RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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371 Communities of/for Learning: Enhancing student engagement in changing HE environments
Affiliation Higher Education Research Group
Convenor(s) David Simm (Bath Spa University, UK)
Alan Marvell (University of Gloucestershire, UK)
Chair(s) David Simm (Bath Spa University, UK)
Alan Marvell (University of Gloucestershire, UK)
Timetable Friday 31 August 2018, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Bute Building - Lecture Theatre 0.14
Session abstract The shifting environment of HE has undoubtedly led to changes in the relationships between students and their learning. The neoliberal agenda, full-fee student fees in the UK, performance league tables, and changes in the (part-time) work-study balance are some of the influences on students’ perceptions of study and expectations of educational experience. Anecdotally, as tutors, we remark that students have become more demanding, more strategic in attendance and assessment, and more insular with the possibly of becoming isolated in their approach to their studies. If this is the case, to what extent is this attributable to external and institutional factors? Or are tutors’ teaching and learning methods now outdated by changes in society, and require a rethink? And, importantly, what are the experiences of students? However, there are many examples of good practice in Geography departments, and this session will examine how students can better engage with their studies. One approach is to create Communities of/for/with Learning.

The idea of Communities of Learning involves encouraging better student engagement through creating a sense of community and identity, with the result that students are more willing to share and co-operate with their studies, contribute more readily to university life, and which could include co-partnership in course design or staff research. The characteristics of a community include identity and belonging, mutual benefit and support, even comradeship based on common or shared experiences. Communities of Learning may take many forms from traditional to new and innovative, formal to informal, from structured to transient, (a)synchronous interaction, and from academic to pastoral. They range from online communities (such as VLE platforms and social networking apps) to tutor or mentor support (peer mentoring, supplementary instruction) to informal self-selecting working groups (study groups or, more formally, group work). Allied to the idea of Learning Communities are Spaces of Learning – this may range from infrastructure of building spaces (Subject posters and information boards or designated study facilities).

Efforts to create Communities of Learning involve the creation of learning and support environments, and adopting appropriate learning and teaching strategies, in order to stimulate Communities for Learning, whereby students take possession and responsibility of their own (and others’) learning. Which teaching and learning strategies encourage a sense of community, and what opportunities and challenges exist? As tutors, can we create learning environments that foster Communities for Learning, and find ways to better support Communities of Learning that evolve, with student partnership, into Communities with Learning?

In considering these aspects, some questions emerge that the conference papers might address:-

