Co-presenting with Students at Conferences and Engaging them in the Teaching and Learning Dialogue

Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature) and Bethany Barnett-Sanders (Part 3 student, Department of English Literature)

Engaging students in academic conversations outside the classroom presents challenges but recent activity in the Department of English Literature suggests that there are several ways of creating opportunities for this engagement. DEL has worked with Part 2 and Part 3 students on a range of initiatives that has involved them in conference organisation (‘Postmodern Biofictions’), event management (‘Celebrating Forgotten Women’) and editing work (The Creative Writing Anthology and Second Sight: The Margaret Atwood Learning Journals).

In April I was finalising work on the TLDF-Funded ‘Diversifying Assessment’ project in DEL which, connecting with the Curriculum Framework, had involved convening student focus groups. These groups generated productive perspectives on our assessment and feedback practices. I decided to disseminate the results of the project at the Change Agents’ Network (CAN) conference (Winchester) and I felt that it was important that one of the students involved in the focus groups should co-present in order to express the issues from a student point of view.

The CAN Conference was extremely interesting and several papers commented on a range of student engagement projects; however, students were generally absent from the sessions. Our ‘Diversifying Assessment’ presentation, however, expressed both staff and student viewpoints. Bethany Barnett-Sanders, my co-presenter, comments here about her experience of joining me at the conference:

‘Attending the CAN conference with Maddi to help deliver a presentation on diversifying assessment was a really valuable experience. The whole process, from the initial focus groups to the presentation, was so affirming. I participated initially in the focus groups run by Maddi because assessment is an issue that I feel quite strongly about: as the situation stood at the beginning of the project, the department favoured the assessed essay + exam model which, from the student perspective, is not very popular. This model seems to be the default assessment pattern and so I relished the opportunity to find out why and to share my thoughts on what assessment could look like. As a student, being asked for my thoughts on a topic that is so integral to the university experience was both pleasantly surprising and incredibly encouraging; it allowed me to feel as though I could really shape the programme for myself and others and it enabled me to engage in my degree in a way that I never had before.

When asked to present at the conference with Maddi, it was great to know that those groups had led to a place from which real change could be generated. I agreed to present not just for the valuable public speaking experience that would be useful to have on my CV but, again, to take advantage of the opportunity to share the student’s perspective on assessment, something that affects them more than anyone else. Presenting at the conference was quite a nerve-wracking experience, but one that I’m very grateful I’ve had. I think involving students in these conferences is a fantastic idea as it allows for different perspectives on issues that would otherwise be left unchallenged and encourages collaboration between students and staff.

Having a room full of people, who were all there to learn from each other, listen to our presentation, was a big boost to my own confidence. I also really enjoyed listening to Maddi’s perspective on assessment as it allowed me to consider things that I hadn’t before. It was also lovely to spend time with one of my lecturers outside of the seminar room and I think it allowed for a very natural, open dialogue to take place about a whole range of things, which is harder to come by in formal contact hours. The conference was also a great learning opportunity, as it allowed me to listen to what other universities are doing and reflect on that from the student’s perspective; judging by the majority of the attendees and by the lack of students in the rooms, this isn’t something that happens regularly at these events.

I hope that the success of our presentation encourages other universities and other members of staff within the department to invite their students to share their opinions at these events in the future.’

I was thoroughly impressed by Bethany’s professionalism in delivering her comments at the conference – she was a credit to the university. My conversations travelling to and from the event with Bethany also helped to deepen my own understanding of the assessment issue from the students’ viewpoint: for example, I had thought that risk-aversion informed our students’ antipathy towards exams – Bethany confirmed this but allowed me to see how this is a natural consequence of a fee-paying, ‘high stakes’ environment.

I will certainly involve more students in T&L conference presentations in the future: my experience of this is entirely positive and it allows our students to engage in important conversations with us about their education. Further, within a landscape where graduate employability is key, we have here an opportunity to enable our students to build their experience and to gather skills that may not be available within formal teaching environments.

