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Centre for Online and Distance Education

Educating the educators at a distance


Written by
Dr Clare Sansom

Professional development for teachers plays an important part in student success. Teachers often favour online and distance-based professional development as it fits easily into their ‘day jobs’. One session at the Centre for Online and Distance Education’s October 2019 workshop, ‘Supporting Student Success’ dealt with this issue, with two presentations from the UCL Institute of Education. 

Two presenters in front of projection screen.

Peer review more effective than discussion forums for promoting online learner success

Discussion forums are often introduced into programmes to encourage students to interact online, but peer review – asking students to evaluate each others’ work – is less widely used. 

This, however, was the method that Dr Gwyneth Hughes and her colleague Lesley Price paired with discussion forums in their evaluation of student engagement. 

Gwyneth and Lesley collected data from 52 students on the module ‘Supporting Learning, Teaching and Assessment’ in the PG Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, comparing their level of engagement in peer review and a discussion forum with their performance in the module.

Unsurprisingly, high achievers engaged more with both activities than those who merely passed, and more still than those who failed to complete. But a more surprising finding was that participation in peer review was a more reliable predictor of achievement than participation in discussion groups.

Peer review allows students to reflect on their own understanding, and many found it enjoyable. One said, ‘I felt by looking at the review that others gave me and comparing it to mine, [that] I learnt more than I learnt in any other activity’. 

METEA (Mathematics Education to Empower Africa) teacher educator development

Many African children still only receive a primary education, and many primary teachers of mathematics in parts of Africa are poorly trained. Associate Professor Jennie Golding began by suggesting that poor mathematical literacy is holding sub-Saharan Africa back. 

She described a pilot project addressing this issue: a collaboration with Marjorie Batiibwe of Makerere University, Uganda, part-funded through a CDE Teaching and Research award. Ten East African ‘mathematics teacher educators’ were given an intensive 10-day residential course and three months’ work in their home environments using email and WhatsApp. Online resources were provided by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences’ schools enrichment centre (AIMSSEC), based in South Africa. 

The participants’ backgrounds varied widely; their knowledge of advanced mathematics and primary education varied, as did their access to technology. Many reported problems with electricity supply and Internet access, and not all had smartphones. 

All participants reported that they found the course both useful and engaging, and only two of the original 10 failed to complete it all. When interviewed afterwards, five participants reported that they had been able to embed the range of pedagogy that they had learned into their whole teaching practice; the other three had made smaller changes. 

Two further courses are currently planned, but funding remains a challenge.