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.

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