Exploring different types of video cameras for use in practical classes and outreach By Dr Philippa Cranwell, Mrs Susan Mayes and Dr Jenny Eyley

A successful TLDF application in April provided us with funds to explore the use of different lapel-mounted cameras to look into student-student and student-staff interactions within a practical laboratory environment. This work is still ongoing, but we have learnt some interesting lessons about buying lapel-mounted cameras along the way, and have also used them successfully in outreach initiatives.

Cameras trialled

In total, four types of camera were trialled that cost between £49.95 and £120 (RRP; correct as of August 2017). With all the cameras we purchased additional memory cards, although some were supplied with small memory cards.

The first three were of a similar design; a camera, shaped like a USB stick, with a clip on the back to allow it to be mounted on a pocket. The cameras trialled were: the Veho VCC-003-MUVI-BLK MUVI Micro Digital Camcorder (RRP £39.95); the Conbrov® Spy Cameras DV12 720P (RRP £59.99); and the Conbrov® WF92 1080P (RRP £69.99). All arrived quickly and were very easy to set-up, although none had a screen so it was not possible to see the recording without putting the images onto a computer. We quickly realised that mounting these cameras on a lab-coat pocket was not satisfactory because they were quite weighty and fell forwards, resulting in a great deal of footage of the floor. A body harness was available for the Veho camera (RRP £39.95), which would have addressed this problem, but it was decided not to continue with this style of camera due to the lack of screen resulting in no real-time feedback of recording quality.

L to R: Veho VCC-003-MUVI-BLK MUVI Micro Digital Camcorder; Conbrov® Spy Cameras DV12 720P; Conbrov® WF92 1080P

The camera that was most suitable for our needs was the Apeman Underwater Action Camera Wi-Fi 1080P 14MP Full HD Action Cam Sports Camera 2.0 (RRP £119.90). This camera came with 2 batteries, each recording up to 90 minutes of footage. We purchased micro SD cards separately; cards over 32MB are not supported by this camera. In addition to the camera we purchased a Togetherone Essential Accessories Bundle Kit (RRP £59.99) that provided a large number of additional items to mount the camera as required. Some of the most useful items in the pack included a “selfie-stick” that was used by school children on an outreach visit, a body harness and a head-mounted harness. The camera itself arrived in a plastic container, which is waterproof and protects the camera, but when recording dialogue it is less useful as the sound is muffled. However, there are alternative holders so the camera can be mounted on the body or head in an open case allowing clear dialogue to be captured.

The Apeman Underwater Action Camera Wi-Fi 1080P 14MP Full HD Action Cam Sports Camera 2.0 and the Togetherone Essential Accessories Bundle Kit

Use in outreach

The cameras were successfully used by secondary school students who took part in a trip to Thames Water sewage treatment works. This trip was organised by the chemistry outreach team as part of the Chemistry for All project, in order to show students how chemistry is used in all parts of their daily life. The number of students able to have this experience was limited by the space on the observation platforms, therefore the students used the cameras to film their experience and produce a video diary of the day. The videos will be edited and shared with other students on return to school, widening the reach of the activity beyond the students who attended. The teacher who was in attendance with the students commented that “having the Apeman cameras during the tour meant they were more excited and enjoyed it more”

 

        

Photographs taken by the students at the Thames Water sewage treatment works

Outlook

The Apeman cameras have been a useful addition to the Department, particularly for outreach purposes. We will continue to use the cameras for outreach, and also to undertake some observations of students undertaking practical work for the TLDF-funded project and another internationalisation project in conjunction with ISLI.

 

 

What are the benefits of Study Smart? A student perspective By Tom Wise (Part 3, Psychological Theory and Practice)

Being a student mentor for the Study Smart online course for Part 1 undergraduates has offered me an opportunity for personal development, through examining the perspectives of upcoming students to the University. It has allowed me to reflect on my university experiences, and develop further skills in communication. These are areas particularly important to me, as through reflecting on my experiences it has enabled me to understand my personal best practises, and supporting others to find their own. In addition, I have learnt to engage and effectively communicate with new individuals, about topics which are both basic and complex. Although with hindsight a topic (such as referencing) may now seem like second nature, for those initially transitioning to university, it can be extremely complex and daunting. Through developing this understanding, and through personal reflection and guiding others, it has really shown me how important a positive and supported university transition can be.

