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MDX’s sector leading Student Learning Assistant scheme wins top accolade

Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) Award for initiative that supports students

When Middlesex adopted the Student Learning Assistants Scheme in 2009, the goal was to support student progression, tackle non-continuation and enhance student satisfaction by connecting students to the wider university and help them navigate their time studying.

The initial pool of 40 SLA’s has grown to 320 in the last decade, with the initiative covering 136 modules across all Faculties in the University and supporting 30 per cent of the student population.

Now the highly valued scheme, which aims to support every student through at least one module in their studies, has won a prestigious CATE award, which signifies excellence in teamwork and significant impact on learning and teaching.

Dr Deeba Gallacher, Head of Academic Practice Enhancement and Teaching Excellence Award Lead (Institutional TEAL for Advanced HE), said: “CATE is a highly competitive process, with each HE and FE institution across the UK able to put a single application in per year, with only 15 awards given.

“This demonstrates the significance of the award and the value placed on the SLAs both as part of the approach to learning and teaching at Middlesex but also the value of the authentic collaboration of the scheme.

“We are delighted that this has been recognised by the sector; congratulations to all the students and colleagues that have helped shape the scheme over the years.”

The SLA scheme complements teaching in various learning environments, reinforcing learning and building student confidence. SLAs also lead supplementary sessions outside the classroom.

The work carried out has positive demonstrable impact; last year 63 per cent of staff reported a major impact within student experience and engagement.

Meanwhile, 37 per cent of staff described the SLAs’ impact over transition to and within HE and also student progression as ‘major’.

In 2019/20 80 per cent of students stated that working with SLAs had a positive impact on grades and when asked to rate their experience with SLAs, more than 90 per cent rated this excellent or good.

Simbo Ajayi, Head of Peer Assisted Learning said: “The CATE award is a reflection of the calibre and commitment of MDX staff in working together in the interest of our students. It speaks about the collaborative efforts between staff and students to listen, engage and respond to the student voice, and its impact in transforming student learning, raising academic standards and enhancing students’ employability skills.

“The work of Senior SLAs and SLAs is evident in student experience and achievement, and also in ensuring that our students are valued, supported and have a sense of belonging throughout their time at Middlesex University.”

David Clover, Deputy Director, Library and Student Support: Head of Library and Learning Enhancement, added:  "The CATE award recognises the impact of the scheme, but also importantly recognises the different levels of collaboration between the Peer Assisted Learning team and academic and professional staff across the university in maintaining a high-quality scheme that is flexible and agile so that it meets the specific disciplinary aspects of learning within different programmes."

SLAs have run more than 600 conversation classes in the past six years to help reticent students find their voices and connect better with the student community. In addition, SLAs also work to highlight international mobility opportunities to their peers.

Paul Kirk, Director of International Preparation and Exchanges at MDX, said: “Our SLAs build brilliant bridges and reach students in ways academics just can’t – I just love what they do.”

In 2014 the reach of SLAs was extended beyond the classroom to partner with the Learning Enhancement Team (LET), Librarians and Student IT Teams in the StudyHub. SLAs have also worked with employability services.

By 2017, SLAs For Success Team had expanded to include Claire Yates Wedge (MDXWorks), and SLA Get Involved Programmes were introduced, where SLAs shared their employability experiences as guest speakers in classrooms, held workshops, and referred students to MDXWorks.

During the pandemic SLAs were able to successfully support staff and students in an online capacity, especially in terms of mediating online learning and supporting academic staff less familiar with online tools and technologies.

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