Tag Archives: Student experience

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

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

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

EdD residency and graduation

July has been a rewarding month for the Centre for Lifelong Learning and all involved with the EdD. We ran our second residency and celebrated two further graduates from the programme.

The residency is an opportunity for students on the programme to come to see the university, share their experiences and ideas and meet with staff. It is an optional extra as the programme is fully online. Students came from all five continents for four intensive and enjoyable days at the Foresight Centre (pictured above).

Whilst there is plenty to report I think the residency is far better summed up by Gertrude Rompre’s reflections on her experience and on the notion of ‘doctorateness’:

 

Donning the robe of doctorateness: Reflecting on the EdD Residency at the University of Liverpool

I will admit that it is a somewhat vain question: “What will our doctoral robes look like when we graduate from the Online EdD Programme from the University of Liverpool?” On the other hand, perhaps it’s not such a trivial question. As a learner who needs to begin with the end in mind, imagining myself dressed in the appropriate robes, crossing the platform, and hearing my name spoken as the degree of Doctor of Education was conferred upon me, is an important part of my learning process. I need to visualize the end while I am still very near to the beginning. These reflections on the EdD Residency revolve around the ways the residency allowed me to both envision the end but also challenged me to embrace the journey and the present moment, a multi-dimensional approach to doctoral study that, I suspect, is key to success.

Envisioning the end

Paul Ricoeur suggests that “imagination is the power to open to new possibilities, to discover another way of seeing” (Ricoeur, 1995, 281). The EdD Residency served to fuel our collective imaginations as doctoral students. One of the ways this was done was through student presentations and pecha kuchas. Pecha kucha presentations – 20 images described for 20 seconds each – were new to most of the participants. The exercise proved to be a highlight. A format which challenged us to think about our research interests in a concise and creative fashion, the pecha kucha allowed us to exercise the faculty of the imagination and envision our future doctorateness.

The term, ‘doctorateness’, is a strange one. It is a word cobbled together, however, to describe an important process. It points to the deeper reality underlying the doctorate, the fact that we are creating for ourselves a new identity, an identity where we will be addressed as “Dr.” Early on in our doctoral studies, we explored that theme of becoming a doctoral practitioner. It is only now, at the residency, that I am realizing the depth of the transformation into which I have plunged myself. For example, I commented, at dinner, to Dr. Willis how I have noticed faculty colleagues in my own institution engaging with me in a different way now that they know that I am a doctoral student. He reminded me that it was a two-way street and that I, likely, am entering into the dialogue with a new set of vocabulary and contexts as well. Doctorateness is creeping up on me!

Continue reading EdD residency and graduation