This course clearly can reduce student anxiety about coming to a different academic environment, made clear by comments during the course. However, there are other subtler benefits of this program, as this course can normalise and provide the understanding that “you are not alone”. When combined with other university wide programs, such as STaR Mentoring, it can provide a fully supportive, but not condescending transition; ensuring students enjoy the university experience for what it is.

Although there can be seen to be these higher-level benefits, Study Smart allows students to really utilize the university resources from day one. The course breaks down these resources, which can be worked through at the student’s own pace, before or during the first weeks at university, rather than being dumped onto them during Welcome Week, which can often leave students feeling very overwhelmed. This can mean that every student is able to receive uniform support into university.

Finally, I have enjoyed being a mentor on this program, as it has allowed me to give back to the University community. This has led me to some further questions which would be interesting to peruse further critically around how this course may impact on a student’s first term at the University, specifically their first formative assessment mark (in areas covered within this course) as well as their levels of anxiety. It would be interesting to evaluate whether students who have completed the course do feel less anxious than those who have not; this could demonstrate even further the benefits of Study Smart.

Our new undergraduates will be Studying Smarter! By Dr Paddy Woodman & Dr Michelle Reid

Anticipation and nervousness, with a hint of bewilderment and panic – we’ve all seen these looks on our new Part 1 undergraduates. As established members of Reading’s academic community, we often forget what it feels like to step into an unfamiliar learning environment. Our increasingly diverse undergraduate intake means that we must recognise the diverse educational cultures experienced by different students prior to taking up their studies at Reading. We are also becoming more aware of the widening gap between expected approaches to learning at school/college and at University. All of this means that we need to be more pro-active in supporting our students’ transition to learning in HE.

To ease this transition, all our Part 1 students need a shared understanding of the principles and expectations of studying at university, and a welcome into our learning community at Reading. Study Smart: Your Essential Guide for University is a new online, pre-arrival course uniquely available to Reading students, which aims to fill this gap.

The Study Smart course will be launched in August 2017 for all new Part 1 undergraduates, with a three ‘week’ structure covering essential aspects of university study:

1) Academic Integrity

2) Communicating at University

3) Independent Learning.

Students will complete a series of steps including activities such as videos, articles, discussion boards, or quizzes. Course content is being developed by the Study Advice team (drawing on their experience advising new students across the University), in partnership with the Reading MOOC team, and the Student Development and Access team, overseen by Paddy Woodman.

The course will combine academic content with student-preferred delivery to encourage engagement. For instance, focus groups have shown that students like a mixture of film overlaid with animation to make key principles more memorable and ‘friendly’. We are working with Final year Typography students to create short animated films and a visual overlay style to make the lecturers that we film literally more ‘animated’. Students and student experiences will also feature in the videos, and student mentors will help facilitate course discussion boards.

Study Smart will be hosted on the FutureLearn platform which has already proven successful for the University’s popular external MOOCs. It will be suggested that students complete the course before they arrive, capitalising on anticipation and excitement at starting here at Reading. Each ‘week’ of the course will take roughly three hours, but content will be made available in one go so students can pace themselves or complete it in a single burst. They will be able to continue to complete the course during Welcome Week and up to Week 6.

We hope that Study Smart will also prove useful to academic staff by providing a shared start point for conversations with their Part 1 students about taking responsibility for their own learning. Completion of the course could provide a useful indicator of student engagement with self-development and independent study, enabling early light-touch intervention to avoid the need for more time-consuming support later. There is no final assessment, but students are encouraged to think about areas where they might need to find out more.

As we continue to develop course content over the next few months, we will keep you updated with our progress. Watch out for:

– a course teaser trailer

– staff information sessions

– a guide for Personal Tutors (http://libguides.reading.ac.uk/studysmart)

In the meantime if you have questions, or would like further information, please contact Paddy Woodman (p.e.woodman@reading.ac.uk) or Michelle Reid (michelle.reid@reading.ac.uk)

The ‘Gender, Sexuality and Identities’ Student Forum: Including UofR students in extra-curricular platforms By Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

The inaugural ‘Gender, Sexuality and Identities Student Forum’ met on the first day of the summer term, launching a new initiative aiming to create extra-curricular platforms for student debate.

