Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Self-efficaciously blogging...

This morning, I had a productive and enjoyable meeting with Jenny Moore of the White Rose Centre of Excellence in the Teaching and Learning of Enterprise (or WRCETLE to its friends). We talked through the range of skills building activities they run, and how these frequently offer powerful learning experiences for students - the WRCETLE's goal of "Placing academic learning in a real-world context" seems to be a powerful one for many learners. Jenny will be completing a tutor-facing guide to some of the resources they offer, thus helping spread them more effectively across the institution, and a lot of what we talked about would benefit students in all seven of the skills areas we've sketched out.

Jenny wanted to put forward a few specific ideas about our seven sk/hills framework, all of which I'm happy to accept. Firstly, she would like some mention of leadership, ideally in the interpersonal skills category - fair enough, and I think this will tie together neatly with PDP and other careers-focused discourses. Secondly, as other people have suggested, creativity needs to get a look-in, this time perhaps cutting across all seven of our areas. And lastly, Jenny drew my attention to the concept of self-efficacy, coming out of the work of Albert Bandura. It can be defined as your understanding of the skills you have to address any given problem; or, as Wikipedia puts it, "the belief that one is capable of performing in a certain manner to attain certain goals". This would, to some extent, be a useful concept for the "reflective learning" category, although like other items in that skill-set, it necessarily cuts across all the others. Indeed, I would suggest it's what TASH as a whole is trying to promote, primarily in learners but also in academic staff. So here's another phrase to add to our collective lexicon, and a helpful heuristic tool to understand better what we might already know how to do.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Update on the "seven sk/hills" framework

Following last Thursday's meeting (pictured above), the TASH team have begun to re-consider the seven skills / seven hills framework we've previously outlined. The discussions and feedback from that meeting was really helpful in clarifying our thinking, and allowing the structure develop. What this means in detail is:
  1. No matter how we divide up the particular academic skills students require for success at university, the final structure of the resource might look rather different - or to put this another way, the skills framework will be only one of several ways of navigating the resource. It won't be a closed, determining structure, but instead a means of helping the developers and users of the site think about what they're doing.
  2. The structure of the site should usefully integrate with other frameworks significant within the University, most notably, the concept of the Sheffield Graduate. For example, it's clear that TASH has foregrounded the need for graduates to be able to "communicate effectively, orally, in writing or by other means as appropriate"; but has it equally emphasised their need to "recognise their responsibilities as active citizens"? This comparison and benchmarking process will be one of the priorities for the TASH team over the summer.
  3. We also need to check out our perceptions of skills against other sources, in particular how other educational organisations carve them up (such as the Learning Areas outlined by the Learn Higher project), and against the perceptions of students. Again, these will be priorities in the next few months, and we're already working with CILASS and the Union of Students to maximise student involvement.
  4. Finally, we picked up one specific point from the July 17th, about potential overlap between the "Problem solving and data handling" and "Analytical skills" categories. We are now now considering reconstructing them as "Research and data handling" and "Problem solving and analytical skills". This way, we hope to be able to draw a clearer distinction between different stages of a process whereby we move from defining the question/hypothesis, to designing a research/problem-solving strategy, to gathering the resources and data necessary to implement that strategy, to analysing and interpreting what the data suggests in answer to our real or constructed problem, and back again to consideration of what underpins different types of research questions and strategies to engage with them in the first place. This takes us back to point (1), that the final labels aren't that important - what matters is bringing in students and tutors in such a way that they can find everything they need.
So, to recap; our seven skills for the moment look like:
  • Academic literacy
  • Personal and interpersonal skills
  • Research and data-handling
  • Problem-solving and analytical skills
  • Written communication
  • Oral and other communication
  • Reflective learning
And we'll be running these past a range of other sources, and keeping them under constant review. Your contributions are essential to this process, so I'd welcome comments, feedback, and emails!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Reflective Learning Group

Our group had very few resources to discuss. We speculated that this was the case because either (1) reflective learning is not valued very highly within the university and thus no resources have been designed to support and develop it or (2) that resources do exist but more time needs to be dedicated to finding them.

