IFSTAL: Closing the feedback loop

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Now entering its third year, IFSTAL continues to source feedback from students to improve what it offers both new cohorts and alumni students alike.

Delivering our teaching and workshop activities to a diverse cohort of students from different disciplines creates several opportunities and challenges. Students benefit from interacting with people from a broad range of disciplines, helping them to piece together a broader picture of food systems. However, this diversity represents a challenge with respect to how we deliver the programme. Is the taught material equally understandable and relevant for students from different disciplines? Are workshop activities appropriate for both natural and social scientists? It is a delicate balancing act trying to create a voluntary programme that is relevant for the range of students that we have.

IFSTAL game jam

IFSTAL participants at an out-of-hours workshop at the University of Reading working on developing an educational game to highlight a food system dynamic. The game acted as a communication strategy and participatory modelling exercise.

We address these challenges through trying to anticipate what our different types of students would want from the programme. Our general approach has been to view students as potential food system analysts and change agents, and introduce them to knowledge and methods that can help them on this journey. After each major event, we source feedback and combine this with student perspectives captured from an annual survey. We then use this material to inform and revise the activities that we generate for the subsequent year.

Student responses to the importance of different components of the IFSTAL programme for 2016-17.

Between the first and second years of the programme we overhauled how we delivered the taught component of the course to take into account that IFSTAL is voluntary for our postgraduate students. Students need to be able to engage with the programme flexibly to assist their workload management. We therefore decided to create an integrated learning offering that allows students to work through online units in their own time, and attend face-to-face workshops to help them learn more practical skills. Feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive on this approach.

We also enhance the ways in which students can interact with each other, with staff from our different universities, and with representatives from the workplace. This is one of the most valuable aspects of IFSTAL, and one that students consistently rate very highly. We are now improving this further by involving our alumni by inviting them back to events to share their experiences of working in the food sector.

Collectively we continue to develop the programme to enhance our students’ experience and the skills and knowledge that they develop through joining IFSTAL. We always welcome feedback or ideas about the programme, just get in touch with your local Education Coordinator.

Blog written by Dr Harley Pope, IFSTAL Education Coordinator, University of Reading.

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