The Good, the Bad and the Unknown: Kickstart in Science

Science unit convenors present their “warts and all” assessment of Kickstart: how well did the pre-session engagement initiative work in its first outing in the Faculty of Science and Engineering?

The Good

Video magic

Joanne Jamie - Kickstart Video
Joanne Jamie – Kickstart Video

On the whole, the unit convenors involved  were happy with the way their KickStart packages were designed and fit within their unit – especially the video content. Associate Professor Joanne Jamie, incorporating Kickstart into internal and external offerings of her first-year organic chemistry unit, designed her own “Welcome video” to complement another video where past students present tips for success in the unit. “Together these two videos are really successful in showing students how they need to approach the unit.”

Computing’s Matt Roberts also valued the professional-standard videos (hat tip: producer Phil Betts), as well as the process of making them. “Being videoed and watching the video was seriously traumatic, but I think I’ve grown through the experience!”

Visibility

Matt Roberts - Kickstart Video
Matt Roberts – Kickstart Video

Matt found he enjoyed a degree of greater visibility among students as a result of Kickstart. “I’m not teaching in the first half of semester, but some students recognize me from the videos as the convenor now, and stop me in the hallway when I am going to get to lunch, which is a bonus.”

Shelf-life

While Kickstart is intended as a ‘pre-commencement package’,  the quizzes, videos and other activities developed may have a longer shelf life. Convenors often found resources were used more during the first week than pre-session – which is arguably equally beneficial –  and predicted the resources will be useful for their students to refer to throughout the duration of the session.

The Bad

Low uptake

Ken Cheng's mystery animal contest
Ken Cheng’s mystery animal contest

Overall, students do not seem to have embraced the Kickstart packages in any of the participating Science units, at least in the pre-session period.

Of Professor Ken Cheng’s 700-plus Biological Sciences students, only around 130 actually accessed the awesomely-titled ‘Mystery Animal Contest’ (an exercise in finding information from Google Scholar and the library). Far fewer – only around 20 – actually completed the requirements and entered the contest.

Nor does the early contact with Kickstart seem to have translated immediately into greater ‘engagement’ on campus. Matt Roberts found that “we normally have about 8% of students who don’t turn up to class in the first few weeks, this time it was about 10%.”

Preaching to the choir?

“The reality is: it is those who are going to be engaged in everything else who are going took at this and trial it.” says Joanne Jamie.

Communication breakdown?

How do we get in touch with students prior to session to get them to even take notice of an initiative like Kickstart? “Do students read their University email? “It’s often clear from the questions they ask that they don’t.” says Joanne Jamie.

The Unknown

Lacking data

While it’s possible to see how many students have accessed iLearn and clicked on a particular Kickstart element, that doesn’t tell us much of itself. The program’s Coordinator,  LTC’s Victoria Taylor, says “we can make inferences from what students have clicked on and how long they have stayed on there, but we really don’t know yet if they’ve engaged with it.”  Victoria says further investigation into more detailed analytics is planned.

The cohort question

Statistics’ Dr Petra Graham says that STAT170 had almost no one logging on to iLearn prior to the start of session.  In contrast, a majority of Joanne Jamie’s CBMS students were on iLearn within those two weeks before the start of session. It’s difficult to measure the success of Kickstart in a unit without understanding the cohort.  For instance, are many students taking this as an elective? Ken Cheng’s unit is a first year Planet unit, for example.  Maybe one size does not fit all?

STAT 170 Kickstart Package
STAT 170 Kickstart Package

The Faculty’s Associate Dean Learning and Teaching Jenny Donald says the units in Science were deliberately chosen to test how successful Kickstart would be with different types of units dealing with different types of issues, and that testing is in its early stages. Jenny also points out that the initiative needs to be seen against the backdrop of a host other changes in the University, including the recent move to first year students enrolling online.

More to Come

While the initial results may be inconclusive,  Victoria Taylor says that a full evaluation of the program is in progress to provide more clues as to its efficacy.  All feedback is being taken into account to try and improve all aspects of KickStart for future iterations – planned for later in the year. Contact Victoria at victoria.taylor@mq.edu.au for more information.

To see all the Kickstart packages from Science and elsewhere in the University, check out the Showcase on iLearn (self-enrollment required).

Written by Lucy Arthur

Lucy Arthur

Lucy was Community and Engagement Lead in Macquarie’s Learning Innovation Hub in 2016, and was also the Managing Editor of this fine publication.

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