From January to March 2021, we tried out some of our first-year Problems and Methods modules with two groups of 25 student beta-testers. Each five-week Sprint programme was followed by a `hackathon’ event in which students had two days to design their own evaluation, collect and analyse data, and present their findings to the team. To make it more varied, each student group was given a different focus for their evaluation – one exploring questions around student support, another focusing on questions that reflected the values of the Marketing and Recruitment team, another on academic aspects, and so on.
Through the two Sprints, we learned a huge amount about what’s working well and how to make the course even better. Some of the key themes were as follows:
– More time to process and integrate disciplinary learning. Across both Sprints, students called for dedicated time to integrate the learning from different disciplines and link it to the problem statement. As a result, we’ve introduced an ‘Integration Week’ after every set of deep dives, with specific guidance on making connections.
– Simplifying the assessment strategy. In response to Sprinters’ feedback, we’ve reduced the overall number of assessments and allowed more time for those that will count towards students’ final degree mark. We’re also improving our guidelines around the maximum length of assessments and making sure expectations are clear for students.
– Support for quantitative methods. Due to time constraints and variations in prior knowledge, some Sprinters found it challenging to achieve the learning outcomes in the Statistics and Coding sections of the course. We’re addressing this by increasing the time allocated to these methods and introducing a weekly ‘Quant Café’ session where students can get one-to-one or small group support.
As several Sprinters had a strong interest in tackling complex problems like climate change and biodiversity, we also held a live workshop on Zoom that focused on the second of our Problem-Based Learning modules. This module will be timetabled in early 2022 and tackles the problem of ‘mind shifts for sustainability’ – convincing people to change the ways they think. Based on participants’ feedback on a draft version, we reorganised the module so that all students will have the opportunity to explore the theme of Co-Creativity through practical activities. We also firmed up the idea of peer learning through reading groups: Small groups of 5-6 students will get together to talk about a book or other text that they’ve all been reading, and then join up with other groups to share their insights and make connections between their different disciplines.
Participants also came up with exciting ideas for fieldwork trips, practical activities, experiential learning, and guest lectures. I can’t give too much away at this point because we’re still in conversation with the relevant external organisations, but we’re committed to making sure that all students can do some outdoor learning in a woodland setting and contribute to a policy brief for a real organisation.