Working alongside student interns, Newcastle University HaSS colleagues have developed a new Learning Communities toolkit – a range of accessible and reusable ice-breaker and community-building resources. Available via Canvas Commons, this toolkit is ideal for educators looking for ways to encourage and facilitate effective learning communities within their module groups.
Why is a learning community needed? Developing a learning community amongst a group of students can be hugely beneficial. Not only does it provide students with the opportunity to come together in a safe place to share opinions and ask questions, but it also allows them to feel a sense of belonging and connection with other students (this is particularly useful where minority groups are concerned). Learning communities also provide academic benefits: encouraging attendance at lectures, active engagement, and group collaboration. This toolkit provides a range of ideas to get you started and support you along the way in the development of your learning community.
How to use this toolkit We’ve published our Learning Communities toolkit on Canvas Commons to make it easy to find, download and reuse in your own courses. To help you find activities quickly, we have organised them into three separate categories: Icebreakers, Building Community Activities, and Maintaining Community Activities.
Like the rest of the University, our colleagues from the Academic Practice Team in the Learning and Teaching Development Service (LTDS) have redeveloped their face to face small group teaching sessions for online delivery. Their learners are postgraduate research students taking the Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) and academic staff new to Newcastle University who are engaging with Newcastle Educational Practice Scheme (NEPS) Units en route to UKPSF fellowship.
I met up with Dr Rosa Spencer, Emma McCulloch and Chris Whiting to ask about their top tips on how they planned these 1-2 hour sessions, how they used them to build community, and what they did to keep these Zoom teaching sessions engaging and accessible.
This academic year it is more important than ever to capture how our students are doing in these first few weeks of teaching. Two tools that will help us do so are informal module check-ins and the Student Pulse Survey.
Informal Module Check-ins
As the Student Voice Schedule indicates, module leaders are asked to organise informal module check-ins in Teaching Weeks 3 or 4 of each semester. There are various ways in which you can approach these informal check-ins, which will provide you with feedback on students’ engagement and help you decide on any changes you might want to make. Q&A were organised in Teaching Week 2 and at the start of Teaching Week 3 to support you with any queries. Should you have additional queries, do not hesitate to get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Student Pulse Survey
While the informal check-ins are focused at module level, the Student Pulse Survey gathers information on the student experience at University and programme level.
In Teaching Week 4, all of our taught students will be asked to undertake a short survey. This survey is run centrally from Monday 9th November until Monday 16th November, 10am.
The questions, available on Sharepoint, relate to a student’s overall experience. The survey also includes a reminder about the support available from their personal tutor and an opportunity to request to speak to someone about their broader student experience.
While the administration of the Student Pulse Survey will be managed centrally, we ask that academic units encourage their students to complete the survey, to supplement central promotion.
The results of the survey are to provide academic units with additional feedback from students on their experience, to further reflect on what is working well and what you may want to adapt/modify for the second half of the semester. The same questions from the Student Pulse Survey will be included in the Stage/Semester Evaluations that will take place at the end of Semester 1. This way you can see whether and if so how student views have developed and changed.
Academic units will be sent the quantitative results of the Student Pulse Survey on 16th November. Academic units will receive one PDF report of results, per programme per stage of study.
As we move into the new academic year this is a question that many colleagues may have.
With an increased amount of online teaching and non-synchronous learning activities, ensuring that students are effectively engaging with their studies will be particularly important in 2020-21.
Many of the ways in which you gauge whether groups of students, or individuals, are engaging in the teaching on your module will remain the same, some will need tweaking for different teaching formats, and others tools and information are new for this year.
This blog post gives a whistle stop tour through some of the approaches that colleagues may be using in 2020-21 to look at students’ engagement in their modules and identify those needing additional support or guidance.
Reading the (Zoom) room
Whether the session is on campus in present-in-person format, or an online synchronous teaching session, as educators you will still glean much from observing your students as they participate in their small group teaching.
This can be as simple as keeping an eye on attendance. If a student doesn’t attend a session or multiple sessions without cause or notice, follow up with them and potentially escalate this to their personal tutor if required.
For those that are attending, are they participating? Are they contributing to discussions, working with other students on the learning activities you set, asking questions in or outside of the session?
Does the informal check in in teaching week 3, as detailed in the Student Voice schedule, highlight individuals or groups of students who are struggling to engage in the module? Perhaps it helps you to identify content or topics that need revisiting or a need for further support on how students should approach their learning? There are many ways you can approach this informal check in which provide you with feedback on students’ engagement.
What does your Canvas show?
Our new VLE Canvas, has an in-built tool which provides a wealth of information about students’ engagement with the teaching materials and activities in your module.
The New Analytics tool in Canvas provides a daily updated set of information to colleagues on the module at the level of the whole cohort, and down to individual students.
This tool allows you to get a quick overview of the module, providing useful real-time insights as the module progresses including:
marks and averages for both formative and summative assessments
data on student participation with structured learning activities – including collaborating in Canvas, posting in online discussions, responding to announcements and other forms of student activity
weekly page views data showing the sections of the module and resources being accessed
Its flexibility means you can also look at the level of all students, smaller groups or individual students to identify those in need of support and to inform conversations with your students.
You can also easily directly contact specific students based on their activity through the tool, a way of highlighting additional resources on a particular topic to those whose quiz scores suggest they would benefit from this, for example.
The Attendance Monitoring Policy has been adapted to the new academic year, to allow schools to take a more flexible approach of considering a combination of attendance and engagement information.
Present-in-person teaching sessions will continue to record student attendance via room scanners for those students who attend in Newcastle, with reports accessible in SAMS through the usual processes.
Where colleagues wish to take attendance, but the teaching session is not held in a space with a scanner, they can choose to make manual attendance lists which can be input into SAP.
As some students will be studying remotely, and the SAMS data will therefore only provide a partial picture, a new report in Canvas can be accessed alongside this data. TheZero Activity Report will show any students who are enrolled on the course but have not accessed Canvas in the period specified when the report is run.
It is recommended that colleagues in schools look at the SAMS data and Zero Activity report in conjunction as part of their monthly attendance reporting.
The Zero Activity report can be run more regularly, and colleagues are recommended to run this a few weeks into term to identify any students who have not accessed the VLE or participated in their learning across their programme of study.
It can also provide additional information to Personal Tutors or Senior Tutors when identifying a need for, and providing additional pastoral support to, individual students.
By Cameron Hubbard, PGT student, School of Natural and Environmental Sciences
Students don’t like being lectured. You can see it within the first 20 minutes of a lecture: eyes go dark, phones come out, their attention fades away. Lecturers are constantly trying to increase student engagement but trying to do this via traditional “talk and chalk” methods is flawed. In addition, some content just doesn’t lend itself well to a lecture-based format – especially things like lab and field skills. Thus, novel methods of presenting content are required that capture students’ attention whilst also having an educational benefit. An emerging pedagogical technique is teaching through games, which has been the focus of my internship in the Game-Enhanced Learning (GEL) project.
Newcastle University Peer Mentoring is proud to launch the parent HUB.
This hub is aimed for all students who are parents, foster carers, adoptive parents, or about to become parents, regardless of age, gender or sexuality.
The free online hub allows you to share experiences, ask questions and be part of a parenting community within the university. There will be trained university wide peer mentors as part of the network to offer one-to-one support and guidance, as well as answer any question in the discussion board.
The hub will be based on Microsoft Teams and is an excellent source of advice and support from like-minded, empathetic and patient peers.
There will be a schedule of face-to-face activities for you to meet up with other parents, ask questions, have a chat, share your experiences and support you through the balance of being a student and a parent. And for those of you unable to attend these, there will also be a range of ZOOM online conference activities to allow you to meet new parents and be able to engage in conversation as though you were in the same room from the comfort of your own home.
The parent hub will also allow you to share, lend, borrow, give, donate, sell, and buy those much needed pieces of equipment and clothing via the online discussion group.
The files section of the hub will allow the University to share useful information and documents with you – as well as members of the network being able to upload documents as well.
There will be the opportunity to share your experiences of child-friendly shops, restaurants, taxi companies, as well as provide some top tips of baby-changing facilities in the University and city, and baby feeding friendly places.
There will be the official launch of the parent HUB at an activity event on Wednesday 17 April 2019 between 11am and 2pm. This will take place in the Lindisfarne Room in the Hadrian’s Building opposite the Bedson Building and Boiler Room.
There will be refreshments and activities for the children, as well as the opportunity for you to meet other parents. There will be a child feeding room available, as well as the opportunity to speak to members of the University Peer Mentoring scheme and Student Health and Wellbeing Services.
Come along at any point during the event and sign up for the parent HUB on the day as well.
How and when are results of Module Evaluations received by Academic Staff?
Each module should be evaluated every time it is delivered using the University’s module evaluation system, EvaSys. The results are usually sent to Academic staff via email in the form of PDF attachments, and this is done in one of two ways;
The survey is set up by local Professional Services staff to automatically send the PDF results upon closure of the survey. This option can be selected during the creation of the survey.
Local Professional Services staff manually send the results in PDF format from within the EvaSys system at an agreed time. This option can be used if the automatic dispatch is not selected during survey setup.
In both instances the timing of the surveys and the receipt of results should be agreed within the academic unit, paying particular attention to survey close times to allow for discussion of results with senior colleagues if required.
By Sarah Atkinson former Speech and Language Sciences student and current MSc student in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences
“Professional Issues… Sounds fascinating.” Thus my (admittedly extremely sarcastic) thought upon hearing a module of this name would comprise the greater part of my workload during semester one of my final year becoming a speech and language therapist.
Both the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey and the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey closed with the highest response rates that Newcastle University has ever achieved at 65% and 57% respectively.
This is a fantastic achievement which would not be possible without the continued support and promotion of the surveys from colleagues across the university, thank you!
In terms of Newcastle’s overall satisfaction rate for the PRES, 85% of students agreed with the statement ‘Overall, I am satisfied with the experience of my research degree programme’. This represents an increase of 2% on 2015, and is 3% higher than the Russell Group average.
Also in the PRES, over 90% of students agreed that their supervisor has the skills and subject knowledge to support their research and that they have regular contact with their supervisor that is appropriate to their needs. This represents an increase of 2% on 2016
In the PTES Early results show that satisfaction has remained high with over 90% of students agreeing that staff are good at explaining things and are enthusiastic about their teaching.
For further information regarding student surveys please visit our webpage.