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Teaching that cares and challenges: Session abstracts

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Building self-awareness, and resilience with a Core Unit for 1st year students – Angela Parry-Lowther (Senior Lecturer in Management)

Starting university is a challenge for students and balancing the feeling of belonging, academia, work, friendships, and social life can appear overwhelming, particularly with social media and the impression students have of other students’ supposedly smooth transition.

Initiating self-reflection as part of an academic piece of work within the first-year core Unit, helps the student gain insight into their transition within university, and enables them to see that they can impact and influence their academic and overall achievements. Introducing it as part of their assessment, with a seminar to guide them through reflection, allows them to consider what worked or hindered their progress and transition early in their academic journey and to make the necessary adjustments.

The aim is for the insight they gain through reflecting on their; study practices, social life, friendships, societies, and wellbeing and what contributed or was detrimental to their transition into the new academic world they now live in is invaluable and I have seen the positive change it can bring about.

 Imputing this into their assignment, rather than something outside their academic requirements, ensure students work on this and gain the valuable insight required. Evidence from introducing this previously with 1st years resulted in students addressing some damaging or detrimental behaviour and helped them acknowledge the impact it has on their progression, both with their work but also with their positive transition and wellbeing. It’s something which is invaluable in facilitating an ability for each student to make any changes they see would have a more positive impact while at university, and to recognize areas they may need to address early on.

Intimate, intimidating and interminable?: Lecture Chat Culture verses Live Q&A – Dr Annika Johnson (Senior Lecturer in Economics)

Holding lectures online causes a shift away from the raising of hands in front of peers, to widespread use of text-based chat facilities, altering the nature of instructor-student interaction. While students no longer need wait with their hands in the air, their names are visible alongside their comments and chat facilities don’t easily replicate the organic conversation associated with the in-person interaction in traditional, offline lectures. Nevertheless, dialogic teaching is necessary if students are to develop their skills beyond technical replication and consider their approach to real-world application. In this paper we examine over 5000 lines of text from two, large, first year undergraduate economics principles units. Through conversation analysis of each lecture’s recorded chat, we see which students readily participate and how the nature of their contribution changes over the course of the year. We then examine how student behaviour alters when an optional, alternative live Q&A thread with resolvable comments (such as those offered by Slack, EdStem and Piazza) is offered in parallel to the standard lecture chat facility.

Compared with the lecture chat facility alone, the live Q&A thread changes the dynamic of the conversation in two important ways: Firstly, it expands the inclusive space for asking questions by giving students the opportunity to ask openly, but anonymously to their peers. Although most students readily use the busy lecture chat for phatic expressions and short responses, an important subset of students used the live Q&A thread exclusively for asking both clarification and deeper questions. Secondly, it partially compensates for the lack of organic conversation, allowing students and instructors to continue the conversation and share resources beyond the lecture. This makes live Q&A a low-cost solution for making online, discussion based economics lecture more inclusive for all students accessing online learning during the formative stages of their economics education.

The role of role-play in EDI training – Dr Keith Beasley (School Safety Officer in Earth Sciences)

Committed to a greater focus on equality, diversion and inclusion within its undergraduate programmes, The School of Earth Sciences has introduced a tutorial on EDI for all first-year students. This presentation examines the background to this provision and the discussions at the EDI committee around the feedback of the tutors running the first year of its operation. From this it was concluded that the tutors needed guidance and support in running these tutorials and a better understanding of the issues that might crop up within them.

Training was thus developed with the Diversity Trust, which took the form of role play during an on-line workshop for tutors. Actors recreated our EDI tutorial and the following scenarios within it:

  • Coming Out.
  • Micro Aggression.
  • Disengaged student.

The result was a fascinating training session during which participants were able to engage, not just intellectually but emotionally with the emerging story. At one point we took the role of tutor or student and were thus able to see, and perhaps more importantly, feel the situation from both perspectives.

This presentation will explore some of the issues that emerged from this session, in particular the question of when to shut down a given discussion and when to open it up. There might be, for example, a conflict between a tutor’s desire to stick to a predetermined programme with associated academic debate and a student’s need to express thoughts and feelings which have, perhaps, been causing them distress or perhaps a feeling of victimisation. It is a careful balancing act to care for the needs of an individual student, for the class as a whole and for staff members’ wellbeing.

