HERE! Project Case Study 3


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HERE! Project Case Study 3

  1. 1. HERE! Higher Education Retention and Engagement project Strand B: Programme review of good practice at Bournemouth University Case Study 3 BA (Hons) Social Work Natalie Bates and Christine Keenan
  2. 2. Content SECTION 1: Context Page 2 Course data Page 3 SECTION 2: Programme/staff view Page 4 Examples of practice and evaluation Page 16 Summary Page 18 SECTION 3: Student view Page 18 Practical examples that enhance the student experience Page 24 Summary Page 25 SECTION 4: Document analysis Page 26 SECTION 5: Overall summary and key conclusions Page 27 SECTION 6: HERE! Programme Review Tool Page 29 1
  3. 3. HERE Project Programme Reviews: Case Study 3 BA (Hons) Social Work at BU SECTION 1 Context BA (Hons) Social Work is a three year course located in the School of Health and Social Care at Bournemouth University (BU). The programme was chosen for the HERE! project programme review due to its high retention figures for the number of first year students who progress to year two (100% of first year students – based on 2007/08 data). Four lecturers were interviewed from the programme including the course leader and the first year tutor. They were invited to participate due to their close involvement with first year learning and teaching. All were interviewed by the BU project research assistant. The programme is a generic degree which involves placements in each year of the course – a 20 day placement in year 1; 80 days in year 2 and 100 days in year 3. International placements in Malaysia are also an option for the students. The course has only recently introduced a placement to the first year so that students can experience social work earlier in the programme because, although the course has retained 100% of its first year students in recent years, the lecturers noted that students often have doubts or experience issues when they enter their placement in the second year. It is hoped that the new 20 day placement will ease the transition to the second year placement and students’ associated expectations. As the social work course leads to a professional qualification, many elements of the course must meet requirements of the General Social Care Council (GSCC). For example, by the end of the course, all students must have worked in placements with two distinctly different service user groups. At the time of these interviews, the course had recently been through revalidation so changes had been made to the structure of the course accreditation for certain units in line with the GSCC. Entry to the course is based on students achieving 260-280 UCAS points and students must have had experience in a social care setting or personal experience in a carer capacity. All students are interviewed for the course. There is a large demand for places on the course with approximately 500 applicants for 55 places each year (dependent on the number of provisional places offered). The course also recruits from a local access course. In 2011, a Masters Social Work course will be introduced at BU. The course team gave consent to survey all first year students on the 2009/10 social work cohort. A total of 17 out of 46 students from the course completed the student survey for our project (37% response rate) which included a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 2
  4. 4. Course data Student administration data BA (Hons) Social Work Cohort 2009/10 Total no. of first year students in cohort 46 UCAS tariff requested by course 2010 entry 260 points 2011 entry 280 points Gender Male 5 Female 41 Age 18 8 19-20 9 21-24 3 25-30 7 31-40 12 41-50 7 Mode of study (FT/PT) FT 46 PT 0 UK/EU/International UK 44 International 2 Disability ALN 4 Non-ALN 42 No. of students taken through clearing 1 No of students repeating year 1 0 Professionally accredited? Yes Sandwich course/placement yr No Retention data for previous cohorts (no. of first year students progressing from year 1 to year 2 over past 4 years): Registry data BA (Hons) Social Work Left Cont’d to yr 2 Total no. 1st years 06/07 2.2% 97.8% 46 07/08 0.0% 100% 46 08/09 4.9% 95.1% 61 09/10 N/A N/A N/A HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 3
  5. 5. SECTION 2 Programme/staff view This section provides a summary of the analysis of the staff interviews. Four lecturers were interviewed in total from the course team. Section 2 begins by highlighting the key factors that the staff feel contribute to their retention rate, followed by a more in-depth analysis of their perceptions on course related factors, the relationship between students and staff, feelings of belonging and students at risk of doubting or withdrawing. Subheadings have been taken from the HERE! Programme Review tool (see section 6, p.29). At the end of section 2, practical examples are listed from the staff interviews that could be used by other university programmes to enhance the student experience. The course team share similar views on the BA (Hons) Social Work high retention rates and emphasise that a combination of the following factors have helped: • A rigorous selection process – interviews and tasks before students are offered a place • Availability and commitment of staff – quantity of teaching hours/contact time; open door policy; approachability of staff • Personal tutor system • First year tutor role – having an overview of all students; able to identify students who are struggling or failing • Lots of support in different formats – via personal tutors; the first year tutor; Student Support Tutor; AskBU; Additional Learning Needs (ALN) • Enabling the students to establish themselves as a group and develop peer support • A well structured induction with opportunities for the group to bond • Role modelling – professional values; mutual respect • A cohesive, collaborative course team • Innovative teaching and staff with up-to-date knowledge • Having a formative assignment and feedback in the first few weeks to support academic transition Course related factors and adapting to the course Academic transition All of the course team agreed that induction week is an important part of the academic transition which is centred on the students making connections with each other and with the lecturers. As well as informing students about the expectations and demands of the course, the week is filled with ice-breaker activities, team building exercises, a meet the team session and includes a first tutorial with personal tutors. The staff invest time into making the week as fun as possible and every effort is made to get the students talking to each other, ‘so it means they’ve talked to every single person hopefully by the end of the week’. One lecturer emphasised the importance of students bonding with their peers during induction: What you really want to do is establish relationships with people that you’re starting to work with because…we learn most effectively in the context of a positive relationship…I mean it’s certainly the case in social work where we bring our own experience and we reflect upon our own experiences and our own feelings. Incorporating group work during induction week helps to enhance such relationship building, in particular the Stepping Stones 2HE poster presentation task. Prior to starting university, all HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 4
  6. 6. students are asked to research a key social work theme or value, such as social exclusion, which they will use in small groups to prepare a poster presentation that they will deliver to the rest of the cohort: [It] absolutely scares the life out of the students. They’re absolutely terrified about it but they rate it so highly after they’ve done it and it’s just a brilliant buzz in the room. They’re so chuffed with themselves for doing it and just that shared experience because they’ve done it as a group as well. It’s brilliant. The majority of students engage in the task and although instructions are given to the students online, a paper copy is also sent to ensure all students can access the task. After a full week of induction, students are given the Friday off to absorb information ‘because they’re completely exhausted by that point’. To address differences between learning at university and previous learning experiences, the social work course team used to deliver a Personal and Academic Development Unit which explored different academic skills such as writing, referencing and the use of library and online resources. In response to student feedback that they would have preferred more of this information at the start of the term, the team are planning to introduce a ‘Learning to Learn’ week for the next cohort. The week will occur near the beginning of term one and will look at the transition to university and studying for a professional qualification: You’ve got [to] kind of internalise a lot of your learning as well because it’s not just about memorising things, it’s all about self and self awareness and professionalism. The lecturers consider this to be essential as the students need to adjust to becoming both a student and a social worker. One lecturer claimed there is ‘something of an identity in social work’ which the students also have to embrace. The course team described themselves as cohesive, open with each other and able to discuss any student’s issues with each other confidentially and in-depth. They believe that their collaborative approach to teaching and learning enhances the student experience. One lecturer, for example, described the benefits of joint teaching with a colleague: It was something about the relationship. [It] is a fundamentally good one, a positive one, it’s an emotionally intelligent one, so you’re modelling it. As well as working effectively with each other, the course team have built strong external relationships with employers, professionals in practice, and people who use services and carers. They also work well with the local access course in terms of helping students to understand the expectations of the social work degree and preparing them with knowledge of social care issues. This helps to support the academic transition for those students entering the social work degree via the access course. Coping with coursework The lecturers indicated that some students struggle with work on the course, particularly academic discourse and referencing expectations, but there is a wealth of support available to the students which the personal tutors direct them to. Personal tutors encourage students to see them if they are finding aspects of work difficult so that they can talk through any issues and look at improving management of their independent learning. By ‘learning about individual needs’, the lecturers can signpost students to appropriate study skills workshops or ALN services. It was argued that identifying ALN could help retention as students can recognise why they are struggling and find strategies for dealing with it. Help is also HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 5
