Epigeum courses would not be what they are without the input of the Lead Advisors, authors, reviewers, and our university partners from across the world that collaborate on them. Our forthcoming programme, International Student Success is no exception. Developed to equip undergraduate and postgraduate international students with the knowledge, skills, and understanding that are central to preparing for, and adjusting to, university life, the online training course will reflect the experiences and perspectives of all of our partners. To reflect the unique culture and experiences of studying in Australia or the UK, specific versions of the course are being developed for each country, with teams from each location.
Each of our programmes is built in close partnership with staff and students from our partner universities who come together as a ‘development group’. At the start of the development process, members of this group usually attend an in-person workshop to input and feedback on the content plans for the courses. With several new products planned for this year, the challenge was to replicate the benefits of in-person workshops in a virtual environment. Giving our development group members a chance to input into course plans at a detailed level, hear about their experiences, and reflect their feedback in the course design is key to the process. Despite an ongoing global pandemic, we continue to put collaboration at the heart of what we do. So, how are we adapting?
Planned and facilitated by our Senior Commissioning Editor, Naomi Wilkinson, Office Manager and Events Coordinator, Maddy Carminke, and Editor, Katie Beck, the Australian development workshop for International Student Success was held over three days in February, with the UK workshop in early May. Utilising a virtual workshop affords us greater flexibility of access, while also cutting down on travel expenses for participating institutions. It also offered us the opportunity to include partners who may not have been available had the workshop taken place in a face-to-face environment, such as student representatives. Key staff members from the same institution, but with different areas of expertise, were also able to attend different workshop sessions, increasing the knowledge and perspectives applied to the programme, which may have been too costly for the institutional partners previously.
Prior to the event, all attendees receive a workshop pack, setting the agenda for the three workshop sessions, outlining the structure of the programme, and exploring the learning design. Workshop attendees also received a pre-workshop video introduction, to enable the group to reflect on what they wanted to bring to the workshop ahead of time.
Something that we have all learned from the past years’ move to remote working is that different skills are required to host (and attend) virtual meetings, and that ‘Zoom fatigue’ (Psychiatric Times, November 2021) can make longer meetings difficult for attendees and hosts alike. As a result, we have moved from a two-day workshop to a series of shorter events (around two hours each), with time to allow participants to warm up to the virtual environment built into the sessions.
After a brief introduction from our Senior Commissioning Editor and the Lead Advisors, setting the context for the discussion, development group members, authors, expert reviewers, and the student review panel were moved into smaller groups to share their perspectives on the content maps for the proposed programme at a detailed level. The new three-day structure offered ample opportunity for further reflection on any issues that arise during these discussions.
To make the most of the workshop, it is important to ensure that everyone is comfortable sharing their perspectives. A significant benefit of the online workshops is the variety of ways that attendees can contribute to discussion, whether through group discussion on the video function, interactive polls, or using chat and Q&A functions. The opportunity to continue the conversation is also incorporated into our use of an online ‘whiteboard’, IdeaBoardz, accessible throughout the workshop, allowing development group members to share ideas in the live event, and afterwards. As more ideas and perspectives are aired, the workshop becomes a chance for the development group to clarify the aims and direction of the content, and provide the authors with clear guidance as they then start to develop the full module content. This gives the attendees an opportunity to think about how they might start using the course when it is published, which can impact the resources, extra materials, and the implementation of the finished programme.
“The workshop discussion experience was a great opportunity to have my experience, insight and student journey validated. Sessions like this are crucial and important in developing an understanding of the changing needs of international students in universities, especially in a post-pandemic world. It may seem scary to speak up at first, but everyone is super welcoming and gives you the courage to express your own opinions!”
Nayonika Bhattacharya – Student, University of New South Wales
A large part of the Epigeum development process is the ongoing review of the programme materials. The development group, in tandem with expert reviewers and a student review panel, feed into the content at each stage, helping to refine the programme and ensure the finished product meets the needs of their institutions and students. All development group institutions receive the finished course, in perpetuity, once the course is published.
The experiences of the development group members will not only be fed into the course design itself, but the workshop also marks the beginning of a community of practice where we encourage universities to share ideas and best practices throughout the lifetime of the programme. Despite the physical distance between the attendees, the benefits of our virtual events, combined with the strengths brought over from our face-to-face workshops, have made the collaborations stronger and more diverse than ever.
Exceptional learning starts here
Created by leading academics to support the core activities of universities and higher education institutions, Epigeum’s programmes cover four strands, Studying, Teaching and Development, Support and Wellbeing, and Research. With courses to support undergraduates, postgraduate researchers, early and mid-career researchers, and university staff, each programme delivers active learning experiences that are rich, coherent, and memorable.