Schools engagement – feedback from students and teachers

Two of our Student Ambassadors recently visited a local school to show them the Great Writers Inspire website. Cleo Hanaway has reported back on the feedback received from both the students (Year 12) and their teachers in a couple of posts on the Great Writers Inspire blog. These posts are repeated here.

On Friday 22nd June I returned to my old school – Cheney, Oxford. Accompanied by fellow student ambassador Kate O’Connor, I introduced A-level English students (year 12, going on 13) to http://writersinspire.org/, discussed my ‘great writer’, and received some really useful feedback on the website.

Cheney School Logo

From a personal point of view, it was great to see how the school had progressed since I left (ten years ago!). When I was there, we just had a couple of computers in the library – now there are around 30! The librarian and teachers are very keen to use online learning resources where possible; they were very interested to find out what http://writersinspire.org/ has to offer.

The students’ feedback focused on seven main areas: usability; layout; writers; themes; ebooks; podcasts; essays. Below, I have transcribed a list of direct quotations from the students.

Before you read the list of students’ quotes, I’d like to point out that we’ve already acted upon some of their suggestions. For example, as requested by Cheney, both Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy are now in our writers list. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to move forward with George Orwell – he’s still in copyright. We’ve also improved our search functionality; if you search for ‘pastoral’, for example, you now get two pages of search results showing all of the items which include the word ‘pastoral’.

USABILITY:

Good points:

  • ‘It was easy to navigate around – it was really well laid out’
  • ‘It was good that it was a collection where you could easily find stuff’

Areas for improvement:

  • ‘My only issue about the website is the search function. It’s hard to get specific themes like “Pastoral”, for example – we’re doing that at the moment’
  • ‘It would be good to have, like, a blog for users – or a discussion forum’

LAYOUT:

Good points:

  • ‘It looks very nice’
  • ‘It’s a good layout’
  • ‘I thought the layout was really nice’
  • ‘I though the layout of the website was very easy to navigate and pleasant’

Areas for improvement:

  • ‘If it was more kind-of-like “jumps-out-at-you” then it would be more like a cool a website. Maybe more colourful and things popping out at you – I don’t know. It’s quite dull when you look at it.’

WRITERS:

Good points:

  • ‘My favourite part was the selection of writers that are available’
  • ‘We were researching Charlotte Bronte and we liked the fact that there was stuff about her personal life, not just her work; you can get a more rounded view’
  • ‘It was great learning about Aphra Behn – we’d never heard of her before and she’s really interesting’

Areas for improvement:

  • ‘You should have Orwell and Wilde’
  • ‘Thomas Hardy, George Orwell, and Oscar Wilde weren’t on there – we learn about them in school and it would be useful to have them on here’
  •  ‘It would be good to have more obscure authors that we wouldn’t learn about in school’
  •  ‘It would be helpful to have a small amount on more writers, rather than just not having them at all’
  • ‘It would be good to have links to similar writers – it would help with comparative coursework’
  • ‘In the writers section it would be good to differentiate between poets, novelists, and dramatists, for students who don’t know anything about them yet’

THEMES:

Good points:

  • ‘I really like the authors and themes – being able to go through it in different ways’
  • ‘The section on Victorian Gothic is really good – we’re doing that at school at the moment’
  • ‘I thought the themes things were interesting. I was recently researching Victorian Gothic and it took quite a while. It was useful having it all here’

Areas for improvement:

  • ‘It would be good to split up Shakespearean tragedy and comedy’
  • ‘In the themes section it would be useful to a sample of a political work’
  • ‘A couple more themes would be good’

eBOOKS:

Good points:

  • ‘The library is really useful – it’s so wide-ranging’
  • ‘I thought the fact that you could read ebooks that are now out of copyright was really helpful – like Ulysses

Areas for improvement:

  • ‘The massive PDFs took a long time to download’

PODCASTS:

Good points:

  • ‘It was really good having video recordings and sound recordings’
  • ‘I really liked the lectures and stuff’ ‘
  • ‘I liked the lectures – I think you should really like big this up as this is what’s special about this website’

Areas for improvement:

  • ‘It would be good to have a comments section for the videos, so you could say, like “there’s a really good bit about 2 minutes in”’

ESSAYS:

Good points:

  • ‘The bibliographies at the end of each essay are useful for further research’
  • ‘The biographies of the writers give a real insight into the writers’ lives – it’s good’
  • ‘The biography section is really interesting. A lot times I look up writers lives I’m not sure if it’s true –websites write different things to each other. By looking it up on here I’m more sure that it’s trustworthy’
  • ‘I thought the short essays on authors and themes were really useful. They were concise and give you good background, so you don’t have to trawl through – like – really useless stuff on the web’

Areas for improvement:

  • ‘It would be useful to have a list of other books (with synopsises) at the end of the author essays’

Below are some brief comments from two of Cheney’s English teachers: Pat Tope, Leader of Key Stage 5, and Gary Snapper, a department teacher with a research interest in the transition from A-Level to university.

The quotes below have been transcribed from an audio recording.

Pat Tope:

‘It was useful to give us a forum for people to discuss literature. Some of the students have definitely got into considering writers that they wouldn’t have considered before. For example, two girls were interested in Aphra Behn and they’d never heard of her before. They were interested in the fact that she was such an early female author. I think the website prompts that sort of thing; students can investigate aspects of literature that they wouldn’t have thought of before. I think that the problem with the site is that it is very random in terms of the people that you’ve got there – it’s difficult to direct students there and say, well, “whatever you want you’ll find it here”. It’s a little bit hit and miss as to whether you’d find it or not. So that would be the issue. But no, I liked the way that both of you interacted with the students; it was really good and really appropriate. It was great.’

Gary Snapper:

‘I think the session was great. I really think that having people come in from outside, from a university, is a very very positive thing because it, simply by your presence and by seeing people who have gone to the next stage and the stage after that, brings literature alive. It brings literature alive in a way we can’t do because we’re fixtures. I think that connection is always very important and I always look forward to that. It just makes them think a little bit differently and a bit more widely. But, beyond that, the site itself was very useful in doing that. I particularly like the lectures on the site; I think they’re very very useful. We’ve found that the recent proliferation of good lectures on the internet is great – although there aren’t many about. It is good to have another source of them. In fact, I have used the Oxford University site that has lectures on it already. As a way of finding out what’s there – although, as Pat says, it’s still a bit random – it’s really useful. It will be useful for specific texts both for us and for them. For instance, when we come to do As You Like It, and do a bit more of the Gothic and the Pastoral, I think it will come into its own. But obviously it would be great if it were more consciously geared to what A-Level students are actually doing. And in terms of the timing, although it was good in that it coincided with students thinking about their comparative coursework, it would have also been good timing at a stage later in the middle of year 13 or a few weeks into year 13 when they were beginning to get into the texts themselves and exploring ideas in more depth. I think that the session was really useful and just about the right length, well-timed – although, perhaps a little less time on browsing the website might have been better. Again, if it had been later in the course and they had been looking at specific texts they could have spent a bit more time – things are still a bit general at the moment.’

You can view some of Gary Snapper’s research articles here.

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