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.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Thanks for all this - a very helpful collection of thoughts. I agree very much with the potential impact of treasure hunts, and think here we might have something to learn from student societies and Union activities, who sometimes this kind of thing. We might not want to carry across the same emphasis on alcohol, but other aspects, perhaps particularly the emphasis on photographs of where participants have been, might be useful.