We are BILT, and we're here to provide information and resources to promote educational excellence in the University and beyond. This is our blog site, where you can also find resources, videos and our discussion forum!
University of Bristol students have come together to host a free wellbeing conference open to students, staff and members of the public.
The conference, which is themed ‘Looking
to the Future’, is being held on University Mental Health Day and will feature
a mix of discussions, workshops and creative exhibitions.
The organisers hope that the event will
encourage an open dialogue between attendees about wellbeing in the university
and wider community.
The Bristol Wellbeing Conference is a
collaborative event which is being hosted by the Bristol SU Wellbeing and
Education Networks, and the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching.
The keynote speaker will be Dr Dominique
Thompson, an award winning GP, young people’s mental health expert, TEDx
speaker, author and educator. Having previously been the Director of Service at
the University of Bristol Students’ Health Service, Dominique has now launched
her own student health and wellbeing consultancy to assist organisations in
improving their student support offer.
Ellie Leopold, Chair of the Wellbeing
Network and one of the event organisers, said:
“We wanted to set up the
conference as a way of celebrating the progress that has been made with
wellbeing at the university, but also recognise the changes that still need to
It’s really exciting that this
is a completely student-led conference and we hope that lots of people come and
engage with this important issue.
I’m particularly looking
forward to the morning panel discussion on the student mental health and
wellbeing survey. Bristol is one of the few UK universities to assess and
report on student mental health and I think that’s something to be celebrated.
To realise the potential of the survey though, we need much greater student
engagement and the Bristol Wellbeing Conference is the perfect platform from
which to kickstart the future of wellbeing at our university!”
The conference will also feature a panel
to look at the Future of Wellbeing in the Curriculum, reflection on the
University of Bristol Mental Health and Wellbeing Student Survey results and a
series of workshops and panels.
The conference will take place on
Thursday 5 March and tickets can be booked
Inspired by her work as an occupational therapist, Eithne Hunt, a lecturer at University College Cork, has developed an eight-week programme for first year students transitioning to University. She joined us last week to share the work she has been doing and how it has impacted her students.
The increasing focus on student mental health across the globe has highlighted some of the key issues students are facing today. There is a growing body on research on the adolescent brain – now seen as the second most influential time in a person’s life (after the first 1000 days of life). With the majority of mental health disorders (74%) showing before the age of 24, it is a crucial time in a person’s development and higher education institutes are tuning into this.
Over the last few years there has been a steep rise in requests for counselling and special measures to be put in place for students. Universities are struggling to keep up with the demand. Eithne believes we should have a public health approach to supporting students mental health – starting with self-care, which forms the first ‘intervention’, with ‘informal community’ following (such as societies, course friends, house mates, families), then engaging primary care services, and then moving on to more specific care in the small number of case where it is required.
A large part of tackling the mental health crisis in universities is educating students in mental health literacy- something that Fabienne Vailes has also discussed this in her work on flourishing vs languishing students. This is an issue we can quite easily rectify within our institutions through early education with students when they come to university – Eithne’s eight-week programme is a great solution to this. The Teen Mental Health website has a wealth of information and tools to help with this.
The ‘Everyday Matters: Healthy Habits for University Life’
programme has just completed its first run with great success – 100% of the
students that started the programme stayed for the duration. The programme wasn’t
credit bearing, but did give students a ‘digital badge’ on completion (a bit
like our Bristol+ award scheme).
The programme allowed a space in the week for students ‘press
pause’, to come together as a group and reflect on their week. The weeks were
themed according to Eithne’s research on how we can best develop our wellbeing
and went as follows:
Week 1: How the brain works
Week 2: Sleep (including the science of sleep)
Week 3: Self care
Week 4: Leisure
Week 5: Studying and working
Week 6: Growth mindset
Week 7: Self compassion
Week 8: Tending joy and growing gratitude
Each week the students were given a mindfulness technique to try alongside what they had learnt in the sessions.
There are pockets of practice similar to Eithne’s programme taking in the University but we are not currently offering this to all students. It would be great to see a university-wide programme at Bristol and measure the impact it had on our students across the piste.
On a final note – adolescence is seen as a time of difficulty, stress and hardship, rather than a time of opportunity and growth. Eithne showed us this video during the seminar and it was a great summary of the opportunities this period in a person’s life can bring – I highly recommend watching!
Last week I attended an ‘Emergency First Aid at Work’ training course. I had minor concerns about whether I would be able to use the defibrillator correctly (nailed it) and whether we’d be made to look at gory images of lacerations (we were, but my eyes were averted). What I wasn’t concerned about, however, was whether I was going to walk out with a certificate in First Aid or not – the University had paid for me to attend this course so therefore, naturally, I should pass, right?
