Sunday, 29 November 2009

Progress update

From within the press of the taught semester, it's hard to find space to reflect on longer-term projects and work still in progress. So, apologies for the silence on the blog; and many thanks to those who have commented on and supported TASH via the uSpace group.

The resource is now live, and a number of specific groups of students are being targeted as beta-testers for the site. These include:
  • TILL students who have the misfortune to be taught by me and Willy, especially in study skills contexts;
  • Engineers, with whom Linda Gray is working; and
  • English Literature students, who Bob McKay is supporting.
There are also other students working with staff associated with TASH who have been pointed towards it in less systematic ways; and bits of feedback are reaching us from different colleagues about how useful they've found it. We're hoping to arrange more formal evaluations of the resource next semester (1) with (or via) the Union Links, and (2) with the Study Abroad / Erasmus students arriving for the spring semester. This formal evaluation will sit alongside the uSpace area for feedback and comments from all users of the site, which will remain open and vibrant during the next semester.

Behind the scenes, we're working to ensure the stability of the resource. In the short term, this stability involves someone doing some technical work at the back end, a someone we're close to appointing. It also involves continuing to respond to the uSpace feedback, tidying up the resource, and adding new links when they are suggested. Medium term, we will be designing the promotion strategy for the spring semester in the next few weeks. Strong ideas already on the table are (1) a Faculty-specific approach, making sure there's engagement and awareness on this level, and responses to requests to feedback; and (2) sitting with departmental Learning and Teaching Advocates, offering hands-on tuition for the resource, and exploring how it might be embedded in different learning contexts.

And longer-term, ensuring stability means creating a post to look after the whole kit and caboodle. We're getting there with this project, although such things will always take a certain amount of time, and are of course subject to the whims of future internal and external policy demands. And the future is, for everyone, currently looking rather whimful.

Friday, 2 October 2009

It’s alive!

It's been a little longer in gestation than we'd intended, but version one of the TASH resource is now online and ready for beta testing. You're most welcome to play around with the beta version of the site, and share your feedback with the TASH team. The best way to do this will be via the TASH uSpace group, which is open to all staff and students, and is intended as a space for thinking and discussing the resource. We are inviting all past and present friends of the project to take a good look around, trial the site with their students, and let us know what you did and what you thought about it over the coming weeks and months. The resource is still in beta testing, and we're aware of a couple of glitches – so please be charitable!

We'd also like to invite you to a brief "soft launch" of the resource at 1pm on Monday 19th October in CILASS Collaboratory 1 in the Information Commons. Project members will be on hand to talk you through where we're at with the resource at this point, and how we hope to improve upon it in the future. The meeting will last no more than one hour, and there will be sandwiches.

We are particularly hoping that Sheffield staff will be willing to pilot all or part of the site with existing students so that we can obtain feedback on how the site can be improved, how resource gaps can be plugged, and what you'd like to see from the resource in the future. We'd also like to hear from colleagues with ideas about how they might or have used the resource over the course of semester one.

If you are able to come along to this launch, please let us know by emailing, and we'll look forward to seeing you then. Thanks for your support so far, and have fun with the site!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Summer school

Despite appearances, I'm told it's currently summer; and like most of the University, the TASH project has been both trying to tidy up from the previous year, and look ahead to the next. In our case, this has meant a lot of editing and writing of pages, and location of suitable academic skills resources. The bulk of the work has been done here by Bob McKay, who, from his secret Arctic base - well, his house in Glasgow - has been lovingly crafting and smoothing numerous pages for the site, and locating high-quality academic skills development resources to support them. Danny and Karen have also been carrying on with the technical side of the site, both making it look pretty and that it all works; and trying to make sure it fits together in the most comprehensible way. That structural side is still something we're working on, as it looks like from our original plan of seven skills / seven hills, after the processes of writing and finding resources, we're left with five skills / five...erm...rivers? Much of the content has stayed the same, we've just found other ways to locate it that we think will be more comprehensible to users.

We're aiming for a soft launch at the end of September, offering promotional material and support to key personnel, such as Level One tutors, staff who look after induction processes, and support and academic staff who have shown a commitment to TASH as it has developed. Keeping this initial launch relatively small will enable us to gather high-quality feedback on the resource and its uses, and enable us to improve it for a more full-blooded launch at the start of the second semester. So if you're reading this, we're likely to be in touch in the next month or so with information about that soft launch, and quite possibly a range of promotional goodies. The site launched in September will be version 1.0 of the resource; and we hope that this phased release will enable us to amend and update the site in response to user feedback. I hope you'll be part of that conversation!