  7. 7. available from the Student Support Tutor for the School who offers support sessions to all students either individually, as a group or as part of the course unit, and the course has developed strong links with the Subject Librarian on the campus who assists the students. To help students cope with their first written assignment, a formative assignment is set within the first few weeks of term by the course team. The assessment does not count towards the students’ final degree but allows them to have feedback on a piece of work before producing an assessed written assignment. Students have a one-to-one tutorial with their personal tutor to go through the feedback which provides an opportunity to pick up on any issues around academic standards. All of the lecturers interviewed commented that this is a useful task that gives students a confidence boost: It’s a non-assessed piece of work that really gives them the confidence to actually submit something. Students who come in, particularly if they haven’t been in education for a while or the students who are coming from school, find that really helpful and it allows them to see what they can do and what their potential is, so we’re very positive about things. So I think that’s a major thing. A mixture of assessment methods are used on the course, including written assignments and presentations, but exams are not considered appropriate. The course team are, however, looking at incorporating an open exam as a future assessment method on the course where students would know the question in advance and have access to books. Assignment titles are not restrictive and when a deadline is approaching, the lecturers facilitate an interactive session to give broad guidelines on the assessment details, reading materials and how the taught element of the course should be linked to the Intended Learning Objectives. Another form of support aimed at helping students cope with the course is a mentoring scheme for students who consider themselves to be from a minority. The scheme was initiated as a result of a research project conducted by members of the course team and a general awareness that ‘students who identify themselves as different do less well on the course [and] are more likely to fail’. Each self-identified student is allocated an independent mentor who has a social work background and a good understanding of discrimination, but is external to the course: Students feel safe to…just sort of talk about whatever they want to talk about without it feeling it’s going to affect their mark or their…practice. The initial project focused on black minority ethnic students but since then the mentoring has been offered to any students who self-identify themselves as being in, what they consider to be, a possibly discriminated against group. The last mentoring scheme, for example, included a man who felt outnumbered by the number of female students on the course; a student with English as an additional language; and a student with dyslexia. Choice of course Investing in a rigorous student selection process was considered crucial not only for retention but ensuring students possess the qualities and values that are essential for the social work profession. Open days provide a good opportunity for the lecturers to set expectations of both the course and the profession through an hour long talk and individual conversations with students. The course has a lot of students who do not enter university HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 6
  8. 8. through the traditional route, for example, some have not come directly from sixth form or have been out of education for a long time, and some are unsure if their qualifications meet the course criteria. At open day the team can clarify course entry requirements and give advice to those who need to gain further experience: We field a lot of those questions on open days and tend to get people with really fantastic experience and a lot to offer that actually we really encourage to apply, or might encourage to do an access course and then apply. We really try and give them a feel about what social work’s all about. We’ll talk to them individually. The lecturers give prospective students guidance on the best experience to gain for their CV, how they can get voluntary work and what the best programme would be for them, for example, some students may be better suited to a community development course, nursing or may also be considering teaching. Although the social work course has recently received a large increase in applications, not all are appropriate, and concern was expressed that some people may only be interested in the course for the £3000 bursary attached to it and that they could lose them when they enter practice. It is hoped that open days and the course interview process can help to avoid such situations. As well as completing a UCAS application form, it is a GSCC requirement that students must have a face-to-face interview for the course. The interview panel is formed of an academic from the course team, an agency representative and a service user or carer. The staff dedicate a lot of time and effort to the interviewing process and the procedure has changed recently due to concerns about the questions asked in the past. The original structure involved six questions based on the applicant’s personal statement which didn’t help the lecturers gain a perspective of a candidate’s values or how proactive they were as a learner. More depth is now expected and students are asked three specific questions: 1) What experience do you have that is relevant to social work and what did you learn from it? 2) What do you understand by discrimination? 3) The student is also asked to discuss a social work topic with the interview panel. (Candidates are given a choice of topic areas prior to the interview, e.g. looked after children or domestic abuse, from which they must choose one topic that they will prepare and discuss at interview with the panel. The lecturers said this task is not about being an expert but about what the students have found interesting when researching the topic which helps the panel to gain ‘roundedness of the person’. In addition to the interview, students must have gained experience in a social care setting, or have personal experience of caring for someone, ‘so [that] applicants have already tested out a little bit [of] the world of social work’ and ‘got a sense of whether in reality this is for them’. In the future it is possible that students will be required by the GSCC to complete an exam as part of the selection process. The lecturers believe that selecting the right students for the course is key to retention: The admissions criteria I think is quite significant for retention because we make our applicants jump through lots of hoops so part of me thinks that actually you just wouldn’t go through that unless you really wanted it and you knew this was for you. In terms of retention, a lot of it is about getting the right applicants in the first place so we don’t get a lot of students in the first year umming an ahhing about whether this is for them. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 7
  9. 9. The course team use the interview day as a further opportunity to raise awareness of the demands of the course and expectations. This is done via three perspectives: the lecturers give an hour long talk on interview day about the realities of the course, hours and commitment; current students come in and answer any questions the candidates might have; and local placement providers give a talk about social work practice. The participation of current students in the interview process is considered particularly valuable as students feel comfortable asking questions in the absence of the lecturers and gain answers from those who are actually experiencing the course. Making the subject interesting Lecturers on the course ensure that sessions are hugely interactive with lots of workshop style teaching where students ‘have to engage and do a bit of thinking’. The academic aspect of the course is integrated with the practice element so that the different values become involved. Teaching therefore makes links between theory and practice, giving the students the opportunity to discuss scenarios and apply their learning to the real world. To bring the subject alive, newspaper articles and media are often explored and visits to the courts are organised to help the students understand social work law. The lecturers aim to keep up-to-date with practice and consider role modelling vital to their teaching, stating ‘if you’re not modelling what you’re teaching, then you’re teaching something else’. They also make sessions accessible for different learning styles. It was acknowledged that different lecturers have different teaching styles on the course. Some focus on delivering information to students in a traditional lecture style whilst others prefer to include group work in their teaching so that students can reflect upon questions and apply given information to case studies. The lecturers are passionate about social work and the community, and most reflect this enthusiasm in their teaching. It was regarded as essential to select the right person to teach the students: It’s not about standing up in front, you know, I’ll teach you. That’s not what it’s about. I don’t think that works, certainly not for social work. It’s not teaching in a great big lecture hall for a long time but getting them into groups. It’s getting them to discuss their own experiences, to value their experiences and what they bring to the learning…so listening to that and getting them to bounce ideas off one another. Using interactive teaching and keeping up-to-date with practice are therefore priorities for the team. To enhance the course experience, guest speakers are also invited to talk to the students. Independent Reviewing Officers, for example, have discussed what it is like to be in practice which received positive feedback from the students – ‘the students love it…the students say it’s brilliant, so it’s fun’. As well as guest speakers from practice settings, input from service users and carers is highly valued on the course. Service users and carers are invited to talk to the students about various situations they have been in, such as what it’s like having a mental health condition, what it’s like to have your children taken away and what it’s like to have a good, or not so good, social worker. The lecturers find this is quite hard and shocking for the students to hear and emphasises the reality that will face them as qualified social workers. Plans for improvement Amidst current institutional change, the course team’s main aim is to keep the social work degree functioning well: HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 8
  10. 10. I think what we have works. I think for me it’s going to be about trying to retain that because we’re getting bigger and bigger cohorts each year, obviously more and more workload, we’ve got a smaller staff team, so all of those issues that everybody’s sort of experiencing are going to have an effect, and are having an effect, on our ability to offer all those things we offer, and a lot of those things are not measured either so I know, you know, in terms of appraisals and all of those sorts of things, a lot of those roles that we do don’t count. So for me in terms of future goals it’s going to be holding onto this stuff and retaining it. Whilst the lecturers recognised that it was important for them be innovative and engage in research, they did not feel that this should be done at the expense of their students. The team are concerned that such pressure will impact on the quality of the course and if employers do not rate the course, current students will not gain jobs and prospective students will apply elsewhere. Attempts to free up lecturers’ time to write and engage in enterprise activities over a whole term were frowned upon by some members of the team who do not want the student experience to suffer. The team continually try to improve practice and major changes have recently been made to the social work course as part of revalidation. The number of credits gained for the children and families unit has increased from 10 credits to 40 credits; the number of assessments have been reduced due to concern that students were being over-assessed; word counts have decreased (in some cases from 5000 words to 3000); and students are now given two lecture-free weeks before an assignment is due to prepare. Some staff are also engaged in a project that is exploring the possibility of involving service users and carers in practice learning where they would each work with a student throughout their placement. Major changes were predicted for the course in the future in relation to standards required by the GSCC for student recruitment and retention. The course team must recruit students who are good for people who use social services and ensure that they look at students holistically as opposed to focusing on academic ability. Although the social work course already uses a rigorous selection process, the lecturers will continue to make interviews more stringent and aim to terminate placements much quicker if a student’s attitude or behaviour in practice is not up to standard or a concern. Relationship with staff – staff/student relations The course team are committed to the student experience and offer lots of support to make the students’ journeys a success. The lecturers balance a nurturing role with firmness as students must develop as professionals as well as independent learners: I think we…probably take a bit of a sort of spoon feeding approach right at the beginning of the year and gradually…withdraw from that. We also care about whether people are appropriate to do social work. So there’s a hardness that goes with that and there are certain people who, you know, we fail, particularly on placement. Lecturers are responsive to students’ issues and have an open door policy so that students ‘feel able to come and talk much sooner than actually leaving or dropping out’. The first year tutor in particular gains an overview of all students in the cohort which helps the course team to identify those who may be struggling or requiring more support: I’m the year tutor for the first years so have that overview. So I will track progress and pick up on students that are failing or struggling or not attending and follow that up but a lot of it I think is probably just contact, open door policy, students can come up to the office, they can e-mail, they can phone, and will get a response from somebody fairly quickly. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 9
  11. 11. As well as having the support of the first year tutor, students also benefit from a personal tutor system. Each lecturer is a personal tutor for the course and has approximately eight students in a tutor group, with a group in the first, second and third year. It is policy for the personal tutors to see their students at least once a term, either as a group or individually, and students are encouraged to visit their personal tutor to discuss any difficulties. Tutorial opportunities, however, tend to be attended by students who are proactive in their learning. The course team have a flexible approach to teaching and adapt to their students’ needs where possible, for example, having lectures from 10am to accommodate students with children or who travel a long way to university. Most lecturers prioritise their availability to students over institutional pressure to reduce contact hours: Where there’s a sort of a push for us to actually draw back on the quantity of teaching hours and the availability of us, I think we’ve fought against that to keep the retention rate as good as it is because I think there’s a real feel that we’re actually wanted to be pushed down the research route, down other routes, you know, of getting bids in etc., and actually withdraw from that sort of impact on the students. Even if personal tutors are unavailable to meet face-to-face with a student, e-mail communication is strongly encouraged and responded to quickly by staff. The administration team also form supportive relationships with the students and are available to help with queries. Course documents, such as the course handbook, are given to students on a data stick and can also be accessed on myBU. Online resources have proven useful for students living at home or at a distance from the university, with one lecturer commenting: They do seem to appreciate it and they just seemed to accept it’s all online. It’s become their world, and it’s useful for when they need it without having to go to the library. The Practice Learning units are the only exception where hard copies, as well as electronic versions, are given to students. For these particular units it is easier for students to flick through a hard copy as they constantly need to refer to information in their unit guides. Students are given the course handbook, School handbook and timetable before they arrive. The lecturers believe that their good relationship with the students stems from mutual respect and is about hearing what the students are saying, listening and responding, modelling social work values, and valuing diversity. The lecturers place importance on modelling anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice and like to be ‘real and honest with the students’. Students are likewise expected to show respect, including e-mailing lecturers if they are unable to attend a session. Good communication was considered by one lecturer to be part of the transition to becoming a professional social worker. The lecturers respond well to student feedback from unit evaluations and student reps. The course team also aim to give students balanced feedback on assignments which gives praise as well as highlights areas for improvement or directs them to study support. If students want to discuss their written feedback they can e-mail their tutor to make an appointment. The course team make effort to get to know the students individually which is helped by the small cohort size. Even if a lecturer doesn’t know the whole cohort by name, each student will be known as an individual by their personal tutor: I think partly it’s because it’s a small cohort because we’re looking usually at between 50 and 60 students in a cohort so we know them all, you know, if I’m teaching I will get to know over a term pretty much all the names of those. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 10
  12. 12. I think we value their experience and their contribution to the course as well. We don’t sort of say because you’ve not got much experience it’s not as valuable…but we do know them individually, so there is a real sense of identity on the programme and I think that’s important. This sense of individual identity has helped students to gain a strong sense of belonging to the course and, as a result, some lecturers feel that the students have created more of an affiliation with the course than the university as a whole. Whilst the majority of the course team enjoy getting to know the students and welcome the close, professional relationship that develops with them, others prefer a distance to remain between academics and students: We do encourage quite an open door policy…we are role models and we should mirror the codes of practice, the GSCC codes of practice…We have to respect them [students] and value them. It goes back to the humanistic values. Those interviewed feel strongly that positive relationships are really important for learning and believe it is possible to ‘communicate with people on a personal level or on a less formal level without losing respect’. Support from friends/peers The lecturers emphasised the importance of developing peer support on the course and facilitate plenty of opportunities for students to make friends. During induction week students take part in ice-breaker activities and are generally encouraged to speak to as many different people as possible. Group work in particular is used to enhance the students’ sense of belonging which helps to ease any initial feelings students have of being ‘anxious’, ‘way out of their league’, or a ‘fraud’ if they are the first person to go to university in their family: Within a day of freshers’ week [those feelings] had gone because they felt part of that group and were hearing other people feeling exactly the same so it had a big impact on that but that’s developed through the first year as well. I don’t think very many have stayed in those groups, those friendship groups. This quote also highlights how opportunities for friendship development are crucial throughout the first year, not only during induction. Group work is the main way in which the course team get students to mix after induction. Students are allocated into different groups for different units which enables them to work with different people from the cohort, not only their tutor group. Incorporating lots of group work on the course leads to a ‘huge amount of peer support’ which the lecturers confirm as ‘fundamental’ for the course. Because of the nature of social work, and you’re learning a lot about yourself, I think they have to become a very trusting, developing group as a whole. You are sharing personal experiences. The students are encouraged to help and learn from each other as opposed to becoming very individual and competitive. The lecturers feel that the cohesion of the group is a really integral part of the learning process as ‘people feel safe enough to trust each other to contribute’. To support group work in practical terms, a room was built especially for the course which allows flexible seating for discussions and interaction instead of rows of lecture theatre seating. This change has had a big impact on teaching. The course attracts a diverse range of students which is valued by peers and the course team. The majority of students are female and there are also a small number of international students on the course who tend to seek support from each other, particularly if they have a shared language. Most students on the course are over 25 and have established lives HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 11
