Posted Tuesday 5 September 2017
Kingston University has been shortlisted for a top Higher Education Academy (HEA) award for an influential project designed to bring students from a number of courses together to creatively explore themes of race, ethnicity and culture.
The University is one of 15 institutions named as a finalist in the HEA's Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) in recognition of its Taking Race Live project. The awards celebrate outstanding contributions to teaching by teams at higher education providers – with finalists being required to demonstrate direct student involvement in their work.
Six winning institutions from a shortlist of 15 will be awarded grants of £15,000 to share their learning.
First developed within the sociology department to bring critical understandings of race and culture to life by putting students at the heart of their own learning, the Taking Race Live project has expanded into a collaborative scheme – initially with drama students and then across three further teams in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Through the initiative, sociology, media and television, drama, music and dance students are given the opportunity to attend events and exhibitions, hear from guest speakers and work across disciplines on creative responses. These result in a series of performances and presentations throughout the year.
Taking learning out of the classroom and providing hands-on event planning and research experience allowed students to develop both their personal and professional skills, according to sociology lecturer Dr Sonya Sharma.
"Learning from visits to the Black Cultural Archives and the National Portrait Gallery, as well as from each other in terms of how they respond to what they have seen and heard, creates a real sense of belonging and ownership," she said. "A key part of this is relationship building - students who become part of the project get to know staff and students both within and across disciplines."
Dr Sharma said sociology research projects had come alive through dance and drama and the students had acquired key employability skills by taking a leading role in managing the pop-up events, symposiums and their own research. "It opens up their world and they learn how others view the issues we are looking at through the lens of culture and the arts," she added.
As part of each course's curriculum, academics give guest lectures – with sociology and music experts addressing each other's students – all based around concepts of race and culture.
Students also played a leading role in organising events and hosting symposiums for staff and students, with funding provided for several paid roles each year through a student partnership scheme, associate professor of music Helen Minors explained.
"It's all about empowering students to take ownership of the project, breaking down barriers through exploring the issues of race, ethnicity and culture through sociology and arts disciplines," she said. "The keynote addresses have sparked lots of debate, giving students different perspectives on topics through the collaboration. We encourage them to take the lead in asking questions of us and each other and as academics we have also learnt a huge amount from their experiences."
The Taking Race Live project forms part of the University's award-winning inclusive curriculum framework, designed to ensure the content and delivery of courses was relevant and meaningful to students from all backgrounds.
It also supports the University's drive to help increase the number of students from black and ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds who achieve good degrees - tackling a discrepancy known nationally as the BME attainment gap.
The recognition from the Higher Education Academy demonstrated the pioneering work being undertaken across the University to provide the highest quality teaching and support for all its students, according to Pro Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching Dr Clarissa Wilks.
"The success of this project really shows the benefits of a student-centred approach to teaching, giving students the tools they need to take ownership of their own learning - both outside of the classroom and also from each other," she said. "Alongside the confidence and skills they develop through such initiatives, this also showcases how students can take advantage of the excellent teaching on offer across a number of disciplines and gain new perspectives that will help prepare them for their future careers."
The six winning teams will be announced at an awards ceremony on 1 November.
The Higher Education Academy has also recognised two award-winning Kingston University academics for their commitment to driving forward innovations in critical thinking and inclusivity with National Teaching Fellowships. The prestigious accolades – for associate professor Dr Annie Hughes, head of the University's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) centre, and marketing and communications lecturer Hilary Wason, from Kingston Business School – celebrate individuals who have demonstrated the very best in teaching excellence.
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