Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Feedback from the Arts focus group

The group discussing TASH from the Arts faculty was nothing if not eclectic, with only one bona fide academic from the faculty, and a range of other central services staff and fellow-travellers. However, what they said about TASH was extremely helpful, and a really good exploration of many of the key issues. Here is, in rough form, a report of their conversations.

  • Students are coming from a wide range of learning backgrounds, and A-level marks aren't always a good way of identifying their strengths and weaknesses. There is also the student perspective - they've done well to get this far, and aren't always (or initially) receptive to the message that they need to change what they do. The consequent need to recognise the diversity of their backgrounds and skills was therefore emphasised, especially given the pluralisation of post-16 routes. It was also underscored that the skills they have been rewarded for in secondary education may not be the same as those they'll need in higher education, and that this could be one of the moments of difficult identity transition that Alice Lawrence referred to in the first discussion.
  • It was strongly suggested that TASH should be a standard route for all students, without identification of special needs or shortcomings. However, one incidental good of TASH could be to provide a way to support students currently slipping between the cracks in current support provision - for example, students who display characteristics of dyslexia, but who have not received a diagnosis. This is particularly common with ESOL learners, where the distinction between second language difficulties and other learning difficulties is technically impossible to make.
  • TASH needs to be promoted to students throughout their learning journeys. The key points this group identified were pre-arrival, helping them clarify their expectations of what HE will be about; and at the start of Level Two, where again there may be a shift in expectations, and other interfering sociological and cultural factors distracting them from study. It was also suggested that TASH should somehow be structured to promote recurrent engagement - it should be ok, and indeed positively encouraged, to go over the same thing several times. PGT students also need to be included within TASH, and thought given as to how material might need to be presented differently for them than to other groups.
  • One particular skills need of Arts students was around constructing a good essay, and this, as with the language of the earlier discussion, was cast in terms of recognising what skills were required, and how they might be different to what they've done in school (for example, critically engaging with material rather than repeating it by rote). It was also suggested (picking up on earlier discussions about modularisation) that the links between skills and modules needed to be emphasised, and how they could carry their learning from unit to unit, and ultimately into the big wide world.
  • It was recognised that TASH was ambitious, and the quite correct question was asked of are we trying to do too much? Working with our current timescale, what are the achievable outcomes? What is our fall-back plan if we don't achieve all of these? A very good question, and again something that should be borne in mind throughout the development process.

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