All posts by Anne Qualter

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

Student Engagement and Student Success: It’s all about belonging

Universities have long contended that what students take from their time with us is more than just what they get on the course. It’s the opportunity they have for personal development and the life experiences they get from the opportunity to broaden their horizons, meet new people, try new things.

The research, much from the USA and Australia, backs up this contention. Vicki Trowler (2010) in a review of student engagement research presents a significant body of literature showing the correlation between student involvement in certain types of ‘educationally purposive activities’ and ‘positive outcomes of student success’.

Fig 1. Student involvement and student success
Fig 1. Student involvement and student success

What is so interesting is that the mix described above is almost all best served via the student’s own academic department. Of course a wider university, with its exciting opportunities for co and extra-curricular activities and its excellent systems of support and advice is crucial in our large and complex institution. But, a look at the crucial types of engagement suggests that it is to the academic home where we need to focus if student engagement, and hence student success, is to be fostered.

Is it good for everybody?

…engagement increases the odds that any student – educational and social background notwithstanding – will attain his or her educational and personal objectives, acquire the skills and competencies demanded by the challenges of the twenty-first century, and enjoy the intellectual and monetary advantages associated with the completion of the baccalaureate degree. Kuh (2009: 698)

How do we foster engagement at department level?

Although the National Student Survey is much maligned, most people would agree that the best departments do come to the top. So, what are their students actually saying about their department? Taken from the free text comments of students from one high-scoring Liverpool department where 40 written responses were made:

Continue reading Student Engagement and Student Success: It’s all about belonging

The Inclusive Department: international students

Following on from a previous blog on Internationalisation and Student Satisfaction, and in the wake of Welcome Week and the start of the new academic year, Anna Chen offers some of her observations and suggestions for better integration of Chinese students.

 

Timing of support

The first four to  six weeks of the semester are intense with a great deal to take in. This can lead to overload issues. For example, students whose English is not strong often have not really taken in everything they need (‘nodding’ is not the same as understanding), and personal and cultural shyness are also factors in this early stage.

So, for academic support, invitations need to be put in different ways and more than once throughout the year, e.g. for essay writing, literature review etc. If offers of support only come at the start of the year, when language skills are not so strong, the invitation may not be taken up, though the support is very much needed.

If the invitation also comes later in the semester and annual programme when language skills and cultural confidence have improved, the offer is more likely to be accepted and used.

Discipline-specific issues

There are subject-specific issues for international students e.g. need for essay writing in humanities, role of students’ opinion in social sciences etc. So, ‘opinion’ is itself a pedagogical issue, taken for granted with European students, but in need of pedagogical definition and development for some international students.

Working with the Guild

The staff view that their role is specific to the discipline, whilst the social side of the student is ‘for the Guild’ or elsewhere, does not work for many international students. These students often need or even expect their tutors to direct them in areas of student life beyond the subject. So, opportunities to become more socially and culturally integrated need to come from within the department as well as being on offer from the Guild.

Communications from the Guild about activities and social opportunities should be co-branded with, and come from within, the departments to give them ‘authority’ to international students.

Social Initiatives from within the department

90% of Chinese students do not join student societies (‘the girls go shopping; the boys play online games’). To encourage participation, attendance at co-curricular and departmental events could be attached to credits; part of the ‘life of the department/discipline’.

Could there be departmental fresher’s or society fairs – at more than one point in the year?

The city’s heritage should be used far more. After all, that is what the students do know about Liverpool before they come here (maritime, link with Shanghai (Expo), football, Beatles etc.). Tutors could perhaps take out groups of students – this is done as part of Health Sciences Welcome events, but not in most other departments.

Learning-at-scale issues

In departments where there are very large numbers of Chinese students (e.g. Liverpool School of Management), large lectures (1,000) should be followed by reinforcement seminars (as at the University of Manchester).

In-reach

Can UK undergraduate students become involved in types of integration effort within their department? Undergraduate students are already involved in out-reach to schools. Can they then become involved in ‘in-reach’ for international students?

