Student Experience Symposium
The Centre for Higher Education research (CHER) and the Medical Education Research Group (MERG) were delighted to host a symposium on various aspects of enhancing the student experience. The talks covered a range of strategies used to support learning in a large first year program; strategies to improve well-being in our own St Andrews first year students; and the difficulties in making higher education accessible to students from deprived area from rural and remote Scotland.
Strategies from Down Under
The Keynote speaker, Natalie Colson (School of Medical Science, Griffith University) gave us all a little dose of the Queensland Gold Coast to set the scene for a series of interesting innovations in their large first year program. Natalie was involved in flipping the large first year class in a very short period, which was part of an overall program redesign into a three-term system that allowed some classes to be taken in a more intensive mode during a shorter 3rd term. These major reforms were well supported by large teaching innovation grants.
Natalie also described some interesting innovations in training of lab demonstrators to make sure that the appropriate skills and resources were in place to support these large units. She described some creative assessment processes (of which I particularly liked a “blank page” technique that students could use to test their own knowledge).
Student wellbeing: from research to best practice
Paula Miles (Psychology and Neuroscience) presented her research on threats to well-being among first year students at St Andrews. She spent several months collecting data in halls and other places around campus. The research led to a number of targeted initiatives for student support, but also to the creation of a well-being task group involving both academic and support staff from across the university.
Levelling the playing field between rural schools and urban schools in a HE context
The final speaker was Laurence Lasselle (School of Management) presenting work that she has been doing in collaboration with Mike Johnson in Admissions. Laurence has a passion for equity of access for students from deprived areas into higher education. Although the Scottish government has initiated a quota supporting widening access from targeted areas of deprivation across Scotland, the particular circumstances of some schools in rural and remote areas in the highlands and islands, are not sufficiently targeted in these initiatives. Laurence and Mike have been trying to raise this issue here in St Andrews, but also to impact on Scottish Government policy.
Reflections on a successful symposium
Although only a short afternoon symposium, the talks offered a wide range of stimulating insights covering pedagogical issues (flipping the classroom, flexible delivery, training demonstrators, and introducing first year student to a research-led learning environment), in addition to issues of student wellbeing and widening participation. These diverse threads held together well under the banner of enhancing the student experience.
The symposium also represented some of the wide breadth of topics that come under the interests of CHER. The two local talks in particular also were very good examples of a key goad for CHER, which is to link research academics with cognate agencies within the university (CAPOD, Admissions, Student Services etc.) to make sure that policy and best practice are informed by research, and to facilitate research that addresses questions of importance to our campus community as well as the broader disciplines that we are part of.
We hope there will be more opportunities to share the work that is being across campus and to facilitate more networking and collaborations.