My experience as an SPI
Ffion Neal is a BSc Psychology (currently commencing her 3rd year) and an ITL Student Partner Intern (21/22 and 22/23), working in partnership with an ITL Fellow on a particular pedagogic project.
I’m Fi and I am a 2nd year Psychology student who, since October 2021, has been working as a Student Partner Intern (SPI) at the University of Manchester. I was given the opportunity to work alongside Dr Craig Morley on his ITL Fellowship project focusing on webcam use as a means of gauging student engagement during online synchronous learning. This involved creating and distributing surveys for staff and students across the university, as well as conducting focus groups to discuss in greater depth what participants felt were the true strengths and limitations of webcam use within a synchronous online learning environment.
When I first discovered I had been chosen as an SPI I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t familiar with the structure of research projects at a university level, but I was incredibly excited to begin my journey as an SPI and very much open to whatever challenges and learning opportunities it may bring with it. I think this attitude was essential in order for me to gain the most out of the experience.
What my Role Involved
As well as assisting in the development of research surveys I attended workshops to develop my research and focus group facilitation skills, since I had never conducted research outside of my degree lab classes. As a result I was able to take a leading role in running focus groups for around 10 current UoM students to gain insight into how they viewed the efficacy of webcams during the pandemic and in the new approach to blended learning. Finally, I edited and analysed transcripts from the focus groups and survey responses in order to compile a comprehensive database of staff and student opinions on the use and/or non-use of webcams during synchronous online learning.
Preliminary Findings of the Project
We found much agreement between the staff and students who participated in the focus groups that webcam use during online synchronous sessions should be a goal, but not an expectation, and that expectations should be made clearer on a day-by-day and slide-by-slide basis to minimise the confusion and hesitation surrounding webcam use. We also noticed many staff and students agreeing that webcams are not always the most reflective way of gauging active engagement, and features such as polls, the chat feature and other external software that promote immediate interaction can be more indicative of engagement and understanding of learning. The online learning platform should be treated as its own style of education, rather than an attempt to mimic techniques used during in-person learning, as they are often not directly transferable or effective in an online environment.
What have I learnt and where it can take me
As a result of this experience I have learnt a significant amount about the importance of compromise and collaboration. I was lucky that my staff partner, Craig, really embraced having a student partner and was incredibly supportive throughout the project. For the project to run smoothly, we made sure to maintain consistent communication through the Teams workspace, giving regular updates on the work we were completing and to plan meetings when we needed to discuss the next stages of the project. This method of communication made it easy for me to feel confident and comfortable asking questions about the project and give my honest opinions and ideas on what I felt would be most effective when carrying out the research. Craig made sure that I was involved in each step of the process without getting overwhelmed or confused by any of the new tasks I was carrying out. This allowed me to really enjoy working on the project.
Consequently my time as an SPI has really improved my confidence, especially within the university environment – my entire first year was studied online so being an SPI gave me the opportunity to re-engage with university life and feel a part of the UoM community.
Going forward, I am excited to be getting involved in more research projects like this one and further develop my skills repertoire. I will take the skills I have learnt and apply them to future work opportunities, as well as during my final year of my degree qualification. I am really proud of what I have achieved as an SPI and am excited to see the positive impacts our project will have throughout the university.
If you are interested in learning more about our Student Partner Internships, please see the Student Partners Programme pages.