I am pretty sure that I mentioned this briefly several blog posts ago but I am going to give an overview of the experience I’ve had helping Kirsty with her foundation engineering students. It has been by far the best thing I have been involved during my time as the grad trainee (so far anyway).
The foundation engineering course recently reshuffled the course content and the multidisciplinary project was scrapped and had to be replaced. This was replaced with a mini presentation project which was set by the librarian for engineering and the tutor. Kirsty and I ran a session with all of the students where we set them their assignment and gave them advice on how to use the library. We also had a session with the whole group where we advised them about using different types of sources in their work. Together we created the Padlet which I posted on here. It included descriptions of source types e.g. what is an academic journal and why it is important to assess the sources you are using for credibility and usefulness.
It was really good to be involved with setting the project and to see it through to the end. The best part was actually being able to sit in whilst the students delivered their presentations and assess their work. It was only a few years ago that I was in the same position as them; stood in a lecture theatre presenting my work, absolutely terrified. Presentations used to really bother me! It is a daunting task to stand in front of a room full of people and speak to them all, knowing you are being assessed and judged. The majority of the students did it very well but overall they are certain key skills which on the whole need could be improved.
Quite a few students read from the presentation slides and their notes. This always seems like the best thing to do when you are nervous about presenting. The slides should be there to back up what you are saying and give the audience something interesting to look at/ read. It is very difficult to remain engaged when someone is reading at you. If you do need to remind yourself of the information prompt cards and notes are fine but try to use them as prompts and avoid reading straight off the page. It is the little things that count, say good morning, introduce yourself and look at the audience and talk to us. We really do appreciate it and this will be reflected in the marks!
General feedback regarding the content was that they over complicated it a little. A great thing to do when presenting is to simplify the information and assume the audience doesn’t know what you are talking about (because we didn’t). This shows that you have fully understood your topic and have learnt the information rather than simply repeating what you have read.
Some of the students had a go at referencing and this made Kirsty and me unbelievably happy! We had to control our excitement when we saw a citation because most of them hadn’t fully grasped what we asked them to do. We asked them to find 3 different sources, explain why they had used them and reference them. Most of them simply answered their questions with information more or less copied from a textbook, one of the textbooks being a very out of date 1980 publication. It is easy to forget that this kind of work is new to them and it is easy for them to think that because it is in the library, it must be good. And this is why they need our help!
When I was a student it was assumed that we were skilled in finding and analysing information. Having studied history at A Level I was relatively aware of the importance of source analysis as this was one of the exams on the course. However, once you are at University it seemed that we were expected to understand this and luckily for me I did understand it. It should be a core part of the degree course because it is a skill that is easily overlooked. This is demonstrated by the 3rd year students who come to the counter unable to use the library catalogue. I only used journal articles because I was told to do so and because referencing them meant better marks. No one ever really explained to us why we should have been using them.
Kirsty and I have both learnt a lot from this project and we have used our experience to revise the Project Outline and the marking criteria (ENG0304L Mini Project Presentations (2)) to focus in equal parts on information literacy, content knowledge and presentation skills. We need to see evidence of source analysis and an appreciation for different source materials. Using 3 different websites neglects all of the other information that is out there. This is a core skill that should be learnt in the foundation/ first year at university and I think librarians are the best people for the job. Compared to the module leader we were assessing the presentations from a completely different angle. He was focusing on the content and subject knowledge whereas we were looking at their ability to find and cite relevant information.
We have put together a project pack which has been given to the tutor and the department. He is retiring soon but was very impressed with the work we did with the students and appreciates the importance of the assignment in teaching them how to use the best sources in their work. He definitely wants this assessment to be on the module next year and so do we. Now we have have revised the project and made it a lot clearer what they need to, they can really learn a lot from it and I believe it will teach them lifelong skills that will put them in good standing should they enroll on the full degree course.