How are lecturers involved in student engagement?

My first week of full time lecturing is over, it’s been hard work but already so rewarding. We have such a diverse student body with a multitude of different backgrounds, beliefs and levels of ability but in every single one of them I have seen the spark ignited by new knowledge and a passion to learn so intoxicating that I can’t wait to get back in the classroom and see where it takes them. 

The transition from student to lecturer and meeting some of my new students this week really got me thinking about engagement from a different perspective. How do I ensure all students are actively engaged with their learning? If they don’t look engaged in a session is it because the material is not interesting enough? Is it because of something I’ve said or done? I am after all a lecturer not an entertainer. How many students can you engage at once? So far all my students are incredibly enthusiastic about actively participating in their learning experience but surely that level of commitment will be unsustainable for some; it’s easy to be enthusiastic for a week, but three years is a long time. 

Talking to my students, putting faces to names, has been a real pleasure and the overwhelming feeling I get from the majority of them is how grateful they feel for the opportunity that is in front of them. I can’t pretend they are all going to be the ‘perfect student’, each individual could potentially bring different issues that affect their commitment, engagement and ultimate success but they’ve taken that next step and it’s one that may not have been available to them if it was not for HE provision in FE colleges.

Throughout my time in student engagement I’ve noticed it is generally dedicated student engagement staff, students themselves and certain levels of management that have the main roles within student engagement. This is of course understandable but I’m now wondering about the role lecturers play beyond engagement with teaching and learning, they are after all the people that have the most contact with students. I will be exploring this further in my role and institution but it would be really nice to hear from any of you about how you’re involved and your thoughts on student engagement so if any lecturers have any comments I’d love to hear from you.

I love my new job!

Sorry it has been so long since I last blogged but I have been busy finding my feet as a higher education lecturer.

Now I can finally stand up again under the weight of all my lovely new work it’s time to create some balance. I officially start my PhD at the start of October, which is incredibly exciting and as it’s based on student engagement I can throw myself back into student engagement, my research and my blog.

I love my new job, I can’t think of anything better than being paid to do something I love. I get the feeling it’s going to be a challenge, for the last 6 weeks I have been researching for and organising my modules but I am finally getting there and I’m really looking forward to welcoming our new students next week.

Another exciting thing is that as a lecturer I get to see student engagement from another new angle. I have already been involved with reviewing the Student Representative Handbook and one of my modules is very much student-led, so I’m really excited about seeing ‘students as producers’ in action. I can’t wait to get more involved as meetings and engagement activities begin and start to work in partnership with students, both in the classroom and out of it. Roll on next week!

A student reaction to the HEFCE consultation

I’m extremely disappointed that I have had to miss the QAA Annual Reviewers’ Conference so in an attempt to remain ‘in the loop’ I have spent the morning reading the HEFCE consultation on the future approaches to quality assessment and considering my individual reaction.

I have to say I am extremely pleased to see the continued commitment to student engagement and partnership, with the principles for a quality assessment system including the expectation that students will be ‘meaningfully integrated as partners in the design, monitoring and review of processes to improve the academic quality of their education’ and the acknowledgement of the widely held view that  student engagement and partnership is an ‘essential component of future quality assurance and quality assessment arrangements’. When reading the document there were a few areas which raised some concerns for me when considering student engagement, I’m sure these are in no way the only concerns as each individual will no doubt read it with different priorities in mind but I attempted to consider it from the student perspective and how I think it could affect the first hand student experience.

I’m quite interested to see how the commitment to student engagement and partnership will play out. It is clear in the document that student input will be expected to be utilised by the governing body and throughout internal processes but how can we assure this will be done effectively? Even with the growing awareness of the importance of student engagement and partnership and fantastic organisations such as TSEP, which provides resources, training and events that allow for greater sector understanding, effective discussion and sharing of good practice, there are still issues related to implementing effective student partnerships within many institutions. Effective student engagement and partnership is plagued by barriers around the evolving student identity, lack of consistent definition and understanding and lack of effective communication, I sincerely hope the stream of good practice from the sector in these areas isn’t side-lined as a result of the future intentions. As noted there is a clear commitment in the document to internal student engagement and partnership so hopefully any potential fears here are completely unfounded but what about external student engagement? The QAA began using student reviewers in 2009, as a student reviewer myself my views on this will clearly be subjective, however I believe student reviewers are a valuable resource and offer a valid and useful input into educational review. I’m unsure on reading the consultation document if and where any external student input will be utilised, this could of course be misunderstanding on my part, or it could be that this is part of the details to be filled in at a later date, however I think external student input is important and should be considered. From a student perspective it is easy to be very insular, yes context is very important in relation to the student experience however it can sometimes be very difficult to judge your own institution without sufficient knowledge and information about good practice elsewhere; a student may consider that they have a fantastic student representative system without understanding that student representation alone does not constitute partnership.