Reflective learning appears to be valued and is common practice in vocational disciplines such as Nursing, Medicine and Education.

Having 'reflective learners' appears to be the goal of many of the other academic subjects, in terms of having students who can think about their studies, evaluate what they have done and improve their work. However, how reflective learning could/should be encouraged/taught is unclear in these subjects.

Obstacles to reflective learning appeared to be:

  • Students not viewing it as having intrinsic value
  • It being a challenging process for students to carry out
  • A lack of resources to support it
  • Unsureness on the part of staff of how they can support students
  • A modular curriculum that does not encourage students to reflect on past work and progress towards future work.

Our view was that the TASH project could serve as a resource to help academics, who wished to improve their students reflective skills, to do so and also offer resources that students could engage with to help them 'get into a reflective mode of thinking.'

In addition to academic disciplines, the group felt that students could be supported and encouraged to become more reflective through PDP, Careers and The Sheffield Graduate programme.

I hope this covers most of what we talked about.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Induction process meeting

Willy and I attended a helpful meeting about induction processes today, convened by Ana Symington of LeTS under the auspices of the Internationalisation project. The meeting brought together people interested in induction from across the university, and there was a strong continuity from previous groups that have explored this issue. The particular points that I remember being of possible relevance to TASH included:
  • Induction is a process not a period, and it is best thought of as a long and rich process, rather than trying to cram everything into the first week. (Speaking personally, one of the most revealing meetings I've ever attended was a Union of Students one about induction week social activities. In all seriousness, with the range of social activities open to students, it's no surprise that academic study is a long way down their agendas).
  • There's a need to be aware of peer group messages - the general perception is that L1 doesn't count per se, not just that it doesn't count towards the final degree. TASH is attempting to intervene on this cultural level, so one of the many reasons to get students involved ASAP is to develop sensitivity to these kinds of messages.
  • Timeliness of information is a key issue, with the suggestion, for example, that information about plagiarism and referencing is held off until the first assessment point. The reminder structure we've previously discussed could work here, and it'd be really nice if we could fit into the design of TASH some sort of calendar or link to relevant events.
  • One facet for the academic writing category is "Communication with staff", although this needs to be done sensitively, as clearly some academics care more than others, and the pedagogical / professional, rather than the personal, are clearly the strongest grounds for argument.
The group may well meet again, and future discussions will be recorded here and doubtless via other LeTS outlets as well. TASH clearly has a role to play in this "long induction process" model, and it was welcome to see the enthusiasm and awareness of all participants in the meeting for TASH, and their willingness to ensure it is directly considered in future discussions.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Personal and interpersonal skills group

In our small groups session during the second TASH meeting we looked at a number of resources suggested in this category (rectangles only). Three general points emerged:

• All resources we came across in our group session were generic, i.e., dealing with life skills, communications skills, self-management skills. That these skills are also immediately relevant for somebody’s academic performance goes without saying. In fact, the line between personal skills and academic skills is often far from clear and we wondered whether it makes more sense to incorporate some resources under academic skills and creating a ‘life skills category’ to include for instance the support offered by the Counselling Service.
• Interpersonal skills are – unsurprisingly – above all associated with group activities, and are therefore less likely to be available as an online resource.
• The line between ‘practice’ and ‘resources’ was not always clear: we decided, as a quick definition, that a resource is a practice that is recorded and can therefore be shared.

Web resources:

The resource is targeted at students with dyslexia but it is also a very good resource for less essay-savvy Level One students. Some good generic study skills info too.
A valuable resource, aimed at mature and adult learners in particular but it has a reassuring glow about it that could be good for Level One students too.
A general resource which probably is not particularly well-know among students who may associated the counselling service too much with ‘problems’ rather than with ‘life skills’ support. The Skills for Life programme is based on workshops and the courses run in small groups.
Warmly recommended: the breathing exercise!

