Students Staff

5 June 2014

Essex101: A collaborative project to produce a study skills resource for incoming and prospective students

Filed under: Ideas, Issue 3 — Tags: , , , — inpractice @ 3.42 pm

In the collaborative spirit of this issue, Jamie Taylor, In Practice’s Student Frontrunner Plus, got together with the Learning and Development interns, Siobhan, Diana and Emma – all recent Essex graduates – to find out what Essex101 is, how it works, and what lessons and principles can be taken from it.

 For full PDF version click here

The tagline for the project, “At Essex we like questions. Let’s start with yours”, underpins the approach adopted whilst developing the resource. As Siobhan describes it:

“We’re taking the study skills information, which is already a resource at the University, but making it more approachable for 16 to 17 year olds who are looking to come here. We’re adding quizzes and exercises and new material making it engaging and interesting. It’s speaking about the skills that they’ll learn whilst at university.”

Students are thus introduced to Essex through a multi-media experience incorporating text, video, audio and quiz-type exercises. The invitation to “challenge perceptions about learning” emphasises a free-thinking and open educational mind-set. It can also be used by sixth-form teachers to support students’ pre-undergraduate studies. Equally, the resource can help future students to form and develop study habits such as reflection, engagement, questioning, interpretation and exploration, so that they hit the ground running when they commence their studies at Essex. Whilst avoiding a prescriptive signposting of set skills, student are nonetheless inducted into positive academic study behaviours such as note-taking; critical thinking; argumentation; participation in seminars; organisation; making the most of academic feedback; effective essay writing and exam preparation.

As Siobhan notes:

“A lot of the content is there to prepare them, so when they go into a lecture they already know what to look for, how to note take. Students don’t just have to learn whilst they go along, they can try to grasp some of those skills whilst at sixth-form.”

This pre-sessional approach also aids recruitment by conveying at the earliest possible stage what the University of Essex strives to develop in its students across all disciplines.

In addition to equipping students with a positive approach to academic study, a key aim of the resource is to give students an immediate sense of belonging within a diverse and dynamic environment. Essex101 promotes a culture of research and membership which simultaneously introduces students to the academic tradition of research. It also motivates students to be an active and collaborative part of the Essex University community; learning and creating throughout their studies.

The utilisation of existing members of the University of Essex community in the production of the resource serves to strengthen the concept of belonging.  As Emma points out:

“It shows that the University is a big community and it gives you different perspectives ranging from frontrunners to lecturers which really helps prospective students.”

Students are thus introduced to the whole spectrum of experiences, principles and approaches used by different members of Essex University. Invaluable information, like advice from lecturers on disseminating information and from current students explaining how they prepare for seminars, gives prospective students a comprehensive insight into how the University works together and what role they can play.

This active involvement in the work of the University is something that the graduate interns experienced for themselves whilst constructing the project. As Siobhan explains:

“We’re always having meetings, so we feel really involved in it as well.  There’s not a day without us meeting up and discussing what we’re doing and how far we’ve got.”

Involving members of the community who are at different stages of their academic and professional lives contributes, the interns believe, to the genuine and engaging style of the resource. The use of current students in supporting videos and the role of recent Essex graduate interns in creating and shaping the project, closes the generational and experiential gap between the University and its future students. Diana believes this to be advantageous:

“Being in the position of writing the resource straight from being the beneficiary maximises the effectiveness of the project.”

This can also be linked with the wider implications of the rapid technological and educational shifts that have occurred in Higher Education. Siobhan thinks that using recent graduates can overcome this potential issue:

“Degrees have changed, so in contrast to people who have done their degrees some time ago, we were right there, we know how it works and how it’s changed.  We know what needs to be engaging.”

This critically important aspect of the project means that the skills and values it promotes are relevant to the interns as well, affording them with the experience and abilities necessary for the professional world. By incorporating graduates into the productive side of education, a well-rounded and fully formed university experience is provided that not only enhances the theory and knowledge obtained throughout their degrees, but develops new skills during their transitional phase between study and professional life. Emma, Siobhan and Diana all believe they have gained important experience through the project:

“This internship has been really mind-opening. I was a student here and now I can see all the inner workings of the University. It’s definitely going to be valuable experience for pursuing the career I want.” — Diana

“It’s designed for you to learn more about Learning and Development; you pick up so many professional skills you wouldn’t have learnt through your degree so you feel like you have an advantage. You’re more confident whereas when you first graduate you feel overwhelmed. Through this you feel far better prepared.” — Emma

“I was interested in Human Resources before but the internship helped me gain the experience I need.” — Siobhan

Overall this can be viewed as a commitment to the values the project promotes and delivers; students as active, challenging and creative parts of the University of Essex. Applying this to prospective students and eliminating the more linear and passive experience of education that sometimes characterises secondary school and sixth-form college, should yield experiences similar to those of the Essex101 interns. This can only serve to arouse enthusiasm and eagerness in future students that will be beneficial for them and the university, equipping both parties with invaluable and unique advantages going into the future.

What can be learned from this project? What I take from it is the importance of encouraging a creative research attitude from the earliest possible stage; producing students that are not restricted by an uncritical and inactive inertia associated with some studying. Encouraging a confident and enthusiastic attitude that creates as well as consumes is not only better for the student but produces better resources for the University. This concept is equally relevant in regards to the involvement of interns and frontrunners. Potentially passive members of the Essex community are turned into producers, elaborating the student role and equipping students with vital practical experience and principles to take forward. By creating a collaborative environment that challenges the traditional hierarchies within education, the University of Essex has the potential to foster fearlessness, creativity and enthusiasm in the pursuit of knowledge, facilitating greater progress and attainment in future academic studies and beyond.

 

Written by:

Jamie Taylor

In Practice Frontrunner Plus

University of Essex

E jtayloe@essex.ac.uk

 

With input from:

Diana Gall

Curriculum Design Intern

University of Essex

E idgapp@essex.ac.uk

 

Emma Hall

Curriculum Design Intern

University of Essex

Eelhall@essex.ac.uk

 

Siobhan McLoughin

Curriculum Design Intern

University of Essex

E smclou@essex.ac.uk

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