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by Cheryl Anderson

Why This Guide?

Increasing the number of students opting forss Materials higher education programmes is critical if there are to be enough talented professionals to meet future demand. Therefore, the way higher education communicates with potential students needs to be considered. This guide summarises ideas that were developed through consultation with teachers, lecturers and other education representatives, about the best way for universities and companies to liase with schools. Practical resources, designed to help teachers with the Materials related aspects of their GCSE and AS- level courses, as well as open days and pupil workshops, have been reviewed and a series of recommendations developed regarding the most effective means of promoting existing resources and degree programmes.

Working Together

Only through a co-ordinated approach will a significant impact
be made on the numbers of students that enter Materials related degree courses.

This will involve ideas such as:

  • Ensuring that resources aimed at schools are reaching the right teachers.
  • Working with national initiatives, such as the Pupil Researcher Initiative, to ensure that existing schemes have maximum impact for the Materials discipline.
  • Using the Institute of Mining, Minerals and Materials (IOM3) and the UK Centre for Materials Education (UKCME) as focal points so that the approach taken by any individual university, company or other organisation is seen to be part of a coherent strategy to raise awareness of the opportunities in Materials.

Using the ideas in this guide when designing new resources and schemes will help to ensure that future initiatives in the area of schools' liaison and Materials awareness are as effective as possible at reaching their target audience. It is also intended that these ideas will stimulate further debate within the Materials community about initiatives that work and the best way to collectively promote the discipline in the future.

Positive Influences

It is important to understand that there are many different influences on a pupil's decision to study science at school or to follow a particular career. These include:

  • Interest in individual lessons in school
  • Former students of the school studied science or engineering
  • Grades required for desired subjects
  • Flexibility of degree schemes (for example, years out on work placements or at partner universities)
  • Parents /teachers opinions
  • Employability of graduates in league tables
  • Bursaries offered to enter particular degree schemes
  • General image of fields in the press/media

Addressing these issues can be split into two main tasks:

  1. Developing students' interest in science and, particularly Materials, through various teaching resources and practical schemes.
  2. Effective promotion of university Materials courses and raisingawareness of the careers open to Materials graduates.

The following pages consider separately how to optimise the effectiveness of teaching resources, open days and degree scheme promotion.

Resources

Highlighting Materials within the school curriculum is an important way of encouraging pupils, from an early age, to appreciate how exciting a field it is. Unfortunately, many teachers feel they do not know enough about Materials related topics to cover them in any depth. Universities and companies can help by providing resources tailored to specific areas of the syllabi. When considering the design of new resources for the teaching of Materials related topics at school level the following points should be considered:

Don't Duplicate Existing Material

It is important to ensure that any new resources are not duplicating any of the large number of resources that already exist for Materials related topics. A UKCME report1 'Teaching Materials within the School Curriculum' and a resource database on the UKCME website2 can help you identify any potential for overlap in the area you are thinking of targeting. Two topics identified as currently lacking sufficient resource support are smart materials and composites. If there are already resources available in your area of interest it may be possible to collaborate on an update or new edition with the existing provider. Alternatively, you may be taking a new approach to an existing topic. It is important to make the distinguishing features clear in any promotional literature.

Link the Science with Real Life Applications

A common message from pupils is that it is difficult to see how the principles taught in science classes at school relate to real life. Materials is a strong discipline for promoting science in this sense, because any principles that are taught in class translate directly into applications for materials that can be seen in the world around us. Building in clear ideas about the application of a particular scientific principle can help to make the science more interesting. This approach would also be welcomed by teachers who need to fulfil examining boards' requirements for an emphasis on the practical applications of the science that they teach.

Tailor Your Resource to the School Level and Subject You Are Targeting

Resources need to be easily accessible to teachers. Consider both the subject and the age of pupils that you are targeting. Whilst science courses often require more detail of processes than more practical courses, modern syllabi also place a heavy emphasis on applications. Likewise, courses such as Engineering or Design and Technology, whilst focused on applications, still require students to understand many of the principles behind Materials' behaviour.

Avoid putting everything you know about a topic in one resource as this is likely to make it difficult for teachers to readily pick out the information they require. Instead, use examining boards' syllabi to determine the level of content required for a particular subject and level. These resources will be more useful to teachers and therefore more successful at getting the Materials content of the syllabi highlighted.

Take care that the presentation of information is suitable for the age group you are targeting. For example, simple exercises such as word searches, crosswords and 'fill the blanks' based on a topic are useful exercises for younger and less able pupils. Older students, particularly at AS-level, often have to carry out short research projects and prefer more detailed written resources.

Ensure You Use a Format that Complements the Nature of the Information Being Taught

There is a tendency to use the internet and CD-ROMs to provide resources, and this works well where the computer environment allows animations or other demonstrations that could not be clearly explained using a written format. In other cases clear handouts and exercises can be more useful as they are easy to reproduce as handouts for a class. One set of resources found useful consists of a video and booklet covering key issues and a series of related written exercises. This combination enables teachers to show the class something visually interesting and also to check that students have picked up the underlying science.

Workshops and Open Days

Workshops and open days are often the main way of getting potential students into your university department or company to meet staff and undergraduates. These events are often cited by students as having an important influence on their decision to study Materials and can also be an excellent opportunity to build relationships with the teachers from participating schools. In order to optimise the impact of your events the following points should be considered:

Ensure Communication is Clear

Workshops are often run by a university department in partnership with an external organisation, such as the Engineering Education Scheme. Ensure that communication between different parties is clear. In one notable example, students allocated to a department found they had not been expected. It is unlikely that they gained as much as they could have done from the experience! Good communication and organisation can have a big influence on how students view a department.

