Academic Skills & Online Evaluation

Introduction

This blog will cover my experience during my internship with the University of Birmingham as the Online Tutorial Evaluation Officer with the Academic Skills Centre. I will write about what my expectations were of the internship/department before starting and whether or not those expectations were met. What made me apply for the internship. What activities and duties I was responsible for, the different events and training workshops I attended, what I did during them and what I learnt from them. The skills I have gained and developed during my internship, what it feels like to experience working within higher education, and if I would consider it as a career choice because of the internship. The parts I have enjoyed during my internship, the challenges I have faced, and advice I would give for future students considering undertaking an internship.

Expectations

Before beginning the internship I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The job description didn’t include all of the small details such as what the Academic Skills Gateway project was. Since the internship was recommended to me by my lecturer, I was expecting it to be a little bit more on the technical side since I study Computer Science. I also wanted something to keep me busy during the summer. I didn’t think too much about what was coming up in the internship, I was expecting it to be a lot more formal than it actually is.

Duties

During my internship I have been responsible for researching other universities’ websites looking at how they help to develop their students’ academic skills. For example if they have online resources, in-house or external; workshops or one-to-one sessions for students. I have been taking notes on my research and have used my research to create a report on what the university should do as a result of my findings. I have also created a survey for my second report which will be written later this week. I have sent the survey out to over 40 recipients. Receiving very few responses I had to follow the first email through and kindly ask recipients again if they would take it, which has given me a few more responses. This has taught me that it is very difficult to get people to do surveys and that you need to be insistent generally to get people to do them.

I have had a few meetings with different people to get to know them and to also find out what they want me to do to help support them. For example I spoke to Ian Myatt and Gemma Wilde at the Educational Enterprise department to find out how I could help them. I also have to help to develop a canvas course which will be used as material for the university in the future. I was also tasked with writing a report for the internal study skills materials used at the University of Birmingham, writing a report to recommend to the Academic Services senior management team alternate modes of delivery procurement strategy. I reviewed some of the content that will be placed onto the Academic Skills Gateway in this upcoming term (first term 2015.) I carried out interviews and group discussions with other Academic Services staff. I was also tasked with transferring an aging website created by the university to a canvas course version of it, by improving its layout, and the interactivity of the content. Finally I had to write an evaluation of the whole BUIP internship project.

Workshops/Training

The internship has also helped me considerably with the workshops included. I have had workshops on professional etiquette, CV and Interview skills, and Presentation skills. Most of the professional etiquette workshop was mainly common sense, however there were a few key points I took away from the workshop:

  • After working for somewhere, for an internship or work experience etc. One should stay in contact and contact the company every 3 months for example.
  • I also learnt that when we finish the internship that we should give gifts to the staff.

I knew about these things already however it occurred to me during the workshop that they are actually quite important for the future if I want a job there and also for keeping good relations with the staff once you’ve left.

For the CV and interview skills workshop I learnt a lot, the main points being:

  • A Hotmail email account can be looked down upon by employers, so I signed up to get a gmail account, and placed that email on my CV instead.
  • During interview if you are unsure of an answer to a question ask them to come back to that question at the end of the interview.
  • Use the STAR technique, Situation, Task, Action, Result; during interviews.
  • How to do well at assessment centres.
  • If they ask you where else you have applied then you should say that you applied to other similar jobs.
  • You should be very aware of what the company you’re applying for have done, and all other relevant information.
  • Someone reading your CV should be able to tell what job you’re applying for without reading the career objectives section.
  • Also I learnt that there is no need to write references available on request as employers will expect this anyways.
  • Also to have projects outside of your main University work.

Finally from the Presentation skills workshop the main points I took with me were:

  • Move away from the computer screen during the presentation and walk around a bit, especially on slides which you know you will be explaining for a while.
  • The structure of the presentation should be; tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and finally tell them what you have told them.
  • Aim to be 30 seconds lower than the time allowance when rehearsing.
  • Have the question you’re answering on the slide.
  • Use a photo or video to grab the attention of the audience.
  • Summarise your key points.
  • Add personal touches.
  • Finally ask questions.

