Personal supervision at Hull has undergone several transformations over the past ten years, but the core principle of students being able to access timely and supportive guidance from a named contact in their subject area has remained. Effective personal supervision has been found to offer several benefits to students including supporting them to integrate socially and academically, particularly during the critical first year of study (Yale, 2017; Grey & Osbourne, 2020). Personal supervisors can serve as a vital link between students’ programmes, Schools and wider academic and support services, acting as academic mentors and ultimately contributing to their continued engagement and success (Thomas, Nutt & Wall, 2009).
The current policy requires that a minimum of five supervision meetings should be provided across the academic year for Preliminary Certificate and Certificate stages, and a minimum of three for Diploma, Honours and taught Masters stages. Despite some of the potential benefits outlined, a frequent criticism of current and previous systems has been that students do not always prioritise personal supervision, leading to understandable frustration, of academics, at the time spent on arranging and rearranging meetings. The need to support students to engage with this potentially valuable resource has become more acute in recent years with an increased emphasis on student attendance, engagement, retention, achievement and satisfaction, alongside an increasingly diverse student population (McFarlane, 2016). One seemingly straightforward request from staff and students has therefore been for personal supervision to be embedded into the timetable.
A Curriculum Integrated Model (Earwaker, 1992; Thomas & Hixenbaugh, 2006) is one where group tutoring sessions are embedded into the curriculum and timetable. Group tutoring sessions are being used more regularly across higher education, partly as they can be more time-efficient but also as a means of helping students to develop a peer network of support (Grey & Osbourne, 2020). Inspired by similar projects in the subject areas of Psychology, Social Work and Biology, two Schools in the Faculty of Arts, Cultures and Education embarked on a project to integrate personal supervision into the timetable and curriculum. Here is what they learned from the experience.
The School of Criminology, Sociology & Policing
In 2022-2023 The School of Criminology, Sociology & Policing, as part of Transforming Programmes, embedded two personal supervision sessions into a core Level 4 module. The timetabling of these sessions was not an easy task with over 150 students and 25 supervisors to be allocated rooms and times. These sessions were directly linked to the module content but included the pastoral and academic elements of a meeting with the personal supervisor. Student attendance differed across the School with some students stating, they “wouldn’t come in for one hour”; therefore, highlighting timetabling as a barrier to attending. Even though attendance could have been improved, supervisors all stated they have met with more of their supervisees than in previous years. Those, 2022-2023, Level 4 students have all met with their personal supervisors on multiple occasions and have built a good foundation for communication and support. The building of staff student relations has clearly improved, and engagement and retention will continue to be monitored.
For 2023-2024 the School of Criminology, Sociology & Policing has continued with the embedding of personal supervision sessions at Level 4 and extended this further to include Level 5. The number of sessions has doubled in each module to four, and they are timetabled on days when students have other timetabled teaching - acting upon the students’ concerns. Teaching weeks 3, 4, 5 and 10 have been chosen specifically as student data shows these are the weeks when retention dips in the School. As well as academic study skills activities, the School utilise the Crime Scene Room providing all students with opportunities of active learning and group work whilst in a smaller group. Module leaders ensure detailed information is sent to all supervisors prior to the sessions, so students all receive the same content and tasks.
The School of Education
In the same academic year, the School of Education (Education & Childhood) focused on embedding personal supervision for new Level 4 students into the timetable, without making direct links to curricula. This required the sessions to be linked to a module, but this was in name only (labelled as a ‘tutorial’). The purpose of these group ‘tutorials’ was made clear to students, and guidance was provided to staff and students. The guidance followed the framework set out in the University of Hull Code of Practice, with a focus on developing a sense of belonging and developing academic study skills. One-to-one meetings were offered on request.
An informal evaluation was carried out with both staff and students being asked about their experience of personal supervision carried out in this way. Attendance could not be compared to previous years’ as it was not timetabled previously, but some supervisors reported better attendance and engagement. Barriers to attendance included paid work commitments and long gaps between the group supervision meeting and other timetabled activities. Most students who responded were very positive about this mode of delivery, including the meetings being timetabled as it helped them to plan their time. They also stated that they enjoyed being able to talk in a small group and share experiences “...and realising that everyone feels the same”, as well as asking questions and receiving advice. It was clear that students also valued the offer of individual meetings to be able to talk more confidentially, but many did not feel that they required them.