Many thanks for all the strong, interesting applications received this year, and congratulations to those below.
Find out more about College Teaching Initiatives here.
PodCasting for Graduate Student Mental Health and Well-being
Emma Brodzinski, Department of Dance and Drama
Harriet Hawkins, Department of Geography
It is well recognised that there is a mental health and well-being crisis in graduate education, with up to 30% of PhD students developing a psychiatric condition during their studies (Bamonti, et al. 2014; Levecque, 2017; Marshell and Morris, 2011). In the context of declining NHS support, it is increasingly falling onto universities to offer support to their students.
The aim of this teaching initiative is to develop and launch a podcast series aimed at addressing issues around mental health and well-being faced by the graduate student community. This has the following key aims:
1)To support students who are facing mental health and well-being challenges with positive success stories and top-tips, as well as frank and informed discussion to help ensure that these issues do not remain damagingly taboo.
2) To help raise awareness, and deepen knowledge of these issues amongst the wider Royal Holloway and HE community. Creating an open culture of discussion and acceptance is an important part of evolving a supportive community around these issues and is an opportunity to share best practice.
3) To inform and support academic staff. Academic staff not only face challenges around their own mental health and well-being, but are increasingly at the front-line of helping the university PGR community manage these issues. There is a lot of concern over how to offer support in a context in which few staff have any training or knowledge of mental health and well-being concerns.
This initiative will launch a PGR Mental Health and Well-being podcast. Initially aimed at the Royal Holloway community, given its nature it will also be available internationally and thus we hope will be of value to the wider HE community. While we will form a steering group to collect ideas for specific content, at this stage we propose the following key session types:
A) A talking heads’ programme of staff and students sharing their experiences of academia and mental health. This will help raise awareness among the wider staff and student community of these issues, but will also offer positive stories of success in the context of these challenges.
B) Interviews with key figures e.g. Dr Dominique Thompson about PGR Mental Health. These will aim at helping inform staff and students about these issues in the section and critical discussions of some of the moral and political concerns around ideas of well-being and cultures of self-care.
C) Discussions of key work-based challenges, e.g. procrastination or imposter syndrome. One of the challenges PGR students face is a lack of targeted discussion and advice suited to them, such as the production of research, the development of fieldwork and the challenges of writing the thesis. These are very different challenges to other forms of working and study. Further within the PhD community these issues can vary considerably (e.g. lab based research situations, vs library and lone working, periods of field-work).
D) Top-Tips for well-being- e.g. discussing the use of well-being apps, how to help develop work/life balance. These top-tips might also include discussions of how staff can support students as well as actions for students themselves. This is especially important in the context in which untrained staff are often finding themselves at the front-line of dealing with students with mental health and well-being concerns.
The focus would be on bringing together individual stories and experience with practical advice and tips, as well as cutting-edge research and thinking in the area. After all we are academics, and our programming and experience have demonstrated how interested students are in the huge range of published literature around elements like slow scholarship and critiques of the well-being industry.
We will explore, through an on-going engagement with mental-health and well-being podcasts as well as with the steering group we will compose the kind of lengths of programme that are most useful and accessible. We envisage at this stage longer interviews and discussion (around 30 mins), combined with shorter top-tips episodes (10-15 mins).
‘The Professional Self Toolkit’
Rita D’Alton-Harrison, School of Law
Richard Hawley, Department of Classics
Our proposal is to fund a proof of concept for a new digital online resource tool to enhance students’ growing employability awareness and to foster increased student confidence and wellbeing. It is flexible and applicable to all disciplines and to students from all backgrounds and at all levels of study (UG, PGT, PGR). The proposal also meets one of the core objectives of the College’s strategic plan which is to encourage creativity and innovation in all that we do.
We call our tool ‘The Professional Self Toolkit’.
Fundamental to the design of the tool are two components: the iBrand and iSkills. The iBrand is the expression in a concise, effective verbal form of what the student ‘is’ and ‘can offer’ a future employer, essentially an articulation of their ‘professional self’. The iSkills are the component skills that support and illustrate the iBrand. Examples of these might be communication skills, leadership skills, business and commercial awareness, team work, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving. The tool should be available on the intranet with easy access and high visibility as developing their iBrand and iSkills is core to the whole student experience.
Our tool will empower students to select and construct their own personal iBrand characteristics and iSkills as they move through their years of study. This therefore would perfectly complement and implement the College’s new E3 Careers Aspiration Strategy as well as support activities to enhance our TESOF narratives. The tool will allow students to reflect and to see themselves, rather than being influenced by how others (such as staff) see them. It will also enable students to identify readily where they may need support and guidance to help them to develop some of the transferable skills necessary for employment which they might lack.
