I probably don’t need to say it, but 2020 has turned out very differently than expected. When I started as Head of Programmes at In2scienceUK in January, I didn’t expect to spend more time working from home than I had in the office, or work with the team to transform the In2scienceUK in person work experience placements and workshops to an entirely Virtual Placement Programme.
In2scienceUK aims to promote social mobility and diversity in STEM, through a programme that includes face-to-face workshops and work placements for year 12 students from disadvantaged and low income backgrounds. For the last 10 years, this impactful programme has been delivered via a two week summer placement for young people, hosted by STEM researchers and professionals, and in-person workshops on STEM careers, skills and university access.
By the time March 2020 came around, we already had a record number of 3000 applications for the programme. As the COVID-19 pandemic gathered pace, and the team moved to working from home, we realised we had to find a way to support the young people who had applied for the programme, without being able to deliver any in-person activities. After an incredible amount of hard work from the team and our amazing volunteers, the In2scienceUK Virtual Placement Programme was created. Our recently published impact report shows that the programme provided valuable support to the 567 young people who participated in the programme.
“It was a great and fun experience and has given me the confidence that a STEM degree and a career in STEM is for me.”, said one 2020 In2scienceUK student.
The In2scienceUK Virtual Placement Programme was hosted on a bespoke platform and included:
- Research focused modules with live lecture, reading and a home-based research task.
- Online mentoring in small groups from STEM researchers and professionals
- Careers, employability skills and university or apprenticeship access workshops
- Public engagement competitions to develop writing and communication skills
Although the 2020 Virtual Programme was successful, transforming the programme to virtual delivery was a huge learning curve for the whole organisation. For any organisation considering similar transformations, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips from our experience.
- Take time to consider your aims and objectives and how virtual delivery can meet these. We spent time reflecting on our theory of change, and mapping the design of the virtual programme against what we wanted the programme to achieve.
- Interactivity is key to sustaining engagement. Interaction comes more naturally in face-to-face activities, but requires much more thought in an online environment. There are so many ways that you can build interactive elements into virtual delivery from live polls, Q&A in chats, quizzes and discussion boards. Also, having an engaging online starter at the start of a workshop does increase the energy of a workshop right from the start.
- There will be challenges, so be ready to be creative with solutions, and accept that it is unlikely everything will be perfect. We encountered lots of challenges in both the development and during delivery of the programme, from needing to learn lots of new skills to technical issues during live webinars. We did lots of testing, went through potential scenarios and had back-up plans – but you can’t plan for everything! Some challenges we planned for, such as students’ access to laptops and the internet, turned out not to be a major issue. But others, we didn’t expect, such as students not always turning on their mics and video during online webinars and mentoring sessions. These areas are where we will focus our effort and support in 2021.
Following the successful transformation to virtual delivery, we have realised the potential benefits of virtual delivery and we are excited to improve and develop the programme for 2021. If you are interested in hearing more about the In2scienceUK programme, feel free to get in touch.
About the author
Helen Jones is Head of Programmes at In2scienceUK, responsible for programme strategy and impact, as well as managing national partnerships. She led the transformation of the In2sienceUK programme to virtual delivery in 2020.