Wednesday, 21 April 2010

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 - Tuesday am

In IM Marsh for two days at the annual Learning and Teaching Conference. I'm being coming to these things for a few years now and it always fires my interest. It's good to know what's going on in other parts of the university - there is so much good practice out there and this is a really good place to celebrate it.

The keynote session was really interesting - looking at student feedback and how what students expect from feedback isn't necessarily what they feel they are receiving. They want feedback and prefer to receive verbal feedback - "it's good to talk" - we heard from students about their experiences of feedback and what they want and then we heard from Alex Spiers and George Macgregor about how to provide verbal feedback via email. It was a very good demonstration of how easy it is to provide feedback in a way that students appreciated. Feedback need to involve a conversation so students receive it in the way that is most relevant to them. We also need to encourage them to make the best of feedback, to act on it and to use it for future assignments.

After the keynote is was straight into sessions on the student experience. The first session was by Phil Carey who is always a joy to listen to. He had looked at the experience of being a student rep at programme level. His focus was in his own faculty - Health and Applied Social Sciences and he interviewed about their experience. Phil talked about their motivations for becoming student reps and what in reality their jobs entailed. The students were all volunteers both for the role of student rep as to take part in the project, so the research needs to take that into consideration. The students saw the role in a number of ways:
  • A voice for fellow students - as a rep, as a consultant on particular issues and an advocate for students
  • A mediator - as a link in the faculty, but also managing conflict and a way to take the heat and anger out of student concerns and present them in a more balanced way in order to be listened to
  • Provide help and support - both as a source of information but there is a pastoral care function too
  • To develop a sense of community
  • Extension of the course team - anticipated the reactions of staff sometimes when concerns were brought to them but also felt as a peer in meetings with academics

They all saw the role as beneficial both for themselves and for others. There are challenges for individuals associated with being a student rep and challenges for the institution in order to support the role.

The second session looked at students expectations and how we managed that. Graeme Mitchell ran this session and he argued that student retention is affected by a number of factors but part of the issue could be whether what they expect of LJMU and university in general matches their experience. He asked the questions - should we meet students expectations whatever they are? Should students expectations change to fit what is a "normal" experience? or should we both compromise? This stimulated some discussion with a couple of good examples of engaging students early on as they arrive in order to help retention. There was some agreement that whatever we did it needed to be done earlier i.e. before they arrived. Is it better that a student who feels their expectations cannot be met doesn't enter the university at all rather than drops out early on?

The examples of good practice made me think that we need to look again at our induction process. What are we doing in Library & Student Support to engage users early on. One of the students in the session said that they are bombarded with information in the first few weeks and told everything they need to know for the next three years and expected to remember it. She suggested that induction should be a year long process. Although we have looked at our initial induction I think more work needs to be done as we still do bombard students with information that at the time they probably fail to see the relevance of. Should we be asking them what they expect from the library service? If we ask current students what and when they felt they needed to know over their first year we could plan better more engaging user education.

Lunch was next which was very tasty although as always there was a bun fight around the bread/salad table (its round and too small)

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