  13. 13. outside of the course, including friends, family and partners, and the university experience is very different for them with regard to socialising. Younger students living in halls tend to become more engaged in the social aspect of university life than others. However, this does not prevent friendships from forming: You definitely get all these sort of little sub-groups that often are according to…age or culture but then because they’re kind of put into lots of different groups their…friendship circle widens. Interestingly, the lecturers sometimes see roles forming among the students, with the mature students adopting a maternal role in their relationship with younger peers, and younger students looking to the mature students for guidance. The course team encourage the students to mix together, however, it is the younger students, if any, who tend to feel more isolated. One lecturer explained that younger students sometimes underestimate the amount of experience they have gained prior to university and believe they lack experience in comparison to mature students on the course. The course team want students to learn from each other’s different experiences or skills: The younger students, they’re academically more able in terms of formulating assignments etc. but then they have less experience, so it sort of complements each other, so we really try to draw that…learning out together and as a group, that everyone has something to offer, so…I think we draw on both experiential learning and academic learning. Students are, therefore, encouraged to value the diversity of the group and enhance their learning in the process. Another way in which the course team promotes the development of peer support is by providing opportunities for different year groups to interact with each other. As well as inviting current students to talk to prospective students on interview day, second years are invited to talk to students at the end of their first year to tell them what to expect in year 2 and about their experience of different placements. Third year students also meet second years to talk about their experience of the final year of the course. The lecturers said that the students liked the support they gained from each other through this method and found it really helpful. By encouraging such contact between year groups the course team hoped that students would get to know each other and feel comfortable asking questions if they saw each other around campus or in the library: We’re enabling the introductions but then the informal mentoring just sort of happens. A mentoring scheme is also used on the course where volunteers from the second and third year are allocated to first year students as mentors. The scheme was really well evaluated by the students but not used to a great extent – the students just liked knowing someone was there to talk to if needed. Fitting in/belonging There was mixed opinion about whether students engage in Student Union activities or feel that they belong to the university as a whole, particularly as the social work course is not based at the main university campus (Talbot Campus). Some lecturers believed that the students engage in RAG week and the parties on offer through the students’ union, and participate in the university sports teams. Students on the course who live in halls and have contact with other students across the university were considered more likely to engage in other aspects of university life and visit Talbot Campus than mature students in the cohort. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 12
  14. 14. Some lecturers, for example, felt that the students’ union was focused on alcohol, clubs and pubs and did not cater for older people: A lot of the older students will comment, certainly in freshers week, that…they’re all assumed to be 18, and they’re not. So they may develop their own social life and sort of go out in town quite a lot with each other but very few of them will get involved in the union type arranged stuff because they just don’t feel that it’s targeted at them. The younger tend to engage more with the university itself, so living in accommodation, hanging out together. The mature students have got families and jobs and they just don’t have time to engage with the broader aspect of the university. But I do think they feel they belong to Bournemouth University. I do get that sense that they are quite proud to be at Bournemouth. However, other lecturers believed that all students on the course had limited involvement in the social side of university life due to the structure of the course and campus location. In this respect, even younger students in halls were thought to be affected by the demands of the course and expected commitment: I think some of the students who live in halls have quite a tough time because ours is a very demanding course. So they’ve got their friends who are going out and partying til all hours and then they’re having to work because it’s a huge demand on their time because we don’t have exams, it’s all assignment based at the moment, so their assignment schedule is really full. I’m not sure how they feel part of the university. Some do, some don’t. I actually think the way the course is prevents our students from engaging in aspects of the university quite a lot…we’re at Lansdowne and the main identity of the students of the university I think is at Talbot, so they don’t’ feel part of a campus. Very few engage in sports activities and things and part of that is because of the amount of days they have to be in here. The lecturers have not heard students mention that they feel divided from the university due to their campus location and, although staff feel that Lansdowne Campus is the ‘poor relation’ of Talbot Campus, it was recognised that improvements made to the campus in recent years have given a better impression to new students. With regard to facilities, one lecturer stated that the course lacked a common room where all social work students could mix and have their own identity. The course team acknowledged that they do not do a lot to engage students in the university as a whole and one lecturer admitted having ‘no sense of corporate identity at all’. The lecturers do, however, give students the Friday off during freshers week to absorb information and engage in the freshers fair should they wish. Students were said to increase their sense of belonging at BU more so by volunteering to be reps for the course or the School. Whilst the students may not have a close connection to the university, they do have a ‘huge identity on the course’. The students on the social work course arrange their own socials which most students feel welcome to participate in: They’re always interacting with each other and they organise all sorts of things as a group. I mean our current first years, we’ve got 15 of them that are all going to Spain for a long weekend next week or the week after that they’ve arranged and I know they go to…a dance thing across the road…A load of them do that on a Tuesday lunchtime or something. The close group bond has also helped to provide an effective learning environment for the students and contributed to the development of their identity as a social worker: We do a lot of sort of trust building and also about confidentiality, about respect and diversity and cultural issues so I think that’s embedded very early on and I think because of that I think HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 13
  15. 15. they do build a sort of quite a strong group when they’re together. They’ve really clearly got an identity of being social workers. To support such feelings of belonging on the course and identity formation, the lecturers put effort into developing peer support from induction. Life outside of studies If students experience problems with accommodation or finance, the lecturers are happy to signpost them to AskBU which they regard as a ‘one stop place’ for such issues. Students are also directed to the students’ union services if appropriate. Students more likely to doubt Students most at risk of having doubts on the course were mainly identified as those who have issues that are external to the course, for example, a problem at home, or those who realise that social work is not for them. As the course requires a lot of commitment from students, if students are unable to manage their problems with the support on offer and with extensions on work, the lecturers said they are at risk of withdrawing. A key time for students to doubt on the social work course is at the beginning of the second year when they begin their 80 day placement. Some are shocked by the reality of what social work really entails and may feel isolated or out of their depth without the support of their peers around them. One lecturer commented that two students from one cohort withdrew as a result of the 100 day placement used in the old course structure. The new twenty day placement in the first year intends to give students a taste of social work before entering the second year and highlights how the course team constantly aim to improve the course experience for students. The first year tutor plays a pivotal role in supporting students who experience doubts. Having an overview of all students in the cohort enables the first year tutor to track the progress of students and flag up those who may be struggling, failing, not attending or not pulling their weight in group tasks. Both the first year tutor and personal tutors ‘would bend over backwards to help somebody stay’ and would talk to someone who is having doubts as part of the personal tutor process. Staff signpost students to various support services, including counselling for outside issues that are affecting their commitment to the course, and the team are flexible in terms of taking action to help students manage situations, for example, giving extensions or considering mitigating circumstances at Exam Boards. To identify students at risk of withdrawing, attendance is monitored and registers are taken at each session. The lecturers stated that although they cannot fail anyone for non- attendance, it does help them to identify non-attendees so that they can talk to them, find out why it is happening and implement appropriate support structures where necessary. Whilst the course team respect that the students are ‘adult learners’, they feel strongly about the students’ commitment to attending sessions. Attendance monitoring is not stipulated by the GSCC and this is considered a weakness by some of the lecturers interviewed who compared it to the nursing profession where student nurses must attend at least 80% of their taught sessions. The importance of missing vital knowledge was highlighted: It’s a bit like, you know, would you want a nurse giving you an injection if they missed that part of their training?! It’s a bit like a social worker in a child protection unit [who has] been to no lectures…your understanding is going to be limited. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 14