Other sources suggested:

Careers Service Employability RLO
We understood this to be Mole courses that could be adopted for a specific purpose. For instance, SOMLAL has adopted Claire Brooke’s Mole course on Work Placements and we are currently incorporating her work into a new SOMLAL Year Abroad Hub

Skill build Intensive Workshops offered by Enterprise at Sheffield, WRCETLE

Series of PowerPoint presentations and exemplars for developing understanding of Belbin team roles and implementing there roles in academic activities (Diane Rossiter and Catherine Biggs, CPE)

For something more immediate on Belbin, please try this link courtesy of Sabine Little.

Henriette Louwerse

First reflections from second TASH meeting

Just going through my notes from this afternoon's meeting (here's the PowerPoint in case you missed it, and you can also download it from the widget on the left), and I wanted to set some things down while they were still current. Firstly, I felt it was a really positive meeting - lots of interesting and interested participants, and some critical discussions about what TASH will do and how it will do it. Secondly, I was very alert to the point about student involvement, and despite the current difficulties of a transition period between student union officers, CILASS SAN co-ordinators and the like, I think we need to at least scope out precisely how students will get involved while we have this bit of thinking time. Thirdly, the idea of mapping the seven sk/hills we've drafted onto other concepts such as the Sheffield Graduate seems really important, not least so (a) we have another route in to staff and student perceptions of the resource, and (b) we're not repeating work done by other LeTS institutional projects. And finally, the questions of structure we wanted to raise in this meeting were richly and intelligently responded to - thank you for all your contributions. The seven sk/hills structure is only one iteration of an ongoing project, and we will consider all your points about logical orders, the nuances of language, flexibility, multiple ways of using the resource, etc. It was really good to recognise such expertise in structuring student-facing resources in the room today, and we'll be certain to draw on it in the near future. Thanks again for an enjoyable and productive meeting, and stand by for many more future posts!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Pure Science Learning Advocates on Board!

I had a very constructive meeting this lunchtime with the Learning Advocates (LAs) in Pure Science. Lots of useful suggestions were made about how TASH can move forward.

  • The LAs would like to see a resource that is generic but is 'tagged' in a discipline way.
  • All are keen to help embed the TASH project into their curriculum but feel that intro week is perhaps not the best time to launch it.
  • The LAs feel that demonstrations of the resource (either complete or in prototype format) would encourage other academics to buy into the resource.
  • It was suggested that the TASH project could become part of the induction projects or 'learning trails' that currently run in some departments.
  • All LAs are going to provide the project team with 5 skills they feel need addressing in their department, any resources they currently have available to develop independent learning and feedback on how TASH should be promoted in the University.

It was great to have so much enthusiasm and support for the project. Thanks.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Nick Fox, 15-7-08

Nick is the director of teaching in ScHARR, and has led on the development of plagiarism resources for postgraduate students. These resources are enormously rich and well-structured, and provide students not with a bare argument that "plagiarism is unacceptable", but a much more substantial set of materials, including discussions of why plagiarism is unacceptable, what it might look like, and what to do about it. Nick's written about the resources for the Case Studies Wiki, and you can get more detail there; he's also working on a publication that explains his method in more depth, and explores some of the more fundamental questions that it raises.

Nick's straightforward and persuasive argument was that academics need to accept their measure of responsibility for student learning about plagiarism, and not assume that students will simply pick up good writing and referencing habits as they go on. Students are entering an academic culture that will be, to a greater or less extent, unfamiliar, and are bringing in skills and experiences that may not entirely fit with what is expected of them. Nick talked about, and TASH has borrowed, academic literacy, a general sense of knowing what is important in academic life and why; it is only through this deeper engagement with students that plagiarism will be ended, because otherwise we are treating the symptom (poor referencing) rather than the disease (lack of clarity around the academic writing process, and indeed in some areas of what is expected from university study per se).

