Amy Thornton (Security and Crime Science)
Diversifying the curriculum is in and of itself a noble endeavour, but our aim was to do so in a way that brings students and staff together to discuss some of the big issues within society. Alongside showing them the wider value of their degree within that society and creating connections between students and staff, the face-to-face enrichment activities gave us the opportunity to tackle head on some of those issues that our department studies and teaches about: racial inequality in the criminal justice system, views on racism and policing, and movements like Black Lives Matter. Weekly interactions and feedback surveys allowed us to understand what students appreciated about these interactive sessions, as well as changes to be made to incorporate these sessions into the curriculum permanently. The value to students to tackle these topics in small groups with staff members was recognised, but resourcing issues remain moving forwards.
Transcript of video follows:
This presentation will talk about using enrichment activities to bring students and staff together in order to diversify the curriculum, focusing on a case study from the department of security and crime science. My name is Dr Amy Thornton and I’m the director of studies in the department who was responsible for designing the outline of the enrichment programme which ran in term one this year.
So we realised that there were a range of problems in the department, including needing more diversity within our curriculum and really highlighting some of the ways in which we work on some of the big issues such as racism in society. There was a desire and a continued desire for a seminar series for our postgraduate taught students. We knew that due to lock down and increasing restrictions that the only real face to face activity that our students would have would be our enrichment activities programme which needed to be designed. And we also knew from feedback from students and staff members that it would be useful to build some more skill sessions for both our post graduate and our undergraduate
Now, these enrichment sessions threw up a real set of opportunities for us. So we knew that we were going to be able to have small group teaching, which was not the norm within the department. The enrichment sessions would be the sole face to face contact time that students would have with each other and with staff that would be time tabled in.
The hope was that this would lead to more enthusiasm from the students to actually attend and engage with these sessions.
There was a lot of societal interest over the year, and particularly over the summer, things like the black lives matter movement and protests across the world. We knew that this would be a weekly engagement point for students with both academics in the department and their peers, whereas the rest of their learning would be online.
We knew that this was an opportunity to increase the skills of the students and to introduce them to some topical interests which could potentially provide things like dissertation ideas later on.
In the year as ever, though, there were a number of constraints and within the faculty of engineering we were allocated one room for the entire department for the term to use for face to face activities. We could only fit a maximum of 13 students and one member of staff within that room, and we had potentially 150 students who may have shown some interest in the enrichment activities.
We also had a massive issue with staff resourcing, asking staff members to commit to a weekly teaching slot. So the idea was that the same staff member would teach the same session each week so that the students would have some continuity with that member of staff, which would help both academically and in terms of building some kind of relationship, which would potentially allow them to offer some support if wellbeing issues arose.
Staff being able to travel to and from central London for these particular sessions and staff just being willing to do so. We also had a separate and occasionally overlapping set of staff who were actually designing the sessions themselves. You had to dedicate 1 to 2 days to design these sessions, find the resources and provide a kind of crib sheet for the staff you were teaching the sessions.
We also had issues as we do each year with continued student engagement. So the idea was that students would sign up for the weekly slots, that they would get a weekly email reminder to sign up and a little ditty about what was going on that week. There was a moodle page designed to host information about the particular sessions that included some kind of pre activities, if they wish to some pre reading or something to watch, some extra readings and audio visual resources, whether these were documentaries on Netflix shows, you know, BBC articles, all kinds of media as well. All of this was designed so that students would feel that this was part of their proper academic curriculum but also was something to help enrich and further their learning.
So a creative solution had to be found to bring together these different problems.
The enrichment activities were designed as weekly two hour sessions in small groups of around 12 students. Over summer, we worked with some of our student interns to canvass student opinion on how they would like these sessions to run, what kinds of topics they thought might be interesting and how much appetite there was for attending these sessions.
I also worked with experts in the Arena Centre, on what kind of element should be in the sessions and how to design those sessions so that they were as interactive as possible.
