Student involvement in Excited
Student involvement in Excited
What do our students think about being part of Excited? We talked to students at both NTNU and Nord, both part of Excited and just part of the study programs we focus our activities towards.
Excited Students with Exciting Results
The best student environment at NTNU.
That’s the Department of Computer Science’s (IDI) ambition. In SFU Excited our mission is to enhance the learning in our study programs. We believe a common path to both these goals is more engaged students. Our experience is an engaged student equals a happy student with good academic results. But how do we achieve engaged, happy students eager to learn? The list of possibilities is close to endless. In this article, we are diving into four of them, The lunch-buddy project, Catch IDI , students involved in active research and the first year projects IDI work day and Excited lunch-workshops
Research on IT education
Pre-Excited, neither IDI at NTNU or the Faculty of Social Sciences at Nord University were strangers to doing research on the quality of their study programs. But there is only so much you can do with limited research-budgets and time.
IT studies are very popular amongst potential students and sought after from potential employers. But this means classes are getting big. “There can easily be 400 students in one auditorium, and the IDI institute alone has 3000 students”, explains Guttorm Sindre, Director of SFU Excited. “Such big classes can easily get impersonal, with little or no contact with the professor, making follow-ups, feedback and progression difficult”, he adds.
When the opportunity to apply for SFU Excited came around in 2015 it was therefore one that could not be missed. An SFU allows for more extensive research on measures that are tried out. It also allows more ambitious measures to be tried out over time. And time is an essential component when we are making systematic changes to the quality of our study programs.
Social environment and student achievements are undoubtedly connected, as students who have a social network on campus are more likely to use campus and not drop out. Unfortunately, there are always going to be some students who struggle more socially than others.
“I wanted to do something positive for the student environment” says Kristin Karlsen, an Advisor at the NTNU IE Faculty, which IDI is part of. Her idea was Lunch-buddy, an event where students at IDI (who preferably don’t know each other) are matched in pairs and meet over a free lunch.
“Although the initial idea was to help improve the social environment at IDI, we also wanted to reach those who did not have anyone to study with. Those who might not have their social circle within their study-program”, Karlsen explains.
Karlsen pitched the idea to Excited in the spring of 2019. She received funding for three events.
Lunch-buddy turned out to be one of the most successful activities financed by Excited in 2019. “I was afraid Lunch-buddy was going to be too weird for most students. But it turned to be so popular we actually ended up with a positive deficit! Our funding was for 100 student lunches but over 130 students signed up” says Karlsen. IDI covered the extra cost. Two more events were held in the fall, and two more are planned in the spring of 2020.
Some of the students who attended had good social connections already, while others barely had any social connections at all. Despite the differences students had in going in, the results showed that the participants were either very pleased (69%) or pleased (31%) with the concept.
A student who has attended Lunch Buddy not once, but five times is Kristine Larssen. “It has been a blast each time. The beginning is always a little awkward, but that passes relatively quickly. You get to know people from other places in Norway and other study programs, which I find interesting and exciting”, she explains.
Depth-interviews will be conducted in 2020 to gather data for further research and document the effects of Lunch-buddy.
Positive deficit and Buddy award
The success of Lunch-buddy was also noticed outside the Department of Computer Science. During the Big Challenge conference in June 2019, Karlsen was awarded the Buddy-award (fittingly enough) on behalf of the Lunch-buddy team.
The Buddy-award is given out by NTNU’s Rector to honor those who make an extra significant contribution to the student environment. “To win this award is a nice recognition for the job we have done and how Lunch-buddy has been received by the students”, Karlsen said after receiving the award in June.
On a summer day in 2018, Miriam Lillebo, both a student and student contact (students who work in the IDI-administration.) at the Department of Computer Science (IDI) had lunch with Excited PhD Madeleine Lorås. They were talking about the IDI Christmas-party half a year earlier and how good it had been for the student environment and relationship between IDI students and staff. Lorås was also telling Lillebo about all the exciting research going on at IDI.
"We realized there was a distance between students and academic employees, where students really don't know what their lecturers are doing outside of the auditorium. Even people in neighboring offices don't know what the person next door is working on," Lorås explains. They figured there had to be a way to get all this information about the Department’s research across to other students and close the gaps between IDI employees. That’s when the idea of Catch IDI emerged.