I organised this new Forum to respond to our students’ expressed desire to extend conversations about the persistence of binary thinking and inequality beyond the immediate speaking spaces of International Women’s Day debates and Programme modules. The well-attended and lively IWD debate in March persuaded me that our students have a genuine desire to discuss with us and with their peers the issues of inequality and discrimination that disturb them.

In terms of UofR initiatives, this Forum connects with the Curriculum Framework in its emphasis on inclusion, engagement and experience. In my interpretation, the Framework need not refer only to Programme design and implementation – its principles can be extended more widely.

The new Forum is a student ‘safe space’ for discussion of gender inequality, LGBT+ rights, racial discrimination, and other topics associated with contemporary socio-cultural and political impulses and current affairs. Students can present papers or simply contribute their responses to news stories dominating in the Press and then discuss them with their peers.

At the first meeting, I outlined some guidelines about what ‘freedom of speech’ means (and what it does not mean), and I stressed the importance of generating courteous, inclusive conversation. Following this introduction, I made it clear that students will lead these sessions though I will continue to arrange them and attend as many as I can. The Forum will meet twice termly and it is available to all UofR students and colleagues.

The first meeting produced informed, nuanced debate about the ‘language’ of discrimination and there was a particularly interesting conversation about the use of the word ‘tolerance’. Members of the Forum pointed out that the implications of the word tend towards ‘noble and grudging accommodation’ rather than towards uninflected inclusion. There was also a fascinating discussion about the ‘tragic trajectory’ of narratives involving gay protagonists, and plenty of examples of this trajectory were supplied and then analysed in terms of their implications.

Teaching may be assessment driven, but we all agree that learning should not be confined to this structure. Students seem to recognise this and their involvement in new platforms such as this Forum challenges lazy narratives about student disengagement. It also connects with T&L values of developing criticality and encouraging reflective practice, and it embeds non-credit-bearing opportunities for dialogue, inclusion and collaborative exchange.

 

RESILIENCE: THE ROUTE TO SUCCESS By Dr Madeleine Davies

A Collaborative Initiative between Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature), Dr Ute Wolfel (Department of Modern European Languages), Dr Tony Capstick (Department of English Language and Linguistics) and Dr Alicia Pena Bizama (Counselling and Wellbeing)

PROJECT OUTLINE

In December 2016 the three Senior Tutors of the School of Language and Literature (SLL) met to discuss the growing problem of student wellbeing following a steep rise in ECF submissions for MH difficulties. We were concerned not only for the wellbeing of our students but also for their academic development and success, and for their ability to manage their professional futures. We decided that there was more that we could do to prevent student distress, build resilience, and thus support effective teaching and learning so we decided to develop and deliver two-hour, interactive Masterclass titled, ‘Resilience: The Route to Success’.

We consulted Dr Alicia Pena Bizama (Head of Counselling) to help us design a programme that would respond to the specific problems that we had noted in our SLL students. We scheduled three lengthy planning meetings, pooling our ideas and our knowledge: Dr Pena Bizama brought her extensive research into Psychology, and the three Senior Tutors brought knowledge of their individual cohorts and years of experience managing student problems. Together, we designed and produced promotional posters, disseminated the plans to all SLL colleagues, and advertised the Masterclass on Blackboard and Me@Reading. We also sent individual emails to SLL students with a link to a Doodle Poll through which students could reserve a place at the event. This would have been unmanageable for a single colleague in the middle of a busy term, but we spread the load and the materials we produced benefited greatly from the time and input of four colleagues with different research backgrounds and pedagogic expertise.

The planning group decided to intersect with associated key SLL and UofR initiatives: attendance at the Masterclass counted as credit for the Professional Track Programme (SLL) and as credit for the “Life Skills’ initiative, and it connected with the University’s emphasis on student resilience and employability.

DESIGN OF THE PROGRAMME

The Masterclass was delivered in Week 5 of the Spring Term. The 2-hour session focused on building students’ confidence in their ability to manage stress and anxiety and on equipping our students with techniques that could enhance their learning potential. The design of the session was as follows:

Dealing with Academic Pressure:

Introduction – Dr Madeleine Davies: outlining the aims of the Masterclass: managing academic pressure and facilitating success; the connection between academic and professional resilience; the roots of ‘performance anxiety’; redefining (but not denying) ‘stress’ and ‘pressure’.