The topics chosen were designed to be around current real world issues and so they were things that the students will have seen in the news, possibly experienced themselves, and would keep coming up as wider, larger topics throughout their time in the department in their studies.
So the sessions were designed by staff experts in those particular topics and run by academic staff, again so that students had weekly contact with a member of the department whereas otherwise all of their contact would be online. Amongst the postgraduate taught students, there was cohort mixing amongst the different MSC programmes that we run so again, students who had potentially just come to London or hadn’t been in the department or the university before got the chance to actually meet other students, make some bonds, make some friendships and actually meet people from other degree programmes as well.
The sessions were designed to have three activities per session, so a short video or teaching elements and then an interactive group work activity after each of these more structured activities with then feedback and discussion on each of those and also, a different skill set per week was embedded within the design of each of these programmes so that students weren’t just learning about topic. They were actually increasing their skills as well.
So the idea was to bring together a set of topics and a set of skills. So weekly topics included things like racial bias in the criminal justice system, which was paired with a teamwork skill set where students worked within a team to look at some forensic science and see how this linked in with racial bias.
Black lives matter, race and policing, which included elements of students going online and finding academic evidence.
The next week included fake news and threats to democratic processes where students were taught how to appraise different types of evidence. The next topic was hate crime and hate speech online, where students were taught how to synthesise different types of evidence
The week following that tackled life under lock down crime and policing during times of covid and we looked into different ways of writing for academic audiences in that particular week with the students.
Increases in cybercrime followed, looking at writing for practitioner and lay audiences, so the public and practitioners and the topic of ethics and smart technologies or smart cities, was the next one planned dealing with the skill set of ethics both in research and in real life when it comes to the use of technologies.
And finally, crime and policing in non Western settings, including the Asian continent and the South American continent, also paired up with the skill of presentation skills.
So at the end of the final session of Student Feedback Survey was sent round by E mail to all students who had attended two or more sessions.
We asked students ‘Why did you choose to attend these sessions?’ and students could choose as many options as they like. But you can see my students were interested in the topics and came along because they wanted to meet other students.
But a large majority also came along because they wanted to meet members of staff and because they liked the idea of small group tutorial learning.
When we asked students which kind of tasks did they prefer doing within the sessions as each session had different kinds of tasks, they said, they really appreciated the ability to try and solve real world problems, which, of course, is what the department and the faculty of engineering really focuses on, and that they really enjoyed being up to research with others in their group.
Some kind of open feedback that we got when we said to students ‘What did you like about the sessions’ included the fact that they were looking at real world applications, really focusing on contemporary and interesting issues and topics. The fact that students were having engaging conversations about these topics with other students in person, rather than relying on online discussion forums with something that the students really enjoyed.
The fact that this was a more informal and unassessed place was something that a lot of the students brought up. The fact that there was no kind of wrong answer or they weren’t worried about being graded meant that they felt that they could really push forward with more creative ideas and think innovatively and students really enjoyed it as the highlight of the term. So in a term where students were often online learning for the first time where there was very limited physical face to face interactivity with other students, they found that this was both an academic experience but also a personal one, where they got to build bonds with other peers, with academic members of staff and to really engage with wider societal issues in a really difficult time.
So moving forwards there’s a real desire for these enrichment activities to remain in the curriculum in some format and we’re thinking of keeping them as the foundation for a new post graduate taught seminar series which our postgraduate taught students have been asking for.
Resourcing issues for this kind of small group teaching obviously remain. But since we know that restrictions will continue for 2021/22 this is a real opportunity for us to keep using these as some of those face to face sessions, particularly in the first term, where students can meet each other and start to think about the wider issues that their degrees touch upon.
We’re also hoping to build in careers elements where appropriate, so either bringing people in to discuss particular careers that link in with those topics or those skill sets, or getting people from the Careers team to integrate some of the skills that they focus on there, and hopefully moving forwards, thinking about working with others in the faculty in order to increase the knowledge that we have about how these sessions work best, what the students like and the kind of topics that we can tackle.
So if you do you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. I’d be really pleased to hear from you.