This tool is geared towards how you can providing guidance and tips on helping students you are working with to become and remain engaged and interested in the project you have set out for them.
Working with students on a SEKE project is an exciting opportunity to bring fresh ideas and inspiration into your organisation, it can help to generate new ways of working or enhancing products and services.
It is helpful to understand the context in which the students are working, the requirements of the assessment, and how to work and engage with the project team.
Explore your students' motivations
Students undertaking your project will come with a variety of motivations. Students will appreciate the challenge and opportunities the project offers, even if it might take some time for this appreciation to be apparent.
One main motivation is likely to be that completion for the project can be a boost to a student's CV, and will give them at an advantage in the overall job selection process, especially an interview. Success of the project may be a helpful selling point for students when discussing real life examples.
For some students, the project or module will be compulsory to study; for others they will have chosen this module. So, you might have a mix of compulsory and optional. However, the CSCB research indicates that this is not a key factor once the project gets going.
As a client, it's very useful to ask the students what they are looking forward to, what they want to get out of the project. When working with a team, a good technique is to ask each student in turn at the start-up meeting about their motivations and concerns.
Understanding the students' prior learning
A SEKE project is often at a point in students' studies where they have developed skills and knowledge which are relevant to the task. Some module coordinators and students carry out skills appraisals prior to starting the module so that students can self-assess and teams can be set up with the right balance of students.
Students might think that you know what a first year or final year student on their course is capable of. In many cases, this is not obvious, so simply ask the students for examples of the studies or work they have been doing. When a student says "last year, I took a module on Design Introduction", ask the student to explain how the learning from that might be useful in the project.
You can help the students make the link between their previous studies and the project by talking about your own experiences, and opening up a discussion of the issues.
Typical student challenges
There are designated hours assigned to a SEKE module; however this is often situated alongside a range of other modules that the students are undertaking. Students may find it challenging managing their time effectively.
A student could feel overwhelmed with the project brief and may be unfamiliar with the business or client. The student may require further support with understanding the project and what is asked of them.
Students in a team may not be familiar with each other at the start of the project - it may be that the students are not assigned to their preferred group, or that they have not even met each other in previous years or modules. Furthermore, a team may include students from different cultures and backgrounds.
When working with a student team, the specific aspects in SEKE projects, such as teamworking and communications might not be as developed as some other skills within the students' past modules in their technical disciplines.
All these factors can pose several challenges, especially at the start of a project. This highlights the need to recognise team and leadership skills take time to develop, and indeed these skills are often as much part of the learning as the subject-specific skills. Sound project management can make a big difference to breaking the project down into smaller chunks, and your suggestions here can be very useful.
Understand the project and how students are assessed
You will need to be clear on the project aim and what sort of work you expect from the students, set against the context of the student’s Learning Outcomes from the module. It is important to state the project scope and level of detail you are expecting.
It is useful to know how the students are assessed in their activity; this may be through a report, artefact, or a performance. Students will typically deliver a project outcome for the external organisation but are also required to reflect on their own learning and development. Thus you are an influence on both the processes of delivering the project outcome, the content of what is produced, and the students' personal development.
Many students will not have had the opportunity to work in a professional capacity in an organisation. It is useful to consider setting expectations with them. Many universities teach students expectations of professional behaviour, but this may not be universal and it is helpful to explain the implicit requirements of the organisation to students e.g. dress code, working hours, communication channels preferred, how to address personnel, meeting times, communication styles, and response times for communications. It is helpful, even if the students may have been briefed on this, to reinforce your professional expectations.
Consider discussing your expectations with the students, so that a joint understanding is reached.
Consider your style of support
One of the key influences on student learning on your SEKE projects will be the level to which you intervene to achieve a successful outcome for the organisation and for the students. This is a value judgement and different from a running project in the work situation, as the students are learning and should be allowed to make mistakes.
Even if you encourage students to contact at any time, it is best not to assume that no contact means that all is well. Some students may feel reticent about contacting you, and this where liaison with the tutor can help.
Manage emerging issues and giving feedback
Students may have challenges with keeping to the expectations that you have set as they are learning a range of professional behaviours alongside the development of their project. It is helpful to let students know when there is improvement to be made and this can be set in the context of their learning.
On occasions, it may be necessary to bring students back on board the project with you if they have gone a bit off track. A re-engagement meeting may be helpful where the team is invited to check progress against objectives and discuss what has blocked their engagement and how they might continue more effectively. Regular three way communications between you, the students and their tutor helps here.
Working with students is an exciting and enriching opportunity for all parties involved, however high levels of engagement is crucial. Therefore, it is helpful to understand the context in which students are working to help and support them as needed. A regular stream of communication is essential in order to get the best engagement from all student teams and their members, throughout the duration of their SEKE projects.
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