Getting FE students HE ready: A collaborative action research project between LRC staff, vocational tutors & students

Kirklees College

The project had dual aims:
• to develop collaborative relationships between the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) staff, vocational tutors & students and
• to support tutors to enable students’ independent study skills.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Central to this project is a re-branded cross-college study skills VLE page, developed by the LRC staff, as a resource for staff and students whilst also being used as a springboard to promote the services offered by the LRC team.

The key stakeholders in the project are the LRC staff, an Advanced Teaching and Learning Coach (ATLC) with a remit for supporting the use of digital learning technologies, and the newly appointed Curriculum Area Manager (CAM) for the LRC and ATLC teams.


The rationale for this project comes from a combination of issues, identified independently by project members, with the recognition of a need to bring these perspectives together to develop and promote support for vocational tutors and students.

The LRC staff highlighted a need for a project team in relation to study skills provision because of several factors:
• low usage statistics of the existing VLE study skills resource
• software was no longer supported
• restructure of LRC resulted in fewer staff and loss of focus relating to the maintenance of the resources
• changes to LRC systems/processes meaning some information was outdated
• growing importance of transferable digital skills, to meet student needs and maintain alignment with college vision.

The ATLC and CAM were aware there were a variety of study skills resources to support students’ academic reading and writing skills development; however, there was no cross-department collaboration to support the development of these skills. There was awareness that resources were outdated and needed to reflect the changing nature of academic study, including use of digital resources and development of digital literacy skills.

The project team agreed that the focus of study skills support should be aimed at Level 3 students or above as we believed that, at level 3 and above, students should have a clear understanding of the importance of study skills and be able to access relevant resources independently to achieve that understanding.


We took an action research (AR) approach to the project using the plan-act-observe-reflect cycle.

Updating and re-branding the cross college VLE study skills page was central to this AR project. The VLE page was to serve multiple purposes. Firstly, to ensure this updated VLE page was fit for purpose; so it was vital to get, and act, on feedback from both tutors and students. Secondly, the VLE page would be used as a springboard in order to promote the wider support available from the LRC staff for both staff and students.


  1. Promote the VLE page through formal channels:
    o Daily communications
    o Email to managers to forward to their teaching staff
    o Email to ATLCs asking them to liaise with teachers within their link team
  2. Attend curriculum team meetings to promote the VLE page and request feedback from students.
  3. Approach tutors directly to request attending their sessions to promote the VLE page & ask for student feedback, as in:
    o Animal care
    o Childhood studies
    o Teacher education
  4. Deliver the ‘designing a search strategy’ session to the LRC team and discuss how these skills can be supported within the LRCs when students come for assignment support.
  5. Competition to re-name the VLE page.
    o LRC Advisor approaching students using the LRC floor one
    o Social media promotion
    o Email promotion to tutors

While this report represents an overview of activity within this project, it does not fully reflect the messiness of engaging with AR and the multiple cycles of plan-act-observe-reflect undertaken. The project team had regular team meetings; through this we were able to report our observations, and suggest ways to respond to issues as they arose so that at each meeting we had a clear action plan for the next cycle of activity.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

The project team recognised the need for continuous, consistent, and coherent communication in relation to the production and promotion of online VLE resources. A key finding is that the production of these VLE resources can be interpreted as a replacement for face to face support whereas the intention is they are complementary resources. In response to this a classroom session titled ‘developing a search strategy’ was developed. This served the same dual purposes as the VLE page: firstly it would be used to engage with tutors to promote the wider services of the LRC staff and secondly provide a resource for tutors to use with students.

Two versions were planned. The first was delivered to the LRC team during a staff conference day. Much of the LRC’s role involves staffing the LRCs where students approach staff with questions regarding assignments. This session provided an opportunity for LRC staff to consider how they can support students with their academic skills in one-to-one situations. The session resources included a PowerPoint presentation, a handout and a ‘Curriculum Support’ document. The Support document was evaluated during the session, providing valuable contributions from the wider LRC team. This feedback informed the final document available as part of the study skills VLE page. This is a valuable resource to ensure tutors and LRC staff have a shared understanding of how they can support their students’ academic skills.

The second version of this session was to be delivered to tutors. Unfortunately, despite the best attempts of the team, this has yet to happen.

Not to be deterred, we have a new plan for approaching CAMs directly to deliver the session directly to curriculum teams.

