L&T Session A2: Beyond free wine: non-formal spaces for learning and leadership to support academic outcomes

Sarah Napoli, Rob Aiken, Kate Harper, Eleanor Brown, Jonathan Exon
Academic and Student Services

Abstract | Presentation | Recording
This session highlighted some of the the great initiatives the colleges are introducing to improve their students’ employability. We started the session with a lively discussion on what benefits the collegiate system brings to staff, students and the university as a whole.

The members of the panel were keen to demonstrate that their provision goes much further than just providing cheese and wine evenings. Colleges, they explained provide a sense of identity and community in which student can develop their confidence and offer lots of opportunities for inter-generational mixing. The type of informal space they create helps to facilitate non-formal learning opportunities.

We had a whistle-stop tour of the different schemes available in some of the colleges represented at the talk. We learnt about a new mentoring scheme which was successfully piloted in Langwith College is now about tobe rolled out to another three colleges. This second and third year mentor scheme (SYTMS) aids the transition of new students into college life. The SYTMS gain employability experience by giving them experience in peer mentoring, which aids their communication and time-management skills.

LT Event Talk 123.jpg

Goodrick College has piloted an intercultural competency programme in which is aims to develop students’ interest in engaging with difference. They hope that with this programme they will create a more inclusive and respectful university. The students participation in this scheme counts towards the York Award as students are required to participate in a range of sessions around cultural competency which include guest speakers and performances – all of which have a critical thinking component.

We discussed the colleges approach to enhancing their students’ employability through encouraging the students to learn through student lead activities such as running large events, managing teams and working on projects and campaigns. We learnt student led initiative where a fifty students annually take part in the Amsterdam marathon – raising money for charity and getting fit while another fifty students travel with them to cheer them on.

This was a greatly informative session in which we learnt more about the role of the colleges as one which can boost engagement in campus life, to give them a sense of belonging and support their transition to independent life and study. By engaging students in purposeful learning activities the colleges encourage collaborative learning; extra-curricular learning and values based learning – all of which are great assets to their employability.

Madeleine Mossman,  Learning Enhancement, University of York 

The holistic student

Thomas Ron and Chris Wall discuss how linking societies and academic departments can help students reach their full potential (Forum Viewpoint article, Summer 2016).

Thomas Ron will be delivering a workshop on ‘the holistic student’ at the York Learning & Teaching Conference 2016, ‘Value Added Graduates’, Tuesday 7 June. Places are still available to attend –Conference ProgrammeBooking Form.

Our employability landscapeforum

At York, we spend considerable time and energy on the issue of graduate employability. That said, first year students regularly do not think about employability and it was remarkable that this year was the first one where they made up a significant proportion of Careers Fairs. Our experience as students tells us that there isn’t always consistency of approach from academic staff in dealing with employability: some are promoting it, talking about it, embedding it and making it part of the course experience, whilst others are relying on Careers and, as a result, on students making an early and proactive attempt to tackle the complicated employment and employability space. Furthermore, and as a result of a traditional academic approach, many of the skills learned through course interaction are academic in nature, focusing on solving problems or helping students embark on a research career, rather than looking at industrial work. This could put the University at a significant disadvantage: as students have become savvy about the value of an industrial placement, they’re more likely to make the decision not to apply or to put York as their first choice.

What employers are looking for

We all know that employers today are increasingly looking for ‘more than a degree’ and in some cases are no longer considering undergraduate attainment in and of itself. What this actually means is that they are looking for a rounded individual that has grasped the university experience, has undertaken a part-time job, been in or lead a club or a society, represented other students, or completed a placement. Employers want graduates who have got knowledge about a subject, but also skills and experience that they can apply to accomplishing different tasks and jobs. These skills include but are not limited to:

  • Leadership and teamwork
  • Effective communication
  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Commercial awareness

How Academic Societies build these skills

Academic societies provide a basis for these skills and much more. Students who engage in their academic society are often involved in organising events; this in itself requires students to exercise a range of skills. For example organising a speaker event for the committee will require liaising with other members of the committee to consider who they should book, budgeting for the event, engaging with external contacts, and so much more – all providing opportunities to develop skills outside the degree. Balancing all of this with their studies also demonstrates excellent time management. These skills are ones we do not always receive from traditional study or at least do not get the chance to apply pragmatically in a safe environment.

Involvement in an academic society also provides evidence that an individual is engaged beyond their degree and wants to learn more holistically and perhaps independently. The fact that they cover additional course material is also a benefit to the students who ultimately have chosen their degree because they enjoy it. Allowing them to explore areas which they enjoy continues their interest and encourages the independent learning culture we are looking to promote at York.

Examples where departments and societies have worked well together

It is notable that many departments that have ‘bucked the trend’ on employability tend to have a strong working relationship with their Academic Societies. One such example is the Law Society who have built very close links with senior lecturers in the Law School as well as a close association with their Employability Teaching Fellow. These links have allowed the Society to bring in leading Law firms to multiple events and those firms end up leaving with plenty of prospective interns. The connection has been there from the inception of the Law School and the Law Society and has allowed them to work with each other and maintain Law as a school that does well. Another good example is ShockSoc, who have been highly involved in helping students do independent lab work and promoting ideas within Electronics. This has helped students engage in collaborative work, a trait which is highly sought after with employers. Electronics helps this by fully subsidising membership in ShockSoc for all Electronics students. Therefore, as the club is free at the point of use at any point in time it has a large membership of Electronics students who make the club strong and help with the soft skills employers are looking for while the department can get on with the business of teaching.

Ideas for further links

  • Departments and Academic Societies should work together more in order to derive the greatest mutual benefit and ensure they complement one another fully.
  • The incentives and help that some departments provide should not be the exception, they should be the rule.
  • Furthermore, these incentives should be provided with benchmarks for the society to meet, so that the investment has an obvious quantifiable return.
  • Therefore, we would welcome working with departments to create a framework for providing incentives as well as ensuring societies keep up to their commitments.

user-photo-54241Thomas Ron is the Academic Officer of YUSU for the academic year. He has long been an advocate for student engagement and has held positions in YUSU since 2013. He is particularly passionate about involving students in making changes to their course. He has piloted methods of involving students in all areas of university life and bringing academic societies into academic decision making. He can be contacted at t.ron@yusu.org

user-photo-42186Chris Wall is the Activities Officer of YUSU for this and the last academic year. In his role he has had overall responsibility for societies and our charitable activities. He is particularly passionate for societies to develop into new roles and ways of providing for students. He can be contacted at c.wall@yusu.org


09/02/15 Enhancing Engagement: Problem-based learning – A fairy tale?

problembasedlearningWhen: Monday 9 February 2015 (week 6) 12.30-2.00pm [Lunch available from 12.15]
Where: Room HG09, Heslington Hall
Who: Jenny Gibbons, York Law School

The relative merits of a problem-based learning (PBL) model as compared with other learning and teaching methods continues to be a topic of discussion at York and in higher education more generally. For staff involved in designing materials at a module, programme or departmental level some of the recurring questions about PBL are:

  • How much work is involved in creating resources?
  • Can the model adapt to change? and
  • Do the students actually benefit more from PBL than from the approach we adopt at present?

This session is aimed at clarifying some of the truths and dispelling some of the myths about the PBL model using examples from the York Law School. The intention is to discuss the rationale behind PBL and highlight some of its strengths and weaknesses before breaking into discipline sub-groups to work through the practical implications.

So is PBL the genie in the lamp who will answer all your wishes, or just an Emperor who has invested in a new set of clothes…?

Please come along and decide for yourself.

If you wish to attend an event, please use our booking form or email learning-and-teaching-forum@york.ac.uk

If you are unable to attend an event but would like a copy of the materials, please contact janet.barton@york.ac.uk

Spring Term Workshops

Photo: Vince Alongi

Photo: Vince Alongi

Booking for the Spring Term Learning and Teaching Forum workshops is now open – register a place by completing the booking form.

