Certified for success

In amongst the rubble of the missed or lost opportunities that have accumulated in the course of lockdown, is one of those little flowering moments, an unexpected but wholly welcome event.

We have been running the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification programme (or MOS for short) for seven years. Open to everyone in the University, it offers the opportunity to gain a recognised certification to validate skills in using the Microsoft Office suite of applications. Participants use a variety of materials to suit their learning styles including targeted, self-led learning resources or attending training courses as preparation to sit practical certification exams. The certifications have proven benefits in increasing student employability, but there is a broader impact for both staff and students. By engaging with the exam preparation resources, there is the potential for transferable skills to work flows using these applications and hence improve productivity. So, clear benefits to sitting these exams, but also, an activity entirely dependent on my computer classroom to deliver and thus was one of the first casualties of the move off-site.

However, in true “MOS is dead. Long live MOS” style, we have a veritable success on our hands. Thanks to the efforts by the exam authority tech boffins to develop a remote delivery system, MOS exams have been able to resume to the scattered locations across the globe with the added benefit of allowing a wider range of exams to be delivered. The circumstances of lockdown have given added impetus to ‘do something useful’ and MOS certifications have certainly been seen as fulfilling that criteria. We’ve had a 5-fold increase in exam bookings and the passes indicate more than just a totting up of scores. We’ve had those attaining Expert level qualifications feedback that their qualification had immediate benefits: “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently started freelancing as a designer on Upwork (from graphic illustrations to designing powerpoints / formatting word documents / etc.). Having the qualifications give clients the assurance that I have the necessary proficiency to fulfil their needs” while others have said participating in MOS helped them to “produce more consistent work on a day-to-day basis”. Employability. Productivity. This is the calibre of feedback that we are accustomed to receiving from those that have engaged with the MOS programme, so it is not in itself a revelation. But it is hugely reassuring that the move to remote delivery is still providing where it counts.

And today it counts more than ever as our programme has produced two Champions. The exam results of 2nd year student Andrea Wang and postgraduate Shonaugh Wright earned them a place, from the thousands of exams sat nationwide this year, to compete in the UK National MOS Championships held today, 25 June. Usually a live event, this too has its virtual doppelganger, the winner of which will have a place to compete in the World MOS Championships in Florida in 2021.

More information about the MOS Certification programme can be found on our MOS website or contact Sonny Evans at it-training@st-andrews.ac.uk.

Top Ten Tweets for Thursday

Here is a selection of our favourite tweets and retweets from the TEL_St_A Twitter feed this week – just in case you missed them!

 Tweet  Tweeted by
My post on sentiment analysis and the UK General Election bit.ly/1dNroMW #GE15 @mia_out
“The role of students in pedagogical research projects: Subjects, participants, partners, consultants?” @YSJADD bit.ly/1AE4Wuy @philvincent
Free course content anyone can download and import into their own #Moodle courses
t.co/mExOeb68UE via @moodlenet #edtech #OER
When professors tweet. US context – conflict between academic freedom, “civility” and provocation.
bit.ly/1IdkEEQ via @AcademeBlog
Challenges and pressures of reading online, and some strategies (using @Pocket) to manage these:
bit.ly/1EQiO8V #edtech
Inspirational (?) quotes for our students writing their #thesis @PhDForum @GradElitism
Great post in response to RIN’s assertion that technology is killing map-reading skills.
Let’s ban PowerPoint in lectures – it makes students more stupid and professors more boring’
t.co/PkW4HGaMn6 (via @bent_meier)
@StADoRep PP is just a tool, but not originally designed for teaching and can be used well or badly.
A goodworkman doesn’t blame his tools!
Good response to this http://bit.ly/1DPhDnH by @samkinsley bit.ly/1zMKpcw @tel_st_a
Five Fables app, based on research by our own Ian Johnson and Chris Jones has won best app at @CelticMediaFest! More: t.co/ObAZblaUtY @staenglish


Event > Learning & Teaching Open Forum, University of St Andrews

events.fwWednesday afternoon saw the second of this year’s biannual Learning & Teaching Open Forums at the University of St Andrews. The theme for the afternoon was Inspiring Learning through Research-led Teaching. Opening remarks by Proctor, Professor Lorna Milne, set the scene for three interesting presentations by academics on their approaches, and two presentations by students undertaking the Laidlaw Undergraduate Internship Programme over the summer vacation. Professor Milne indicated that much of the literature around research-led teaching focuses on the separation of these and how this has become institutionalised practice. In reality, however, they were interdependent – as the good practice about to be highlighted would show.

Paula Miles from the School of Psychology & Neuroscience outlined an approach being used in Level 1 classes to try and make the link between lectures (theory) and labwork (practice) more explicit and relevant. Instead of being given datasets to work with and analyse, which resulted in quite passive learning, a “Citizen Science” method was taken whereby students were asked to design their own study (gaining insight into the challenges this presents); to collect and analyse their own data; and conclude from it. Although the effects of this on performance had been neutral, student grumbles about a disconnect between teaching and research had diminished, and, critically, students had reported enjoying the classes more.

Professor Frances Andrews from the School of History outlined three ways that research was being integrated with teaching within the School. Firstly, within discrete modules, research was integrated either based on research content, or on research methodologies. She gave two examples of this: a module run by a colleague around specific research content had led to the publication of a student textbook; and a module focusing on specific methodologies had led to a research publication. Prof. Andrews then talked about research around modules and how students should be encouraged to attend both internal PG seminars, and workshops with external, perhaps international, speakers. Field trips could also play a role in sparking enthusiasm for research, and gaining an understanding the research process. The third method was through gaining an appreciation of research through actually doing it – UG research projects leading to Masters and potentially PhDs.

Dr Shiona Chillas from the School of Management talked about how students do not understand how the work they do at University and the skills they acquire are relevant to their future careers, either in academia or in the workforce. In the School they are attempting to highlight the employability value of research activity through a core module on research proposals in Junior Honours. Students are asked to critique an existing piece of research – and then to see how easy or difficult it is to design their own research project. Both the process of doing this, and the outputs are of much more explicit value to employers.

Student contributors Sam Mills and Amy Sheader then presented enthusiastically on the work they will be doing over the summer on their Laidlaw Internships. Sam will be curating and creating a digital database of artefacts relating to pre-cinema moving image technology – and hopes to gain insight into the research process, helping to confirm his future direction of travel. Amy will be working on a Physics project on “optical tweezers” (manipulating tiny particles by exerting extremely small forces via a highly focused laser beam). She hopes to be able to make a connection between lecture material on the topic and the research she is undertaking – and to gain valuable transferable skills.

Themes which came out of discussion throughout the event were:

  • We need to move away from teaching research outcomes to teaching research processes.
  • Student choice in the process is key.
  • Students who lack confidence need to have time spent with them, be supported through small group teaching, and be scaffolded through the different stages of the research process.
  • Research is presented through teaching as a narrative of success – involvement in the research process can help students understand the power of failure.
As Amy summed it up, “you learn the most when things are going terribly wrong“.