The following post is from Vijaiya Poopalasingham who started his BILT Associate role in supporting students transition to University in August 2021.
I am very excited to join the BILT Associates this year as part of the overall ‘transitions’ project looking at the challenges associated with joining university and making the ‘step-up’ to degree level study. It is always a challenge but even more so in the context of events over the past 18 months.
Much like our students, I joined Bristol in late 2019 and was still very much ‘finding my feet’ when events overtook us and we made the shift to remote models of work. So, I would say I was also in a dual transition phase for the last year, still adapting to my new academic role while simultaneously adapting delivery of an educational experience to a blended approach. In that respect, adaptation is very much the central theme around which I orient my work.
A dual qualified US- UK lawyer by background, I have been fortunate to experience the educational and professional contexts of both jurisdictions. My practice has been at the intersection of commercial, trade and human rights and I have undertaken an academic role alongside. I have always been a proponent for practice informed teaching, especially for subjects like law, where meeting the needs of the world today is determinative.
Much like the profession, everyone has had to adapt to the unique circumstances that have presented themselves. That includes both students and faculty. However, it is not a one size fits all type of paradigm and identifying and looking to address some of the particular challenges that students, undergraduate and post-graduate are facing is part of the intended objectives of our work this year. Initially, this will focus on reviewing and identifying resources currently available and considering views of current research into academic challenges which may always have been present to one degree or another but magnified and exacerbated over the last 18 months. For those in any doubt of the extent of disruption faced by students and the ensuing impact, recent student minds report makes for stark reading.
However, this also provides a real opportunity for reflection on how we as an institution think about teaching and support we provide as part of the broader learning environment and particularly in light of the transition to a hybrid blended approach which is something that I believe can provide huge opportunities and benefits for students and faculty. Given the rapid developments in technology, we need to ensure that the methods of teaching, modes of assessment and support for students is commensurate with the paradigm today and not what it has been.
None of that should be underestimated. In particular, the impact it has had and will have on students, not only joining their degree program but for those who are already at university. Part of my interest in joining the BILT team and hopefully some of the aspects we will consider is identifying and supporting how students will engage in the blended learning paradigm. How to utilize online lectures in an active manner. How to develop reading skills that complement the structured activities within units. How to ensure that alongside all the enhancement provided by a blended approach, ostensibly basic skills like effective note taking are developed and not lost. This is an ongoing process and one aspect of focus for me is on how to effectively communicate to students that they are at the beginning of a process and a journey and that it is ok not to know how to do everything from day one but that development, one step at a time is the ‘name of the game’ and that they are not on their own.
Going forward, I would like to consider on how ‘authentic’ assessments can be utilized to be a more effective method of learning and development so that students can feel that they have some ownership of their assessment beyond the more traditional essay format and their learning overall. This will also help support initiatives with widening participation and reducing the awarding gap, recognizing that much like there is no one ‘type’ of student, there are different ways of learning and commensurately one mode of assessment does not serve in that context. Again, this is part of not only recognizing the needs of the world today but understanding our students in that context as well.
Looking forward to working with all of the BILT team this year!