In this post, Amanda Meyer, based in the Global Health Academy, shares an inspiring example of extended learning with MSc Global Challenges alumni. This project illustrates several examples of Enhancement Themes in practice, and this post forms part of the 20 Years of Enhancement theme.
Learning opportunities are abundant, with freely available MOOCs and other online and offline options encouraging us all to enhance our understanding of subjects that concern and intrigue us. This drive for knowledge often sees people looking to extend their learning in a formal way – for example, committing to an accessible, multi-disciplinary MSc such as The University of Edinburgh’s MSc Global Challenges. But what happens next?
For many students – particularly mature students – MSc study is the chance to start exploring something new and fascinating, generating multiple research questions. But how can these ideas be developed after graduation? Often immediate entry into further formal study is not practical – due to busy work and family lives – and gaining research employment in a new area needs a CV with appropriate experience. How does a student, thirsty for knowledge in a subject area they have become passionate about, progress?
In 2021, a group of MSc Global Challenges alumni found themselves in exactly this position. Keen to retain the strong MSc network and to both use and progress key research and critical thinking skills, this group had a shared desire to be part of an extended learning project that would bridge the gap between the MSc and each of their ambitions to take their learning forward. At the same time, the recently created Children in Conflict group, within the University’s Global Health Academy (GHA), was embarking on a work programme . This included identifying the “Path to 2030” for children living in fragile and conflict affected countries (FCACs), which asked, how can society achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for children in such difficult and troubled states? The multi-disciplinary, solutions-driven nature of this project fitted firmly with the experience and desire of the alumni students, and an extended learning project was born.
The project remit was to identify the status of each of the 17 SDGs for children living in FCACs; determine potential solutions to enable the goals to be reached by 2030 and identify case studies of existing solutions. A very practical goal that fitted with the team members’ ambitions to enhance their research skills and theoretical knowledge in this under-researched area.
The GHA sought to draw upon the multi-disciplinary knowledge and skill set of the MSc and develop a strong university-alumni relationship, through extended learning. The team members’ holistic goals included extending the valuable project management skills gained on the MSc, building confidence through obtaining knowledge in new areas, enhancing personal skills such as team working and time-management and developing and benefitting from a constantly evolving peer-review process.
The practical output of the project was a 30-page document, – “The Path to 2030” – published on the GHA website. There was also an opportunity to discuss the project at the 2022 University’s Teaching and Learning Conference alongside a programme of ongoing work.
In addition, the alumni continue to reflect on and benefit from the holistic outcomes of the project: the knowledge and skills gained from the whole team, the contacts made throughout the University, the feeling of belonging that can diminish upon graduation, the pride and satisfaction on project completion and the chance to explore future research ideas in an informal way.
With any project such as this there were, of course, challenges. Alumni sit outside of the internal university systems, which added logistical issues to their joint research activity. In addition, time differences and family commitments meant that team members had significant priorities to juggle. Despite this, the project has had a significant and positive impact for all involved. Three members of the team continue to meet, sharing experiences and discussing ideas, with the intent of working together again. Two members of the team have embarked upon PhD Studies at the University with their research areas being significantly informed by this project. And, through the ongoing work programme, three undergraduates from different schools are working with the GHA to develop different research channels focussed on children in FCACs: improving education data flows; modern technology to gather data; and the intersection between health, nutrition and education in programming.
This example of alumni extended learning demonstrates how it is possible to create a bridge between the world of work and academia and that of alumni and faculty. It gives alumni the opportunity to continue to learn and thrive, and it enables the University to expand its research channels and retain students into further formal study. In this world of evolving opportunities, this project really demonstrates that University learning does not have to stop at graduation, giving alumni further chances to study subjects that they are truly passionate about.
A note from Sinéad Docherty
After asking colleagues for their contributions to this blog series, we heard from Amanda Meyer about this project undertaken by MSc Global Challenges alumni. This is a really interesting and innovative project which illustrates several examples of Enhancement Themes in practice: graduates for the 21st Century; student transitions; and resilient learning communities, in particular. Those involved, both in their capacity as students and later as alumni, recognised the value of bridging the gap between their learnings on the programme and the potential future application of their skills and knowledge, and also experienced an enhanced sense of belonging through their involvement in the project.
Outside of the core institutional team activities, it’s great to hear examples of how colleagues, students and alumni are involved in work that reflects the principles of these Enhancement Themes and it certainly demonstrates how these types of activities and projects can be so far-reaching and valuable.
[Note: Photo credits can be found on the document at source.]
Amanda started her PhD in August 2021 and her research involves data for the factors that impact educational outcomes for children living in conflict affected countries. This research combines her previous commercial career, which focussed on strategy and planning, with her interest in global development issues. Although based in the Global Health Academy, her research is of a multi-disciplinary nature enabling her to work closely with colleagues around the University, particularly in the School of Informatics and the School of Education.
Sinéad joined Academic Services in March 2022 as an Academic Policy Officer in the Quality team. Much of Sinéad’s work focuses on quality assurance and enhancement; she is involved in Internal Periodic Reviews (IPRs) across the institution, is Committee Secretary for SQAC and is part of the enhancement team which works on embedding external frameworks and requirements into quality processes at the University.