Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Periodic Review at Bucks - how can we do better?

On Friday March 14th we had Periodic Review at Bucks. Periodic Review is - as the name suggests - a review of the courses we run at Bucks, bringing in the views of our students, our academics, and external experts to give us all a reality check, and ask searching questions about what we are doing right - and what we are doing wrong. The process takes place every six years and, as it turned out,  friday was a surprisingly useful day, helping to shine a light on the way we do things at Bucks, asking questions about why things are the way they are - and how we might do things better in the future.

Periodic Review took place all day on Friday 14th March in g5.05 in the Gateway Building (above), which incidentally has the best views of Wycombe I have seen so far - highly recommended if you ever need to book a conference room. So who was there? In the chair was Sue West, Academic Dean of Nursing.
Jon Thornton was the visiting external academic; he is head of Sound Technology at the School of the Arts at Liverpool University.  We also had Ruth Gunstone, Director of Student Services at Bucks.

From industry we had Adam Lucas, a digital artist who has worked extensively in Soho at many studios including Cinesite and Frame Store.

We also welcomed David Rolfe, an alumni of Bucks from the 1960s. David is a film-maker, documentary maker and BAFTA winner. From Bucks we had Ruth Gunstone, ‎Director of Student Services, as well as the usual gang of tutors from Media Production.

Academic -v- Practical outcomes

One of the issues that came up early on was the thorny question of striking the right balance between academic and practical content. Jon Thornton asked us if we thought we had the balance right between practical and academic outcomes? After all, given that our courses are focused on acquiring industry-relevant skills, how much purely academic content should there really be?

Jon Thornton - Head of Sound Technology at Liverpool School of Performing Arts
I didn't personally hear the feedback from the students who were present at the meeting (they were interviewed first, without their tutors, so as to encourage them speak freely), but their concerns were relayed to us by the chair. And one of the leading questions asked by the students was this: why do we have to write essays?

This is a debate we often have within the Animation and Visual Effects course. How much academic content should there be? John Thornton pointed out that our focus at the university is on employability, "but the assessments at Level 6 seem to focus 70% on written work...which seems an odd balance to strike". Jon added that at his university, the Dean has banned the word “academic”. Why can't we “be braver” he asked – "why not shift the emphasis from academic to practical skills?"
Frazer Mackenzie
Frazer Mackenzie, our Head of School, echoed this. "Two thirds of our campus is devoted to the creative industries", he said. There is a "tension between this and with academic content". We have to ask the question "are we meeting industry requirements?" Jon suggested that one option might be simply that "some modules don’t need academic content".

David Rolfe
David Rolfe added that although "academic content is measurable...there are other ways of measuring things". He said that "what is also valuable is success at student film festivals". To have students creating "award-winning films... is a measure of success".

Tutor - student contact at Level 6

The next major issue that came up was the amount of contact between tutors and students at level 6, that is the say in students' 3rd (final) year of studies. According to the panel, the students "say they miss us” in their final year". In other words, "they want more contact with their tutors".

Collaboration between departments

David Rolfe asked "why don't the students collaborate more?" After all, he added, "they say they don’t even know each other!". This is clearly a concern for us - different students from different departments should meet and collaborate more. Alan Green talked about the possibility of animators and sound designers collaborating more (and better) in the future.

Ruth Gunstone
Engagement with students

Ruth asked if our students were regularly checking blackboard? And are they checking their emails? Student attendance is often an issue and many of the tutors expressed concern about this.

David Rolfe wondered if too much documentation was being given out in general? He asked why he was a sent series of huge PDF documents in advance of today's event? He gave up trying to print it out – when all he really wanted was 2-3 pages of relevant material.


Jobs and employability is always at the forefront of the university's agenda. But how are we actually tracking this? The availability of data on employability is poor, and as an institution we don't necessarily have the best track record of keeping in touch with our former alumni. Ruth Gunstone explained that Helen Walters is “leading on alumni”, and invited lecturers and tutors to make contact with her.
Helen Walters
David Rolfe wondered whether our focus on employability is perhaps too extreme. In his view, the focus of our courses should be "about dreams, about students finding themselves". He suggested we "don’t talk about jobs for the first year". Instead, we should ask ourselves and the students "what makes them excited?"

Adam Lucas asked about bringing in visiting lecturers from industry. Were we doing this? And what is the focus of the new animation course? He was concerned that we should have as many visiting lecturers as possible, to make sure that the students were getting lectures from working professionals with up-to-date skills.

Sue West
Sue West summarized the conclusion of the panel by saying that she was “confident that learning outcomes are being met”, and that the programmes at Bucks “do meet industry requirements”.She did however make some recommendations. These included:

1. Our department should do more research.

2. There should be more cross-course collaboration

3. We should "package our virtual learning resources together", so that they can be more easily accessed by the students 

4. We should "consider the shape of contact hours over level 6", and "add more structured contact" between tutors and students

5. We should "consider the balance of academic and practical assessments"


(Editor's note: for more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days,  take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK.)

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting; and I agree, too, that the L6s should work closely with other departmental students, especially in sound generation as modern animation without excellent sound is lost. I see the point in writing essays that are relevant and interesting. That part of academia should really be kept, I think, as, with all work at Bucks, it takes inspiration and research to execute a given concept well. Excellent post; thanks Alex, it's great to read so regularly what's happening at Bucks!