“Together we figured out that a conference and a banquet was the perfect solution” Lillebo explains. At the conference, professors can present their research to the students helping them understand what is going on in the department outside lectures. At the banquet IDI students across all study programs can mingle with each other and the Department staff. "Never underestimate the effects of a good dinner" Lorås states firmly. She has talked to several colleagues experiencing closer bonds with students after the Catch IDI banquet.
Communication and cooperation
Catch IDI is a result of close cooperation between Excited and IDI. Together Lorås from Exited and Lillebo from IDI approached Excited Coordinator Ida Sortland. She liked the idea and encouraged them to present it to Head of the Department of Computer Science, Professor John Krogstie. He supported Catch IDI right away and was willing to fund it together with Excited, turning idea into reality. Perhaps quicker than either Lillebo or Lorås expected. The first Catch IDI was held in January of 2019.
Catch IDI is by and for IDI. Still, it could never have come together the way it did had it not been for the support of Excited according to Lillebo. “Excited provided funds so we could fly IDI students from Gjøvik to attend the Conference in Trondheim. They helped plan the Conference, helped facilitate it and made several of their learning assistants available to us”.
“My experience is that the cooperation between IDI’s student contacts and Excited is especially good. We have good communication across the units. When we work together, we work as one unit, not separate units” she says. Ida Sortland agrees. “The Excited staff, Excited learning assistants, IDI’s student contacts, the student organizations the professors and the department leader group all have good structured and unstructured communication between them, which gives room to find new and creative ways to work together and develop”.
An immediate success
The first Catch IDI Conference was an immediate success. “Everyone from the most experienced professors to the newest students praised the conference” Lillebo says proudly.
“I think Catch IDI’s success is rooted in us reaching a wide audience” she continues. “Exciting research is presented at a student-friendly level. It’s possible for students to grasp what professors do outside lectures, and for staff to see what their colleagues actually spend their time on”. "An event like this lowers the bar for students and staff to talk to each other, both at the event and later at campus" Lorås ads.
“I think it’s quite awesome that two young, female IT-students like Madeleine and I are the ones behind Catch IDI, in what is typically a very male dominated environment”, Lillebo concludes.
Member of the board
When a position on the Excited board opened up in 2019, Miriam was the natural choice being a student at IDI and having worked closely with Excited through Catch IDI.
“I think having students on the Excited board is imperative”, Lillebo says. “Excited works to improve all aspects of IT-education, and nobody knows IT-education better than the students who are in the middle of it”.
“In Excited, they do research with students, not on students”, says Miriam Lillebo, student at the Department of Computer Science and member of the Excited board.
Using research to learn about research
In one of the study programs at Nord University students have to learn what is called Game analysis. The only problem is, there is no one book or how-to guide for Game analysis. Students were therefore tasked with conducting a literature review on Game analysis. “That way, students learned about two scientific analysis at once” Kolås explains.
Through Excited, students and staff can apply for funding for mini projects. A student got funding was Astradur Isak Larusson.
First year students at one of Nord University’s study programs have a project-based course with a lot of teamwork. Anchry started a project where he developed a training course for the team leaders, teaching them how to lead their teams. “The training was mainly in the form of weekly meetups with the team leads as well as being available when needed” Ace says.
According to Line Kolås, leader of Excited core project Learning through construction “projects like these would be much harder to accomplish without SFU Excited. A Centre makes it possible for students to come up with ideas for projects. We can start asking the students what they think will make their study programs better”.
Learning assistants and research assistants
A core principal in Excited is to involve students in research. The way Excited does this is through Learning assistants. “Excited has about 20 Learning assistants, ranging from second to fifth year students”, Ida Sortland says. She is the administrative coordinator for Excited, and responsible for the day-to-day contact with the assistants. “They become a link between Excited and the rest of the students”.
“The big difference from Excited Learning assistants is our assistants do much more than help other students with their studies and assignments. Our Learning assistants spend 50% of their time helping Excited researchers with everything from practicalities at conferences to actual research. They are also research assistants. This increases Excited’s research capacity”.
When Excited-researchers need assistance with their research, they are connected with an available Learning-assistant. The assistants do anything from transcribing interviews to literature reviews, anonymizing or sometimes also support analyzing data. The scheme has been so successful IDI has adopted the concept for themselves.
Publishing and presenting research
Up until now two students have been so involved in research that they have ended up on the author-list. One of them is Bendik Deraas, an IDI student and Excited Learning Assistant, who in 2019 co-authored a paper and presented it at the MNT Conference.