  16. 16. We had one student who didn’t attend any of the child protection lectures and I’m thinking how can you become a social worker in a generic setting and not have attended child protection? However, despite the lack of attendance requirements from the GSCC, the social work team have ensured that attendance and participation is part of the Intended Learning Objectives for some units. In particular students have to attend communication workshops which are assessed. Whilst the social work course achieves high progression figures, it is interesting to note that retaining all students is not the main priority due to the lecturers’ professional obligations. Students must meet professional standards as well as academic standards and the course team should not encourage students to stay who they feel are not fit for practice: We wouldn’t encourage someone to stay that doesn’t want to stay and partly that’s because we see ourselves as gate keepers to the profession as well… so it isn’t actually our aim to get everyone that starts in the first year to qualification because [for] some of them it’s just not right…[for] some people that leave it’s the right decision. Social work isn’t for them, or it’s not for them now…so we’d actually support them in that decision and look at ways that whatever they’ve done here isn’t wasted…because for some people it just isn’t right and…they don’t know that until…they go out on placement. Because it is also a professional qualification we won’t hope to keep people who we don’t see as appropriate… sometimes we pick up real issues in terms of their placement ability, their contact with service users. Ultimately service users will be affected by the social workers who qualify from the course, therefore the course team have a professional responsibility to ensure that students do not continue down the social work route if, for whatever reason, they do not consider them to be suitable. Determination and internal factors The course team claimed that they do not tend to get students who have doubts arising from a lack of motivation. The students who enrol on the course want to become social workers and have a very strong level of motivation to achieve that goal. Future goals Practice placements are the main way in which the course prepares students for their future goal of becoming a social worker. In the first year, students engage in a twenty day placement which is preceded by a unit that explores personal and professional development. At the end of the first year, lecturers talk to the students about the 2nd year placement objectives and the staff ensure that students are kept well informed of the future of social work, in particular changes to government policy that may affect the services that the students will become a part of as social workers. Although most input on CVs and preparation for interviews takes place in the final year of the course, the team do organise a careers day during the first year where local employers are invited in to talk to the students, such as senior managers, about the future of social work, what it’s going to be like for the students and where they want to go next. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 15
  17. 17. Examples of practice and evaluation Course related factors and adapting to the course Academic transition • Induction activity – quiz about the course staff. A quiz with a prize where the students have get to know the staff, for example, which member of staff rides a motorbike or teaches the law unit. • Induction activity – student ice breaker. A game where students answer a list of facts about themselves and have to find others in the group who share the same detail, for example, finding someone who has the same size feet as them and listing their name. • Induction activity – conversation exercise. Simply asking students to tell someone about the most recent book they have read and to keep going around the room until they have spoken to everyone in the group. • Stepping Stones 2HE – poster presentation. Students are asked to gather information on a particular topic prior to starting university. During induction week students are asked to work in groups to prepare a poster on the topic that they will present to the rest of the cohort. • Incorporating a day off for students at the end of an intensive induction week so that students can absorb information and avoid feeling overwhelmed. It also allows students to engage in the Freshers Fair should they wish to get involved. • Personal and Academic Development unit – a module which addresses the development of academic skills for students such as referencing and academic writing. Spread throughout the first year of the course. • Learning to Learn week – an alternative approach to introducing academic skills to students in one week at the start of the first year as opposed to looking at different academic skills throughout the year. Coping with coursework • Formative assignment and feedback in the first few weeks of the term. The grade does not count towards the student’s final degree but provides a safe opportunity to produce a first piece of work at university level. Personal tutors go through feedback with the students during a tutorial. • Mentoring scheme for students who feel they are from a minority group, including race, gender, disability and sexuality. The mentor provides an additional contact for students to confide in who is external to the university and outside of the assessment process. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 16
  18. 18. Choice of course • Current students are involved on interview day to answer students’ questions and tell them how it really is. • Students are interviewed for the course so that the panel can gain a sense of candidates’ personal values and how proactive they are as a learner. Candidates must also have gained experience in a social care setting or have personal experience of caring for someone. Making taught sessions interesting • Applying knowledge to real life social work cases in engaging ways – examining newspaper reports and other media sources; inviting service users and carers in to talk about their experience of working with social workers. • Arranging visits to the courts to enhance learning about social work law. Plans for improvement • Staff plan to terminate placements quicker in future if they feel a student’s behaviour, attitude or ability is not meeting the standards required by the course, GSCC and service users. Relationship with staff – staff/student relations • All students have an allocated personal tutor. • Creating a first year tutor role – a member of staff who has an overview of all students in the cohort and can help to detect students who may be struggling or at risk of having doubts. • Flexibility – starting most lectures at 10am to accommodate students with children or who travel a long distance to university. • Responding to student feedback from unit evaluations. Support from friends/peers • Student mentors given to first year students (not PAL). The mentors are volunteers from the second and third year. • Group work encouraged during induction and throughout the course. • Interaction between different year groups on the course – second years are invited to talk to students at the end of the first year about what to expect when they start year 2. Final year students also meet second year students to answer questions about year 3. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 17
  19. 19. Fitting in/belonging • Providing a space for students on the course to socialise e.g. a common room. • Becoming course rep or School rep may increase a student’s sense of belonging. Life outside of studies • If students experience problems outside of the course, for example, accommodation or financial difficulties, students are directed to AskBU, the student’s union and various other services in the university. Students more likely to doubt • Registers are used to monitor attendance at each session to help the lecturers identify students who are not attending and implement support if necessary. Future goals • Organising a careers day and inviting local employers to talk to the students. Summary For the BA (Hons) Social Work course, the support, commitment and availability of staff is considered key to student retention. With support in the form of personal tutors and a first year tutor, students have a number of options for accessing support for both their academic and pastoral needs. Much emphasis is placed on the development of peer support, and interaction between different year groups is encouraged where possible. The strong group bond that develops on the course increases the students’ sense of belonging and helps to enhance the learning experience, as students feel comfortable sharing their views and experiences with one another. A rigorous selection process that allows the right students to be recruited to the course is also believed to contribute to the number of students who progress to year 2. By interviewing students to gain an understanding of their values and motivation as learners, it is hoped that the course team can invest in students most suitable for becoming social workers. It was interesting to note that retaining all students is not the main aim of the social work programme – students have to meet professional standards as well academic standards and should not be encouraged to stay if the lecturers feel are not fit for practice. SECTION 3 Student View This section presents the views obtained from first year students enrolled on BA (Hons) Social Work for 09/10. A link to the online survey was given to students via an e-mail from the first year tutor and 17 first year students completed the survey for the project (37% HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 18
