School of Science and Technology
"Our aim is to be as inclusive and interdisciplinary as possible": your voice has created partnerships in Science and Technology
Head of Department Christian Beardah and Principal Lecturer Michael Loughlin explain how your voice has helped to focus their curriculum – and secure funding for some exciting staff-student research opportunities at School of Science & Technology.
Christian: Student feedback’s important. As well as our student fora and committees, you can’t underestimate the value of one-to-one, in-class contact – because that’s the time when most of the dialogue between staff and students takes place.
Michael: I think the speed of change here is reassuring for our students. They don’t have to wait for big committee meetings to speak up – there’s a constant conversation going on between meetings, which closes the gap.
Christian: We try to make things as transparent as possible. I think students identify first and foremost with their subject – as biologists, chemists, mathematicians etc. – so the School itself can sometimes be quite a remote thing. Anything that unifies activity is great, and adds to a sense of community.
Michael: With all the different disciplines within the School, I think it’s nice for students from different areas to experience and discuss things collectively – to come up with solutions together. It makes for a more unified experience. Our staff working groups are now staff-student working groups, and when it comes to assessment and feedback, sharing good practice, addressing problems and coming up with answers, our students are more involved than ever before.
Christian: Our aim is to be as inclusive and interdisciplinary as possible.
Michael: There’s been some great ideas and changes within our subjects, based on feedback. Take computing, for example. We noticed there was quite a big disparity in our students’ maths backgrounds – which meant that historically, when we were working to get everybody up to scratch in the first term, some of the stronger mathematicians felt disengaged. And that might impact their attendance.
Last year, we trialled an early diagnostic test of maths skills, so that we could tailor the delivery of our tutorials and establish targeted groups, before bringing everybody back together for the seminars. We wanted to avoid a two-stream system; equally, we wanted to make sure that everyone’s learning was relevant and appropriate. That came from data-informed thinking, but also from acknowledging our students’ voice.
Christian: We’ve increased the number of opportunities for students to be involved in research activities, too. That originally came from the University’s SPUR scheme, where a student would be paid to work with a member of staff over the summer on a research programme. Because lots of students have had such a great experience being involved, their word of mouth – and voting with their feet by applying for these opportunities – has had a really big impact, and there’s an increasing clamour for these projects. That demand really drives supply, and we’re trying to provide more and more opportunities. It’s a very virtuous cycle – a great example of the synergy between research and teaching. There tends to be a pretty direct correlation between students working through these Undergraduate Research Scholarships, and then progressing on to their Masters and PhDs. Plus, it looks great on their CVs. It’s a win-win.
Michael: It’s a paid opportunity and it’s been hugely successful. For some, it’s that experience of working in research before choosing a final year project; for others, it’s used in lieu of a placement, providing a similar value and a Certificate in Professional Practice and as part of their HEAR report. It can be a big, really transformative experience. And again, it’s an example of the School responding well to student demand and need.