ORIGINAL - Welcome_ Welcome Back to Moray House School of Education and Sport
From Emily Birtles on January 15th, 2021
Hello. For those who don’t know me, my name is Sam Fawkner, and I am the deputy head of MHSES. On behalf of the University and my colleagues in the School, I would like to welcome all of those who are new students starting with us today, and also welcome our returning students back for Semester 2. I would also like to wish you all a Happy New year; 2020 was quite a year, and it looks like 2021 is also going to throw us the odd curve ball especially with respect to the current global Covid-19 crisis. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but this has been, and continues to be an extraordinary time. I’ll reflect a little more on that later, but I would first like to acknowledge the achievements of all of you, for being successful in securing a place on one of our programmes, or for successfully navigating your way through Semester 1. This is always something to celebrate, but this is even more the case as we appreciate the many challenges that many have had to face over the last 12 months.
So, in preparing this welcome, I asked myself what do both our new students and those who are returning want to hear? So, I decided on 4 key themes; to share with you my thoughts on what it means to be a student at MH, that whats been put in there is not teaching and how we are adapting to what we learnt in Semester 1; to think about the support that you can expect from us, and finally how to get the most out of your time at MH. However, for those who have heard me before, I quite like to structure my welcome talks. In September you had Sam’s Six Top Tips. This time, I’m going to go through Sam’s MHSES annotated alphabet
And so, to start, A; is for answers. Or perhaps lack of them. I said I would reflect on the current health crisis, and one thing it has brought is certainty in uncertainty, and frequently questions which we don’t always immediately know the answers to. One thing I would like to assure you of though, is that we will work hard, with you and behind the scenes, to answer the many questions you may have.
One of which, will likely be about access to buildings and in-person on-campus engagement.
So, B; is for buildings. We have a beautiful campus in Edinburgh, in a city which is a maze of historic and iconic buildings, set in arguably one of the most picturesque cities in the world. But, at the moment, access to much of this is severely restricted, and on our campus, unless essential, we are not anticipating any opportunity for in-person on-campus engagement until further notice. Until then, learning and teaching, and student support, will remain digital. Rest assured though, when we are able to access our buildings, our amazing estates team will be working hard to make sure that they remain as safe as possible for access. In the mean time, the Main Library and study spaces are open and available for booking.
But we don’t need buildings to build a community, and C is for Community. You are part of a community, a course, programme, School and University community, along with our staff and alumni. Whilst it may be more difficult to experience that community without being in our buildings, and physically present and able to connect in-person with classmates and the teaching staff, there are plenty of ways to connect online, and we will continue to promote opportunities through our learning and teaching and through School events. Community, and a sense of belonging, we know is a crucial part of your experience, and what you want. Please work with us to help bring our community to life.
Speaking of community brings me to D and E
Which represent diversity, equality and inclusion; every student and staff member of our school is part of our community and we are committed to equality of opportunity for all our staff and students, and promoting a culture of inclusivity. We know that on some programmes, creating the best, and most equal diverse and inclusive community is not always that easy, especially in an online environment, but we will continue to work towards enhancing this, and this is where we need your feedback. So,
F; is for Feedback. Something that myself, and colleagues are passionate about is the value of the student voice. There are plenty of ways to feedback, via your programme representatives, via mid-course feedback, direct to course organisers, and programme directors. Please do do this. My colleagues are working as hard as they can to try to adapt to feedback you have given to us about Semester 1. We cannot always change what we are doing, but we can perhaps explain why things are the way they are and open a dialogue.
With your feedback, we can adapt, and as a School, as a partnership between staff, students and alumni, grow. So G is for growth and H is for History . MHSES is steeped in a history of influencing education and sport, nationally and globally. But, over that time we have grown to extend our impact. With the aim to graduate the best students, and generate world class research we work to have a significant impact on the education, wellbeing and development of children, young people and adults, and find solutions to local and world problems in the field of education and sport. You are part of that growth, you will one day be part of our history, but together we will have impact; so I is for impact.
J represents that journey with us, from your application stage, to being part of our alumni. Some of you are still at the beginning of that journey, or perhaps you are well on your way through your programme, but on that journey it is important to remember K, kindness, to yourself and kindness to others. At the moment, in particular, each and everyone of us is dealing with our own challenges. We have seen from Semester 1 some of the more pronounced issues that online learning is creating for many of you, and we are working to adjust to that as best we can. So, I have included L for loneliness and M for making connections. Whether you are in Edinburgh, and currently dealing with our national lock down, or anywhere else in the world, online learning can be more lonely than if you were here in class with your class mates. As I have already said, we are working hard, as staff and with student representatives to create more opportunity for you to make connections in the School; but I also encourage you to seek the many opportunities available to you across the University. If you are finding that difficult, or don’t know where to start, contact the SESO, who are there to help.
