As a Birmingham student you are part of an academic elite and will learn from world-leading experts. At Birmingham we advocate an enquiry based learning approach, from the outset you will be encouraged to become an independent and self-motivated learner, qualities that are highly sought after by employers. We want you to be challenged and will encourage you to think for yourself.
Your learning will take place in a range of different settings, from scheduled teaching in lectures and small group tutorials, to self-study and peer group learning (for example preparing and delivering presentations with your classmates).
To begin with you may find this way of working challenging, but rest assured that we will enable you to make this transition. You will have access to a comprehensive support system that will assist and encourage you, including personal tutors and welfare tutors who can help with both academic and welfare issues, and a formal transition review during your first year to check on your progress and offer you help for any particular areas where you need support.
Our Academic Skills Centre also offers you support with your learning. The centre is a place where you can develop your mathematical, academic writing and general academic skills. It is the centre's aim to help you to become a more effective and independent learner through the use of a range of high-quality and appropriate learning support services. These range from drop-in sessions to workshops on a range of topics including note talking, reading, writing and presentation skills.
From the outset, you will be assigned your own Personal Tutor who will get to know you as you progress through your studies, providing academic and welfare advice, encouraging you and offering assistance in any areas you may feel you need extra support to make the most of your potential and your time here at Birmingham.
The Academic Writing Advisory Service (AWAS) will provide you with individual support from an academic writing advisor and postgraduate subject-specialist writing tutors. You will receive guidance on writing essays and dissertations at University-level which can be quite different from your previous experiences of writing. Support is given in a variety of ways, such as small-group workshops, online activities, feedback through email and tutorials.
The majority of you will have chosen to study subjects with us which you have had little chance to explore at School or College, and which, therefore, will be new and exciting ways of understanding ancient civilizations. These will include primary sources such as Mesopotamian, Egyptian or Classical texts which have survived to the modern day or the monuments and objects which the members of those civilizations themselves created – a steadily growing resource as new discoveries are made.
Your learning with us will be your own voyage of discovery. This will be through small group projects in the first year, seminars in the second and third years and a dissertation in the third. In each year you will be guided in your learning by an expert in the subjects you have chosen and you will learn to research a variety of different source materials, to analyse them, to construct a coherent arguments and to present the story orally or in writing.
Your first year is the foundation of everything which you will achieve with us. In your first year you will be introduced to the University of Birmingham’s principles of Enquiry Based Learning (EBL). We will guide you in methods of research, give you feedback on each task, help you improve your style of writing and your use of referencing. We will show you how to examine the views of scholars critically as well the evidence they have used and you will use to construct your stories about each task. Gradually, you will come to rely on the evidence you have found for yourselves and the judgements you have formed about it more than the text books you started with. Soon it will be natural to question rather than accept, to argue your own theories and to be unafraid to disagree with us as well as your classmates. The lectures will be led by experts in their field who will provide the background to your own discoveries, the background which is itself based on the latest research and discovery. Lectures will be supported by discussion classes to provide the background to your understanding of the subject area.
You will also gain practical experience in a three week period of practical fieldwork at the end of the summer term in your first year. This provides a unique opportunity to understand the methods of archaeology in the field and to work as a team under the guidance of our expert archaeologists – and quite possibly to contribute to our knowledge with your own discoveries.
As your personal tutors, we will discuss with you individually your progress in general and identify strengths to build on – or weaknesses to be addressed. We will help you develop transferable skills as well assist you with welfare issues if necessary.
Central to Learning and Teaching in the School of History and Cultures at the University of Birmingham is critical enquiry, debate and self-motivation, summed up by the term Enquiry Based Learning.
What does this mean for you?
Enquiry-based learning describes an environment in which learning is driven by the shared enquiry of students and tutors. Depending upon the level and the discipline, it can encompass problem-based learning, evidence-based learning, small scale investigations, field work, projects and research.
Enquiry-based learning places you at the centre of your own learning process so that you learn through involvement and ownership and not simply by being a passive recipient of information thrown at you. You will spend time developing comprehension and note-taking skills. History is a subtle and complex subject and the literature you need to master can be demanding and complex. To ‘get’ it, you need plenty of thinking time. Reading, thinking and analysing for yourself are the most important parts of your degree experience. This approach will enable you to take control of your own learning as you progress through your degree. Moreover, it will encourage you to acquire essential skills that are highly valued by employers: creativity, independence, team-working, goal-setting and problem-solving.
The overall approach we adopt is one of more heavily weighted contact hours in Year 1, but tapering off over years 2 and 3, as you begin to acquire greater confidence in discussion and writing. We are strongly committed to small-group seminar teaching, particularly in the final two years of your degree: you will find that most of your teaching happens not in large, anonymous lectures but in smaller groups of students where you can actively participate in discussion and have the benefit of personal contact with academic staff. In your final year, you will also have individual tuition to help you work on your dissertation. As you progress through the syllabus, you are offered an increasingly wide range of particular subject choices.
Year 1 is highly directed – much of it lies in helping you to acquire a general overview of the medieval, early modern and near contemporary past. The ‘Practising History’ module introduces you to the key skills needed to study History at degree level and enables you to study select historical episodes. All this will help you make more informed decisions about subject choices in Years 2 and 3. These topics are increasingly specialised and enable you to get to grips with them in real depth. During your first year you will undergo a formal ?transition? review to see how you are getting on and offer you help for any particular areas where you need support.
In Year 2, in each term, you have a choice of around 15 Options to study. You will start doing preparatory work for your final-year dissertation, selecting a topic, assessing its feasibility and engaging in preliminary discussions with potential supervisors. The module History in Theory and Practice, provides an overview of the evolution of history writing and an introduction to key issues confronting historians to-day: you will find this helps you reflect on your own historical research. A notable feature of Year 2 is Group Research: about a dozen specialised historical topics for you to research, not, however, as individuals, but on a collective basis. You are divided into groups of 5-6 students, to work as a team, and to produce at the end, both individual essays and a group presentation on what you have researched. The capacity to work as part of a team, to know what it is like to have to accommodate yourself to the way others work, is a valuable asset for future employment.
In Year 3, there are some 20 Special Subjects for you to choose from, ranging from the early medieval period almost up to the present day, and covering a wide range of British, European and non-European areas. You approach the particular subject not only through reading but also by intensive study of original documents. In addition, there are around a further 14 Final Year Options to choose from in each of the autumn and spring terms. The real centre-piece of the Final Year, however, for most students is their dissertation – a piece of extended writing on a subject of your choice and which requires significant use of archival and other primary source materials. You will have done extensive preparatory work for this in Year 2. In Year 3, you will have a calibrated set of one-to-one consultation sessions with an academic supervisor, who will comment and advise on your drafts. This will be real academic writing and the results are often impressive.