Tag Archives: sustainability

“Bring in the Graduates” – alumni contributions to HE T&L

By James Derounian (University of Gloucestershire)

As the Times Higher Education put it (2016 online) the “teaching excellence framework will see the government monitoring and assessing the quality of teaching in England’s universities.”  Good. It is high time that teaching and research excellence were given parity of scrutiny, importance and reward.

And the UK Government’s Department for Education (2016 online: 19) – in its Teaching Excellence Framework: year two specification argues for Student Outcomes and Learning Gain that are focused on the “acquisition of attributes such as lifelong learning skills and others that allow a graduate to make a strong contribution to society, economy and the environment”.

But how will our undergraduates (and then postgrads) magically gain such skills, capabilities and propensities? Why…….from their forebears! What we need is graduate re-cycling in terms of (recent) Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences graduates from particular HE institutions being encouraged to return to their alma mater, in order to offer specialist guest lectures, live projects for assignments, work shadowing; internships; input on how to make the progression from study and university into the world of work. It’s not rocket science, and costs little – but usually just requires a bit of care & time.

In my experience, graduates are flattered and only too pleased to be asked to return to the scene of their earlier escapades! And, of course, (recent) graduates can empathise, since they remember what it was like to be an undergraduate, but they can also provide insight, distance and practical wisdom as to how students may amplify their chances of getting into work (linked to their discipline), and to – hopefully – lead fulfilling lives. Those who have gone before can also connect across from the head knowledge of the classroom to what this means in practice.

So, for example, I have built up medium term relationships with graduates who are also employers close to the campus. In this way the Cheltenham West End Regeneration Partnership (a limited community-based company) has taken tens of my internship students over time, who have each completed 80 hours research and activity towards a discreet project. So geographers have completed door-knocking and research in order to gauge resident concerns and possible remedial actions; others have assisted with bringing fund-raising events to fruition; produced a sustainability appraisal for a microbrewery, indicating ways in which the business can operate more profitably and sustainably. The list goes on.

So how do you increase the likelihood that your graduates’ contributions back into teaching and learning are purposeful – to them and the students on the receiving end?

Here are my suggested ‘top ten tips’:

  1. Select your graduates carefully! Can they communicate (with students?)
  2. Brief them so that they know exactly what you want them to do, for how long, to whom (e.g. level 5 human geographers); how many, where and when?
  3. Make clear the ‘deal’ e.g. will you pay their travel expenses? A fee? Or informally get them a book token as thanks; and/ or buy them lunch?
  4. (As a courtesy) and to ensure smooth-running, be sure to attend the session, and be prepared to steer / prompt questions from the class etc……don’t just abandon them to the ravening wolves!
  5. Ensure that the graduate session fits into the academic coherence and running order of your module and contact sessions.
  6. Prepare the students by ‘flagging’ – several weeks in advance – that on a particular date/ class a graduate will be contributing, and how this will benefit students (and their assignment preparation!); twist their arms to attend! It is excruciating if a grad turns up and only half the class is there; most embarrassing all round
  7. Give plenty of notice to a would-be graduate contributor…..e.g. at least 2 or 3 months, so they can prepare, clear attendance with their boss, book time off etc.
  8. DO ask for their PowerPoint etc materials to ‘capture’ and make available on your VLE (Moodle, Blackboard etc.)
  9. DO thank them verbally & by e-mail….in fact line up a student to do this. Get them to ‘own’ and take responsibility – if they have to make a vote of thanks then at least they will listen carefully!
  10. Offer something in return to the graduate – job references? Comment on an application etc: Something for something.

It’s also delightful to network with graduates – discovering where their careers and lives have led them since they too were in your classroom. It’s such a simple, cheap, effective, empathetic means of benefitting your teaching and learning, your students and graduates. What’s not to like?

References

Derounian, J. (2015) Why does the devil have all the good tunes? How researchers continue to put one over teachers in the HE promotion stakes; British Educational Research Association, May 5 online. Available at https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/why-does-the-devil-have-all-the-good-tunes-how-researchers-continue-to-put-one-over-teachers-in-the-he-promotion-stakes  [Accessed 7.10.2016]

HM Government, Department for Education (2016) Policy paper: TEF Factsheet; Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/550232/Teaching-excellence-framework-factsheet.pdf  [Accessed 7.10.2016]

HM Government, Department for Education (2016) Teaching Excellence Framework: year two specification; Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/556355/TEF_Year_2_specification.pdf  [Accessed 7.10.2016]

House of Commons, Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (2016) The Teaching Excellence Framework: Assessing quality in Higher Education; Available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmbis/572/572.pdf [Accessed 7.10.2016]

McGhee, P. (2016) Will the Teaching Excellence Framework be a licence for universities to raise fees, Independent 22.8.2016. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/aug/22/teaching-excellence-framework-universities-tuition-fees-tef  [Accessed 10.10.2016]

Oakeshott, M. (1950) The idea of a university, The Listener magazine, 23-30; Available at https://www.msudenver.edu/media/content/facultyevaltaskforce/sources/oakeshotttheideaofauniversity.pdf [Accessed 8.10.2016]

 

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Fieldwork: always have a plan B.

by Julie Peacock, University of Leeds

I updated the risk assessment for a second year field trip to Middlesmoor, Upper Nidderdale, early in the Academic Year, 2015/2016. I noted the comments, ‘In the event of extreme weather, the trip will not go ahead.’ I’ve seen and even written this on risk assessments many times, but I’d never needed to act on it.