Dr Anna Chen

Minister sets the scene for Higher Education: some brief comments

On the 9th September 2015 Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, delivered a speech entitled ‘Higher education: fulfilling our potential’. The speech begins to lay out the direction of travel after a period during the coalition where there was much thinking and little action.
jo johnson blog
Click image to view a larger version.

Word clouds are a crude device, but it is interesting that the big words are:

Students

“Students are the primary source of income for undergraduate study, but their interests are insufficiently represented in our structures and systems.”

It seems that now students are customers they should have more representation. Yet students do not generally see themselves in this way. Representation is not quite the same as partnership, which, although more challenging, would perhaps result in much more debate about what a university education should be all about.

Providers

“To ensure students have real choice that reflects their diverse needs, we must continue to open up the higher education market and put in place a regulatory framework that reflects today’s challenges.”

The idea of the development of new or much modified regulatory institutions that would, for example, take on the validation of degrees so that new providers do not need to partner with existing institutions would indeed open up the market. The question is, what sort of regulation, and how would it affect existing institutions? Martin Paul Eve of Birkbeck is clear in his blog that the aim is a huge financial shake-up of the whole system, using the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) as a key tool .

Participation

That is, widening participation (WP), remains firmly on the agenda with a plan to provide much better data so that work can be done to address issues around specific underrepresented groups. It is good news that WP is not being side-lined, which many thought might happen.

Teaching

There were some harsh words about the perceived variability of teaching quality in the speech;

“This patchiness in the student experience within and between institutions cannot continue. There is extraordinary teaching that deserves greater recognition. And there is lamentable teaching that must be driven out of our system. It damages the reputation of UK higher education and I am determined to address it.”

He went on to say;

“The new framework will aim to give students more information about the actual teaching they will receive, drive up student engagement with the learning process and reward universities that do most to stretch young – and also not so young – minds.”

On that last point, Johnson mentioned mature students in his speech but, as Mark Leach points out in his WonkHE blog, there is no reference to part time study. Indeed, there is nothing on postgraduate study either. The now much vaunted Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is not one of the big words in the word cloud, because as yet there is no clarity at all as to what TEF will look like or how it will be managed. There is a lot of discussion. A Green Paper is due in the autumn (that is, by the end of December), so there is very little time to move from muddle to clarity, and, if other sources are right, to get TEF1 in place for 2016 and to produce metrics that inform funding decisions. These decisions would then allow some institutions to raise fees in line with inflation, based on what can only be a very crude measure of teaching quality.

 

Anne Qualter

Satisfying the 300+: The Challenge of Teaching Large Cohorts

At the Learning and Teaching Conference last month we were treated to an awesome presentation by Dr Ali Al-Ataby, the winner of the annual Sir Alastair Pilkington Prize for excellent teaching. In his presentation, entitled ‘Satisfying the 300’, Ali explained how he has turned what was considered to be a boring and difficult, yet required, module with a large failure rate into one of the most popular and successful in Electrical Engineering and Electronics (EEE).

Science and Engineering are really tackling the challenge of teaching large cohorts with lots of good practice across the Faculty. I was reminded that I attended another fantastic event last term. Run by Dr Kathy Johnson in Science and Engineering and introduced by Mark Bowen, a whole day was dedicated to large group teaching with invited speakers from within and beyond the University, giving thought provoking and entirely practical strategies for teaching modules for groups of up to 600 students.

Executive Pro Vice Chancellor for Science and Engineering Professor Ken Badcock opened, underlining the importance the Faculty gives to the quality of the student learning experience. He was followed by five speakers, from Liverpool, Manchester and The Open University.

teaching large cohorts

Key messages from the session emphasised the importance of:

  • Students having the opportunity to interact with one another, something that can be done very well online.
  • Students feeling connected to the lecturer. They will overcrowd a live lecture rather than sit in an overspill and they need to know their lecturer is concerned about their learning. This requires planning and insight that takes as much effort as all other aspects of the teaching. But, it can be done.
  • A blended approach with on-line activities and discussions which can significantly enhance the student learning experience because the very nature of the large scale course means that there are many ideas, points of view, and knowledge to bring to the debate and insights to share. Well planned online elements are valued by staff and students.
  • Module efficiency was a key consideration for staff – including excellent administrative staff and well trained teaching assistant support.
  • Selecting tools that work for students, not simply like for like replacements for those that work face-to-face, but approaches that meet the aims and intended learning outcomes of the modules.

