One of the key features of a successful partnership is collaborative planning. In order to attract schools and researchers and ensure that all concerned have a meaningful learning experience it is crucial that the needs of all those involved are met as much as possible. This may seem like an impossible task but it can be achieved by academics and teachers working together to plan the content to be offered.
One example of particularly successful collaborative planning is Murder in the Medical School, a forensics based workshop run by the Biomedical Imaging Unit (BIU) at Southampton General Hospital (SGH). Teachers from two schools were involved in the initial networking meeting where teachers and researchers met for the first time to discuss the structure and content of what could be offered. The project lead from the BIU had many different ideas of how the unit could be utilised by schools and what in-school support could be offered. The teachers from both schools suggested that they would like to develop sessions that fitted in with lessons they already taught, based around a forensics activity where pupils used the equipment at the BIU to solve a murder. It was agreed that the sub-project lead would be responsible for planning the workshop with input from the teachers.
Although arranging face to face meetings was difficult, all parties kept in email contact and the project lead kept the teachers involved in all the decisions he made, frequently asking them for their opinions and advice. The entire BIU team were also involved in the planning and resourcing of Murder in the Medical School and it was clear from what they produced that they had enjoyed the process.
Once the workshop had been delivered, the project lead met with his colleagues to discuss what they felt worked and what hadn’t. He also met the teachers to discuss any changes that were needed. Focus groups were carried out with the pupils who had attended and the information was also used to inform any changes. After the workshop had been delivered several times to different schools the project lead decided to have a unit open evening to publicise the workshop to more schools.
Approximately 60 invitations were sent to local schools and colleges and 8 teachers and school science technicians attended the evening. Initially the project lead was disappointed by the relatively low turnout but the evening was a real success with the small numbers allowing for some really in-depth conversations between teachers and BIU staff. Several staff commented that they had gained or refreshed knowledge that they would now use in their teaching. Another unexpected need occurred which lead to the project lead visiting various schools during inset days or department meetings to share ideas with entire science departments about how they could get the best from their usually small and aging stock of light microscopes.
The project lead also felt that further input from local schools would enhance what had already been produced and so the Talk to US! project manager put him in touch with a teacher from a third school. This teacher was completely new to Murder in the Medical School and was really enthusiastic about the material they were shown. During their initial meeting the new teacher and the project lead agreed that the teacher would plan a short scheme of work around the workshop and adapt some of the sessions from the workshop itself into introductory lessons at school so that pupils would have more time to spend on the practical work during their day at the unit. The teacher also re-worked the accompanying workbook to make it more ‘pupil-friendly’, just one way in which the project benefited from her knowledge, experience and expertise that would otherwise have been unavailable had the activities been developed without teacher input.
This process is ongoing but it shows that workshops and relationships can evolve over time. This ongoing process has produced a well-resourced and engaging workshop that meets the needs of pupils and teachers as well as providing valuable experiences for university staff. Due to collaborative working, all the staff at BIU now know how the workshop is run, making it far more sustainable and likely to persist even if key members of staff leave. Researchers and staff have learnt how to communicate their work to a new audience and there are now also several different points of contact between local schools and the BIU.
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