Your students, whether in a team or individuals, will benefit from your guidance and support. This helps the students to develop, become more confident, and in turn this benefits you and the project overall.
This tool covers both the technical or subject-specific aspects, and the wider social/pastoral aspects of student support.
Students may see you as a role model, and your professional experience and advice can help students in broader ways than the project itself.
Support provided by the university
It is a good idea at the start of the project to find out how the university can support its students, so please ask the tutor how this operates.
Working with a diverse range of students
We need to be open to the diversity of the students. You might find that the students as a team or cohort have a wider diversity than the local area, and this can be a great opportunity to get their insights. Students might find the local social and cultural environment different to their own, and this can create a barrier to progress (an example: at the University of Portsmouth in 2021 on a project there was a student team of 4 based in China working with a local UK music activity charity: it took some while for the students to understand the UK context of charities, and meant the client had to spend time explaining things).
There may be students whose national culture means they look up to you, see you as having a higher status or authority over you as a client, or certain other students. Until students get to know you, some might be reticent in critically challenging you, as the client.
As well as complying with the Equality Act, we should be mindful that there is a wide range of dimensions to this topic. When we consider the “GRRAACCEESS” characteristics, we can see how some students may be disadvantaged in relation to other people. Intersectionality is the term used to describe the combining of two or more different forms of potential disadvantage - for example, a student who has English as an additional language and whose family and social support may be in a far away location, may experience difficulties compared to those not in that situation.
A language limitation is not necessarily an indication of limited capability. Furthermore, many SEKE projects highlight students’ skills and capabilities that might not be traditionally seen in the classroom.
We can define or identify ourselves in a multitude of ways, and we each have our own personality. It is useful to think of how you can find opportunities in the diversity of the students you are working with.
There can be a tendency, sometimes we are not conscious of it, to pay more attention to people like us, or who can understand us fluently in conversation.
At the start up meeting, you can help create the culture of embracing diversity in several ways:
- Ask each student in turn what they find exciting about the project. Don’t rely on the team leader to present a collective view.
- Ask the team in advance for each student to present a ppt slide about themselves - with a mix of images and text this can help overcome any spoken language barriers, and bring out the student’s creativity.
- Talk about your own situation, as a way of helping students to be relaxed and open up in discussions.
To ensure everyone is participating and interacting in meetings, we need to encourage, or make it a clear expectation, that students have to have their cameras and microphones on for online meetings. Cameras don’t need to be on all the time, but not being on camera at all can create impressions of not being organised or trying to be in a meeting whilst doing other tasks. There will of course be connection problems at times, but what matters is the expectation that you set, ideally in collaboration with the students, about how these meetings will be run. Be aware that students away from campus may be in a different time zone and this needs to be taken into consideration.
Just as you should expect the students to tell you when they are available and the other constraints on their time, you should do this too. If you are planning on being away, is there an alternative point of contact for the students in case you are not available?
Make students aware how they can access the information about your organisation, and who they can talk to other than yourself.
The wellbeing of everyone involved in a project (students, externals and University staff) is vital. When students are working with you, consider how you can provide ways to enhance their physical and mental wellbeing, and if you have any concerns, please contact the students’ tutor.
Typical problems might be:
- Students feeling unhappy or lonely or isolated - indicators might be participating less than others and absence, body language, posture, and the way student team members are with each other.
- Students struggling with the work or overall work-load.
Disabilities and Additional Requirements
Universities are increasingly alert to this, and have support systems in place, such as to assist students with disabilities and additional requirements - this has a wide scope, and includes a wide range of learning difficulties. Some students may have a learning difficulty but not consider themselves disabled.
On the project, when students are off campus and often without their tutor, and when you are working with them, you will need to be aware of any additional requirements or disabilities that a student may have. Please ask the tutor what the University’s policy is about how student information can be or should be shared with you. Generally speaking, it is the student’s choice as to how and when and what to share with others. Some disabilities and additional requirements may be non-visible.
Some tips to help cater for the diversity of learning styles
Whether students (or indeed clients) have disabilities or additional requirements, we all learn in different ways, and this can be further complicated by cultural and language barriers.
- At meetings, bring copies of materials (e.g. products, brochures), to reinforce your words. Ideally, bring a copy for each student.
- Allow students more time to express themselves verbally.
- Ask open questions. E.g. ask a student to summarise their understanding of what you have been discussing, rather than asking “if everyone OK with the next steps?”. A nodding head may simply be politeness and mask poor understanding.
Students who are absent
Before the module starts, ask the tutor what the procedures are, and if the module has a way of recording attendance and contribution, and whether you are expected to provide any evidence towards this.
There can be many reasons for absence, but if it occurs regularly, and affects the project and relationships, it needs to be addressed. It is a shared responsibility, not just one for the University’s staff and the student team.
Keep your own record of who attended the meeting - if there is a student who is regularly not attending or contributing, raise it with the team, and with the tutor. Often, tutors find out too late that a student is not engaging as much as others, as tutors will not be attending all meetings of the students and the client.
Offering and seeking feedback
Aside from the formal marked assessment that students will receive from their tutors, there are plenty of opportunities for you to offer feedback to help the students. It’s a good idea to clearly signal when you are giving feedback “thank you for the draft designs you have shown today. I’d like to discuss how you think the project is going…”
Of course, as SEKE is usually collaborative in nature, you can expect feedback from students - this might be about you or more widely about the project. You can help make this easier by being open with words such as “Please tell me how I am doing as a client? What things can I help you more with?".
Encouraging the students
SEKE projects often have to balance two things: the students providing some sort of useful output to you and your stakeholders, vs accepting that the students are learning and sometimes the output might not be what you expected. Adopt a “growth mindset”, that is to focus on the progress and growth of the students.
The more encouraging you can be, the better the learning experience students will have. If students don’t feel as valued because only their output is being judged, they may start to withdraw. If we are feeling bad about something, it can block us from reflecting altogether. What knowledge do you want to share with students that may support their personal development?
Health and Safety
Students will need to know which of your organisational policies will affect your interaction and the project. All students, if on your site, should receive a health and safety briefing. Universities have policies for field work, or working off campus, which the university will need to make you aware of as needed.
Access to the organisation
Students value access to your organisation, and its staff and information. An important part of the relationship will be the frequency and nature of contact with you as the main contact. Regular meetings will allow progress to be previewed and challenges to be addressed. Agree on channels of communication and extent of access to information. If a Non-Disclosure Agreement is needed then include it at the start of the project. Please also see the Understanding Confidentiality tool
Now that you have accessed this tool, you should feel more confident in how you support your students when taking on these projects, providing the most value to them.