This deeper engagement with students throws up many questions for academics about what their assumptions, roles, responsibilities, and own writing practices are, and starts to chisel away at some of the binary divisions sometimes found between active producers of knowledge (typically academics) and passive consumers (typically students). It would be ideal if TASH could provide one space for these discussions and explorations; I think the project team were already clear on the need for spaces for students to discuss issues around their shifting understanding of academic life and indeed their own identities, and one thing I've taken from the conversation with Nick is the importance of a similar space for academic staff. To be sure, we need to start explaining the rules of the game to students; but it might be that until we explain them, we won't recognise some of their tensions and ambiguities. This process of exploration and explanation is an essential part of becoming truly student-centred, and perhaps even experiencing some of the ambiguity and identity-shift that we aim, explicitly or otherwise, to encourage in students.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Laura Lane, post-16 qualifications officer

Another very helpful meeting, this time with Laura, who has relatively recently been appointed to help the university get to grips with the new secondary qualifications structure, and in particular the new diplomas. Her task, as even this brief outline suggests, is pretty ambitious, especially as some details of the new structure are still being worked out. However, as one of the aims of the new structure is for consortia of HE, FE, and secondary institutions to work together, it's really good that TUOS has a voice in the ongoing discussions, and that we will be working more closely with local providers and colleagues.

There are also definite advantages to the diploma structure. For example, the extended project - "a level 3 qualification involving a single piece of work that requires a high degree of planning, preparation, research and independent working", sayeth the QCA - seems like an excellent preparation for higher education, and indeed a direct response to some popular concerns about the lack of independent study within the current A-level structure. There's also the
connections that can be potentially drawn between the "Personal, learning, and thinking skills" embedded within the diploma, and the skills HE is trying to develop, and TASH to foreground. I blogged a bit on this earlier. What I can add to that following the meeting with Laura is that these PLTS skills aren't being explicitly assessed, but are considered central to the new units as they are developed. Given that this development process is still underway, we'll have to see how it works out, and how the skills are structured within the diploma curricula; and how, in turn, they can be picked up and developed further within a HE context.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Chris Stokes, Dentistry

Chris Stokes treated us to a whirlwind tour of the Dentistry building today, taking in the departmental lobster tank, sound-proofed web-servers, cow tissue reception units and the NHS on three separate floors. He also introduced us to a series of initiatives in Dentistry tailored to the academic and professional development of their UGs, highlighting several key areas where TASH can play a part. And to cap a very rewarding hour and a bit, he agreed to join TASH's core project team as our key link to the Faculty of Medicine.

Key areas of concern for Dentistry, he suggested, were as follows:

  • academic literacy/culture - as Chris put it to us, many UGs have little or no appreciation of what academics do other than for the one hour per week they stand up and lecture to them face-to-face ... understanding the context in which they are working is something that TASH can definitely help with;
  • personal/inter-personal development - UGs often good one to one with patients (something they are effectively screened for at interview) but less good at group work perhaps;
  • data handling - help with stats would be welcomed, particularly around UGs 4th year elective project when they get to go out into the wider world for a few months and consider what they find;
  • written, oral and other communication - not a lot of essay writing in Dentistry, but the need to develop a range of skills for communicating to very different audiences and, encouraged by the department's own range of online support and assessment, using a range of media too (including poster presentations, which we need to specifically add to the "other communication" strand); Dentistry is clearly a long way ahead of many departments in its use of wikis, podcasts and other media for assessment;
  • reflective learning - something UGs often struggle with, especially because they are so forward looking in terms of identifying and working towards the next set of tests/exams in a curriculum which is very closely structured - an area TASH might again help with, particularly in setting students up for their elective projects.
Chris shared a range of ideas around online media in particular, how to assess them, and how to make use of co-/ extra-curricular activities too (specifically the Dental Revue videos on YouTube). The fact that many dental students appear to favour/privilege visual learning style more than many other UGs was also an interesting theme which ran through many of our discussions. We look forward to exploring all of this and more with Chris over the coming months, as well as picking up on some unfinished conversations concerning the ADOPT scheme and pre-entry support.

Law and TASH

Met this morning with Zoe Ollerenshaw in Law who lectures on the Legal Practice Course and is about to take up the roles of chair of the department's Teaching Quality committee and of teaching advocate across the department's full UG provision. Our conversation ranged over a wide range of skills areas of importance to Law UGs, students on the LPC, and PG students on a range of masters courses. Particular challenges mentioned, amongst others, were those encountered by second language overseas students on masters programmes, given the emphasis upon semantic meanings stressed in legal discourse (and for whom the department is developing compulsory sessions with ELTC); LPC students who, to an extent, have to "unlearn" some of the more fence sitting and discursive elements of UG writing conventions (in favour of some plain speaking advice to clients who wanted to know specific answers to specific questions); and the more general challenge of supporting the huge numbers of UG students throughout their studies given very high staff to student ratios.

There are clearly approaches TASH can learn from Law and LPC, including around the transition from UG to LPC and what this has to say about academic literacy .v. graduate professionalism, and writing (and being assessed) for/by different audiences. Likewise, Zoe sees that TASH and the 7 sk/hills currently outlined pretty much cover all the boxes Law will want to tick - and has the potential to assist greatly in developing a more coherent package of skills enhancement and reflective learning for UGs over the course of their studies.

Zoe is keen to remain involved, will be at the 17 July meeting, and will liaise with Tash Semmens and Norma Hird, both of whom are also closely involved in a "feedback taskforce" and other teaching initiatives within Law. Hopefully we'll be able to have at least one representative from Law at each of the meetings going forward.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

LTEA2008: induction, treasure hunts and interactivity

Before I forget, just wanted to post one or two random points arising from last week's LTEA conference.

In a session jointly hosted by colleagues from ACSE, Mech Eng. and HCS, a number of similar themes emerged around the importance of engaging students in pre-entry, induction week and follow-up activities which can help to foreground the importance of generic academic skills enhancement, the development of information literacy, and the acquisition of academic literacy in specific disciplinary contexts; and crucially to do this through active learning processes (rather than screeds of lectures and information sessions in large rooms). You can see the accompanying powerpoint here.

Something which all three departments seem to have introduced with positive results is the development of "learning trails" or "treasure hunts" to encouraged students to go out and find information and resources for themselves. This is also an activity I've used successfully with prospective students coming in to the University for taster sessions, and I wonder whether some kind of online quest might also be developed on TASH's site.

Further, Jen Rowson described an induction activity (a "design and build" task similar to a level one Mech Eng module) in which groups of students compete directly with one another to design something which will go the furthest, carry the most etc. etc. using limited materials. In the assessed module, grades are entirely dependent upon how well individual designs fare relative to other groups. To a lily-livered social scientist, this sounded a bit harsh, but as Jen notes it does closely mirror the reality of becoming a design engineer ("we might provide them with the tool box, but engineering is essentially about creative problem solving, and it's the most creative solution in the context of the brief which gets the contract", was something like how Jen put it) .

The element of competition (particularly when working as a group) seems often to engage students in very positive ways (and having assessed part of a module by group work this year for the first time, I have also seen the related benefits of peer-motivation in action). Again, Jen put it something like this: "show 'em the sky and invite them to reach for it" ... which I rather liked (even if it might also sound a bit cheesy if you're having a bad day).

So I wonder whether we might consider certain strategically targetted time-limited competitions for the hub - for example an online treasure hunt released via the hub in induction week with the best responses by week two earning a prize of some sort or another. Likewise, we could do similar things in and around other key transition areas - something to do with revision strategies released in the week before Xmas, time limited for entries in the first week of the new year; something in the first week of July targeted at students going from first to second or second to third year which gets them thinking about useful stuff to be thinking about and/or doing over the summer etc.?

The group I was in the induction session also turned to the issue of how to get students up and running most effectively at the beginning of their second year when suddenly grades really count (no longer enough simply to coast and scrape a pass), some of that study skills stuff from induction in year one might seem a bit rusty, and when additional pressures or challenges may be added by the move from halls of residence to private rented accommodation etc.