Monday, 29 June 2009

HE Preparation Project

Tim and I met with Jo Laycock from SRAM last Friday. Jo is heading up an Aimhigher funded HE Preparation Project through which she hopes to engage a number of cohorts of year 12-13 students in schools and colleges in the region through a range of workshops on and off campus. The specific focus is upon developing study skills which will stand students in good stead when they progress on to degree courses here at TUOS and elsewhere.

Jo is currently meeting with colleagues around the institution to pick brains on the most appropriate ways to tackle and present study skills work of this kind - and she will shortly be consulting with teachers in the region to see how her project can best complement their work in the classroom. One suggestion to emerge from our meeting was the organisation of a workshop in the autumn at which TUOS colleagues who teach study skills in a variety of different guises might come together to swap ideas, techniques and research to inform one another's work on this and related areas.

We wish Jo well with her important work and look forward to her pulling off this workshop in the academic new year ... it would certainly be of interest to TASH as we move to embed the online resource in a range of different face-to-face teaching contexts.

Employability Learning Objects Project

Marcus Zientek and Hilary Whorrall have been hard at work in the Careers Service developing a range of "re-usable learning objects" with colleagues in Animal and Plant Sciences, ScHARR, Human Communication Science, Human Nutrition and Town & Regional Planning. These MOLE courses are designed to help undergraduate students identify and refine their employability skills, covering a range of subjects which include Learning Styles, CV writing, Skills self-assessment, preparing for Psychometric testing and Interviews.

In each case the learning objects have been embedded within specific modules at a range of levels and attract a small proportion of credit toward students' final marks. The amount of time required to complete the worksheets and other interactive tasks within the learning objects ranges from 2 to 20 hours.

Three additional RLOs, covering proactive job searching, commercial awareness and enterprise, can be accessed by all TUOS students via the graduating in a recession pages here.

To find out more, email Marcus at or Hilary at

Friday, 26 June 2009

Pilot testing 25 June

Thanks to the students who kindly gave up their time yesterday morning to run a critical eye over the TASH site as it now stands. Still very much a work in progress, but I think all of the project team present shared my relief when we were offered an overwhelmingly positive set of responses; and plenty of helpful suggestions as to where we might tinker with the design and feel of the site to make it better still.

It seems then that we are not barking up the wrong tree - quite the reverse in fact from what a number of the students had to say - and will, with renewed confidence, get on with the substantial work that remains to be done in developing and refining the site in preparation for a "soft launch" to interested parties and likely key users in mid-September.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Preparing for pilot testing

It's been a very busy month or so, with a lot of work going into the design and structure of the TASH resource. It currently looks really nice, albeit with a few rough edges; and we're at a stage now where, by the end of June, we're hoping to pilot test the site with students (more info at the end of the post). The pilot testing should identify issues of structure, content, navigation, and design that will help us develop the resource further, and make sure it meets the needs of its core users, the students. Building on this testing, there will be a student read-through of the revised resource later in July to make sure that the authors haven't come on like disco vicars, trying to be down with the kids, but revealing themselves to be the crusty old men they actually are.

What seems most likely at the moment is that the TASH resource will be launched softly and selectively in September 2009, to key stakeholders such as Level One tutors, learning and teaching advocates, professional services staff involved in induction and transition support, and so on. We'll use the first semester of 09/10 as an extended beta testing phase, gathering feedback and adding resources and materials to the site. We'll then have a more public launch at the start of the second semester, at a time when hopefully students will have more time and space to engage, and perhaps even the direct motivation if their autumn semester experiences haven't been all they expected. We're also clear now, as we have been all along, that the TASH site that gets signed off is only version 1, and it will be expected to develop and grow as more uses and needs are recognised. The aim is to create a simple site with room to grow, and that aim still looks to be achievable in a realistic timeframe.

If you're a Sheffield student and would like to pilot test the resource, some time in the last week of June, please contact us. Your feedback will be essential for making sure we get the look, feel, and content of the resource right, and we will be able to reward you for your time.