Teachers’ conference round-up
The University of East Anglia’s 2015 Teachers and Advisers’ Conference last week gave scores of teachers from across the country advice on getting their pupils to university, from the specifics of particular course content and requirements, to general developments in university provision and policy.
In the coming days and weeks UniBox will bring you the specifics of many of the talks and break-out sessions from the conference on 4-5 June.
For now, here are some of the highlights of the #UEATeachConf15 morning programme.
Open online learning
Helena Gillespie, Senior Lecturer and Academic Director for Learning and Teaching Enhancement at the UEA, spoke to the conference about FutureLearn and FutureLearn Choices – collections of free, online courses which can help young people prepare for university and explore subjects that interest them in more depth. We have highlighted the FutureLearn opportunities on UniBox before – you can read more about Massive Open Online Courses (Moocs) here.
The importance of research to undergraduate teaching
Using the drama of his own research into the mechanics of landslides, Professor David Petley talked about the ways in which research – traditionally the preserve of postgraduate study – is being integrated into the undergraduate experience at the UEA.
Prof Petley, who is the UEA’s Pro Vice Chancellor (Research and Enterprise), explained how the conflict between teaching and research – where the academic staff have to fit both things into their timetables – can be resolved.
“Increasingly,” he said, “universities are seen as a driver of economic activity. We want to create a scholarly community in which research is at the core. We want students to understand from the day they arrive that research is important. We want students to have experiences that immerse them in the research process.”
He explained that the hierarchical relationship between academic staff and students is changing into something more akin to a partnership, with professors getting more time to work with undergraduates and students taking more responsibility for their own education. In some areas, undergraduates are able to give feedback on research being done.
Prof Petley used the example of the field trips he leads to parts of the world like Nepal, in which students get to contribute to research and hone their skills. “Getting them out to work on real problems is incredibly helpful,” he said.
“The tension between research and teaching is real, but can be used in a creative way.”
Pete Langley, Study Help Product Director for The Student Room (TSR), gave teachers insight into how the website – which has more than 1 million members – can help them in advising their pupils and preparing them for university.
The Student Room has forums and resources for students, and Mr Langley confessed, (to amused nods from the audience) that “there’s a lot of angst, and there’s a lot of smugness” in its huge number of ongoing discussions.
He highlighted five tools among the vast array of resources the website provides that teachers might want to look at in more depth:
- The UCAS personal statement builder – This can give uni applicants a useful starting point, at the very least, and which has functions like a cliche checker.
- University Connect – This tool allows applicants to connect with other students applying for the same courses at the same universities, update each other on the progress of their applications and compare notes. “It’s very strong on medical applications,” Mr Langley observed.
- Study Planner – This tool is part of GetRevising, a web resource Mr Langley devised before joining TheStudentRoom and which was incorporated into TSR. It allows students to schedule study and revision times, by adding your available times and the necessary deadlines, exam dates, etc. The planner then produces a schedule, complete with breaks from study, which can be edited and adapted – and which weights the study periods towards exam dates. Mr Langley said a mobile version of the tool is being developed and will be available soon.
- Creating resources (links to GetRevising) – There are almost 200,000 resources on TSR/GetRevising, largely created by students themselves to help their learning. These are in the form of tests (in quiz or puzzle formats), flashcards, templates, mind maps, grids/timelines, etc. TSR allows students to come up with their own materials for areas where they want to test themselves and track their own progress.
- Finding resources – With so many tools available, it is easy to find something relevant. Students can rate the resources available, and teachers can recommend them, so the quality and usefulness of these existing student-made resources can be checked. There are also free teacher resources available from TSR, Mr Langley said, including motivational posters, activity books for Extended Projects, and more.
“We’re getting away from the idea of students passively receiving information,” he said, “and becoming empowered to create a world.”
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