Getting students mentoring one another across levels was one obvious solution which is of course being supported and developed very effectively in a number of central support departments already, and is one which we've already batted about a bit in relation to TASH.

Finally, I had a conversation with Tash Semmens after the conference dinner (I think), the details of which are a little hazy - but revolved around our reminiscences of the central importance of law libraries in our own (increasingly distant) undergraduate studies ... and their relative lack of importance in many students minds today. One effect, Tash mused, of the increased accessibility of online sources in law today (but also many other disciplines, I have no doubt), is that students find it increasingly difficult to appreciate the distinction between primary, secondary and other sources, and their relative importance in the research and/or legal process. I very well remember myself that in the 1980s it wasn't difficult to spot whether you were dealing with statute law, common law, or text book opinion, because you found the books in different parts of the library and they all looked different, felt different and smelt different depending upon the type of source you were dealing with (and I'm sure this isn't simply the post-hoc rationalisation of a lawyer-turned-archaeologist more interested in law libraries as material culture than anything else these days). So the importance of getting students out and about, engaging with the very materiality of their individual disciplines, remains an important task which the treasure hunt can again achieve in part, I would suggest.

Friday, 4 July 2008

The new Diploma structure in post-16 education

This is just to note something Laura Lane, the new post-16 qualifications officer in SRAM, sent around today. Laura was contacting the Engineering faculty to continue raising awareness about the changes to post-16 curricula, and develop the consultation process about shaping entry routes.

As we all know, one of the major changes coming is the new diploma scheme. You can get more information about diplomas here, and the particular point I wanted to draw out related to the "Personal, learning and thinking skills" that are embedded in the diploma. These are intended to develop learners as:
  • independent enquirers;
  • creative thinkers;
  • reflective learners;
  • team workers;
  • self-managers; and
  • effective participators.
(The list is taken from this bit of the QCA website). And as it stands, it isn't too far from our draft "Seven sk/hills" model, especially around the categories of reflection, team-working, and that bundle of higher-level skills around locating and using information.

So, at least two non-exclusive conclusions could follow. Firstly, lists of generic skills might be expected to cover similar topics. Secondly, the changes to post-16 curriculum might be developing pretty much the kinds of skills that we're wanting to support. Which is one clear positive from the curriculum changes.

Geography case study: embedding ELTC MOLE language tutorials

I attended a very positive meeting yesterday with Richard Simpson, Alice Lawrence and Victor (sorry, Victor, I didn't catch your surname) - all from ELTC - Paul Wigfield (MOLE czar) and Steve Wise (Geography). Steve was the chief instigator and is concerned to address standards of written English amongst home undergraduate students in his dept. In particular, grammatical and other problems which recur and, it appears, are on the increase in many students' work.

It was helpful from a TASH perspective to observe in practice precisely the kind of process we hope to facilitate more easily through the medium of the tutor guides and other staff facing materials. Steve had only recently been put on to the ELTC online language tutorials (by Alice?) and, having now spent a limited amount of time perusing them, can see that many aspects of these provide ready made solutions to many of the areas he wishes to address with his students - hopefully the TFGs (tutor-facing guides) will help to shortcircuit this realisation for others in the future. Better still, Steve now plans to develop aspects of one of his first year modules to make more embedded use of these materials, and is considering supporting this through use of the first year tutorial system. He plans to develop a small amount of new material and possibly tinker with small aspects of the ELTC materials too (particularly to make the grammar tutorials and/or the way the subject of grammar is approached much less technical - since the ELTC materials were originally developed with a second language audience in mind), and is willing to work with TASH to use this as a disciplinary case study to illustrate how more generic materials can be made to work effectively in subject specific contexts.

