The pandemic has fundamentally altered higher education’s view of what students need. Before Covid-19, a handful of institutions had begun to champion emergency aid, providing small grants that made a major difference to whether a student stayed enrolled.
Teaching the practical application of a subject – or practicums – sits at the core of many courses. Among our trainee childhood educators, it is possibly the most highly anticipated learning experience.
Practicums offer students hands-on experience in their respective disciplines, allowing them to put their knowledge to use in real-life scenarios. However, practicums can be daunting, stressful and full of doubts.
It can be challenging to find opportunities for students across campus to gain “real world” experience in their disciplines. One strategy to create these opportunities is to build cross-department collaborations that capitalise on the unique interests and talents of different student disciplines.
Community-based projects can provide great opportunities for students to enhance their learning, get creative and gain practical experience, while also benefitting local communities.
With a strong focus on practice-led and problem-based education, we have formed connections with communities and organisations across the Bristol region to provide relevant, authentic and engaging opportunities for students to learn about and tackle real-world issues and problems. Here are some key lessons in how to do this successfully.
Physics requires students to analyse errors in data, discuss the causes of these errors and recommend ways experiments can be improved in the future. This requires lab work.
When we moved online during the pandemic using interactive simulations of lab work, we found their results were too perfect. The experiments can run exactly according to the underlying principles every time, removing the chance to investigate issues or propose improvements. We had to find a way to make the online study more realistic.
The changes to teaching delivery in the past 18 months have been particularly challenging for subjects that require field-based learning, such as geography, life sciences and environmental sciences.
A flurry of rapid-response community engagement projects have been launched in the past 18 months, each seeking to address specific challenges bought to the fore by the pandemic. Across higher education there is growing momentum surrounding civic engagement, accelerated by Covid-19.
However, such rapid-response initiatives require careful navigation and negotiation by those in charge, to get them off the ground and make them a success.
It’s hardly a secret that the UK’s Further and Higher Education Act 1992 helped to diversify access to degree-level education. It was an excellent way to bridge the social mobility gap and ensure that students from different backgrounds could go to university.
Work placements have long been crucial for students in terms of their employability. They influence students’ choices, and employers highly value such workplace experience. Furthermore, assessed placements are a statutory requirement for professional bodies, and universities prioritise and invest in them. They are well established as a necessary step in professional development, and many of us learned ourselves as professionals this way.