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Integrating Public Engagement into the Curriculum

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Who: 25 final-year English literature, language and linguistics students, along with around 60 members of the Sheffield branch of the U3A.

What: A two-hour long Knowledge Fair, in which the participants could explore the activities on offer.

Why: To raise awareness of the fascinating and intriguing Anglo-Saxon period; to allow members of the community to interact with students and change perceptions of students; to provide an opportunity for members of the community to help develop academic research. 

Where: University of Sheffield, Exhibition Space

Project description

The aim of the project was to integrate training in the principles of PE into a final year undergraduate module. The students learned about the aims, value and roles of PE in HE, and then applied what they had learned in a final PE event aimed at the University of the Third Age. Throughout the semester, the students also researched aspects of Old English language and Anglo-Saxon life, which formed the focus of the final event. Attempting to communicate a topic which can be perceived as irrelevant in the modern world posed an interesting challenge for the students.  

The Knowledge Fair consisted of eleven activities:

  • Rebuilding the Ruthwell Cross
  • Exploring Anglo-Saxon remedies
  • Anglo-Saxon poetry and The Dream of the Rood
  • Godfric’s Old English tweets
  • Can you survive the Battle of Maldon?
  • Anglo-Saxon buildings and settlements
  • Speaking Old English
  • Beowulf whodunnit
  • Learn to read and write Old English
  • Make your own manuscript
  • Magic and Mystery performances (charms and riddles)

Results and outcomes

What worked well

The students provided a selection of activities ranging from a Beowulf crime scene to a Ready, Steady, Cook-style demonstration of Anglo-Saxon charms. The variety of activities on offer – and the enthusiasm with which they were delivered – was praised by the participants.

Leasons learned

Evaluating the event as a whole was difficult, as the participants were also required to evaluate each activity they visited as well. The comments people left were overwhelmingly positive but too general to be of concrete use.

Resources required

Computers, large screens, paper, pens, paint and a lot of smiling!

Top tips

1. Embedding PE into the curriculum requires the creation of HE-appropriate resources; talk to other people that are interested in PE and share best practice so that you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel.

2. It’s not always clear how to assess PE in line with your institution’s marking criteria. Make sure you nail this down early on in the process so that the students know what they have to do to achieve their goals. You might also want to talk to other people in your institution to see if you could collaborate on a PE marking scale which could then be used on other modules as well.

Top quotes

A quotation from our website:

"Hello! I'm Becky, and I teach Historical Linguistics at the University of Sheffield. I also do research into Anglo-Saxon magic and medicine, and am passionate about communicating this research to people inside and outside the University.

This semester, I'm lucky enough to be working with some fantastic students to bring even more exciting research into the Anglo-Saxon world to modern-day Sheffield. I'm really looking forward to the Knowledge Fair, in which the students will celebrate their achievements and share their research into Anglo-Saxon England with the public. I hope that the members of the public will learn something new, and will enjoy the creative ways in which the students will communicate their research."

Press release:

"Students at the University of Sheffield are inviting members of the public to take part in an exciting project exploring the language, culture and magic of the Anglo-Saxon period.

The students, from the University’s School of English, have been devising ways to get people talking about this fascinating period in history and learning about the history of our language through a project called Engage with Old English.

Their work will culminate in The Knowledge Fair on Tuesday 15 May 2012, an event which will give the public a chance to make their own valuable contributions to the project and to participate in workshops and interactive learning on the subject.

Student Faye Guest, 22, said: "Old English language is still very much present today, from place names, to river names and the way in which we speak, and so we’re very keen to showcase this to the public. This event will also give the public a chance to discover the value of an arts degree, and will demonstrate that an English degree is so much more than studying books."

One of the students organising the event, 21-year-old Monal Pancholi, said: “We’re really excited to share with the public everything we have learned - from elves, to magic, to place names to food. We’re looking forward to hearing what the public think about everything we have been doing.”

Dr Rebecca Fisher, the School’s leading expert on Old English, said: “The event is a chance for members of the public to see what the students are working on, and for the community and students to work together to share their knowledge of this thrilling historical period. Magical charms, worship, the Old English language, sixth-century living conditions and an Anglo-Saxon crime scene are just a few of things visitors can expect to experience. The students have done some brilliant work, and I can't wait to see it celebrated at The Knowledge Fair.”

“This event and the module preceding it also provides a great opportunity for students to experience aspects of Anglo-Saxon England in a dynamic and exciting environment. Working on an event like this sets students up with key skills like time management, team work, communication and leadership.”

Dr Rebecca Fisher and students Fay and Kay being interviewed for BBC Radio Sheffield

Some of the feedback from participants:

“Absolutely fantastic! Great to see students and the public learning from each other.”

“Very interesting! Everyone has put in a lot of work! Good to learn what students are involved in.”

“A really lively and informative set of activities and engaged students. Very good for the local community to link with the University and some of its students! Well done to all.”

“What an enjoyable and stimulating event. More please… CONGRATULATIONS to staff and students for having the idea, selecting the material so well, and making it look so easy (which only happens when a difficult thing is done well)."

“A wonderful morning of discovery.”

Feedback from students:

“I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank YOU for all your hard work. As we demonstrated yesterday none of us could have achieved what we did without all your help and support. I've loved this module and I'm so glad it was one of the last and most enjoyable uni-based experiences I will have before I have to leave. Your enthusiasm and commitment have been inspiring. Thank you for everything and all the best for the future.”

“I'd just like to thank you for all your hard work this semester - Old English & Public Engagement is a fantastic, unique module and your passion, enthusiasm, and originality in dealing with the subject have made it not only enjoyable but also thoroughly useful in terms of skills gained.”

Student Vikki tests a participant&#039;s nerves in battle using a hypertext version of an Anglo-Saxon poem.

Feedback from colleagues:

“Dear Students,

I am writing to congratulate you on a fantastic event this morning. I was genuinely impressed by the standard of the exhibition, and the really innovative ways you had devised to make it interesting and interactive for the audience. 

You were all so enthusiastic about sharing your subject with external visitors, and they were obviously enjoying finding out about Old English. You were a credit to the School and to the University, and I know from speaking with senior colleagues who attended that you made a great impression.” 


Name: Rebecca Fisher

Rebecca is a Public Engagement Ambassador, find out more about her here.