Strengthening Learning Communities
The undergraduate students in our degree programme come from a wide range of countries and communities. After noticing apparent trends in attainment gaps during the course between certain demographic groups a preliminary study was undertaken which showed that these gaps are indeed significant. In 2020 we secured funding to conduct research on this subject, initially in Physics, and then further on throughout College, and in 2021 formally commenced the Strengthening Learning Communities project. The broad aims are to investigate the extent of awarding gaps between demographic groups, plus those students with protected characteristics, research the causes of any such gaps and implement targeted strategies in pedagogical and pastoral practices within the College to improve the university experience for all students and ensure parity for all. The project is a collaborative venture between the Department of Physics, the Centre for Higher Education, Research and Scholarship (CHERS), and the Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC).
If you are interested in the project and want to discuss then please contact the Principal Investigator, Mark Richards. You can also find out more in this interview with Michael Fox about the project.
Student collaboration forms an essential part of the SLC project. More information on the different projects that have been undertaken with students as co-researchers can be found in our dedicated Student Collaboration pages.
Selected conference presentations and symposia
- Centre for Academic inclusion in Science and Engineering (CAISE) Launch Keynote Speech - Mark Richards, Queen Mary University of London, 2022.
- What does a physics student need to do to succeed? - Amy Smith at ViCEPHEC 2022.
- Equity, diversity, and inclusion – does social justice from the top trickle down? - Michael Fox at ViCEPHEC 2022 and also presented at the American Association of Physics Teachers Conference 2022 in Grand Rapids, MI.
- Exploring women physics lecturers’ teaching choices and decisions - Jessie Durk, Student Shapers Symposium: Imperial College London, 2022.
- Beyond participation: Sense of belonging and the impact of the physics stereotype for women in STEM - Amy Smith, (invited symposium), University of Leipzig, Germany, 2021.
- Sense of belonging and the impact of social norms for physics students - Amy Smith, (invited symposium), Physics Education Research Consortium of Graduate Students [online], 2022.
- Attitudes and norms in physics and their impact on behaviour and authenticity - Amy Smith, ESERA Summer School, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, 2022.
- Beliefs and norms in physics and their impact on behaviour and authenticity - Amy Smith, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden, 2022.
- M. F. J. Fox, C. Kandiko Howson, & M. Kingsbury, Equity, diversity, and inclusion – does social justice from the top trickle down?, 2023, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 1-12. See above for video of conference presentation on this paper.
- M. F. J. Fox, S. Bland, S. P. D. Mangles, and J. McGinty, Expectations of how student views on experimental physics develop during an undergraduate degree, 2022 PERC Proceedings [Grand Rapids, MI, July 13-14, 2022], edited by B. W. Frank, D. L. Jones, and Q. X. Ryan.
Meet the Team
Jessie Durk - Research Associate
My role on the Strengthening Learning Communities project is primarily quantitative - I will be collating datasets of students' module scores across their degree and their demographic characteristics, before conducting statistical modelling and analysis to identify any attainment gaps. One approach to investigate the possible causes of such attainment gaps is to use a course deficit lens by looking at course delivery and assessment style. I am also interested in students' physics identities and fostering a sense of belonging in the department, particularly amongst students from underrepresented and historically excluded backgrounds.
Michael Fox - Senior Teaching Fellow
I am interested in how student experiences shape and are shaped by their learning environment, at the individual, class, and institutional level. Working in the Strengthening Learning Communities (SLC) project I hope to bridge the gap between quantitative measures of student outcomes and the lived experiences of students at Imperial College to provide a rich understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the educational culture of the university.
Camille Kandiko Howson - Associate Professor of Education
I am Associate Professor of Education in the Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship (CHERS). My research focuses on student engagement, outcomes and learning gain; equality and social justice; and quality, performance and accountability. I work across the College to support high quality and high impact pedagogical research and collaborate with colleagues to conduct disciplinary-based educational research. In the SLC I focus on curriculum evaluation; learning analytics to support the student experience; academic motivation, prestige and diversity; student identity and belonging; and intersectionality in research design.
Mark Richards - Senior Teaching Fellow
I'm an atmospheric physicist, Head of Outreach and Deputy Admissions Tutor. I’m passionate about enriching the student experience for all, and increasing diversity more widely in STEM. I sit on the Royal Society Diversity Committee and the Science Museum Advisory Board. Through outreach and public engagement, I have fostered strong links and contributed to media related projects with several organisations and community-based charities. I'm also founder of the Blackett Lab Family, an organisation with a mission connect, represent and inspire physicists of African and Caribbean heritage in the UK and beyond.
Amy Smith - Research Postgraduate
On completion of my BSc Physics, I went on to teach physics and maths at an inner-city secondary school in Birmingham – it was here that my interested in the social aspects of physics education was sparked. Whilst teaching, I undertook an MA in Professional Education, investigating science capital and sense of belonging amongst female physics graduates. I am now furthering these findings, by working within the SLC project to understand how social norms influence student behaviour and authenticity within a physics degree programme.
Vijay Tymms - Principal Teaching Fellow
I started teaching physics in 1999 and worked in various settings before joining the Department of Physics in 2009 where I am now a Principal Teaching Fellow. Along with the main research topics of the Strengthening Learning Communities and Active Learning projects, I am particularly interested in how people learn physics and try to find answers to questions like:
Why are some parts of the subject easy for some, and hard for others?
What happens during the periods of confusion we all feel prior to understanding a concept in physics?
If we can answer these questions then maybe we can improve the way we all teach and learn physics.