Keynote: Student engagement and surveys in UK HE

Dr Alex Buckley

Student engagement is a slippery concept.  Internationally there is wide disagreement about how it should be understood, and in the UK there is added complexity. Historically, student engagement in the UK has been taken to refer to students’ roles in decision-making (e.g. through student representation systems and participation in university governance). However, there is also growing interest in students’ engagement with their own learning, which is closer to how engagement is understood elsewhere in the world.

This growing interest is most clearly seen in the development of the UK Engagement Survey (UKES), which is the UK adaptation of an instrument widely used across the globe. UKES was first introduced in 2013 and is being used by 31 institutions in 2016, including the University of Aberdeen.

In this talk I will explore the complexity and confusion around student engagement, and locate the development of UKES in that context. I will discuss the relationship between UKES and the National Student Survey, and explore the prospect of using measures of student engagement as indicators of teaching quality, for example in the Teaching Excellence Framework.


Student Perspective

Liam Fuller

Liam will touch on the importance of Personal Tutors in supporting students; importance of academic representatives in highlighting issues and supporting best practice.

Staff Perspective

Dr Mirjam Brady van den Bos, School of Psychology and Dr Darren Comber, Centre for Academic Development

In the Flipped Classroom, instructional and homework elements are reversed (compared to traditional lectures), leaving class time free for active engagement with the learning material and interaction with peers and lecturer. The method is becoming become increasingly popular, yet little systematic work has been done to assess its effectiveness and the factors that make it successful. To this end, a qualitative study was carried out in the School of Psychology, where one of the authors (Brady) ‘flipped’ five of her Level 2 lectures on ‘Personality’.

Student opinion on this ‘flipping’ was gathered through questionnaires (with scales and open-ended questions) and semi-structured interviews. From this, several themes emerged with respect to the question ‘what are the factors that make the Flipped Classroom successful?’, in particular People factors (e.g. lecturer and student characteristics, staff attitude, peer learning) and Organization factors (e.g. discipline-specificity, timetabling).  

On the basis of the findings a model is proposed which indicates the relative trade-off between staff effort in creating a flipped classroom and consequent student learning payback, with practical suggestions for enhancing student learning in an efficient manner.

Employer Perspective: HappyPeople@AAB- Engaging our Future Talent

Karen Stewart, Chief Human Resources Officer and Jessica Middleton, Human Resources Advisor, Anderson Anderson & Brown LLP

AAB approached the current academic year with the overall aim of building a stronger relationship with the University of Aberdeen.  We wanted to raise the firm’s employer profile, provide information to students on the opportunities available to them in a medium-sized firm, make sure we are reaching the most capable and high quality students, and inevitably increase the number and quality of University of Aberdeen graduate applicants received.   We certainly feel we have achieved this aim, and we couldn’t have done this without the fantastic support we received from Dr. Zachary Hickman (University Employer Engagement Coordinator).  Our presentation will talk about our journey working with Dr. Hickman and the Career Service team and the many opportunities this presented to us, along with summarising the benefits of employer engagement.

 Parallel Workshops

Workshop 1: Engaging students online: reflections from the MyAberdeen Retention Centre pilot

Dr Andy Yule, Dr Sara Preston and Dr Mary Pryor

School of Biological Sciences and The Centre for Academic Development

Identifying ‘students at risk’ is only possible if we have meaningful data regarding their engagement with their courses. In this digital age, we need to engage students online as well as face to face. In this workshop we will facilitate a discussion on course design considerations, as well as data / communication considerations, when designing engaging online activities which will hopefully also enable you to identify how your students are engaging and performing on your course.

Workshop 2: Enterprising Researchers: Supporting enterprise and employability through collaboration with employers        

Dr Lucy Leiper

The Centre for Academic Development and Careers Service

Together the Centre for Academic Development and the Careers Service are undertaking a unique project which brings together academic researchers with business, industry and local government.  Through this project we are empowering researchers to recognise and exploit their unique skill set, beyond the academy and importantly to highlight the benefits of recruiting researchers with local and international employers. This workshop will showcase the project using case studies and will explore both researcher and employer perspective on the value of researcher skills.

Workshop 3: The power of collaboration: working together to evolve active learning tools into powerful professional development experiences

Dr Derek Scott
School of Medical Sciences

One of the challenges in developing and refining teaching/learning materials is finding the right partners. This workshop will describe the impact of local and national collaborations, using the LabTutor teaching and learning platform (ADInstruments, NZ) as a common focus for development and delivery of teaching materials.

We will demonstrate how LabTutor and its cloud-based successor, Lt, have been used for various UG and PG innovations in medical sciences in both Aberdeen and RGU, allowing both staff and students to author new learning materials and improve student engagement/achievement. We will show how best practice is shared across a Scottish Universities users network, and how this group collaborates with ADInstruments and is supported by NHS Education Scotland (NES).

Finally, we will demonstrate how Lt has allowed a group of different stakeholders to collaborate on a postgraduate course deliverable by NES throughout Scotland, and why Lt may be a powerful learning resource for a range of disciplines outwith the medical sciences.

Workshop 4: Working Together: Engaging Employers in Student Learning

Mrs Wendy Rudland
Business School and Careers Service

Universities across the UK view student engagement as central to enhancing the student learning experience. This workshop will provide an overview of a new innovative undergraduate third year course, Working Together: Employability for Arts and Social Sciences which is designed to enhance students’ career development learning.

The course provides students with the opportunity to develop and practise key employability skills and attributes through a group consultancy project with an external organisation. During the course students experience the issues that surround the work environment, including the pressures of working to a deadline and the challenges of working with a group of colleagues towards a common aim.

Running for the first time in the academic year 2014-15 the course requires engagement from external organisations in order to provide an authentic and experiential-based learning approach for the students.

This workshop will explore how this three-way partnership between the Business School, employers and the Careers Service has been developed to stimulate student’ creativity and engagement in learning.

Workshop 5: Using Game-Based Learning Approaches in Teaching

Dr Vasilis Louca

School of Biological Sciences

There is strong evidence to suggest that game-based learning can be an effective approach in increasing student motivation and engagement and subsequently improving performance. Its use within the higher education setting is still relatively limited.

This study investigated the impact of the introduction of game-based approaches in a level 3 undergraduate biology course. This mandatory course is often unpopular with students due to its strong quantitative component; as a result student disengagement, poor attendance and low academic performance are not uncommon. Five non-compulsory “challenges” were introduced and points were awarded to students for completion and performance at the “challenges”. Students could only progress from one level or “challenge” to the next after successfully completing the previous one.

The running total of points was made available to students on a leaderboard displaying avatar names the students have submitted themselves. The study results indicate that applying such approaches to teaching helps engage students and improves their academic achievement. Students maintained very high (>75%) levels of participation and engagement in undertaking the “challenges” across the duration of the course. Scores earned as part of this component correlated significantly with continuous assessment scores, but not with final exam grades.

The workshop will provide an overview of the findings from this study and discuss how to build upon this for more extensive future applications of game-based learning.

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