PGT: WHAT IS IT FOR?

Most research into the higher education student experience focuses on undergraduate (UG) education.  Government policy initiatives on postgraduate education, and subsequent research, have recently focused on access and funding (see, for instance, the blog in June 2015, Funding Postgraduate Study in the UK: issues of widening participation and sustainability).  There is, on the whole, less attention given to issues about the postgraduate taught (PGT) student experience and on how this level of education specifically bears upon opportunities and life choices.  Attending to these issues leads us to the question, which this blog post explores: what is PGT for?

The Society for Research into Higher Education Postgraduate Issues Network, which Dr Martin Gough of the Educational Development Division co-convenes, again found itself at the centre of this debate through hosting a seminar event in 2016, entitled Postgraduate Taught Student Experience, Employability and Support (presenters’ slides are available hereDr Camille Kandiko-Howson of King’s College London, and who has recently spoken at the University of Liverpool on her work on student engagement, was co-organiser, in her role as the Convenor of the Society’s Student Experience Network.  This blog post also serves to report highlights of this event [i] pertinent to our question above.

PGT is placed precariously between UG and PGR levels.  So, for instance, higher education institutions variously position their PGT provision administratively alongside UG, as taught degree rather than as research degree programmes, or they make a distinction firmly between postgraduate and undergraduate.  This phenomenon does not bode well for promoting a robust raison d’être for PGT.  The day of presentations came together well into key themes, namely knowledge, identity and the problematic status of PGT, and, at least, certainly provided pointers towards articulating purposes for PGT.

Confidence, Competence, and Knowledge

Peter Fine, Director of the Sports Dentistry Programme at University College London Eastman Dental Institute, has been undertaking a longitudinal study of part-time Master’s students’ experiences of continuing professional development (CPD).  He adopted a methodological focus on the confidence and ‘self-efficacy’ (c.f. Bandura 1977) levels of his CPD programme students, who have started careers in the dental profession.

We all want our personal dentists to be confident in what they do!  But his presentation of his research raised the further question about just what this ‘confidence’ is.  Peter has been measuring it by means of questionnaire numerical scale responses from the students at the start and at further selected points in the course of his CPD programme (by when it tends to increase but not straightforwardly), as well as by focus group discussions and personal interviews.  This must tell us something important but relying upon self-reporting of feelings of confidence is prey to factors such as corrigible memory and variation in how those feelings are understood at the time anyway: so, for instance, when is a feeling of confidence just bravado, with the danger of recklessness?

The link to the right disciplinary knowledge is going to be key to pinning the phenomenon down more objectively and allowing confidence to be an independent measure.  If enhanced competence in students can be observed by the expert then, arguably, we shall have grounds for noticing more confidence in our dental practitioners, through their ease in their working and subsequent success, and the practitioners will be entitled to feel more confident as a result.  And the increase in practitioner confidence (and competence) will be reflected in more patient satisfaction.  We can certainly say that robust CPD for practitioners who have already begun their careers is a clear purpose for the PGT level.  Continue reading PGT: WHAT IS IT FOR?

Gaining recognition for high quality teaching – in a scholarly fashion?

Higher Education in the UK is in the process of undergoing a major shift. The Teaching Excellence Framework represents a sea change in the way that universities are funded. The framework seeks to assess the quality of teaching in universities, with metrics around student satisfaction, student employability and retention rates all central to the process.

While there are plenty of challenges associated with the framework, as I have made clear in a recent posting on the Telegraph Blog, it is also the case that universities will place a much keener emphasis on the calibre of their teaching staff. We can expect much greater interest in the Higher Education Academy’s Fellowships scheme, which seeks to recognise the commitment of staff to professionalism in learning and teaching in higher education.

As part of its wider strategy, the University is heavily promoting its in-house recognition and accreditation framework to enable staff to gain Fellowships with the Academy, ULTRA. In order to gain recognition under this scheme, staff need to prepare a claim against the criteria for the relevant level of Fellowship.

Clearly, one can engage in the process in different ways. For instance, one of the criteria for gaining a Senior Fellowship is as follows:

Successful co-ordination, support, supervision, management and/or mentoring of other colleagues (whether individuals and/or teams) in relation to teaching and learning.

It would be possible to compile evidence against this claim in a relatively straightforward fashion, perhaps demonstrating how someone whom you mentored went on to secure more positive course evaluations from their students; with other evidence aimed at a similar level.

