What a Cultural Adventure: Moving from a Career in Industry to Academia!

Shelen W H Ho, Henley Business School, University of Reading Malaysia                            shelen.ho@henley.edu.my

“Academia isn’t for everyone!”  I was warned by my business associates when I decided to become a full-time academic in 2016, after spending decades working outside of the enclaves of universities and research facilities.  In the past, industry professionals had little to offer to institutions driven by grant acquisitions and research publications.  However, in recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis being placed on producing graduates with relevant work skills. Academic institutions have become more open to receiving these professionals with years of real-world experience to bring practical innovation into university courses.

In my practice as a business consultant, I was often chosen to be a member of clients’ recruitment panels to provide an outsider’s perspective to the assessment of candidates. There were common grievances voiced by clients that new graduates today lacked critical thinking skills, attention to details, interpersonal competencies and ownership attitude.  The Malaysian Higher Education Ministry has also urged higher education institutions to change the process of teaching and learning to produce holistic, balanced and entrepreneurial graduates with life and career skills, who could adapt and fill in jobs ‘that are yet to exist’ in the 4th industrial revolution (4IR).  With opportunities on the rise and my passion to contribute back to the community, I took a leap of faith from client meetings and corporate environment to meeting students and adapting to a university’s rhythm.

I have to admit it was a culture shock when I started my job as an associate professor at the Henley Business School in the Malaysian campus.  I knew the working culture and work values would be different but experiencing them required me to make connections between what I knew.  I was so used to rushing around everywhere as a consultant and the rhythm in the university was a major source of frustration for me right from the start.  I have since accepted the slower rhythm but not a convert, as yet.  Another peculiar difference is demand expectations.  In business, I needed to have the answers all the time and be answerable every minute, meeting the briefs on time and on budget.  My time belonged to somebody else and I was never really left alone. The demand is different in academia; at least that was what I was told and had observed.  I am allowed to not have the definite answer.  I get time to reflect.  I can explore and think about it first.  However, I also get to be on-call for students, which I find quite enjoyable as students are why I am here after all. A further intriguing experience is with project demands.  The fast-paced, productivity-driven corporate environment leaves little time for eureka moments that come from repeated failure with commercial projects.  In the business world, an approach that does not work or that produces sub-par results is quickly discarded.  That is often frustrating.  On the other hand, in academia, there is time, freedom and support to ask the hard questions, make mistakes and come to inconclusive results.  A failed experiment or a faulty hypothesis does not mean the end of a research project; it could still contribute to statistically significant findings. That is elation to intellectual curious researchers.

As a business consultant, one activity that I looked forward to was invitations to provide training in corporates.  Many of my consultancy associates shared the same desire.  I have the opportunity to train managers and executives in many multinational corporations and public organizations over the years.  When I became an academic, I thought I was well-equipped for teaching with my training experiences.  However, I soon realized that training is not quite the same as teaching. Teaching seeks to impart knowledge and provide information.  Teachers are expected to have the latest subject-matter knowledge and an understanding of pedagogical processes to fill the knowledge gap in students and enable them to achieve the intended learning outcomes. A trainer, on the other hand, has narrow set of items to cover during training sessions.  The focus is less on having a broad knowledge base for the subjects, and more on the behavioral aspects of the trainees.  The aim is to develop certain competencies. For instance, with applied management subjects, it is possible to teach someone about the theory of conflicts management, but that knowledge will not make them a good conflict manager. Specific, practical and applied training is necessary to use abstract knowledge to learn or master a skill. A common feedback from employers about university graduates is that they do not have the practical skills that are necessary to thrive in the workplace. Although many universities and institutions are excellent at teaching, the training component is found in practice to either fall short or is non-existent.

