Helen Nichols is the course leader for 3 Criminology programmes at the University of Lincoln. Over the summer of 2020 she and her team have implemented Talis Elevate for their courses, ready for the start of the academic year 2020/21. We wanted to speak to Helen about the challenges they were facing and how Talis Elevate played a role in overcoming them.
What is different about this term?
We are currently approaching this term with blended learning. This includes ‘live online learning’ with Blackboard Collaborate and we are doing some face to face learning (with student numbers significantly reduced). Seminar groups have been split and are rotating with a different group on campus each week.
The university has done a great job with redistributing the campus and making it safe. Teaching delivery is very different, students wear face coverings, class sizes are smaller. The way we are dealing with that is just being transparent with students. If it’s difficult we will acknowledge that it’s difficult. It’s enabled us to continue to create and develop the already supportive community and the relationship we have with students. We are sharing the challenge, and not being blasé about it. It’s really tough – but we are all ‘in it together’.
As a programme leader, I post out a message to students every Friday to round up the week. I wouldn’t normally do that but I’ve started to try and get my voice out there. I keep encouraging students to let us know what works and what doesn’t.
It’s important for us all to keep in mind that when we designed this, over the summer, we did it all hypothetically. We couldn’t test out these mechanisms, so now we need to see what works and what doesn’t in practice. Students are now starting to talk to us about these tools and practices, and we work with them to explore different ways of delivery that are more successful.
Universities are really special places, and especially at times like this, you have a ready-made community and support system. Using software like Talis Elevate helps to reinforce that community. We are not just using software for the sake of it, but understanding its importance for everybody, we are looking for software that facilitates a community learning experience and that’s what Talis Elevate does. It creates a community outside of the classroom.
What challenges have you observed for students?
There are challenges with student engagement as always. We see a natural increase in confidence as they progress, but in the first year, students are often shy and nervous when engaging. However, we don’t presume a lack of contribution to seminars vocally to equate to a lack of engagement with academic materials.
This is one of the reasons Talis Elevate is such a good fit for us. We can see engagement from the students that might not contribute or engage vocally in person or in online sessions.
How has your use of Talis Elevate gone so far?
We are using it on a few modules, but we’ve only been teaching for 2 weeks so far. I’ve seen that it’s worked well in particular on a Masters level. My colleagues reported back that it worked well with preparing students for seminars or face to face teaching, by giving materials to engage with ahead of the class.
The majority of students have posted comments on readings, which is good to see, but we can also spot who isn’t active which is useful. We identify adding comments in Talis Elevate as good engagement. 19 students were active out of 25 in one module, so, already 2 weeks in we are seeing the majority of students are engaging with the reading in this way.
At the moment when they aren’t on campus as much as they usually would be, it’s useful to be able to see what they are doing remotely and independently so we can provide them with additional support. We can say ‘I’ve noticed you’ve not commented yet, are you struggling to use the software, or do you need guidance on understanding the readings?’, so helping us to approach students to see if they need help. I think that’s helpful to those students who wouldn’t usually be as forthcoming with asking for support.
Academic staff using Talis Elevate have found it positive to see students are reading. We are a theoretical discipline, we need students to read. It’s been good for us to see that students are engaging with the reading, and seeing how they’re reading.
What about Talis Elevate makes it a good fit for the course?
It’s suitable for the programme particularly because it enables us to reinforce the message to students that reading is at the heart of the programme. It’s a theoretical degree about the sociology of crime. It’s focused on engaging with literature, that’s why a lot of us were interested to find more about Talis Elevate.
It does what it ‘says on the tin’: allows us to elevate the student experience of reading.
It means we can direct their reading, which gives the reading more meaning, which is really helpful to push the message of the importance of it. It’s essential to the discipline and subject-specific knowledge, but the additional benefits that come with increased levels of reading are fantastic. The more we read the better our writing becomes, so it’s important for study skills that students read as much as they can, and this helps them to do it in a more meaningful way.
What kind of content do you typically use in Talis Elevate?
Personally, journal articles, academic literature. What I’ve found in exploring Talis Elevate, is that it’s making me think more carefully about what readings I’m setting for students.
I want it to be an enjoyable experience for them and not just using Talis Elevate to make it more meaningful, but thinking more carefully about which reading they’ll find more engaging.
It’s easy to just add on to last year’s reading list, so this is a good way for us to give more thought into the way we select out reading materials. Choosing readings that are meeting the challenges of decolonising the curriculum for example, is another important reason to more carefully choose reading, which Talis Elevate can remind us of.
Thanks to Helen for contributing to our blog. Check out our other academic stories of using Talis Elevate here.