What would it take, though, for someone to compile a claim for a Fellowship that considered how to re-frame or develop his or her approach to mentoring colleagues?

This is the sort of territory that a recent virtual special issue of the journal Teaching in Higher Education set out to address. The issue, which I co-edited, is entitled A scholarly basis for teaching practices in higher education.

The journal has long been committed to critically examining and interrogating the values and presuppositions that underpin teaching in higher education. The articles in the special issue were selected with a view to prompting this sort of criticality amongst those engaging with the HEA Fellowships.

Dr Peter Kahn PFHEA

Director of Studies, EdD in Higher Education

Students get together to focus on ‘real-world’ problems – ‘Re-wilding’ a strategy for the UK

As part of Liverpool University’s Guild of Students Sustainability lecture series, Dr Jenny Hodgson from the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour, in the Institute of Integrative Biology, and two PhD students, Vinnie Keenan and Jamie Alison recently hosted an innovative and engaging event on the topic of ‘re-wilding’ which was attended by thirty staff and students from across the University.

The event started with an activity to get participants to reflect on how much they individually value the natural environmental – this included a fun activity of drawing our favourite place in the UK for a holiday!

Jenny then presented a summary of current research on the historical impact of humans on the natural world, particularly since the introduction of agriculture, and specifically on the impact of the British landscape. For Britain, a very large percentage of the country is either urban or agricultural, with only small areas of nature reserves and other protected areas that tend to be very disconnected and fragmented.  Because of the significant impact that man has had on this country’s landscape, it’s problematic to define what exactly ‘natural’ means. ‘Re-wilding’ was introduced as an approach to re-establishing natural landscapes for a range of purposes that include nature conservation and sustainability of habitats, re-introduction of large mammals and other wildlife species, climate change migration, flood protection, local tourism and farm income diversification.

In groups of five or six, we then were given the scenario of developing a re-wilding strategy plan for an area of the Lake District using information from a range of stakeholders; local farmers, residents, The National Trust, and the National Farmers Union etc. Each group gave a one minute ‘elevator’ pitch for their ideas. What was notable from this activity was how engaged most students were with the process. They developed a wide range of practical, innovative and imaginative solutions to the task in a very short period of time – often utilising their different subject expertise and perspectives on the issues involved.

The Sustainability lecture series is a new initiative that provides an open and innovative forum for students to explore complex global issues outside of their own subject areas. These events also provide staff with an opportunity to promote their research to non-technical and public audiences, and for research students an opportunity to engage in learning and teaching. The series so far have covered a wide range of social, economic and environmental issues including the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), media reporting of climate change, green spaces strategy for Liverpool, food security, and post-crash economics, and forms part of the University’s objectives for promoting greater inclusion of sustainability into our learning and teaching.

Resources

Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology: Rewilding and Ecosystem Services report

Guild of Students Green Guild Team

Education for sustainable development at the University of Liverpool

Reducing the ‘them and us’ of professional and academic staff – what the Times Higher didn’t say!

Like most authors, Carroll and I were delighted to have our paper on the contribution of professional staff to student outcomes published by the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management recently. We were also excited to hear that the article had attracted the attention of the THE  and we agreed to discuss our research with one of their journalists.

Serendipitously, Carroll was visiting our university at the time. Our conversation with the THE journalist, however, was a little disappointing. Despite our best efforts, the journalist chose to focus on just a few (negative) points. This has led to discussions on various forums, both in the UK and Australia, and we have felt it necessary to ‘put the record straight’ on several occasions. The main thrust of our paper was that professional staff develop pedagogical partnerships with academic staff, other professional staff and with students. Effective working is about collaboration and co-operation to achieve optimal student outcomes – and that the part professional staff play in those partnerships needs to be recognised in a systemic manner.

partners

Contrary to the view headlined in the THE, our study actually suggests there is a reduction in the ‘them and us’ tension, particularly as professional staff become more qualified. Nevertheless, some professional staff we interviewed felt under-appreciated by senior management. The sort of recognition (or lack thereof) in our study was systemic. Participants reported a perceived lack of acknowledgement as an equal partner in such things as enhancement plans, or recognition as a co-author on reports, etc. This systemic lack of recognition was evident in both our case studies.

