Inspire - a Teaching Fellows' newsletter

A quarterly publication on the contemporary issues influencing teaching and learning.

Top tips from the Learning Enhancement Team

The Learning Enhancement Team works with students across the University on Academic Writing and Language skills and on Maths, Statistics and Numeracy development.  This involves lectures, seminars and considerable one-to-one support on all aspects of study and the higher education experience.  We asked the team what top tips they had for helping students to ‘flourish’ with no further definition of what this might mean to them as individuals.  What arose from the responses was very interesting as there appeared to be two common themes….

The top tips we gathered focused strongly on helping students to appreciate the nature of learning and to not fear or buckle under the weight of challenge, while others focused very much on getting students actively engaged in lectures or seminars.

Top tips for managing challenges
  1. It is a good idea for us as lecturers to use our own stories of struggling to learn.  Hearing that even the lecturers have had to work through not understanding helps students to realise that struggle is all part of the process and something to be embraced, not something to be feared or something which defines our potential.
  2. I often talk about the lie that all academic research is apparently super-organised and orderly.  In fact for many (all?) of us it's a process of chaos, and of gradually putting selected bits of that chaos in some kind of order.  This is not to say that having a well-thought-through method, and a systematic way of gathering and processing data are unimportant or uncommon...far from it. It is intended as an acknowledgement that despite these systems, things are often chaotic. It is also intended as a reassurance that students who experience the chaos are not alone; and that if they keep at it, one or other kind of order is attainable.
  3. I like to remind / reassure students that it’s perfectly normal & natural to find studying at university difficult, and that it’s more a reflection of the level they’re working at and less a reflection on them as people.
Top tips for active engagement
  1. Get the students talking to each other during lectures/seminars. They cognitively engage with material much more and it allows us time to eavesdrop and pick up on misunderstandings or, indeed, excellent examples around the room. We can then feed this back to the class, creating a more personal connection to the topic for them!
  2.  I encourage students to interact by assessing whether they have any existing knowledge of the topic and relating learning to current affairs. I find this enables productive in-class discussions and provides students with the opportunity to get into the spirit of learning in a way that is not so daunting and is much more accessible.
  3. Group work and guided peer review means students feel more validated within their academic community.  With group work students become more responsible for their reading and share unique perspectives on the literature.  With peer review, sharing constructive feedback and improving communication can take this further, as students engage in critical debates which stem from their own work.