RAISE Conference 2013 -Student Engagement

Raise-conference 2013_logoOn the 13th September, representatives from the department of Art’s staff/student research group gave a presentation on OSCAR the Online Studio Community for Art at Reading at the annual RAISE conference for student engagement in Nottingham.

The presentation received a large amount of feedback, amongst which included praise for the dialogue driven online crit system, which encourages students to share their work online to their colleagues in a comfortable digital space of deconstruction and discussion. Much was made of OSCAR’s permeation into the pre-undergraduate student group that arrived this Autumn; over 60 of which had already created an account on the site in the summer -pre-enrolment. OSCAR has proven to be a great channel to capture the anticipation many new students have in coming to university for the first time. Also, with so much of what art students create today being drawn from the communication in the studio between staff and peers, OSCAR generates new, multi-medial formats for that communication to take place.

As Art students it was an exciting privilege to represent the University of Reading at the RAISE conference, on a fully paid trip to the city of Nottingham (supported by Reading’s Digitally Ready), not to mention the unlimited coffee machine and 3 course lunch!! We were fortunate to present after this fuelling break. During our presentation we were treated as peers rather than students by the other members of the conference and the feedback we received exceeded our expectations, with some even telling us they wished they had thought of the idea themselves. Many of the speakers at RAISE specialised in politics and science, and the presence of two art students seemed to add a warmly welcomed diversity. We hope to have the opportunity to give the presentation at Reading soon –so watch this space!

Antonia Bamford (BA Art)
Robbie McKane (BA Art & Film, Theatre and Television)

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Wikipedian Andy Mabbett is collecting the voices of scientists as Wikipedia sound files.  Read more.



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Getting it right through the Reading Internship Scheme

Along with my colleague Nina Brooke I was really delighted to have the opportunity to work with a student this summer through the Reading Internship Scheme, funded by the Digitally Ready project. Simon Hyslop joined us for five weeks with the main task of helping us to establish new Blackboard content to support our new APP (Academic Practice Programme). Our new programme will be delivered in intensive blocks rather than weekly workshops and so we’ll be relying on Blackboard to a greater extent than before to help us support participants in between those intensive blocks. We also hope that our use of Blackboard can model good practice and help to showcase options to new lecturers on the APP who may not have experience of using VLEs to support their teaching.

Having Simon as part of the team, who was able to dedicate time to try out ideas and build content, was invaluable, especially now that Blackboard has become more complex than ever, with all of the additional Campus Pack options that are now available. Because we wanted to make the most of the time Simon was with us, it made us carve out precious time for brainstorming, planning and experimentation, which otherwise might not have happened.

Having approached the internship with some uncertainty, we enjoyed the experience of working with a student and feel we have benefitted greatly. By the end of Simon’s placement we had a robust structure within Blackboard, a new resources area and we’d resolved some tricky assessment issues within Blackboard. Thanks to Simon, we’ve also learned to produce our own videos using the Camtasia licences which were also funded by the Digitally Ready project.

Hopefully, Simon has benefitted too. He fitted in well and very quickly became part of our team in a busy open plan office, being able to work collaboratively and be very flexible in the middle of some upheaval – his internship happened in the middle of a major office move as our centre merged with two others. He brought with him some very good technical skills but developed some new ones and quickly got his head around new software. Perhaps most importantly, he had the opportunity to apply all of these skills in practice in a particular context.

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Student Communications Internship – Remember to speak to your students!

So here I am, coming towards the end of my fourth week of my Student Communications Internship.  Last time I blogged I spoke about having a lot of questions to answer and, if anything, I now have even more!

Alongside the various meetings mentioned in my last blog, I have now had time to study other universities’ Student Communication Strategies and speak to Student Communication Officers from across the country. While I don’t think it is necessarily right to group all students in together, it is really interesting to hear what is (and isn’t) working for other universities.  I’ve even had a few people contact me who are working on similar projects themselves which suggests that the area of Student Communications is becoming more important for universities to think about.

Apart from speaking to members of staff, it has been really crucial for me to get the opinions of students. Working “behind the scenes” in this internship at university has allowed me to see that a lot of decisions are made for students without getting their opinion first. Obviously students can’t be consulted on every matter, and I don’t doubt that many members of staff have a lot of experience to back up their decisions, but in an environment that is usually full of students it has been surprising to see how many things are decided upon without their input. We are quite an easy lot to bribe and I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to get a few students in to voice their opinions or test out certain ideas before they are put into practice!