• What types and forms of Learning Community exist, and how and why are they changing?
• What does being part of a Learning Community mean? What are the opportunities, benefits and issues for participation?
• What are the needs and experiences of students, and how does the Student Voice influence the development of Learning Communities?
• How can we create effective Learning Communities?
• What can be learned and applied from the Community of Practice approach adopted in research? What can we learn from others in different subjects and/or institutions?
• How do we ensure that our Communities of Learning are effective for learning?
• How can Communities evolve with participation and partnership?
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Communities of/for Learning: Enhancing student engagement in changing HE environments
David Simm (Bath Spa University, UK)
Alan Marvell (University of Gloucestershire, UK)
The shifting environment of HE has undoubtedly led to changes in the relationships between students and their learning. The neoliberal agenda, full-fee student fees in the UK, performance league tables, and changes in the (part-time) work-study balance are some of the influences on students’ perceptions of study and expectations of educational experience. The idea of Communities of Learning involves encouraging better student engagement through creating a sense of community and identity, with the result that students are more willing to share and co-operate with their studies, contribute more readily to university life, and which could include co-partnership in course design or staff research. This introduction will briefly review the opportunities and challenges of creating Communities of/for Learning to enhance student engagement. The paper will review the forms and characteristics of such communities and their relationships to infrastructure of learning spaces. It will also start to examine the efforts to create Communities of Learning which involve the creation of learning and support environments, and adopting appropriate learning and teaching strategies, in order to stimulate Communities for Learning, whereby students take possession and responsibility of their own (and others’) learning. Which teaching and learning strategies encourage a sense of community, and what opportunities and challenges exist? As tutors, can we create learning environments that foster Communities for Learning, and find ways to better support Communities of Learning that evolve, with student partnership, into Communities with Learning?
Partnerships, projects and pedagogies: Enhancing learning communities through the Geography field experience
Suzanne Jenkins (University of South Wales, UK)
Anthony Harris (University of South Wales, UK)
The recent changes and continual dynamism of the higher educational landscape in the UK has challenged traditional pedagogical practice (Healy et al., 2016). The marketization of higher education, the ‘employability’ agenda, alongside a growing student voice has compelled a need for new student-centred learning approaches. This research dissects the centrality of community partnerships in establishing a mutually reciprocal learning landscape. It draws on an undergraduate field course to South Africa at the University of South Wales, exploring place-based regional geographies. The module is underpinned by Fung’s (2015) ‘Connected Curriculum Framework’ of learning through research and enquiry, which consists of three core components: student-led fieldwork planning; securing stakeholder involvement and undertaking the field learning experience. This aims to provide students with autonomy, independence and confidence, transforming the traditional model of facilitation and ‘directed delivery’. The student’s engagement with the module reveals that i) effective research partnerships can be viewed as an ‘enabler’ in garnering deeper pedagogies ii) project planning and delivery went beyond traditional academic parameters iii) a ‘high impact’ learning experience meets the needs of new Geographical learning communities in the dynamic higher education landscape.
Community and partnership initiatives – Developing a strategic approach using the Student Journey Model
Andrew Clegg (University of Chichester, UK)
The focus on learning communities and working in partnership with students is now an integral part of the HE experience. Consequently, there is now a compelling case for adopting a more strategic and student-focused approach to ensure that community initiatives are appropriately planned, embedded and resourced. This paper will demonstrate how the Student Journey Model (SJM) provides an invaluable tool to strategically plan, design and deliver community initiatives at different stages of the student experience. The SJM provides a holistic framework that allows the different perspectives and paradigms surrounding effective community development to be assessed and mapped, alongside a realistic consideration of the challenges and opportunities influencing implementation at a programme, departmental and institutional level. The paper will critique community and partnership development on the Tourism Management degree and within the Business School at the University of Chichester including reference to indicative initiatives that have included: work and takeaway evenings run in conjunction with the Business Society; developing relationships through personal tutoring; and partnership-engagement in marking, assessment and module design. The paper will also illustrate how community thinking has extended into community outreach programmes, and developing strategic relationships with local schools and colleges. It will also address the importance of Alumni-related activities, and that communities of learning do not finish after graduation. The paper will conclude that an innovative and creative approach to developing communities of learning using the SJM affords a notable enhancement for students, as communities based around shared-identity, belonging, mutual support and comradeship evolve.
Laying geographical foundations: Enhancing learning communities through student engagement with online Wikis
Thomas Lambourne (University of South Wales, UK)
Geographers engage in dynamic forms of research, providing insight into contemporary issues that shape people, places and the environment. A challenge for universities and their student’s and academics alike, is often the dissemination and ‘output’ of many of these findings, outside of traditional academic boundaries. Wikis are a product of the new ‘user-friendly’ internet, pages that can be edited in simple interfaces, eradicating the need for knowledge of coding (Anderson, 2012). This paper explores the role of student engagement with an online group ‘Wiki’ assignment, and the impact this has on growing communities of learning. The project sits within the first year ‘A Sustainable Wales’ Human Geography module at the University of South Wales. The module aims to equip students with an awareness of both nationhood and sustainability, whilst also adopting a traditional ‘regional studies’ approach. Students are tasked with developing group Wiki pages exploring and evaluating the centrality of sustainability in given local authorities in Wales. The data was collected from a series of analysis tools on the university’s virtual learning environment (VLE), student interviews and reflections. The paper draws on two distinctive findings, from a learner perspective and as an academic opportunity. Firstly, it finds that the production and dissemination of the work empowers, builds pride and instils responsibility within the cohort. Secondly, the research presents the opportunity to provide a foundation for the wider learning community to enhance, contribute and progress Geographical work.
Piloting 'hybrid delivery': Blending on-campus classes with (a)synchronous provision, incorporating learning communities through a digital learning framework
Robert Whitehouse (University of Gloucestershire, UK)
The introduction discusses the design and implementation of a pilot ‘Hybrid’ undergraduate module, which uses a virtual classroom platform and integrates synchronous contact and bespoke asynchronous material. The pilot aimed to achieve the following: (1) More flexible support for our undergraduate learners; (2) Sustainable and reusable learning artefacts; (3) Live online collaboration to achieve deeper learning through ‘digital discussions’ and linking outputs from session based forum discussion boards (encouraging learning communities and CoPs); (4) Bring together ‘Streams’ of education based digital methods and techniques, which would form the scaffold, and allow the construction of a school wide Digital Learning Framework (DLF), conceptually and Empirically based. We offer our experiences of ‘making the blend’, meeting the technical challenges, and reviewing the pilot based upon learner feedback. Online education has grown in popularity (Barber, 2013), (Wheeler et al., 2011) and the emergence of MOOCs has afforded a new paradigm and expanded reach for Higher Education institutions (Zemsky, 2014). This course development responds both to the proliferation of distance learning courses (Knight, 2009) and to recent calls to provide a quality ‘Hybrid’ provision (Noss et al., 2011) which allows us to ‘digitally’ emulate traditional pedagogies. Digesting pertinent examples from the plethora of published material allowed an operational framework to be created and evidenced.
Discussion – Creating effective Communities of/for/with Learning
Alan Marvell (University of Gloucestershire, UK)
David Simm (Bath Spa University, UK)
Discussion