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NUAGE: Involving older people in teaching for undergraduates

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NUAGE: Involving older people in teaching for undergraduates

Lead organisation: Newcastle University

Project contact: Ellen Tullo

Newcastle Ageing Generations Education (NUAGE) is a module offering multi-disciplinary teaching about ageing, in its broadest context. Started in 2014, the module is aimed at undergraduate students from any degree programme. The NUAGE curriculum was developed in collaboration with students and a team of older people to outline both the pertinent challenges facing an ageing society, and the positive aspects of ageing.

NUAGE offers a holistic approach to ageing: students learn about the cultural influences on ageing, the biological mechanisms underlying, how lifestyle can influence the ageing process, the impact of ageing on the economy and how art can promote wellbeing in later life help people. We strive to dispel stigmas, misconceptions, and stereotypes related to age and ageing.

From inception we have been committed to involving older people in the design, delivery and evaluation of the module. For this purpose, we invite older people to plan and contribute to lectures, seminars, and debates. These activities enable contact time between students and older people, providing opportunities to exchange life experiences and ideas for bridging the gap between generations. Additionally, older people are invited to provide formative feedback on student assignments and participate in evaluation of the module.

Project aims

The aims of the NUAGE module are to:
• demonstrate the relevance of ageing in the modern world, with examples arising from a range of disciplines including health, engineering and the arts;
• emphasise positive concepts relating to ageing such as “ageing well”, the maintenance of health, and anti-ageist approaches to public engagement;
• encourage interaction between students and older people and create opportunities for co-learning;
• raise awareness of the different ageing-related research currently being undertaken at Newcastle University
• prompt students to consider potential topics for future research around an ageing related theme.

Audience

NUAGE is an optional supernumerary module available to undergraduate students from any degree program within Newcastle University, enabling students from different academic backgrounds to meet and work together. Additionally, our team includes graduate student interns who are employed to contribute to teaching and learning.

Older members of the public (6-8 each year) are a key part of our team. Volunteers are recruited via VOICENorth, a Newcastle University hosted user group (http://www.voicenorth.org/about-us/). Our volunteers, or “experts by experience” (Exbex), represent a breath of older age groups, gender, and occupational background. Their involvement has been crucial for the development, delivery and evaluation of the module.

How it started

The module started in response to Newcastle University’s recognition of ageing as a “Societal Challenge”. In recognition of the increasing importance of the role of older people in society, Newcastle University is committed to expanding its research and teaching activity in relation to ageing. However, despite the emphasis placed on ageing as a focus for research, the students who could benefit from the depth of this expertise were generally postgraduate students working in biomedical sciences. Recognising this limitation to successful knowledge transfer, the university aspired to expand its teaching and learning activity with an ageing focus to students from any academic background, and effectively capture the realities of ageing as experienced by older people in our communities.

Additionally, despite the success of projects involving older people in research and service development, older people are rarely involved in the planning and delivery of teaching at UK Higher Education institutions. NUAGE sought to harness the diversity of older people’s living and working experiences to provide a holistic education about ageing for its students.

Partnerships

This project would not have been possible without the support of VOICENorth to recruit our Exbex team of volunteers. VOICENorth were able to send information about NUAGE to all of their users to invite expressions of interest. Each year this process is repeated, although many of our volunteers choose to stay with the team for subsequent years.

What did you do?

In collaboration with older people and students we created a curriculum to guide the NUAGE module. Members of the public were keen to continue to work with us and assisted with the design, delivery and evaluation of a pilot module in 2014 to inform the introduction of NUAGE in 2015.

NUAGE module teaching sessions comprise of interactive seminars led by module staff, and lectures delivered by Newcastle University academics from different faculties who are actively involved with research and innovation related to ageing. Lectures are also open to a wider audience of members of the public invited via VOICENorth.

The Exbex team continue to act as a core focus for the module. Exbex members are involved in the planning, delivery and evaluation and have made the following contributions to the module:
• Acting as consultees for staff during the planning and delivery of teaching
• Interacting with students during seminars to offer a more personal view of ageing
• Participating in an intergenerational panel discussion
• Contributing to online discussion forums
• Mentoring a group of students with regards to their assessment
• Offering formative feedback to students
• Evaluating the module and offering advice for future iterations

Evaluation

Early evaluation of NUAGE involved feedback questionnaires for students at the midpoint and end of the module, and focus groups with the Exbex team members. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with intergenerational exchange appearing to be the most appreciated opportunity. However, all parties were able to suggest improvements to our curriculum. For example:
• Restructure of the intergenerational panel discussion so students were required to submit a question in advance of the session, encouraging them to formulate their ideas and have the confidence to join in with the discussion.
• Inviting an Exbex member to chair the debate rather than a staff member.
• Amended online discussion forum to better reflect the learning objectives for each of the lectures and interactive teaching sessions.
• Increased opportunities for informal interaction between students and Exbex e.g. through additional time allocated prior to and following lectures

Ongoing evaluation includes the administration of questionnaires to measure and compare the “expectations of ageing” of students and older people before and after the module, and content analysis of students’ reflective essays. Further, we are undertaking qualitative analysis of a series of focus groups with the Exbex members to consider the impact on them of participation in NUAGE.

Key lessons learnt

1. Volunteers felt more confident to participate once they understood the expectations of the team and of the students – this involved creating some basic documentation for them to refer to.

2. Members of the public are willing and able to work collaboratively in the design, delivery and the evaluation of teaching for university students. Some volunteers took on leading roles including chairing a discussion session. Their involvement led to module improvements over and above those which we could initiate as staff.

3. Students and older members of the public highly valued the opportunity for intergenerational exchange in the higher education environment. In the early stages, the generations required some encouragement to integrate and to initiate discussions, but interest and friendships quickly developed.

4. The time and resources necessary to recruit and provide ongoing support to members of the public are significant. Regular contact with volunteers to communicate about the content and format of teaching sessions is essential. However, the input of these time and resources is paid off by evident student and volunteer satisfaction.

Keys to making it work

1. Access to a gatekeeper (for example VOICENorth) to assist with recruitment of older members of the public.

2. Detailed planning of accessibility of meetings and teaching sessions attended by older people e.g. availability of public transport, disabled parking, somewhere to wait if the weather is cold.

3. Graded participation of members of the public. Start with initial consultation to explore the roles that older people might be willing and able to participate in. Iteratively test methods of participation and seek feedback to ensure that volunteers remain comfortable.

4. Pilot opportunities for intergenerational contact prior to formally introducing a new module.

5. Secure sustainable funding for volunteers’ expenses e.g. travel costs, catering.