Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Meeting with Steve Collier

A thought-provoking meeting with Steve, which not only prompted me to reflect on what we wanted to do with this project and how we might achieve it, but also opened up a set of new resources in terms of LeTS staff and contacts who might be able to help. Steve began the meeting by saying he knew of other colleagues and LeTS projects and contacts who might want to be involved - for example, Paul Wigfield has a good oversight of the different learner-support mechanisms currently within the university, and has been contacted by other members of staff (e.g. Rachel Falconer) who are interested in developing study skills resources. So there's a lot going on already, and LeTS are well-positioned to put us to it. At the same time, Steve cautioned us against assuming that all academics would be immediately happy to share the resources they've developed, and suggested that we might need to be prepared for some initial rejections; I would hope that the manner in which we ask, and the emphasis we place on pedagogical reasoning and philosophy, would make contacts more likely to respond, but that might be my optimism.

Steve raised the significant question about how deep we would want to go into other resources; e.g. do we point someone to a front page of a resource, a particular section, a particular sub-section? This is important not least because it will determine much of the structure of the self-analysis and referring mechanism, and the level of detail that has to offer. The immediate response will always be "it depends on the resource", but it will be worth bearing this in mind as our set of resources grows. Clearly the main principle has to be that of the student's needs and interests, and it would be disappointing if (1) we pointed them to a resource at so general a level that they ignored it; and/or (2) if the specificity of the reference prevented them from looking around and finding other useful things. Perhaps one obvious solution is to adopt the quite blog-like tactic of identifying the general resource, before pointing them to something more particularly useful.

The discussion moved on to cover timelines and expectations. Steve suggested Louise might be aiming for the mid-June meeting of the LTDG panel, where she could present a detailed costing of the project. In his opinion, given the scale of the work, this was unrealistic, and he would prefer a deadline of September for a fully-costed bid. He also emphasised, and I am mindful of his experience with LTDG projects, that we need to narrow our ideas a little before opening them up to a wider group. It might be that the specific things we suggest are changed entirely by the group, but to go in with something is always helpful, and establishing the aims of the project will help keep it on-task. As a small technical point, Steve noted that if we find MOLE resources developed by academics and housed within their particular modules, we would need to migrate these to a common space before pointing all students to them.

One model for the resource that Willy suggested was of a multi-faceted structure - there could be a "control" version, which represents what the development group put in place, and which is not open for alteration; and a "wiki" version, which would continue to grow and develop as time went on. Users with different learning preferences (?) and backgrounds would choose which they wanted to follow, and we would have a compromise between flexibility and direction in the resource's structure. The question which this partly resolves is that of student engagement - how do we get them using the resource? A useful analogy was drawn with the student handbook, where it was simply expected that all students would be aware of it, and it was made central to their time at university. Other parts of the answer include the design of the resource, which I feel I still need to emphasise, and the language we use, avoiding a deficiency model, and perhaps even the notion of diagnostic testing. This last needs to be particularly recognised when it comes to considering depths of links, and where students are being pointed to; it will be an important part of the hub resource to prepare students for where they're going, and to clarify that the information might be labeled "for dyslexic students", but it will still benefit them.

At the end of the meeting we agreed that Steve would:
  1. Contact Louise to clarify the funding for the project, especially in terms of (a) the possible involvement of a member of the Careers Service, and (b) the timeline that this will enforce;
  2. Identify other projects and resources LeTS are currently engaged with that might synergise with this one.
The things that Willy and I agreed to do were:
  1. Draft a more detailed project plan including timelines, and where possible approximate costings; for instance, greater clarity around the day events was suggested as sending the right message;
  2. Establish the aims of the resource, concentrating in particular on what it would achieve, and how student and staff engagement can be assured;
  3. Develop a participant-facing summary of the project, picking up on the need to share resources, integrate this within departmental practices, structure it in a non-deficit way, etc.; and
  4. List existing resources that we will take as a starting-point for developing diagnostic guides.
From this list, it seems that (1) and (2) might be best done together, at our next meeting on the 9th of May. I would be happy to work on a first draft of (3), with the obvious proviso that this might change in the light of our work together. If you could prepare something relating to (4) for our next meeting, that might be helpful, otherwise we'll just pull it together on the day. How does that sound?

So, a productive and informative meeting, with plenty of stuff to do as a consequence. We're in the fortunate position of being funded to do it; and I'm becoming increasingly eager to find some short-term responsibilities that can be out-sourced in the very near future...

Monday, 28 April 2008

Getting the ball rolling... see what it looks like, as much as anything else. Thanks again for an extremely useful meeting today, and I hope we continue to be equally productive and on-task in future.

One of the many aspects of the project that we didn't explore today, and which we might benefit from working through in the near future, is the possibility of different pitches to different interest groups. For example, what do we want to emphasise when we're talking to:
  • academics?
  • central services?
  • students?
  • colleagues in the department and school?
Clearly, all of these can be sub-divided, and the list isn't exhaustive. I just wanted to flag up one of my main lessons from the first generic skills meeting, that in order to get the big-boat, broad-church appeal we're hoping for, we might need to discuss what is likely to be most attractive for the various participants.