Ulster University has four distinct campuses across Northern Ireland - Belfast, Coleraine, Jordanstown and Magee. Courses are also delivered at branch campuses in London, Birmingham and Qatar. Core business activities are teaching and learning, widening access to education, research and innovation and technology and knowledge transfer.
The university, which can trace its roots back to the Victorian era, has approximately 27,000 students across the four campuses and 2,000 staff. This uniquely places the university to engage in local communities, support expansion of the knowledge based economy and contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of Northern Ireland.
Ulster University has partnered with Studiosity as part of their online learning support across the entire institution since 2017. Their then new Pro Vice-Chancellor, (now Vice-Chancellor) Professor Paul Bartholomew, moved from Aston University in Birmingham to relocate to Northern Ireland and reviewed the academic writing supporting services that were offered across each location. Professor Bartholomew recognised that there were deficiencies in the amount of support that was being provided to students and initiated a project to address this issue and make improvements.
A business case was worked up to evaluate the feasibility of providing academic writing support services internally, but this was deemed prohibitively expensive. With students all over the world and many studying from home, Ulster University has been offering fully online distance learning since the year 2000. So, being in geographically remote locations and really valuing their distance learning partnerships, they wanted to explore ways of providing an equitable academic writing support service for all their students.
Ulster started on a small-scale pilot in 2017, offering Writing Feedback and Connect Live services to all of their students across all year levels. Many of Ulster’s students are first-in-family to attend higher education, and as a widening access university, it was very important for Ulster to explore the social demographic characteristics of students via their engagement with the service, and to see what type of support students used Studiosity for.
Andy Jaffrey, Head of the Office of Digital Learning, headed up the project at Ulster University and has managed the administration of the service since its introduction in 2017:
“The Studiosity service has been enormously beneficial for Ulster students, enhancing and scaling existing academic writing support to support our diverse student community. Whilst student feedback has been extremely positive across all years and modes of study, we have seen particularly high satisfaction rates from our students returning to study who may not have undertaken any academic writing in many years, we also see high usage levels from students who do not use English as their first language.
“The Pandemic teaching response has also resulted in many students feeling more isolated and anxious about completing assessment with less opportunities for peer support. Many of these students are juggling stressful home and work responsibilities on top of other responsibilities and Studiosity provides reassurance and a confidence boost at a stressful time. We cannot underestimate the benefits of those small positive interactions that Studiosity helps provide to our students during their study.
“We could never hope to scale our service offering to a level where we would be able to provide that round the clock service and Studiosity provides the scale with care. Scaling the human interactions is important to us at Ulster rather than scaling entirely through a technology solution.
“And it's just one of the enormous benefits of partnering with an organisation that can take advantage of those technology affordances, of time and space that are available now to connect our students to a global network of highly trained and supportive advisors. Studiosity has been enormously successful for us since 2017, it is a scalable service that students find valuable and that’s reassuring particularly when we see the number of repeat usage levels – a sure sign of a high quality service ”
Key metrics over the entire duration of the Ulster/Studiosity partnership: July 2017 - June 2021
The service allows students to provide feedback each time they use the service. Here is a selection of comments provided by Ulster students:
“English is not my native language and despite I am getting more confident at the time of writing for academic purposes Studiosity feedback is of great help to sharpen up my work to the standards I am seeking to achieve” - Postgraduate student
“Extremely fast response with comprehensive feedback provided. Many thanks to the individual that reviewed my document!” - 3rd year student
“I am very grateful for this extremely efficient response (and quite shocked at how quick you have been able to read and reply with such detail). Thank you very much” - Postgraduate student
“Gave advice on all aspects that I was struggling and needed a second opinion on. Very helpful!” - 1st year student
“The encouragement is so appreciated!” - 2nd year student
“What an absolutely fantastic service. This has really given me the confidence that I needed and reassurance. Thanks” - 1st year student
“This feedback has been so helpful. The reader obviously took a lot of time and effort which I am so grateful for. Thank you!” - 3rd year student