Text by Noah Shepherd, third year Biological Science student.
Over this summer (May to July 2017) I worked closely with UCL Culture and the UCL Biosciences Division as a Programme Development Intern. The project focused on improving Dimension 5 of the Connected Curriculum – developing the public facing dimension of a Bioscience undergraduate module, Vertebrate Life and Evolution (BIOLM018); as highlighted in a recent CC Fellows’ Blog post.
The output of the project were the following:
- A review of the module’s focus – whether it currently meets the Connected Curriculum criteria for public facing assessment.
- A list of recommendations for how to fix insufficiencies highlighted in report 1.
- A general guidebook for other modules and programme – including this blog post, which should also aid future interns.
The first stage of the internship was meeting with supervisors and colleagues. These meetings outlined the expectations of each group which helped me to structure how to undertake the project. In these first meetings I met with my supervisor, a number of other key members of the UCL Culture team, the coordinator of the module in question and my colleague – another undergraduate student who was undertaking this internship for a different module. These meetings gave me vital leads to pursue, and essential insights into the internal workings of UCL modules and helped me to formulate the problems that I would try to tackle with regard to BIOLM018.
The UCL Culture team, in particular the Public Engagement Unit (PEU) – provided me with a list of approachable UCL teaching staff from a variety of disciplines who had incorporated public facing teaching and assessment within their respective modules. I emailed these potential contacts with a range of questions, aiming to understand how they organised and structured their respective courses to incorporated public-facing learning. Most of these contacts responded with useful advice, helping to shape my recommendations for BIOLM018.
Knowing the opinions of your classmates is vital for generating ideas that will be of interest to future students. This can be done via a review of course feedback, or by individually contacting course-mates for feedback and advice. It is important to meet with the people who can make public engagement happen. One of these was Jack Ashby, the manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology. Since the workshops and public facing presentations of BIOLM018 take place within this location it was important to get a general idea of what ideas are logistically possible, and what ones are not… Jack also possesses key knowledge about the audiences that visit the Grant Museum and therefore listening to him was essential for balancing the interests between the students, the teaching staff, the museum and of course the target audience, the public. Many of these meetings resulted in a radical shake-up of the route I had imagined, but this was vital for making sure that my suggestions have a chance of being ultimately implementation. Most of my informants are experts in their respective fields and thus provided great suggestions on how to tackle any potential problems. So it was important to provide them with a mix of recommendations and questions.
A significant part of this process has been about being creative when trying to generate public-facing activities for a module. This frequently required a balance between interesting and intellectually stimulating content. It is important not to dumb down the content to make it public friendly; students need to learn how to produce accessible degree-level material.
I would highly recommend the opportunity to take up similar module-development internship to other students, especially those who are passionate about public-facing learning. But being part of this process also grants great insight into the inner workings of the university and the courses we take. During the struggle of balancing the various needs of the different areas I have greatly developed my organisational and people skills.