Dr Pena-Bizama’s presentation (including the difference between MH problems and routine anxiety)

Feedback and How to Use it Constructively:

Introduction – Dr Tony Capstick: how feedback is often interpreted as a personal attack; what its intentions are; how it is a positive learning tool; connection with the professional workplace; how to USE feedback.

Dr Pena-Bizama’s presentation

Motivation, Perfectionism and Procrastination

Introduction – Dr Ute Wolfel: motivation – reminding students of the questions, ‘What do I want to learn? What do I enjoy about these topics?; how perfectionism produces procrastination and how both can be overcome.

Dr Pena-Bizama’s presentation

Discussion period

The students were divided into groups and asked to discuss the following:

(a) What triggers/generates their anxiety most?

(b) How can the words ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ be reframed?

(c) What tactics and habits can help to restore perspective.

(d) How can feedback be removed from the sense of personal attack and be redefined as a constructive learning tool?

Feedback period

The students fed back the ideas generated by their groups; many students mentioned that talking about their worries to others who shared precisely the same concerns was of great help. Students also very usefully identified the source of their anxiety and others suggested ways of tackling it. The discussion was lively, collaborative and fully supportive: it was a credit to our students.

Dr Madeleine Davies concluded the session, pointing the students towards material and University support structures that could help them in the development of productive habits and attitudes. The second, exams-focused, Masterclass was announced and written feedback on the session was collected.

STUDENT PARTICIPATION AND FEEDBACK

The Masterclass was delivered on Wednesday 8th February 2017 and 45 students attended. There was a high level of interaction throughout and student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The form that we designed asked for feedback in the following areas:

Did you find the content reflected your concerns?

15 x ‘5’ (extremely well matched); 27 x 4 (well matched); 3 x 3 (neutral)

Do you think you will find it easier to manage academic pressure (particularly assessments) after the Master Class?

32 x ‘Yes’; 10 x ‘Maybe’; 3 x ‘No’.

Do you feel that you are better equipped to develop a more positive attitude to feedback and study following the Masterclass?

25 x ‘Yes’; 18 x ‘Maybe’; 2 x ‘No’.

Most of the forms added a comment: examples include, ‘Thank you SO MUCH’; ‘I feel much better’; ‘It’s good to know I’m not alone – loads of people here feeling the way I do’, ‘I think I can do this now!’; ‘I liked that the teachers were really honest about feeling stressed too and told us how they cope with it’; ‘Fantastic practical help – it’s what I needed’.

MOVING FORWARDS

The success of the collaboration in delivering the Resilience Masterclass initiative will be sustained going forwards. Prior to the exams period (May 2017) the same group of colleagues will collaborate on an ‘Exams Masterclass’ and in the 2017-18 session we will run three ‘Resilience’ and ‘Exams’ Master Classes in the Autumn, Spring and Summer Terms so that we can intervene early and prevent serious cases of anxiety arising (this will benefit retention). We are committed to working together as a team comprised of diverse skills to support our students in developing mental resilience to underpin academic achievement and to help them to embed the attitudes, habits and techniques that form the route to learning and professional success.

Working collaboratively with students to design lectures the way they want them – By Dr Wing Man Lau

Have you ever had to deliver lecture materials so cognitively challenging and dull at the same time, that your students either become utterly befuddled or fall asleep before you finish delivering them? I have.

The conundrum

I am the Module Convenor for a pharmacy practice module that focuses on pharmacy laws and regulations relating to medical prescriptions. Materials covered to this module are absolutely fundamental to the students’ future career, since legal and ethical considerations underpin the day-to-day decisions that pharmacists make. It is therefore essential that our pharmacy students have a thorough understanding of the topic to safeguard public and patient safety. However, students have always perceived the topic to be dull and clinically irrelevant. Thus, the principal challenge in teaching pharmacy laws and regulations has always been making the learning environment interesting and engaging. Traditionally, pharmacy law education has relied heavily on lectures, yet lectures alone often fail to engage students effectively to facilitate deep learning. Teaching on the module currently runs as a 2-hour lecture followed by a 2-hour workshop where dispensing activities take place based on materials covered in the lecture. The dispensing activities provide students with opportunities to apply knowledge that they have gained in the lecture. However, since the students find it difficult to engage with the lecture materials in the first place, they are often unable to apply the knowledge in the dispensing activities.

