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Bouncing Back: Building Community and Fostering Belonging

By IOE Digital, on 10 August 2022

By Alex Wong, Social Sciences BSc

Starting my university journey in the middle of a global pandemic was not what I had in mind as I touched down (on a mostly empty flight) at Heathrow. I had never felt more out of sync in my life, lugging around my suitcases like a lifeline. The sharp contrast between reality and my ideal university life only served to magnify what I felt was missing from this new chapter – meeting new people, exploring a foreign place, while immersing myself in an academically rigorous program. Instead, the year passed by in a blur of lockdowns, zoom classes and monotony. One thing I did learn is that it is difficult to feel upbeat when the sun sets at 4pm as you’re watching from your window waiting for a takeout.

Another thing I learnt is that feelings of isolation and missed opportunities rarely just ‘go away.’ Returning to UCL as a Year 2 student, I was confident in the institution’s ability to reinstate the ‘new normal’ and felt emboldened to make the most of my time as an on-campus student. Through in-person activities, I strove to bond with my peers, many of whom I was meeting for the first time. More often than not, conversations would drift to our first year experiences, the amount of time that was taken from us to make new friends, connections and memories. I was amazed by the extent to which I could empathise with those accounts. This sparked a period of introspection, compelling me to aspire to make up for lost time not just for myself, but also for other students in the department.

My hopes came to fruition after reaching out to the Social Research Institute (SRI) departmental staff, who actively supported this initiative. They, along with the Year 3 students, pointed me in the direction of an existing departmental society that was started by even earlier batches of Social Sciences students, who started it in hopes of creating a communal space for students to socialise and collectively further their interests in the social sciences. Reviving the society culminated in a round of elections, in which I became the president. Along with my new team, we wanted the society to once more become a platform for all SRI students to reach out to one another. As the year progressed, it became evident that creating a sense of student belonging was even more challenging than anticipated. Since the department had expanded to include a new undergraduate course in Sociology the year I matriculated, we needed to redefine the former “social sciences” to ensure it remained inclusive for all.

Between classes and assignments, the society planned social activities for students, even collaborating with course representatives. The biggest – and most perhaps most daunting – project the departmental society volunteered to help with was the dissertation festival, an in-person event jointly organised with the department towards the end of the year for the first time since 2019, before the pandemic. Its purpose was to provide an opportunity for the entire department to come together to congratulate the graduating batch for finishing their dissertations. We invited these students to present their dissertations, while encouraging others to attend and listen in, perhaps even to draw inspiration for their own dissertations. The department planned for a full day programme: a keynote speech from an alumnus, a panel discussion with inspiring individuals and finally, a small celebration to mark the end of the festival.

Amidst university deadlines, the society spent their time planning decorations, food, and games with staff members. On the eve and actual day of the event, we recruited volunteers to help put up decorations and guide attendees around the main campus. The event was a heartening moment that marked the culmination of an extraordinary batch of undergraduate students, who overcame multiple obstacles throughout their time here at UCL. Personally, it was a privilege to be involved in the ups-and-downs of planning. Through it, my role in the society dovetailed with my personal goals of creating a community and sense of belonging within the department for both myself and my peers. Without the immense support of those around me, it would have been impossible to juggle both my academic and society responsibilities. It was a relief to know that I was never alone and through it all, many of my peers were willing to make sacrifices for this event. Be it cutting out letters and blowing balloons for half a day or coming to campus at eight in the morning to start preparations, the reality of the close-knit community that was created exceeded what I could have imagined.

I believe that more concerted efforts should continue to be made to create a supportive community within the SRI. My unforgettable experiences thus far with the revival of the departmental society and the planning of the dissertation festival has shown me that it is possible to bounce back from less-than-ideal circumstances. Together with other students, we have continued to put in suggestions to improve students’ experiences in the SRI. Without revealing too much, I am looking forward to the continued support that my department has provided and what my final year as an undergraduate student at UCL has to offer.

My Work Experience Placement at Green Schools Project

By IOE Digital, on 5 August 2022

By Sakura Goto, Education Studies BA

Have you ever wondered if undergraduates on a three year course can get enough work experience before graduation?  The BA Education Studies has got this covered with a new module, the Education Studies Placement Module.

About the Education Studies Placement Module

In Year two, BA Education Studies students can choose the optional module ‘Education Studies Placement Module’.  This module employs ‘work-integrated learning’ – a curriculum design which exposes students to a professional work placement setting along with the formal learning (Cameron et al., 2017) to develop transferable skills and pre-professional identity among undergraduates (Jackson, 2017). During the first ten weeks of the module, students study the key academic debates regarding potential educational career fields, in which topics are divided into the three strands – Policy, Heritage and Culture, and Voluntary and Community

At the end of term one, each student chooses the strand they are interested in and are assigned to an organisation for the placement. Students then work at their allocated places in terms two and three, while attending a few workshops relating to specific skills, such as writing CV.

As a student who took the placement module, I am here to share the experience and my thoughts on participating in this module.

My Placement Experience

The organisation that I was assigned to is Green Schools Project (GSP), one of the Policy placement organisations. GSP is a social enterprise that provides schools with support and resources to develop a method for tackling the climate crisis (Greenwood, 2021; Slawson, 2020).

My placement task was to research local councils’ climate-related policy and to evaluate whether a council is likely to collaborate with or support GSP. The research was done online using websites and council reports. The outcome of the placement took the form of presentation both in person and online. As well as the presentation, we also created a spreadsheet that gave an overview of all the researched information, a group of documents that summarised the climate policies of each council in detail, a list of contacts for each council and a template email to reach out to council staff for support.

Reflection on my Placement

The following are the benefits I gained from this module.

I deepened my academic knowledge by linking it to a real-life situation

Usually, knowledge that we gain from lectures is academic and we do not get a chance to apply this knowledge in a different context. However, the placement module provides students with an opportunity to connect their academic knowledge with placement experiences. For instance, in term one, I learned about the growing complexity of the policy-making process and from the GSP placement I became able to imagine the role and the impact of GSP as an actor on the environmental policy cycle. This process of making academic knowledge live in a real-life situation made my learning more meaningful.

I developed time-management skills

Since placement hours were limited, I set an overall goal to research 30 or more councils, breaking that down into weekly goals. When building my plan, I made sure that I set a specific measurable goal with a deadline and shared that with the manager. I also used the Pomodoro technique – 25 minutes of work, following five minutes break – to measure my working hours and to maintain my motivation. With those efforts, I was able to successfully complete research on 40 councils and carry out a 15-minute presentation.

I developed collaboration and communication skills

Collaboration was particularly important and difficult in my placement because all tasks were done online. Despite my past experiences in teamwork at high school, the teamwork required in an online environment was challenging. It required some degree of autonomy and initiative compared to in-person communication. Hence, I learned to actively contact another student to check on each other’s work and projects for the final presentation.

Overview

In order to give undergraduates the ability to survive in the competitive job market, it is significant for universities, including UCL to utilise work-integrated curricula (Gerloff & Reinhard, 2019). Exposure to a professional culture in the workplace can help make students ready and confident to get into a career, as I did through the Education Studies Placement Module. Unlike other modules, the knowledge and experiences students can get from the placement module are practical and useful. I highly recommend taking it if you have the chance!

Bibliography

Cameron, C., Freudenberg, B., Giddings, J., & Klopper, C. (2017). The program risks of work-integrated learning: a study of Australian university lawyers. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 40(1), 67–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360080x.2017.1377969

Greenwood, H. (2021, September). 2020-2021 Zero Carbon Schools Pilot Impact Report. Green Schools Project. https://www.greenschoolsproject.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Zero-Carbon-Schools-Pilot-Impact-Report.pdf

Jackson, D. (2017). Developing pre-professional identity in undergraduates through work-integrated learning. Higher Education, 74(5), 833–853. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-016-0080-2

Slawson, N. (2020, September 23). Pupil power: how students are turning schools green. The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2017/apr/28/pupil-power-how-students-are-turning-schools-green

 

My route to IOE

By IOE Digital, on 27 January 2022

Pupils in Science class

By Kyle Meyers, Education (Science) MA

I was brought up in an environment of highly motivated educators in the form of my grandmother and both my parents. My mother has been a co-ordinator of the Pre–Primary section of a prominent school in south-central Mumbai and my deceased father, apart from being a radio-analyst by profession, was the proprietor of Meyers Teaching Institute, where he himself passionately taught along with a band of teachers. Since 2011, the demise of my father, I had to shoulder the mantle of running Meyers Teaching Institute, along with my mother when I was 15 years of age.

I am a graduate in Chemistry from St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Mumbai. Following which I earned my Master’s Degree in Analytical Chemistry from Sophia College, University of Mumbai. I also worked for 10 years with Meyers Teaching Institute, along with many other part time jobs associated with Education. My pivotal time of educational exploration was during my time at St. Xavier’s College as an Assistant Professor with the Department of Chemistry teaching the course Applied Chemistry – Neuroscience and Drug & Colour Chemistry.

In search of new creative frontiers, I was thrilled to find a teaching career in schools. As an ambitious professional with three and a half years’ experience in teaching at the undergraduate level, I believed that joining IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society could help me crystallize my tutoring or coaching skills. I believed that I would be able to teach chemistry in an enthusiastic and technology-oriented way and UCL would be that platform for me.

My former role as an Assistant Professor and all of my tutoring experiences have helped me evolve strong leadership skills with an ability to contribute through communication and innovation. However, I see myself in secondary education tutoring over my current role in Higher Education thus, I applied to IOE. Besides my eagerness to apply to IOE for a career in Education, there were three other reasons that favoured UCL for higher education.

  • I read from the QS World University Rankings that University College of London ranks 8th for its quality education and student life (rank at the time of applying for the course), which is a reason for me to be motivated to apply to the University. For centuries, the British have been known for the quality education they have passed to the world. Thus, here I am!
  • Alumni from UK universities, particularly UCL, have a higher rate of employment, as the courses encompass better student growth – that motivated me to apply to this course.
  • The Coursera Courses made by UCL strongly motivated me to apply to this University. The course titled ‘What is the future of Education?’ by IOE’s Professor Clare Brooks stimulated my thought process in Education and was the most pivotal point for my decision to carry out research in Education. I wrote a blog based on this course (Looking into the future) on my own blog website.

With guidance from my Head, Department of Chemistry at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai – Mr Marazban Kotwal I tried out some research on Undergraduate students of St. Xavier’s College in Flip Classroom and other relevant Pedagogy. But my ideas in educational research needed refining, and IOE is the medium for me to achieve this distilled research approach. The MA Education (Science) at IOE has been a platform for learning not just to inform me (and my peers) of the various pedagogical tools or the global concerns of education, but also to encourage enquiry-based learning and research-oriented learning paradigms.

Having prior research experience in the fields of Chemistry and Neuroscience, and having published papers in the same, educational research was something new. The necessary rules, ethics and methodologies would certainly be more insightful, and yes, IOE lives up to the expectations I had and far beyond. With expert advice from Joanne Nicholl (Programme Leader) and John Connolly, the learning outcomes of this course have helped build in me (and I would assume in my peers) a stable foundation for educational research and a sound knowledge in the field.

To many who are already qualified or yet to be qualified teachers, I would always recommend future applicants to apply to this course as a strong base for new educational learning methods.

Mental health at UCL: you are not alone

By IOE Digital, on 20 August 2020

Man listens to a female student talking while sitting on a bench outside the UCL Institute of Education

By Callum Flynn, Psychology with Education BSc

Starting University can be a scary feat for anybody – I know it was for me. But my biggest concerns may vary from those of many others. Research conducted by UniHealth found the most common concern for first years is not the money, food or academic performance, which can all be major worries, but rather friendship and making friends. However, for myself, and anybody else who suffers with their mental health, this is often the biggest concern. That being said, all other normal worries faced by first-year students add to this pressure.

Regardless of the point in your life you start university, whether as a student fresh from compulsory education, or a mature student like me, it’s normal to worry. Let me tell you are not alone if you are concerned about things such as whether or not you are going to be able to make friends, if you will have enough money to pay your rent, what you are going to eat or if you will be able to keep up with the workload of your course. These worries are always a concern for all new students, but for some of us who face challenges with our mental health, they can cause additional problems – from panic attacks due to anxiety, struggling with low mood from depression, through to coping with bipolar disorder.

Well, the good news is, you are not alone. These conditions some of us face daily will not prevent you from achieving your goals. There is also more good news and that is UCL is fantastic, in fact incredible, at providing the right support for those of us in need.

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PGCE Music – The Covid Cohort

By IOE Digital, on 13 August 2020

PGCE Music - Think About Things

By Rebecca Appleby

It is a steep learning curve for everyone when lessons move so abruptly to the virtual world. It took my year 12s longer than you might think to realise that I, another person on a video call, could see them texting each other, even though you would think they would do me the courtesy of trying to be subtle. It also took my year 10s at least three lessons to realise that the trick of joining a call, turning your video off, and then going back to sleep doesn’t work so well when you forget to leave the call at the end of the lesson. I see it as reassuring, however, that my students adapted so well to online teaching that they behaved in their normal, creatively disruptive ways.

We are taught during our PGCE year that our skills in thinking on our feet when a lesson does not go according to plan will be honed throughout the years, but not all years contain the challenges that 2020 has brought. This year has been a masterclass in adaptability; teachers and students all over the country have had to adjust to the school closures, making use of technology, and working to keep young people engaged in their education despite cancelled exams. As trainees, we had to adapt to our placements abruptly ending, and the disparities in subsequent training and department involvement.

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A Room with a View: Learning through Lockdown

By fola.brady.19, on 11 June 2020

Just as businesses are adapting to the remote working environment created by lockdown, so must staff and students at the IOE in order to maintain learning during Covid-19.

On a personal level, this has taken me from my room in Camden Town to the left-hand corner of my mother’s attic (there are birds living in the roof on the other side and I don’t particularly want to befriend them). Yet, even from my “desk” (read: shelf), with its temperamental Wi-Fi, soundtrack of occasional muffled arguments or hooting from the ceiling, and even the carousel of visiting cats – I feel I will have grown as a learner by the time I return to UCL.

During an average term – working out of the computer room in the IOE wing, accessing the Newsam Library and its facilities or studying with friends in the downstairs lobby – one can’t help but become accustomed to an interdependent environment. The community at the IOE is shaped by its work in pedagogy. Projects such as those to improve education for marginalised or SEN groups embody the drive for social change through research and discussion. This collaborative environment is to the benefit of all, and research is shared frequently through talks and presentations open to all students and staff. Learning is further guided by academic writing workshops and retreats hosted by the Academic Writing Centre, where peer-supported learning is used to create co-operative working patterns and to hone research and writing skills.

The loss of the benefits of physical presence at Bedford Way, therefore, has made me a more versatile learner. Without the facilities and consultation available to me there, information is more difficult to disseminate, outstanding work appears mountainous and morale can drop. As such, my work is mandated to be streamlined. Despite the endless reams of hours available to me to leaf through PowerPoint slides, my focus is increased to prevent my work drifting into ineffectual browsing. My academic circles have moved online, with new modes of exchange are emerging and flourishing to partially fill the deficit of life at the Institute – and they will stay, integrated into mine and others’ working strategies irrevocably in the future.

But beyond developing strategies to cope with the challenges of remote work, the situation is a retrospective highlight of opportunities at the IOE I could perhaps have utilised more over my first year there. Clearly, Covid-19 has placed a premium on proximal interaction but the understanding of my own cognition and academic values I have gained from learning through lockdown means that I will engage more fully with the IOE when I return in person. Certainly, I will be attending more writing retreats, since the value of exchange and collaboration has increased exponentially. Lines of feedback from academic staff have also become crucial and I wish I had taken further advantage of the opportunities at the IOE for collaboration before term was interrupted. However, recent provision by the IOE,  such as the Writing Buddies scheme established by the Academic Writing Centre in light of student feedback on isolation will prove invaluable in creating networks for academic betterment.

I may currently be confined to a perch between a fold-up sun lounger and the Christmas china, but my sense of affiliation to the community at the IOE is renewed. In the short restful periods between avoiding family members and ushering out wayward sparrows, I look forward to engaging with the new IOE podcast, which promises to span the breadth of the Institute’s research in education and social science, with its customary focus on application in policy and practice. The utilisation of Blackboard Collaborate on a faculty level to share experiences of remote learning and to gain one-to-one academic support is a coping mechanism that promises to improve communication long-term, rather than merely stem the loss of face-to-face interaction. Dissertation discussions, webinars and Q&A sessions have moved online and the consistent contact by the academic support staff at the IOE means that physical distance is little obstacle to accessing the resources of community learning.

I will look forward to participating more fully in life at the IOE when term eventually starts. But until then, I will renew my use of the resources hosted by the staff to improve myself academically and socially during lockdown.

Becoming a researcher at undergraduate level: You can do this!

By IOE Digital, on 8 June 2020

UCL Changemakers

UCL ChangeMakers workshop

By Omar Hallab, Social Sciences BSc

As someone who has been able to harness the power of conducting research at undergraduate level both inside the classroom through opportunities within my department and later outside university in the professional sphere, I am here to share with you the benefits I have gained.

1. Building confidence

As a BSc Social Sciences student, I have been rigorously trained in both quantitative and qualitative methodology.  Whatever UCL degree you are undertaking, you are likely to get exposed to research methodology in your field, especially through our Connected Curriculum ‘which aims to ensure that all UCL students are able to learn through participating in research and enquiry at all levels of their programme of study.’

The first time I witnessed real-life impacts of research at university was through a UCL ChangeMakers project – a Social Sciences Consultancy lead by Dr Katie Quy.  ChangeMakers funds departmental projects allowing ‘students and staff to work together in partnership to bring about improvements to the student learning experience at UCL.’ Our project consisted of collecting data from students to improve both their learning experience and student-staff relations. We designed a survey for students on our programme in order to gain insights into four key domains: demographics, module development, careers and administration. We then followed up by conducting focus groups. As a team, we analysed the data and synthesised findings in a report which we presented to our department at the end of the project. The department was very pleased with our work, and we have already starting witnessing fundamental changes in our educational experiences. For instance, the department has already developed new politics modules, and the Careers Service now specifically targets jobs for our degree.

The project felt very special since it was conducted by students, for students. I have been able to draw on and develop the methodology skills I acquired and I also got the chance to improve my writing and oral communication skills. Being part of this team exposed me to teamwork and constructive feedback and has allowed me to grow in confidence.

2. Career opportunities

My advice to current students is to definitely think about undertaking work experience during your studies. UCL has a plethora of resources to support you in sourcing meaningful, relevant internships that can help you work towards your future career. A lot of these opportunities are research-based, so do engage with UCL Careers!

In my second year I started seeking summer internships in the field of social research through which I could build on the skills I had been developing. I attended UCL Careers’ training sessions, which provide invaluable support on building your CV, writing your Cover Letter, finding internships and even editing your LinkedIn page. I decided to apply for an internship at Ipsos Mori and eventually received the position.

At Ipsos Mori, I worked as a Public Affairs/Market Research Intern in the Social Research Institute, with a focus on delivering large-scale evaluation projects for clients including the Home Office, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Department of Transport and the European Investment Bank. I gained exposure to diverse projects, each expanding on my capabilities as a researcher. I had the opportunity to work on topics I was passionate about – from roads reform and community cohesion, to investment finance and trade policy post-Brexit. I was encouraged to design my own timetable, and think rationally about how to distribute my time across the different projects. This internship was fundamental in shaping my professional character. I learned to be flexible, work well under time pressure, pay attention to detail and remain organised. I was able to undertake training sessions that directly fed into the skills needed to complete the evaluation projects. One of my favourite aspects of the internship was the intellectual and critical skills it required me to draw on. I was asked to think about ‘the story behind the data’, and engage with ‘the ‘bigger picture’. I believe this approach has now streamed into other aspects in my life, whether it is in completing data collection for my dissertation or reading an article in The Economist. I also gained a sense of the kind of jobs I should be aiming for in the future.

3. Considering further study

Undertaking research experience at university can be a great way to build on your knowledge, and navigate your position in the world of academia. My advice is to go ahead and email your favourite professors whose research you are passionate about to ask about future opportunities – many staff are keen on and encourage student-staff collaborations.

Many departments and research centres here at UCL are on the look-out for current students to help on research projects that are relevant to the topics they study. During the summer of 2019, I volunteered as a part-time Research Assistant with the Department of Social Science. Led by Dr Rachel Rosen and Dr Veena Meetoo, the opportunity consisted of a mixed-method evaluation of a local authority (LA) project for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). We critically evaluated the literature on community cohesion and integration in the context of UASC in the UK, and worked on developing a theoretical framework through which we could analyse the data collected – answering the question ‘What values do the concepts of “integration” and “community cohesion” bring in relation to UASC’s wellbeing.’

As someone who is passionate about the topic of migration, this was a great opportunity to understand the mechanisms through which knowledge is generated in the field and learn directly from leading scholars. Intellectually, it challenged me to build a theoretical framework, an opportunity that made me strongly reflect about whether I want to study a master’s related to politics and migration.

Finally…

My final piece of reflection is this: Research can be an inward-looking task. Through research, you will find yourself reflecting on your passions, your contributions to the world and what kind of jobs you would like to do in the future. You will discover a lot about yourself through the process, and hopefully, you will be grateful for the person you have become through your work.

 

 

Debating Amongst the Best: My Journey at the 2020 World Universities Debating Championship in Bangkok

By IOE Digital, on 4 June 2020

Assumption University Campus

The Assumption University campus was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Pictured is the lake and pagoda surrounded by the lush greenery of campus, glistening under the afternoon sun.

By Basak Su Aray.

Basak is a second year Social Sciences BSc student at the IOE and a committee member of UCL Debating Society.

It was the first weekend of November, and under the fluorescent lights sat ten or so of us, some scribbling last-minute notes while others studied the panel of adjudicators who were about to assess our performance. The trial for the 2020 World Universities Debating Championship was short yet intense, consisting of a single round of debating. By the end of the afternoon the judges had made their picks. Hearing my name called out amongst three others to represent UCL at the tournament was a moment of shock and joy I will never forget.

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Good places to eat and drink around UCL

By tina.yang.17, on 5 December 2019

Pasta. cherry tomatoes and mozarella

The city of London celebrates its great diversity in many ways. One of which is its abundant culinary choices. Simply exploring around UCL, you will easily find cuisines from all over the world. With so much choice on offer, it can sometimes be tricky to quickly spot the ideal one during your lunch break when you are ravenous after a lecture. So if you fancy an exciting food journey beyond what our campus canteens could offer, here’s a list of drinks and food that you can count on.

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Make the most of studying resources across UCL and London

By linda.wystemp.17, on 24 October 2019

At UCL and across London there is a vast array of different study resources available to help you make the most of your time at university. This list will give you with a quick overview of the resources, physical and online, that will hopefully make your learning, research, and study sessions a little easier and a little more productive.

IOE students studying in the Newsam, Library

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