Creating Communities of Learning via Academic Support: Scientists, Engineers and Mathematicians Don't Just 'Do' Equations
Academic and mathematical skills development is built into the curriculum in all modules on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Foundation Year programme at a university in England, with all teaching team members involved including our Lecturer in Learning Development. Two specific academic support initiatives are outlined in this paper to provide a small-scale case study of approaches to developing learning communities. The first is a ‘Peer-Assisted Learning Scheme’ which involves the mentoring of groups of students by a previous Foundation Year student. The second is the ‘Engineering Business Case’ involving a group design project with a financial incentive supported by the Engineers in Business competition. In both cases, the student voice, through the lens of creating communities of learning, was sought through questionnaires. There are indications that both mentees and mentors reported benefits in terms of learning and development and engaging with other students in their participation with the Peer-Assisted Learning Scheme. For the Engineering Business Case a contrasting view was seen: whilst the students agree that components of this project were valuable for their learning and/or future studies, meeting new people, and developing strategies for group work, there were mixed responses about whether the project helped them to feel part of the student community. The data evaluated in this work do not lend themselves to any generalisations. Rather, we seek to report on the framework and implementation of these schemes which, as they mature, will lend themselves to more quantitative and qualitative data collection for interpretation.