Teaching and Learning: International Cooperation

The Business School has been working with a number of international partners to support their efforts to upgrade the curricula and enhance the teaching and learning experience of their students for many years now. We have had partners in most Central and South East European countries as well as the Middle East. The Teaching and Learning Conference on 20 June provides an opportunity to invite some of our current partners to join us for a day of activities to consolidate the work we have been doing over the year.

Teaching and Learning has always been the focus of attention of our partners mainly because of the contrast between the traditional ‘talk and chalk’ approach, which had been common in almost all our partner universities, and the modern student centred learning or other alternative approaches. The idea of having students sit on different tables in one classroom, doing different activities baffled some of our visiting colleagues (I am sure it still baffles some colleagues in this country). Assessment in any form other than oral exams was dismissed as not sufficiently rigorous and not appropriate at university level.  Group work, presentation, poster making and other methods of assessing students’ work was treated as not serious.

However, over the years, as the relationship with Western universities developed and EU funded programmes aimed at reforming, restructuring and upgrading the higher education systems and studies were implemented, the university environment and attitudes changed too. The change agents were the younger, Western educated lecturers who gradually entered the higher education sector and began to use methods which they had been exposed to during their time at Western universities. In the meantime, the student numbers had soared too. Students had become very choosy and, being technologically more savvy than their teachers, they could access advanced knowledge and information easier than their professors.  Professors, therefore, had to change their attitudes and raise their games to meet the challenges of a larger number of demanding students and modern technology.

Staffordshire University played an important part in the transformation of the teaching and learning approaches in many partner universities, especially in Albania, Croatia, Kosovo and Macedonia. While working with universities in these countries to upgrade their study programmes and enhance the capabilities of their teaching staff, we also trained a large number of their younger staff on our MBA and MSc/PhD in Economics. Almost all of these young graduates have returned to their universities and are contributing to the training of the next generation of economics and business students. Over the years, around 150 young scholars completed Masters and PhDs at SU, constituting a critical mass of knowledge and skill in the region and in some universities. They have been instrumental in bringing new teaching and learning methods to their universities, something that has been particularly appreciated by students.

Currently we have two EU-funded projects working with 11 universities in Kosovo and Albania. Both projects involve supporting their teaching and learning practices and improving their curricula with the aim of embedding employability skills in the syllabi of different courses. We have hosted a range of staff (from Rectors and Deans to senior professors and new lecturers) and introduced them to the Staffordshire Graduate programme and how it is evolving in different schools – and they are very interested in this programme particularly because they face high levels of graduate unemployment in their countries. Some of our colleagues have also participated in either teaching or running seminars for staff on curriculum development activities. Dr Jana Fiserova from the School of Business, Leadership and Economics, Dr Mohammad Hasan from the School of Computing and Digital Technologies, and myself, for example, were recently engaged in these activities in Kosovo.

In the week beginning 19 June, we will be hosting young lecturers from three universities in Kosovo (University of Prishtina, Riinvest College, University of Business and Technology) and two universities in Albania (University of Tirana and Agricultural University of Tirana). Among other activities, they will be participating in the Teaching and Learning Conference on 20 June. They will be interested to learn about our efforts to improve students’ learning experience by using innovative methods, new technology and a variety of assessment methods that encourage student engagement with the subject and with the graduate attributes. They will also share with us their experience of a different group of students and different teaching environment. In some of these universities, staff have to deal with hundreds of students on their modules and, therefore, are eager to find out how we deal with large classes and how they can adopt some of these methods in their settings. At the same time, their experience of working in universities (and countries) with greater resource constraints would also be of interest to our colleagues.

We look forward to the exchange of ideas on 20 June.

Professor Iraj Hashi

School of Business, Leadership and Economics

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Stress Management at work: It’s complicated

Work can be good for psychological well-being but ‘poor’ psychosocial working conditions (things like excessive workloads, constant change, or unsupportive management) have well-established links to work-related stress and the development of distressing mental and physical health problems.  Estimates suggest that around one-third of workers experience chronic work stress and a recent evaluation of the government’s ‘Fit Note’ shows mild-to-moderate mental health problems were the leading cause of long-term sickness absence.  The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence calculate that employers who take a proactive approach to dealing with this, based on prevention and early identification of problems, could save approximately £250,000 per 1,000 employees, each year.

However, employers may be attracted to off-the-peg solutions such as ‘resilience’ training or employee assistance programmes, that attempt to improve ‘coping’ ability or deal with the symptoms.  Now, these could be beneficial, but unless organisations are also dealing with the sources of work-related stress, research suggests that – on their own – such solutions are likely to be ineffective in the long-term.  Yet, despite the logic of ‘prevention is better than cure’, research evidence for preventative approaches to work-related stress is surprisingly inconsistent.  Why?  Having spent the last few years researching this very topic, I have to say that it’s far from simple.

The main sources of ‘stress’ in each workplace will depend on the people, the jobs, and organisation, among many other things, so any preventative intervention must be tailored to the needs of each setting.  Before taking action, employers need to understand what is most problematic for their employees; the Health and Safety Executive recommend starting the process with a stress-risk assessment to help identify and target the most relevant risks.  Because solutions should be tailored, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer, it can be difficult to compare the evidence for different kinds of preventative stress-management approaches.  However, based on research evidence and the findings from my own large-scale research study in a public sector organisation, there are some useful general lessons that any employer should keep in mind before starting out.

