Fiona McNeill Awarded Principal’s Medal for Helping Students Adapt to Hybrid Teaching

[2021] Reader in Computer Science Education Fiona McNeill named one of the recipients of the Principal’s Medal for her course helping first-year students connect with each other and adapt to hybrid teaching.

Fiona developed the Informatics Connect programme for first-year Informatics students as a way for students to get to know one another and improve their soft skills, helping them to achieve in their academic careers even under the new hybrid teaching model. With students physically distanced due to Covid-19, the course provided a welcome space for them to build relationships with their classmates and share their experiences of starting their degree.

I created Informatics Connect because I thought it was really important that our first-year students get a chance to interact with other students in an informal situation, to help them build peer bonds. We covered a lot of topics… and got guest speakers in, like people from counselling and disability services to talk to them about the support that is on offer, and 4th year and graduate students to talk to them about their experiences during their degree.

Fiona McNeill
Informatics Connect course organiser & Principal's Medal recipient

In addition to facilitating discussion between students, Informatics Connect encourages dialogue with teaching staff, which allowed students to provide feedback and take an active role in improving the School’s approach to hybrid teaching. Fiona and the other course organisers conducted polls and surveys to gauge how students were feeling about remote delivery of teaching, which could be shared with teaching staff throughout the School.

The students said that one of the things they most enjoyed in the course was getting to find out how everyone else was feeling about their studies, which made them feel less alone.

Fiona McNeill

As an introduction to Informatics and the School, the course covers topics such as effective group work skills, how to install and manage all the systems the students will use and a range of ethical considerations relating to Informatics. It encourages students to engage with core ideas that underpin all Informatics and Computer Science, including the history of computing, the ethics of coding and decolonising the curriculum. Fiona’s course is comprehensive in its content, while it’s informal delivery and fostering of a shared student experience offers a warm welcome to the School at a time when connecting with new people and ideas is extraordinarily difficult.

It's fantastic to be recognised by the Principals' Award, and to get positive feedback from students about its impact on them.  We're going to continue the course in the second semester, and I'd like to carry on at least some aspects of it in future years.

Fiona McNeill

Principal’s Medal

The Principal’s Medal was first awarded in 2008 and is one of the most important ways in which the University recognises professional services and academic colleagues, or current students, who have made outstanding contributions to both the University and wider communities and consistently demonstrated the University’s Values. These awards are the highest bestowed upon students and staff in the University.

Given the extraordinary events of 2020, the decision was made to increase the number of awards to enable the recognition of individuals, teams and departments from the University community who have played a critical role in how we have responded to the Covid-19 crisis. There was only one category this year: the Principal’s Medal for Exceptional Contribution.

Related Links

Full list of Principal’s Medal 2020 winners