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Ideas and Support for Live Co-Curricular Sessions

Ideas and Support for Live Co-Curricular Sessions

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Ideas and support for live co-curricular sessions

Updated 21st October 2020

Jon Turner, Cathy Bovill, Velda McCune and Donna Murray
(Institute for Academic Development, IAD)

Three weeks into the semester many staff and students are reflecting on their early experiences of hybrid teaching.  While it is too early to draw firm conclusions on what is and isn’t working, one issue that has come up is the value that many students (and staff) have drawn from live events (either online or on-campus).  In the IAD we have been inspired by the efforts and creativity of colleagues, and saddened to see some of the negative comments that colleagues have been exposed to while doing their best to provide good student learning experiences in unprecedented times. We hope that this blog will provide some doable strategies without adding to your stress. If there is anything the IAD can do to support your teaching please contact:  We also continue to provide extensive direct support to undergraduate and postgraduate students.

In considering the potential to run additional live events for students, digitally or on-campus, one area of interest to colleagues is the potential to run co-curricular sessions at a programme or School level.    These have always been an important part of the student experience, albeit one that is more difficult in current circumstances.  Advantages in looking at co-curricular activities are that they have the potential to provide opportunities for live contact and community building that students are valuing more than ever this year, while drawing on a broader set of contributors and topics than the credit bearing curriculum.  The timetabling complexities of running co-curricular live sessions are also less difficult than for core elements of the credit-bearing curriculum.

In this blog we draw on a range of resources to suggest potential topics and ways of running live co-curricular activities, with a particularly focus on live digital events.   We’ve structured this around themes linked to the overall purpose of these events (community building, skills development, feedback & student engagement).  We hope you will find some of this material useful.  We’d be grateful for feedback and suggestions for additional or alternative resources.  Please email

Community Building

There are a series of events and activities that could be run to help build a sense of academic identity and belonging for students.  The most straightforward of these could be run in Collaborate or other digital event tools, involving short presentations, Q&A and discussion.  Many also provide an opportunity to involve a wide range of colleagues, including PhD students.

Sharing research in progress (from EngagEd Guide)

The purpose of these sessions is to give students a sense of the research activities of staff, including relevance to their programme and opportunities for students to develop research skills and experience. Options include:

  • Three to five short, punchy presentations from staff and PhD students focussed on the what, how and why of their research. Encourage presenters to make links between research and teaching.
  • Outline opportunities available to students to undertake research as part of their degree (including but not limited to capstone projects). There is potential to ask some senior students to highlight their experience of research as an undergraduate and what they gained from it.
  • Opportunity for students to ask questions and talk with staff about opportunities for research (e.g capstone projects, research based courses, summer internships in Edinburgh or elsewhere). This could be managed through submission of questions in collaborate, teams etc or you could set up breakout sessions for smaller groups of students to talk with a staff member/phd student.
  • EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE ‘Meet the Faculty’
    In psychology, staff have held an event to invite students to get to know the staff. Staff each present a short profile of the research they do, and this helps to underline the research-led teaching within the School. Students can ask questions and there is some discussion.

Nurturing disciplinary/School identity (from EngagEd Guide)

Organise a session, or series of sessions, to help students get a sense of what it means to be a historian, chemist, geologist, linguist etc. while also introducing them to other students (particularly from other years), academic and other staff.  Consider involving Student Societies, student representatives and peer support groups in organising and leading these sessions (details from Edinburgh Students’ Association).  In addition to using Collaborate or other digital event tools to run the sessions (including breakouts) you might want to consider using tools like Top Hat or Mentimeter to support interaction for questions, polls, word clouds etc.

  • Run a quiz loosely linked to the discipline and School (mystery object, people and places, Edinburgh connections).
  • Have a “getting to know you” session with key staff (particularly those who students are likely to come across during their studies – including learning technologists, student support staff, subject librarians and careers staff).
  • Topics and themes to explore (in plenary or small groups) could include:
    • What interests you at the moment in geology/philosophy/health?
    • What do you enjoy most about being an engineer/historian?
    • What part of your work are you most proud of and why?
    • What have you read/seen/heard about recently that got you excited about your discipline?
  • Set up small groups with a mix of students from different years, staff, tutors, demonstrators, and alumni. Start by asking what it means to be a physicist/medic/historian… Use a white board in collaborate/teams and ask participants to share adjectives/phrases so all contribute to a definition of disciplinary identity. Discuss ideas and themes. Focus on key topics to explore/understand by graduation.
    Optional: Using these key topics, ask groups how these characteristics are best nurtured by individuals and the School, in approaches to teaching, facilities, student societies etc
  • EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE ‘Supporting community-building and wellbeing amongst student cohorts during Covid-19 in Moray House School of Education and Sport’
    In their Teaching Matters Blog Katie Cebula, Paul Kelly, and Deborah Holt, from the Moray House School of Education and Sport, shared approaches that emerged from a ‘Practice Worth Sharing’ Forum on how to foster online, community-building during the Covid-19 crisis. Some examples included:

