FLEX 2 – Islington Mill Visit

FLEX is a self-directed CPD scheme run by MMU’s Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). In my current role at the university I’m going to taking part in FLEX by reflecting on my professional development here on the blog. If you’re interested in finding out more about my teaching practice, read on!

Islington Mill Visit
18th February 2015

Last month I was approached by a colleague in the School of Art to organise an enrichment event aimed at improving student experience among post-graduate international students. From my experience as a student rep I was familiar with some of the issues international students faced on post-graduate arts courses, and this session presented an opportunity to address these issues and meet the new international post-grad cohort.

I organised a visit to Islington Mill studios, a tour of the building and a series of studio visits. My hope was that the visit would respond to the need for social activity voiced by international students (Bamford, 2008), and expand students’ professional networks (Slater et al, 2013).

Unfortunately, of the group that we were expecting only one student arrived! Undeterred our small group headed over to Salford, where we met with artists and explored the five floors of Islington Mill, allowing plenty of time for informal interaction between practitioners, staff and student.

Although a successful afternoon was had, clearly there are challenges to address if another event is planned, mainly how to increase student involvement.

Artist Jackie Haynes introduces her practice
Artist Jackie Haynes introduces her practice

Bamford (2008) outlines strategies to increase the value of enrichment for international students, particularly peer-mentoring and local language skills groups, both of which could potentially be covered by the inclusion of home/local students in future visits. However, this would have to be carefully managed to ensure group size remains small, allowing for informal interaction, perhaps through a ‘buddy system’ between home and international students.

Facebook’s potential as a tool for learning and teaching has been widely discussed (Wang et al, 2012), and the international post-graduate group could be more effectively used to engage students, particularly through facilitator self-disclosure (Mazer et al, 2007). This could be achieved through greater involvement in the group by members of the international team (sharing of discipline-related content, promotion of extracurricular activities), alongside carefully mediated personal profiles.

A concern voiced by students unable to attend the session was the need to focus on their studies, particularly as deadlines approached. This concern could be addressed by further emphasising the value of enrichment activities, and their relation to assessed work. Visits to external organisations map directly onto learning outcomes for the current MA unit (establish a professional network and contacts with … creative organisations), as well as the ‘Employability and Sustainability Outcomes’ for the unit (demonstrate professionalism, manage own professional development, engage with stakeholder perspectives), and this could be emphasised in the promotion of activities, for example on the Facebook page and in emails. This could then be followed up in support sessions with guidance on how to include these activities in reflective writing submitted through the unit.

This need to focus on studies, as full-time students on one-year courses, means strategies used with undergraduate international students, such as Erasmus’ SocialErasmus (2013) and TUAC’s Finternational (2013), are too time consuming. However, ‘bite size’ versions of these, for example fifteen minute sessions based on Finternational’s cultural awareness program covering traditions and customs in the host country, could be introduced alongside existing support sessions.

However, one of the greatest challenges for attendance on this particular afternoon was en essay deadline the following day. This deadline had been extended, but as neither myself nor my colleague teach on the unit we weren’t aware of this until notified by a student on the day. The solution for this is simple and time-tested – communication! Going forward we will both ensure we liaise regularly with students to keep track of unit deadlines and course activities.

Words: 563

Things to do…

  • Discuss with colleagues in the international team the potential for a home student ‘buddy system’ in future visits
  • Engage more with the Facebook group, through posting information about extracurricular activities/opportunities
  • Highlight relation to unit outcomes in further event information
  • Ensure we are made aware of changes to academic timetables

Bamford, J (2008). Strategies for the Improvement of International Students’ Academic and Cultural Experiences of Studying in the UK. The Higher Education Academy.
Slater, A, Ravetz, A and Lee, K (2013). Analysing Artists’ Continual Professional Development (CPD) in Greater Manchester: towards an integrated approach for talent development. Manchester: Castlefield Gallery Publications
Wang, Q., Woo, H. L., Quek, C. L., Yang, Y. and Liu, M. (2012), Using the Facebook group as a learning management system: An exploratory study. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43: 428–438.
Mazer, J.P., Murphy, R. E., & Simonds, C. J. (2007) I’ll See You On “Facebook”: The Effects of Computer-Mediated Teacher Self-Disclosure on Student Motivation, Affective Learning, and Classroom Climate. Communication Education, 56:1, 1-17.
Dudek, M. (2013). SocialErasmus: A new dimension to international study. Available: http://www.eaie.org/blog/socialerasmus-a-new-dimension-to-international-study/. Last accessed 2nd March 2015.
Airall, M. (2013). Get Finternational course. Available: http://turkublogs.fi/finstories/2013/11/29/get-finternational-course/. Last accessed 2nd March 2015.

Further Reading
Araujo, N., Carlin, D., Clarke, B., Morieson, L., Lukas, K., & Wilson, R. (2014). Belonging in the first year: A creative discipline cohort case study. The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 5 (2), 21-31.
Hamshire, C., Jack, K., Prowse, A., Wibberley, C. (2015). Maria’s story – the narrative of a mature international student. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 8, 1 -14.
TEICHLER, U. (2004), Temporary Study Abroad: the life of ERASMUS students. European Journal of Education, 39: 395–408. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3435.2004.00193.

Islington Mill Website
Jackie Haynes (Guest artist) Website
Lisa Lorenz (Guest artist) Website


7 thoughts on “FLEX 2 – Islington Mill Visit

  1. Hi Kate,

    Thank you for sharing this first draft with me and inviting me to comment. The following sentence stood out for me and I would like you to focus the post around this. You describe the situation in detail. It is now time to zoom in and analyse the situation, bring in some of the literature and come up with a plan for action.

    “Although a successful afternoon was had, clearly there are challenges to address if another event is planned, mainly how to increase student involvement.”

    What could you try and why? Looking forward to your further thoughts and reflections.

    You have made a good start!


  2. Hi Kate,

    You have used this opportunity to explore some of the opportunities. This is wonderful and I can see that this is an area of interest to you and that you care about students and creating inclusive experiences. The buddy system sounds like a great idea and as you indicated there might be challenges when students work on their assessments but I am wondering if this could also be used as an opportunity for cross-cultural study groups? Also what can we learn from ERASMUS exchange students? Is there any literature out there regarding their experience? It might be useful to look at this also and then link back to what you could try in your practice and why.

    Thank you for inviting me to comment.


    1. Thanks for the feedback Chrissi!

      I have had a look at ERASMUS research, but I think as a lot of our students are post-graduate and full time they feel a lot more pressure than ERASMUS students with regard to their studies. Or at least they do compared to ERASMUS students I’ve known!

      1. Hi Kate, lovely to hear you had a look. It is always valuable to look elsewhere and compare. The literature around ERASMUS students might provide useful insights for your students and perhaps some of the strategies used elsewhere might also be relevant/useful? The situation might be different but we can learn from other situations and related research. Please consider this.

        Looking forward to your next version,


    1. Thanks Chrissi,

      A really interesting article, does support a lot of anecdotal things I’ve heard from peers at university.


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