For me, getting the students’ opinions was another matter. With no students on campus I turned to the internet for help by posting my online survey on the official Facebook groups of each subject area I had met with. Yet this didn’t yield a particularly big response. There’s nothing cool, it seems, about filling in university related surveys from university related pages in the summer holidays!  By approaching students as a fellow student and posting the link on my personal Facebook and Twitter I had a much better success rate, with friends “sharing” and “retweeting” for others to see.

And so I am now at a stage where I am trying to pull together all of my research from the past month. It’s a daunting task but I’m really looking forward to joining up all of my findings, writing up my report and being able to make some recommendations for Student Communications at Reading.

If you have any ideas that you think can help me out or opinions on my project so far I would love to hear from you. I can be emailed at zf014520@reading.ac.uk

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Taking on the role of Student Communications Intern

During the summer of 2013 I have taken on the role of Student Communications Intern. Working for Richard Sandford, Student Communications Officer, and alongside UROP student, Jodie Hitch, I am beginning to find my way around the rather complex world of student services, communications and policies.
I have now completed two weeks of my internship, in which I have managed to meet a wide variety on interesting people from across the university. Having met with staff from Admissions, Communications, International Marketing, Accommodation, Student Welfare, Academic departments and many more, I am beginning to grasp the vast range of communication tools (and sometimes problems) that these different departments face.
The main outcome of my six week internship is to help develop an initial framework for a student communication strategy. Currently a lot of effort goes in to communicating with prospective and brand new students but I am focusing specifically on what happens when the students have settled into university life and have begun their courses. 
 Which are the best communication channels to be using? Should we be moving away from print communications? Should ‘communication’ be something that is considered to be coming from a central place? Or are individual academic and professional departments responsible for their own style and methods of communication?
 As you can see there are endless questions to be asked on the subject. Part of my task is to refine my own project while trying to take in as much information and as many opinions as possible; it is very much ‘work in progress’.
 Should you have any opinions on my project or on communications in general I would love to hear from you, feel free to email me at zf014520@reading.ac.uk
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Out with the old, in with the new!

This is the latest update from the UROP Project: Digital Literacy, employability and placements in SHES…

Whether you’re sending emails, following people on Twitter or making friends on Facebook, Digital Literacy is an important part of people’s lives. Over the past few weeks I have carried out some background research with staff to find out just how prominent Digital Literacy is for them when methods of teaching and learning and students employability skills are considered.

As an overall collective, staff were aware of how important Digital Literacy can be for teaching and learning when used effectively and most highlighted the benefits that Social Media holds for student employability. New forms of Digital Literacy need to be showcased correctly and Social Media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, need to be understood from both a personal and professional perspective. Staff also stressed LinkedIn to have great importance from an employability perspective and students need to be aware that when LinkedIn is used, it is important that their profile is of a good standard that attracts employers. This is significant as one individual’s online presence could lead to a great opportunity whilst another’s could prevent one.

The majority of students come to University because it furthers career opportunities or they need a degree in order to succeed in what they want to do. The careers part of any module then should be something that students find extremely useful and information on how to create an above standard online presence could be added here to help with new and ever evolving forms of Digital Literacy. Staff agreed that there seems to be room for improvements in the careers sections of certain modules and more awareness of Digital Literacy built into the careers section could really strengthen the image of the careers module.

Rather than students creating a personal profile and a CV, something that students are likely to have already, new employability skills could be taught to students to give them the upper hand in the job market. LinkedIn workshops, Alumni students discussing how Digital Literacy has affected them in their careers and students who have already had an opportunity because of their online presence could offer students a better understanding and a greater awareness of how influential forms of Digital Literacy can be. With students paying three times as much as others who have come to University, students will be expecting more for their money. If something like this is offered for students, then they will be aware of and able to meet the expectations that employers now have.

The University has already implemented some of these new forms and some departments already have both Facebook and Twitter pages set up for their students but it would be nice to see this become consistent across each department. Staff also directed us to the ‘Being Online’ pages that the IT Services department have and suggested that they were good for what not to do but should also actively encourage students in what to do and how to succeed in creating an online presence. It seems that there is an awareness of the power Digital Literacy holds within the University and that the foundations of understanding are in place but extra steps need to be taken to expand this which would be positive for both the students and the University itself.

The research showed us that staff had concerns over the most effective ways of contacting and communicating with students. This has led us to begin developing a new method and idea that could be used for communication which we will work on over the next few weeks and can hopefully trial at the beginning of the academic year but anyway, more on this soon!

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Building up Blackboard – showing what our VLE can do

After a year abroad in Austria I’m now back in Reading and involved with the Digitally Ready project once again!  I wrote a blog post before about the work I did with Cindy Becker on online placement support – Digitally Ready for employability.

I’m excited to be involved with the newly formed CQSD (Centre for Quality, Support and Development) on a 5 week placement as Communications Project Officer.

