Building Community Through Student Academic Partners: European First Year Experience, June 2014, Nottingham

The European First Year Experience annual conference this year was held in my home town of Nottingham. Hosted by Nottingham Trent University, the event offered an opportunity to catch up with old colleagues and make friends with some new ones. As ever, the conference offered a great opportunity to work up some new ideas and to share some of our own surrounding ideas for student engagement, partnership working and embedded service provision. Presenting alongside Prof Stuart Brand and our Student Success Adviser, Jamie Morris, our presentation offered an examination of Birmingham City University’s approach to partnership working through institutional student engagement at all levels.

Newton Arkwright

Our premise is thus, the buy-in for partnership working needs to be an institutional one at all levels. If it is to be successful, this practice needs to be whole-heartedly embedded, with the support of our directorate, the shared commitment of our academics and internal service-providers, as well as captivating the faith and trust of our students. It is our belief that the only way for any of this to be truly achievable, is if all parties are equally as invested in its success.

Student engagement is not a phrase that gets lip-service in bureaucratic documentation at Birmingham City University, but has instead become a way of business for us, with our Partners for Success philosophy being an integrated part of the university’s operation. Students are key initiators in change and development, working alongside academics, professional staff, our Students’ Union and other students within the university to create lasting and meaningful change.

It was somewhat reassuring to hear that many of the measures that we have put into place as an institution are getting plenty of mileage on the conference circuit, with many other courses experimenting with new ways of thinking. Events such as this one, give us the opportunity for a little protected thinking space in which we can all learn a thing or two, and make a couple of promises along the way.

Our Pledge #EFYE

Some of the gems offered included Mike Hill’s caution against the centrally driven competing programmes of induction, a caution which found a solid fit against our own Luke Millard’s plans for a re-energised induction at Birmingham City University (plans which not too co-incidentally were a resounding success!). Much discussion circulated around the role of the peer mentor. Our own Student Success Adviser, Jamie Morris, found himself the centre of many of the emergent discussions.

Joke Vanhoudt shared her thoughts on the need for students to engage much earlier with study skills, highlighting how there is a need for an early warning system for their ongoing development. Since attending the event back in June, we have since put measures in place for a more embedded assessment of our students’ needs from within the academic environment. Here as a part our Level Up programme, we have included a pre-entry assessment which allows us to evaluate the degree of preparedness of our students. We then use this assignment as an early assessment tool within personal tutor meetings with academics who teach on the course. An embedded programme of activity is then tailored for our students needs. This is taught and delivered by our professional services teams, but is attached to the taught curriculum within the academic environment.

Level Up: Kerry Gough Personal Tutor Film

Alongside the need for engagement with study skills, Marks Stubbs, Head of Learning and Research Technologies at Manchester Metropolitan University, highlights the ongoing need and value of the automated process which offers a heightened state of awareness over what is happening in the university. Identifying how ongoing access to big data offers a means by which to keep an eye on institutional trends, he maintains that access to this data offers a means to act fast in order to effect positive change.

On this front Ed Foster (NTU) and Richard Gasgoine (the Dark Lord of Data, Solutionpath) detailed their approach to harnessing data in the creation of Nottingham Trent University’s dashboard as a predictive tool to support and improve the standards of each individual student. The dashboard covers tutorial attendance, Moodle access, coursework upload, library access, campus swipes and academic history. However, somewhat significantly for the business mode of operation, that Stubbs suggests, it also offers the potential to save the financial risk associated with failing students. The Nottingham Trent team have just gone on to win a Times Higher Education award for their efforts in supporting their students.

However, perhaps the most resonating words of truth emerged from our conference friends around the need to prepare to collect rigorous data, and to account for the planning for the collection of that data, whilst in the midst of such exciting interventions. An emergent cautionary tale of omitting to include planning for data collection, results in a lost opportunity that can never be repeated. As Pole warned from the offset, universities are shifting towards a business model of performance, and as a part of that process, student experience is becoming a key performance indicator for Higher Education institutions. If we can support exciting innovations with data that demonstrates its value, then we are in a good position to continue the good work.

It’s a good job that we are already on it!


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