Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Disciplinary Action workshop at ALDinHE 2009

At the ALDinHE 2009 conference Steve Rooney and I ran a workshop entitled Disciplinary Action: Working with subjects-departments to design and deliver academic skills training and resources.

We began by introducing ourselves (we're very polite), then explained a bit about how the Student Learning Centre has evolved over the years and gave a brief overview of the workshop. We then ran our first activity - getting delegates to place their service  on a spectrum (a piece of masking tape sneakily stuck on the floor before hand) representing the location of the services that they offer - central at one end, departmental at the other. We had no idea how people would arrange themselves, but as it turned out there was a fairly even spread - including representation at the extremes. There were people who considered their services purely departmental (because they were based in a particular faculty or department) and others who considered theirs purely central. We had an interesting discussion at this point about whether being located in a department meant that the skills training offered in this context was therefore 'embedded'.

Our second activity involved introducing a second spectrum, specificity, to get delegates to think about whether the learning development interventions they offered were generic or discipline specific. At this point we revealed our one and only slide; a simple 4 box model, as shown on the right. In groups delegates placed the different types of interventions their services offered (individual consultations, resources, central teaching, skills modules, etc) into an appropriate box. This was to encourage them to think about the appropriateness of the interventions they offered.

Finally delegates looked at a case study to encourage discussions around what embedded skills training actually means and how it can be improved. I've long had the notion that  skills modules are the thing to aim for when working with departments, but preparing this workshop has got me thinking about whether or not it should be. Whilst it might be embedded from my point of view, is it embedded from the students point of view? Do students perceive skills modules as integrated or do they perceive them as silo-ed? What do you think?


  1. Well, since you ended your post with an open question, I'll answer ;-)
    I think ghettoized skills modules are evil, and I wish we could do away with them. There, I said it. If 'we" were committed to "skills", they would be embedded on the course the student signed up for, and presented in an academic context rather than as a bolt-on appendix.

  2. I knew I could rely on you for an answer! When I think about skills modules I mean modules like BS1020 (and possibly 1010 & 1011?). Do you consider them to be a bolt-on appendix?

  3. One for a PedR meeting perhaps?

  4. Yeah, but no but

    Okay why do students hate them?

    Apart from the problems of skills modules being dumped on the most junior/ often most inexperienced members of teaching staff, I guess the main issue is that students can't see the benefit: "I'm here to learn about being a manager, why do I have to learn statistics? Or ethics? In fact why isn't university just like an extended episode of the apprentice? Or students believe that they are already expert in the skills themselves.

    I don't want to get too bombastic here, but aren't we just lazily responding to the lowest common denominators? Aren't students really saying "just tell me how to write this essay"? By always teaching in the discipline, by always concentrating on the actual assignment at hand, aren't we actually making it harder for students to develop a repertoire of rules and principles to apply to their degree or (heavens forfend) real life once they graduate?

    Grrr aaargh

  5. Thanks for your thoughts - good of you to contribute. I'm not saying skills modules = rubbish. Just wondering whether they are always appropriate in our context and whether that resonates with anyone else. Here it's the opposite re who teaches them - usually the more senior staff take responsibility for skills modules and the newbies do our central stuff. For too long I've had the notion that skills modules are the pinnacle but I just don't think that's true. I'm finding this discussion a helpful way of thinking it through.