  20. 20. response rate). The two student reps for the course also encouraged their peers to participate. Students were asked to rate different aspects of their course using a Likert scale and a number of qualitative questions were included on students’ feelings about their first year experience. Following a summary of the survey results, practical examples that enhanced the student experience are listed. Care needs to be taken when interpreting the results due to the small sample size. Responses to the quantitative survey questions are as follows: 1. How interesting the students found their course 94.1% found the course interesting 5.9% found it moderately interesting 2. How valued the students feel by staff 64.7% of students felt valued 35.3% felt moderately valued by staff 3. Belonging – feeling part of the university 64.7% of students felt part of the university 35.3% did not feel part of the university 4. Friendliness of the students on their course 81.25% said the students were very friendly on their course 12.5% stated that students were moderately friendly 6.25% felt students on the course were not friendly 88.2% had made good friends on their course 11.8% had not made any good friends 5. Doubts in the first year 84.2% had never considered withdrawing in their first year 17.6% had considered leaving but decided to stay 0% had considered leaving and had not yet made up their mind whether to stay or go 6. Confidence in coping with their coursework 64.7% of students felt confident that they could cope with their coursework 35.3% felt moderately confident 0% did not feel confident at all In comparison to when the students first started the course: 62.5% felt more confident now that they could cope with their coursework 31.3% felt about the same 6.3% felt less confident than they did at the start of the course 7. Differences between learning at university and previous learning HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 19
  21. 21. 76.5% of students understand how learning at university is different from their previous learning 23.5% do not understand the differences 8. Future goals 100% of students said that the course is helping them to achieve their future goals The analysis which follows is based on the students’ responses to the qualitative questions in the survey and the points below are overall aspects of the course that the students liked best: • The curriculum subjects for the programme • Group learning • Lecturers’ teaching styles – staff who are passionate about their subject • Support from personal tutors • The practical element • Not having exams • Availability of extra resources • The opportunity to talk to service users and carers Course related factors and adapting to the course Academic transition The majority of the students (76.5%) implied that they understand how learning at university is different from their previous learning. They claimed that more independent learning and research is required at university, subjects are looked at in more depth and a lot of reading and research is required away from lectures. The students also found differences in planning and structuring their writing for essays: The whole atmosphere is different…there is a lot more responsibility on us and there are a lot more expectations when it comes to the presentation of assignments. Completing the first assignment in particular helped them to understand the differences between learning at university and their previous learning which reflects the lecturers’ view that the formative assignment set in the first few weeks of term is a valuable exercise for the students. Those students who declared that they did not understand the differences did still highlight that a lot of reading and reflecting is involved at university and that ‘you get out of [the learning experience] what you put into it’. Coping with coursework All of the students reported that they feel confident in coping with their coursework, although some felt less confident at the start of the course. Some found it overwhelming at the beginning but got themselves back on track once they had settled into the course or learnt how to manage their time. Support from tutors and help available on myBU was also highly rated: HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 20
  22. 22. This course has excellent tutors that will go extra miles to help us. My course really encourages me to keep on trying to go through each level and give me lots of support when I need it. The students liked the fact that there are no exams on the course and felt more confident about their ability when they passed assignments, achieved good marks and received positive feedback from the lecturers. The following factors helped one student gain confidence in coping with their coursework: Completing several assignments and having positive feedback and encouragement about how I am doing. One student, however, suggested that the timing of coursework could be improved. The student explained that six assignments were completed in the first term and less throughout the rest of the year. They would prefer to have assignments spread over the whole year to make settling into the course easier, ‘as starting university is a big thing in itself’. Making the subject interesting All of the students find the subject interesting (94.1% very interesting and 5.9% moderately interesting). They enjoy studying a variety of units, find the course curriculum thought provoking and like the practical and theoretical mix. The students like the relevance of the subjects to social work and relating content to real life cases. They especially valued the opportunity to talk to people who use services and carers as part of the course: The introduction of different perspectives on diversity, hearing direct observations from service user and carers helps to make the theory real. It is interesting meeting people from different backgrounds and in different services that all apply to social work. The respondents appreciate the diversity of the students in the group and the opportunities this provides to learn from each other – ‘I learn about myself and others’. In accordance with the staff perspective, students like to learn from teaching that is engaging and they enjoy learning in different ways. Lectures that are interactive and visual make teaching interesting for the students, as well as staff who are passionate about their subject: The lecturers’ clear passion and commitment to the subject they are teaching is reflected in their lectures. I like the lectures – easy to learn from staff who are passionate about their subject. This view supports the staff opinion that most lecturers on the course are passionate about social work and express enthusiasm in their teaching. As well as commenting on teaching style, the students also conveyed the usefulness of group discussions in lectures. The following elements made the subject interesting for one student: Group discussions, allowing sharing of different viewpoints and theories and the helpfulness of understanding how that person has come to think the way they do, which will help in understanding other people in our profession. The availability of numerous extra resources, such as additional notes from lecturers and database or agency information, also contributed to the learning experience for the students. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 21
  23. 23. Relationship with staff – staff/student relations All of the students feel valued by staff on the course who listen to any problems the students may have, who are willing to help if possible, and who are approachable and understanding. They like tutors who treat them with respect and recognise them as individuals: We are treated as adults and also as colleagues. Students are not treated as a lesser but as an equal. It’s nice when lecturers know you personally by name. They genuinely track and help us with our modules and progression. In terms of communication, the students are kept up-to-date with information from staff and acknowledged that they are always able to make contact with a member of staff if needed, either by e-mail or in person. The availability of staff makes the students feel valued and the support provided by the majority of personal tutors and lecturers was classed as excellent. Support from friends/peers The students felt there were plenty of opportunities to make friends during induction, including working in groups and ice-breaker activities to help them get to know each other: Everybody is in the same boat and you already have a common interest. Group work in the induction week helps and tutor groups also help. Some students, however, found that friendship making was limited at the start due to the structured nature of induction – ‘it all seemed quite forced’; ‘too artificial’. They would have preferred to have been left to their own devices to talk to people during that week or one student suggested ‘an arranged lunch’ as an alternative, informal way of getting to know each other. Another suggestion was organising more course socials and even a day out where the students and course tutors could bond, for example, a team building exercise. Despite the students’ reservations about the ice-breaker tasks, however, they recognised that they have developed into a close, supportive group which implies that the exercises used by the course team have had the desired effect. Opportunities to make friends after induction included activities in lectures, group work, getting together over coffee/lunch, and social events. Group discussions also gave students the ‘opportunity to gravitate towards those with similar views’: I think there have been opportunities when we are placed in groups to work on presentations. I think this is a good idea as if we were asked to choose we wouldn’t get to know other people. One student believed that the only opportunities for making friends after induction were those arranged by the students themselves and not provided by the course. As noted by the lecturers, the students have a strong group identity and arrange many social events together, as opposed to participating in activities organised by the university. Fitting in/belonging As part of the social work programme review for the project, an additional question was added to the online student survey. The lecturers interviewed for the programme review HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 22
