Legal Seagulls : Experience Plan for overseas students

Shweta Band, Law
s.band@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2015-16

Overview

The name ‘Legal Seagulls’ represents all overseas students in the School of Law. I initiated the Legal Seagulls Experience Plan in 2015-16 as a three-step support initiative to enhance the academic and university-life experience for our overseas students.

This includes the Pre-arrival Academic Welcome Kit (PAWK), on-arrival Academic Bridging Course Induction Programme and weekly in-sessional support sessions in the form of GOALLS (Global Outlook Activities and Learning for Legal Seagulls)

Objectives

  • To model an experience initiative for overseas students as a symbol of real academic and social integration.
  • To develop, deliver and evaluate a structured and continual pre-arrival and in-sessional mechanism.
  • To provide a comprehensive academic transition information at the pre-arrival stage in an endeavour to bridge the gap between the home and overseas legal academic environments.
  • To foster a global outlook towards social integration and employability skills.

Context

The School of Law has a significant number of international students – close to 47% of current students. To establish a single point of contact for them, a new office was established and I was appointed as the first International Support Tutor in the School of Law in February 2015.

I was assigned the task of providing academic and pastoral care to international students. In order to understand the experience of international students in the UK, I began by studying some of the recent research on the topic published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), and Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) Guidance.

This research revealed that there is consistent feedback from international students for the need of a structured approach to respond to two of the biggest concerns that they have: difficulties in transition (socio-cultural-academic), and employability attributes. This corroborated with the feedback I had received in a number of meetings with members of the academic staff, support services and overseas students in the School of Law.

This inspired me to develop the Legal Seagulls Experience Plan with the objective being that it will positively change the quality of overall experience for the students during the period of study with us, and also allow them to attain their academic potential and maximize their grades.

Implementation

For an international student, the journey of studying in a foreign country doesn’t begin in the Welcome Week; it actually begins on the day the offer is accepted. To bridge the gap between this period, I send a series of pre-arrival weekly emails in the form of academic bridging e-course to all confirmed offer holders. The PAWK includes guidance and online resources for a smoother academic transition.

During Welcome Week, the School of Law organizes three different Academic Bridging Course Induction Programmes for Postgraduate students, Part One students and Credit-transfer students.

This includes a session each on Academic Calendar, Teaching and Learning Methodology, Course Objectives, Good Academic Practice, Managing Academic Transition, Learning Technology, etc.

Our in-sessional support project, begun in 2015-16, is titled GOALLS : Global Outlook Activities and Learning for Legal Seagulls: free and open weekly sessions delivered by subject experts and based largely on games and group activities. A Certificate of Participation is awarded for attending five or more sessions and this counts toward the Research Experience and Development (RED) Award.

The Autumn term GOALLS focussed on cultural and academic integration and included sessions on topics such as Know Your Host (British Ways of Life), Know the British Legal Academia, and Cross-cultural Communication Training. The Spring GOALLS series was focused entirely on support for careers and examinations.

The students can register for the Academic Induction Programme and for GOALLS via an online registration form on the Legal Seagulls website which is made available from early August.

Impact

In 2015-16, 192 students received the PAWK. I could measure the successful response to this by the number of pre-arrival online registrations received for the Induction Programme (101), GOALLS (55) and Academic English Programme for Law Classes (70)

A total of 131 students attended the Induction sessions in the Welcome Week. This was a positive increase from the previous years. Of the students surveyed, 79% rated the Undergraduate Induction Programme as 4* or 5* and 92% rated the Postgraduate Induction Programme as 4* or 5*.

Close to 300 students benefited from the fourteen GOALLS sessions spread across the Autumn and Spring Terms. Of the 1505 total number of responses received for seven sections, 78% students marked the sessions as Outstanding (5*) or Very Good (4*).

This three-point Legal Seagulls Experience Plan has been able to lay the foundation to:

  • Respond to the early stages of culture shock and novelty for overseas students.
  • Introduce the overseas students thoroughly to UK as a host and to Reading as the host University.
  • Strengthen global graduate attributes and skills for overseas students.
  • Foster intercultural understanding and communication.

A few encouraging responses quoted from the student feedback are indicative of the positive impact: “Interaction with people of a different ethnicity other than mine rebuts my initial mindset about them”; “It was brilliant learning the debate mechanism and how to structure an oral argument properly”; “Today’s session has been tremendously useful for law students who are preparing for the upcoming exam. I have learnt a number of ways to study effectively.”

Reflections

The Pre-arrival Academic Welcome Kit (PAWK) and the Academic Bridging Course Induction Programme have been continued almost in the same format for 2016-17.

I have added a team-building activity session for the credit-transfer students’ Induction Programme. The PG Induction will now be live-streamed for the students arriving late and for students on the distance learning programme.

The GOALLS sessions have been reorganized in response to the feedback from the students that most of them were busy with exams and submissions in the Spring term and therefore could not attend the sessions in spite of being interested. This was reflected in the dwindling attendance. In view of this, for 2016-17, I have re-structured GOALLS.

The sessions on academic and cultural integration, career advice and exam support have now been scheduled during the Autumn Term. Electronic feedback has been added to the paper version. As an academic value addition to GOALLS, Professor Susan Breau, Head of School, has very kindly accepted my proposal to start an academic competition, the World Constitutions Showcase, to be delivered by Legal Seagulls under the Public Law Lecture series.

My efforts will also be see a renewed focus on activities reflecting on integration of home and overseas students.

Follow up

I honestly hope to create a well-founded sense of trust amongst our international students that we are absolutely keen on giving them the best possible support and services that any foreign academic institution can think of. We have a vibrant body of overseas students and we benefit in more ways than one from their presence and participation on campus.

The Legal Seagulls Experience Plan will strive to create, nurture and award an environment of mutual learning among the home students, overseas students and staff in the School of Law.

Our long-term aim is to create an ethos of a real and open acceptance of, and support to, the academic and cultural diversity brought to us by our international students.

Links

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