It also needs to be understood that our methodology deliberately chose to take the perspective of professional staff – that is, we interviewed professional staff, but only professional staff. Hence the question of ‘why?’, behind some of our findings, remains to be explored. This was an ideological decision, with the aim of giving ‘voice’ to professional staff.

protest

The methodology was case study and included two cases – one from Australia and the other from the UK. As such, the findings pertain specifically to those cases, but may provide some insights into similar cases elsewhere. The recommendations from our paper include the following:

  • Professional staff role descriptors need to make clear the nature of their contribution to student outcomes, to ensure smart recruitment of people with the right set of skills and values.
  • Promotion of more overtly collaborative initiatives between professional staff and academic colleagues for retention, persistence and success, and raise awareness of pedagogical partnerships.
  • Care must be taken, by all levels of management, to recognise and value all contributors to the pedagogical partnerships that promote successful student outcomes.
  • The binary divide of pay scales and other rewards and benefits need to be reviewed, not only to take account of emerging blended HE professionals, but simply to remove a significant barrier to true partnering.
  • Length of service makes professional staff an important resource, but consideration is needed to ensure succession planning and sustainability of service.
  • Equality of opportunity for development and scholarly activity for professional staff enhances their job satisfaction and retention, which is is ultimately beneficial to student outcomes and the institution — a more engaged and motivated body of professional staff is both more willing, and able, to provide quality professional services.

We hope that this posting ‘sets the record straight’, and inspires you to read the full article.

 

Dr Julie-Anne Regan, University of Liverpool

Dr Carroll Graham UTS, Sydney Australia

How international is the University of Liverpool ?

Traditional HE measures of internationalisation typically include numbers of international staff and students, student mobility numbers, and international research. The University of Liverpool recently had the opportunity to participate in a pilot study of the Global-Education Profiler (GE-P), a diagnostic tool developed by Spencer-Oatey and Dauber to go beyond these traditional measures and help institutions identify what kind of global learning environment our students are actually experiencing.

This new tool asks students to rate items such as social and academic integration in terms of both their ‘importance’ and their ‘actual experience’.  The GE-P “identifies students’ actual experiences of integration, and opportunities and support for developing ‘Global Graduate’ skills”, which many employers say they are looking for graduates to possess, and which might typically include the following:

H Spencer Oatey image
British Council (2013), Culture at Work – The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace

Spencer-Oatey and Dauber (2016) have also developed a model (below) to show the five stages of development for an institution to become fully internationalised:

H Spencer Oatey slide
(http://www.globalpad.net/ge-p)

Many institutions are in the middle stage of this model. The GE-P tool can provide information to help institutions develop strategies to facilitate movement to the higher stages.

Helen Spencer-Oatey gave a really interesting presentation to staff in May where she presented some initial findings from the survey. You can hear a short video from Helen about the importance of looking at ‘wider’ measures of internationalisation to support institutions in developing a truly international student experience, and how the Global-Education Profiler tool can provide strategic information to support this process. View a copy of Helen’s full presentation (available to Liverpool staff only at this stage as this work was part of a pilot study using a survey that is not yet refined nor generally available).

Although Helen’s team were only at the early stages of analysis of the pilot data, which was based on a fairly small sample, staff attending the talk were fascinated to see what Liverpool students think about their experiences. Although in some cases, Liverpool doesn’t quite meet the high expectations of students, the gap between expectation and experience is small for communication skills and academic integration, with a slightly bigger gap between the two noted for social integration. Language skills and global skills were a little more of a concern. Interestingly, comparing students from Asia with UK students, the overall differences in results are not large. Asian students saw social integration as slightly more important than UK students and their experience falls a little shorter of their expectations.  However, we were encouraged by the results which provide some useful pointers as to how we can get ourselves firmly into the stage of ‘Community Internationalisation’.

You may also be interested in a previous blog which highlights some of Spencer-Oatey and Dauber’s previous research in this area.

Anne Qualter and Trish Lunt

 

References

British Council (2013) ‘Culture at Work – The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace’ Available at https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/culture-at-work-report-v2.pdf (accessed 13 June 2016)

Involving students in curriculum development: Get more out of focus groups by trying this combined approach.

Tünde Varga-Atkins, Jaye McIsaac and Ian Willis from the Educational Development Division present their findings from trying a new approach to focus groups.

If you want to involve students in curriculum development then here is a method that seems to work for us. We have explored combining a focus group with Nominal Group Technique (a process for problem identification and group decision making) in one student evaluation session. We named our approach the ‘Nominal Focus Group’.