  • Communication: Ensure employees know what you are planning and why. Set realistic expectations, because disappointment can lead to cynicism; on a related note…
  • Coordination and follow-up: make sure there is someone with a clear responsibility for ongoing monitoring of progress of agreed project actions. There are few things likely to deflate enthusiasm and momentum more than unfulfilled promises.
  • Questionnaires: these can be a quick and easy way of getting an overview of potential issues and tracking progress, but tick-box surveys are simply not enough on their own. At the very least, they should also allow employees to provide comments, but this is still fairly limited. The Health and Safety Executive also recommend the use of focus groups to ensure staff have an opportunity to have some real input into the process.  This can help employers get a fuller understanding of what the real issues are, but it also has a further crucial benefit…
  • Employee involvement: prioritise identifying ways of involving staff in the selection and development of possible solutions. A consistent finding from the research is that employees should have involvement in the process; having a say, and crucially, having their views acknowledged and – where appropriate – acted on, are all associated with more successful outcomes.  Staff need to feel that any employee consultation or participation is meaningful; where input is invited, ensure these are followed-up and fed-back in a timely fashion, even (or especially) when it is not possible to implement them.

This is just a snapshot of a complex process and these lessons don’t guarantee success, but paying attention to them can certainly give you a much better chance.

Author – John Hudson

 

For more information, or if you need advice on mental health, visit Mind 

School of Business, Leadership and Economics Pride Awards Night

On the 30th March, final year Events Management students Josh Lonsdale, Tom Gater and Lorna Wilde organised and hosted the first (and hopefully not the last) Business, Leadership and Economics Pride Awards evening. Staff and students in the School were asked to vote for nominations in various categories and the event was part of their final year project module.

The evening started with a buffet and bucks fizz and Lorna performing a wonderful selection of songs. We were all blown away with her brilliant singing voice and professional delivery. Isabelle Clarke was master of ceremonies and Lorna, Josh and Tom presented the awards.

The event was for both staff and students celebrating their contribution and impact they have on the School and University. It was held in one of the School’s rooms in Ashley
decorated by the students. As Josh said “it was great to see staff and student support each other hand in hand about the great achievements we had within the school” and It has been a pleasure as final year Event Management students to put on an event that gets to showcase how many talented staff and students are in the school. We hope that this event will be continued by the school and we hope that the other schools may take the initiative to host a similar awards ceremony.”

The evening ended with Lorna again singing, this time ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ and ‘On My Own’ from Les Miserables especially for Carol and Angela. There was not a dry eye in the house – at least from Carol, Angela and me!

  

The winners of the awards were:

Exceeding Expectations Award

Given to a student who has gone above and beyond during their time here at the Staffordshire university Business School.

Dee  Rahmat

Commitment to Excellence Award

Awarded to a staff member who consistently and proactively help raise the reputation of not only the Business school but also Staffordshire University.

Karl McCormack

Outstanding Leadership Award

Awarded to staff members who lead students and or staff to achieve improved results across the Business school but also Staffordshire University.

Alison Maguire

Student Honours List

Awarded to students who have had a positive impact on Staffordshire University and the Business School throughout their studies.

The Hult Team, Daniel Griffiths, Danielle Nugent , George Balshaw and Sarah Wright

Future Leader Award

Awarded to a student who encompasses of the Staffordshire Graduate Attributes.

Henry Greentree.

Community Partnership Award 

Awarded to a member of staff who with the community while maintaining a positive image of the Business School at Staffordshire University.

Carol Southall

Exceptional Contribution Award

Awarded to a member of staff who has contributed to not just the business school but Staffordshire university for several amount years

Anni Hollins

Future Leader Award

Awarded to a member of staff who has developed an original and contemporary assessment with positive feedback

Angela Lawerence

Written by Anne Harbisher

Training and the hospitality industry – don’t get left on the platform !

The UK hospitality industry contributed an estimated £57 billion to UK GDP in 2014’ (BHA 2015) and still, in my opinion, we can’t seem to be able to train our employees. Is training too expensive, does it take too much time or is it due to our industry’s high staff turnover. When an employee is recruited and gets their ticket isn’t that a guarantee to training?

I was working behind a bar once and I asked an employee to cut a lemon (I was making a gin and tonic). The employee came back and had literally cut the lemon in half! Lesson learnt – communicate precisely and don’t assume that they know what you know! Just because someone is on the train it doesn’t mean they know where they’re going. All employees need training; it makes them feel part valued and part of a team and in turn we’re getting the best out of them. Investing in someone could mean a simple five minute lesson on till procedures or a full day of health and safety.

I often compare the hospitality industry to the music industry. Many people think they can sing- but how many can actually sell records? Many people think they can work in our industry but how many people can be motivated and passionate about their customers and team during the first hour and the 13th hour of a shift? Employees are predominately practical people and this is why on the job training works. Training should be a continuous activity throughout an employee’s journey. Training on the job is about observing others and doing, it doesn’t always have to be formal and structured.

Our service industries are essential; not only to the economy but also to communities, commercial business and relationships! We create opportunities for people to dress up, meet up, relax and enjoy whether it’s latte or lobster! Each service is unique and our employees create that uniqueness to achieve a stand-alone experience that someone will keep coming back for. But we can’t create those experiences without truly investing in our people.

Training is just like being on a busy train – once you have your ticket you have to fight your way to the front to get trained and a seat. You know the journey is going to be long- so let’s make it comfortable. It doesn’t matter if your train isn’t on the fastest or direct route what matters is that you’re heading for the right destination!

train picture

By Tonia Barrett

UPDATE – The SMARTOUR Tool is now online and covers this topic if you want to learn more 

If you are interested in training issues as a manager or want some training yourself then sign up to our FREE half day event on 17th May at Staffordshire University

Reference -The British Hospitality Association (2015) The Economic contribution of the UK hospitality industry. A report prepared by Oxford Economics for the British Hospitality Association. [Online]

Useful links

Project website – http://www.smartourproject.eu/

Twitter @tourismsu   #SMARTOUR

Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/smartourproject/

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