Tuesday, April 29, 2008

ESCALATE conference:1

I am at the ESCalate conference, which has the theme The Teaching-Research Interface: Implications for Practice in Higher Education and Further Education. ESCalate is the subject centre for education, and the conference is being held at Stirling University. There is a website at http://escalate.ac.uk/3936 but it does not have much info on it at the moment. I am giving a presentation tomorrow about inquiry based learning in our BSc Information Management Programme. When I have finished the ppt I will put it on slideshare (later today ;-) The first photo shows the conference bag, and the free ESCalate umbrella, but not the free ESCalate coffee carry-mug.

The delegates are academics from various Departments, incuding Education, and educational developers/researchers. The keynotes have been from Professor Gill Crozier, talking about her ESRC-funded project looking at working class students’ experiences of higher education, and from Professor Dai Hounsell, talking about some aspects of his team's ESRC-funded research into learning environments of undergraduate students.

There is a page about Prof Crozier's project here with some links to papers. Following wider questionnaires, they tracked 27 students over 2 years, who were based at four very different universities: one elite university, one pre-1992 university, one post-1992 university, and one college that did foundation degrees. The students were diverse in their home situations, as well as the nature of their university experience. For example, the elite university had a rule that students mustn't have outside jobs in their first tem, and they lived in halls, whereas at the college people\mostly lived at home and might be doing a lot of paid work, so that some of them scarcely identified themselves as "students".

Also, for example, while the students at the elite university had been identified as high flyers at school, nutured and therefore had quite positive views of themselves as learners, those from the college and post-1992 university might have low perceptions of their capabilities as learners. One interesting point was that the "traditional" system of the elite university was better at supporting students and helping them to feel at home in the university, whereas emphasis on "independent learning" and moves to e-learning (supposedly to make things more convenient for students) meant that it was even less likely that students would feel that they fitted in and were part of the university. This affects motivation and retention.

One thing that Dai Hounsell observed was that universities have tended to try and preserve the "elite" experience at least for their final year undergraduates, but there is an increasing gap between this final year experience and what students experience in first year. There has been a tendency for the first year experience to be more massified/generalised, with large lectures, use of teaching assistants and so forth. This made students potentially less prepared for a challenging final year: of course this is a familiar pattern from information literacy education, where librarians often seem to observe a sudden focus on information literacy in final year to support dissertation/project work, without a progression to this in previous years.
2nd photo is of woodland outside the conference centre

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