On January 13th I went to the University of Hull’s Annual Learning and Teaching Conference and ran a workshop on the SAN and what we do. The session went really well, the 30 or so attendees were very interested and after my presentation they asked lots of questions such as “what do we as students get out of the whole experience?” and “how does the evaluation group run exactly?” A running theme among those who asked questions and made comments was that they were intrigued as to how we get so many students really engaged in the mechanics of the learning process, as they find at their institutions that so few students seem to want to be involved. I suggested that our responsibility as Ambassadors, along with the fact that we are well paid, perhaps gives us much more inclination to take our roles seriously. We also have many more opportunities than the more common student roles in the curriculum, such as course rep’s, who attend meetings and talk to other students but do not get the opportunity to go to conferences, initiate their own projects etc. in their departments. It was particularly interesting that the only other student at this conference was a student in the Isle of Man who was presenting via skype!
The day afterwards I attended the University of Sheffield’s Annual Learning and Teaching Conference and gave a presentation towards the end of the day about the impact of being involved in CILASS on my skills and employability. The conference was really interesting – I attended sessions on the usefulness of having an ‘elevator speech’ from the Careers service, ie. a very short speech prepared in which you can outline what you do and the skills you have very succinctly; the issues encountered in the University’s City College in Thessaloniki (such as a lack of understanding of plagiarism and the English marking scheme) as well as a session on the Faculty of Medicine’s SURE scheme, which ran parallel to our own. The session in which I presented was a student strand, whereby a number of students (or ex-students still working in the university) gave short presentations about what they had got out of the extra-curricular activities they had been involved in. It was really interesting to hear what other students who were so active outside their courses were doing, such as the Innocence project in the Law Department, and how much these activities have given them. I think this really links back to our conclusions from the Hull Conference – it is such a shame that more students are not able or willing to get out there and be involved in things like this.
As a student of German and Dutch, I was lucky enough to get to spend six months in both Germany and the Netherlands last year as the ‘year abroad’ part of my degree. I ended up spending one semester studying at the same Dutch university as two of my coursemates from Sheffield. In one of our first weeks there, in between enrolling for courses, finding second hand bikes and sampling some Dutch delicacies, we got together and decided that our experiences of and remarks about the Netherlands, the Dutch people and their way of life, were too good to be kept to ourselves. What better way to record and share our comments, observations and photos, than in the form of a blog?
‘Roving in Groningen’ (http://rovingingroningen.blogspot.com/) was created. Whilst we knew that it had one loyal follower (our Dutch tutor encouragingly commented on our posts) , we were unsure if anyone else was actually interested in our bike reparation efforts or the new Dutch books on our shelves. Still, it was fun to write, it was useful to practise writing in Dutch and, looking back at it today, it is a great record of our semester in the Netherlands.
Having arrived back in Sheffield in September, entering my fourth year, I was invited to join the “SOMLAL Year Abroad Community Space” on uSpace. I was immediately jealous that this didn’t exist whilst we were abroad. USpace seems ideal for year abroad students to exchange comments, remarks and tips. You can follow interesting, entertaining and uplifting blogs of students currently abroad and second year students can get information from returning students to help them decide how to spend their year abroad. Best of all, USpace forms a great, fun environment to stay connected whilst away. You can check it for yourselves at: http://uspace.shef.ac.uk/clearspace/community/year_abroad/germanic?view=overview
Alice Paul (Germanic Studies Ambassador)
Last week Natalie, Ryan, I and various members of the CILASS staff attended the annual Learning and Teaching through Enquiry Alliance conference at Reading University. It was a two day conference and we stayed overnight in university accomodation and went to a really gorgeous conference dinner on the banks of the river Thames on the first night!
Ryan, Sabine and I presented our findings so far from the Networked Learning Study at a session at the end of the second day. We suggested that technology perhaps wasn’t integral to inquiry-based learning, indeed a significant number of respondents in our survey said that technology just gets in the way. We also said that students may need more training so that they know both which technologies are out there and how to use them, as this was also brought up a lot in our survey. We are currently writing up the findings from this study into a journal article.
Alec Patton gave a presentation on an ongoing CILASS study on students as fellow researchers. This was particularly interesting as a member of the audience took great issue at Alec’s use of the term ‘junior colleagues’ to describe students, as he believed that the term ‘junior’ was derogatory. Natalie and I however felt that we would be very happy to be called ‘colleagues’ as it implies that we add something integral to a research project and that ‘junior’ wouldn’t bother us because we don’t have as much experience as staff, and there is therefore no point in pretending that we are at the same level of experience.
The theme of the conference seemed to be around the idea of the quality of education rather than the quantity. It’s no good giving students hours and hours of lectures etc. if they learn more by actually doing ie. through IBL. This was echoed in many sessions, for example one spoke about getting archaeology students experience in museums and another talked about how plagiarism shouldn’t be condemned as it is, instead we should expect it and work to give students more tutoring on how not to plagiarise. Another theme was perhaps how there is an ongoing ‘crisis’ among universities in the UK whereby students are just not happy with the assessment methods and feedback that they experience.
Again, I cannot help but wonder how IBL can be so strongly believed in by so many and yet there are so few students actually having the opportunity to get involved in conference such as this one, to have their say in their education.
Yesterday Natalie, Sabine and I went to Leeds to a conference on involving students in curriculum design and development. We ran a workshop on the SAN and talked about all the ways in which we and other students get involved in curriculums in our departments. We had really great feedback from this session, with several people saying they were inspired to set up a network like we have in their own institutions.
Natalie and I then sat on a student panel at the end of the day with three other students from Leeds Met university. We explained our roles in curriculum design and development and then each worked with a group to look at issues surrounding such student involvement.
I got a few things in particular from this conference. Firstly our presence seemed to stress how important it may be to actually pay students involved in curriculum development as we are a lot more devoted to our role than many course reps may be. I again realised how lucky we are to be involved in CILASS and the SAN, for undergraduates do not usually get such an opportunity to get so involved in conferences. I also reaffirmed my belief that it is important to get students and staff in a two-way dialogue over curriculum issues so that students can appreciate how some of our ideas may not be realistic and our feedback will therefore be improved and more useful, as we can adapt our ideas to the real situation. Lastly, as Janine was saying in the last SAN meeting, again and again is brought up how to reach students beyond just those who are really keen to engage in curriculum debate. This appears to be an ongoing question..
I think the most interesting point however, is that Nat and I were pretty much the only non-sabbatical ‘students’ attending until the panel at the end. The current debate seems to be that students should be involved in curriculum design and development.. But shouldn’t they then also be involved in the debate around how to involve students in curriculum design and development?
So, we all know that the future of CILASS is less than certain. And we all know that the achievements for the university have been amazing. Can I also say that the SAN has been a big influence on this achievement?
I don’t know if that would be blowing our trumpet a bit, but people do seem to speak well of us. Which is nice.
I was at an IBL café yesterday, and amongst other things we ended up talking about how the SAN might continue without CILASS being a base for operations.
The things that we need to keep in the coming years are:
- Good inter-departmental connections
- Good student links
- Continued interactions with members of departments
- A place to make ideas heard
- Training for the students to lead the way
It seems to me that we already have an amazing place for all of this to happen.
Every department has students on the staff student committee – all it takes is to expand one of their jobs a bit (and maybe throw in a bit of money) and we have a perfect SAN. One that could potentially be better than what we have now because there would be official links to bringing change to departments?
Just a thought.
The IBL & Employability session held by Natalie, Ali and Claire was a very interesting session. I had heard about this numerous times at SAN meetings due to it having been conducted at different Universities. The aim of the session was to get students to think about the kinds of skills and experiences that employers are looking for. Unfortunately, the people attending the session (while also being few in number), were mostly staff members – not exactly the target audience. This really was a shame, because it was a useful session not only for final year students but all students of any year. Regardless, the girls did a good job running the session anyway and the staff members really engaged with it. The example used was the Co-op Graduate Scheme. Natalie, Ali and Claire handed out questions that were actually asked on the application form for the graduate scheme, to get us thinking about the kinds of questions that are asked for graduate jobs. I confess I’ve seen very similar questions in a lot of application forms so this was very relevant.
We took some time to think about the questions and formulate the answers. The thing that struck me was that we only really start thinking about a time when we influenced a group…or other such experiences when we have to write it down on an application form. This of course means that over time, we forget specific instances of when we executed a particular skill. What this session made me think about is how we need to document what we do as we go along – we need to always be thinking about how what we do helps us to develop in ways that increase our employability.
The other thing that struck me was that this session was an excellent way to ‘raise awareness’ of what students need to be thinking about as they enter their final year at University. It is almost useless to be drilling in the idea of gaining skills for employment, to students who are a couple of months away from graduating, have dissertations to do and no spare time to now take on extra-curricular activities. The message inherent in this session would be incredibly useful for students who are in their first or second years, with plenty of time and opportunity to still engage in activities before it is ‘too late’.
A final point. The delivery of the session was interesting, enjoyable and encouraging. The staff members also appeared to enjoy it although it was not relevant to them. The discussions that arose were interesting. Well done girls!
So, history – I don’t do it. I never liked it at school and doing it as soon as I could in year 9. But I learnt today that there may be a reason why I didn’t like it – because the teachers killed it.
It seems that it is hard to teach history when people don’t know much of the background or language of the country. This creates a lot of problems for the people who teach it – it creates more work – the teaching requires creativity, and time!
Without waffling on about history, and random snippets from the talk today there is one thing that interested me. Towards the end of the session it was mentioned that for an IBL module – specifically this Polish history one – there needs lots of engagement from students.
Can first year can students really be bothered to try that hard? Or do they think that as they only have to pass they won’t bother?
This linked with something interesting that Sabine said to me – 1st year students should not just learn, they should learn how they are expected to learn. If the university uses IBL in 1st year then it won’t be a shock when it is used at other levels, and students will be confident in the assessment methods used. So it is not about the amount of work the 1st years need to do – but what it will show them what to expect.
Students choosing how they get assessed?
This idea was mentioned in the key note yesterday. After thinking about it, and having conversations with a few people about the idea – I am not convinces.
There are a few points I want to mention. In the conversations I had ideas got confused – so I am going to try and keep it simple here. Here are a few reasons why I don’t think it should happen – please leave comments and let me know your thoughts.
1 – Surely the lecturers know better than I do how to assess something – they have done it longer, seen more students, and they have designed the modules.
2 – One of the ideas mentioned was that students would pick one assessment method they were good at and one that was going to challenge them. That will not happen – I will just choose what is going to get me a good grade. Sure, I am here to grow and learn new things – but if I get a bad degree how am I going to show an employer I have these skills. They won’t even look at my C.V.
3 – I think this is a big point. Is it not a cop out on the part of the institution for them to expect me to design my course? Students pay a lot of money to get a degree from Sheffield University. The university is meant to know how to make a good graduate, so why should I do their job?
I know a huge part of why I am here is to learn – but I am also here to be taught. If it was just learning I was interested in I would save the £12,000 and just get the books from a library.
I want my tutors to choose how to assess me – I want to it be varied so I learn lots of skills – but I don’t want to choose for myself. The idea seems wrong.
I am happy with the way it has worked in Biblical Studies, I have been assessed in different ways – but I have chosen modules based on the assessment. I have automatically not considered a module because it has more exams than another one which is more coursework.
I hope that makes sense, sorry if it is confused – at least you get my main idea.
Today we really enjoyed staging our workshop in Collab 2 (“Engage”) about inquiry based learning as it applies to language and idioms. As one of our participants said, “What this activity shows is that learning idioms and learning language is an IBL activity par excellance”.
We started with a brief introduction about our experiences in learning Japanese idioms, and our thought processes that led us to want to run the session. Drawing from Japanese idioms to do with body parts as examples, we staged an engaging activity asking everyone to match literal translations with their actual meaning – harder than it sounds! Next, we distributed English idioms such as “shoot yourself in the foot”, and asked everyone to explain the situation you’d use them in without actually saying the idiom for others to guess. It highlighted how complex they can be to explain if you don’t know the foreign equivalent, as well as the involvement with culture and context when learning them yourself – some idioms can appear “Football manager-speak” and so on so you need to be careful how you use them, and there are often similarities with similes. Therefore, we have learned that there is a great need for natural language to be learned through an IBL process of sharing anecdotes, asking questions and being creative.
We received really interesting feedback on how idioms should be classified for a reference system online, but ran out of time at the end, so thanks for your participation everyone and if anyone has any ideas to contribute, please let us know!
ryan and claire