In recent years, student wellbeing has been widely discussed in the media. Many universities have reported a sharp increase in students seeking counselling due to the impact of high tuition fees and the burden of debt. Russell group institutions reported that 43,000 students availed of counselling in the academic year 2014-15 compared with 34,000 three years earlier. High fees are only part of the problem. In 2017, the THE surveyed 2000 students who indicated high levels of stress due to the pressure of course work. Isolation is another major issue. A new study by the University of Southampton indicates that students who experience isolation are at a greater risk of developing mental health problems. Universities are under pressure to address these issues by creating a student experience and learning environment that supports student wellbeing. Research commissioned by Unihealth in 2017 into student stress is also quite alarming.
Why is Scriptor Cube needed?
The issue of student stress in the university sector is not adequately addressed and as a result of my extensive work with students at various universities, I developed strategies and programmes to address this issue. Due to the success of these programmes in supporting student wellbeing in the university sector, Scriptor Cube was created to provide coping strategies to help students deal with anxiety and develop confidence in areas such as academic writing; networking and engagement with peers; networking with potential research partners and other research or career-related external bodies; developing confidence in entrepreneurial innovation; developing confidence in enhancing creative thinking and interdisciplinary thinking in research; and confidence development in making presentations.
How was it developed?
I have worked as an academic in the university sector for 12 years and have found a paucity of support for students who suffer from stress. Scriptor Cube provides a unique service to universities as the programmes on offer are bespoke courses developed over a number of years to support student wellbeing. It is the one of the first student experience and learning companies in the UK. The various courses on offer evolved over a period of time in the following contexts:
Academic writing: The courses on academic writing are based on a new methodology designed to reduce writing anxiety. Academic writing is a challenge for many students and with the pressures of needing to attain a high grade or having to publish, writing anxiety is a common problem for students. I developed a nine-step strategy which takes an unorthodox approach to planning and structuring a dissertation, thesis chapter or article. Whether it is for an undergraduate or postgraduate, this strategy removes the stressful issues that can cause writer's block. I developed this new pedagogical approach when writing up my PhD thesis in 2009. Over the years I have taught it to undergraduate, masters and doctoral students and it has had a significant positive impact.
Confidence development in networking and engagement: The courses on networking and engagement were developed from working with postgraduates and academics on developing programmes to enhance interdisciplinary research groups that target funding. I developed the Creative Networking Module which is a model designed to create networking opportunities between universities and companies. That model is now offered by Scriptor Cube as a pedagogical tool that teaches students how to create themed seminars involving universities and companies (including international participation via Skype). It is designed to develop student confidence in networking and enhance their career prospects, and it also creates opportunities for the university.
Creative thinking in research: As a poet and academic, I developed a poetry methodology designed to inspire creative thinking and build confidence in collaborative engagement and being innovative. Using poetry and art, students will be encouraged to rethink their research in creative terms and present it as a performance or as part of the pop-up exhibition at the end of the workshop. This workshop often takes place as part of a networking day or summer school programme run by Scriptor Cube. I gave a TEDx talk on my research in this area in 2015 in Swansea.
Confidence in peer engagement: From my previous experience of developing and running student programmes, I developed new models such as 'networking days' which are designed to support new students in the university environment through interactive workshops that encourage peer engagement. Scriptor Cube provides such events for new undergraduate and postgraduate students. Our summer schools focus on confidence building through engagement but also in terms of encouraging the development of interdisciplinary collaborative research partnerships.
Webinars: As well as on-campus workshops, Scriptor Cube also offers webinars via Skype for Business. These include writing and research-based courses which are designed to build student confidence. These webinars are also a great way to engage distance learners.
Academic writing coach: A new trend in universities is to enhance the student experience of learning by hiring external tutor support. Consequently, universities have reported enhanced student satisfaction in their learning experience as a result of this initiative. Scriptor Cube also provides this service and the focus is on building student confidence in academic writing. This is especially important as there are so many companies exploiting students by charging high fees to write essays or theses which are mostly plagiarised. This experience also has a negative impact on the writing confidence of students. Scriptor Cube addresses this by working with the student to enhance writing confidence. This one-to-one service is available via Skype. All courses are available on the Scriptor Cube website.
What does the initiative offer to students and universities?
Scriptor Cube can offer students life-changing skills to augment their learning, social, and entrepreneurial experience of the university environment and beyond, through:
Enhancing confidence in engaging with peers
Empowering students by teaching strategies to deal with stress
Enhancing confidence in developing leadership skills
Enhancing confidence in organising events such as conferences or TEDx events
Enhancing confidence in networking within the university and beyond
Enhancing confidence in creative thinking and research
Enhancing confidence in presenting and event hosting
These skills can contribute to increased student satisfaction, which is advantageous to both the student and the university. Also, courses like the 'Creative Networking Module' will enhance an institution's opportunities to engage with other universities and companies on a national and international level.
Dr Catriona Ryan is an Irish poet, published academic, a critical theorist and a world authority on the work of Tom Mac Intyre with an international standing in Irish Studies. She is a Senior Fellow of the HEA, an Honorary Research Fellow at UWTSD and a Student Experience specialist. She has worked as an academic in universities over the last 12 years. In recent times she has also been involved in developing a student experience environment for doctoral students. Her success at enhancing the student experience culture for doctoral students at UWTSD was reflected in the latest PRES results. They revealed a 10% increase in student satisfaction in areas associated with cross-university engagement, training and general experience of being a postgraduate at UWTSD.
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