Tag Archives: Student support

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.

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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

The Academic Advisor

The University has recently approved an updated Academic Advisor Framework. As highlighted in the Student Charter, all students at the University of Liverpool will be assigned a named academic member of staff as their Academic Advisor.

An associated handbook for Academic Advisors has also been produced which describes the role of the Academic Advisor and outlines the additional support that will be offered within schools and departments. The handbook has been developed by colleagues from the Centre for Lifelong Learning, in consultation with academic staff, professional services staff and representatives from the Liverpool Guild of Students. It sets out the minimum engagement expected by Academic Advisors. Schools and departments will provide supplementary information on the additional support provided to students and to academic advisors within their discipline. The handbook will be updated to include this information.

A new web page on Academic Advising is available on the Educational Development website at: http://www.liv.ac.uk/eddev/supporting-students/academic-advising/

The website includes:

  • A link to a brief video introduction on the role of the Academic Advisor.
  • A copy of the Academic Advisor Handbook 2013-14. School specific versions of the handbook will be made available from this web page.
  • Information on the range of academic and additional support services that are offered to students at department, school and institutional level.

Zenobia Wins The Guild Staff Award

On 15th May  I attended the Guild Awards 2013 taking place in the absence of the Guild Building in the Cathedral Crypt. It was a glittering affair with everyone dressed in their finery, tables beautifully laid with delicious cup cakes made by students. The Guild Awards are mostly for student achievement, but they also recognize staff who go that extra mile.

Of the five academic staff voted by students as offering the highest level of student support, Dr Zenobia Lewis from the School of Life Sciences was the winner, receiving her award from Tom Bee, Guild Vice President. Click here to hear Zen talking about supporting students.

Prizes were awarded to individuals, groups, student societies large and small, to students who have contributed to Liverpool life in so many ways. What amazes me is the fantastic things Liverpool students do alongside their studies. They work hard to enjoy themselves (The English Soc, the Drama Soc, the Re-enactment Soc) and they work hard to entertain and educate their fellow students and the wider world (The Body Soc, The Green Schools Project, the Debating Society). Students work as volunteers in the community, raise money for charities (Liverpool Marrow, Barnardos), support international students, act as student representatives, join halls committees, are activists, entrepreneurs and protectors of the environment.

It was a real eye-opener.  I was so proud to be part of the same Liverpool as the student award winners. Great stuff!

Anne Qualter

Implementing the HEAR: Supporting Student development

On 25th April 40+ staff enjoyed a presentation by Rob Ward of the Centre for Recording Achievement. We invited Rob as a direct result of discussion at a previous event exploring the role of the Academic Advisor. His extensive knowledge of the origins, development and current position of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) made for an entertaining and informative session.

Rob described HEAR and its purpose, but also drew on the real experiences of other universities as they work towards  implementation. Most universities are developing a HEAR (only seven so far seem to have decided against doing so), and all are at different stages. Rob’s presentation can be viewed on the following page: https://stream.liv.ac.uk/cvs2r3ar.

A key message from Rob is that an inclusive HEAR should be part of a system to support students’ development throughout their studies and provide evidence to help them to move forward into employment, training or further study with confidence. Certainly all the signs are that employers see real benefits in the HEAR. The Association of Graduate Recruiters have developed a series of pamphlets in support of HEAR.

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The Role of the Academic Advisor

On 19th March over 60 staff from across The University came together for a fascinating, and we hope, really useful, event focused on The Role of the Academic Advisor.

Since The University initiated the change from Personal Tutor to Academic Advisor there has not been a university wide opportunity to wrestle with the impact of the change, how it is working, and especially to think about issues such as; what works well? What could be better? How can we ensure equity for students? How do staff and students get the information they need to support their academic and personal development? How could we use the resources such as Liverpool Life to support staff to support students? And, sneaking in at the end, what are the implications of the Higher Education Achievement Record?

We would like to thank the following people for their presentations:

  • Leah Ridgway, Electrical Engineering and Electronics: A personal view of her role as Academic Advisor.
  • Matt Murphy, Carnatic Hall Warden: Arguing for closer ties between the halls, as a transition point for students, and academic departments.
  • Jonathan Iggo, Chemistry: Looking at the role of personal tutor within the context of a department wide approach.
  • Janet Strivens, Centre for Lifelong Learning: The role of Academic Advisers in relation to assessment and feedback.
  • Warren Barr, School of Law and Social Justice: The Academic Advisor as a major gateway to engaging students with the huge variety of services and opportunities offered by the University of Liverpool.
  • Jo Sharp, School of Health Sciences: On a structured, whole school, approach to Academic Advising and support for personal development planning.
  • Freya Jarman, Music: The role of the Academic Advisor and the delivery of ‘study skills’ sessions for first year students as a transition into academic and student life.
  • Lynn Williams, School of Medicine: The adaptation of the Academic Advisor system to the five year, non modularised programme in medicine to cope with placements in the contexts of very a large student body.
  • Liverpool Guild of Students: What does an Academic Advisor look like? Using feedback from students LGoS highlighted key aspects of the role and discussed examples of best practice and how to identify and disseminate further good examples.

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Originality in doctoral research – what is it exactly?

Originality is integral to getting a doctorate and there are plenty of articles that try to explain to doctoral candidates exactly what examiners are looking for in the mysterious term ‘originality’.

The video provides an explanation of originality, and a bit more on the rationale for making it and the contributors is shown below.

A doctorate ought to:
  • Be a report of work which others would want to read.
  • Tell a compelling story articulately whilst pre-empting inevitable critiques.
  • Carry the reader into complex realms, and inform and educate him/her.
  • Be sufficiently speculative or original to command respectful peer attention (Winter et al., 2000, p. 36).

Continue reading Originality in doctoral research – what is it exactly?