Such discussions are clearly highlighting the very closely intertwined issues of mental health and of EDI and, equally, helping all concerned to realise how deep these issues go. Caring for staff and students cannot be satisfied in a single one- or two-hour seminar or training session.

It is highly appropriate to link these initiatives with the recently published, revised University Strategy which clearly includes Personal Development as an important focus. From this perspective, ‘education’ includes not just the provision of academic knowledge but assisting and supporting both staff and students in their personal growth. Including role play within related training acknowledges the experiential element to such processes. After all, caring is an experience that, within all on-going relationships is something that we might all, as fellow human-beings, appreciate as essential on our individual inner journeys.

Proactivity as a route to care in personal tutoring – Dr Nienke Alberts (Research Associate in Academic Quality and Policy Office)

Relationships are crucial in education. They are central to learning (Quinlan 2016) and have been shown to be vital to student engagement (Zepke and Leach 2010, Kuh, Kinzie et al. 2011, Wimpenny and Savin-Baden 2013) and institutional belonging (Thomas 2012, Maunder 2018). One of the key relationships students form at university is with their personal tutor. Having a good relationship with a personal tutor improves the overall student experience (Braine and Parnell 2011, McFarlane 2016), buffers against any challenges the student might face (Ross, Head et al. 2014), increases the sense of belonging at an institution (Thomas 2012), and improves retention (Cameron, Roxburgh et al. 2011), progression (Braine and Parnell 2011, What Works Clearinghouse 2021), and attainment (What Works Clearinghouse 2021). However, having a bad relationship with a personal tutor is worse than having no personal tutor at all (Ross, Head et al. 2014, Yale 2019). Therefore, it is crucial to get the relationship between students and their personal tutor right.

In this presentation, I will explore how we can ensure that personal tutors develop meaningful relationships with their tutees.

To this end, I will present an analysis of the views of Bristol undergraduate students on what makes a meaningful tutor-tutee relationship, and on how the relationship with their personal tutor developed over the course of two years. Data come from a larger longitudinal research project, in which I follow 55 undergraduate students throughout their degree at Bristol. In this presentation I will draw on data collected at four points over the first 2 years of the students’ degree. Data were collected through in-person and online focus groups and a survey. Data were analysed using thematic and statistical analysis.

I found that, for students, care and authenticity are key in the tutor-tutee relationship, and that proactivity in personal tutoring is a way to establish both.  Having a proactive personal tutor makes students feel that their tutor is genuinely interested in them and that their tutor cares. Moreover, it prevents students feeling like a ‘burden’ and they are therefore more likely to approach their tutor. These aspects are important in the development of a meaningful relationship.

In the second half of the presentation I will explore in more detail what proactivity in personal tutoring looks like. In my conversations with students, we discussed what a proactive personal tutor is and what kind of things they do. I will make recommendations for schools and personal tutors on what they can do to make the tutor-tutee relationship more proactive.

Opening doors: understanding our intake to support existing and new entry routes to STEM – Dr Steve Bullock (Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering and Bristol’s National Teaching Fellowship nominee 2022)

Supporting new entry routes into our programmes is an important lever for equitable access and opportunity. Over the past seven years we have introduced and evolved routes into Engineering for students from BTEC and Access routes, which were not previously supported.

Diverse intake requires diverse support – this session will detail the interventions, from recruitment and selection to in-year academic support, that we have employed to open up our programmes to wider entry. I’ll outline our rationale for the approaches taken and include successes and missteps, and would like to invite colleagues from all disciplines to reflect and give their perspectives on aspects that might translate well into wider contexts, and those where a different approach might be more supportive.

One important input throughout has been an understanding of prior educational experiences of our intake. I re-joined Bristol twelve years ago after a period teaching in inner-city schools, and drivers and constraints in secondary education have continued to evolve under the current government. We’ll be taking a look at these to understand a little more about current and future intake from all backgrounds. Steve is the University’s nominee for the 2022 National Teaching Fellowships.

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