We must stop blaming students: an initiative to encourage engagement in learning

2010-09-30T11:19:05Z (GMT) by Peter Willmot Sarah E. Bamforth
The gulf between the educational methods in UK secondary and tertiary education has never been wider. Students are increasingly driven by marks and the expectation is of ‘teaching’ not ‘learning’. Even a miss-spell of disengagement can quickly lead to a request for transfer. Twenty-first century students demand more than ever before: they expect courses to be entertaining as well as instructive and allow plenty of time for social interaction and revelry. This paper describes, in the form of a case study, how a university department is tackling the real difficulties that school leavers encounter in adapting to a demanding degree programme. Lecturers were initially keen to blame the problem on lethargic dents but began to accept the need for appropriate training. A new ‘Professional Skills’ module is described, which sets out to ease the transition to university, improve metacognition and practical abilities, to encourage better contextual understanding and act as a motivator for better student engagement. The module sits alongside traditional didactic engineering science content in the first year of the degree and uses predominantly student-centred active learning and problem based methods. This work is now the subject of a Higher Education Academy funded mini-project to evaluate its effectiveness and this paper reports the findings from an online questionnaire, a third party student focus group and the first cohort’s formal module feedback. The verbatim responses from students reveal some of the perceptions and concerns of new students and lead the way to further enhancement for the future. The ideas described here are founded in the widely known constructivist educational theory where learners are invited to construct knowledge for themselves, become actively involved and learn to learn while they learn.