The student hackathon continued last week, looking at the theme ‘Balancing wellbeing, freedom, independence and success’, with students exploring concepts of cohort identity, attendance and engagement at lectures and the personal tutoring system. As well as discussing these elements as a group, they also interviewed staff from across the university to find out more about what was going on to support the students in their wellbeing at the same time as allowing them freedom and independence.
We sat down at the end of the week and came up with these six top points from the week.
1. Wellbeing should be at the forefront of all interactions with students.
Wellbeing should be prioritised in all situations where the action affects the students: when courses are designed, assessments planned, emails are sent, lectures are delivered, materials are put on Blackboard.
2. The personal tutor role needs better clarification.
There is currently a disconnect between the personal tutor description on the Bristol website and how this plays out in reality. Further to this, the role is not carried out consistently between different staff, meaning that students get a vastly different experience when it comes to personal tutoring. It is suggested that a list of personal tutor responsibilities is shared between staff and student so that all are aware and have the same expectations. It is also suggested that the website is rewritten to be more reflective of the role.
3. The transition to university needs to be slower and longer.
At the moment, students are only given ‘Welcome Week’ to adjust to the new ways of working in university, but for many this is not enough time, and find themselves lost when starting to study in this new, independent way. The students propose a longer, 4 week transition period, off timetable, where students meet other in their cohort and undertake formative academic activities in a no-pressure environment.
4. There should be a stronger and more organised link between academic departments and societies.
There are areas of the university where the academic department and linked society have a strong connection, and where this occurs there is a strong cohort identity and supportive environment. It is suggested that this should be the case across the entire university to create a better sense of community across the cohort. Michael and Alex touched on the idea of the ‘familiar stranger’ in their presentation – someone who you saw in large lectures and passed going to and from the library, but didn’t know. They suggested that these latent connections could be activated through shared smaller group experiences such as tutor group meetings or through an academic society, to become someone who you could have a conversation in the corridor with or sit with in the library – creating a wider community than your close circle.
5. More visible accessibility of academics.
Along with lecture shout-outs from Wellbeing Advisors, it was also suggested that academics are more vocal about hours they are available to come and discuss assessments, materials or general discussion about the course. One student said that one of his course leaders emailed out the hours he would be available for students to drop in on a Monday each week, and everyone agreed that they would like to see their own course leaders do this. Students often feel intimidated by just dropping in on an academic so would like a regular email knowing when would be okay to do this.
6. Personal tutors effectively signposting other services in the university.
Personal tutors, although often visited for wellbeing related reasons, aren’t trained to deal with such issues, and yet regularly take this on as part of their role. The students suggested that personal tutors are made more aware of the various support services available to students when dealing with such issues, as well as academic support services such as Study Skills and PASS mentors.
Amy Palmer on behalf of the students involved in the BILT student hackathon.
Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching