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Supporting our students for success

Chris Perkins, Director of Undergraduate Studies, writes about our online student support hub.

How can we support our students through their degrees while providing a sense of place and community?

This is a central question animating discussions at all levels of the University of Edinburgh. Although there are many different answers, one thing is certain: there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Large, diverse Schools, like Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), also present their own set of unique challenges. Over 2,000 undergraduate students, 170+ degree programmes, a compulsory year abroad for the majority of our undergraduate degrees. Subjects ranging from English Literature, to Cinema, to Chinese. Bringing all this together is no easy task!

Photo of coloured threads intertwining
Support for Success pulls together all our key information. Image © iStock [JamesBrey]

Online hub

As incoming Director of Undergraduate Studies at LLC, my inkling was that we needed a hub for all our students. To support them through their degrees, that hub would need to contain key School information, study skills training, details of the Personal Tutor system, careers information, peer support and so on.

And so Support for Success in LLC was born. The idea was simple: pull together the high-level information students need to be successful in our School, put it in one easily accessible place (Learn), and make it painless to interact with.

We decided to use Learn (the University’s primary Virtual Learning Environment) because it’s the way most of our students interact with the University already. Learn instances are always in students’ course lists, so cannot be forgotten about. The platform enables us to communicate with students via announcements, emails, and noticeboards, and we can enrol all of our students to one Learn instance very easily. With a little tweaking, Learn can actually be a rather pleasant place to spend some time.

So what does it look like? The Learn site currently contains seven folders: solutions to common problems; academic skills; getting the most of your assessment and feedback; tools to support learning and research; student support and the PT system; a careers roadmap; and information on peer support. We have also created a list of books on study skills, and included links to Cite Them Right, DiscoverED, the Careers Service and so on. There is a forum for students to make suggestions for the resource, and wherever possible we have made the information multimedia rich (graphics, videos, audio files, etc.).

Benefits and impact

We are already seeing the benefits of this system. Support for Success in LLC can act as a focal point for that all-important first year Personal Tutor meeting. We can use announcements to advertise School events and opportunities (no more emails getting lost). We can also use the site to remind students at key points in the year about the resources available. For example, we know when essays are being handed back, so we can send a message to all students suggesting they look at our assessment and feedback handbook to get the most of their comments. Likewise, we know when exams occur, so we can send students some useful study tips and words of support.

We’ve had over 5,600 hits since Support for Success in LLC went live earlier this semester. Only time will tell whether the resource has the impact we hope it will, but we are already thinking about applications at postgraduate level.

Although virtual, the School now has a voice and a place that unites all our students across all of our degree programmes. And we are perhaps one step further to providing that coherent support and sense of community that is so important to the student experience in large, diverse schools.

This is an edited version of an article originally published in October 2017 on the University of Edinburgh’s Teaching Matters blog.

Read the full version of the article on Teaching Matters

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