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Incubator Discovery Grants

Incubator Discovery Grants

Incubator Discovery Grants

Incubator Discovery Grants

Incubator Discovery Grants are funds of up to £300 for educators at the University of Exeter who want to understand a teaching and learning challenge and test possible solutions within their faculty. We will award up to five Incubator Discovery Grants in each faculty. Awards will be made in conjunction with Faculty Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor Education.

An Incubator Discovery Grant enables educators to gather a diverse group of people to explore an educational challenge together using Design Thinking tools. The Incubator Discovery Grant must be used to complete two of three possible Design thinking templates: Empathy Map, Systems Map, or Prototype Evaluation. These templates are tried, and tested tools used widely in Design Thinking to explore problems and gather diverse experiences.

Grant activities can include:

  • building a team who would like to explore the challenge,
  • hosting discussions, using the Design Thinking templates, between students, academics, or professional service colleagues, and/or people connected to the university,
  • paying for catering, off campus room hire, and/or vouchers given to students' or those not employed by the university in recognition of their participation and time.

These three Design Thinking templates are tools that will support educators to plan activities and explore the identified pedagogical problem.

Empathy Map 

Empathy Maps are used to build an understanding of ‘user’ needs at the definition stage of a project. It is likely that in our context the ‘users’ are students, but they also may be colleagues. The map enables us to empathise with the feelings, behaviours, and needs of the people whose experiences we want to improve. 

As a workshop activity, creating an Empathy Map means bringing together one or more groups of people - academics, students, professional staff, senior managers - to explore and set out motivations and needs.

Systems Map 

‌A systems map is a visualisation tool to help identify the component parts and their interactions in the complex system in which your ‘problem’ occurs. As you work within the system it is likely you have a really clear understanding from your own perspective. It is important to gather people together with diverse perspectives in order to gain a fuller representation of the system.

This is an exploratory and research activity that can be delivered as a workshop that will help visualise the patterns in the system, the relationships, and perspectives of the people you are innovating for, and to see the gaps and areas for growth and change to potentially re-design the system. 

Proto-Typing Evaluation

Testing one or more potential ideas as a prototype enables you to get quick feedback from users before deciding on a final solution. We are used to thinking of prototypes as low resolution things but they can also be storyboards or role plays - or indeed any method for enabling your users to understand how you think an idea would work in practice. They can then give feedback.

The output of the Incubator Discovery Grant will be completed templates and a short reflection on them to be submitted to the Education Incubator and the respective faculty’s Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor Education.

The Incubator Discovery Grants could act as seed funding for potentail applicants to develop discoveries further through our Incubator Project Grants.

Incubator Discovery Grants 2022/23 

This grant closed in early November 2022 and collaborating with each University of Exeter Faculty Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor Education, we selected 13 ideas to be funded. 

We are pleased to introduce the 13 successful Discovery Grant activites and the Incubator Fellows of 2022-2023 who will be delivering them. 


Building integrity and good academic practice in the context of cultural and social diversity: learning from Masters’ Level students  

Dr Leila Dawney Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Senior Academic Conduct Officer in Geography and Dr Sharon Strawbridge Senior Lecturer (Physics and Astronomy Department) and Senior Academic Conduct Officer in ESEU.

Data from the University’s student cases team indicates that international students are much more likely than UK students to be referred to Academic Conduct panels, particularly for plagiarism. This is particularly true at Masters’ level. The experience of going through these processes are often highly stressful. We know that many of our international students have only had experience of written examinations and are unaware of the rules regarding good academic practice related to coursework assignments. This project aims to listen to, and learn from, the experiences of international postgraduate taught students, and understand more about their experiences of academic practice prior to studying at Exeter. We aim to understanding students’ different cultural and educational understandings of academic integrity, so that we can develop and co-create meaningful educational resources on academic honesty and integrity, with the aim of reducing the number of learners referred for poor academic practice and academic misconduct.


The power of the flower? How can the Graduate Skills to Thrive frameworkbe used to excite and engage Business Schoolstudents in their professional skills development  

Nicky Thomas Senior Lecturer in Tax and Accounting in the Business School.  

Exploring how to encourage and support students to engage in skills development during their academic studies. 


Top Banana: A network for sharing best practice at Exeter University to promote positive maths self-concept and prevent maths anxiety 

Dr Julie Pepper Senior Lecturer in the Business School.

The aim of the "top banana" network is to share best practice at the university to promote positive maths self-concept and prevent maths anxiety. The network is named in honor of my late school math’s teacher, Jane Steele, who promoted a love and sense of fun in maths and always said "top banana" when students got answers correct. We know that success and failure in mathematics is associated with social disadvantage. This means tackling maths anxiety and improving maths self-concept is an important challenge with an aim of widening participation and increasing opportunities for all. 

The "problem" of maths anxiety has been recognised in higher academic circles for over 50 years according to Shirley Conran, OBE, founder of the Maths Anxiety Trust (The Maths Anxiety Trust, n.d.). Research suggests that interventions around mindfulness, growth mindset, working in pairs/teams and building mathematical resilience could help to increase maths self-concept and decrease maths anxiety for university students. The interventions interrelate and some, like working in groups or teams, could be “quick wins” to build into practice.