  24. 24. were interested in finding out whether the students felt like they belonged to the university as a result of being based at a different campus. There was mixed opinion from the course team about the engagement of students in university activities and a possible campus divide. Six of the students surveyed (35.3%) did not feel part of the university and being located at Lansdowne campus (not the main university campus), was the main factor causing them to feel separated: It is frustrating that having a split university between two campuses makes the smaller site (Lansdowne) feel less important and part of the whole university - especially with all that is on offer at Talbot Campus and the new and extensive facilities they have to offer. I think that’s probably my own fault, just I don’t feel as though I am aware of things that go on within the university, plus most of the stuff that does go on is on Talbot campus. Due to being in Lansdowne I don’t feel within the uni spirit as we are not in the campus. Other aspects contributing to feelings of not belonging included contact time (‘we have not spent too much time at university’), not living locally, and being a mature student. One student who did feel part of the university reflected ‘if I were not in halls this may not be the case’. Another student who lacked a sense of belonging shared the following reasons: Being a mature student, not living locally and not being on the main campus makes being part of the university really difficult. This provides an alternative perspective to one of the lecturer’s views that younger students tend to feel more isolated on the course. For the younger students, a lack of previous experience appears to generate feelings of isolation whereas the mature students feel more isolated from the social university experience. Those students who did feel part of the university believed that good communication has helped. The students are kept up-to-date about what is happening at the university via myBU and e-mails from the students’ union keep students informed of events. One respondent remarked that such communication ‘makes us feel involved and aware of what is happening at uni’. It was also clear from the survey that course socials make the students feel like they belong and this connection appears to be stronger than the students’ connection to the university: I only feel part of the social work group. This evidence also reflects the staff perception that the students have a stronger identity and sense of belonging on the course than with the university. Students more likely to doubt Of the seventeen students who completed the survey, three students (17.6%) had considered leaving but decided to stay. The main reasons causing these students to have doubts were external to the course, for example, one student was considering a different career as a child psychologist and another stated that they had considered leaving due to: The amount of work and study combined with a very busy home life and the pressure it was having on my life. Aspects about the course that made the students stay were mainly focused on determination and personal motivation. The students wanted to finish the course and gain a degree, with one student expressing that their decision was influenced by ‘my belief in myself’. ‘Course HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 23
  25. 25. mates’ and the subjects being studied also helped them overcome doubts. Outside of the course, their family was the main factor that encouraged them to stay, as well as friends and taking control of external commitments, such as getting more help to run the family home or reducing their involvement in other commitments. Future goals 100% of the students said that the course is helping them to achieve their future goals. This reflects staff comments that those students who want to become social workers are highly motivated and are certain that they want to follow that career path before accepting a place at university. The course is helping their future by giving them access to a degree and professional qualification, and empowering them with knowledge to achieve their goals: I am starting to believe that I can become a social worker. To understand myself better, to have an achievement and to become a social worker in a field yet to be chosen. By doing this course and understanding it, it will provide me with knowledge to become a professional social worker. Social work is a rewarding and stable career and my future goal is to have a rewarding stable job. The students felt that the course was also helping their future goals by guiding them, providing hands on learning, and assisting the development of invaluable social skills. Practical examples that enhance the student experience Course related factors and adapting to the course Academic transition • Completing the first assignment for the course helped the students to understand the differences between learning at university and previous learning. This may relate to the formative piece of work set by the course team in the first few weeks of the term which does not count towards the students’ final degree but provides a safe opportunity for the students to submit a piece of work and receive constructive feedback. Coping with coursework • Spreading assignments out over the year so that starting university and settling in is made easier. • Receiving constructive assignment feedback from lecturers. Making the subject interesting • Relating course content to real life, including the opportunity to talk to service users and carers about their experiences. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 24
  26. 26. • Interactive sessions with opportunities for group discussion. Relationship with staff – staff/student relations • Students feel valued by staff who listen to them and respect them as individuals – e.g. learning the names of students. • Keeping students up-to-date with information via e-mail, myBU, course documents or in person. Support from friends/peers • Arranging more course socials for the students – e.g. an arranged lunch during induction week to get to know other people. • Organising a day out with students from the course and tutors e.g. a team building exercise. Fitting in/belonging • Good communication from the university and student’s union of events helps students to feel involved and aware of what’s happening. • Some students feel separated from the university experience because they are based on a different campus to where the student’s union is based. Could the university make more links between its campuses? Students more likely to doubt • Some students who experienced doubts stayed at university due to the influence and support of their friends. Opportunities for friendship development can therefore be essential to retaining students. Summary Having engaging lecturers has enhanced the course experience for the students. The students enjoy learning with lecturers who are passionate about their subject and who relate theory to real life case studies. They have particularly valued hearing about the experiences and views of people who use services and carers. Students on the course appreciate the support available to them from personal tutors and the effort made by staff to recognise them as individuals. Positive feedback on assignments from lecturers has helped the students to gain confidence in their coursework and increase their belief in themselves to achieve their goals. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 25
  27. 27. Whilst a minority of students disliked the ice breaker activities used, most students acknowledged that they had made good friends on the course, particularly through opportunities for group work. Although some students did not feel part of the university spirit due to the campus location, the students appeared to develop a strong connection to their cohort. SECTION 4 Document analysis For each programme reviewed as part of the HERE! project, a selection of course documents were also analysed where possible to gain further understanding of how course teams enhance the student experience. Particular attention was paid to language style and clarity; the format of documents (online, CD Rom, hard copies); when documents are distributed; and information content e.g. details of academic services, library support, IT support. Course marketing The course team participate in open days and have maintained a one hour talk to prospective students/parents as opposed to half an hour. Course expectations are made clear to students during on both open days and as part of the interview process. Pre-course information Students have access to Stepping Stones 2HE once they have accepted their place on the social work programme. Students are asked to prepare for a poster task that they will work on in groups during freshers week. Induction Looked at sample Social Work Freshers schedule used in 2008: Monday – welcome to programme; ‘hopes and fears’, ‘being in a student group’, orientation hunt and meet the team. Tuesday – AskBU, admin matters, poster presentation planning, library and IT, and question time. Wednesday – enrolment, introduction to personal tutors, mentoring scheme available, group tutorials and poster presentation planning. Thursday – poster presentations, formative assignment, choosing course reps and evaluation of the week. Friday – free day to engage in Freshers Fair HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 26
  28. 28. Course handbook Explains practice learning requirements throughout the course and requirements for meeting the professional regulations of General Social Care Council (GSCC). Same course handbook used for two courses under the framework (social and community studies framework) – BA (Hons) Social Work and BA (Hons) Community Development. Explains personal tutor system and lists all staff contacts for the team. Contains programme information, aims and outcomes. Programme structure presented as table/diagram. Assessment regulations included. ‘Whistle blowing’ policies and procedures for students who encounter problems whilst on practice. Section on student learning experience, academic support and also student responsibilities e.g. having mobile switched off in lectures, arriving on time for lectures. Section on support offered by AskBU, also ALN support. Student rep system explained. The handbook is given to students on a data stick. First assignment details/assignment schedule Not seen example assignment or assessment schedule. A formative assignment is given to students in the first few weeks of the term to support their academic transition. Written assignments and presentations are used to assess students on the course – no exams. Other: Practice Learning Handbook for Level C Unit/Level C guide Contains information about the readiness for practice and practice learning units. Hard copy given to students and also online via myBU. Includes dates for terms 2 and 3, such as lectures, skills workshops, dates for shadowing/practice. References made to GSCC requirements and National Occupational Standards for Social Work that the students must meet. Bursaries from GSCC for travel to placements explained. Refers to AskBU if need further financial support/advice. Explains assessment process, group presentation expected and practice log. Explains roles and responsibilities of the students, community facilitator, personal tutor and unit tutor throughout the practice placement. Appendices include a statement of expectations about student social workers from service users and carers, National Occupational Standards, forms to be completed before and during placement. Again, methods of support emphasised – personal tutors, mentors, AskBU. Description of all 6 first year units including aims, assessment and recommended reading/resources. SECTION 5: Overall summary and key conclusions HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 27