This combination gives the benefits of both: the in-depth discussion of a Focus Group and the prioritising of results of Nominal Group Technique. In our work as Educational Developers working with academic staff on curriculum enhancements, results from a Nominal Focus Group provided us with rich data and actionable outcomes that were used to make informed curriculum enhancements for the programme teams. The process also increased students’ feelings of ownership. In a Higher Education era focused on the student voice, these benefits seem particularly appealing.

A bit about focus groups
Figure 1. A traditional focus group process: resulting in a transcript and report.
Figure 1. A traditional focus group process: resulting in a transcript and report.

Sometimes, certain focus group members can dominate the discussion and this may skew the recommendations made by students. This is the sort of bias that the process of the Nominal Group Technique is meant to design out.

  • Advantages: ability to cover a number of questions in the session (up to 5-6 main topics), peer suggestions can help jog memory of others;
  • Disadvantages: potential bias of vocal members, facilitator makes judgement about importance of responses and suggestions.
A bit about the Nominal Group Technique
Figure 2. Nominal Group Technique process: resulting in a prioritised list of items.
Figure 2. Nominal Group Technique process: resulting in a prioritised list of items.

The Nominal Group Technique has been developed by Delbecq and Van de Ven (1971). In a Nominal Group Technique session used for curriculum enhancement, students are usually asked one or two questions. For instance, “How could we improve this module?” Every participant is asked to write down their response individually on a post-it note (see Figure 2, stage 1). Then they read it out aloud and all the responses are placed on a board for all to see.

Continue reading Involving students in curriculum development: Get more out of focus groups by trying this combined approach.

Sharing Practice in Academic Advising

A recent university Learning and Teaching forum hosted by the PVC for Education, Prof. Gavin Brown, focused on the implementation of the Academic Advisor framework across the institution.

Stimulating presentations were given by academic colleagues, one of our students, and colleagues from Professional Services. A range of issues was covered including how the Academic Advisor framework is working in practice, feedback from students (including a group of students defining what an ‘ideal’ academic advisor might look like), advice on the wide range of support services available in the university, and additional opportunities such as the Year in China/Study Abroad programme.

The Academic Advisor Framework

The University of Liverpool regards the role of the Academic Advisor as a fundamental component of the relationship between academic teaching staff and students. It is a key contributor to a positive student experience. (Academic Advisor Handbook, 2015-16)

There are a number of key principles behind the Academic Advisor framework, one of which is the fostering of a partnership relationship between staff and students to promote their development as independent and scholarly learners.

To support the implementation of this principle, the Academic Advisor Framework recommends a number of key meetings between the academic advisor and their students which correspond to key points in the student journey. An outline of the generic meeting framework is discussed by Dr Anthony Sinclair , Student Experience Lead for Histories, Languages and Cultures here, but this framework can also be adapted locally. Further details are available in the Academic Advisor’s handbook (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/eddev/supporting-students/academic-advising/).

It is also important that the ‘Academic Advisor …. develops a relationship with a student that is supportive in encouraging students to develop their skills for self-management and employment.’ . In this clip, Anthony Sinclair illustrates the range of topics that can typically be covered in meetings between academic advisors and students. The range of skills that enable students to be effective learners are in the main some of the same skills that employers will also be looking for, and so support for the development of these skills, and helping the student to recognise and articulate the development of these skills is also crucial.

Continue reading Sharing Practice in Academic Advising

The internationalisation of higher education: two recent studies

Universities are becoming increasingly more international, and at a genuinely rapid rate. An earlier report from the British Council highlighted student global mobility and the emergence of transnational higher education as two of the four most significant trends in the sector worldwide. Transnational education involves students studying towards a qualification from another country while staying in their home country.

It is intriguing, though, that internationalisation can occur whether students are willing to travel to another country, and also when they stay at home while another country comes to them, as it were.

Two of the students who have most recently completed the University’s EdD in Higher Education have highlighted a set of ways forward in relation to these two trends. Dr Jason Beckerman graduated in December 2015, and Sally Stafford will graduate at the next opportunity in July 2016.

Study abroad doesn’t need to be for a full year

Dr Jason Beckerman’s research comes at the issue of student mobility from a fascinating angle. He addressed ways in which short term study abroad trips can result in transformative learning for the students concerned. His study focused on students from New York University Abu Dhabi who travelled to Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. It was clear that the trips affected the way in which students oriented themselves to their future endeavours, and helped students to realise that through their studies they were able to make an impact on the wider world.