My next concern is the use of student outcome data as a focus for quality. Recruitment, progression and advancement are clearly important aspects of higher education and suggest an effective student experience but as a student myself I can’t help but be concerned about the idea of reducing my student experience to quantifiable data. I have had a fantastic student experience and I have learnt many things throughout my time as a student but I did not learn them all in the classroom and have not showcased all my learnt experiences during assessment; there is more to university life than the grade you come out with or even how satisfied you say you are by ticking the boxes on the NSS. I would hate for this to be forgotten in the move from a peer review of processes to a review of outcome data and I am therefore very interested to see what student outcome data will look like.

There is one particular quote from the document that caused me to stop and think.

‘We heard clearly during the discussion phase that providers in the English system felt that market pressures were sufficient to incentivise them to ensure that they continue to offer a high quality student academic experience and excellent student outcomes, without the need for a repeated costly and extensive external scrutiny process at the baseline or threshold level.’ (HEFCE, 2015)

I can understand the desire to reduce the repeated burden of institutional review however I was concerned about the belief that market pressures incentivise quality. Is that really the case? Yes you need happy students and good results to attract new students but how you make those students happy and how the grades are achieved matters too. As Staddon and Standish (2012) point out student satisfaction does not necessarily result in quality improvement and an appropriate student experience. In an earlier blog post I disagreed with the idea that students are novices and therefore do not understand the difference between a quality education and a satisfying student experience, however I also argued that it was the creation of a balanced partnership within assuring student satisfaction that was important. Student engagement is not about giving students what they want in order to achieve good student outcomes and NSS scores, it is about working with students to create a community which revolves around mutual understanding and respect; market forces do not necessarily build a community or encourage a balanced relationship.

Derfel Owen suggests that HEFCE have hit the ‘reset’ button on quality, I sincerely hope that this doesn’t hit the ‘reset’ button for student engagement too.

HEFCE (2015). Future approaches to quality assessment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. [Online]. Available at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/HEFCE,2014/Content/Pubs/2015/201511/2015_11_.pdf. [Accessed: 29 June 2015].

Owen, D. (2015). HEFCE press the quality reset button. [Online] Available at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/HEFCE,2014/Content/Pubs/2015/201511/2015_11_.pdf [Accessed: 29 June 2015].

Staddon, E. and Standish, P. (2012). Improving the Student Experience. Journal of Philosophy of Education. 46 (4): 631-48.

Blog identity crisis

I haven’t blogged for a while because I’ve been having a small identity crisis. I started this blog as a way of developing my digital literacy and sharing my thoughts and experiences regarding the exciting concept of student engagement and partnership. My posts have all come from the student perspective, which is often lacking in student engagement discussion but I have now finished my degree, all my various roles within student engagement are coming to their end and I’ve been in limbo while my future plans have been busy jumping around and refusing to slot into place. So what to do with the blog?

I have met my replacement as HE Student Governor, a lovely girl who I am sure will do a fantastic job, so I considered asking her if she wanted to carry on with the blog but in fairness if she wanted to blog I’m sure she would want to set up her own and do it her way. I’ve applied for a variety of jobs, all in some way linked to engagement but not specifically student engagement so I wondered if I should wait and see what job I settle on and change the focus slightly away from students but that felt like cheating because it is student engagement that I am passionate about. That’s when I realised maybe it’s not the blog with the identity crisis, maybe it’s me. Why am I applying for jobs that aren’t in higher education when I love it and all my knowledge and experience is within higher education?

I have always been a level headed, practical person, I take things in my stride and will do what is required, so when I started thinking about the future I decided that as long as I could get a job that challenged me, allowed me some autonomy and contained some of the things I’ve loved over the last few years, such as interaction with new people, then I would be satisfied and I would be earning money. I applied for a few jobs and managed to get a couple of interviews, one of which I was really excited about. I didn’t get it, I didn’t have the specific experience required and others did so I could understand why but I was slightly disappointed. It was my first ever formal interview and it went really well, my interviewer gave me some great feedback and I came away disappointed but quite pleased with myself in a strange way. I then went to an interview for another role in a great little organisation which had a very worthwhile role in community engagement but as soon as I walked into the office I knew it wasn’t the place for me, my tutors lectures on the importance of organisational culture came flooding back and I knew instantly I just wouldn’t have fit in. 

Anyway I’m going off track slightly, what to do with the blog? My passion clearly lies within student engagement, my dissertation for my degree was based on student engagement and consumerism and the student identity and I thoroughly enjoyed the research and was not so patiently waiting for my results when my dissertation supervisor suggested I look into doing a PhD. She was not ready to release the marks yet but thought it would be a good idea to consider a future in academia, which did of course did give me great hope of achieving a decent grade, so I started writing a proposal based on my dissertation research. I GOT 95! Can you imagine my excitement at getting 95 for my dissertation? But that didn’t come close to my excitement when my proposal was accepted. I can’t lie, I have moments where I wonder what I’ve let myself in for, I know how much hard work is going to be involved but I still have a big smile on my face about it and still occasionally do a little happy dance at unexpected moments. And it solves the blog crisis, I can continue to blog about my research around student engagement. 

Then I started thinking about how unacademic most of my blogs are, they are clearly mainly conversational, should I start a new blog instead with a more academic tone? You read everywhere how important it is to project a professional image, in the age of technology your digital identity is incredibly important but I don’t want to forget my passion for student engagement and the importance of the student perspective, that is after all where my PhD proposal developed. Does creating a professional image mean I can’t share my personality and my love of selfies? It probably does but I’ve decided that for now I will keep the blog and allow my personality to be part of it, it may not be all completely academic, but then again neither is student engagement and neither am I. 

By the way I’m still looking for a job within higher education if anyone hears of anything suitable!

Maleficent with Megan

Last night my daughter and I again took advantage of the invitation to engage with other students by attending the Level 2 Performance and Production Arts show, Maleficent; it was a great production, thoroughly enjoyed by both of us. Megan giggled at the 3 fairies, was amazed by the boys fighting scenes and sang the songs to me on the way home. It’s not easy to keep a 6 year old enthralled for an hour so well done! 

  

To create confident adults, we need to create confident children

My eldest child is in high school (a scary thought that I don’t often admit to as it means I’m far older than I feel), he came home the other day talking about the elections for school council and the fact he regretted not putting himself forward for it. We had a long discussion about how important it was to be confident and put yourself forward, even if it means you could fail, but at their age he was afraid it was more of a popularity contest than a vote of confidence. 

I was incredibly proud of him when we started talking about what changes he would have liked to campaign for. I was expecting him to talk about getting more varieties of pizza for lunch or vending machines in the corridors but instead he wanted to open the IT rooms at lunch and change the way the library was run to ensure students had better access to books.

I think it’s fantastic that schools are engaging their pupils and consulting them on issues and potential changes. I asked him if he was going to talk to his representative about his ideas but he just shrugged and said he had no idea who actually got it in the end, so I suggested that he could find out or even talk to the teachers directly but he was losing interest by then and said they wouldn’t listen to him anyway so it would be pointless. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to some of the challenges to higher education student engagement, such as lack of information, lack of confidence that the student identity contains enough knowledge or power to affect change and lack of accessibility of engagement opportunities for all.

I am certainly not trying to be at all negative about the school, I really do think it is great that they provide the opportunities they do and introduce students to the concept of engagement, however we need to be teaching individuals from the beginning that engagement can be effective and can create positive changes. I understand that not all changes can be implemented but I think the students should be made aware of why, so that they know it is not that they are not listened to, it is simply that it is impossible to please everybody, which, let’s face it, is a great lesson to learn in itself. I was even more pleased to hear that my younger children, who are in primary school, also had a school council where ideas for change could be discussed.

Our schools are building a great foundation for student engagement, I really hope this continues and that by the time they reach higher education they are confident in their ability to affect change and make the most of their educational experience.

Fun day at Doncaster College and Northern Racing College Country Show and Open Day

 

One of the lovely thing about my role as Student Governor is the many invites to College events and activities. As a busy mum of 3, I sometimes struggle to go to as many as I would like but I couldn’t resist taking my daughter along to this one, a day full of horses, dogs and lots of other animals, what more could a 6 year old girl ask for?!

   
 

We had a brilliant time, the horse shows were fantastic, such impressive creatures and dedicated owners and as you can see my daughter thoroughly enjoyed interacting with all the animals but the best part of the day had to be the dogs. There were beautiful dogs everywhere, from white Alsatians to Chihuahuas, there was even a gorgeous German Shepherd puppy, who I would have tried to smuggle into my handbag if I thought I’d have gotten away with it. It was great fun watching them all attempt the agility course, some far more successfully than others. My daughter is now insistent that our big soft Rottweiler needs to start training for next year, however she is as daft as they come, so I’m not holding out much hope. The star of the day for us was definitely Sam, the 15 year old, toothless, Toy Poodle, who had painted toenails, a very fetching blue bow and who sometimes dresses up as a clown. He could even dance, I mean, come on, that’s not something you see everyday!

It was a really lovely day out and it shows engagement doesn’t have to consist of just sitting in long meetings or revolve around your own learning, it means engaging with your educational community, having fun and sharing your experiences.

And of course every event is a selfie opportunity but excuse the lack of makeup, it was a Sunday morning.