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Well the Community Based Learning is curricular related, so if that’s how students and staff are making their links with these low income, these organisations serving low income communities, they are doing it as part of their curriculum. When we try and motivate this and they often ask me to go and talk to the students prior to their programme of study really or learning, I always stress that, and this often is the case, that it’s very likely you are going to find this so interesting and so uplifting and such a development of your thinking and understanding and commitments, that you might well want to stay on after you have got your 15 credit points or whatever as a volunteer.
Now if that happens, I guess you would call it, you know it goes from curricular to extra-curricular. All the other stuff, the mentoring, the international volunteering, the staff action, well I’ll come back to staff action days actually because they are slightly different, but wherever students are involved with us otherwise, yes they would see it as an add-on, as something extra.
(Staff 10, Male, Manager, Sociology) This boundary-crossing activity is not unusual, and what constitutes the curricular is likely to become more complex in the future not less so, with more employer-led and influenced programmes and schemes that emphasise the values of experiential and work-based learning outside the University.
Not all staff, however, adopted this cross-over position. Some were very clear that ECA was in addition to the opportunities provided on the course (which included similar examples to the above) and that ECA were genuinely voluntary and outside the course, even though they provided similarly positive
opportunities for student learning:
I envisage that it encompasses sporting activities, paid employment, work experience through students’ choice. A range of non-academic work so anything extra to what they’re expected to do within the University.
(Staff 4, Female, Lecturer, Sport and Leisure) This respondent drew a very clear distinction between work experience that was part of the curriculum and additional ECA even where she helped students gain
access to these opportunities:
... [work experience] where they’re doing it as part of their module, so they have to do 90 hours’ worth of work experience, then obviously that’s part of their curriculum. However, I do have some students that work with me on some of the projects that I do that are completely voluntary, that, I see that as an extra-curricular activity.
I currently am working alongside [school] which is a local primary school just at the bottom of the road, on [name], and we’ve set up a The Higher Education Academy 78 programme there or we have a committee there that is looking at the healthy eating aspects of the school, school meals, packed lunches but also promotion of physical activity. And then in the Summer we did a health week within the school where we went in and ran activities and did cooking sessions and those sorts of activities so that was part of the programme. And then we continued it and so I do have students that come along with me to the meetings to find out.
It’s normally the students that are interested in maybe going on to further fields in terms of nutrition or looking, working with children or those sorts of things.
(Staff 4, Female, Lecturer, Sport and Leisure) She is clear that this activity is entirely voluntary on the students’ part. So, although they are working alongside her, for both her and her students the activity is extra-curricular. There are other examples of staff responding with regard to their own voluntary and professional activities outside the University
that provide their students with opportunities:
Well the NMC [Nursing and Midwifery Council] would say that as specialist Nurses they need to shape policy so that they can be advocates for their client group and the only way of doing that is to become politically aware of the policy, aware of political drivers and have the skills and knowledge and competence to shape that policy and change the policy if necessary. So there’s a lot of skills involved there and the students don’t always see where they can get involved in that kind of thing. But there are lots and lots of opportunities as consultation papers come out through the Government so I give them all the opportunity to show how they influence policy by at least taking part in a consultation and giving feedback, but if they can actually be at that baseline where policy is being shaped, that’s excellent. Like for instance the Darcy review, that’s the review of the NHS, Lord Darcy has been reviewing the NHS and there have been lots of opportunities to provide feedback and to consult with that, we have just had the Nursing and Midwifery Council have just consulted on shaping the pre-registration education curriculum and the postregistration and education curricula.
(Staff 11, Female, SL, Health) She describes ‘bombarding’ her students with emails of opportunities that she forwards to them. However, it is clear that the students participate on an entirely voluntary basis and that they initiate participation. The course requires a portfolio and these examples of ECA are therefore highly visible in the course, alongside multiple other examples of her students’ ECA including: captain of the ladies hockey team, working in a local children’s home, working in a local hospice, Brownie and Guide leadership, Church activities (particularly among African students). She positively values all these as ways of demonstrating leadership and advocacy skills, and she herself is active in her local amateur dramatic society and uses her experiences to model the balancing act of domestic, work, academic and other activities to her mainly female, mature (post-qualifying) students.
The Higher Education Academy 79 8.2.2 Instability of definitions Although we have distinguished between staff who primarily identified ECA as staff-initiated and part of courses, and student-initiated, voluntary and outside the curriculum in the fuller sense, there was considerable overlap. In some interviews staff appeared to have an unstable definition of ECA switching definitions in the course of the interview and in relationship to the different sorts of activities they discussed. The instability of the term and definitions of ECA are not surprising, given that the term ‘curriculum’ is not in common usage.
