Happy New (Academic) Year

It’s that time of the year again – our students started classes this week, while we old hands tried to remember what worked last year and what didn’t. Here at CTaLE, we have the usual buzz around our flagship projects – the First Year Challenge has already started, with Bloomsbury witnessing scores of fresh-faced students squinting at locations around the neighbourhood and chattering about inequality; the Skills Lab signups are underway, with an extended programme of reading, writing, data and presentation workshops; and planning for ExploreEcon 2017 is picking up speed as we recruit judges and work shadow prizes for the event.

In addition, we have two new “behind-the-scenes” projects this year. The first is to study the academic (and non-academic) journey of individual students using learning analytics. Big data has been, well, big, in other fields for a while now. But even as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) like Moodle, Blackboard, Sakai and others have proliferated, the reams of data generated by these have not received as much attention at least in the UK. This is particularly important in light of the new Teaching Excellence Framework, when different teaching quality metrics are being discussed, but even leaving that aside, being able to use fine-grained data to improve the learning experience would be very useful. As economists, we at CTaLE love analysing data! We’ve been interested in learning analytics for a while now, and hope to dip our toes into this field this year. We’re working to collaborate with colleagues across UCL, including at the Institute of Education, to make this a reality.

Our second initiative this year is to engage in a more meaningful manner with post-graduate teaching assistants (PGTAs). The CTaLe directors currently run PGTA training workshops at the start of each academic year under the aegis of the Economics Network. We’re looking to develop a model of more active and frequent interaction so that PGTAs are supported throughout the term and when they are facing specific challenges. We view this as a bridge to connect with the next generation of economics lecturers. We’re starting small with monthly lunches where PGTAs can chat with the CTaLE team about their current teaching (or just blow off some steam). Right now this offering is primarily for those teaching at UCL, but we are hoping to provide some support to other London area PGTAs as well.

If you are interested in learning analytics or are a London are PGTA and would like to drop in to our lunches, please get in touch at p dot chaudhury at ucl dot ac dot uk.