective on teaching excellence at Heriot-Watt.

Final Report