Designs on Learning: the role of the undergraduate research symposium

About a month ago (apologies this post has taken so long, I have great plans of writing up some more events from last month very soon!) I was lucky enough to go down to Bournemouth to attend the HEA funded workshop on the undergraduate research symposium. It was a packed day (with the opportunity to have a peak at the final degree show, I particularly was taken by the model making) at the Arts University College at Bournemouth.

After the formal welcome, Ruth Dineen started us off with a song of praise to the undergraduate research symposium by making the point that students need to be seen as independent from the student pigeonhole, and that this can be achieved through making them stakeholders in the Research Symposium, which with original research, research posters and presentations and Q&A discussions could really be seen as the opposite of the pigeonhole.

Kirsten Hardie and Annie Grove-White then talked us through their experiences of running these symposia for Graphic students, not just within one university, but as a point of exchange of three. They particularly highlighted the potential enclosed in making students the co-owners of such events and linking it to students’ interests and giving it professional and academic validity through having high quality keynote speakers.

What I was especially interested in was the use of posters as a way of bridging written and studio work, with its design helping to find focus and simplify ideas as well as identify new issues that need to be investigated, and the presentation of it as a ‘dry-run’ that can help develop an essay structure. Of course the poster can then also be used as a part of the portfolio, as a cover for the dissertation document, in promotional materials, etc.

We also heard a students’ perspective (which described a journey from the sceptical to the enthusiastic) and ended with discussions in smaller groups to identify challenges and opportunities before feeding back to the larger group. And there were examples of these posters to peruse, from both third and second year students.

My exercise book (which was provided) filled up with notes and ideas of how I could make this work as part of my practice of getting creative practice students to write academic texts. Could the students on the Postgraduate Certificate for Higher Education be roped in to facilitate, select, edit, organise? Could these posters be made an integral part of the conception of their written work and then showcased as part of their final degree show, at a half-time event in January, as part of a film festival for the media students? Of course in practice this might work very differently with students from disciplines that are not graphics centred, but I feel that the potential is definitely there.

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