It became clear to me that both teaching and training should be complementary to meet the challenges of educational transformation for the 4IR.  I am a certified professional trainer. However, I needed to learn how to be a professional teacher. Working in partnership with the Centre for Quality and Support Development (CQSD) and the dedicated mentoring by my colleagues at the centre was invaluable to my achievement so far with teaching and learning.  The acknowledgement of my effort with the HEA Senior Fellowship award recently was totally unexpected when I started teaching in 2016.  However, it was the journey to certification that was most rewarding as it has engendered enthusiasm in me and provided me with new insights and new meaning to my past and current work as a facilitator of learning for the future generation of leaders.  The recognition has provided me with a conduit to move forward in the world of teaching and learning.

To conclude, as with many other universities, the University of Reading has adopted the strategy of curriculum internationalisation to prepare our graduates for employment in the global economy.  Internationalisation of the curriculum is the incorporation of an international and intercultural dimension into the preparation, delivery and outcomes of a program of study (Leask, 2009). However, as advocated by Zimitat (2008), ‘internationalizing curricula is not just about content, it also requires changes in pedagogy to encourage students to develop critical skills to understand forces shaping their discipline and challenge accepted viewpoints’.  Here, teachers play the key leading role. As reported in the 3rd global survey report by the International Association of Universities (IAU), ‘the interest, capacity and involvement of faculty members appears to act as a major barrier to moving forward’ (Egron-Polak et al, 2010).  This sharing of my personal adventure could perhaps provide some insights and add to the rich picture for colleagues and peers to have a better understanding of the motivations and challenges experienced by faculty moving between industry and academia. The support for these faculty members could then be more targeted, their competencies and energy better harnessed to build internationalization knowledge and readiness for the institution to reach the internationalization goals.  In line with the UKPSF professional values of inclusiveness and respect for diverse community (V1, V2), I wish to end with a popular quote by a bestselling author, the late Steven R. Covey, ‘strength lies in differences, not in similarities’.

References

Egron-Polak, E., Hudson, R., Gacel-Avila, J., & International Association of Universities. (2010). Internationalization of higher education: Global trends, regional perspectives: IAU 3rd global survey report. Paris: International Association of Universities, IAU (pp. 77-78).

Leask, B. (2009) Using formal and informal curricula to improve interactions between home and international students. Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol. 13, No. 2, 205-221.

Zimitat, C. (2008). Student Perceptions of the Internationalisation of the Curriculum. Chapter 13. In L. Dunn and M. Wallace (Eds), Teaching in Transnational Higher Education (pp. 135-147), London: Routledge.

Study Even Smarter

Michelle Reid, Kim Shahabudin, and Sonia Hood, Study Advice

The successful Study Smart online course will be running again for new Part 1 undergraduates, and will be launched to the new cohort on 28th August. Study Smart helps students make a smooth transition to university study by giving them a shared start point and by welcoming them into the University of Reading learning community. We aim to build on the success of last year, which saw 94% of students who completed the course saying their understanding of what was expected at university-level study was either fairly good, or very good.

National Interest

It is pleasing to see Study Smart becoming nationally recognised as a good model for student transitions. We have received inquiries from other leading Higher Education Institutions about using our model, and we have been showcased in a recent visit from Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation.

New and Improved

The Study Advice team are currently working on a number of improvements to Study Smart based on student and staff feedback. We are streamlining some of the steps in the course in order to make Study Smart more manageable and appealing, particularly to international students who may be pressed for time. We are liaising with ISLI in order to make sure our communications to pre-sessional students are as effective as possible. We are highlighting the benefits of doing Study Smart for students in STEM subjects. One of the most successful elements of the course last year was the student mentors, and we have recruited an excellent team of mentors for this year who have an even wider range of backgrounds and transition experiences to share with the incoming students. We are also investigating whether the main invitation to the course can come from Schools to give additional weight to the message.

Hands-On Session for staff

Feedback also emphasised the value of staff endorsements in helping students to engage with the course, so we would really value your promotion of Study Smart to your tutees and classes. To help academic staff get a feel for the course, we ran a successful Study Smart ‘Hands-On’ session on 4th June with an opportunity to explore the student-view of the course and sample the famous Study Advice cake! We will be running another ‘Hands-on’ session in early September so look out for details of this coming soon via the CQSD T&L programme.

