Attended the second Studiosity Partner Forum in London today, which had representatives from 14 UK HEIs out of the now 23 who are Studiosity users. The opening keynote was delivered by Rebecca Bunting, Vice Chancellor at the University of Bedfordshire, who talked about issues current in HE, with a focus on access and participation. She made good points on the limitations of students going to university, which includes not only things like entry requirements and location, but also what people are able to study once there and how the cost of living crisis is impacting choice. She talked about how this can impact on student retention, which HEIs are held accountable for, but there are often very good reason why students may have to leave their study. Finally, she talked about the concept of the “sticky campus” – keeping students on campus – which is something else universities are often held accountable for as a desirable thing, but which doesn’t work for students in their 30s or who have fulltime jobs, families, etc. Those students want, and need, to be on campus to do what they need for their studies and then get away again as soon as possible. At Bedfordshire, the majority of their students are over 30.
Next was a product update session from Isabelle Bristow, Studiosity’s Managing Director for the UK and Europe. The peer support service which was in early development last year will be available in July as ‘Student Connect’, in which third year students can mentor and guide first year students after training from Studiosity and the university. These mentors are paid at a rate set by the university, and all chat and calls are managed through Studiosity to ensure privacy and confidentiality. Unfortunately this isn’t something we will be able to explore at Sunderland, as we are continuing to keep Studiosity focused at IFY and new undergraduates. Isabelle also talked about a new Writing Feedback feature which will help students to identify where they have used higher order thinking skills – at least in part designed to counter and mitigate the use of generative AI writing.
Simon Reade and Matthew Hare from Sheffield Hallam University then presented on their data dashboard which uses data from the Studiosity API and other sources, and outputs to Tableau. One such chart, showing usage changes over a number of years, is shown (badly) in the photo above. This was a very interesting session for me, as we have just done this ourselves using Power BI. Some of their findings / experience felt very familiar – high usage in Health subjects, low in their Business, Technology and Engineering College (strange bedfellows, but our Business folks can also be hard to engage with new technology and interventions). Another observation they made was that Studiosity seems to hit more demographic groups than those which traditionally access support services, a good thing.
After lunch, Dr Andy Gould from SOAS talked about how they are responding to AI which led into an open discussion. Andy referenced Jisc, who in their response said that a crisis could be used as a driver for change, similar to what I and others said about the pandemic response. The problem is the sector seems to be in perma-crisis. They have co-created a student guide containing a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ as best practice. Andy also talked about the idea of academics using ChatGPT to write student feedback, something students were very against, unsurprisingly, and finally noted that some students have reporting using a paraphrasing service I won’t name to try and ‘launder’ AI produced writing.
Other random points and observations made throughout the day in discussions with colleagues included a note from one institution that has seen Studiosity seemingly widen their participation gap, possibly as a result of higher achieving students engaging with the service to a greater extent. Much of our discussions were on the nature of students wanting to have a personal connection when it comes to seeking support, something Studiosity delivers well, and which may indicate strong use of the new Student Connect service when it goes live. Referencing was noted as by far the most in demand area for support, and again something that may draw them to peer support. Finally, there was a comment about how in some subject areas, such as engineering, students may not get any conventional written assignment until their 3rd year, with 1st and 2nd year assignments focusing on group work. This is an important point for me, and Sunderland, to be aware of as it may help to explain weak uptake in certain areas.