How do you make a seemingly dull topic engaging and captivating to students, such that they are able to effectively absorb, retain and apply the knowledge?

Like most colleagues, I use module feedback, regular informal feedback, peer observation as well as self-reflection to improve my lectures accordingly. Year on year, I collate all feedback and devise creative strategies accordingly to present my lectures, e.g. by adding quizzes, practical examples, interactive exercises to make them more relevant and interactive. Even though I get better feedback each year, I still fail to capture all students’ attention throughout the entire 2-hour lecture.

What else can I do?

The collaborative approach

Our students learn in very different ways, and when it comes to teaching approach, one size clearly does not fit all. I knew from student feedback that the students were not fully engaged or were unable to grasp the content of a lecture, but I usually did not know why. In trying to improve the lectures, I presumed certain reasons based on my own interpretations and perspectives. I have come to realise recently that those presumptions may have been misguiding the ‘improvements’ that I was making to my lectures. Little surprise then that I did not find a solution to the problem. Perhaps, instead of presuming anything, could I ask the students to incorporate improvements into my lectures in a way that they would find engaging instead?

So, this year I have decided to collaborate with my students in re-designing my lecture. The project aims to bring student perspectives to designing a lecture that not only will be engaging to students, but also create an active learning environment that suits their various learning styles. This will hopefully enable the students to gain, retain and apply the knowledge. I have recruited three pharmacy students (Ohn You Kim, Jakub Zurek and Tanzeela Hussain) to re-design a 2-hour pharmacy law lecture that I gave in the autumn term. The students have led the project from the outset in planning and designing the lecture. My role has been to meet with them from time to time to support their discussions, and introducing them to the University Technology Enhanced Learning Team to see how they can incorporate technology effectively. The students have decided to use a range of different delivery platforms within the lecture. They have suggested the use of Prezi, Quizizz, scratch cards, Metimeter and prescription scenarios using the ‘think, pair, share’ approach. They are currently in the final stage of the re-design. I will be using their design to deliver the lecture again to the same cohort of students and gauge their feedback.

I am already excited about what has been happening thus far. I am eager to see and deliver the final design of the lecture. After collating the feedback on the new design, the students aim to write about their design and summarise their findings for this blog, so watch this space!

 

 

Engaging Everyone – reflections on Wednesday’s D&I-themed T&L Conference – By Simon Chandler-Wilde

I was blown away by Wednesday’s teaching & learning conference “Engaging everyone: addressing the diversity and inclusion expectations of the Curriculum Framework“. This was lead-organised by my CQSD colleagues, especially Nina Brooke, but as a collaborative effort across the T&L patch, working with the T&L Dean Elizabeth McCrum  and others, and with the RUSU Education and Diversity Officers, Niall Hamilton and Sed Joshi. The venue – the large Meadow Suite in Park House – was excellent – and full to the brim with staff and students from across the University, including regular academics, many from the “Leadership Group”, and very many of the School Directors of Teaching and Learning who have to lead – and cajole –to make change on the ground.


 

 

 

 

 

My jobshare Ellie Highwood will blog separately with her take,

Including local data on attainment gaps, and gaps in BAME representation between the student body and the staff side, that she presented with Sed in their highly interactive presentation in the morning.

I’ll focus myself on the sessions run by the conference Keynote speaker, Professor Gurnam Singh, Principal Lecturer in Social Work at Coventry University and Visiting Professor of Social Work at Chester University.

In his afternoon workshop on “Transformative Pedagogy in Action” Gurnam revealed more of his background: this something he advocated, for connecting to the learner, humanising relationships, and sharing vulnerabilities. He described his (extraordinary) academic journey from UFD (his O-level grades) to PhD (Social Studies at Warwick) and beyond, starting with his early rebellious school career in Bradford, truanting in Bradford Central Library (where much of his education happened), the one bright (and memorable) spark at school the lunchtime lectures in Sophocles and classical architecture from “Mr Mitchell” whose passion for teaching and his subject has had a lasting impact.