The presenters were (click the links for short interviews):

Dr John Moriarty (Manchester) – Feeding the four hundred – case study with a large class.

Dr John Marsland (Liverpool) – 3000 students and counting! Assessing and engaging large cohorts.

Erik Clark (Liverpool student) – Strategies for large cohorts – a student perspective.

Dr Matt Murphy (Liverpool) – Using more than just lectures to teach classes of 500+.

Dr Anne -Marie Gallen (Open University) – Developing large scale undergraduate engineering modules using VLE-based approaches.

 

You can view Ali Al-Ataby’s full conference presentation here.

 

Anne Qualter, Centre for Lifelong Learning

Internationalisation, Integration and Student Satisfaction

The University of Liverpool can be justly proud of its international outlook (reflected in a Times Higher Education score of 79.5) and in the numbers of international students we attract. These ‘structural indicators’ are, according to a new report by Spencer-Oatey and Dauby, important pre-requisites for student integration and hence the development in our graduates of the ‘global skills’ that leading employers are increasingly placing high on their agendas.

Structural indicators may be a pre-requisite, but Spencer-Oatey and Dauby (2015) argue that they are far from sufficient. A diverse mix of students “can impact substantially on the social reality of the student” and that impact may not always be positive. Most universities in the UK see the benefits of internationalisation, but capitalising on this diverse mix needs work. A stark finding from the research carried out for the report is that the greater the proportion of non-UK students, the lower that students of all backgrounds rate their satisfaction. That is not to say that students don’t want an international experience; indeed research at the University of Warwick suggests they more than want it – good students expect an international experience. The question is how to provide an enriching international experience for all.

What is clear from the research is that creating richly diverse learning and social communities is the way forward. Intercultural skills need to be nurtured. This means within the department and the classroom as much as in their wider living and social life. Home and overseas students’ sense of belonging and hence their satisfaction increases substantially where they have been able to make friends with students from other countries. International students find this harder than home students, and some groups, such as Chinese students, find it particularly difficult.

So, what are the conditions for achieving positive contact and integration? Members having;

  • equal status
  • common goals
  • institutional support
  • perceptions of similarities between groups (something that good group work can support)
groupwork
Group work between home and international students can aid integration.

In another report Spencer-Oatey et al (2014) address ways in which integration can be achieved. They suggest that “integration is a process of mutual accommodation where the students and staff from the host culture have to be as open to engaging with difference and ultimately to change as the international students at that institution”(P6). Using a number of case studies this report offers ideas drawn from a number of UK universities. These focus mainly on activities outside the academic department such as shared reading groups where students read the literature from each other’s countries and through discussion develop a deeper understanding of each other; or student halls with a mix of residents engineered to be multicultural and where students were required to make special application; a music centre that encouraged ensembles of instruments from around the world. There are also examples within curriculum activities such as where students were asked to observe and reflect on their own and other’s behaviour during small group work, and so learn how to work better as a mixed team.

The rewards for both university and students are high where explicit and concerted efforts are made to promote integration. The consequences of not putting effort into this are quite serious and probably, given current league tables, fairly quick to present themselves.

Anne Qualter

‘Education is the proper employment, not only of our early years, but of our whole lives.’

CE blog 1

‘Education is the proper employment, not only of our early years, but of our whole lives.’

William Roscoe, 1817 (painting by Martin Archer Shee (1815-17)

Last term I attended a special lecture on the history of Continuing Education (CE) at Liverpool, delivered by Dr Anna Pilz. Based on archive material going back more than one hundred years, Anna’s lecture built on and extended what we knew from her booklet, Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool (commissioned to celebrate the centenary of CE’s home, 126 Mount Pleasant) which started life in The Royal Institute, opened by William Roscoe in 1817. Reading his motto inspired me to be more determined than ever to support and promote today’s CE.