Particular outcomes then:
  • Steve to work on tailored UG "Writing for Geographers" materials using ELTC tutorials as a key component, and to share lessons learned with TASH; it would be good if we can find someone on 17 July to do something similar for PG writing and/or in the pure sciences too;
  • Alice and Victor to work on TASH TFGs in relation to the ELTC online tutorials - we may want to break these down into guides addressing the needs of first- and second-language students respectively;
  • Richard, who knows the back history of the ELTC resources, is happy for these to be shared more widely via MOLE (e.g. the plan is for all 1st year Geog UGs to have automatic access next acad year, rather than having to sign up to be enrolled), and in principle (as Lynn Parker has also hinted for the library info tutorials) is happy for some or more of the tutorials to be lifted out of MOLE and made more easily available via web pages;
  • Paul has confirmed it should not be a big technical task to take tutorials such of these out of MOLE and place them onto open web pages if this seems to be the most effective way forward as the project progresses (the main issue for TASH here being that we want to signpost people as accurately as possible ... but if pointing to a MOLE resource, can only do so to the front page and not link any deeper to specific elements of a tutorial or resource);
  • TASH will support Steve, Alice and Victor with development time etc. as appropriate, and may also be able to help facilitate some student focus group work around the materials Steve plans to develop (e.g. using our links with the CILASS-SAN and union education officer);
  • We need to have a word with Diana Ward (ELTC), who will be working with English Lit next year (Bob McKay, Brendan Stone?) on some first year language development support.
Steve, Alice and hopefully Victor will all be at 17 July meeting where we can begin to put some of these pieces alongside other disciplinary and faculty case study priorities. Thanks to all for a very productive 45 minutes.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Key academic skills - seven skills for seven hills

Tim and I met this morning to review the outcomes of last Tuesday's launch meeting and to look forward to the next event on Thursday 17 July. One important task was to consider and feedback on the different group responses to our invitation to outline the three most important academic skills which students need to develop at University. The raw outputs will, all being well, be uploaded to the Generic Skills website later this week and we will be circulating an email shortly thereafter. In the meantime, we wanted to share our particular - and undoubtedly preliminary - take on what has already emerged from this exercise. We will also be using this as one starting point for discussions and resource sharing on 17th.

The picture is of my rough summation of our tentative discussions, uploaded via the wonders of CILASS copycam technology. The grid in the top right hand corner will be explicated, we hope, on 17th.

We are presently suggesting seven key skills areas (in line with the seven hills theme which Claire Shanks has mentioned and which fits with the idea of using understanding/analysing Sheffield as one possible theme for the hub - but also some fit here with the SCONUL pillars and certain other possibilities too):
  • academic literacy (understanding academic cultures, as raised by Nick Fox in discussions on 24th, including referencing, time management, induction and awareness of changes at different levels);
  • personal and inter-personal skills (including self-organisation, self-motivation, working in groups and confidence building);
  • problem solving and data handling (including qualitative and quantitative research methods, statistics etc.);
  • analytical skills (which we hope need no explication here - though clearly they will on the hub);
  • written communication (in its many different forms - including consideration of writing for different purposes and different audiences);
  • oral and other communication (including multi-media presentations, poster presentations, and online literacies);
  • reflective learning (including developing self-awareness of where you are, where you need to be, and what strategies may work best for you to get from one to the other).
Two terms which appeared in one or more of the group offerings, and on the image above, but which we have for now chosen not to reproduce in the list above, are "information literacy" and "resourcefulness". In the case of the former, we are currently arguing that this is a term which cross-cuts many of the sk/hills delineated above, but is not perhaps broad enough to encompass all the social aspects of learning which must also form a key element of the hub more generally. In this respect also, there may be something about the latter term which implies an inner resilience, and willingness to explore and work with resources - however plentiful or limited - which can be argued to be one particular hallmark of a genuinely autonomous learner, but which is as much perhaps about personal development as about academic skills per se. And whilst we want to continue to foreground the idea of academic skills for the moment, we are also entirely mindful of the indivisibility of academic skills development and enhancement from social and personal development within and beyond each individual student's time at University.

It can be taken as read, therefore, that these are both terms which offer important background contexts to the specific skills set we outline above - and that the "meta-skills approach" favoured by one group, and perhaps showing the clearest connection to many of the discussions we understand to have taken place in the Generic Skills Working Group in the past, is by no means excluded from TASH's developing vision. Nevertheless, we remain mindful of the fact that the hub must, first and foremost, be seen to assist individual students and their departments to achieve the best degree results they can - whilst recognising the crucial importance of extra- and co-curricular activities and support mechanisms in aiding this process.

We anticipate that we will return to debates around these and similar issues again and again over the coming months - we also hope we'll find some time to do some extra-curricular reading of our own relatively shortly to check our developing understanding against the broader skills literature.

Feedback on TASH meeting with CILASS

This lunchtime, Willy and I did a little presentation to CILASS staff about TASH. The genesis of this was the interest shown by CILASS in the project, but the clash of the June 24th launch meeting with an important internal CILASS event; so to maximise efficiency, we thought we'd talk to the half-dozen or so key members of CILASS staff together. You can find the slideshow we used here, although it's pretty much the same one that we used on the 24th, which is available from the LeTS pages.

The meeting was very helpful, with the interest shown by staff growing stronger the more they learned about TASH. In particular, they were excited by the possibility of student contributions to the resource, and pointed to their developing series of student guides (for instance, this one on groupwork). As TASH develops, CILASS are happy to help align these guides with the project and the topics it covers, leading to a really strong student voice, and some peer-support which, as I think we all recognise, can be a very powerful mechanism. CILASS were also keen to foreground the notion of Information Literacy as a way of tying together and supporting some of the topics that TASH will cover, and I agree this is a very helpful framework; it provides a structure in which learners can locate their skills development and progress, and an explanatory framework for what they're doing. It is also an obvious link with the Library's Information Skills tutorials, which have always been one of the main drivers behind TASH. And finally, in the kind of creative and free-flowing discussion that CILASS staff are so good at facilitating, we reached the idea of possibly TASH fitting into a "learning commons", providing students with a series of tools to further and perspectives to deepen their learning. If it could achieve this, that would be great; and the main message I took away from the meeting was how CILASS has already done much of the groundwork for such an ambitious project.

More on the Pure Science group, 24 Jun meeting

Just to build on Kath's posting here, and speaking from a social scientist's outsider perspective, I was struck by how the conversation quickly focussed in on the importance for science students to develop "soft skills" - how to engage in and implement group work projects effectively, how to develop oral and poster presentation skills etc. - alongside more bread and butter (perhaps) lab and report writing skills.

As Kath observes, the importance of embedding the resource within departmental consciousness, and of making as much of it clearly relevant to specific disciplinary contexts, was a key theme - and the tension between generic and discipline specific, small light hubs and extensive resource pools, and the chicken and egg of getting the hub up and running, and individual disciplines recognising the opportunities it can provide and developing new or adapting existing resources to feed in/out of TASH.

It was also suggested that the motivation of some students may be a little different today from in the past - to wit, more students were interested in the degree they were working towards than in the specific subject they were taking. It would be interesting to hear whether this is a view shared by colleagues across the faculty.

The possibility of lifting some of the existing library info skills resources out of MOLE and making them more easily accessible in an open source .html form was also floated by Lyn Parker - and offers some exciting possibilities for TASH. We will certainly be following up on this one. Lyn also mentioned some of the materials students have been developing with CILASS in terms of "how to do (IBL) research" etc. Tim and I met with a number of the CILASS core team today and Tim will be blogging this separately - but it is already clear that CILASS will be able to help in a number of ways - and thanks here to Laura Jenkins also, whose final official act as the SAN co-ordinator (before her extended swansong at the LTEA conference), must surely have been to come along to the TASH launch itself. We look forward to working closely with her successor, Natalie Whelan, and others in the student ambassador network, over the summer and into next academic year.

Finally, Patrice Panella's Innovative Communications project was mentioned as one place where student led engagement with Web 2.0 technologies is being explored - there may be important lessons for TASH to draw from this work when we start to consider the nature of the interface we will be developing in more detail.