  29. 29. It is clear from this programme review that a number of factors are associated with the high retention rates of the BA (Hons) Social Work course at BU and the positive first year student experience. Good support mechanisms are in place, including personal tutors and the first year tutor role, and students are directed to other services across the university, such as AskBU, academic services and the School’s Student Support Tutor, where appropriate. The development of peer support and interaction across different year groups of the course is strongly encouraged and open days and student interviews are invested in by the team to recruit the most suitable students to the course. Similarities between the student and staff views occurred in relation to contact with lecturers. Information is clearly communicated to the group via the course team or course documentation, and an open door policy is appreciated by the students who feel able to approach the lecturers with any difficulties. The students like the effort made by staff to get to know them as individuals and report that they engage in learning more when they have lecturers who are passionate about what they are teaching. The lecturers likewise highlighted the importance of getting the right people to teach the students – those who adopt an enthusiastic, interactive teaching style. Group work during induction week was considered important by both students and staff as a good opportunity for making friends and developing a group bond. Such relationship building was the main aim of the first week. Where the student and staff perspectives tended to differ was in terms of feelings of belonging to the university. There was mixed opinion from the lecturers as to whether the campus location had an impact on the students’ sense of belonging. Whilst most students felt part of the university, it was evident that the students’ connection with the course was stronger than their connection to the institution. Whilst some lecturers believed younger students were at risk of feeling isolated due to a lack of experience in comparison to older people on the course, mature students revealed feelings of isolation in relation to the social aspect of the university experience. In the future, the course team’s main aim is to continue delivering a good service to students amidst institutional change. The student experience remains at the top of the agenda for the team and some staff express concerns about the tensions between engaging in research and enterprise activities at the expense of their students. This commitment to put students at the forefront has resulted in a positive evaluation of the course from its students who are enjoying the experience offered to them. HERE! Project – BU Case Study 3 – BA (Hons) Social Work 28
  30. 30. The HERE Project: Strand 2 Research into programmes with better than peer rates of retention Guide for staff participants Research Purpose The HERE project is a 3 year research project funded by HEFCE/ PHF as part of the “What Works? Student Retention & Success” programme of work. We are interested in student retention, but unlike most studies we are primarily investigating why students stay rather than why they leave. The work has two strands: students with doubts who stay and those actions programmes can take to better support retention. Our aim is to find out what works in your programme to support retention and help first year students to stay at university. We are primarily looking for good practice and, whilst we will seek to be rigorous, we are looking for examples of good practice, not flaws and weaknesses. Research Design The focus of our research is to find out what works best in your programme to support retention. We have applied the principles of the Appreciative Inquiry approach in order to do this. Appreciative Inquiry “…focuses on identifying and developing what works in an organisation rather than trying to fix what doesn’t” (Dovestone and Keenaghan, 2006, p5). We will ask you about what you do best in your programme to support students to stay. We would then like to ask you about specific areas that we have found (from our strand one research) that appear to support retention. Our strand one research collected feedback from just under 1,000 first year students between March & May 2009. Approximately 1/3 had, at some point, doubted and considered withdrawing from university. Importantly, the reasons for doubting were not the same as the reasons that doubters cited for remaining. For example, the most common reason for doubting related to the course (poor initial choice, dissatisfaction with some aspects of the experience etc.), but the main reason that doubters cited for subsequently remaining were associated with support from friends and family (particularly friends made on the course). We have therefore structured the questions to reflect the need to reduce activities likely to lead to doubting and also to enhance those activities that support students who have doubts. 29
  31. 31. What would we like to find out? We would like to know what you do in your programme to support students with retention. We would like to find out what you actually do (rather than what you would like to do or think would work given more time/resources etc). Where possible we would like to explore actual activities, examples and practices. We would be particularly interested in exploring any research or evaluation that you have carried out into your own practice (formal and/or informal). Anonymity The information that we collect from you will be reported anonymously. A programme, for example, may be referred to as ‘a large programme within the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University’. Individuals will not be identifiable from the information reported. No incentives will be offered to staff for participation in the interview. Participants may withdraw from the project at any time and ask for their data to be destroyed. Data will be stored according to the Data Protection Act 1998. An audio recording of the interview will be made only with permission. This will be stored safely and not made available to those outside the project. Data will be kept for six years after the end of the project in line with current ethical guidelines. After this time, the data will be destroyed. Intended use of the research data The data will be used to report on progress for the “What Works? Student Retention & Success” programme of work. A final report will be produced that makes recommendations (based on evaluation and evidence from all projects within the programme) about how best to support student retention across the sector. The data will also be used to produce academic articles and conference presentations. DOVESTON, Mary and KEENAGHAN, Marian, 2006. Improving classroom dynamics to support students’ learning and social inclusion: a collaborative approach. Support for Learning, 21(1), pp.5-11. 30
  32. 32. Interview Structure The structure below illustrates the areas that we would like to ask you about. We may prompt you for further details, and are happy for you to give us additional information that you feel is relevant. Questions Background information about the programme Can you give us some background information about your programme, common issues, types of students, its particular challenges to retention etc. What works? What is it that your programme does now when it is at its best in terms of retaining students? What is it about your programme that makes this possible? 31
  33. 33. Programme Practice 32
  34. 34. 33 Reducing leaving Increasing staying COURSE RELATED The most common reasons that students who answered our questionnaire gave for having doubts about being at university were course related, for example, wrong choice of course, describing difficulties in making the academic transition to HE and problems with the workload. Students who had had doubts about being at university (doubters) were much less likely to agree with the statement ‘I’m confident that I can cope with my studies’ than non doubters. Could you tell us what you do in your course that you think helps students in these areas? (Academic transition, coping with work, choice of course, problems with the course). SUPPORT FROM FRIENDS & PEERS The most common reason that students gave for why they had decided to stay (after having doubts) was because of ‘friends and family’. Friends were mentioned most often, and students often described friends they had made at university such as ‘seminar buddies’. Can you tell us about the kinds of things that you do that help students get to know each other? RELATIONSHIP/COMMUNICATION WITH STAFF Students that we spoke to in our qualitative research that had not had doubts about being at university all described that they had ‘someone they could talk to’ (be it a lecturer, personal tutor, or so on) about their work if they needed to. Student doubters were also much less likely to agree that they felt valued by teaching staff. Could you tell us about communication between staff and students on your programme (such as written, online, informal etc)? LIFE OUTSIDE OF STUDY The second and third most common reasons that students gave for having doubts about their course were ‘student lifestyle’ (which included problems with accommodation, with other students such as flat mates, feeling unhappy with their social life) and ‘financial problems’. Could you tell us about how you have communicated to students where to go if they had a problem with their finances, accommodation, or problems with other students? ADAPTING TO UNIVERSITY In our focus groups, all students who had never had doubts could describe a time when they felt they belonged to the university, and this was often linked to recognizing faces, or places. More of these students (non doubters) described taking part of the social life of the university (student union, student ambassador) than student doubters. Can you tell us what you do to help students feel part of the university? ADAPTING TO THE COURSE Students described adapting to the course, getting to know the staff, starting to enjoy the subject and course as reasons for staying after having doubts. Can you talk about what you do to facilitate adapting to the course? STUDENTS MORE LIKELY TO DOUBT DETERMINATION AND INTERNAL FACTORS
  35. 35. Closing questions Can you summarise why you think your retention rate is as good as it is and what it is you do best? What have you plans to improve on? It would be extremely beneficial if we were able to survey some of your students, may we do so? As this is a pilot study for further research, could you also tell us if there any questions that we haven’t asked that you think would be useful? We are happy to share our findings with you. Is this something you are interested in? We could, for example, facilitate a workshop about the project, forward presentations, academic articles etc. Thank you very much for taking part in this research. Contacts NTU Ed Foster Sarah Lawther Bournemouth Chris Keenan Natalie Bates Bradford 34
  36. 36. Rebecca Currant Ruth Lefever 35