How can we support our students through their degrees while providing a sense of place and community? This is a central question animating discussions at all levels of the University. Although there are many different answers, one thing is certain: there is no one size fits all approach.
Large, diverse Schools like my own – Literatures, Languages and Cultures – also present their own set of unique challenges. Over 2,000 undergraduate students, 170+ degree programmes, a compulsory year abroad for the majority of our UG degrees. Subjects ranging from English Literature, to Cinema, to Chinese. Bringing all this together is no easy task!
As incoming UG Director of Studies, my inkling was that we needed a hub for all our students in the School. To support them through their degrees, that hub would need to contain key School information, study skills training, details of the Personal Tutor system, careers information, peer support and so on. But wait, I hear you say. We have that on the website! And on various bits of Learn! And in programme handbooks! And in leaflets from Student Support! And you would be right, but you probably see the problem already. Yes, this information is out there. But it is spread all over the place, and in some cases it is very hard to find. Moreover, that information is not always presented in a particularly engaging way. We all know how it feels to wade through yet another lengthy PDF, or trawl through a website for that bit of information that continues to evade us. It’s horrible. Yet we sometimes inadvertently inflict the same experiences on our students.
And so Support for Success in LLC was born. The idea was simple: pull together the high-level information students need to be successful in our School, put it in one easily accessible place, and make it painless to interact with. We decided to use Learn to deliver this information. Again, this choice might seem controversial. But we went with Learn for a few good reasons: Learn is the way most students interact with the University already; Learn instances are always in students’ course lists, so cannot be forgotten about; Learn enables us to communicate with students via announcements, emails, and noticeboards; we can enrol all of our students to one Learn instance very easily; and, with a little tweaking, Learn can actually be a rather pleasant place to spend some time.
So what does it look like? The Learn site currently contains seven folders: solutions to common problems; academic skills; getting the most of your assessment and feedback; tools to support learning and research; student support and the PT system; a careers roadmap; and information on peer support. Here is an example of what the folders look like inside:
We have also created a list of books on study skills, and included links to Cite Them Right, DiscoverED, the Careers Service and so on. There is a forum for students to make suggestions for the resource, and wherever possible we have made the information multimedia rich (graphics, videos, audio files, etc.). Here is another example from our ‘assessment and feedback’ folder (wonderful infographic courtesy of Cathy Minett-Smith at the University of Bedfordshire).
We are already seeing the benefits of this system. Support for Success in LLC can act as a focal point for that all-important first year Personal Tutor meeting. We can use announcements to advertise School events and opportunities (no more emails getting lost). We can also use the site to remind students at key points in the year about the resources available. For example, we know when essays are being handed back, so we can send a message to all students suggesting they look at our assessment and feedback handbook to get the most of their comments. Likewise, we know when exams occur, so we can send students some useful study tips and words of support.
We’ve had over 2400 hits in the two weeks that Support for Success in LLC has been live. Only time will tell whether the resource has the impact we hope it will, but we are already thinking about applications at postgraduate level. Although virtual, the School now has a voice and a place that unites all our students across all of our degree programmes. And we are perhaps one step further to providing that coherent support and sense of community that is so important to the student experience in large, diverse schools.