AFHEA AA4: Islington Mill Visit

Following on from my FLEX posts here on the blog I will also be using this as a space to work towards and receive feedback on my application for Associate Fellowship of the HEA. Read on for more professional development!

Within my role I am responsible for conducting case studies to evaluate the impact of the School of Art’s Unit X unit, through which I work closely with MSA’s Outreach and Engagement team, as well as the Faculty International Team. In February of this year I was approached by a colleague in the international team 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. Some of these issues, such as the culture shift in arts teaching across countries, or changes in financial or housing situations, were either too large to cover in one session, or a little late for students in their second term. However, issues around belonging and social integration were also raised, and two pieces of research indicated a possible route for enrichment activity.

Research into international student experience, especially Bamford (2008), highlighted the value of social activity in positive social experience and fostering a sense of belonging. Subject specific research also highlighted the value of professional and social networks within the art and design world, as evidenced by artist responses in Slater et al. (2013). (C1, V1, V3, V4)

With this in mind I planned a visit to Islington Mill artists’ studios for a group of international students as well as myself and a member of the Faculty International Team. Attendance was not required, but students were informed of the value of the visit to their development, and of the social value of group visits. During the visit students would receive a tour of the studios, and attend informal presentations by practitioners working there, in order to expand their professional networks. (C2)

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

The event was promoted to students via email and through the post-graduate Facebook page, and communication was intentionally informal so as to create a social atmosphere distinct from tutorials and seminars. Group size was small by default, as the international post-graduate cohort in the School of Art is fairly small, and this intimacy allowed for informal interaction between practitioners, staff and student through which students were able to develop their language skills. (C4, V2)

However, there were some issues in delivering the session. Attendance was lower than expected, and reflecting on this in my FLEX diary ( I was able to identify why this might have been and develop some strategies to tackle this in the future. I focused on the potential of digital promotion as a key strategy for increasing engagement, and identified facilitator self-disclosure, as outlined by J.P. Mazer et al. (2007), as an effective use of the online group, which 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. Below is an excerpt showing the action plan laid out in the blog.

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

I then shared my findings with members of the international team, who work directly with the Facebook group, to support their engagement with student experience. (C4, C5, V3)

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.
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.