The report by the British Council indicated that the number of students studying away from their home country increased from 800,000 students in the mid-1970s to over 3.5 million in 2009. While the increase is impressive, it still represents a genuinely modest proportion of the overall number of students in higher education. In fact, the proportion of students with outbound mobility has remained constant since the 1990s at a little over 2% each year. These figures, though, relate to students undertaking relatively long periods of study abroad. Given the importance of understanding across cultures and countries to global society at large, Beckerman’s thesis supports the contention that greater recognition needs to be paid to short-term study abroad. His thesis is available in the University’s research repository.

J Beckerman cropped 2
Dr Jason Beckerman at his graduation ceremony in December 2015.
Integrating transnational ventures into the institution

Meanwhile, a second report from the British Council on the shape of things to come has noted that it is critical that programmes of transnational education are of a high quality. The report observed that transnational education is becoming an increasingly important component of internationalisation.

Sally Stafford’s research thus addresses a key area for the sector, the need for TNE (transnational education) initiatives to contribute to an institution’s internationalisation strategy. Her thesis was entitled ‘Strengthening institutional management of transnational higher education: Implications derived from a thematic analysis of the Cycle 2 audit reports of the Australian Universities Quality Agency’.

In building a broader knowledge base for those responsible for institutional and programmer strategies guiding transnational education initiatives, Stafford identified the importance of aligning transnational education initiatives with overall university mission and objectives. Other lessons that emerged from her research were the importance of integrating the transnational education venture into institutional structure and its governance and management processes. Her thesis will be available from the University’s research repository after her graduation in July.

It is essential that research into higher education explicitly shapes the things that are to come in higher education. And our congratulations go to these two colleagues for their research, and their doctoral qualifications.

Dr Peter Kahn PFHEA

Director of Studies, EdD in Higher Education

Developing graduates who can address 21st century problems

This blog is by way of an invitation for anyone interested in developing sustainability issues in programmes and modules to attend a workshop on 9th March 2016 at 12.30 run by the Education for Sustainable Development Working Group . Contact Nick Bunyan, nbunyan@liv.ac.uk in the Centre for Lifelong Learning for more details or just book on to the event.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a university responsibility.

Last year QAA published a framework for Education for Sustainable Development (2014) that is meant to guide UK universities towards the development of curricula that meet HEFCE’s vision:

“Within the next 10 years, the higher education sector in this country will be recognised as a major contributor to society’s efforts to achieve sustainability – through the skills and knowledge that its graduates learn and put into practice.”

This prompted work to develop a University of Liverpool Education for Sustainability approach led by the ESD Working Group.

An interdisciplinary approach to ESD

Some of the most exciting work for ESD has been done by a group of staff from across all three Faculties sponsored by Facilities Management Sustainability Team and enthusiastically supported by The Green Guild. Putting our university strategy into action, The Guild hosted an event at which students from three different disciplines came together to present their work from modules focusing on environment and using the campus as a city in microcosm.

The project arose out of changes needed to a second year Geography and Planning module resulting from a significant increase in numbers, mainly from XJTLU students to the programme (95 Chinese; 175 total), a desire to promote good group work and interdisciplinary and intercultural working, and a need to make the course more engaged with the real world. The assignment required students to respond to a brief from Facilities Management (the client) for proposals for Greening The Campus.

The module brings together students and staff and students from disciplines and departments from across all three faculties.

green space task group
The Green Space Task Group

Continue reading Developing graduates who can address 21st century problems

What are Digital Capabilities and why do we need them?

On the 13th October 2015 Esther Barrett and Scott Hibberson from Jisc delivered a workshop to university colleagues entitled ‘What are Digital Capabilities and why do we need them?’.

 Emma Thompson (above), the Library’s Learning and Teaching Lead, opened the session, before Esther explained to attendees that digital capability is a journey, i.e you can’t simply ‘learn’ digital capability, you have to gradually become digitally capable.

Throughout the workshop we used TodaysMeet and Padlet (both of which were new to me) to share ideas with each other and ask questions throughout the session. We were also encouraged to use Twitter with the hashtag #digitalcapability.

To begin the workshop Esther (pictured below) asked us to discuss what device or app we could not live without. A digital pen, email, translating software, File Explorer, WhatsApp, and file sharing software such as DropBox were all mentioned.

jisc5

jisc1

Esther then introduced us to the five elements of Jisc’s digital capabilities framework which together add up to ICT proficiency, and then walked through each element, with a pause after each one for groups to discuss what it means and the impact of not having it.

The five elements were:

Continue reading What are Digital Capabilities and why do we need them?