Integral to the working of the tool are the concepts of development and reflection. A student would create their own ‘word cloud’ of what they believe to be their personal iBrand characteristics and iSkills. The visual element, perhaps rather like Presi, would make it both more attractive, fun, and memorable. The words/phrases available would be chosen and supported (by means of an online ‘glossary’) by the Careers Service, so that students teach themselves and learn ‘job speak’, i.e. the best language with which to express their characteristics and skills within the world of work. Naturally such a tool would be available to all our students, whatever their diverse background or identity. Indeed, it is to be hoped that their own diverse experiences might contribute positively to their individual iBrand and iSkills.
Having initially set up and saved their first iBrand and iSkills list, which for first-year students could be built in to their Welcome Week and for returning students to their Returning Week Personal Tutor mandatory meeting activities, they could revisit and update these whenever they wanted, particularly for example after a work placement or other experience which would provide useful new transferable skills.
Students would also be prompted to revisit their iBrand and iSkills list with their Personal Tutor for each of their (at least three) mandatory individual PT meetings during the year. These would encourage the students to acknowledge their ongoing development and give an opportunity for the student and Personal Tutor together to celebrate the student’s achievements, thus building self-confidence.
This activity has the added bonus of explicitly embedding additional employability awareness to supplement the recently recreated Professional Development Planning aspect of the Personal Tutor system, giving concrete and measurable meaning to these meetings for both students and Personal Tutors, especially given current less than ideal attendance rates at such meetings.
The recruitment value of such a tool system is also significant. Practical tools such as this can be showcased in particular to the parents of applicants on Open Days and Visit Days as a ‘tangible’ and ‘Unique Selling Point’ of the College’s wider Careers Aspiration Strategy at a time when all our competitors are offering such strategies.
Developing Assets for Virtual Reality (VR) Experiments
Nuno Barreiro, Department of Electronic Engineering
Szonya Durant, Department of Psychology
Carlos Matos, Department of Computer Science
Virtual reality (VR) is one of the fastest growing areas, with many diverse applications in entertainment, therapy, training, research, etc. Giving our students the opportunity to develop VR skills is essential in a competitive job market where any extra edge counts.
The departments of Psychology (PS), Computer Science (CS) and Electronic Engineering (EE) have designed a VR lab that will start operating in 2019/2020. This new lab represents the opportunity to support teaching in several ways:
- The module CS3846 (Human-Computer Interaction) from CS will benefit from a VR lab where students set up eye-tracking experiments and design interfaces for VR.
- CS and PS have been working on pieces of joint coursework for CS3846 and PS3171 (Human Performance: Work, Sport and Medicine), where students from both departments will interact according to their specialisations. This will give both cohorts a different view of the same material.
- It provides Psychology final-year-project and Masters students the chance to run experiments in a VR environment – an increasingly popular methodology with interest from many areas of Psychology, including clinical Psychology, a popular career choice for Psychology students. This will greatly enhance student employability, providing experience of VR technology in a research context, and opening a career stream in the expanding area of user experience in technology companies.
- EE has a new masters in Immersive Technology and is designing a new degree in Creative Technologies, both of which will benefit from this VR lab.
At the confluence of these opportunities lies the design and the development of assets for the VR lab. These assets are based on the Unity development environment and should be easily assembled by non-specialists. Unity is one of the most popular cross-platform real-time engines; it can be used to create both three-dimensional and two-dimensional games, as well as simulations.
This initiative targets several goals to enhance the learning experience for students:
- The availability of specialist state-of-the-art equipment and supporting assets fosters student engagement and commitment, providing an exciting learning environment that is at the forefront of current technologic trends.
- Providing a set of easy-to-use resources allows students to focus on activities that are in line with the modules’ learning objectives, rather than spending time setting up complex projects and experiments. This removes one of the main barriers for Psychology students and teaching staff who may not have the programming skills but would still benefit from using VR.
- Using the equipment and the output of this initiative explicitly enhances student employability, given the rise of VR in many industries.
The applicants bring experience from research (SD), scholarship (CM, SD and NB) and professional practice (NB) in related areas and from the perspective of different disciplines. This interdisciplinarity is key for the success of the initiative and to ensure it enhances the learning experience. Furthermore, the initiative also enhances the experience for teachers in these recent VR advancements.
This initiative is in line with current departmental and college goals in terms of state-of-the-art technology usage and innovative ways of teaching. Moreover, it provides an example of best practice of interdisciplinary work: the VR assets are developed with the ability to design good Psychological research, but they also have in mind Computer Science and Electronic Engineering studies.