For more information about Study Smart, see our Tutor’s Guide: http://libguides.reading.ac.uk/studysmart or email studyadvice@reading.ac.uk

Reflections on university transition from a new staff member By Dr Alana James

I started university this year, or at least it feels like I have upon starting my new job as a Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences (PCLS). Every face around me is unfamiliar, the campus seems an unnerving maze, and simple processes have become logic puzzles. Oh the joy I felt at using a printer successfully (let’s not mention the attempts at scanning a document). There are many enjoyable aspects – meeting lovely new colleagues and joining in the School’s coffee mornings for example – but the transition is more disorientating than I expected. At the end of my first week I was grateful for some downtime at home, and found myself reflecting upon how my experience compares with the transition to university for new students.

New students face the same challenges I am but may also be living independently, away from their support network, for the first time. Many go home each day to a new place and have to figure out new washing machines and cookers never mind printers, as well as try to get along with housemates. For those commuting there are other challenges, including being at the mercy of traffic or public transport, and trying to forge friendships between classes. I have worked in universities before, and am able to draw upon previous experience; many new students arrive without having spent much, if any, time in a higher education environment. We know that factors such as being the first in your family to go to university or having a disability can make the transition even harder.

My own disorientation in these first days at the University of Reading has reminded me how all-encompassing the transition to university can be. As an academic my focus is often upon ensuring my new students have the academic skills needed to be an independent learner, but it’s important to be mindful that this is just one aspect of the overall transition experience. It’s easy to forget that the initial onset of new faces, places, and challenges can be mentally and physically wearing as well as exciting. When I meet my new students at the start of the next academic year I will try to recall how I felt when I joined the UoR.

One of the influencing factors in my decision to join the UoR was its commitment to student support, particularly mentoring. Harnessing our students’ potential to support each other through mentoring can ease mentees’ transition into university, whilst developing the mentors’ own skills and experience. I have previously run a scheme where psychology students mentored A-level pupils, giving them an insight into what university life is really like, and found that the mentors also benefited in terms of developing transferable skills and ideas about careers. Some recent research with my collaborator found that specialist mentoring, between qualified staff and mentees, is an effective form of support for students with mental health conditions and autism. I will certainly be encouraging my future students at the UoR to make the most of the STaR mentoring scheme and the mentoring connected to the Study Smart online course, first as mentees and later as mentors.

As for me, I am very much looking forward to the meetings with my staff mentor.

Enabling greater access to teaching materials on academic integrity

Kim Shahabudin & Helen Hathaway, Library (Study Advice)    k.shahabudin@reading.ac.uk                                                                                                         Year of activity 2016/17

Overview

The Academic Integrity Toolkit is a suite of research-informed teaching resources, developed in 2012. This project reformatted and revised materials to improve access for tutors and students. Teaching materials were reframed and updated, before republishing online in LibGuides format. The Toolkit was relaunched in November 2016 with a very positive reception from tutors. Since then it has received 8940 views, and has informed key sections of the Study Smart OOC.

Objectives

  • To improve access to the Academic Integrity Toolkit for staff.
  • To introduce direct access to learning resources on academic integrity for students
  • To revise and update the existing resources
  • To disseminate and raise awareness of the resources among staff

Context

There has been increasing interest in academic integrity as an underpinning principle in academic study, evidenced by the establishment of a Steering Group on Academic Integrity, and its inclusion as an advisory section in Programme Handbooks for 2017-18. However, despite keen reception of the original Toolkit materials, they were little accessed in their original format on Blackboard. A small-scale survey of enrolled users indicated that tutors would like to be able to refer students to resources directly.

