“And the winners are……Sheffield Hallam University and the SHU Pre 16 HE Roadshows”
Amazing words to hear. We had won the HELOA Innovation & Best Practice Award 2017. Sheffield Hallam University, first place in front of the University of Leicester & the University of Oxford.
The team and I representing Hallam at the HELOA (Higher Education Liaison Officers Association) annual conference, got a real sense from the other universities in the room that they had not seen something so different, fun and genuinely innovative in a long time.
It all started in September 2015 when I started my role as the Pre 16 Engagement Coordinator at Sheffield Hallam. The Pre-16 Project was new to the team and my first task was to build relationships with our local secondary schools however because the project was new and because there had never been a specific pre-16 focus within the UK Student Recruitment team at Hallam, there was little material to take out and deliver in schools. So my second task was to come up with some activities that could be delivered to the pre-16 audience.
Obviously we could do presentations, hand out prospectuses, and talk about entry requirements and university life. But even the most confident and engaging of school liaison officers would find it difficult to keep a group of Year 9’s focussed during a session about something they could consider doing when they get to 18 years old.
I thought back to my own school days and to be honest, most of my memories of school classes blur together, lesson after lesson, PowerPoint after PowerPoint. One of the few things I could remember was a man who visited school to talk about space. He had a “Star Dome” an inflatable tent, pitch black inside with a projector where he could project a map of the galaxy onto the tent walls and ceiling. I remembered that. In fact I can even look up to the sky now on a starry night and point out Orion’s Belt and the Plough.
With this in mind I thought that maybe the key to engaging is to be different and fun. I thought it would be good for a pupil to attend one of my sessions expecting another university talk or presentation and leave feeling surprised that they actually had a really good time as well as learning something. If I can remember Orion’s Belt then maybe they would always remember their first experience of university?
So with this in mind, I along with James Giddings (a Graduate Intern at the time) created our own “Star Dome” in the form of five roadshow sessions each with a unique, fun and age appropriate theme which can be delivered in schools. We stuck with Powerpoint as our vehicle, as this is what most schools use, but we turned them into something unrecognisable.
For Year 7’s a video game called UniversityGo where Year 7’s learn what university is and how to get there, all while completing the levels of a video game and defeating evil Mr Stealyakeys who stole the keys to the university.
Our Year 8 groups would be creating video diaries in teams to discuss their own career aspirations in a session entitled SHUTube.
The Year 9’s find themselves in a survival situation as the world is brought to its knees by a zombie virus. What skills will they need? Which type of university location could offer the best chance of survival? What will they need in their student survival kit? Will they stay alive? More importantly, will they get their WiFi back up and running?
SHUniversity Challenge is the title of our Year 10 session. They compete in a gameshow style roadshow whilst learning about university and Year 11’s aim to become ‘SHUStars’ in a music themed session comparing the ebay price of One Directioner Niall Horan’s half eaten toast to the costs associated with university.
They might be having way too much fun to realise that they are learning. But they do.
Our feedback from schools, students and teachers was fantastic. The demand grew and grew. In less than a year of having the sessions completed we had already delivered over 140 hours of roadshow sessions to over 5,000 pre- 16 pupils.
So there we were collecting our HELOA Innovation and Best Practice Award voted for by 57 other Higher Education institutions. So I think it worked, but at least I hope we are the “Star Dome” to the pre-16 students who have taken part in our roadshows so far.