Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Moving on...report on the September 16th meeting

Today’s project meeting was very successful, both in terms of being able to disseminate what has happened on the project thus far, and for getting feedback, questions, steers, and more interested parties on board. In terms of disseminating project activities, this was done through a series of presentations by core team members – Kath Linehan on her work with the Pure Science LTAs and the tutor-facing guides written to date; Linda Gray sharing her work with the Engineering LTAs and the location of academic skills resources within her faculty; Steve Collier reporting on our first focus group with students; and Willy Kitchen talking about the evolving design and structure of the resource. (Copies of all these presentations are available by clicking the links, or from the project website). There were very helpful questions asked, and lots of good discussion points raised, both in this reporting section and the more general discussion; and I’ll discuss a few of the ones that stayed with me.

The over-riding message was that we need to emphasise the relevance to students of the resource. Their motivation, it was suggested, includes fair slices of wanting to get a job, and wanting to learn more about a subject that interests them; so we need to ensure that TASH addresses both these user needs. This relates closely to getting the language right – not all staff, let along students, will respond to phrases like “academic literacy”, so we need to ensure the terms we use are broad and welcome enough to encompass a range of perspectives and users. One way to achieve this is via student-generated material, or, equally excitingly, materials generated by recent graduates; there are precedents for both of these, for example the excellent CILASS Student Ambassador Network pages, and the Careers Service’s podcasts about “A day in the life of…” all sorts of exciting people. We also need to ensure that the resource meets its promises of being multimedia and rich, to cater for the wide range of learning styles and backgrounds of our students. This is by way of some defensiveness – if at the moment the project team are concentrating a lot on written documents, it doesn’t mean that the entire resource will have outputs in this format! And finally, we need to ensure the whole range of staff in the university are included and interested in the resource. The particular groups identified in discussion included hourly-paid staff, in teaching and support capacities, and full-time support staff; often, these people are the more friendly face within a department, to whom the student will turn. They, therefore, need to be in-tune with TASH, and aware of what it has to offer.

So, what next? Organising focus groups is the next big task, and we’re in active discussions with the Union of Students, CILASS, and other established networks to support this. We’ll also be concentrating on finding what resources are already available within the institution, and where possible, generating tutor-facing guides to communicate these in a standard form. And we’ll also be continuing to look at our skills areas, and benchmarking them against documents with general currency, such as The Sheffield Graduate profile. If we receive as much support and enthusiasm for the rest of the project as we did in today’s meeting, then it should be (relatively speaking) a walk in the park.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Medical Faculty developments

Hi from the Medical Faculty,

Not being able to make the general update meeting next week (I've got a note from my Doctor), I thought I'd update the TASH blog on the meetings I have had so far.

Both Professor Shelagh Brumfitt (Chair of Teaching Committee, Human Communications Science) and Dr Angela Fairclough (Chair of Teaching Committee, Dentistry) have cheerfully given up their time to talk to me about what they see as possible directions for TASH. Although I met them individually, there was a surprising similarity in the responses I got. Either there is some cheating going on, or the issues within the Medical Faculty surrounding the provision of Academic Skills are fairly similar.

In both onversations I have had, skills already identified by stakeholders in TASH were discussed (note-taking, letter writing and presenting seem popular), and then the issue of skills for both professional and interprofessional working were identified. In particular, the attitudes and skills that are necessary when working in teams. These are critical for the delivery of health care, and I am now attempting to clarify which skills TASH should prioritise for the Medical Faculty. Some resources have already been identified which I am in the process of checking out, and both departments have reported that they think that TASH resources can easily be placed into the curricula when available.

I would like to thanks both Shelagh and Angela for their time. Next stop, the Medical School!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Pre-HE Qualifications developments

Some of you will be aware of the sterling work being done by Laura Lane, UK Qualifications officer with Admissions, assisting departments in framing their responses to the new qualifications being offered by schools and colleges from the start of this academic year. In particular, all departments need to update their UCAS entry requirements taking into account the new Advanced Diplomas, AQA Bacc and Cambridge Pre-Us.

