Lightning Talks

Rosie MacDiarmid (University of Liverpool)
Will H Essilfie (Kingston University)
Paty Paliokosta (Kingston University)
Gianpiero Calabrese (Kingston University)
Aga Buckley (Kingston University)
Emma L Delaney (University of Surrey)

Monday, April 8, 2024 11:30 AM - 12:15 PM

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Session Outline

"A bit like doing the washing up" - Examining staff perspectives of the role of academic adviser

Rosie MacDiarmid (University of Liverpool)

The literature tells us that high quality academic advising and tutoring makes an essential contribution towards student retention, success and general wellbeing (Holland et al, 2020; Walker, 2020; Webster and Showers, 2011). This is powerful information but somewhat simplistic. “It’s a bit like doing the washing up” was a quote from a staff member (during a focus group during data collection for my masters dissertation) which really hit home. This simple statement highlighted the recognition that academic advising was an essential, ongoing and important task, the absence of which would be notable, but yet one which seldom received suitable recognition or reward.

In order to support the staff who support students, we need to have an understanding of the factors that facilitate, or indeed hinder, provision of effective support and a successful advisor/advisee relationship - in the context in which it happens. Only then can we implement successful training packages and relevant support for staff.

This project interrogated the experiences of staff acting as academic advisors on the BVSc (Bachelor of Veterinary Science) degree at the University of Liverpool. On this course, every student is allocated an academic advisor who will (theoretically) remain with them throughout the five year course. There is an expectation that individual one to one meetings will be held each semester, and that the academic advisor will be in a position to provide both academic and pastoral support for their advisees during their time at university. All academic staff are expected to participate in this system regardless of their position, experience or background. Under the current framework, staff are trained ‘in house’ by senior academic advisors with refresher training required every five years. Additional support is available at an institutional level through the University of Liverpool Student Success framework and an academic advisor CPD module.

A previous project (Leong and Nolan, 2020) had gathered data from an ‘advisee’ perspective with students asked to comment on a number of themes, including the expectations they had of their tutor, the areas in which they most valued tutor support, and the factors which affected their relationship with their tutor. A number of inconsistencies between expectations and provision were identified, and this highlighted potential areas for future development in staff training and the role description itself. This project examined the alternative viewpoint by investigating the role from an academic advisor perspective.

This lightening talk will outline the findings from this project, including a discussion of the challenges experienced by advisors, the perceived benefits of the role, and the training needs highlighted during discussions with advisors. Suggestions for future development of training, recognition and support for academic staff will be made.

Peer Support Groups: Nurturing Nuanced Understandings of Racialized Positionalities of Personal Tutors

Will H Essilfie (Kingston University); Paty Paliokosta (Kingston University); Gianpiero Calabrese (Kingston University); Aga Buckley (Kingston University)

An overview of a yearlong experience of designing, setting up, and delivering a programme of Peer Support Groups (PSGs) for Personal Tutors. This talk will highlight the experience of developing this as well as some of the key learning gained from organising this PSG programme, like managing reactions and emotional triggers. The talk will conclude with a collective reflection on how to address barriers to engagement in such programmes, including solutions like UKAT professional recognition, workload allocation, and support from senior leadership.

PSGs for Personal Tutors (PTs) are an attempt to minimise the resistance that can manifest when attempts are made to engage academic colleagues in reflecting on their positionality and potential racial biases in the ways in which they interact with their students (Benson and Fiarman 2000). As part of PSGs, colleagues signed on to be Anchors, committing themselves to attending six 1.5hr facilitated sessions (two a quarter) across the academic year, on topics relating particularly to interactions between Personal Tutors and Tutees. Anchors also committed to recruiting up to 5 colleagues to participate in a PSG session facilitated by the Anchors. The PSG sessions, which followed each Anchor session, replicated the latter, using the same stimulus used by the latter. Anchor sessions modelled how Anchors themselves can conduct discussions around such topics with their PSG. A central point is that PSGs are a way for colleagues to check they are not inadvertently part of the problem and unbeknownst to them contributing towards the differential attainment gap.

This lightning talk will highlight that strategies by universities to address the ethnicity degree awarding gap (EDAG) rarely focus on the potential contribution of the mindsets of staff. Of the 16 main types of approaches to addressing such awarding gaps, identified in the 2023 TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education) commissioned research report, only three explicitly refer to staff, with developing curricula and learner analytics being the main approaches identified. However, research by Rana et al (2022) shows students believe “staff education and development would be an equally successful strategy to improve the academic performance of the BAME group. Participants mentioned if staff were well versed with issues deemed problematic to BAME students, they would feel more comfortable discussing their concerns and less apprehensive to engage in discussion”.

Through posing suggestions about how to make the PSG programme more attractive to a wider set of colleagues, the audience will be tasked with reflecting on initiatives in their institutions that have addressed mindsets of PTs. By collectively sharing experiences this will contribute towards building up a collection of approaches that can be utilised by HEIs interested in schemes to develop PTs nuanced understanding of how their positionality impacts students.

Understanding Student Views on Attendance Monitoring

Emma L Delaney (University of Surrey)

Students are absent from face-to-face classes for a variety of reasons including physical and mental health issues, having caring responsibilities, commuting issues (Sahin, 2023), general tiredness, apathy or a lack of motivation (Sloan et al, 2020, Bati et al, 2013). Evidence also suggests that there has been an increase in depression and anxiety among students caused by a post-pandemic fear of returning to campus (Leite et al, 2023). As such, many universities are actively encouraging students to attend classes in person. Furthermore, monitoring the attendance of students has been suggested as one way of collecting data on student behaviour that can act as an “early alert mechanism for potential wellbeing issues” (Ahern, 2020, p.2) and it could be a sign of students’ deteriorating mental health (Pollard et al, 2023). Despite this, to date there have been very few empirical studies that examine student perspectives on their wellbeing and how it can be supported by their institution (Baik et al, 2019). This session will share the results of research that was conducted at the University of Surrey with students to determine their views on a new attendance policy. Focus groups revealed diverse attitudes towards the policy, but overwhelming support of attendance monitoring. Interviews with students that had been referred to a senior personal tutor for poor attendance, confirmed that many of them had been absent from classes due to poor mental health. The research illustrates how struggling students support an attendance monitoring system which leads to the intervention of a personal tutor, and how intervening can have a positive impact on student attitudes, retention and progression.

This session addresses the following competencies of the UKAT Professional Framework for Advising and Tutoring
C3 - Academic advising and tutoring approaches and strategies
P4 - Understand the implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement, and engage in on-going evaluation and development of advising and tutoring practice
R4 - Plan and conduct successful advising and tutoring interactions
C5 - How equitable and inclusive environments are created and maintained
R4 - Plan and conduct successful advising and tutoring interactions
P1 - Create and support environments that consider the needs and perspectives of students, and respect individual learners
C3 - Academic advising and tutoring approaches and strategies
R4 - Plan and conduct successful advising and tutoring interactions
I3 - HE Provider policies, procedures, rules, and regulations