Implementation

The project began by seeking feedback from existing users to inform revisions. This indicated that while revision to the content of the materials was not regarded as necessary, there was a preference for direct student access: this would necessitate revisions of both content and format. A research officer was employed to set up and populate the new LibGuide, considering design and structure, while we carried out revision of the content of the teaching and learning materials. Dissemination took place via a launch event organised with the Centre for Quality Support and Development at which 21 staff participants heard talks on academic integrity and its increasing significance in universities as part of plagiarism prevention strategies, and about project development, before viewing the new version of the Academic Integrity Toolkit. Attendees were given a branded memory stick containing electronic versions of the materials; these were also sent to senior colleagues in teaching and learning who were not able to attend.

Impact

The Toolkit was well-received on its relaunch with colleagues noting that they would disseminate to colleagues and students, and use the materials in teaching. A senior colleague suggested that the materials should be “possibly sent to students prior to arrival”. This encouraged the inclusion of academic integrity as a topic for the first of three sections in the Study Smart OOC, developed by the Study Advice team in conjunction with the University’s OOC team as a preparatory course for new undergraduates and launched in Aug 2017. The section has seen strong engagement from the almost 2500 students who have enrolled so far, with a total of 2883 comments on discussion boards including 537 responses to the question, “What does academic integrity mean to you?”

Reflections

The revision and republishing of the Toolkit was especially timely with interest growing in the teaching of academic integrity as an alternative strategy to minimise academic misconduct: this certainly aided us in our aim of awareness-raising amongst staff. We were also fortunate to have recently subscribed to LibGuides in the Library, and so had experience of what worked with this format to draw on when making materials more engaging and easy to navigate for students. In addition, our research officer had already worked for the Talis Aspire implementation project and brought valuable experience of communicating guidance to students.

One comment gleaned from feedback on the launch event mentioned that it would have been useful to have more practical examples of how academic tutors could use the Toolkit materials in their teaching. While we lacked the resource to add research and development on this topic into the project, it would have been an effective strategy to encourage use of the materials and so would have contributed positively to awareness-raising.

Follow up

Since its relaunch, the Toolkit has received 8940 views with peaks in November 2016 (the month of launch), January 2017 (following feedback from Autumn term assignments) and September 2017 (new entrants including those new undergraduates who may have undertaken the Study Smart OOC). Research undertaken on the project contributed to the design of the Academic Integrity section in the Study Smart OOC.

Links

The Academic Integrity Toolkit (LibGuide):  https://libguides.reading.ac.uk/academicintegrity

 

 

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.

Group work: investigating the requirements of a student resource

Sonia Hood, Study Adviser, Library                                                             s.hood@reading.ac.uk                                                                                                                     Year of activity: 2015/16

Overview

The project explored both the challenges and solutions of assessed group work, from a staff and student perspective. Focus groups and in-depth interviews with undergraduates, postgraduates and staff revealed a number of key challenges such as: confronting ‘difficult’ group members; ensuring fairness; and dealing with varying priorities. A number of solutions were proposed including: careful consideration of the % mark allocated to group work; training on dealing with challenging individuals; more emphasis on self-awareness; and timetabled group work sessions. The project offers a number of recommendations to anyone wishing to improve their students’ ability to engage positively with group work.

Objectives

  • To explore the challenges and solutions to assessed group work, from a student and staff perspective
  • To offer recommendations that support students to independently solve some of the challenges they face with this form of assessment
  • To create a ‘student reviewed’ bank of group work resources

Context

Group work is an integral part of assessment at university but students rarely arrive equipped with the skills, experience and knowledge to deal with the challenges they face when working in groups. As a result this can be a cause of anxiety for students and also a time consuming intervention for lecturers. Henley Business School (HBS) approached Study Advice for help in supporting their students to deal with the group work challenges they face. Whilst it was accepted that a wide range of open access group work resources were already available, it was felt that students needed help navigating these. In addition, it was felt in order to truly support students with group work we first needed to understand the challenges they face, how they have/intend to overcome these and how best they would like to be supported in doing this. Real Estate and Planning (REP) students were chosen as the sample and focus groups and in-depth interviews were used to explore the perceptions, challenges and proposed solutions for assessed group work.

Implementation

A student researcher post was developed and an REP student was employed over the summer to evaluate the wealth of open access resources available on group work. This resulted in a folder of group work resources being created and uploaded onto Blackboard.  In addition a pack containing key resources was compiled and handed out to part 1 REP students when commencing their first group work project.

A staff focus group took place in June 2015, where 7 HBS staff members discussed the challenges and solutions to group work from their experience and perspective. Following this, in the autumn term part 1 students from REP were invited to a focus group to discuss their early perceptions of group work at university. In the spring term, 6 students following MSc planning courses contributed to a focus group, discussing the challenges they faced and their proposed solutions. Finally over the course of the spring and summer terms, 8 in-depth interviews were carried out with both undergraduates (UGs) and postgraduates (PGs) following Real Estate and Planning courses to explore their individual experiences with this form of assessment. These interviews and focus groups were then transcribed, analysed and themed into both challenges and solutions.

Impact

All three objectives of this study were reached. We now have a bank of resources to support students with group work, available on Blackboard, which can be copied into any course.

Group work student pack
Excerpt from Student Pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The initial pack handed out to students proved to be useful for undergraduates, mainly as an aid to focus early group discussions. The research has helped to develop our understanding of the challenges students face and the solutions they feel could be implemented. These are being disseminated in the first instance to those in REP and then to the wider T&L community. It is hoped that these findings will help to improve the effectiveness and experience of group working for a wide variety of students.

Reflections

The interviews and focus groups revealed the complex challenges associated with group work: not least in dealing with conflict and difficult group members, managing different priorities within the group and the perception of fairness with regards the marking system. Solutions varied between the PG and UG students, though all recognised that effective teams take time to get to know each other informally. Students suggested that informal events could be organised as part of their course to help them through this ‘forming’ stage. PG students also asked for careful consideration of how the mark for group work is allocated (with a higher proportion allocated to individual work) and a penalty imposed as a last resort. More support was requested in dealing with conflict and difficult team members, and the need for more self-reflection from everyone within the group was identified. There are also some simple things we can do to help students with the practicalities of group work, like timetabling group work sessions and  booking rooms at set times for students to use. In terms of tutor support, it was recognized that their time was limited; when it comes to personal issues within a group, speaking to a mentor (like a part 2 student) who could offer confidential, impartial advice would be a preferable option for UGs.

Follow up

Overall, the majority of students recognised the importance and value of group work, not only for future careers but also in the depth and breadth of work they could produce. There are a complex set of challenges that students face in dealing with this form of assessment and this project reveals some solutions that students believe we could implement to help them to deal with issues independently.

Work continues on this project, as at present we are only just starting to disseminate the findings. Whilst the recommendations from this small scale study might not be relevant to all engaged in group work, it is felt that a number of themes and challenges are shared across a variety of disciplines. We would welcome speaking to anyone who is interested in finding out more about this project and how they might benefit from this research.

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)

Legal Seagulls : Experience Plan for overseas students

Shweta Band, Law
s.band@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2015-16

Overview

The name ‘Legal Seagulls’ represents all overseas students in the School of Law. I initiated the Legal Seagulls Experience Plan in 2015-16 as a three-step support initiative to enhance the academic and university-life experience for our overseas students.

This includes the Pre-arrival Academic Welcome Kit (PAWK), on-arrival Academic Bridging Course Induction Programme and weekly in-sessional support sessions in the form of GOALLS (Global Outlook Activities and Learning for Legal Seagulls)

Objectives

  • To model an experience initiative for overseas students as a symbol of real academic and social integration.
  • To develop, deliver and evaluate a structured and continual pre-arrival and in-sessional mechanism.
  • To provide a comprehensive academic transition information at the pre-arrival stage in an endeavour to bridge the gap between the home and overseas legal academic environments.
  • To foster a global outlook towards social integration and employability skills.

Context

The School of Law has a significant number of international students – close to 47% of current students. To establish a single point of contact for them, a new office was established and I was appointed as the first International Support Tutor in the School of Law in February 2015.

I was assigned the task of providing academic and pastoral care to international students. In order to understand the experience of international students in the UK, I began by studying some of the recent research on the topic published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), and Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) Guidance.

This research revealed that there is consistent feedback from international students for the need of a structured approach to respond to two of the biggest concerns that they have: difficulties in transition (socio-cultural-academic), and employability attributes. This corroborated with the feedback I had received in a number of meetings with members of the academic staff, support services and overseas students in the School of Law.

This inspired me to develop the Legal Seagulls Experience Plan with the objective being that it will positively change the quality of overall experience for the students during the period of study with us, and also allow them to attain their academic potential and maximize their grades.

Implementation

For an international student, the journey of studying in a foreign country doesn’t begin in the Welcome Week; it actually begins on the day the offer is accepted. To bridge the gap between this period, I send a series of pre-arrival weekly emails in the form of academic bridging e-course to all confirmed offer holders. The PAWK includes guidance and online resources for a smoother academic transition.

During Welcome Week, the School of Law organizes three different Academic Bridging Course Induction Programmes for Postgraduate students, Part One students and Credit-transfer students.

This includes a session each on Academic Calendar, Teaching and Learning Methodology, Course Objectives, Good Academic Practice, Managing Academic Transition, Learning Technology, etc.

Our in-sessional support project, begun in 2015-16, is titled GOALLS : Global Outlook Activities and Learning for Legal Seagulls: free and open weekly sessions delivered by subject experts and based largely on games and group activities. A Certificate of Participation is awarded for attending five or more sessions and this counts toward the Research Experience and Development (RED) Award.

The Autumn term GOALLS focussed on cultural and academic integration and included sessions on topics such as Know Your Host (British Ways of Life), Know the British Legal Academia, and Cross-cultural Communication Training. The Spring GOALLS series was focused entirely on support for careers and examinations.

The students can register for the Academic Induction Programme and for GOALLS via an online registration form on the Legal Seagulls website which is made available from early August.

Impact

In 2015-16, 192 students received the PAWK. I could measure the successful response to this by the number of pre-arrival online registrations received for the Induction Programme (101), GOALLS (55) and Academic English Programme for Law Classes (70)

A total of 131 students attended the Induction sessions in the Welcome Week. This was a positive increase from the previous years. Of the students surveyed, 79% rated the Undergraduate Induction Programme as 4* or 5* and 92% rated the Postgraduate Induction Programme as 4* or 5*.

Close to 300 students benefited from the fourteen GOALLS sessions spread across the Autumn and Spring Terms. Of the 1505 total number of responses received for seven sections, 78% students marked the sessions as Outstanding (5*) or Very Good (4*).

This three-point Legal Seagulls Experience Plan has been able to lay the foundation to:

  • Respond to the early stages of culture shock and novelty for overseas students.
  • Introduce the overseas students thoroughly to UK as a host and to Reading as the host University.
  • Strengthen global graduate attributes and skills for overseas students.
  • Foster intercultural understanding and communication.

A few encouraging responses quoted from the student feedback are indicative of the positive impact: “Interaction with people of a different ethnicity other than mine rebuts my initial mindset about them”; “It was brilliant learning the debate mechanism and how to structure an oral argument properly”; “Today’s session has been tremendously useful for law students who are preparing for the upcoming exam. I have learnt a number of ways to study effectively.”

Reflections

The Pre-arrival Academic Welcome Kit (PAWK) and the Academic Bridging Course Induction Programme have been continued almost in the same format for 2016-17.

I have added a team-building activity session for the credit-transfer students’ Induction Programme. The PG Induction will now be live-streamed for the students arriving late and for students on the distance learning programme.

The GOALLS sessions have been reorganized in response to the feedback from the students that most of them were busy with exams and submissions in the Spring term and therefore could not attend the sessions in spite of being interested. This was reflected in the dwindling attendance. In view of this, for 2016-17, I have re-structured GOALLS.