As part of TASH's ongoing dialogue with SRAM, I attended a roundtable discussion for Faculty of Arts and Humanities admissions tutors yesterday, hosted by Laura and Ana Kingston (Head of Admissions), at which many of the issues raised by these developments were aired. From the point of view of TASH, I just wanted to flag up one key area of discussion, and to note how we may be able to assist parties on every side of the fence in at least one important aspect common to all the new developments in train - namely the development of Extended Projects, whether as stand alone components of a broader A-level offer, as part of an AQA Bacc, or in the context of the new Advanced Diplomas.

There is a widely acknowledged need to support students, both pre- and post-entry, in the development of increasingly robust academic research, analysis and writing skills, all of which could and, I'd suggest, should be addressed, inter alia, through extended projects such as these. TASH is watching these developments closely and we hope that supporting the generic skills required for effective project working such as this will be one very important way in which we can provide a resource of real value to students both pre- and post- HE entry, whether they come to this institution or not. Indeed this kind of approach can hopefully serve to help others outside HEIs understand a little more of what it is we mean, as a Russell Group institution, when we say we are looking for independent, critical thinking in our prospective, as well as our current students. Precisely the sort of stuff which may assist the work of the lifelong learning networks, referred to by Tim here.

What we did on our summer holidays ...

Lest the lacuna in the blog be taken as evidence for a complete lack of activity during the oh so sunny month of August, I should record here (since I failed to do so at the time) that the core project team, in various combinations, met on 14 and 29 August to take stock of where we've got to individually and collectively, and to consider where we're going from here. Louise and Steve have variously knocked our heads together to ensure that something more concrete emerges going forward - within a meaningful timeframe and without breaking the bank - and let me assure you all that things continue to progress to the plan inside our heads, even if it might not always look like that from the outside; increasingly tangible and, we hope, coherent statements of what that plan might be will be appearing over the coming months (remember to watch the project webpages for meeting details etc.).

We look forward to beginning this process at the next open meeting on Tuesday 16 September, 11am to 1pm (with tea/coffee to start and sandwiches from midday). Amongst other things we plan to provide a general project update, circulate draft tutor-facing guides to resources, report on the first student focus group hosted today, and talk you through our first working draft of how the TASH resource itself may function. By way of a sneak preview, here's something else inpenetrable I drew at the meeting on 29 August.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Meeting with Higher Futures

A very positive meeting this morning with Jackie Powell and Mike Bruce from Higher Futures, the lifelong learning network for South Yorkshire. The LLN is a way of bringing together FE colleges with HEIs on a regional basis, and ensuring that there are clear progression pathways available to students from the FE sector. Clearly, there is a job of work to be done here; both HE and FE institutions need to learn more about each other, and what each can bring to the learner's journey, for local students to be given a high-quality service. Vocational learners often bring rich and diverse skill sets to higher education, and often bring a passion for and knowledge of their subject that A-levels, structurally, can't mirror. So Jackie, who co-ordinates the Information, Advice, and Guidance (IAG) aspect of Higher Futures, and Mike, based in this institution, are working hard to make sure this message gets out, and that both sectors are working effectively together.

They were, for obvious reasons, excited about the potential for TASH to bridge this gap between FE and HE learning. They recognised how it might be used as part of an IAG route within their work, and how it could aid both staff and students in understanding what was expected from university study. As much as anything else, it might help develop the confidence of FE students in recognising the skills they can offer HE, particularly important given how much current language and thinking in HEIs is oriented towards students with A-levels rather than other forms of qualification. Alongside all this good feeling, the practical outcome of this meeting was that IAG staff in Higher Futures institutions will have a chance to play with the draft TASH resource, once it is ready after Easter in a testable form. This is clearly good for us, as we get feedback on the resource from practitioners in one of its application contexts; and good for the IAG staff, as they see how the resource will work, can contribute to its ongoing design, and begin to think about embedding and promoting it in FE colleges.