Jul 01 2021

Academic Skills Support to be Extended

Academic Skills Support to be available weekends and evenings

Thanks to the addition of several new staff members (who you can meet below), Arden University’s Academic Skills Support will now be available with even more flexibility. 

Helping develop students’ core study skills through workshops and one-to-one support, these services will be extended into evenings and weekends from early July, with help from new starters: Jonny Denham, Academic Skills Tutor (Leeds), James Nixon, Academic Skills Tutor (Birmingham), and Trudy Waterton-Duly, Deputy Head of Library Service (Learning & Teaching).

Students can sign up through iLearn to access Academic Skills Workshops, dealing with subjects like ‘Paraphrasing and Synthesising’, ‘Introduction to Academic Writing’, ‘Critical Thinking’, ‘Reading and Note Taking’, ‘Understanding Plagiarism’, ‘Proof-reading, and ‘Referencing’. They can also book academic tutor appointments for one-to-one support at a time/ date that suits them best. 

We caught up with James, Jonny, and Trudy to find out more and get some of their top academic tips.  

Hello guys. How long have you been at Arden? 

Jonny Denham, Academic Skills Tutor (Leeds): This will be my fourth week. So far, everyone's been really supportive and welcoming. 

James Nixon, Academic Skills Tutor (Birmingham): I've been working for Arden since the end of April. One thing I've especially enjoyed is how I’ve been working with some students repeatedly in one-to-one tutorials. You often find that if you work with a student, and you build a good rapport with them, then they'll seek you out a second or third time, which is great.

Trudy Waterton-Duly, Deputy Head of Library Service (Learning & Teaching): I’ve also been here four weeks now. It’s a breath of fresh air, the way in which the organisation works. It's amazing working with such a bunch of intelligent, innovative, creative, and caring people who really care about the students. 

What do your roles involve? 

JD: I’m involved in a mixture of teaching and one-to-one work with students across the entire university helping with academic skills: from control of commas to discussing dissertations, and everything in between. 

JN: We help students in one-to-one tutorials to work through any issues they face in relation to their academic writing and study skills. For example, giving them an idea of how to search for literature, and then how to evaluate literature once they have conducted their searches. We also deliver writing and study skills workshops as well as embedded sessions, where we enter a foundation class halfway through and deliver a study skills session to students working with another lecturer. This complements  subject specific learning with core study skills teaching. 

TWD: My role involves managing the academic skills tutors and overseeing the scheduling of all the workshops. I’m also involved in coordinating projects, so, for example, the Aspire summer school we’re part of that this year. There’s also some working with the library team, because I'm a qualified librarian. So obviously, using that knowledge to feed into the academic schools. 

What were you doing before this? 

JD: I was doing a similar role at a different University for three or four years. I really enjoy working with a lot of different people - helping them achieve what they're hoping for. More formal teaching gives people that opportunity to get their degree… But support work can help them to make the fullest of that opportunity.

JN: I worked for Northeastern University in the States, and New College of Humanities in London, teaching first year writing, academic writing, and creative writing to  undergraduate students.

TWD: Before this, I worked at West Suffolk College, running the library there for the higher education and the further education provision. I managed a team of library assistants, did all the collection development, and also delivered a lot of the academic skills provision as well. 

What do you think is the best thing about your job so far?

JD: I think it's going to be the team of people I work with, all of whom seem passionate, interested and very willing to talk through ideas to adapt practices to provide really good service. 

JN: Arden really seems to be at the cutting edge of digital learning, and it's interesting to be constantly thinking about how we can improve our online and Distance Learning Services - pushing towards providing accessibility and flexibility to students from different walks of life. 

I come from a working-class background and I never actually thought about going to university when I was younger. I was an apprentice butcher for a number of years after leaving school at 16. So, I can empathise with students who perhaps don't take to academia naturally, or who perhaps feel like it's a slightly alien environment to start with.  I’m lucky to be in a position now where I can encourage students to feel at home at university and focus on their development as learners and individuals. 

TWD: For me, it’s the variety of work involved, working on different projects as well as learning lots of new skills,  as well as meeting lots of new people, but really working solely in higher education. Also knowing that the team that I manage, is helping students achieve their outcome which is why we are all here at Arden, giving the chance of a Higher Education to everyone. 

What are your top tips for students? 

JD: Write longer paragraphs. 200-300 words is a great length for a paragraph! Also, make reading the basis of your assignments as opposed to writing. So, when you sit down to do an assignment, your first thought shouldn't be “What do I need to write?” it should be “What do I need to read?”. And my third and final tip is to remember that everybody else feels much the same as you do. Assignments, learning outcomes: they're all inherently tricky and confusing at times. Even if you don’t feel confident, it doesn't mean that anybody else does!

JN: I’d say work on developing an academic writing voice - your own academic voice. Read widely and whilst reading think about the different techniques you see being used by other writers: take note of the techniques you like, and c could employ yourself. But also think about those that you don't think work well in the writing of others. So essentially, try to be a critical reader and think about how you could do things  differently or better. 

TWD: Be organised and manage your time. Obviously, the academic skills tutors can help you to do that. Also, use the services. There are lots and lots of optional workshops out there that cover all aspects of academic skills, including writing, referencing, research skills etc. There are also the one-to-one sessions as well, where you can really hone in on an assignment in more detail. So, I'd recommend that all students would benefit from any academic skills course or workshop.

What do you do when you're not working? 

JD: I write. I'm working on a novel right now. I also enjoy designing tabletop role playing games with friends, things like Dungeons and Dragons. That’s probably my two main hobbies. Plus a dash of Star Trek. 

JN: I’m working on a PhD in Creative Writing, so that takes up a lot of time! But I also train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Thankfully, I've been able to continue training during certain periods of the pandemic because I’m part of a competitive team. I learn a lot from the sport, especially what it’s like to be a learner again.

TWD: I like baking, gardening, sewing, running and. I'm a touring caravan owner. So I like to go away for weekends, touring bits of the British Isles I also have not seen before. Listening to music. Because I am a musician and my first degree was in music. Violin was my first instrument, piano second. 

Who are your favourite authors? 

JD: My favourite is English novelist called Beryl Bainbridge, who wrote a series of very powerful, emotionally moving, short novels, which I highly recommend.

JN: Oh, gosh. There's a French novelist called Patrick Modiano who writes detective fiction. He's probably one of my favourite authors. I also like Cormac McCarthy, the American author, Mark Fisher, the British writer and philosopher, and the poet Jack Underwood.

TWD: I don't have a favourite author. I do love contemporary fiction, and psychological thrillers though. I read a whole variety of different books. I read biographies as well, I’ve just read the whole series of The Yorkshire Shepherdess. I also read books on my interests for example books on how to improve my garden, how to sew better and cooking/baking and usually have at least 2 or 3 books on the go!