The sessions on academic and cultural integration, career advice and exam support have now been scheduled during the Autumn Term. Electronic feedback has been added to the paper version. As an academic value addition to GOALLS, Professor Susan Breau, Head of School, has very kindly accepted my proposal to start an academic competition, the World Constitutions Showcase, to be delivered by Legal Seagulls under the Public Law Lecture series.

My efforts will also be see a renewed focus on activities reflecting on integration of home and overseas students.

Follow up

I honestly hope to create a well-founded sense of trust amongst our international students that we are absolutely keen on giving them the best possible support and services that any foreign academic institution can think of. We have a vibrant body of overseas students and we benefit in more ways than one from their presence and participation on campus.

The Legal Seagulls Experience Plan will strive to create, nurture and award an environment of mutual learning among the home students, overseas students and staff in the School of Law.

Our long-term aim is to create an ethos of a real and open acceptance of, and support to, the academic and cultural diversity brought to us by our international students.

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Developing independent learners – a first year skills module

Professor Elizabeth Page, Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy
e.m.page@reading.ac.uk

Overview

A series of skills based modules running through the three years of the BSc and MChem Chemistry programmes has been developed. The aim is to promote independent learning and the development of academic and employability skills through subject specific material and activities. This entry describes the Part One module which would be readily transferable to many cognate disciplines.

Objectives

  • To support students in developing independent learning skills as they make the transition from school to university.
  • To introduce students to open and closed types of problems and help them develop strategies for tackling them.
  • To support students in developing time management, organisation, communication, team working and other transferable academic and professional skills.
  • To encourage students to self-assess their personal transferable skills and articulate them.

Context

The main drivers for the development of the series of skills-focussed modules were:

  • To break the cycle of ‘learning for the examination’ that is practised widely in schools and colleges to enhance exam results and league table position.
  • To provide “greater and more sustainable variety in modes of study to meet the changing demands of industry and students”, as recommended in the South East Universities Biopharma Skills Consortium Project.

Implementation

An initial survey was carried out of Part One students across the Faculty of Life Sciences to determine their biggest perceived differences between study at school or college and university. The greatest changes reported were the increased requirement for self-motivation and independent study required at higher education, coupled with a decrease in clarity of course and assessment requirements.

A small group of staff from different branches of the subject (Chemistry) discussed the desirable learning outcomes of the module and planned activities through which to achieve these outcomes.

One key aim of the module was to introduce students to the idea that there is sometimes no right or wrong answer but it is the route to solving a problem that is important. We were keen to ensure that the module addressed areas of the Chemistry curriculum that were both unfamiliar and challenging so that students were forced to read around the subject in order to understand the key concepts. In this way we believed that they would be better prepared to master the material when they subsequently met it in later modules. We therefore adopted a problem-based learning approach in which a series of chemical challenges were designed.

The module starts with an open-ended problem requiring little subject knowledge apart from basic scientific ideas. In groups students are required to find reasonable answers to problems such as ‘how much radioactivity is there in a banana?’ or ‘how much hydrogen would it take to supply the nation with cups of tea for a day?’. Students can use any assumptions or sources to solve the problem and have to justify their answers in a group presentation the following week. Subsequent problems were designed in the three main branches of chemistry and each challenge was designed to encourage students to develop different skills. For example, to develop numeracy skills students are required to justify the use of a major research platform to a government minister and calculate the number of molecules that can fit into a matchbox to give an idea of the size of a molecule to a non-scientist. Three of the challenges are carried out in groups and the same group members are retained through the year. We have been fortunate to welcome colleagues from Study Support to help our students with team working skills and our link librarian to explain the use of library resources and reliable sources from data base searching.

Impact

The module was first delivered in 2011 and feedback was very positive. A key feature of the module is that it helps students recognise their strengths and reflect on transferable skills to better articulate them in interviews and on application forms. Students reported that the module has helped them answer interview questions such as ‘How have you overcome problems in a group where one member has not contributed as expected?’ and ‘Give examples of a problem you have struggled to solve and how you succeeded’. The team based approach provides new students with a small group who they quickly get to know and so establishes friendships. Following the success of the Part One module we decided to design the Part Two module to align with our career management course and again use team working as the vehicle for achieving the learning outcomes.

