Blog: A student’s perspective on designing a civic curriculum

A project designed to strengthen links between postgraduate taught students and the region’s buoyant cultural industries is being jointly run by the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) and the University’s Cultural Institute. LITE intern and MA student, Francesca Taylor, has been supporting the project and writes here about her experiences.

When I first saw the internship role at LITE advertised, I was intrigued and excited at the prospect of working for a new institute within the university which supports educators to carry out innovative and impactful research.

I saw it as an opportunity to give something back to the University of Leeds and the city of Leeds itself, which has provided me with so many opportunities during my five years living, working and studying here.

Throughout my time working on this ‘Curriculum Design’ project, I continue to be amazed by the scope of the module we are designing and often comment that I wish I could have enrolled on it as part of my own MA.

Positive engagement

What I find most striking and innovative about this civic engagement module is its commitment to addressing current and future concerns of the city and the region.

I find it discouraging that current students spend three or more years of their life at the University of Leeds and often fail to engage at all with the city or the region in which they live.

It is disheartening that the majority of skilled, talented and creative graduates from the university choose to leave after their time studying here.

I see the Civic Engagement module as a way that this problem can be addressed: through embedding active engagement with external partners from city-wide organisations into the curriculum.

The city and the region has so much to offer and through connecting and working with partners from the cultural sector, community groups and grassroots organisations.

Students will be able to learn about and contribute to activities and projects that make a difference beyond the university campus.

Reaching out

As an intern I provide a student voice and perspective on the actions and directions of the project.

Most recently I have been conducting some research into similar taught postgraduate modules at the University which have an external facing element.

This might involve a placement or partnership with an external partner, or a form of assessment which requires students to deliver a public-facing event or resource.

It has been enlightening and encouraging to find out that there are a number of external facing modules already in existence within the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures and the Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law.

My next task on the project is to design and distribute a survey for students who would be taking the module: finding out what factors play a role in helping them decide their modules and what issues and themes are important to them and their development.

Partnership

Recently the Cultural Institute together with LITE hosted the Shaping Student Learning workshop at the Northern Ballet. The workshop brought together academics from the university with potential partners from organisations around the city and region to have a conversation about the issues and themes that Leeds is encountering.

There was a focus on how students from the university might work with partners to the benefit of both parties, and perhaps most importantly, to the city itself.

The discussions had at the event were insightful and the ideas shared were strikingly progressive. There was a clear sense that the city and region have a number of key issues which need to be addressed in the near future.

The general consensus was that a unification between local and regional organisations with the university will be of vital importance to the success of the city in years to come.

The atmosphere at the workshop was refreshing and there was a sense of optimism which has been hard to come by in recent discussions of a similar subject matter.

Moreover, I was happy to have been there as a representative for the student population, who I believe wants to make positive contributions to their communities and can do just that with the direction and support from the university and its civic-minded partners.

The Civic Engagement team is inviting partners to get in touch to join the conversation and help shape student learning. To find out more, please email culturalinstitute@leeds.ac.uk