Barriers to participation & progression; Gender and intersectionality 

Dr Andrew Pye Co-Director Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity for the Centre for Ecology and Conservation.

Increasing representation, progression and success of under-represented groups is a key aim of the university’s Race Equality Charter, Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, and Athena SWAN. In order to achieve this, departments within the university need to understand the barriers under-represented groups face that may prevent their retention and progression and hence contribute to the"leaky pipeline", where the representation of minority groups falls at every level of the academic ladder. This project will be carried out by members of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation (CEC) Inclusivity Committee. It aims to understand the barriers to progression within academia faced by members of under-represented groups within CEC, particularly gender and its intersectionality with the 9 protected characteristics: Age, Disability, Gender Reassignment, Race, Religion and Belief, Sex, Sexual Orientation, Pregnancy and Maternity, Marriage and Civil Partnership.

Playing a card game to learn clinical pharmacology 

Dr Mark Carew Lecturer in Biomedical Science (Education & Scholarship), in the Medical School.

Clinical pharmacology is hard; can playing a card game make it easier to learn?   I am play-testing a modified version of the traditional card game Rummy with medical students to answer this question.  Instead of having four suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades), the modified cards have four categories: drug, indication, mechanism of action, side effects.  Play follows the rules and aim of Rummy, which is to collect sets of like cards, but the difference is that the player needs to explain the logic between the cards in a set.  For example, a player may lay down the following set: metronidazole (drug), infection (indication), antibiotic (mechanism of action), and nausea (side effect) and explain the links between the cards as follows: “metronidazole is an antibiotic used to treat infection; advise the patient not to drink alcohol because of the risk of nausea and other side effects.”  The other players judge the validity of this explanation, and, if it holds water, the set may be laid down.  The discussion now opens the door to discussing the details of the interaction, and the strength of its evidence base. 

The Education Incubator grant enables me to convene an Empathy Map workshop with staff and students to understand the hopes and fears of Charlie, a virtual third-year medical student. Charlie hopes to pass the Prescribing Safety Assessment; we will evolve and test the card decks to help Charlie achieve this aim.  Such a Proto-Typing Evaluation process will be run as a series of small groups where the card decks will be used by students to prepare for a test of PSA-like questions.  The outcomes of the test will inform the design of the cards in an iterative manner, until the proto-type card decks are optimised, and ready for wider testing. 


How to improve learner experience of progress testing  

Demelza Green Senior Lecturer and Director of Workplace Learning for the degree apprenticeship in Diagnostic Radiography in the Medical School and Christine Heales Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for BSc (Hons) Diagnostic Radiography and Imaging Degree Apprenticeship in the Medical School.  

Exploring and evaluating learner experiences of progress testing with a view to improving support and the engagement of future cohorts.  

Progress testing is an assessment method used extensively in medical education however to date no other profession utilises such a method. 

In March 2020 the degree apprenticeship in diagnostic radiography introduced this unique assessment method into their programme. 

Initial focus groups were undertaken with the cohort to assess their initial reactions to progress testing and also to evaluate how the academic team could support the apprentices as they progressed through the course. 

Now that the cohort has completed the whole assessment programme for the curse a final focus group is proposed to evaluate the learning experience of the group and to assess if the support offered can be further enhanced for future learners.


Understanding student anxiety about perceptions that others cheat in (online) assessments 

Dr Alison Hill Senior Lecturer in BiosciencesDr Nic Harmer Associate Professor in Biochemistry and Steve Porter Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry.

Academic misconduct occurs in almost every online assessment. Evidence suggests that this ranges from “poor academic practice” (e.g., checking answers with colleagues during an exam), through “academic misconduct” (e.g.,working together to answer exam questions), to outright cheating (e.g., paying for answers online or getting someone else to take the exam). Estimates of cheating rates vary from 1 in 6 (Wonkhe, 2022) to 1 in 14 cheating (with 3 in 5 engaging in poor academic conduct; THE, April 22 2022). Students committed to good academic practice can feel that they are at a disadvantage when they perceive that everyone else is engaged in poor practice and they cannot 'compete'.   

We wish to understand student anxiety over their perceptions that online assessments are ripe for cheating, and whether this is different when taking a personalised exam. At the end of this project, we hope to understand better students’ perceptions of online assessments and will feed this into the Assessment and Feedback Expert Group (of which Alison is a member). 


Developing a teaching feedback system that contributes to student learning 

Dr Catherine Butler Academic Director / Selection Lead on Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. 

Making the collection of feedback meaningful for learners with the aim of improving the rate of student feedback. 


Neurodiversity and Universal Design for Learning: engaging students and educators 

Dr Tamsin Kilner (SFHEA) Lecturer in Education Practice in the School of Education.

Tamsin has been teaching and supporting learning in HE for eighteen years in one form or another and is particularly interested in inclusive ways to develop and deliver curricula, and in meaningful wellbeing practice. Tamsin is a Colleague Mental Health & Wellbeing Champion and has learned over the last year or so that for her, wellbeing sometimes involves making very small changes that have a surprisingly large impact. This project is one of the results of that realisation.  

