The ‘Engaging the Modern City’ module – our first pilot year

Interest in our new Engaging the Modern City module has spread to Hong Kong University which has been running experiential learning with students for some time. We were asked to write a brief blog about our first pilot year for their teaching newsletter which you can read beneath (courtesy of Dr Charlie Dannreuther, the module leader).  We are really glad to confirm that we have tutors now from faculties across the University of Leeds to support students on the module. You can see more about the module for 2019 on this webpage where we will soon be posting up videos and comments from students and partners from our Showcase in March.

Taught international postgraduate students can bring enormous benefits to university cities. Bringing a wider range of skills and life experience, and predisposed to the challenges of travel and cultural exchange, postgraduates offer highly qualified, motivated individuals to help universities find new ways of engaging with their cities.

Leeds University is linking to its community through a wide range of initiatives by researchers and undergraduates. Yet traditionally fewer opportunities have been available to taught postgraduates whose one year programmes involve intense periods of study that are too short to build roots in the community. For the past two years the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) has pioneered a new MA module called “Engaging the Modern City” to address this problem.

The module is explicitly designed to support partner organisations from Leeds to work with small teams of students who are in turn supported by tutors. The innovative element of the module is the centrality that the partner/student relationship has in defining project goals, planning outcomes and “showcasing” final project outputs.

The partners were chosen from a network curated by the Cultural Institute for their capacity to support students and for their project ideas. We chose the internationally renowned Yorkshire Playhouse and smaller cultural sector organisations making big impacts in the local community. Projects were authentic and contributed to strategic developments in all the organisations.

Students applied to the module within days of arriving in Leeds. They described their past degrees and experiences so that teams with interdisciplinary skill sets could be matched to each project. Most of the students were international and represented a wide breadth of expertise, work experience and cultural knowledge.

The module required a range of institutional innovations in the University. Specific and general skills, new forms of portfolio assessment and ethical review processes were required. Guidance was required for students and partner organisations to support their student evaluations so the teaching team had to draw on a wide range of pedagogic and research expertise.

The module created significant challenges for student personal development to react to. Yet the benefits indicate great potential. For the teaching team this was an exhilarating way to engage with real challenges that transcended employability agendas and presented practical responses to the University’s internationalisation and impact agendas. Partners described the collaborations as an “incredible experience for us” that “was very inspiring, and exceed all expectations we may have had when we first applied as partners”. Students clearly engaged effectively both individually and in their teams, with one concluding that the “module made me realise that I enjoy managing projects that tackle global issues, so I hope to set myself up with an NGO or business in a management position”.

For more information on the international student experience please see Emma Briones’ account and the module Engaging the Modern City – The Civic Researcher and press release, or contact the module leader, Dr Charlie Dannreuther, on