By Karen McErlean. 7th June 2017
As part of my role within the Interactive Essay research project I was required to present ideas to peers, undergraduates and lecturers at not only my own university (UCBC) but also to academics at conferences; so far these have been at Birmingham, Exeter University and Edge Hill University, I am hoping many more will follow. Each conference I have found to be an enriching, enjoyable and thought provoking experience that has not only enabled me to refine ideas and learn from others, it has above all allowed me to share my experiences of being a part of the Interactive Essay research project with others; something I have felt extremely proud to do. Attending conferences has also allowed me to travel, see new places, meet new people and gain masses of confidence and further knowledge, I most certainly would not have gained any other way. When learning, we read journal articles, book chapters and blog entries and although these are valuable and without doubt essential sources of knowledge, I do not think they come close to the unique learning experience of meeting others face to face. The excitement I have felt when meeting those authors whose work I have read and regularly cited in my own undergraduate essays has certainly been one of the many highlights for me. These encounters can and have on many occasions provided for me one word, one sentence that has made such a difference to the discussions, thoughts and ideas I have constructed around a topic. They have also influenced the future career routes I intend to pursue, none of which would have been possible had I not taken part.
The most recent of such conferences was on Monday this week (5th June, 2017), presenting the Interactive Essay assignment model at Edge Hill University. Firstly, what a fantastic venue, the hospitality provided by Edge Hill was tremendous. The food and refreshments provided to all delegates was excellent, (an important element to any conference, I am sure you will agree) but not only that, the staff were welcoming, attentive and helpful. It was a horrendously wet day weather-wise; as such Edge Hill even provided a chauffeur driven car to take us the five-minute walk across campus to lunch and back so that we did not get wet.
Prior to presenting myself I attended a presentation ‘Tricky Spaces’ by Dr. George Roberts, from Oxford Brookes University. Dr Roberts discussed Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and much of his presentation rang true to me. He asked the audience the question are we as higher education institutions digital first? I think Dr Roberts intention was for us to consider the relationship between student and teacher and how that relationship is conducted. Is it using digital technology or face to face and what are the consequences of both methods of communication? Dr Roberts pointed out that the teacher-student relationship correlates significantly to grades and student retention. Also, the responsibility for this student-teacher relationship should be a shared responsibility, the teacher can provide opportunities for collaboration but it needs the students to participate in these opportunities if there is to be any real benefit; it is not enough to have options in place if students are not going to engage in them. Students must see the value of these relationships, the positive benefits they can have on their grades and their overall learning experience. For example, I consider myself fortunate to have formed good relations with all the lecturers as an undergraduate at UCBC. By choosing to take part in opportunities provided to me I have worked alongside the Education Department at UCBC, taking part in programme committee meetings in my capacity as student rep, contributed to the revalidation meetings with Lancaster University and was involved in the recruitment process of a new course leader for Education studies last year. All these experiences created a dialogue and a partnership between student and teacher, which certainly benefited me as a learner through the communication links available to me, if and when, I should need help throughout my studies. I also felt included in what was happening at my University, I had a voice, I had a say and more importantly what I thought, my opinions were listened to and valued. More recently, gaining a student internship role within the Interactive Essay research project has been an opportunity to develop this collaboration even further. I acknowledge that Dr Roberts ‘Tricky Space’ presentation included so much more than what I have included here, nevertheless, what I have included here is a part of what I took away from it.
Our turn to present came directly after lunch. Of course, I was nervous to talk aloud to an audience, however I was also excited to share our ideas. We were the only presentation of the day that included students as presenters so I was hoping this was a positive element. I had left my carefully constructed, written script of my part of the presentation in my car, so I had no choice but to present from memory. The Initial shaky voice syndrome dwindled as I got into the swing of it. As I looked around the audience heads were nodding so I knew then I wasn’t talking complete nonsense. Questions were conveyed at the end of the presentation and I felt the questions were relevant and demonstrated a genuine interest in our project, which was reassuring. Once outside the room a member of the audience approached us and commented how informative our presentation was, thank you to that person, that was a real boost and much appreciated.
If anyone reading this is ever offered the opportunity to be involved in any project that involves working as part of a team, sharing ideas, collaborating with others I implore you to pursue such opportunities. If you can gain only half of what I have from them, you will develop or improve unsurmountable skills and achievements you never knew you had or would ever have. I would love to hear your experiences of attending and presenting at conferences too.