NTU College of Science and Art – Learning and Teaching Conference

Early in September I attended the first learning and teaching conference held by our College of Science and Art. The theme of the conference was ‘Understanding and Shaping the Student Experience’, with the keynote by Aaron Porter, former President of the NUS.

The first session I attended was on ‘Perceptions of Professional Tutoring: How a programme of individualised support enhance the undergraduate student experience’ by Sarah Hindmarsh and Cath Gripton. This session explained how tutors on an education programme supported students with their progression through the programme and their placements at schools.

Some of the key points from the sessions were:

  • Professional tutors helped students make sense of their experience. Taking on at times the role of critical friend.
  • Professional tutors can help students decipher or interpret feedback from other tutors.
  • Professional tutors can get a sense of the whole programme and can feedback to the whole programme team about the general student experience.
  • Professional tutors need to be flexible in terms of times of communications from students.
I think one of the most important things I took from this session was the potential for professional tutors to assist students with the interpretation of feedback from their module tutors.
Level, frequency and consistency of feedback has been a consistent concern that has been raised by students via such mechanisms as the National Student Survey and in listening to the session I raised the concern on twitter as to whether the intervention of a professional tutor would help more generally with assisting students with their feedback.  It was interesting to receive feedback that colleagues in our School of Social Sciences had conducted some research in this area and had found similar results.

Aaron Porter’s keynote was stimulating in the way that he presented an analysis of the demographics of students currently attending university and the impact that the introduction of the Higher Education white paper and the increase in tuition fees will have on the demographics of those attending university. In analysing this, Aaron looked at the demographics of students attending the various common interest affiliations such as the Russell Group, University Alliance etc.

Interestingly,  I think the most significant point that Aaron Porter made was not in relation to these demographics and the potential impact of increased fees but in the removal of the funding for the support structures that encourage students from lower socio-economic groups to attend university.  E.g. the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance and the withdrawal of funding for the Connexions advisory service (see for example: http://www.cypnow.co.uk/go/connexions/).  I’m sure the change in demographics changes over the next few years within Higher Education will be pooled over by political parties and think tanks alike.

Another interesting session that I attended was a presentation of the WikiMaps project that has been developed by Dr Chris Reynolds and Phil Pierce.  This project was initiated to support students going on sudy placements abroad and provided a means for them to get up to date information.  The wikis used in the project are created by current placement students in the language of the country they are studying in. The cover subjects such as travel, accomodation, what to study and can give help and advice on culturally specific issues.

The project has gained increasingly popularity and current placement students are assessed on their contributions while students preparing for a year’ study abroad can be assured of more up to date information.

The project is now looking at the potential of utilising the wikimaps concept with different types placements and pull them  into one place to help share information across all NTU placements.

Overall, this was an interesting conference and it was good to see such a broad range of subjects being discussed with reference to the student experience across a quite diverse college.

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