Make Links to School Syllabi

It is useful if workshops and open days are linked to the topics that students are currently studying in school. Following one series of syllabi related demonstrations, students commented that it had been useful seeing how the ideas they were being taught in school translated into research that was being carried out for well known companies such as car manufacturers. Mechanical testing and the use of a scanning electron microscope were two areas that pupils particularly enjoyed. These are facilities not present in schools and it was generally felt by teachers that their students benefited most from these demonstrations.

Consider Younger Pupils as Well as AS-level Students

Whilst most open days are aimed at AS-level students, teachers are often interested in the possibility of younger students visiting departments. The large numbers involved in lower age groups can often be prohibitive. However, exposing younger students to science at university has many positive effects including enthusing students about science at an earlier age, making university more accessible to students that do not know anyone who has studied at degree level, and breaking down the stereotypes of the sort of person that becomes a scientist or engineer. Changing some of these perceptions could have a very positive effect on the number of students that choose to study science and ultimately Materials.

If accommodating large groups of younger students is not possible, one simple means of reaching them within the school environment is to encourage visiting students and teachers to video and photograph their activities during the day. This is particularly effective if demonstrations are held as part of the open day. If a school does not have available equipment, or a group is made up of several schools, providing the equipment through the department could be considered, with videos distributed to the participating schools. The videos provide an opportunity for teachers to show your Materials department to many more pupils than would be possible through actual visits. In addition, the interest of the younger pupils is likely to be increased by the presence of students from their own schools in the recordings.

Promoting Degree Courses and Careers

Getting across a positive message to potential students regarding the career prospects for Materials graduates is an important step in gaining their interest in your degree schemes. However, some students are not thinking that far ahead and these candidates may be more motivated by the prospect of an exciting degree course. Try to address both these issues in your literature and promotions.

Ensure that Teachers and Students Know the Correct Information about Course Requirements

It is common for teachers and pupils to assume that a Maths A-level is required to study Materials. Also, details of foundation level courses are not always widely known. These issues are particularly important where students are not following a standard AS-level course or the 'ideal' combination of Physics, Chemistry and Maths. Teachers delivering courses such as Advanced Vocational A-level in Engineering or Design and Technology are not always certain how these subjects will be viewed by a Materials Department. Clear promotional material indicating the options available to students taking these subjects may encourage applications from some students that would otherwise not have considered university an option.

Get the Information about Courses to the Right Teachers in a School

It is common to find that information sent to careers teachers is held in a central careers office and not passed on to teaching staff that are in more regular contact with pupils. Subject teachers would prefer information to be sent to them directly, particularly information about how their subject is viewed by university departments. Taking the time to identify individual teachers has many benefits including developing good relationships with teachers who are subsequently more likely to promote your courses to their pupils. Make sure that once contact is made with a teacher it is maintained through regular updates on news relating to Materials and your department.

Publicise Any Links with Companies - Work Placements and Bursaries

Financial incentives can be strong motivators, particularly in an atmosphere of increased student debt. Promoting the good careers available to Materials graduates can help create a positive image of the field as it increases potential students' belief that they will be qualified for well-paid jobs. However, bursaries and paid work placements are more likely to encourage students because they will help them minimise their debt in the first place. Bursaries are often linked to high A-level grades but work placements may also be available to students with lower entry grades, who subsequently perform well on their degree scheme, and where this is possible it should be clearly highlighted.

Regularly Publicise Profiles of Current Students and Recent Graduates

These can be used for promotion in local press and on department and company websites. In addition, sending profiles of students back to their schools and colleges is another way of encouraging individual links with teachers. The more examples of successful Materials graduates that are available the more likely it is that potential students will identify with one of them, thus encouraging their application.

Ask Undergraduates and Graduates to Attend Career Fairs

Whilst degree students are often involved in open days it would be useful to have them present at careers fairs as well. Teachers commented that pupils often saw them as more approachable than staff and respected their recent experience of choosing a degree.

Visit schools to assist with Materials classes

Teachers are keen to have short visits to schools, by undergraduates or lecturers, to help with demonstrations in classes or simply to chat informally with students about their options. Visits from university students can be helpful in breaking down the stereotypical image of engineers that exists.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot that we can do as a community to help to promote our discipline. Some final thoughts on how best to achieve this are:

Where Possible Make Personal Contact with Teachers and Pupils

This requires more time than sending out information to careers teachers but in the long run is likely to be more successful. Getting under- and post-graduate students, and recent graduates, into schools can be a very effective promotion in itself and helps to build long term relationships with schools.

Publicise your initiatives nationally as well as locally by using the UKCME and IOM3 websites to promote them

A more co-ordinated approach to raising awareness of Materials, through schemes and resources, is required by teachers. In particular, a central source of information about resources, schemes and open days will be most effective at reaching the greatest number of teachers.

Publicise within the community what is working well

Decide what you are trying to achieve with your initiative - it may not be as direct as increased student numbers - and report on whether or not it has been successful. We can learn as much from what did not work as from what did. The UKCME can help with disseminating your evaluation.

References

1. Teaching Materials within the School Curriculum, C. Anderson, UK Centre for Materials Education, 2002

2. UK Centre for Materials Education Learning and Teaching Resources for Materials Science and Engineering http://www.materials.ac.uk/resources/index.asp

Websites

UK Centre for Materials Education: http://www.materials.ac.uk

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining: http://www.iom3.org.uk