Reflections

The success of the module rests upon a number of factors. Engagement of staff from across the department ensures ‘buy-in’. Six academic staff were initially involved with designing and delivering the module. In addition we were fortunate to have a project officer who did much of the preparation for the module and set up groups and Wikis on the Blackboard site.

Teams are composed of students of mixed gender, ethnicity and ability, based on information on RISIS available from their UCAS applications. Most teams work well with the usual problems encountered in team working. Peer evaluation is used to secure student feedback, and a scaling factor for each team member derived which is applied to the group mark for each activity.

The first challenge is formatively assessed and students given feedback within one week. Students receive detailed feedback on subsequent summative assessments.

Follow up

In 2014 we expanded the module to 20 credits and simultaneously increased the contact time and introduced IT skills. The original challenges are still used although there is plenty of scope for developing new problems. In order to support our students applying for placements in industry we conclude the module in the spring term with a personal analysis of skills developed, which can be integrated into applications and CVs for placements. The module structure would be easily transferable to other disciplines. The team responsible for the module were awarded a University Collaborative Award in 2012. Staff involved with the module are: Dr John McKendrick, Dr Andy Russell, Dr David Nutt, Professor Matthew Almond, Dr Joanne Elliott, and Mrs Sally Wade.

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Fostering effective transition to university learning

Dr Ciara Healy, Arts and Communication Design
c.healy@reading.ac.uk

Overview

This case study presents some approaches taken in the Department of Art to encourage relationship building between different cohorts of students and all members of staff. The majority of activities took place in the first 6 weeks of the Autumn term and focused especially on Welcome Week.

Objectives

  • Encourage relationship building across the Department and the University.
  • Support the development of a sense of community for all students.
  • Facilitate opportunities for students to share their own experiences of starting University with a new cohort.
  • Involve Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL) Leaders and STaR mentors in as many of these activities as possible.

Context

As module convenor for Part One Art students, I want to ensure that new cohorts are equipped with a deep sense of belonging to a wider creative community. I am aware of how beneficial a sense of belonging is to student wellbeing, engagement and resilience over the course of their degree.

Implementation

  1. Liaise with STaR Mentors and PAL Leaders during Welcome Week.
  2. Invite all members of staff in the Department to introduce themselves to new cohorts during Welcome Week.
  3. Invite staff to present a series of 5-minute dynamic ‘trailers’ on modules to new cohorts.
  4. Facilitate STaR mentor tours of the Department and available resources.
  5. Facilitate weekly discussions throughout the first term on independent learning skills.
  6. Launch an exhibition of finalist artwork on the Friday of Welcome Week. Invite the new cohort to the private view and exhibition party.
  7. Host an exhibition of first year student work in Week 3. Equip students with an awareness of exhibition etiquette in order to help them curate and present their first body of work to all staff and students from the Department. This further emphasizes the importance of belonging to a wider creative community.

Impact

Relationship building across the Department is really important in Art as students thrive when they share resources, ideas, critical judgements, experiences and exhibition opportunities. These activities in the first few weeks of term had a significant impact on how Part One students put together their first exhibition for their assessments at the end of the Autumn term. Students from other cohorts who helped them to install their work commented on how professional and successful it was. These more experienced students were also available to support students who found independent learning a challenge.

Reflections

The existing sense of community in the Department of Art helped to make the implementation of these activities successful. It was difficult at first to recruit students to become STaR mentors, however this has been resolved this year by inviting the Co-ordinators of PAL and STaR mentors to give presentations to the students throughout Spring term. Part One students who attended PAL sessions this year have signed up to become STaR Mentors. Many of them have also signed up to be PAL leaders.

Follow up

There is now an emerging culture of support in the Department of Art through existing creative communities and now increasingly through an engagement with PAL and STAR mentoring. This culture is growing every year and has made a huge contribution to embedding a sense of belonging, resilience and wellbeing amongst Art students at the University.