UCL News


Improving the student experience at UCL: 4 of the best initiatives this year

15 July 2016

Students and staff have devised ingenious ways to make studying at UCL even better this academic year.

Joe Barnby As the year comes to a close for undergraduates, here's a roundup of some of the best of those initiatives.

1.    Mindfulness app

Joseph Barnby, who is studying for an MSc in Clinical Mental Health, has created a prototype for a mindfulness app to help UCL students through their exams, coursework and, in the case of medical students, exposure to death and illness. Joseph and a student colleague, Robert Ribanszki, tested it out on 20-25 students in two focus groups. He contacted Amali Lokugamage, from the UCL Medical School, who then devised a new version with Catherine McAteer, Head of UCL Student Psychological Services.

Joseph used the UCL ChangeMakers scheme to get funds to develop his idea. UCL ChangeMakers enables students and staff to make changes to UCL for the benefit of everyone. The initiative involves teams of students and staff working together to investigate an issue and make improvements. Joseph wants his app to eventually be free to all UCL students. "University is a great time, but it can also be an anxious time because you are thinking about what you might want to do afterwards and exams and coursework can be stressful," Joseph says. "Mindfulness is an accessible and non-judgemental way of dealing with stress."

2.    New legal clinic

Ayesha Malik

From January to March this year, Law undergraduates and LLM students (Master of Laws) could volunteer to give legal advice at a new UCL Legal Clinic. The clinic was open to the patients of a Newham GP practice and the students volunteered for three hours every week for four weeks. Some 30 students took part, and many gave advice, under guidance, to clients.

The initiative has been so successful that Shiva Riahi, Manager and Research Associate of the UCL Centre for Access to Justice, hopes to allow clients from other GP practices to use the clinic too. Ayesha Malik, an LLM student specialising in international law, was a general adviser at the legal clinic, helping clients with housing and welfare issues navigate the law. "I had the opportunity to interact directly with clients, ask them questions and, after discussing with the supervising lawyer, deliver the advice," Ayesha says.

"It was a rewarding and enriching experience and I had the chance to hone my research skills in areas of law (particularly housing) on which I had scant knowledge. I think I benefited most of all from the supervising lawyer who had 20-30 years of experience in housing law and was very willing for us to take the lead in giving advice and asking questions after she had explained the legal issues. It was really great to see how empowered the clients were after having their issues listened to and being told what they could do about it."

3.    Mystery Specimens

Students discuss mystery specimens

Each year, third and fourth year students from UCL Biosciences are given a mystery object from the UCL Grant Museum and told nothing about it. It might be a skull or one scute of a turtle's shell.

Over the course of a term, the students, who are sometimes joined by students from Geography, Anthropology and Human Sciences, are asked to identify the specimen as closely as possible to species level. They are then asked to write about their object's taxonomic group, its interesting features and its evolutionary history in the form of a journal article.

This year, students also gave a 10-minute presentation on their specimen to visitors at the museum and wrote the object's museum label. Elizabeth Pursey, who is studying for an MSci in Biological Sciences, was given what she later discovered was the skull of a giant golden mole that lives on the Eastern Cape.

"Within weeks I had gone from not even knowing it existed to being the giant golden mole's biggest fan," Elizabeth wrote in a blog. "My friends were sick of hearing about the mole, while I was still working out how it could be 'giant' from the 4cm skull I was given (it's much larger than the other golden moles, which are really tiny). When I started to read more about it, I found out how truly weird and amazing this species is."

4.    Trialling the My Feedback report at UCL

Trialling the My Feedback report at UCL

A new feedback tool, developed by UCL's Digital Education team, allows you for the first time to see many of your marks and feedback on one page. At the moment, you can only see your feedback when you click on individual assessments within courses on Moodle. The tool, which worked well when engineering sciences students tested it this year, gives a bar graph of a student's performance over time and provides information about their grades and the marking scale for each assessment.

The tool is expected to be released to all staff and students at UCL for the new 2016/17 academic year. Dr Fiona Strawbridge, Head of Digital Education at UCL, says that while other institutions are developing similar tools, UCL is "at the forefront" in this development work in Moodle.

Do you know someone in your department or faculty who teaches in an innovative way? Let us know so that we can tell students and staff about them: teaching.learning@ucl.ac.uk.

Office of the Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)