Contributor: Mark Holloway, Gary Spencer
Department: Languages, Linguistics and Film
A proposal was made via the E-Learning Production Scheme for assistance in the development of a landing page for the IFP, which would serve as a hub that draws programme elements together by integrating on one page:
- Links to all subject pages
- Key information on the programme and pertinent procedures
The International Foundation Programme (IFP) in Humanities and Social Sciences aims to prepare international students for the demands of undergraduate study, and around 50% of its annual cohort of 130 students progress to degree programmes at QMUL. In order to improve this figure, a number of initiatives are underway to improve student engagement with the programme. The development of a QMPlus Landing Page through the E-Learning Production Scheme is one such initiative, the underlying thinking being that a Landing Page that enables students to see the various interwoven strands of the IFP in one visual space will help students to gain a better sense of the programme’s cohesion, and thus a clearer and more satisfying student experience.
Each IFP student takes four modules: core English Language and Study Skills (ELSS) alongside three subjects chosen from around 10 available options. Although there are important areas of designed overlap between modules (particularly in terms of the application of self-reflection and critical thinking skills), there is a risk that students do not always see them. Despite the interdisciplinary aims of the IFP, it may appear disparate to some students, and this is far from the student experience we want to ensure. There is therefore scope to improve student engagement with the IFP by helping them to understand the connections between the content covered in subject modules and the skills developed in ELSS. QMplus has previously been an under-utilised resource on the IFP, but offers the potential to bring various elements of the programme (as well as wider elements of the student experience) together in one place, such as:
- a Programme-wide calendar featuring important dates and deadlines
- embedded Social Media (primarily a Twitter feed) for news and announcements relevant to IFP students (both about their course and on opportunities to engage with wider communities both within and beyond the university)
- a showcase for examples of “best practice” exhibited in student work (via repository of model student texts from previous years and links to QMplus Hub portfolios, due to be introduced in 2015/16 as an alternative to the assessed paper-based portfolios of written work currently in use)
With a new convenor joining the IFP in January 2015, and its first January-start cohort studying until July, Summer 2015 was identified as a key but resource-poor period for developments within the IFP. The teaching team were enthusiastic about the project, but lacked time or technical expertise to undertake such a task. It was agreed that having a capable QMUL student working on the project would be particularly useful not only in terms of providing the time and expertise necessary for its completion, but also for the valuable insight the student would bring in terms of achieving a look and layout that will work for the main users of the Landing Page (i.e. IFP students).
The E-Learning team recruited a recent QMUL graduate to assist with the project. Existing QMUL Landing Pages were perused for inspiration, and a template was produced by the IFP team for the E-Learning Production Scheme assistant to work from.
A key aim for the IFP Landing Page was for it to be live and current, with regularly updated content. It was therefore important that IFP staff were involved in each stage of the page’s development to ensure that they would be able to take on ownership and management of the page once the initial project was completed. The Landing Page thus developed quite organically, with the assistant creating a test page to share with the IFP team and an ongoing email dialogue facilitating tweaks and changes. Versions of the page were created, for example, with different icons and different heading styles, so that the IFP team could make decisions on options that would best suit purposes.
The project was completed with a training session in which the assistant answered technical questions about how to edit and maintain the Landing Page, and an instruction sheet was created as a reference point for anyone wishing to take on management of the page.
The IFP team are very happy with the style and functionality of their new landing page. More importantly, because they worked closely with the assistant, they feel confident that they will be able to maintain the page and keep it fresh and relevant as desired.
Staff and students will start using the Landing Page in September 2015. By bringing together core components of the IFP which cut across modules, it is hoped that the Landing Page will give students and staff alike a better understanding of the inter-connectedness of content and tasks on the programme. The new IFP calendar should help students to understand deadlines and manage their time, while also enabling staff to see when students are likely to have conflicting demands on their time. Embedded media and Social Media feeds will encourage students to look towards the wider university community and to the world around them and it is hoped that this creates a greater sense of connectedness to “reality” (linking module themes to local and global events) as well a more straightforward impetus to engage with opportunities for a more active and rewarding social life.
Designated space to showcase examples of good student work should contribute towards a celebration of excellence on the IFP, and hopefully cross-pollination, as students and staff alike gain a better understanding of the content of modules that they might not otherwise have a chance to engage with. For teaching staff, some of whom only work for QMUL on one day per week, the page provides new opportunities to collaborate and communicate, including via a staff forum, and pooled recommended resources accessed from the Landing Page rather than within individual module pages.
Advice for others
Where a project seeks to fill a “skills gap”, as in the case of our assistance providing technical expertise that the IFP teaching team lack, it is vital to have genuine collaboration between the expert and the regular users. Without regular and open communication, our assistant would have been unclear as to what we needed, and without his explanations and, ultimately, training, we would only have been able to produce an “end project” rather than a tool that we can continuously update and adapt.