Tag Archives: Student engagement

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

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.

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

Writing@Liverpool: Rolling out the pilot

Writing@Liverpool (funded by the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Faculty Improvement Fund) started as a small academic writing development project in History is now fully rolled out across the Faculty of HSS. The Faculty has generously funded 20 new Writing Tutors who are supported and mentored by last year’s Tutors – our four Super Tutors.

Here’s the stories from two of them:

Sophie’s Story:

Upon the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year, I was selected as part of a small team of PhD students to take part in a pilot initiative launched by the History department. The purpose of this project was for PhD students to support undergraduate students in improving their writing skills. As a pilot scheme, there were no frameworks or processes in place as to how we would proceed with the project; this provided a great opportunity for our small team to create a programme which we felt would be the most effective, but occasionally also raised its own challenges. Predominantly, our role consisted of meeting with students on an individual basis to discuss completed and marked essays with them; we would talk through the issues raised within their tutor’s feedback, provide guidance on how they might approach the essay differently next time, and suggest strategies to help them with their future assignments. We also led writing workshops, aimed to improve students’ understanding of the research and writing process from the stage they are given the essay title until the moment they submit their completed work.

While our students have been keen to tell us how they have benefited from our support. They told us:

“I found it helpful and appreciate the advice… I am sure I will find the group session useful as well.”

“Thank you very much for today’s session, I found it really useful and can definitely see places where I can improve in future essays.”

“Yesterday’s session was really helpful, I’ve been back over my other essays from my last semester and I think with the advice you gave me my essays should be better this semester!”

I have also certainly benefited from being a writing tutor. Being involved from the initial planning and implementation stages of such a unique project has aided my professional development immensely, while sharing best practice techniques with my fellow tutors has had the unexpected benefit of encouraging me to continue to re-evaluate and improve my own writing style. Being a writing tutor and working with a wide range of students from first to final year, international students and mature students, has also greatly increased my confidence when it comes to teaching. It has also made me more sensitive to the concerns of our undergraduates; I have been surprised by how easily we take for granted subject-specific terminology and ways of approaching assignments which many of us were not familiar with when we first began our own journeys as undergraduates.

I was proud to hear that our small pilot had been expanded to support students from across the Faculty, and the employment of a larger group of writing tutors. It will be exciting to see how the project continues to develop over the current academic year, and I am pleased that even more students will be able to benefit from the advice and support of the next generation of Writing@Liverpool.

  Continue reading Writing@Liverpool: Rolling out the pilot

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