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Dr Lucy Burke, Department of English,

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1 Dr Lucy Burke, Department of English,

2 context  In 2oo9, we (Lucy Burke and Sherry Ashworth) designed an action research project that set out to design, implement, monitor and evaluate a pilot mentoring scheme in the Department of English in which level 5 students on the English and Creative Writing programme mentor incoming level 4 students on that programme during their first term at university. English and Creative Writing is one of the joint honours programmes that we offer in the Department (along with English and Film, English and American Literature and our single honours programme). There are between 22 – 28 students in each cohort.

3  2007/2008 NSS results for the English Department relating to the student experience.  Whilst English scored highly in this NSS, student feedback suggested that the Department could do more to enhance the social experience of students and to foster a sense of community within the single honours and joint honours programmes.  Transition, induction and retention at level 4.  The 2007-2008 returns for two programmes in the English Department, Single Honours English and English and Creative Writing, indicated a significant fall in retention. English and Creative Writing, in particular, registered a fall in retention rates from 95% to 67%

4 And finally  Employability  The study of English at degree level involves the development of a range of transferable critical and communication skills. However, in their current form, the degree programmes do not offer students the opportunity to develop the kind of interpersonal and team-building skills that many of the career routes for English graduates require. Mentoring is an important facet of teaching and business and managerial training. The project set out to furnish our students with skills in this area,

5 English and Creative Writing  Our most popular programme.  Attracts high calibre applicants in terms of predicted grades.  Significant Competition for places.  All promising applicants are required to submit a portfolio of their creative work.  All promising applicants are interviewed.  However, there is also a high proportion of students with Personal Learning Plans in this cohort. For example in our 2008-9 cohort 6 out of 24 students have a PLP.

6  To Improve student experience  To facilitate induction and transition  To enhance the first year learning experience  To foster relationship between different year groups on the programme and to encourage a sense of community  To establish whether there are any specific problems (that we have not picked up on) that may impact upon the student experience and also retention …

7  LB attended the Mentoring unit on the MA in academic practice. This augmented my previous practical experience as a mentor for Time Together (a scheme supporting refugees)  Talked to staff running other mentoring schemes  Recruited mentors  Developed training materials for mentors

8  One afternoon in the summer term  Our aim was to facilitate a primarily student led discussion  Asked them to reflect upon their experiences as new students – what they wish they had known.  Discussed the ethics of mentoring (boundaries and confidentiality)  Involved the Faculty Support Officer and discussed referring on to appropriate sources of support  Used role play to define and explore possible problems (not getting on with your mentee, what to do if ….)  Discussed matching and decided upon alphabetical matching.

9  New ECW contacted in the pre-enrolment period and introduced to the scheme  Use of portal to introduce the department and circulate expectations questionnaire  New students introduced to the Department on the first morning of Induction Week, followed by meeting with personal tutors, followed by meeting with mentors.  Social event with reading by the author Melvyn Burgess on the Thursday of Induction Week  English Society Meeting on Friday of Induction Week

10  Production of mentoring packs for mentors and mentees (who to contact, advice, structure of scheme and opportunities for self reflection)  Sherry and I taught the incoming ECW students on Writing in Genres I and English Study Skills respectively.  We were available to field questions and discuss any problems experienced by either mentors or mentees with two specified time slots each week  Separate meetings with mentors and mentees in early November  Questionnaires distributed to mentors and mentees in the second term  Meeting with all participants in the second term. (This was recorded))

11  “I think the mentor scheme is a really good idea and having someone who I can talk to who has just gone through a lot of the things I am is really helpful. I've been fortunate to not need much in the way of help or advice but it is good to be able to talk things through in a relaxed setting away from tutors or lecturers - not to say I'm avoiding you but this does force us to interact with other students and because they're on the same course that really helps.”   “My mentor is Sue B and I've found it really helpful having her there for support. In our meetings we got on really well and I think it's a great idea to have someone there who can relate to me as a student and what I am going through, and who I can talk to about whatever issues are affecting me. I am really glad to be a part of this scheme, and hope it continues!”   “I get along really well with my mentor, and I am so happy I have her to talk to. I really like the mentor scheme and think its a great success. its nice to have an impartial person to turn to over stuff such as not getting along with flatmates etc, the way that friends would automatically get their backs up, if you get me ? I'm really glad the mentor scheme was put in for us, and find my mentor a great help :)” 

12  One mentor passed on her Study Skills books to her mentee as she didn’t need then any more (!)  some mentors critiqued their mentees’ creative work.  Mentees described their Mentors as useful in giving an overview of the course.  Mentors have been particularly useful to mentees who didn’t know Manchester  Most of all, the mentees were glad to have someone on their level to ask stupid questions to – this was said time and time again. Questions they wouldn’t want to bother a tutor with – e.g. the layout of the Geoffrey Manton Building. They liked the laid-back, social aspects of the scheme, having a chat over a brew. They described it as giving them a feeling of security – knowing there’s someone there to ask. Also good to talk about things outside of the academic.  But what emerged most strongly is that the scheme has contributed massively to students’ sense of identity as MMU ECW students. One first year student described ‘feeling special’ because he was part of a community,

13  Timing of the social event (should have been later in the first term)  Telling students not to give out their mobile phone numbers  Allowing a student who was originally in the 2008 cohort but had to retake his year to act as a mentor  Over elaborate structure in handbooks  Possibly need to rethink matching in relation to the age of students.

14  Strong sense of community within the group and between the first and second years  Good attendance and engagement  High levels of confidence in the group in terms of expressing opinions  However … one student left in the first week (she really wanted to do English Language and got a place at Manchester) and two students have suspended due to mental health issues and personal problems.

15  To role out the scheme to all our incoming students in 2010/2011  To integrate it into the personal tutor system  To develop the scheme in relation to specific collaborative projects with incentives.  To introduce mentees to their mentors via a pre-induction portal

16  That mentoring has been enormously beneficial in relation to the student experience. Even students who did not actively engage with the scheme describe themselves as ‘glad that it is there’  Our involvement with these groups of students has given us an important insight into the first year experience and student expectations.  However, in terms of retention figures, we need to address the ways we support students with particular needs, specifically mental health issues.

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