What I have gained from the internship

From this internship I have gained many skills. The internship has developed my research skills, how to efficiently locate what you are searching for on the internet; Survey writing skills, including how to use survey monkey to more efficient get people to fill in surveys and also analyse the results; finally my report writing, English and document writing skills have developed due to the number of reports I have had to write during the internship. I have also learnt how to better utilise some of the Microsoft office software products such as Outlook, Word and PowerPoint; such as how to set up meetings on the outlook, the use of changes mark-up to see how people have changed your documents and how to accept or reject any changes people have made. The internship has helped me considerably in other aspects, such as with professional etiquette, video editing, and camera skills.

Education on the other side

Experiencing higher education from the ‘other side’ has given me more respect towards the university’s hierarchical structure and the library facilities. Before the internship I didn’t realise how many academic services there are available to students to use, including findit @ bham and the Academic Skills Centre. We have also taken a tour of the new library and I didn’t realise how much precision and effort went into the creation of the building. The hierarchical structure of the library doesn’t come across strongly, and there isn’t someone constantly looking over your desk and watching you. This is a great aspect, something that I wasn’t expecting before the internship. The internship experience so far has definitely made me consider getting a career in higher education. I hadn’t thought about working in higher education before the internship. However it has made me consider taking a PhD in my subject as a possible decision in the future, so that I may continue to work in higher education.

What I have enjoyed about my internship

There are many aspects to my internship that I have enjoyed. My colleagues have been one of the best parts of the internship; all of them are so kind and friendly. I have also enjoyed having the feeling that I am playing an important role within the centre. I was surprised by how much calmer the internship has been so far, I was expecting to be a lot more stressed. Another aspect that I completely love about the internship is the experience of getting paid a healthy amount of money as I carry out my work. In addition I very much enjoyed developing my canvas course, even though the content of the course was mainly copy and paste, I have thrown myself into the task and gotten heavily involved by producing videos that would be used in the course, and developing personalised icons for each of the main sections within the course so that they may act as links between the pages. I also had the opportunity to video edit for one of my colleagues after filming an interview, this was the first time I had ever used video editing software and it was very fun as well as developing for my repertoire of skills.

Challenges I have faced

During the internship I would say that one of the more prominent challenges have been juggling all of the different tasks I have to do for different people on the internship. Another difficult aspect is trying to stick to deadlines that I have created for myself, as it can be easy to get distracted. In addition I have found that some the tasks I have been given aren’t always specific, i.e. there isn’t a clear specification to follow; the deadlines for some tasks are not specified; or the purpose of some tasks are not made clear. For example I am currently writing a report and I am unsure who will be utilising the report I write.

Problems encountered during my research into other universities were the fact that there were so many different sites to go through. There are 24 Russell Group Universities and it took me around an hour for each of the websites. I also believe I was covering too many different aspects of each of the websites. Initially I wrote about the layout of the websites, giving each of them a review, and a comparison to the ASG. I researched how the academic skills content was delivered, i.e. online, workshops or face-to-face. I included a review of the content that was written, and possible features. I also looked into the external resources that the site was utilising, believing that Virtual Learning Environments would be included as commercial packages for study skills; only to later realise that VLEs were not what I should have been looking into as they only act as a platform for academics to place their learning materials, they do not in fact include learning materials with them. Finally I delved into whether that university provided online courses and reviewed them; this task was for the benefit of Ian and Gemma.

These were the different aspects I looked into for each website initially, however, I later noticed that it was taking me far too long to go through all of the Russell Group Universities’ websites and hence I slowly lowered the different aspects I focussed on, so that eventually I was only looking into commercial packages being used by the other universities, not including VLEs, and how the content was being delivered. Another problem I encountered during my research was the fact that, for several of the different universities websites, I was unable to access its content because I was not a student at the university that I was researching. This prevented me from finding out if some universities were using commercial skills packages.

What advice would I give for future students considering undertaking an internship?

My advice for future students considering an internship with BUIP would be to manage your tasks well, prioritise, and try not to overload yourself with too many tasks when you have other tasks. Make sure to take short breaks during the day otherwise there may be some days where you are not as efficient as you can be because you overworked yourself. Do not worry yourself if you haven’t finished all of the tasks you have assigned, most of the time it is not possible to finish every task that has been given to you. Finally take the whole of the internship as a learning experience; even though you may have got the job, this is still probably one of your first jobs, you are not expected to be perfect, but you should get as deeply involved as you can and you won’t regret it.

 

 Kyle Allen Taylor

 

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