View from Whiteknights House

View from the office in Whiteknights House, main university campus

This placement has been organised through the Reading Internship Scheme and is to do with the training new academic staff go through when they join the university.

As this has been recently redesigned as the APP (Academic Practice Programme), the new courses need new Blackboard sites and this is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase some of the functionality that is available.  Our plan is to use this to its full potential so that lecturers get to see how they can use these resources as part of their teaching.

At the moment we’re looking at using features like a Wiki for assessment, Discussion board for FAQs and a Blog for introducing yourself.  These are features which are already available through Blackboard (using CampusPack), so we’re keen to use them to make online communication as easy as possible.  We are still getting all of this set up, so there isn’t much else to report for now – hopefully there will be some more information in the next couple of weeks and I’ll keep you updated via the blog.

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UROP – Investigating Student Communications and the Transition into Higher Education

Hello, I’m Jodie, a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Placement) intern evaluating how effectively the University of Reading communicates with new students during the ‘transition period’ into Higher Education.

Working alongside Sophie Harrison, who is undertaking a Reading Internship Scheme Project, I have spent the first 3 weeks of the placement conducting a communications audit. Under the supervision of Richard Sandford, I have been delving into the communication strategies adopted by different Departments across the University. I am particularly interested in the use of paper-based vs. digital communication channels during the ‘transition period’, including the use of social media sites, Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, after collecting pages of notes from countless meetings, work is finally underway!

During the whirlwind of Freshers’ week, a survey will be conducted with new students at the University. Focus groups will also be held during this time to gather in-depth student feedback. What communication strategies are in place at the University? …Are they effective? Hopefully, the feedback we receive from our students will guide future transitions communications strategies at the University of Reading.

So, let’s wait and see what our students have to say…

I will keep you updated as the research project progresses!

Feel free to contact me with any comments or queries related to the project.

Jodie Hitch

Email: j.hitch@student.reading.ac.uk

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Videos with philosophy students

Molly Knight, Alex Gregory and I have been making videos with some students in the Philosophy Department, supported by the Digitally Ready Small Projects fund. One video is designed to tell prospective students a little about what it’s like to study philosophy with us. The other is designed to tell current and prospective students about the work placement option in Part 3.

A further aim of this project was for us to learn about video and video editing, acquiring skills for subsequent projects. None of us knew much about it before we started, and we’ve learned a lot – mainly in the form of practical know-how about the hardware and software, rather than any nuggets of wisdom I could write here. We borrowed video cameras from ITS (1st floor in the library; free and reliably available), and used Adobe Premiere Elements to edit the videos (available for a very reasonable price through the University’s software contractor, Civica).

Two tips for anyone else who’s new to videoing and trying something similar:

1. Try to make sure you get the same video camera each time you record. Different  cameras format the video differently, and uniformity will save you lots of time in editing.

2. When you get stuck with the software, Google your problem. There’s almost invariably someone who’s had the problem, solved it, and written about it on a blog somewhere.


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The HEA Humanities Conference, 2013


MCN HEA conference T&L presentation

I was recently invited to give a paper at the national HEA humanities conference in Brighton, entitled ‘Storyville’. I spoke on my use of digital modelling in the Classics curriculum – a pdf of part of my presentation is attached – and the paper seemed to be well received. The other speakers in my panel were from very different backgrounds; one was working on the archive of a design school, and the others were from a project looking at the history and practice of knitting and textile work. A thread (as it were) of interest in visual resources for teaching, and active learning through doing, connected the papers and provided a lot to talk about – I tend to find that discussion with colleagues, even from fields very different to my own, opens up all sorts of new ways of looking at what we do.

The conference as  whole covered a huge variety of topics. I attended papers on the use of drama in the classroom for teaching ancient plays, and on podcasts for theology lectures (an impressive example of audio capture and the ‘flipped classroom’, but requiring an enormous amount of labour and goodwill on the part of one or two generous lecturers). Beyond that were papers on aspects of far-flung areas of higher and further education, from straightforward academic teaching to storytelling and imagination. I had been a bit puzzled, to be honest, by the conference’s title, but it became clear on reading through the programme and attending panels – and in subsequent discussions on MOOCs where the terms ‘story’, ‘narrative’, and ‘journey’ are frequently used – that this is a (quite loosely defined) strand of thought that is applied to a wide spectrum of teaching and learning activities at the moment.

On that subject, I used the informal break times in the conference to chat to fellow delegates about MOOCs and gathered an interesting if unscientific survey of opinions, which broadly reflect those I have heard here in Reading – a similar mingling of excitement and uncertainty. Let’s see what the next year brings!


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