By Dr David Pike, Head of Digital Learning Systems, University of Bedfordshire
Asking for help is a skill that students must develop, yet asking for help requires confidence. If we can encourage students to use the resources available to them it should lead to better quality assignments: but how and when are students seeking academic writing help, and what type of support should other universities be considering?
At the University of Bedfordshire many of our students come to study with us from widening participation backgrounds. This means that some of our students may not have a support networks of family or friends who understand what it means to study at University level, experience additional pressure from the need to work or care for family members, and some may have no formal higher education experience. Coming to university represents a challenge but also opportunity for our students. For us, whatever students’ long-term plans are, we want them to go out into the world and make a difference. Our students are our ambassadors.
"whatever students’ long-term plans are, we want them to go out into the world and make a difference"
One extremely important aspect of studying at University is academic writing, as that is what is going to propel students to be successful and progress in their studies and beyond. Helping students to develop their academic voice, to understand how and why the written word is the key to successfully presenting themselves, and the importance of practising these skills.
Studiosity, with its 24/7 personalised on-demand study help, is a crucial component of how we as a university support our students’ development of their academic voice. In the first instance we ran a limited trial with our School of Applied Social Science (SASS) students. This group has large numbers of students who join us for a foundation year meaning they have to learn how to transition into university life, and SASS courses is an area where students are expected to engage in developing arguments in assessment writing.
With the rich evidence we gathered from that first trial we were able to justify a larger, institutional-wide project. The business case for this approach was driven by our Access and Participation Plan, the institution’s strategic mission of widening participation, and our desire to do everything we can to help our students achieve.
Now, with an extended partnership, around 16,000 students have access to Writing Feedback, Studiosity’s formative English-writing feedback service on grammar, spelling, structure and readability, and Connect Live providing one-to-one help from Subject Specialists. This personal, routine formative feedback will develop their capacity for higher-order thinking skills that are critical for success in higher education.
Our implementation plan was in three phases: firstly, to introduce the system to students; secondly, to work with support service colleagues; and then finally our academic colleagues. We wanted to build a body of evidence to demonstrate to our colleagues how the institution could harness the opportunity Studiosity presented. Making sure that our staff and students have confidence in the system and the feedback has provided a key part of the project.
"Academic colleagues do not have the time to address every individual's needs in detail and at the times of the day when students are studying, but Studiosity has helped us to bridge that gap."
The quality and quantity of the feedback the students are receiving through our partnership with Studiosity is excellent, and this is reflected in students’ own feedback. Academic colleagues do not have the time to address every individual’s needs in detail and at the times of the day when students are studying, but Studiosity has helped us to bridge that gap. It helps students understand how to express themselves in the best way possible. I wish I could have had a service like Studiosity when I was at university as it would have helped me adjust to academic parts of university life. I personally struggled with that transition and I understand our students’ own journey.
We have learned some lessons on the way. For example, we analysed how our students responded to our announcements and adapted. At the start our messages were around sign-up to Studiosity, this is what Studiosity is, this is what it does, but when we became aware that students were using Studiosity the closer they got to their assessment points we changed the language to encourage students to engage earlier using prompts such as ‘Do you have an assessment due on Friday?’ on a Monday. We wanted students to check their work as soon as possible. Our efforts resulted in a large spike in utilisation over Christmas which aligned with our assessment points. It took some time for our efforts to gain traction with our students. My advice for colleagues is therefore ‘keep trying’.
To remove barriers and motivate students in an effort to normalise help-seeking, you need to understand existing student behaviours. With the research I have undertaken we are now better positioned to understand how and when students are asking for help how to engage them, and we be more precise about our interventions. Throughout 2023 I will be publishing some papers on how University of Bedfordshire students are seeking academic writing help, and how this knowledge is being used to inform key pedagogical changes to ensure students seek timely help in order to achieve success.
A big thank you to Dr David Pike for writing this guest blog. You can read more about the University of Bedfordshire in a case study here.