Stronger Foundations / Academic Skills Assembly


Supervisor Staff – Caroline Garraway
Lead Student – Anqi Tang
Supporting Student – Lena Shaiakhemetova





The “Stronger Foundations” project was initiated to understand why some undergraduate students face significant academic skills-related struggles in their studies, and to offer practical solutions to help alleviate them. Although we had initially proposed to find workshop-based solutions, focus groups suggested that there were many intersecting social factors, some of which were exacerbated by the COVID-related remote studying format which had affected students’ sense of belonging, which in turn had affected their perceived and actual academic competency. The project came up with a series of recommendations/ project ideas to take forward for the next academic year which included activities/initiatives relating to improving study skills, increasing student’s sense of belonging and looking after students’ mental health. These recommendations were discussed in a wider staff/ student group which resulted in agreeing a significant increase in academic skills provision and support for undergraduate students 2022/2023 including: Doubling the number of academic skills tutors; working more closely with transition mentors; having timetabled academic skills sessions for all incoming first year UG & PGT students; increased academic skills tutor office hours; and supervised ‘shut up and write sessions throughout the year. The final part of the funding enabled the project to trial run an end-of-year mug painting social. It was a popular event with over thirty students, where we learned about the types of social activities that students prefer that we can do more of in the future. Overall, I found the most rewarding part of this project to be working in a relatively large group of students and staff. Just knowing that there are so many passionate people who wanted to use their experience to help others was rewarding in itself. Also, every part of our communication was a collective ideation exercise that allowed the voices of many voices in the community to be heard at once.


Make sure to communicate your ideas with others as much as possible – not just with people who are directly involved in the project, but also everyone around you. It’s rewarding to bounce ideas off others, and you learn a lot in the process. For me, the most daunting part was anticipating and trying to raise the level of student engagement. The important thing to remember is that there is no perfect solution, and just try things if you think they will work. If they don’t, at least you have tried your best. Sometimes, things turn out better than you can ever expect too!

History of Art Assessment Review

The team
Dr Jacob Paskins (project lead), Eleanor Day (staff), Poppy Souglides (student support), Hossein Abbas Asadi (student support)

History of Art

What happened?
The History of Art Assessment Review ChangeMakers project encouraged students to get involved with an important aspect of the department’s curriculum review. The project team wanted to learn more about student perceptions of assessment, from the different kinds of activities they currently undertake to the quantity and frequency of assessment. We also wanted to gain better understanding of the support students need when preparing different kinds of assessment during their studies. During the project, we recruited two student Assessment Change Champions (ACCs) who co-designed with departmental staff an online survey to canvas the opinion of current History of Art undergraduates. The ACCs promoted the survey widely to ensure a robust response rate across year groups. The project also included a lunchtime workshop that brought together students and staff to discuss their assessment needs and concerns in more detail. Students also had the opportunity to think about new and more diverse forms of assessment that the department could introduce in the future. The ACCs helped analyse the survey data, which will form part an Assessment Review Report. The report will identify aspects of assessment that are proving to be effective, and highlight areas that need attention or change. These priorities will be discussed at the History of Art Departmental Teaching Committee, which oversees changes to assessment design, and sets priorities for student skills training. Participants in the ChangeMakers project commented that although they may not personally benefit from future changes to assessment in the department, they appreciated the opportunity to share their own experiences and were glad to be able to help plan for more inclusive and authentic assessments for future cohorts of art historians.
What advice or encouragement would you give to someone thinking of doing a ChangeMakers project?
ChangeMakers is a great opportunity to bring students and staff together to work on a project that can bring about real change. The question of assessment is clearly a matter of concern for many students, so this project generated a lot of interest. A project like this does take a lot of time to organise, from the design of the project, completion of the application, recruitment and training of participants, design, promotion and analysis of the survey, organisation of the workshops, and writing of the final report. Undertaking the project during teaching terms is very demanding, but after a successful and energetic student workshop, it is clear that the effort is worth it. The most positive part of the project was seeing students’ enthusiasm for discussing their experiences of assessment. If anything, the project was a little too ambitious as the different activities have generated so much material that the writing of the final report will take longer than expected. And while we have identified a number of quick fixes to assessment problems, most of the issues will take much longer to resolve as they will require careful review from departmental committees before major changes can take place.