I was fascinated and delighted to learn that the idea for local university lectures had been first mooted by suffragist Miss Anne J. Clough who, with others, established the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women in 1867. In the same year the Council invited James Stuart of Trinity College Cambridge to give a lecture. He was so impressed he took the idea back with him and inaugurated university extension lectures in his own institution. The idea spread to London, Oxford and back to Liverpool, becoming the ‘Society for University Extension in Liverpool and District’ in October 1899, operating under the auspices of the brand new University College Liverpool.

From reading Anna’s report we already knew about the huge number of people who attended lectures before the First World War, and had read of the often heroic efforts on the part of staff and students to continue learning and teaching during the privations of the two wars . But her lecture brought it to life, and made us realise just how precious learning is.

Continue reading ‘Education is the proper employment, not only of our early years, but of our whole lives.’

Green Students, Green Future

On Thursday last I attended the final meeting of the Liverpool Green Guild project steering group where we cheered the recent Guild award for waste prevention and reflected on all the fantastic work done by students over the last two years.

The funding for the project, which was part of five million pounds of HEFCE funding for student-led environmental sustainability projects, runs through students’ unions in partnership with their parent institutions. The four key themes of the Students’ Green Fund are student participation, partnership, impact, and legacy.

Legacy and continuation was the focus of a Green Fund Final Support day that I attended on the 16th of April in Bristol with Green Guild Project Officer Dave Wheatley and Guild Vice President Alex Ferguson. Now is the time to look to continuing the work of the Green Fund and the 24 other NUS-led projects across the country, especially with the recently published HEFCE sustainable development framework which was mentioned in the annual funding letter to Universities.

Steve Egan, a champion of the project from HEFCE, talked about sustainability and said that Universities have come to realise that:

“There is a generation gap between university managers and students who are much more aware and enthusiastic than their elders”

He went on to comment on enthusiasm for social justice and equality, and said the pride with which students have tackled their task has been amazing. The collaborations between students, academic and professional services staff and through outreach beyond the university are a model for future collaborations.

Continue reading Green Students, Green Future

Guild Awards 2015

On Wednesday night I attended the annual Guild Awards. A glittering affair well attended by senior university staff, but most importantly by students representing societies that had been nominated by a record number of students for an award.

Table at the Guild Awards

This event always leaves me in awe of the fantastic things our students do to represent their fellow students to the university, to participate and lead in volunteering, in the arts, in the university community and the wider Liverpool community.* The sheer number and variety of societies and activities students engage in shows the Guild going from strength to strength now that its back in Mountford Hall.

I want to pick out the Guild’s Student Led Teaching Awards.  This is new for 2015. Apparently lots of staff were nominated  for the ‘highest standard of teaching support’ which shows how much students appreciate the extra mile that so many of their tutors go.

The three nominees from each faculty were:

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Nikolas Gjogkas; Dr Amel Alghrani; Dr Mike Rowe

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
Dr Laura Soulsby; Prof. Stuart Carter; Alison Reid

Faculty of Science and Engineering
Dr Jonathan Green; Dr Gita Sedghi; Dr Paul Williamson

Continue reading Guild Awards 2015

Towards an Inclusive Department

Many colleagues across the University will be aware of the University’s Access Agreement responsibilities.  The challenge of evaluating our Access Agreement is huge, with no steer from HEFCE and the complexities presented in the many facets of our Access Agreement work . . .  What form such an evaluation should take was a major headache.

Led by Dr. Mark O’Brien of the Centre for Lifelong Learning, working with Widening Participation champions from across the university as well as Educational Opportunities, the project has led to the development of an approach to evaluation which is at once appreciative and realistic aiming to inform our development as a university at strategic and operational level. The full report is available at http://www.liv.ac.uk/cll/reports, entitled ‘Widening Participation and Fair Access at the University of Liverpool by Dr Mark O’Brien’.

In this blog post I want to focus on the emerging theme of ‘the inclusive department’.  By asking individuals and groups to identify what in their professional experience are the key features of apparently successful departmental activities, and then using rigorous data analysis, drilling down to local level, the evaluator was able to confirm, explain or expand on many such professional insights. The result is a list of features (some of which are found in most areas, while no department would boast all of them).

Continue reading Towards an Inclusive Department