When students enter the first year of study towards their degree it is not always clear what opportunities exist for them as the progress through their studies. Additionally they may have concerns or anxieties regarding some of these opportunities, e.g. moving away from home for the first time, coping in a foreign country or with a new language, how to find accommodation, etc. These Vertically Integrated events were therefore developed to allow students in the earlier years of their studies to hear from students who have engaged in a variety of opportunities. Speakers have included students who have studied abroad, completed placements, have gone on to postgraduate study or have embarked on their career. As the events are informal and the speakers are students or recent graduates the audience are comfortable asking questions. The department also has a small fund available for any degree stream to bid for financial support for other events. This has led to students working together to create proposals for this funding. For those students who speak at the events they have increased confidence and the satisfaction that they are providing support for younger students. Personal Development Advisers are also invited to attend and this allows them to hear the speakers and discuss the content of the talks further with their advisees.
These events have allowed students from all levels to interact, form support networks and learn from each other. The events have also promoted an ethos of ‘ownership’ of their degree and have encouraged students to work together to bid for funding for a variety of further events. These have ranged from covering the costs of invited speakers to social events to visits to chemical plants. The events have been well attended since their inception 6 years ago.
There are no huge challenges in organising these events as most of the speakers are current students and easily contactable. One main challenge is identifying recent graduates who are able to take time out from their jobs to come in and address the students. Another challenge is finding a slot in the timetable when all students from each year group are available. This has proved to be impossible for some programmes and events are therefore held early on Wednesday afternoons. Some students are unable to attend due to other commitments.
Over the time that this has been running we have looked at the timing, whether the start or end of first semester is better. Towards the end of the semester is the preferred time as it gives more time to contact speakers and make arrangements. We always have a member of staff (usually the Course Coordinator) to host the event as we have found students are sometime shy about asking the first question and some questions may initially have to be asked by the member of staff. The formal part of the event usually runs for around an hour but the room which has been booked is booked for two hours and the students are then left to network for as long as they like after the member(s) of staff have left.
4 events are held each year. The numbers at each event can vary but average at around 25-30. When you consider our entire cohort numbers over 600 this is only a fraction of the students. We could scale up further but if the entire student body did attend then we would lose the informality of the event. We can improve our marketing of events to attempt to increase numbers but would not wish to make the event compulsory as we would run into scheduling difficulties (not all students timetables will allow a slot to be identified), financial difficulties (catering for 600 as opposed to ~100) and engagement difficulties (the students who attend really want to be there. If students were made to attend the audience would contain students who may change the tone of the event).
This type of event could certainly be transferred to any department/school/faculty in the University using a similar model. It is based on the vertically integrated project model which has been proven to be adaptable to many types of teaching and learning.
Attached is a typical annual programme.