Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Getting Started: introductory meeting - Social Sciences

This afternoon Tim and Willy hosted the launch event for the hub project. Some reflections on the event as a whole will follow soon, but for now I wanted to share some discussion points from our second activity. For this part of the session we split up into faculty groups and Alan Philips (Student Services), Richard Ward (LeTS) and I became honorary Social Science bods, along with Steve Wise (Geography) who is the ‘real thing’!

1. Topics that would like MASH to cover
The top priority (for Geography) is writing skills for ‘home’ students, from grammar through to how to structure and present a coherent argument (no pressure on me then for the rest of this posting).

In terms of existing resources, the department has looked at materials produced by the ELTC. Whilst these are excellent, they have largely been produced for an ESL audience, so they require some modification to make them suitable. The Royal Literary Fund (RLF) has also produced material designed for HE level study that we should explore further. In addition, the RLF writing fellow based in Animal and Plant Sciences has highlighted the benefits of 1-1 support and advice. With this in mind, we agreed that it will be worth exploring peer support, e.g. level 3 students working with level 1, as part of the TASH project.

There was a consensus in the group that in order to be effective, the resources need to be contextual. Therefore role of TASH should be to provide generic material and examples that departments can adapt to meet their own requirements.

2. Challenges
Student expectations and engagement -the student survey highlighted a gap between what departments offer/deliver and what students recognise has been provided. We discussed how this relates to the process of learning and reflection – how can we better support students in developing the critical self reflection skills that can help them to process and evaluate what they have learned and translate this into what they need to do next?

Related to this, we also considered what motivates students to engage with academic skills development. Whilst ‘getting a better degree’ has some appeal, we also agreed that employability and transferable skills are often of equal, or higher, significance. In both instances, we agreed that peer perspectives can be as or more powerful than those of tutors, and it could be useful to have some level 3 or recent graduate perspectives on ‘what I wish I’d known’. In addition, whatever the format or mode we use to provide skills development, we need to recognise that the relevance and importance attached will vary from student to student, and with this in mind, it is important that there is a resource /resources that enable students to revisit things at a time that works for them.

Designing materials that suit student and tutor requirements – it would be great to have parallel access points for tutors and students, but given the previous points it will be a challenge to design generic materials for students that can augment or serve as a prompt to go back to any materials or activities that were provided by their department/s. However, if (or should that be when) we can get this right , it will be a real strength.

In terms of contributing to the TASH project, Steve noted that he would like to work on 'writing skills' in collaboration with the ELTC and LeTS, with a view to sharing materials via the Hub.

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