The literature indicates that neurodiverse students face greater challenges in HE, both in terms of engagement in learning and retention (see for example Clouder et al. 2020 They are also at greater risk of mental health and wellbeing challenges. This facilitated workshop will bring together colleagues with a range of experience of universal design for learning, together with student partners from across the institution, to explore ways to embed principles of UDL in workable and 'light touch' ways so as to enable educators across the institution to begin to engage with this approach in session, module, and programme design. 


Conjured Learning 

Professor Brian Rapport Professor Sociology.

The overall question pursued through the ‘Conjured Learning’ award is: How can magic tricks serve as effective forms of educational interventions? More specifically, against the long-standing interest in the pedagogical purposes of entertainment magic in STEM subjects, this award examines how magic can convey themes in the social sciences. The funding will support gathering feedback on emergent storyboard ideas for devising an on-line survey that will test theories about the causal role of wonder in promoting learning.


Understanding causes of poor academic practice among international students and mapping potential preventative support 

Dr Annabel Watson Senior Lecturer in Language Education in the School of Education, Dr Jonathan Doney Director of PGR School of Education, Dr Shane Glackin Senior Lecturer Philosophy, Dr Robert Herian Associate Professor Law, and Dr Sarah Cooper, Faculty Senior Tutor. 

'Good academic practice' is a contextual and culturally-determined concept. International students studying at Exeter are expected to adhere to and uphold conventions relating to independent writing, referencing, paraphrasing and integration of sources, in response to concepts of authorship and intellectual ownership which are socially and culturally constituted. The challenges of developing an original academic 'voice', and of expressing understanding by paraphrasing and synthesising are also significantly complicated when English is not a native language. This project will bring together groups of international students across the HASS faculty to articulate and explore some of the particular issues and barriers that they face with respect to academic practice. It will also bring together representatives from a range of university services which support good academic practice, including INTO, the Study Zone, the Library and Academic Conduct Officers, to map our current provision and consider how to improve support for international students.  

The ultimate goal is to develop an informed understanding of the issues that students face and the support options we have available, so that we can better target future provision and educational initiatives.


A joined-up approach to improving digital accessibility 

Dr George Tarling Lecturer in Education and Student Experience Lead and Javiera Salazar Rivera, PhD Student (School of Education). 

A problem that has been thrown into relief this academic year, is that our digital learning environment is not sufficiently accessible to learners using screen readers, either in terms of content or in terms of navigation. Addressing this presents challenges. Not all staff are trained in how to design for accessibility by default, not all are confident or have the time, and some raise valid questions about how designing for accessibility might compromise other pedagogical decisions. This project will run two focus groups (one with students and one with staff from across the different digital accessibility support services) to rethink how to make digital accessibility by default a sustainable proposition. In addition, we will consider what this might mean for pedagogical decision making.  


Delivering complex Simulated Exercises to large student groups 

Dr Martin Robson Senior Lecturer in Strategic Studies, Academic Director and MStrat Programme Director in the Politics Department.

Simulated exercises are a proven pedagogical tool to provide students with a ‘sandpit’ to test concepts and theories in a simulated real-world context for the purpose of pedagogical progression, personal training and the reinforcement of skills and behaviours. Simulations involve team working within time sensitive tasks in which students deploy a set of skills and behaviours to manage multiple concurrent tasks. Simulations provide high quality employability skills, replicating some of the tasks included in, for example, UK Civil Service Assessment Centres  

Simulation: ‘A working representation of reality; used in training to represent devices and process and may be low or high in terms of physical or functional fidelity’. Cannon-Bowers, Janis & Bowers, Clint. (2009). ‘Synthetic learning environments: On developing a science of simulation, games and virtual worlds for training’. Learning, Training, and Development in Organizations. 

With significant experience of delivering simulations to cohorts of 20-30 students this Incubator Discovery Grant will now explore the methods for delivering effective simulations to up to large cohorts of up to 100 students.  

Student Focus Group: Students who have experienced a small cohort simulation will help me create an empathy map of their experiences highlighting the critical benefits they obtained from the simulation.  

Workshop: building on the empathy map and utilizing student and staff with experience of simulations the workshop will produce a systems map of the challenges of large cohort simulations ensuring critical student pedagogical experience is retained in the solutions proposed.  


Boyne, S.M., (2012). ‘Crisis in the Classroom: Using Simulations to Enhance Decision-Making Skills.’ Journal of Legal Education 62, no. 2 311-22. 

Brynen, R. (2010). ‘(Ending) Civil War in the Classroom: A Peacebuilding Simulation.’ PS: Political Science and Politics 43, no. 1: 145-49. 

Hunzeker, M., & Harkness, K. (2014). ‘The Strategy Project: Teaching Strategic Thinking through Crisis Simulation’. PS: Political Science & Politics, 47(2), 513-517. 

Lacey, J. (2016). ‘Wargaming in the Classroom: An Odyssey’,