This is part one in a series of four blog posts conceived by Tom Langston and Rugaiya Ally as part of Rugaiya’s work placement within DCQE’s Academic Development and Technology Enhanced Learning teams.
Tom and Rugaiya wanted to explore students’ feelings about higher education and their expectations about life at university, and therefore devised a set of questions to ask students about their experiences. Rugaiya then interviewed 14 fellow students from across the university faculties (with a predominant number studying in the Science and Business faculties) with most studying at Level 5. This series of posts constitutes a condensed summary of the thoughts and opinions of those 14 students.
Here, in part one, we investigate what areas of their course students find to be a strength and where they struggle with the progression through their course. In part two we explore student expectations prior to coming to university. In part three we examine students’ attitudes toward their future careers. Finally, in part 4, we look at university life in general.
Strengths and weaknesses of the course
I asked: “What are the major strengths of this course”.
The general feeling from most students was extremely positive. One response was: “Being in the second year made me realise how much this course was not only theoretical based. This is because of the placement team that is always there to offer its help. Even though I did not manage to land a placement, the placement team helped me learn more about my future career.”
Another student mentioned that providing a safe space to learn is key: “To be able to practice in a simulated environment and the availability of many placement opportunities for gaining practical knowledge and skills.”
A couple of students found positives in the content but also found that the course developed their wider skill sets: “The major strength of this course will be that it covers a lot of areas regarding management and business. It also investigates different perspectives of decision making.”
In the next 30-second clip of audio, a student mentioned that developing their skills, both subject-specific, as well as more general, transferable skills, was important to the course. Strengths (0:29)
For some students, their subject interest was enhanced when they could see instant real-world implications: “Being able to learn about the patterns people have and apply that to real life immediately … I like how psychology allows me to explore different fields and learn about different ways of associating those fields, for example, perfumery and psychology: psychology helps us understand the emotions perfumes trigger and the moods each perfume may create on different people.”
For other students, the opportunity to engage with the subject was a key advantage: “It gives you the ability to relate to all global political and diplomatic affairs.”
An obvious strength is the role the lecturer plays in engaging the students: “The lecturers are really good and some of them make the lectures more enjoyable to listen to and pay attention to.”
The next question related to the potential negatives of their experiences. Asking “What were the major weaknesses with your course?”
Several students noted that they identified the weaker areas of their course to be when they struggled with specific skills or places where they might need help and support. For example: “The weakest aspect of this course will be the financial area, mostly because the calculations are quite different.”
The idea that students are required to have a certain level of self-efficacy is important, but not to the detriment of well-being: “… it is the student’s responsibility to keep track of their studies, but the university needs to also follow up on students’ performance – especially those that wouldn’t normally do well.”
It should also not be taken as a given that a lecture or seminar space provides complete clarity of the subject: “Having a lecturer who lacks the ability to explain his module explicitly in lectures.”
A common problem raised by students (as heard in the next 45-second audio clip) relates to the structure of not just one module, but multiple modules, and how their assessments are often grouped together. This can increase the pressure of a student’s workload. Weaknesses (0:45)
Some students found that Covid led to difficulties (as everyone expected). The transition to online working, however, raised problems not only with the loss of face-to-face interactions but, more importantly for the future of the blended and connected experience, how online activities were structured into the learning process. The following 27-second clip highlights the issue that students faced. Weakness (0:27)
As demonstrated above, there were many positives to a student’s experience at the University. In particular, students liked to see that they were learning more than just content but how the overall experience of university life was developing them personally. Despite the positives, however, the students identified areas for improvement, particularly in how courses and modules are designed and structured to create a manageable and achievable workload. Students wanted to achieve good grades and have a great social experience at university; inevitably, Covid impacted this.