How to initiate student engagement programmesAt Cupp we devote part of our resources to supporting others to develop discipline specific Student Community Engagement courses. We work with academic staff across the University to identify ways in which comunity engaged work can enhance their learning programmes, and assist with module design and finding community partners.
Core and optional modules
There is an ongoing debate about whether student community engagement should be run as an optional rather than a core module within university programmes. Students may not expect value based or experiential work when joining university, and a reluctant volunteer can create huge problems for a partner organisation, but in some programmes (social sciences, politics, sustainable development) experiental work can make an important contribution to personal learning.
Cupp has developed a number of optional and core modules across the University that incorporate Student Community Engagement in varying ways. Our Community Participation and Development module has been validated at levels 2 and 3 and in 10 and 20 credit modules. We are constantly looking for ways to introduce this into new schools and courses: Module Handbook .
Our M level ‘Learning by Objectives’ module provides an opportunity for a student to set their own learning objectives while we support them in identifying a relevant community partner to carry out a specific piece of work: Module Handbook.
Things to consider before introducing a student engagement programme
To work well an engagement programme needs to:
- Identify projects that students can comfortably undertake and that the local community needs
- Match students with projects that reflect their interests and skills
- Keep projects manageable
- Ensure learners are active, have sufficient responsibility but remain safe
- Provide opportunities for people to develop real and equal relationships with each other.
Matching students with projects
Matching students with projects and ensuring that each gains from the process is an important part of the engagement process. Setting up good community links takes time but, once established, they can be built on with subsequent cohorts, providing small projects and study material for different levels. We have approached this in different ways depending on student numbers and purpose.
Large modules with many students
For large modules with many students we run annual matching events, inviting community organisations in advance to submit 30 or 50 hour projects and specifying the kind of person needed to take this on. The project opportunities are stored electronically on a database shared with Active Student, with a specific page directed towards those undertaking community work as part of their degree.
Students are able to search for opportunities using key words and then contact the organisation themselves. Organisations are invited into the university on a specific day and given a space to display material about their organisation and the work they do. This provides an opportunity for them to meet with students who are particularly interested in their area, to exchange contact details and arrange a follow up interview.
Group Projects have often been set up by the tutor concerned through personal contacts they may have in their discipline field. Some preparation or training is generally necessary to brief students on what to expect and to give them a chance to air their fears and preconceptions.
Risk Assessment & Health and Safety
Most community and voluntary organisations will have their own procedures for risk assessment and will be used to using volunteers in their work. For university purposes we ask students to fill in a health and safety checklist with a representative from the organisation in which they will be based. This is good preparation for them in considering the things they might come up against and can be found on the Brighton University website: Health and Safety Checklist
Helping students to understand in advance the different cultural environment of the group they will be working with is crucial. Dress codes, body language, terms of respect and familiarity may be very different from those used in an educational environment and briefing students on this and on the client group involved can minimise the risk of a project going wrong.
In bringing academic work alongside community based work students are exposed to a range of factors outside of their control which might prevent them finishing or succeeding with a project. The academic timetable is tight and a delay in gaining ethics approval or in a student being able to meet with a community representative can seriously impede the chances for a project to be finished on time. It is unfair if a student is prevented from graduating or completing a module through delays which are not of their causing.
Generally it is preferable to assess a student’s work through their documentation of it rather than through the project itself, and to find ways of adapting or modifying requirements on research processes which are delayed or curtailed. Many Student Community Engagement projects are assessed on a reflective evaluation of the experience or a critique of the way in which the project was conceived.
(Link to Tom Bourner’s article ‘Assessing Reflective learning’ on the Resources page)
In some cases it is possible to include a real task within an assessment task, such as requiring students to compile a guide for future volunteers, an information leaflet describing the organisation and its functions or a fund raising DVD depicting the range of activities in which the organisation is involved.
Students unused to reflective writing often struggle with expressing themselves in the first person and those on craft courses may be unused to being assessed on their evaluation of an experience rather than the experience itself. They may need structured activities to introduce them to the conventions of reflective writing.
Reflective activities encourage learners to think about the process they were involved in as well as the product they produced. It helps them to identify their own internal values, think about how they might appear to others and raises awareness of ways in which they might stereotype other people.
It is important to keep track of the impact of Student Community Engagement on local community organisations. While students can provide a valuable resource for organisations they also absorb time and resources and their availability, around exams, holidays and semester timetables can be difficult to manage. Keeping track of the range of organisations students are working with, asking them to complete an evaluation of student contributions and making sure that they have contact numbers for staff if things go wrong will help to build viable partnerships.
For more information or specific support with any of the areas above please contact
Dr Juliet Millican - Student Community Engagement Development Manager
Telephone: (01273) 644155