Satellite Sites at UCL – A Different Distance Learning Experience
By Henry T Lancashire, on 14 June 2018
UCL is centered in and around Bloomsbury, London. Visitors’ first impressions are shaped by the Portico and Cruciform Buildings. However UCL has and continues to expand beyond its central London roots. New locations including UCL School of Management in Canary Wharf, London, and UCL East in Stratford, London, are placing students away from UCL’s main student body, but closer to relevant industries and different communities.
Some UCL locations are interwoven with other activities taking place at or near their site. This is particularly relevant to UCL’s many departments based in or around hospitals. For example UCL Institute of Child Health is adjacent Great Ormond Street Hospital, and departments including UCL Medical School and the Department of Primary Care and Population Health use space within the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead. Sites outside and on the outskirts of London, such as the Mullard Space Science Laboratory and the UCL Observatory, house departments which have relocated for space or environmental reasons.
“[The] concept of learners studying a course via ‘distance learning’ can conjure thoughts of remote people disconnected from the university’s campus life. But it shouldn’t be this way.” – UCL Distance Learning.
Students at these satellite sites face advantages and challenges their peers at the Bloomsbury campus might not encounter. This is not distance learning in the typical sense, where students do not have regular face-to-face contact with a teacher, but distance learning where distance from the main student body may alter the learning experience. For sites within London students may travel to the remote campus only occasionally or be based mainly at the site away from Bloomsbury. For example some undergraduate students take practical courses in astronomy at UCL Observatory but are based primarily in Bloomsbury, while students studying for a MSc in Nanotechnology & Regenerative Medicine are taught mostly at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London.
The Connected Curriculum emphasises connecting students: with an institution’s research; out to society; with the workplace; and with each other. Locations away from a main campus can inherently strengthen some of these links: hospital sites allow students to see the role of their studies, in society and in the workplace; while the School of Management’s location in One Canada Square at the heart of London’s financial district helps connect students with alumni working in companies within a few minutes walk.
Despite these benefits students at these sites are still physically removed from the university’s campus life. This may be positive, giving a focused environment where students are surrounded by support in their discipline and build connections out into the world beyond university, and negative, reducing student’s chances to interact with students from other disciplines and diluting the sense of belonging and identity which comes with being part of the UCL community. Appreciating and understanding the challenges and opportunities for students at satellite campuses is important to build a connected curriculum approach for this different distance learning.
As part of my on-going research as a Connected Curriculum Fellow I am investigating student and staff perceptions of these inter-campus links and identities. Through a series of focus groups at satellite sites, and on the main campus, I have been finding out what connections individuals have across campuses and how these impact on teaching, learning, and research.
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