Our enrichment weekend ran in February. It was specifically tailored to coincide with the end of “reading” week, which was also the school half-term. It thus ran from Friday to Sunday (10-5). It attracted 28 students (of which 15 were Distance Learners [DL]). We also Panopto-recorded all sessions for those who couldn’t attend in person.
The programme included: A session on preparing for the MA dissertation; a session on library resources for dissertation work; a workshop with RSC director Iqbal Khan; a DL drop-in session led by Dr Erin Sullivan, 2 study skills sessions with Academic Skills; 2 lectures from PhD students, sharing their current research; a guided tour of Stratford; a performance by The School of Night (comedy Shakespeare improv. company); a trip to the RSC to see As You Like It; a Q & A with leading actor from As You Like It; a workshop with the Birmingham Creative Fellow and a writing workshop run by 2 PhD students.
The time of the PhD students and the refreshments were funded by the EEF, whilst the performance from ‘School of Night’ and the theatre tickets (which were provided free) came from other funding sources.
The impact of the weekend was assessed through evaluation forms, completed at the end of the weekend. Students were asked:
- What they found most helpful;
- What they found less helpful;
- The highlight of the weekend;
- Whether they would like to see more enrichment events;
- Whether, if this were an annual event, they would come again;
- With the NATY, whether they would find an enrichment week in January or June more helpful.
For many DL students, the ‘most helpful’ aspect was being able to come on site - ‘Touching base with the Institute as a DL student’, ‘Talking to other DL students’, ‘Meeting my personal tutor in person’, ‘The opportunity to mix with other DL students’, ‘Talking to others about ideas’. For many, though, the most useful elements were the writing session, led by PhD students, and the academic skills sessions.
Whilst students said that they enjoyed the creative, practice-based workshops, these were deemed less ‘helpful’ and ‘relevant’ than elements feeding directly into the students’ MA work.
The ‘highlights’ of the event were, for many, the School of Night performance and As You Like It Q & A, both things that DL students would not normally get a chance to participate in.
All students said that they would like to see more enrichment events and would like the weekend to be an annual event. However, many stressed that although they would like to attend an enrichment week as part of the NATY, this was unlikely to be practical and thus weekends would be key for DL students. Most favoured June rather than January for a DL focussed event.
I think that key points that can be shared are:
- MA students appreciate enrichment activities, in particular those that have a direct application to their studies.
- MA students really benefit from having sessions run by PhD students. This is also good for future PhD recruitment and for PhD students in terms of their own experiences of teaching and lecturing.
- Programmes with a significant DL cohort need to consider how weekend sessions can be built into the enrichment weeks as part of the new NATY.
- It is essential to try to Panopto record all sessions for the benefit of DL students.