This week, I was very pleased to support Emma Tyler present her second URB@N project for the History department at the University of Northampton. For those who have not heard of it, URB@N stands for Undergraduate Research Bursaries at Northampton, and is a scheme the university has been running since 2008. Basically URB@N gives students the chance to carry out research into the ways undergraduate teaching works, to help lectures and other staff improve the teaching experience at the university. Students are expected to put in a significant amount of work for this research, but are rewarded for their time with a £500 bursary.
I have been involved in four URB@N projects so far, and each one has led to some interesting discoveries. In the past these projects have helped me develop teaching materials for my modules on the history of fascism, and enhance the department’s online and social media presence. Our online spaces now include this blog site, which features content from staff and students, and also our Twitter account, @HistoriansUON, among other things.
For the most recent project, Emma looked into the department’s personal tutoring system. She was trying to find out both ways it worked well and ways it could be improved, to make sure the History team is being as supportive as it can be. She conducted a questionnaire survey of all the History students, and also ran a focus group of first years. Carrying out this type of research is fairly unusual for History students, as it involves finding out things about people who are very much alive, and involves getting ethical approval for all the data collection. It has also helped develop Emma’s experience in developing practical recommendations from original research, another key skill.
Emma’s research was able to show that the vast majority of our students are happy with our personal tutoring system, and they seem to view the History team as helpful and supportive. For example, her data shows that the department makes clear the role of the personal tutor very early on, and uses the system to offer students a wide range of academic and pastoral support. She was also able to highlight some areas for enhancing the way the History department delivers personal tutoring, such as rethinking our choice of meeting spaces for tutorial sessions, and adding in more scheduled personal tutor meetings throughout the year.
While Emma is now finalising a report that she will present to the History team over the summer, on 18 June she presented her research project at the university’s annual Teaching and Learning conference. Over lunch, along with other students from across the university who were granted URB@N bursaries, she talked about her research at a poster exhibition. She chatted with a wide range of lectures and others involved in delivering teaching, and was even able to get some further ideas to help refine her recommendations. Emma was a great advocate for the History department, and was able to explain in detail how the History team approached personal tutoring.
The URB@N scheme is a very important element of how the University of Northampton empowers the student voice, and is responsive to problems and issues that students face. It empowers students, and helps them engage in research that not only enhances their own skills, but also hopefully improves things for fellow students. I am look forward to being involved in more URB@N projects in the future, and hope that other History students can find it as beneficial as Emma has.
Paul Jackson, Senior Lecturer in History