Talking about research vision on his website Prof Singh describes himself “as an academic activist in that what inspires me both in my teaching and research is the desire to transform individuals and society”. This perspective and motivation came through strongly in his morning Keynote on “Understanding and Eliminating Disparities in Degree Awarding: Challenges and Perspectives“,

 

 

 

 

 

 

drawing on his extensive research (and research funding) in this area, including his substantial 2011 Higher Education Academy Report “Black and minority ethnic (BME) students’ participation in higher education: improving retention and success“.

This keynote was a wide-ranging and comprehensive account of the problem and possible solutions. In part it was a (welcome) call to arms and polemic, asking which side of history are we on, urging us to work for a different history, that we can be part of the change. He was scathing about a certain sort of (white upper class) elitism, a “particular kind of superiority, not excellence, something else”, the sort we associate with the Bullingdon Club, and about the impact of Trump in legitimising racism and misogyny (while noting that to many Trump had been the social change candidate), and (very much correctly) observed that “we need more in the academy of my sort”.

In this initial part of the presentation he urged work to diversify the academy – with a BME focus but also commenting more broadly – from a variety of perspectives, reminding us that  from an international legal perspective education is a fundamental human right, of our legal obligations under the equality act, of the moral imperative to act in response to inequality, and of the (neo-liberal?) commercial imperative, reminding us of the business benefits of diversity and the widely-cited McKinsey report, and memorably remarking that his own institution “would not exist as a White university, except as a senior management team”. (Of course, this applies equally at Reading.) These are all potential levers for change. Gurnam cited also the TEF (with its promise of  ‘incentives that reward institutions who do best at retention and progression of disadvantaged students through their college years’) as another key lever. (In this space Prof Singh was part of the Academic Reference Group feeding into the October 2016 report “Working in Partnership: enabling Social Mobility in Higher Education” from UUK.) In summary he noted that, through these various drivers disparity in attainment was moving to the top of the agenda – this was certainly true in Wednesday’s conference and in the associated work that has led to our new Curriculum Framework.

 

 

 

 

 

Prof Singh then talked quantitatively about the BME attainment gap, particularly % difference in attainment of a “good degree” (2.1 or 1st) between BME ethnicities and white students. He emphasised that significant attainment gaps remain once differences in prior qualifications are factored out, using graphs (see latest available figures above: 2013-14 graduates) published by HEFCE: see Annex G of the September 2015 report. In terms of causes and solutions, he was wide-ranging. I’ll edit this blog and add more once I have Gurnam’s slides in my hand (I have my eye on his “jigsaw” picture summarising all suggested possible actions from his research). But in terms of causes he touched on:

  • lack of role models and “people like me” for BME students across the academic staff, particularly the scandalous position at the most senior levels;
  • white-centric curriculum design and content;
  • drip-drip effects of micro-agressions;
  • issues with assessment, ranging from lack of clarity favouring those with larger social and cultural capital, with the resources and networks to find out what the assignment really means, to suggestions that we abandon degree classifications altogether (as we have at PhD level);
  • structural disadvantages: socio-economic, living a precarious existence, impacts of large commuting distance.

He finished his keynote with a call to arms that was really the theme of the whole day; that inclusion and social justice are not just desirable but an absolute moral and economic necessity, and this means we have to mainstream our efforts in attacking attainment gaps  – precisely the point and spirit of our new Curriculum Framework.

This was originally posted on the University’s Diversity and Inclusion blog created by the Deans for Diversity and Inclusion, Ellie Highwood and Simon Chandler-Wilde.

 

 

Collaborating across the country (and beyond) with Collaborate by Dr Mark Shanahan

10 Days before the US election, almost 40 students and four academics from across England came together to debate the Trump v Clinton fight for the White House, using Blackboard’s Collaborate platform, writes Politics & IR Director of Teaching & Learning, Mark Shanahan. I’d first come across collaborate at a TEL Showcase event, and had discussed its potential use with colleagues from other universities at the British International Studies Association’s Teaching and Learning conference at Newcastle University in September. When the university was looking for innovative Week 6 events, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to land on the political theme of the day and get students and lecturers from a range of universities talking – all without the need for anyone to book a room or a coach…or even (in theory) get out of bed.  