We planned two, one day field trips with 81 second year students, one in early November followed by one in March.  This fieldwork is part of a larger skills module. The students work in groups to plan, then complete a research project focusing on Ecosystem Services. The first field trip, covers key techniques and familiarises students with the site. The second enables students to carry out their projects. In between these trips students work to prepare projects and present proposals to a panel of academic staff who provide feedback.

The second trip was to take place on a Friday. Monday brought a bleak weather forecast.  Students were emailed to remind them to bring suitable clothing and asked to review their field plans to ensure they could work efficiently even in poor weather conditions. On the Thursday, the landowner advised postponing because snow was forecast. We thought it was unlikely the weather would be that bad. Crucially, there was nowhere else in the timetable for the fieldtrip, considering availability of 81 students and six staff, not to mention re-booking the labs for student’s sample analysis.

I considered the options. What if one of the mini-buses got stuck? Would the students bring suitable kit for the weather? Yet, if we didn’t go how could the students complete their projects to meet learning outcomes given timetable inflexibility?

By the time I got into Leeds University at 7am on Friday, both the landowner and local farmer had called to say not to come.  Roads were shut and still it snowed. In some ways I was relieved; the decision was made, but what now for our fieldwork?

The campus at the University of Leeds is urban. Although significant work has been done to improve biodiversity and sustainability on campus, including a sustainability garden, it has no open ‘wild’ space. It is incomparable with Nidderdale! Nevertheless, urban ecosystem services are increasingly important as urban areas continue to expand.

By 7.30am an email had been sent advising students to meet in the department foyer. One lecturer wrote the risk assessment and gained necessary signatures; university estates had granted permission for soil sampling; two large teaching spaces were booked (fortunately, it was reading week); mini buses were cancelled and colleagues who were to meet us at Nidderdale were updated.

At 8am, the planned bus departure time, students were briefed. The trip to Nidderdale was cancelled, but they were to spend the next two to three hours re-planning their work to study ecosystem services on campus.  Inevitably, reactions were mixed, some students were glad (given the weather), others understandably disappointed not to be working on well-planned projects.

Students worked in their groups with academic staff mingling to discuss ideas. The VLE was populated with links to the University’s Biodiversity Action Plan, maps and useful literature. The field stores made a wide range of equipment available and taught students to use kit they hadn’t planned to use previously. Lab technicians made themselves available to talk to students wanting to undertake different analysis.

Changing the assessment brief was probably the hardest part. Students had worked hard on projects and were due to be assessed on a scientific report. Many would have started their literature reviews and methods. It was decided to ask students to review both Upland and Urban ecosystem services, writing up both methods, one where months of planning had taken place and one which had been planned rapidly.  Students found this brief hard given the unchanged word count to meet the advertised assessment. However, no alternative seemed ideal.

Field work was successful, despite the dreadful weather, with laying and falling snow, then heavy rain. Staff circulated to provide advice. A statistics expert stationed in the foyer answered questions.  Our students demonstrated resilience as they planned new projects. They showed they could work effectively under pressure, transferring learning about planning projects to a new situation. They learned in fieldwork too, Burns’ cliché holds that ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft a-gley.’

This last minute change to fieldwork with such a large group of students couldn’t have worked without university staff’s teamwork and enthusiasm.  Students had a valuable learning experience, and we learned too.  In fieldwork planning is always key.  A contingency plan for extreme weather should occur.  Many HEIs have local areas which could be used.  Permissions for so-called ‘Plan B’ fieldwork could be gained, a risk assessment completed and students advised of the contingency plan including its impact on assessments, so if it is implemented it is not a shock. It’s useful to have a plan B and for the students to know it exists.

What have you done in similar situations? It would be interesting to hear.

 

With thanks to the following for making the changes work on the day: Karen Bacon, Janet Chapman, Dom Emery, Rachel Gasior, Rachel Homer, Jamie Mullen, Graeme Swindles, Clare Woulds and others who added useful documents to the VLE over subsequent days.