‘Module’, ‘course’, ‘programme’, and ‘teaching and learning’ all have common currency, but staff are rarely invited to think of ‘curricular’ understood more broadly. The flavour of the interviews was, therefore, interesting. Our staff respondents appeared not to be re-rehearsing opinions they had already formed and were stable, but rather to be thinking out loud, backtracking and questioning whether that was what they really thought during the course of the interview. The two quotes below are illustrative – the first from the first few
minutes of the interview and the second from the last:
Yeah, it is interesting. It’s stuff that students do that we haven’t directed them to do which isn’t necessarily a requirement of their assessment in some way. But to call it extra-curricular I suppose in my head it does relate in some way to their kind of personal development, their learning, if not being drawn on as part of assessment purposes per se but if it weren’t called extra-curricular activities, it would just be life or social life or family life or something like that. And I think some things probably can fall into all those different categories.
(Staff 1, Female, PL, Design) I don’t think there is anything in my head that I’m thinking you didn’t ask about that, you haven’t gone there. What will happen, it’s quite true, you’ve made me think about things that I’ve not really questioned and thought about myself so I probably will, maybe not in two hours, but in two days or two weeks’ time, follow up a train of thought that you’ve started today. So that’s good.
(Staff 1, Female, PL, Design) Staff changed positions as they almost argued with themselves in the interviews.
Some staff, for example, started by saying they would not regard paid employment as an ECA and then later in the interview went on to talk about the possible benefits and how work might be legitimately conceptualised as an ECA.
Our participants also checked with us about whether they talking about the ‘right’ things and, as above, a number of them said they would go away and think about ECA more and perhaps also reconsider how they treated them in their teaching.
8.2.3 Staff knowledge The interviews also provoked questions for staff about what they actually knew about their students, their own positionality and identity, and some reflections
about the increasingly mass nature of higher education:
The Higher Education Academy 80 I am conscious that our students are involved in other activities and, because a number of our students are from the region, they’ll often do them at home. It’s not far to go to go home. So yeah, they’re involved in a range of activities at home but you know I don’t have experience of students being … OK, I suppose for me the bottom line is, we haven’t done research into what students do when they’re at home. What we do, what we do know is that students, we are getting more students from, from the region than we used to do and fewer students from, you know, the extremities and students have generally done some form of extra, extra-curricular activity whether it’s paid work or voluntary work. The thing is, we don’t actually know what they do.
(Staff 6, Male, PL, Sport and Leisure) Knowledge of students was also mediated through the academics own personal
interests and identities:
One of the problems for me is that as I have become more senior in the School, I have become more separated from the students. So I don’t know students now, in the last two or three years, as I would have known them before. Certainly when I started, more students talked to me about what they did outside of their course, as in terms of either voluntary work or sporting activities in particular, and occasionally their role within the Students’ Union. Now, I don’t know if it is that students aren’t doing it as much, or whether I am just not having that kind of relationship with students that enables them to talk about what they do outside of their course.
(Staff 15, Male, Professor, Built Environment) While another staff member felt that she was aware of some students’ activities
based on her own (Muslim) religious identity:
Faith and cultural activities, again depending on which groups you’re looking at, certainly the, from my point of view, because I am Pakistani, maybe I’ve got a greater awareness of what goes on in the Pakistani faith or the Muslim faith, and the Indian culture as well, I tend to know a little bit about that. So I think the Pakistani, the Muslim and the Indian students tend to be quite involved in cultural activities. I’m not sure whether that would be the same for other British students or not but again that’s probably my ignorance of what goes on outside of those cultures to be honest.
(Staff 7, Female, SL, Health) Knowledge of students appeared to be highly gendered, with more male lecturers having knowledge of the sporting activities and interests and more women lecturers giving examples of their students caring and other responsibilities. However, there were also felt to be institutional and organisational reasons for their relative ignorance or knowledge relating to the size and organisation of courses, with unsurprisingly smaller courses and course teams facilitating a greater feeling of knowing about students ECA activities, whereas larger courses limited their sense of knowing. Moreover, factors like student paid employment, and accessibility of campus parking were The Higher Education Academy 81 felt to limit the amount of time students actually spent on campus, again restricting the sense in which students were viewed by staff as part of the University community and limiting students’ access to opportunities for legitimate peripheral participation in university life.
8.3 Disciplinary orientations, epistemology and ontology
We found that: