Thursday, 29 September 2011

Thinking Ahead

In another great centrally driven initiative, all programmes were told this year that they had to produce a pre-induction activity for prospective students. Actually I do agree that some sort of engagement with students prior to starting their studies is a great idea, I just dislike central, marketing driven initiatives that sneak up on you without warning....

Earlier in the Spring I had listened to our acting Dean talking about the importance of careers education starting as early as possible in a student's university life and so - Hey Presto! - these two great ideas collided in my head and my pre-induction activity became a "career investigation" website.

I based it on a wiki and started with grandiose ideas about getting students to collaborate or at least start discussions with one another. Then I chickened out and opted for straightforward information-giving with a structured activity culminating in the completion of an answer sheet which they could print off and bring to Induction Week.

The activity directed them to four skills sector websites which guided prospective employees through interactive quizzes to find the most suitable career or provided detailed information about a wide range of roles. In addition I posted links to some of the main charities who represent the types of care users our students will most likely come into contact with. (This idea came from another colleague and I think it really added a helpful dimension to the site).

Finally, I gave them a few contact points for the course, including a Facebook page which our student mentors had set up for them (no staff involved!).

As I was using Wikispaces I found it fairly easy to monitor site hits and views by individual user. We were averaging about 8 or 9 people a day visiting with a peak of 125 views. The night before the course induction we had 40 visitors and 450 views!

The Facebook site was slow to take off but by the time Induction week came along 28 students had joined up.

On the big day I collected in 25 completed answer sheets - out of around 90 students who attended my session.

On the whole I am pretty pleased with the level of response - particularly as this is my first attempt, but obviously I'd like to work on getting an even larger % take up next time!

In terms of the answer sheets that were returned, the first couple of questions asked them to say which jobs most interested them and which least.

(I should explain ours is a BA (Hons) Health and Social Care and we have "pathways" in criminal justice, counselling, communities and policy/leadership)

I was not surprised to find that most wanted to be Social Workers. The next most popular sector was criminal justice, followed by counselling, advice and mental health and finally other types of social care workers.

The most gratifying part of the feedback came in answer to the question "what did you learn from looking at the websites?"

Almost all responded that they had been surprised and pleased at the wide variety of roles on offer in the health and social care sector. Many had not considered a clinical role but some of our graduates do go on to train to be nurses, midwives, Occupational Therapists etc.

One responded that they felt sure they were on the right degree course because of the choice of pathways available given that they were still undecided about their ultimate career direction.

Another question focused on what further qualifications or experience they would need to reach their career goals. Some made quite detailed replies demonstrating that they had researched this thoroughly and all seemed to have a realistic sense of what they needed to do beyond graduation.

Some of my colleagues disagree vehemently with the idea of embedding careers planning in our curriculum arguing that this is not the university's primary function. On the other side of the argument, students themselves seem to want to be better prepared to get a decent job at the end of their university course and employers are looking to us to provide them with graduates who are savvy about the world of work.

Is it right that we talk to students at this early stage about careers? Are we encouraging them to see education only as something instrumental in getting a job? What about the joy of learning for its own sake? Or is that a luxury only those of us already in employment and who got our degrees in the time of local education authority grants, can afford to entertain?

I certainly feel I owe a duty of care to my students to give them the best possible chance of success in the job market and if realising that their education can help them achieve that success makes them a little bit more appreciative of the course they chose, or makes them want to do well in their studies because they know that will also help them in the long term, then that is no bad thing either.

(image Laenulfean)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ready Steady Go!


Getting ready for the new term this weekend. I have a number of fears and quite a lot of excitement.

It is exciting to be meeting new students but I am scared because this year our first year students number 110.... and I will be teaching a first year module single handed...

I am excited because this year I get to design and structure modules which last year I took over from someone else with no time to reorganise them.

I am very scared of the new institutionally imposed deadline of 15 days in which to turn around all my marking.....

But I am excited about some of the new tools I am going to be using with my students. In the study skills module I am going to be introducing Evernote as a convenient storage and organising platform, Diigo for bookmarking and sharing resources, Google Sites for creating an e-portfolio.

I have just been setting up some online polls for my introductory/welcome session with the first year students using Poll Everywhere..... get your smart phones out!! I saw a demo of this last week in a staff training session and I think it is brilliantly simple and a great way to get nervous new students to interact with each other (and with me) during their induction. The free plan only allows 30 users so I plan to get them to work in small huddles and post multiple responses.

I was really inspired last week by the Guardian's seminar on using social media to enhance the student experience. So many great ideas for engaging students and enhancing teaching and learning - I particularly liked Alan Cann's ideas about using Google+ and that is something else I might consider introducing at some point - as a platform for micro blogging and sharing learning.

I am beginning the year with a survey designed to find out my students' current confidence with internet based tools. I hope in this way to be able to have a point of comparison so I can show some enhancement in this area by the end of the year.

One of the positives of being forced into tighter marking timescales is that I am having to get creative about setting assignments and giving feedback. I find it much easier to grade very tightly structured work, so am using templates for major pieces of work like reflective portfolios and am going to be experimenting this year with a grading "matrix" like this example.
I will continue to review this and also students' reactions - do they want formulaic feedback in 15 days or something more detailed a week or two later? I am sure many just want their grade, but we are also trying to get them to "engage with feedback", apparently.....

Well, there are probably enough (maybe too many) objectives there for the coming year. I'll continue to post about how it all goes..... (this is why teachers should have blogs)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Thursday, 8 September 2011

the alternative ALT-C 2011

NTU City Campus, Nottingham

Yesterday I attended a learning and teaching conference at my university in the College of Arts and Sciences. I love these sorts of events - brimming with ideas from people who want to improve their practice and - better still - having put the time and energy into passing on tips to colleagues.

Occasionally it is nice just to hear that other teaching staff are struggling with the same dilemmas or thinking along similar lines. Sometimes I garner nuggets of wisdom and sparkling innovation.

So in the spirit of sharing, here are some of the things I enjoyed.

Keynote speaker was Aaron Porter. He used a useful analogy in talking about students as consumers. being a "consumer" of a university education is not like buying a new HD TV set from a high street store, rather it is like taking out a gym membership. You expect a good level of service and all the right equipment to hep you get fitter, but if you don't put the effort in, nothing changes. And there are differences - you can't get your money back for a poor educational experience and it is very difficult to just pack up and decide to take your custom elsewhere.

Food for thought too in some of the findings from the National Student Survey - for example, that students generally are not told what criteria is used to mark their work but would like to be involved in designing it. That they rate teaching quality as low but don't know much about how their University is rated in terms of it. That students don't know what happens to the feedback they give in module evaluation forms, and that some would like to be more involved in course and curriculum design.

Other great ideas from the day include a wiki set up as a pre induction activity for design and technology teaching students. I was particularly interested in this as I have done the same for my course but with a lot of trepidation. I was impressed that the tutors had managed a 80% uptake in the first year and that the wiki had had strong interactive and socialisation properties. In my wiki attempt I had initially decided against getting prospective students to join up and post discussions, fearing they would find it daunting, but I had directed them to a student-led Facebook page. In reality my wiki functions as a web site that encourages them to undertake a bit of research and download an answer sheet which they can bring to the face to face induction, but the School of Education pre-induction wiki seemed to have a very powerful impact on student engagement. They also continued to use the wiki for collaborative group work  in key level 1 activities, which is also something I could consider as I will be teaching study skills to the same group (and indeed, teaching them how to use social networking tools....)

More on the study skills front and a presentation from the School of Arts and Humanities about developing writing skills using very structured exercises - in pairs or small groups,  to increase confidence. So now I am thinking about how this could be developed using the wiki.....hmmm

Over lunch I was discussing the issue of feedback and in particular the new 15 day turnaround deadline being introduced (something which has also emerged from the NUS Student Experience report is that students want faster feedback) It seems that we are going to have to get creative about assessment and feedback methods - interim feedback which is generic and delivered verbally, for example, with marks to follow.

I have been working on a mark sheet which is pre-loaded with grade descriptors specific to the learning outcomes for the task, in a matrix format - similar to this one. This would certainly make criteria very transparent, going back to Aaron Porter's point, and make marking quicker.

Finally, a session on professional tutoring for trainee teachers. Tutorials are being re-introduced and formally timetabled and as one of the staff who will be involved in managing tutorial groups for first year students, I was interested in hearing how this was working. Obviously there are workload and staffing issues to be resolved to make this a reality but case studies presented by the staff in the School of Education showed how the system could support students to improve grades, make the transition between levels, and link theory to practice during work placements. Students do value individual tutorials especially - and it is another great place for giving feedback on assessment - but we should also consider peer support networks and tutorial groups.

So I may have missed out on ALT-C this year, but I have nonetheless come away refreshed and inspired and ready to start the new term!

Sunday, 4 September 2011


I love this idea: and for those who think this is lazy teaching , try it sometime.....