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Nicolle's Diary #16: Reflections on the BAAP

As she nears the end of the BA (Hons) Advancing Practice top-up degree (BAAP), with only her dissertation left to submit, Nicolle reflects on her experience of Level 6.

It feels like only yesterday that I steeled myself into a room to hear about the foundation degrees offered by The Learning Institute (TLI). However, it was in fact over three years ago. Earlier today I submitted my final assignment of my undergraduate degree – aside from my dissertation. It has been quite the journey, with a lot of laughs, tears, new friends and amazing opportunities, and whilst knowing I am about to embark on the home stretch is incredibly exciting it also is somewhat sad. Undertaking a full-time degree for three years has been completely immersive and has left me wondering what there will be to occupy my time after that final May submission date?!

In a fabulous turn of events, we were able to go back face-to-face this year, after the pandemic attempted and failed to commandeer our foundation degree. A notable highlight was the November Student Conference, journeying to Bristol and seeing all of those I had seen online but not physically in almost two years – both staff and students. It also marked the start of the first double module of this final year; this was an exciting time for everyone as it was our pathway specific module. A chance to be face-to-face in a larger group, share expertise and experiences from different fields and locations, in addition to apparently hijacking jars of sweets and biscuits to share before other pathways or cohorts found them! The assignment for this module was probably my favourite to date. I felt challenged but not overwhelmed, autonomous but supported and learnt a lot – about neuroscience, psychology and myself as a professional and a learner.

Nicolle with some of her fellow students at the November student conference
Nicolle with some of her fellow students at the November student conference

This module was sandwiched between two single modules, both with content that was relatively new to us, with a lot more focus on the community of inquiry – providing and receiving peer support. I remember in our first module taking our learning outdoors. We nervously paced around a raccoon circle (a tool used in education to facilitate communication and positive relationships) having not been at our local centre or working in those specific groups for a significant amount of time. At the time we all shuffled around looking awkwardly at one another, but it was definitely as a group what we needed to break the ice and assimilate to being together again. In the latter of the two modules, we considered professional change. This provided an alternative perspective to our professional lives and allowed us to consider our own assumptions about why and how changes occurred within our professional fields. As a centre group here in Poole, this module gave us something new, and as a group of students we recognised the importance of the relationships we had with each other and began to make a more conscious effort to see each other (usually at the pub) outside of sessions. This cemented the friendships that Covid had tried and failed to stifle. Friendships that, for the most part, I believe will last a lifetime.

More recently, we have undertaken the Specialism in Focus module. A module that, whilst like every other has explicit learning outcomes, provided an opportunity to pick our own ‘specialism’: a focus we felt passionately about. This is the assignment I submitted today. It was a great opportunity to challenge discourses pertaining to education, social justice and well-being. A sort of culmination of everything we had learnt to date. I took this opportunity to look back at previous assignments, both from Level 4 and 5, and I was satisfied to see the academic journey I had been on. I looked at an essay I submitted mid-way through the first year and found myself questioning how I had transformed my writing from that to what I am producing now. I was and am actually shocked.

Alongside this, we have all been busy squirrelling away to produce our dissertations. I decided to take the Social Enterprise route. This has probably been the biggest challenge of the year (to date). Yet it has actually been easier than I thought it would be. I think the word ‘dissertation’ strikes fear into the heart of many who are yet to complete one – mostly due to false assumptions about the workload, quality and quantity expected. One thing that has been truly brilliant about having completed the foundation degree first is that I had been completely equipped and prepared for this. We had already collected data and written assignments of a similar length and in significantly less time!

Level 6, or the BAAP (top-up), has been an epic adventure. There have been moments where I have felt the most inspired I have ever felt in my entire life, and moments of what has felt like being under unrelenting pressure. Interestingly any pressure I have felt has  been wholly self-inflicted – I think my foundation degree PAT called it in that first term of Level 4 when she said I needed to give myself the occasional break. At the end of the foundation degree, I told myself I would take those breaks, especially with assignment grades being more relevant, and so I found myself a hobby and have made a more conscious effort to socialise with the friends who had taken a back-seat, something I would strongly recommend to anyone thinking of doing a degree at any level. The key to succeeding is 100% work/life balance, but it is also to believe in yourself and take every opportunity that comes your way.

I would implore anyone considering the BAAP – whether Level 4, 5 or external to TLI to not be dissuaded by fear of the unknown, reach out to your PAT or The Learning Institute head office and ask to speak to a current BAAP student.