The most effective approaches to engaging and supporting students come from an awareness that many are unlikely to be equipped and knowledgeable about the expectations of a university experience.
Louise Naylor, Director of Education at the University of Kent, is all too aware of these knowledge gaps, and integrates them into her student-centred approach to engagement and motivation. Kira Matthews, GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead, sat down with Louise to discuss her journey into the universities space and the initiatives she is proudest of.
I’m the Director of Education at the University of Kent, and my remit includes teaching, learning, and assessment, through supporting things like staff development, student advice and guidance, and also student success. I help address awarding gaps because we want to achieve positive outcomes for all of our students and an excellent experience for all.
I started my career as a senior lecturer in biochemistry, teaching undergraduates and conducting research. I realised that teaching and supporting student success was really my vocation; the more you can engage with students, the better their outcomes are.
I had a short secondment as the Head of Quality Assurance — where I looked at how to improve teaching, support students, or make innovations in practice to promote excellence in what we were doing. That led to my current role, which combines both quality assurance and educational enhancement.
I have good analytical skills. I work well with data and can undertake research, which I then translate into policy or practice. For example, the Teaching Excellence Framework involves us gathering quantitative and qualitative information about our teaching practices and evaluating their impact on student outcomes and experience.
I work well with data and can undertake research, which I then translate into policy or practice.
Having been a female lecturer in the sciences, I became interested in the experience of marginalised groups. I chair the Women’s Network, where we share issues around policy and practice. I’m also part of the Athena Swan group at Kent, and I’ve acted as a role model for the Aurora Programme, which promotes women in leadership.
Within our university’s equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy group is a student success team, whose particular focus is on supporting marginalised groups, reducing our awarding gaps, and addressing interventions that can be used to support students, such as providing advisers or peer mentors. We analyse the data to see where our students have issues, for example with belonging or representation, and then work out how best to address them.
Some project examples include our work on decolonising the curriculum and diversifying reading lists. We work in partnership with students on this and then assess the impact on student outcomes. I also work closely with Kent Union, which has a liberation strategy for marginalised groups. We’ve been working on a report which captures the experiences of black and ethnic minority students. It’s student led and we use the recommendations to inform our mainstream practice.
The pandemic has taught us to make no assumptions about what students know about university given the disruption caused to education. Often, we jump in to solve a problem, without really understanding what the problem is. Our Student Voice forums and listening rooms provide space for students to talk about their issues. Student experience is unique and personalised — every student has a different journey.
This type of student is often ‘hard-to-reach’, so we’ve been providing more proactive support for all students up-front — explaining what studying will be like and our expectations — and have extended our transition and welcome activities to support this.
During Welcome Week, we have also increased the academic focus of our activities to encourage a sense of belonging and academic community — as we know this is the basis of student success. We ensure that students can meet with staff and fellow students, to find out how they’ll be taught and how we plan to track their progress. Each student has an academic adviser and we constantly monitor their engagement, in order to personalise support and help them achieve their potential.
A vocation for teaching, learning and supporting the next generation should be a given — but if you want to do a role like mine and work across a university, I would advise that you increase your sphere of influence. I’ve worked in both academic and administrative roles and now, as a third space professional span both areas to improve policy and practice in education.
I most admire the marginalised people who are willing to take the time and make the effort to change — both students and staff who have made incremental changes that allow us reduce prejudice and discrimination, collectively deliver bigger changes in practice with benefits for all.
In terms of my role, a book called Reconstructing Identities in Higher Education — The Rise of Third Space Professionals. It’s very relevant to my current role that involves championing and implementing educational developments across the University in response to changing regulatory landscapes in the HE sector.