The benefit of using Blackboard’s Collaborate tool was the relative ease with which we could bring academics from Reading, Manchester, De Montfort and Huddersfield Universities together both with their students and a US-based journalist for 90 minutes’ discussion of the US elections. The sound and picture quality wasn’t always perfect – but that was probably more down to user equipment than the tool itself.

Allied to the video content, we had a live chat stream which was incredibly popular. There was a constant flow of questions from students for the academic participants and comments and responses between the students themselves. There was actually so much chat going on that it wasn’t always able to quite keep up with the flow and bring it into our video/audio. We started early with a pre-chat, and ended up running well past our planned hour. We learned a lot. Between myself and Senior TEL advisor, Adam Bailey, we agreed it would have been great to capture both all the chat for future use (we got some), and more so to use screen capture technology to keep a record of the event. We also realised early on that we needed a chair/moderator to keep the event in shape – and I fell into that role.

The response from both students and academic participants after the event was very positive. All the students who responded to a brief Surveymonkey questionnaire after the event want to do more of these link-ups via Collaborate – and want them to be longer. Equally, my colleagues Pete Woodcock, Head of Politics at Huddersfield, Alison Statham a Senior Lecturer in Politics from de Montfort and Howell Williams who’s at Manchester are all keen to get in front of a webcam again – perhaps to pick over the bones of the US election, and definitely to look at other politics subjects where we can share our views and expose our students to opinions beyond their own institutions.

 

Actively using the Student Charter with your tutees By Helen Bilton and Michelle Reid

Student Charter ActivitiesStudent Charter ActivitiesHave you heard of the University of Reading Student Charter? Have you used the Student Charter with your students? Although many colleagues can recall it being launched a few years ago, fewer staff and, crucially, even fewer of our students are really aware of what the Charter is, or how it can be used to encourage engagement in Reading’s learning community. This is why we have developed some short activities to help explore the meaning of the Student Charter. These activities focus on different aspects of the Charter such as independent learning. They can be adapted to suit, and they only take a few minutes to run. We designed them particularly for use in personal tutor meetings, but they can also be used effectively in staff training.

Student Charter Activities

The need for the activities came from work we have been doing as a follow-up from the Student Charter Working Group. Helen Bilton chaired the group to respond to a 2014 RUSU survey of student and staff views of the Charter, and to re-examine the Charter’s content for changes or updates. The Working Group carefully examined the wording of the Charter and found that (with some debates about content) it was fit for purpose. Student responses to the Charter were high and very positive, but the main concern was the lack of awareness and publicity. Therefore, we felt one avenue for promoting the Charter to students was through the Personal Tutor system. Likewise there was a good response to the questionnaire from staff with lots of positives but again a concern that it was not visible enough.

We trialled the activities at Personal Tutor briefing sessions in the Institute of Education and in Food and Nutritional Sciences in September. The tutors had a chance to try out some of the activities themselves which produced interesting responses and sparked discussion on how they might use them with their tutees. The feedback from tutors was very positive. Comments included how useful the activities were at starting conversations about what it means to be at University. Tutors also felt the Charter was an effective external and non-personal way of broaching potentially difficult issues of engagement and expectations with students. It has led to one programme embedding the activities within one particular year long module, so that student engagement can be revisited regularly. In another instance some of the Student Charter activities were used alongside the taught component of the module and interwoven, whilst still ensuring each aspect was transparent. With full time Masters students, the activities enabled students from all over the world to discuss and understand the important elements of being a student at Reading.

With Week 6 approaching and many Personal Tutors arranging time to meet with their tutees, we hope the activities will give you some ideas of how you might open discussions about participating in our learning community here at Reading.

If you want to talk to us about the Charter, have any comments to make or feedback about how you are using the Charter please contact Helen Bilton h.o.bilton@reading.ac.uk or Michelle Reid michelle.reid@reading.ac.uk