It’s the start of a new academic year and thousands of first year students are welcomed by their university departments to embark on their academic journeys. At University College London, something special is waiting for our freshers in economics: The First Year Challenge – a multimedia group assignment designed to introduce first year undergraduates to independent research and to academic collaboration.
For the third year, we have assigned groups of students to specific locations in Central London. In their groups they are asked to produce a 3 minute multimedia clip which relates to their meeting point and the theme “Capitalism, Growth and Inequality”, which is discussed in Unit 1 of The Economy, the free online textbook produced by the CORE project.
Pedagogically, the assignment is innovative and interesting on different grounds:
Firstly, it is deeply rooted in research based education as it asks students to formulate their own research question and engage in their own independent research. Research-based education puts the student at the centre of knowledge creation and has become a main objective in university education.
Secondly, it targets students at the very start of their university careers. Setting the tone and managing expectations is an important part of effective teaching. Asking students to engage with their subject with a free but critical mind at the very beginning of their university careers will put them into the right mindset for effective studies.
Thirdly, the First Year Challenge is collaborative. Going through university – especially in a metropolis like London – can be a daunting and lonely experience. Connecting students is likely to have a beneficial effect on academic performance but also improves the students’ university experience overall.
Finally, the First Year Challenge takes media serious as a way to communicate research findings. The generation of our current student engages with multimedia with great ease and finds it stimulating and entertaining. This can unleash creativity and increase motivation for the chosen academic subject.
We are already excited to see what our students come up with in this year’s First Year Challenge.
UCL’s First Year Challenge has been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Award 2016. Following our experience, the initiative has also been adopted by the University of Bristol. For more information about the challenge, sample videos and a research paper outlining the organization and adaptability to different contexts visit our CTaLE project page.