Key skills in the curriculum: Help! I’m teaching research skills

When: Wednesday 28 January 2015 (week 4) 12.30-2.00pm
Where: Room HG21, Heslington Hall
More details

Enhancing engagement: Problem-based learning – a fairy tale?

When: Monday 9 February 2015 (week 6) 12.30-2.00pm
Where: Room HG09, Heslington Hall
More details

Technology in practice: Creativity in the connected classroom

When: Monday 23 February 2015 (week 8) 12.30-2.00pm
Where: Room HG09, Heslington Hall
More details

Exploring the research evidence base of the new Learning and Teaching Strategy

When: Monday 16 March 2015 (week 11) 12.30-2.00pm
Where: Room LMB/036X, Law and Management, Heslington East
Details to follow


‘Bums on Seats’ versus ‘Hearts and Minds’; questions of student attendance and engagement

Michael Rogers, Teaching Fellow, Department of Chemistry gives his summary of the Forum workshop ‘Bums on Seats’ versus ‘Hearts and Minds’.

To engage or not to engage? That is not just a question that students are faced with but also a problem that departments may need to deal with. The above-titled Learning and Teaching forum workshop, which ran on Wednesday, October 22nd  focused on two case studies that highlighted the need to address issues related to student engagement within the University of York. What follows is a few notes of one of the case studies and its subsequent discussion.

The Department of Philosophy identified an issue of student engagement in seminars. The observation was that students who had missed seminars early in term(s) tended to be absent from all subsequent seminars; this absence then had a knock-on effect for the remaining students and the quality of the seminars was perceived to be lower than desired. Discussion of this situation raised several interesting questions, including:

Why should the quality of a seminar be affected by student numbers?Environment 1

As a physical scientist, this seemed a poignant question. Much of the small group teaching that takes place in the Department of Chemistry involves groups of approximately 5 students and one member of staff. On the occasion that one or more students fail to attend, the remaining 3-4 students may benefit, as the tutor can spend more time addressing their specific concerns.

The answer, it seemed, was that seminars have a quorum that must be reached and the quality of each session is a function of its inputs.

Should student attendance be assessed?

The majority of those present answered ‘no’ to this question. The assessment of attendance was deemed to be an inaccurate measurement; consider the case of students who sleep through lectures, or those who attend a seminar and contribute nothing. On the other hand, it could be argued that by ‘enforcing’ attendance, half the battle is won.


Should student participation be assessed?

Opinions on this point were mixed. Some of those present volunteered their departmental methods for assessing participation. Others voiced their disapproval at the subjective nature of this type of assessment. Again, the likely inaccuracy of this approach was highlighted as a cause for concern. Some of those present made the point that the ‘assessed’ nature of a session introduces unwanted stress and may lead to enforced (and by extension, low quality) participation.

In summary, there was no clear consensus, other than to try and engender students with a desire to both attend and participate. Perhaps we should look to the Oxford English Dictionary for guidance, in the form of definition.

engage: attract or involve (someone’s interest or attention)

How attractive and/or involving are your lectures, seminars, workshops and tutorials?

22/10/14 ‘Bums on Seats’ versus ‘Hearts and Minds’: questions of student attendance and engagement

THIS SESSION IS NOW FULL.  If we have enough interest we will run it again in the spring term.  Please email admn943@york.ac.uk to register, thank you.

When: Wednesday 22 October 2014 (week 4) 12.30-2.00pm
Where: Room HG21, Heslington Hall
Who: Cecilia Lowe, Learning Enhancement Team, Academic Support Office

“It is Week 9 and attendance at my lectures has dropped by 57%.   Where are they?”

This can be a familiar refrain in the later weeks of any term. So, where are our high-flying students? Is their attendance at lectures essential for engagement with learning? Is attendance something that should more strictly policed?   Is it ever appropriate to give marks for attendance? What does it take to engage the ‘modern’ student?

At this workshop, participants will have the opportunity to engage with some of the literature regarding student motivation and questions of attendance, discuss what factors can affect student engagement, and share their experiences of managing student learning.

Booking form