Promoting postgraduate opportunities through the Sustainability Summer Programme
With so many different options for postgraduate study, it can be difficult for students to decide what or where to study. To help address this, the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences (CEMPS) ran a Summer Programme entirely online earlier this year.
Designed to introduce potential students to different areas for postgraduate study, the two-week programme focused on the theme of sustainability and attracted applicants from around the world.
In their first week, students were given an overview of the different CEMPS disciplines and how each one could support the goal of sustainability. This was followed by time working on a project. Each student could select up to three mini-modules to take each day, and choose which project they wanted to take.
In the second week, the focus of the programme moved to the Urban School of Analytics, looking at how data and computer science could be used to make urbanisation sustainable. All seminar and mini-module sessions were pre-recorded so students could watch them before attending a dedicated live session. The week also featured a range of guest speakers, while students continued to work on their individual projects.
How it was run
The entire programme was run on a platform called Gather, with all materials hosted on the University’s virtual learning environment, ELE.
Dr Marcos Oliveira, Director for Global Development in the Department of Computer Science, was one of the main organisers for the Summer School.
“Previously, we had a fantastic experience with the Gather platform when we organized the CompleNet conference in Exeter,” he said. “The attendees enjoyed the whole experience and emphasized how the platform improved it.”
After almost a year of online lectures in the pandemic-hit 2020-21 academic year, Dr Oliveira and his colleagues were acutely aware how social interaction between students and academic staff had been adversely affected. Using Gather was one way to help address that issue.
“Summer School as an incredible opportunity to create new social ties,” Dr Oliveira explained. “This social interaction makes participants enjoy the entire event and improves the learning activities, increasing the likelihood of joining Exeter.
“In the Summer School, everything was on the Gather platform: keynote speakers, practical sessions, etc. We also had moments in the day when project leaders would stay in virtual rooms where participants could approach them.
“On the last day, as a final ‘goodbye’ social event, all the participants and organizers played a virtual game on the platform, making everything more social.”
Dr Oliveira believes the platform’s main advantage is that it promotes a kind of serendipity where students, keynote speakers and module leaders can all interact spontaneously.
“To be honest, I could not see any disadvantage in the platform itself,” he said. “However, some people might not know about Gather and could be a bit afraid of trying it. But, after you use it, everything is quite straightforward.”
What students thought
Overall programme satisfaction was ranked 4.59/5 across 17 areas. Satisfaction with the academic contributors was the highest scoring area, while some student issues with the technology made that the lowest scoring area.
All the participants said they would recommend the University of Exeter for further study, and recommend the Sustainability Summer Programme to their classmates and friends.
The programme also achieved its objective of raising the college’s profile and promoting its postgraduate options. Of the 12 participants who had previously had very little or no exposure to the University, 10 expressed a possibility or a desire to join the University to study. Those students who had already had previous exposure to the University stated a clear desire to pursue further study.
While there were clear areas for improvement, the programme demonstrated the potential to not only make a significant contribution in attracting students to postgraduate study, but also to help them discover which subject areas are right for them.
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