 

Bright Futures

By Cherish Watton (History student, Cambridge)

From the 1st to the 4th September 2015, the Royal Geographical Society ran their annual international conference programme, this year entitled ‘Geographies of the Anthropocence’. As part of this, I had the great pleasure of presenting on the Bright Futures a programme, a 2½-day residential held at Holt Hall Environmental and Outdoor Learning Centre in Norfolk. The programme, aimed at high school and college students, focuses on energy education and real-life consultancy opportunities offered by Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm. This case study was one of five presentations on university engagement with issues of community and sustainability in a session sponsored by the Higher Educational Research and chaired by Rebecca Farnum, PhD researcher at King’s College London

The session focused on thought-provoking discussions around how individuals personally react to issues surrounding international research, volunteering and climate change. This was highlighted particularly by Marisa Goulden (University of East Anglia) in her paper on transformational learning and supporting students to be agents of change. Marisa’s presentation raised the issue that university staff and students alike are encouraged to emotionally detach themselves whilst undertaking and studying what is frequently depressing work. It is largely expected by academia that individuals ‘keep calm and carry on’, but this is easier said then done and needs greater consideration. Marisa highlighted the benefits of supporting individuals to enable them to come to terms with their experiences, and utilise these productively, yet sensitively, to bring about a change in values.

The discussion called to my mind a particular moment on the Bright Futures programme where personal responses to climate change are particularly evident amongst the high school participants. Using the “Best Foot Forward” carbon footprinting cards, they are asked a series of questions regarding their lifestyles (on transport, consumption, and the like). Each response is given a score and students tally up their numbers to get a total that links to the number of ‘Earths’ that would be required if everyone lived as they do. Most Norfolk high school and college students learn they use the equivalent of 2 or 3 Earths. At this point, we see visible signs of consternation, regret, confusion, and reflection, as students’ impact on the Earth is brought home in a pertinent way. After being given time for reflection, we encourage students to look at what small actions they could take to improve matters, starting with their individual lifestyles and then considering actions within their homes and schools. Recognising and acting on this reality is one of the first activities on the programme, inspiring change from personal responsibility and conviction. As Marisa emphasised, we can not shy away from discomfort: sometimes this is what is needed in order to change. It should, however, be carefully facilitated.

The session also raised questions about scaling up. How do the successful case studies in one or two departments begin to transform the entirety of the university system? A presentation from Kate Baker (King’s College London) on the Intrepid Explorers model demonstrated the significant impact of a student-run group in sharing learning and experiences from field research over a variety of disciplines. Oriel Kenny and Su Robinson (Leeds Beckett University) highlighted the diverse opportunities offered to university students to participate in volunteering as part of their university experience, particularly in the Politics and Applied Global Ethics programme that requires volunteering as part of its degree. The key message from presenters, as introduced by keynote Professor Tim O’Riordan (University of East Anglia), was the need for collaboration above all. The projects presented are united by their multi-disciplinary approach to bringing together groups and individuals. Bright Futures’ multi-tiered mentoring makes use of the connections between high school students from both Norfolk and Norway, university students from the University of East Anglia, Marshall Scholar postgraduate and PhD students, and local businesses and charities. Mentoring takes place at every level, enabling everybody to learn with, and from, each other in a supportive and inspiring environment.

All of these programmes develop the universal skills and confidences needed to tackle sustainability – teamwork, communication, leadership and collaboration. At the heart of these experiences is the aim of, and need for, equipping the next generation to adapt and be creative. This is central to the Bright Futures programme, whether it is via team building activities in the shape of cheerleading rock, paper, scissors or young people presenting on the impacts of climate change and how they want to reduce energy usage back in their schools. Young people are eager to seize these opportunities. It is the responsibility of the university and ourselves to provide and link up opportunities in the emerging green economy so young people feel equipped to deal with the challenges of tomorrow. In the words of a recent participant: “I think that this is a valuable experience that should be offered to more pupils; when we become adults sustainability will be our problem, and it’s important that we have the chance to understand it more now.”

To read a dialogue between Rebecca Farnum and Cherish Watton on the thinking behind Bright Futures, please visit https://beyond2015.acu.ac.uk/submissions/view?id=123

To view the Prezi presentation given in the session, please go to https://prezi.com/flmwmjsgvicq/bright-futures-presentation-september-2015/

 

For more information about the Bright Futures programme, visit their website at http://brightfuturesnorfolk.wordpress.com/

Cherish Watton

 

Cherish Watton is currently in her second year studying History at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. Before studying, Cherish set up in a business, working as an eco-consultant and social entrepreneur for Cherish Watton Enterprises in Norfolk. Her work has focused on running environmental residentials, evaluating programmes and developing opportunities for young people to seize the potential of the Green Economy based upon their interests, passions and experiences with environmental issues at school and college. Cherish also founded and runs http://www.womenslandarmy.co.uk, a website on the work of the British Women’s Land Army during World War One and Two. Cherish is developing the website so it becomes the national online hub for information on the Land Girls and Lumber Jills – sharing original documents, magazines, photos and videos.