    • Academic activities: short guest lectures; journal club sessions
    • Social activities: ‘We love Edinburgh’ quiz night; photo competitions
    • Identifying and sharing resources on support and well-being
    • Identifying and sharing resources around physical activity
    • Identifying and sharing information about student activities out with the School such as ResLife and EUSA Edinburgh University Students’ Virtual Neighbourhood
    • Identifying and sharing information to help students stay connected with the City of Edinburgh
  • EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE ‘Student Study Groups’
    Simon Shackley and colleagues in GeoSciences are looking at the potential of student study groups. Their focus is on students (e.g. international PGT) who are feeling isolated or have little opportunity for in-person contact.  The approach they are considering could involve some of these students in relatively informal in-person activities such as watching a Ted talk, a short documentary, share a short reading, etc., and then use that as the basis of an in-person discussion led by an academic or tutor. As most of their students at PGT level are primarily interested in environmental sustainability, they will concentrate on topics within that very wide heading.  This approach could be taken to run live digital as well as on-campus events.

Skills Development

Live sessions, digital or on-campus, can be used to support skills development exploring elements of the University Graduate Attributes Framework, career planning and employability, academic and study development.  The IAD and Careers Service may be able to help support these sessions with resources, contacts and contributors.

The suggestions provided here could be run in Collaborate or other digital event tools, involving short presentations, Q&A and discussion.


Colleagues in the Careers Service will be able to assist in setting up a range of events and workshops.

These include:

  • Alumni Presentations: The Careers Service can help with setting up presentations and associated activities with alumni and others to introduce students to career opportunities in their subject and more broadly. A typical event might include short guest presentations from alumni now working in a range of careers and roles, Q&A/panel discussion with these guests, and a wrap up presentation from a careers advisor (or other colleague) with advice to students on the steps they can take and support that is available to them.
  • EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE: ‘Concept to Consumer’: Three challenge-based workshops which are industry led & supported by the School and Careers Service. Each can standalone but students are encouraged to attend all 3 (and encouragingly the majority do).  Originating in the School of Chemistry, this will run online next semester and has been expanded to include Chemistry students from St Andrews & Heriot Watt.  A similar format will run in collaboration with Napier & Heriot Watt, including a LifeScience Masterclass aimed at Biomedical Science students.
  • EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE: ‘Business School Edinburgh Award for Effective and Responsible Leadership (aimed at honours years)’
    Jointly delivered by the Business School Student Development Team and the Careers Service School Careers Consultant. Participants expected to complete a leadership activity but emphasis on self-leadership, supported by formal input from the Careers Service (inc. workshops & drop ins). Workshop themes:  career research, career planning, job hunting strategy, use of social media (e.g. LinkedIn).  Students have access to a mentor.

Please contact the Careers Service to discuss these and other employability related co-curricular activities and events (including the Edinburgh Award).

Study Skills

Many students are finding the move to hybrid learning challenging, particularly those new to University.

While the IAD offers University level workshops and support, the more these skills can be embedded locally and contextualised at discipline and programme level the better.  Contextualised study skills sessions are being provided by several Schools.  The IAD has resources that can be used or adapted for use in these sessions, including “Stepping up to Hybrid Learning” (a set of PowerPoint slides that can be used or adapted by teaching staff or professional services/ student support staff who are developing sessions or resources to help new and returning students adjust to hybrid learning in Semester One) as well as slide sets and worksheets on a range of topics including note making in lectures, making the most of feedback, time management, reflection and reflective writing.

One approach to running these sessions is to have a short 10-15 minute introduction to the topic, followed by a question & answer session (with students invited to submit questions through the chat window).  Having a moderator to manage the Q&A is useful for large groups.  Variations to consider include involving a panel of more experience students, peer support leads and/or postgraduate tutors & demonstrators to offer tips and advices, and including some small group break out discussions.  These sessions also provide an opportunity to use and promote and promote Study Hub and the Study Hub Blog as well as other IAD support for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The IAD have recorded short videos on topics relevant to study skills and learning that could be used to provide the introduction to a session:

If you would like any advice or support in preparing for these sessions or would like the IAD to contribute please contact and we will do what we can.

  • EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE: ‘Stepping up to honours in the hybrid world’
    Esther Mijers (History, Classics & Archaeology) discussed plans to adapt their Stepping Up to Honours workshop for hybrid teaching in a Teaching Matters blog earlier this year.
  • EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE: ‘Study Guidance Sessions’
    Chemistry have run online study guidance sessions for students, providing an opportunity to discuss and support challenges of hybrid learning and provide additional live Q&A and contact points.

Keeping on track

Another example of the sort of live sessions that Schools are running are those designed to keep in touch and connected with students.  These range from short interactive synchronous sessions to follow up recorded lectures and more general keeping in touch sessions where students can be reminded of how the various elements of teaching fit together, questions can be answered, reassurance provided and previews of upcoming classes, support and assessment arrangements provided.  Mid-course feedback activities provide another opportunity to check in with students.  This can be kept simple and adapted to hybrid and digital settings.

  • EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE ‘Wants, worries and woes: Starting the semester on the same page’
    In a Teaching Matters blog Kirsten Jenkins Lecturer in Energy, Environment and Society within the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies group and incoming Programme Director of the Energy, Society and Sustainability MSc shared a checking in exercise she runs with students. This activity could be adapted to be run online and run part way through the semester.
    Back in April, Chris Mowat and Michael Seery (Chemistry) shared some of the ways they helped student manage information during Covid-19. Many of these approaches are valid now, including the scheduling of regular live Q&A webchats to support ongoing dialogue with and within student cohorts.

Feedback and Student Engagement

Hybrid teaching and the approaches that we are taking to teaching and learning this year are new to everyone.  The potential to share these experiences and learn from one another provides another opportunity to run live sessions for students, particularly at a programme level.  These activities could be organised by academic or learning support staff and/or by student peer learning coordinators and volunteers.  Our advice would be to make them as collaborative as possible, involving discussion and the sharing of experience and ideas between staff and students.

Conversations between students and staff provide a great opportunity for more in-depth understanding than is available from survey results. It is very important that the outcomes of discussions are followed up and communicated effectively to all involved.   While the approaches noted in this section were designed for on-campus sessions they can be adapted to run digitally online.  In addition to using Collaborate or other digital event tools to run the sessions (including breakouts) you might want to consider using tools like Top Hat or Mentimeter to support interactivity (ask questions, set up polls, word clouds etc.).

Topics/themes to explore could include:

  • How can we make teaching more engaging in nursing/informatics/law?
  • What have you heard that takes place in learning and teaching elsewhere in the University that you think we should explore in economics/psychology?
  • What are the troublesome/threshold concepts in our discipline and how could we enhance learning and teaching to support better understanding in these areas?
  • What assessments do you think you have learned the most from in the last year? Why?

Here are a couple of ways to structure and manage these sorts of conversations:

What works and why (adapted from EngagEd Guide)

Start by asking students to think of a really good learning experience and write some notes individually about why it was so good (ask staff to identify a really good teaching experience). Then ask the students to share their ideas in small groups (~4) (staff to also work in small groups). Each group of four students (and four staff) is then asked to share (via an online white board, top hat/mentimeter) two ideas with constructive clearly written suggestions about what makes for good learning (teaching) experiences. Key points are then shared across the group in plenary.

Sharing challenges and solutions (from EngagEd Guide)

Ask small groups of four to six similar individuals (e.g. students in same year of study; tutors & demonstrators; academics; support staff), to spend five to ten minutes identifying some of the common challenges they face, picking one key challenge per group. Then, two members of the group remain in this group while others move onto a new group. The two original group members introduce their challenge to their guests who in turn act as consultants, suggesting a range of possible solutions (five to ten minutes). The original two stay where they are and other participants move on again. Repeat this several times so that each group has three or four alternative perspectives and solutions. All participants return to their original group to discuss solutions offered, presenting their favourite and sharing the ideas via an online white board or similar.

  • EXAMPLE IN PRACTICE ‘Creating a programme hashtag’
    Colleagues at Moray House School of Education & Sport created a Twitter hashtag for the MSc in Digital Education. This Twitter hashtag enables programme participants across all the courses, tutors and external people to engage in a range of discussions and ongoing conversations related to the programme. It has been used for resource sharing, information about events and talks and for clarification of ideas. It has encouraged tutor-student interaction as well as student-student interaction. This sort of approach could be used to continue the discussion started at a live event.

Resources and links

EngagEd in…Learning and Teaching Conversations (practical guide from the IAD)

Building Community and Belonging (Hybrid Teaching Exchange Theme)

How do you do socially-distanced in-person small-group teaching? (Hybrid Teaching Exchange Blog)

Guidance on developing and delivering outdoor educational activities

Advice on running small group discussions (IAD infographic for tutors & demonstrators)


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