However, this session, ‘developing a search strategy’, has had a positive impact on the professional learning of the Advanced Teaching and Learning Coach on the team. She adapted and delivered to session for a new course she was delivering, the L5 in Observation of Teaching and Learning. This provides an excellent case study for how useful this session is, as the tutor reflects on how central it has been to support students’ understanding of the requirements of a level 5 assignment and set expectations to engage with relevant wider reading.

Through the promotion of the VLE page, it was discovered that a change in the way LRC inductions took place at the beginning of term was misinterpreted. Online inductions had been created with the intention of ensuring all learners received induction. Previously, face to face inductions focused on full time students, so the online resource was developed to make the inductions more accessible. In addition, it was thought that freeing up the LRC staff from delivering repetitive inductions to small groups would provide more time for specific support to curriculum teams.

However, the project team discovered that tutors thought they were now unable to access the LRC subject librarians for face to face classroom contact for students. There are two examples of the impact of the project in response to this. Firstly, a ‘Supporting Curriculum’ document was developed and secondly, an LRC subject librarian met with a science tutor to discuss a specific upcoming assignment requiring the students to engage with journal articles.

This is an excellent example of how the project team, made up of a tutor and LRC staff, enabled a change in TLA. It also highlights the theme of communication which has become evident throughout the project.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

Official channels of communication, such as the ‘Daily Communications’ bulletins, emails to CAMs, and the offer of training sessions had limited success in promoting the new study skills resource or in getting feedback from staff and students.

Approaching tutors directly either individually or through team meetings proved more successful. The LRC staff attended classes where they introduced the study skills VLE page asking for feedback from the tutor and students. The ATLC met with tutors in team meetings or individually and in this instance, it was the tutors who introduced the resource in class and forwarded the student feedback to the project team. Positive feedback on the resource included: easy to navigate; well structured; and a variety of resources including step by step instructions for technologies & useful videos.

What is interesting reviewing this feedback is the variety of the comments from students. Common themes related to the sections on referencing, academic writing and critical reading; however, there was also a large amount of individualised feedback. This suggests that the ‘pick & mix’ approach to the design of the resource was appropriate. There was also a variety of suggestions for areas of improvement. For example, a section on Office 365 with support resources for both tutors and students was added and an ‘introduction’ added to provide an overview of each section.

What has been most surprising has been the impact of informal communication. For example, the section on ‘getting HE ready’ was added including resources on ‘thinking of studying a HE course’; ‘preparing and creating your application’; and ‘preparing for your interview’.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

The VLE resource developed has provided a ‘pick and mix’ support package for tutors and students. It provides staff with a resource to direct their students to encourage the development of independent study skills. The ‘pick and mix’ approach allows students to use the resource as needs arise. This is evident in the feedback from some HE students.

Predictably the most useful sections relate to research skills and referencing (see figure 12a-1) and the statistics from the VLE page indicate these are the most frequently used areas (see figure 12a-2).

Tutors report a better understanding of the role of the LRC and how the LRC team can support their students. The development of the ‘Supporting Curriculum’ document has been included in the corporate induction for new members of staff and feedback is positive.

The development of the search strategies session was adapted successfully into a level 5 course. The tutor and the LRC subject librarian worked collaboratively to ensure students understood the level and commitment of study required. Assignments are of a very high standard with a variety of academic sources, including accurate use of APA referencing. The tutor reported this level of collaboration was key to students’ achievement.

Learning from this project

There have been three key things learnt from this project.

  1. The use of formal methods of written communication needs to be reviewed. Many formal written channels of communication are available within college, including the LRC staff sending email updates to curriculum teams. We discovered that the tutors are aware of the emails but acknowledge there is limited time to read and consider the implication of the resources shared in these emails. Written communications can also lead to misunderstandings, e.g. the replacement of face to face inductions with online inductions. Finding out about this issue led to a string of actions: the development of the ‘Supporting Curriculum’ document – sharing this with new staff on induction days – circulating to current staff – available on the VLE – delivering to CAM/HOD level to reaffirm/communicate what services are delivered. This project highlights the need for consistent messages across different platforms to avoid misinterpretations. Through informal conversations, planned or unplanned, team members have acted upon the feedback, leading to significant changes in practice.
  2. Having a range of roles within the project team created opportunities for sharing practice across the team and college and facilitated many of the outcomes of this project.
  3. The ‘pick and mix’ approach to the new VLE page has been well received by staff, students and managers as well as by the LRC team who manage it. There is acceptance this is an on-going job. The VLE page and the LRC support for tutors and students is fluid and ever changing and a large part of the LRC role is to manage and contribute to that change.