Lightning Talks

Sarah Churchill, Melissa Jacobi (Sheffield Hallam University)
Isabel Hallam (University Centre South Devon)
Alexander J Wood, Helen Tidy, Helen Carney, Tim Thompson (Teesside University)

Tuesday, April 4, 2023 10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

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Session Outline

Sheffield Hallam University’s Institutional Approach to Academic Advising in Postgraduate Taught Courses

Sarah Churchill, Melissa Jacobi (Sheffield Hallam University)

Hallam is a large institution with approximately 35,000 students, a growing proportion of whom are on postgraduate taught (PGT) courses. Academic Advising is central to student experience and is part of Hallam’s commitment to students. Academic Advising is a strategic priority as part of the university’s Transforming Lives Strategy and Future Strategy. All students on taught courses at Hallam should be supported by an Academic Adviser (AA) who works with the student on their academic progression and development, personal development, and professional development. The exact nature of the AA process varies between course, staff, and students, based on differing needs and personalities. However, there are general principles and minimum requirements that should apply as outlined by Hallam's Academic Advising Framework and Policy. These principles are generally well established as practice in undergraduate (UG) courses but are less well established in PGT courses at Hallam. Indeed, there is a growing body of literature surrounding UG academic advising (e.g. Chan et al. 2019), but a paucity of literature specifically on PGT advising. This is despite the differences in the nature and structure of PGT courses, as well as student demographic, compared with UG courses. While the core values and much of the good practice of UG academic advising is applicable to PGT courses, there is warranted exploration of PGT specific approaches to academic advising and robust, evidence-informed models of advising are likely to have a positive effect on the student experience (Thomas & Hixenbaugh, 2006), retention and student satisfaction (Harrell & Reglin, 2018). A project to implement evidence-informed models of PGT academic advising was initiated. A working group of staff from across the university developed models using pre-existing feedback about PGT academic advising (eg PTES data), existing literature and sector practice. In addition, course leader feedback and information about the characteristics of Hallam’s PGT courses were collated (e.g., age, proportion of international students within cohort, size of cohort, duration of course, type of course (academic or professional), delivery method). Four models were created for all PGT courses to choose from for implementation from Sep’22. This allowed some flexibility and autonomy for courses while still allowing us to meet the overarching aim of the project which is to identify approaches to academic advising in PGT courses aligned with Hallam’s Academic Advising Framework, that provide a consistently good experience for students and staff yet are flexible enough to cater for diverse courses and student requirements. In this presentation we will discuss our institutional approach and an overview of the project, the different models developed and the benefits and challenges of a university-wide implementation. We will also discuss our approach to the evaluation of the models, which will be presented once when complete.


Weekly group tutorials enhancing students’ persistence, inclusion and community

Isabel Hallam (University Centre South Devon)

As a college higher education provider, we commit to weekly group tutorials for our undergraduate students as an extension of our further education curriculum model. This lightening talk will discuss our findings about the impact of group weekly tutorials on undergraduate students’ persistence, inclusion and community.

All higher education students at the provider were invited to take part in an online survey as part of a wider study exploring factors influencing students’ persistence during the COVID-19 campus closures. The volunteer sample of 64 students, representing 10% of the population, rated their withdrawal contemplation in the previous six months. Withdrawal contemplation is recognised as a significant predictor of actual withdrawal from higher education (Willcoxson, Cotter & Joy, 2011). Withdrawal contemplation was then analysed for associations with student characteristics and experiences: gender, disability, age, level of study, first in family to attend university, being a parent or carer, the number of hours worked whilst studying, and whether they always had a weekly tutorial.

Logistic regression was undertaken to identify if any of the student characteristics and experiences were significant predictors of withdrawal contemplation. The only significant factors were having a weekly tutorial and students’ level of study. Students who had a weekly tutorial were significantly less likely to contemplate withdrawal than their peers who did not. Further, final year undergraduates (Level 6 students) were most likely to contemplate withdrawal.

The lightening talk will explore the potential explanations for the withdrawal contemplation findings, drawing on the qualitative data collated during the focus group stage of the wider study. Explanations relate to how group tutorials and the relationship students have with their personal tutors foster students’ sense of inclusion in the university community and the feeling that they matter, both of which are recognised as contributing to students’ persistence (Tinto, 2017).


Engaging students to establish peer connections in the online environment

Alexander J Wood, Helen Tidy, Helen Carney, Tim Thompson (Teesside University)

Amongst the challenges higher education faced during the Covid-19 pandemic was the induction of students at the beginning of their academic career. Remote induction is potentially isolating, with limited access to meet peers, university staff and connect with the university campus environment. An online team building exercise was developed by the Teesside University Minecraft Education Edition Working Group with the aim of addressing limited access to peers and teaching staff. This was also taken as an opportunity to give students a taste of the Teesside University Campus.

A challenge was created where students were required to work in teams to cross a pit of Magma on the Teesside University campus and was hence called The Magma Challenge. This resource was designed as a facilitator to allow students to engage with one another rather than be in competition with each other. It allowed students to establish peer and staff connections in an online environment where traditionally none would have been established. Feedback from students demonstrated this this challenge helped them establish easy conversations with other students on their course as well as familiarising with at least one of their teaching staff – a task difficult to establish in a fully online environment.

Although this was developed as a tool during the pandemic, the principles of using an online team building exercise to enhance a students’ interaction with other students persists to help those with a purely online learning experience where connection to their peers, University staff and their learning environment is more complicated to establish.

This session addresses the following competencies of the UKAT Professional Framework for Advising and Tutoring
C3 - Academic advising and tutoring approaches and strategies
C5 - How equitable and inclusive environments are created and maintained
I5 - The characteristics, needs, and experiences of major and emerging student populations
I6 - Campus and community resources that support student success
R1 - Build advising and tutoring relationships through empathetic listening and compassion for students, and be accessible in ways that challenge, support, nurture, and teach
R2 - Communicate in an inclusive and respectful manner
R3 - Motivate, encourage, and support students to recognize their potential, meet challenges, and respect individuality
R4 - Plan and conduct successful advising and tutoring interactions
R6 - Facilitate problem solving, decision-making, meaning-making, planning, and goal setting
P1 - Create and support environments that consider the needs and perspectives of students, and respect individual learners
P2 - Appreciate students’ views and cultures, maintain a student-centred approach and mindset, and treat students with sensitivity and fairness