Another thing we have learnt from your feedback last semester, is that we need to work with you to ensure that online learning provides an enriching opportunity for your learning and creating those connections. N, is therefore for Netiquette, and O is for online environment. By Netiquette I refer to the way we conduct ourselves in an online environment, how we make sure that we act in a way that is inclusive to all, and allows each and every student to engage in a meaningful manner. One thing that we know, is that this varies from one cohort to another, and there is no one size fits all. Again, please speak with your teaching team and feedback, to help create a learning environment that works as best as possible for you all.
You can also speak with your personal tutor if you feel that there is anything that you are struggling with, including how to make the most of online learning. P is therefore for personal tutor, or PT. Katie and Kevin our senior PTs and will speak more to you about the role of the PTs on Wednesday, and our returning students, I hope you have been able to connect positively with your PT to date. PTs play a critical role in supporting your journey with us and are integral to the culture of MHSES. PTs can help with many of your questions, but your other option is the Student Experience and Support Office. So Q and R stand for questions and responses, and S for the SESO, which I have described previously as the beating heart of the MHSES. Again, you can hear more from our team in the office on Wednesday, but if you have not done so already, please make a note of how to contact them, and utilise the support they offer you. They will respond to you as quickly as they possibly can, and if they cannot help, will find someone who can.
So this takes me onto T, for teaching and learning. In MH we have adopted an approach since Semester 1 to ensure that all students can achieve all of their learning outcomes online, and for programmes that were not intended to be fully online, to provide additional in-person on-campus sessions to supplement this learning. We took this approach to make sure that, irrespective of student location, access to servers and periods of ill health, we would be able to provide the opportunity for all students to achieve their learning.
During semester one we listened to student feedback. We heard a great deal of positive feedback about the flexibility that online learning and asynchrounous material offered you, but many of you in MH, and across the University, were asking for more synchronous and more in-person on-campus sessions. We looked to make changes where possible, and prior to Christmas, we were working particularly hard to plan more on-campus in-person sessions across our programmes. However, the current situation regards the national lock down has created a range of challenges, not least the current uncertainty as to when we will be able to resume any face-to-face campus engagement. For many students, the closure of schools also impacts heavily on placements, as well as creates pressures for both students and teaching staff with caring responsibilities. For now, I ask you to work with us, as we adapt to what is again, a rapidly changing situation. We will continue with our online learning approach as before, which remains informed by our own experts in digital education, and we will continue to communicate with you through Learn, and the fortnightly student round ups, with any updates as soon as we are in a position to do so.
Your learning is obviously a key part of your experience with us, but U stands for the University of Edinburgh, which offers so much more; from the Edinburgh University Student Association and the many events, clubs and societies they offer, a wide range of academic and support services available to you and importantly opportunities to volunteer and get involved in how the University runs. These opportunities enrich you and your time with us, and open doors you maybe didn’t know existed, for you now and after you graduate. Of course, at the moment most of these opportunities are online, and we very much appreciate the challenges of continued screen use. Safe to say, that many of us are experiencing the physical and mental strains of being in one place, and working to a screen for several hours a day, and also connecting with friends and family via a screen as well. As I said at the beginning though, there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of V, virus vaccinations. But until then, and even well after this virus is under control, we must prioritise W, wellbeing, both mental and physical. There is a wealth of support available to you to encourage positive wellbeing; again you can speak to the SESO, your PT, or go onto our student sharepoint site for a range of sources of support. And I could not leave you today without focussing on the benefit of getting up and about and moving. The benefits of physical activity is my area of research, and never has there been a time when we need to be moving more and sitting less, and giving ourselves both physical and mental breaks from the screen. Maybe make yourself a standing desk out of cardboard boxes (which is exactly what I did), or set yourself reminders to stand up and go for a walk, or even listen to a lecture while going for a walk. There are all sorts of things you can be doing to move more and sit less, and it WILL help.
And that takes me to the very tricky part of the alphabet, and also a sign that I have been speaking for too long. So I will finish with the following for X,Y and Z; This is an extraordinary time, but we are working as hard as we can to ensure that You have the best possible experience with us, and we look forward to sharing the journey with you, hopefully for those that can be here, at some stage in person in Edinburgh, but in the mean time and for those on online only programmes, on Teams, Collaborate or Zoom.
And finally, before I close, I just want to wish you and your families good health, and the very best for the coming Semester.