“Writing a scientific article and seeing science in practice is very educational. You get a much better understanding of the scientific method before writing a master’s thesis. I also believe there are very few, even at a university level, who understand how research is done in practice,” he explains when asked about his research experience.
Starting your university studies isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. For most it’s a whole new way of managing your life and a whole new way of learning. You are suddenly responsible for showing up to lectures, studying on your own and completing assignments. “At the same time many are trying to figure out what IT studies actually are and who they are going to be as IT professionals”, says project leader Hallvard Trætteberg. As a response to this, IDI Study-day (IDI arbeidsdag in Norwegian) was started at NTNU back in 2017, co-founded by Excited PhD Madeleine Lorås. When the initial pilot was made a permanent department offer, we interviewed the student and learning assistants.
The goal is to help first year students get into the routine of working consistently, using campus and working together. “One whole day each week we invite all first-year students at IDI to join a study-day. Here, our Learning Assistants help them with their studies and assignments. IDI students have a lot of mandatory assignments”, Trætteberg explains.
Throughout the study-day, Learning Assistants are available to the students. Bendik Deraas is one of them. He has been with the IDI Study-days from the very beginning. “I feel the study-days have worked out really well!”, Bendik points out when asked for his personal assessment of the study-days. “They have become part of the campus-identity for many students, which I think is just essential for students to have. I have no doubt the study-days have elevated our learning environment.
Lorås is continuously evaluating the study-days. Her research confirms Bendik’s statement; 73% of students attending the study-days claim they work more efficiently and are more motivated to work on their studies.
IDI Study-days professionalized in 2019
"2019 has really been the year where the IDI study-days have been cemented as an integral part of IDI study programs" Lorås says. Whereas the study-days used to be loosely organized by Lorås and Excited Learning assistants, things are now professionalized to the point where Lorås can take a back-seat role. "The day-to-day operation of the study-days runs independently of me now" she says.
The IDI study-days were initiated to encourage more students to use the campus. The numbers show the students who show up for the study-days benefit from them. "Still, many students don't use campus enough" Lorås explains. Getting a hold of the students who aren't on campus has been a huge challenge for universities in general for years. Getting a hold of these students will get increased attention by IDI Study-days in 2020.
High quality learning facilitated by high quality Learning assistants
The Learning Assistants in the study-days are trained in pedagogy. “Good training for all the learning assistants in our department is important, and something Excited is very much focused on”, Trætteberg explains. Ensuring the Assistants know how to encourage learning is essential for the study-days to elevate the students learning. “We don’t want them to tell the students the answer, but help them figure it out themselves”, Trætteberg continues.
Karen Dahl Aarhus is one of the regulars at IDI Study-days. “We have very good access to Learning Assistants here. That’s why I dedicate these days to the assignments I struggle the most with. It’s a very effective form of studying. I don’t think I would have managed all the assignments without this day”. “I think the study-days are really good” Lars Strømholm, another regular at the study-days explain. “If nothing else, this is a reason for me to get out of my apartment and come here to work”.
Excited about Excited workshops
After the success of IDI Study day, we have tried out the idea on our Gjøvik campus and are looking into how to incorporate it in Ålesund. At Nord University the concept is altered to fit the needs locally and is called Excited workshops. “Our workshops are in the afternoon opening with a mini-lecture of 10 minutes, in contrast to the IDI workshops which are held during the day” Line Kolås says. She is an associate professor at Nord University and leader of Excited sub-project Learning through Construction.
“We are using the mini lectures to give students input we see they want and need, but that does not fit in to the regular study plan. The Excited workshops are very popular, and has a high attendance”, Kolås continues.
“I am able to get help easily and it gives me more motivation to work late” a Nord University student said when asked about the Excited Workshops.
Master thesis related to Excited
Master thesis related to Excited
In 2019 Excited had 20 master students been doing their master thesis on research and development projects related to Excited. In our publications overview you can find all thesises.
One example is Vegard Hellem’s thesis, looking into “The Effect of Mandatory Assignments on students learning outcome and motivation in introductory programming courses.” After graduating he submitted and got a paper acceptet at Educon 2020. Another is Simon and Joachim’s thesis work, on automatic generation and grading of "drag and drop" programming exam questions for digital exams.