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Archive for the 'WPeople' Category

About Care Experienced Students in Higher Education

By Amalia Mihailescu, on 17 October 2019

Hanan Hauari, whose research and collaboration with us has focused on understanding the university experiences of care leavers, has given us an insight into her most recent study to help us understand why this type of work is so important for social mobility in a higher education environment.

In recent years, there has been a lot of coverage of how few care leavers make it to university and recent reforms in higher education has meant that all fee charging universities (above £6000 a year) must formally commit to widening participation in their institutions. But how do young people from under represented groups experience higher education? Are their experiences different from that of their peers and if so in what way? The answers to these questions are not clear. Little research has been done on the student experience of disadvantage groups in higher education. However, with attention now on retention rates and a recent study (click here) reporting that nearly 20% of care leavers in university will leave before completing their course, research into the higher education experiences of care experienced students is long overdue.

Our project is a collaboration between UCL Institute of Education’s Thomas Coram Research Unit and the Access and Widening Participation office of UCL. The collaboration sought to understand the university experiences of care experienced students with a view to identifying what support is needed to improve student retention and help inform university policy and practice. We wanted to get as close as possible to the lived experiences of care leavers and therefore chose a walking interview method, a form of mobile ethnography, where participants guided researchers around their university campus and the surrounding area to explore day to day life at university. The environment is used as a kind of elicitation technique to prompt meanings and connections to place and to provoke rich and critical reflection on pastoral, academic, health and wellbeing and personal development aspects of being a student, including accessing help. Altogether, these areas give us a richer understanding of the bigger picture.

Our collaboration with the Access and Widening Participation office demonstrates UCL’s commitment to evidence led policy and practice on social mobility and education. If universities are serious about raising the aspirations of students from groups who are under-represented at university and supporting them through their journey in higher education, they need to understand what it is really like to be a care experienced student at university and the challenges they face. Only then can the appropriate support be identified and put in place.

A word from the writer:

I grew up in inner city London where I was educated in a local comprehensive. I later studied History and Politics at undergraduate level and gained a Masters degree in European Politics. I began my research career working in applied social and public policy research organisations and worked extensively on research projects under the Every Child Matters policy framework. In April 2007, I joined the Thomas Coram Research unit, IOE, UCL and continued  my research on children, young people and families. To date, much of my research has focused on the lived experiences of young people that have grown up in local authority care. I am particularly interested in their transitions out of care and into adulthood, including their educational journeys, with a focus on exploring the interacting personal and social attributes which determine their individual experiences and can therefore help inform how they can be better supported to make successful transitions in adulthood.

WPeople: Jenny McGovern

By Amalia Mihailescu, on 19 September 2019

In retrospect of our Summer Challenge programme, Jenny McGovern, now a Postdoc in the department of Immunity and Transplantation, has shared some thoughts on her experience with our Widening Participation team, from school student to UCL academic staff.

In the summer of 2002 I knew I wanted to go to university but I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what to expect when I got there. My parents had never been to university and didn’t have much advice to offer; I was worried that the work would be too hard, the other students far too clever and that no one else would be like me. So, I went on the UCL widening participation summer school and I LOVED it. The work was stimulating and my cohort were a group of fellow nerds who asked even more questions than me!

Fast-forward to summer 2018, I was now six years post-PhD and more excited than ever about science and research. So, I turned to UCL Widening Participation to see if I could run a course like the one I had done all those years ago.

I opted to run a Summer Challenge programme over six weeks and I corralled some PhD students to help me out (the lovely Francesca Sillito and Gabrielle Ferry). The experience has been amazing and the students are, unsurprisingly for a bunch who self-elect to have two extra hours of school each week, incredibly bright and keen to learn. Any doubt that we’re boring them or going over their heads has been dispelled by the enthusiasm and ability they show when completing worksheets or doing presentations. When you put so much time into planning something it’s great to have a receptive audience!

Now I’ve come full circle; I’ve been both student and teacher. To any prospective students thinking about the programme I would urge you to give it a try. You just have to show up and engage – there’s no homework or unnecessary pressure AND you might just surprise yourself. To any prospective organisers, I hope that my path from apprehensive 18-year old to PhD and beyond demonstrates that being exposed to experiences like these can change your whole outlook on the future. So, what are you waiting for?

A word from the writer: 

My love of complex systems led me to study Anatomical Sciences at the University of Manchester. After my first year, I was encouraged to enter a four-year programme with a year in industry. Spending a year in the lab built my technical skills and was my first introduction to the power of manipulating the immune system for therapy – I was hooked! I took up a PhD at UCL to study immune regulation in disease settings and have spent the years since investigating mechanisms of immune regulation and trying to understand how these can be applied to treat a range of diseases. Most recently, my research has focused on genetic engineering of immune cells with features that make them better at controlling immune responses.


WPeople: Nick Witham

By Lauren Sandhu, on 11 April 2019

Today we are talking to Dr Nick Witham from UCL’s Institute of Americas because today is our Year 12 Americas Masterclass.

1.How did you come to be at UCL?

I finished my PhD at the University of Nottingham in 2012, and then worked for three years teaching American Studies and History at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent. I was very excited to join UCL in 2015, not only because of its amazing reputation as a research university, but also to shape the teaching offered in my home department, the Institute of the Americas, where I led the team that designed the exciting new undergraduate programme, the BA in History and Politics of the Americas.

2. What is your job at UCL?

I teach twentieth century American history to undergraduate and postgraduate students. I lead a whole range of modules that cover politics and culture in the United States, in particular during the Cold War (c. 1945-1989). As well as this teaching, I am Programme Director and Admissions Tutor for the BA History and Politics of the Americas programmes, which involves ensuring that the degree is running smoothly from admissions all the way through to graduation (our first cohort of students will graduate in 2021). Beyond this, I am the author and editor of several books and journal articles, the research for which informs all of the teaching that I do.

3. How are you involved in Widening Participation?

As Admissions Tutor for the BA History and Politics of the Americas programmes, I run all of my department’s undergraduate admissions, which includes widening participation.

4. Why is Widening Participation important to you?

Studying for three or four years at university is a rewarding and enjoyable experience for all students. But from the outside, the idea of attending UCL can seem quite daunting. I am committed to making the exceptional teaching that is on offer at UCL in the History and Politics of the Americas, as well as the opportunities for language study and study abroad, available to everyone. I want to show that these subjects are a brilliant way of seeing and understanding how the world works, through the lens of a diverse and endlessly fascinating region, the Americas.

5. Tell us a bit more about the History and Politics of the Americas Masterclass

The History and Politics of the Americas Masterclass is a two-hour session devoted to giving prospective students an insight into what it means to study the degree programme at UCL. Based around the theme of “Encountering the Americas”, which is the title of one of the degree’s Year 1 modules, and delivered by the tutors who teach on that module, the session will give students an understanding of how and why we need to understand the connections between Latin America, North America and the Caribbean if we are going to properly understand the region’s history and politics.

6. How would you describe the Masterclass to some who has never heard of it before?

This is an opportunity to learn about History and Politics, two fascinating and important disciplines that sit very well alongside each other. It is also an opportunity to discover a hugely important region of the world, the Americas, which encompass a global superpower (the United States), a large emerging economy (Brazil), important regional actors (i.e. Canada, Mexico, Argentina), developing nations (i.e. Bolivia, Haiti). Putting the region into these perspectives will help you to understand many of the major historical and political dynamics in the modern world.

7. What would be your main bit of advice for someone thinking about studying History and Politics of the Americas?

If you are primarily interested in History or Politics, or in the United States, the Caribbean, or Latin America, this will be an important entry point into our degree. But you should also remember that studying the other discipline and other regions will hugely increase your overall knowledge and your understanding. It will also give you a wider-ranging set of transferable skills to take into the job market.

8. What would be your advice to young people who want to learn more about the history and politics of the Americas?

Read, think, debate! There are many websites and blogs out there that will help you to better understand the History and Politics of the Americas. From mainstream daily newspapers like the New York Times to alternative online publications like NACLA, you should aim to draw on as wide a range of information as possible, to help you understand the region and its political and historical development.

A word from the writer: 

I am a historian of the twentieth century United States, with a particular interest in the ways that protest has shaped American politics and culture. I teach the undergraduate modules “The Making of Modern America, 1920-present”, “The United States and the Cold War”, and “American Radicalisms, 1945-1989”.


UCL Teacher Action Research Project – interview with teacher Martin Hanlon

By Lauren Sandhu, on 22 March 2019

Today we catch up with Martin Hanlon @martinhanlon369, a teacher (at Ark Evelyn Grace Academy, London) who is currently participating in our UCL Teacher Action Research Project (TARP).

I got involved with the UCL Teacher Action Research Project through my involvement with UCL’s Teacher Summer School. I am always aware that there is an academic world of educational research in universities that too often in the past hasn’t always aligned with the world of education in the classroom. During the summer school, it became clear that there was an opportunity to engage with this academic world of research and to attempt to bridge the gap between research and practice, as well as developing and improving my own pedagogy.

My area of focus on the research project is retrieval practice exercises, such as low-stakes content quizzes, free recall activities and direct question and answer sessions. The emerging findings from academic research suggest that student outcomes will improve if students are given multiple opportunities to recall key pieces of curriculum content and knowledge. I am interested in exploring this area as it seems fairly easy to plan and integrate into lesson plans, it is easy to explain to students and as the processes are designed to be low-stakes then it doesn’t create any stress or anxiety for the students.

The school that I work in has a large proportion of Pupil Premium students and a large number of Black Caribbean and African students. My particular focus is on the students who have managed to make it to Key Stage 5 and are currently studying in Year 13. All of the students intend to go to university and the majority of them will be the first generation to attend. The barriers to university – especially the more prestigious ones – are significant and it is pleasing to note that there are a number of social mobility programmes helping us to remove some of the barriers. But the most significant barrier is the simple fact that our students don’t get the grades to get them to prestigious universities in the first place. The attraction of retrieval practice is that it helps the students learn content in a clear, precise and identifiable way. Clearly, A Levels expect more than information retrieval but it seemed to me that students who have lots of knowledge are at an advantage over those who don’t – and therefore if we are going to genuinely enable social mobility, we need to bridge the knowledge gap and give our students the tools to become successful learners.

Implementing the research so far has been quite challenging. In my own practice I have had to adapt and grow methods that suit my teaching style. I soon learned that a process of teaching content followed by a quiz was fairly dry stuff. But it has been interesting to consider different approaches and to see the effects that successful recall of knowledge has had on the students. Similarly, many other teachers have begun to utilise these practices and to develop their own. We have set up a small Research and Development (R and D) group in school and I send out a weekly update of interesting research and practice to the whole staff, so the project has helped to fire enthusiasm and engagement.

In the short term, I plan to blog more about my experiences and to encourage other members of the R and D group to do the same. We are going to be collecting our experiences together in the summer term and producing a booklet for the rest of the staff to use and will hopefully get some CPD time to explore our findings and to disseminate them to the staff as a whole as piece of training. As a member of the Ark Network, I am also hoping to be able to disseminate findings across the wider network and to continue my work with a wider group of teachers.

I firmly believe that more teachers should be engaged with the process of action research and the task of reading articles about learning – it is easier now than it has ever been and I would heartily recommend that if any teacher is interested, they should definitely have a go.

If you are interested in learning more about the Teacher Action Research Projects, including an opportunity to hear from the teachers involved and the project facilitators, why not join us on Monday 9 July 2019 (6.00pm-7.30pm) for a special project event. The event will explore the impact of the projects and offer practical advice for teachers approaching research in schools. Please complete this online form to receive further information.  

Applications for the UCL Teacher Summer School 2019 are open until Friday 10 May 2019.

A word from the writer:

Martin Hanlon: I have worked as a teacher and leader in South London for over twenty five years, and was a founding member of staff at Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton. Passionate about teaching, I engage with educational research with the intention of providing my students with informed strategies to help them learn more effectively, gain better grades and go on to lead productive, rewarding and happy lives.