P68 – Active, Creative and Critical Thinking: Engaging Year 1 Students Groups with Final Year Mentors Offers Enhanced Employability for ALL

Auditorium – Tuesday 13:00-14:00

Michaela Black

School of Computing & Information Engineering/Faculty of Computing & Engineering/ Ulster University

Dr Michaela Black is a current Fellow of CHERP and Senior Fellow of HEA. Currently a Senior Lecturer in the School of Computing and Information Engineering, Faculty Learning & Teaching Co-ordinator delivering a strong focus on Active Learning, developing Professional Skills, Employability and Entrepreneurship. Current project member for pedagogic work on HEA Student Retention and Success What Works Project for student belonging.


Year 1 students entering University have challenges impacting on their engagement and belonging.  Some applicants may not have developed the vital soft skills such as Creative and Critical Thinking. We will offer an embedded model of student-staff collaboration on curriculum design highlighting how final and year 1 students design and develop engaging learning environments sessions.


Year 1 students entering University have challenges, which have a strong impact on their engagement and belonging.  Not all of these are related to the subject knowledge.   A key proportion of applicants will have experienced courses which are very task orientated and have not developed the vital soft skills to overcome discipline threshold concepts.  One of these key skills is: Creative and Critical Thinking. (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Tsui, 2002; Van Gelder, 2005)

Students really need to be able to:

  • analyze a real problem with real end users;
  • creatively design potential solutions;
  • compare and critique these identifying what methodology and practices are better and understand why;
  • and finally choose a solution and be comfortable getting it critiqued and receive formative critical feedback.

This is a very daunting experience as an enthusiastic and excited year 1 undergraduate entering classes often in excess of 100+ students.  This can cause real retention issues.

This presentation will offer a staff and student mentor perspective of a very successful model, which was created from student-staff collaboration on curriculum design.  The presentation will highlight how a standard lecture was replaced with an interactive group driven class, which is delivered in one room by staff and final year student mentors.  The ecology of the class is a very active class requiring students to prepare in advance, engage with their group, share and compare problem solving using whiteboards under the guidance of a final year mentor.  This allows the students to think aloud, share initial solutions, compare and discuss their strengths and limitations.

Results from year 1 students and mentors provide very positive qualitative and quantitative feedback with enhanced student learning gain, belonging and retention. Feedback from employers has enabled additional refinements to the planned activities to extend and promote additional soft skills.  The final year mentors received positive employability feedback from potential employers, all securing employment earlier before completing their course, and now receive additional recognition through Ulster’s EDGE award.


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