Fifteen minutes into the course, Terry (a charming 68-year
old Brummy who had spent the last forty years training people in First Aid) let
us all know that at the end of the day, there was going to be an exam. It had
twenty questions and it was multiple choice. And yes, people had failed it, and
if we did, we would have to come back next week and sit it again.
Panic immediately set in. Suddenly, what had become a
semi-jolly from work took me back ten years to my time at university when I
clung onto every word the lecturer said when he was covering something on the
exam. My hand sprang into action and I wondered why they had only given us
three pages to write notes on.
Every time something on the exam was mentioned, Terry did his little hand gesture telling us to write it down. I spent my lunch break revising the notes I had already written. As the end of the day approached, I stopped listening to Terry and started re-reading over my ‘exam notes’. We sat the exam and, lo and behold, we all passed (in fact, most of us got 100%).
As I drove home, I thought about the switch that had occurred when we learnt of our exam-based fate. Would I have worked as hard if the exam hadn’t been mentioned until lunch time? Or just sprung on us at the last minute? Would I still have taken notes? The answer to these questions is ‘yes’- I had signed up to learn about First Aid and I was keen and ready.
I know a lot of academics feel strongly that exams are a good form of assessment. And, a well-written and designed exam can be – but one is never taught how to write an exam. Like all things, some are good at it and some aren’t. Most of the exams I had personally experienced have been a regurgitation of information. Is it possible to teach teachers how to design a good exam?
A final thought: for the vast majority of people, exams cause some level of panic. I accept that they are an efficient way to assess students, but what can we do to reduce the tension they bring? I came across this article yesterday which provides a brilliant example of how a teacher ‘instills the belief that they have practised the hardest maths that they have ever had to face, so why be scared of an exam?’, which is a novel approach and something I feel we should start putting into practice with our students.
With Christmas over, I’ve been looking over my timetable to see what the next teaching block has in store for me, and there’s now a conspicuous absence on a Tuesday afternoon. Until now, I’ve spent my time after lunch on a Tuesday with a friend scouring Blackboard, my fantastically unhelpful notes, and her slightly more helpful notes to try to plan an hour’s worth of interesting and useful activities for somewhere between one and seven 2nd year Biology students. That’s not just out of the kindness of my heart – alongside being a BILT student fellow, I’ve been moonlighting (or maybe it’s more accurate to say twilighting) as a PASS leader.
If you’re not aware what PASS is, it stands for
Peer Assisted Study Sessions. It’s an initiative run for about 24 subjects in
the university that provides student-run sessions for students to come and work
on study skills, ask questions, get support with uni work and life and meet
other people on their course. PASS is highly flexible, and changes to meet the
needs of the students, but there are some key concepts:
It doesn’t replace teaching
It’s a partnership
PASS is definitely not more teaching for
students. I’m barely qualified to be a student, let alone a lecturer, so I’m
not there to give a seminar or disseminate knowledge. It’s about facilitating
students to take charge of their own learning. But they don’t have to go it
alone (the clue’s in the PA part of PASS). Students work as a team, helping
each other by sharing knowledge and skills, in an engaging, enjoyable (I hope!)
way. And more importantly, in the way they want – every part of the session:
the plan, the content, the activities, is flexible to respond to what the students
are getting the most from. There’s no point running an essay planning workshop
when they’ve all got a coding assignment due in the next few days. There’s also
no point running sessions that aren’t inclusive. By making sure feedback is
asked for and heard, PASS can be made useful and enjoyable for everyone who
Sounds a lot like active, collaborative
learning? With one key exception – PASS doesn’t replace teaching. It shouldn’t,
either, it’s really great as an augmentation to the way students study already,
and having a risk-free space where students can ask questions they might not be
comfortable asking academics is very important. But, I think other forms of
active, collaborative learning should start to replace teaching.
Not all of it, certainly, and in many cases
across the university, it already has. But it’s really important that lecture
heavy, content loaded subjects think about what they can change up. Being a
PASS leader really highlighted to me the failings of lecture-centric teaching
and what’s great about active, collaborative learning.
It’s not even been a year since I passed my
exams on the content we were giving PASS sessions on, and I really struggled to
remember it. “Rings a bell, definitely sounds like genetics” isn’t quite the
same as having a deep understanding of the content, but in a lot of cases it
was all I could muster up. And yet, an often used defence of the more
traditional teaching style is that university needs to create disciplinary
experts. I wouldn’t say I’m a disciplinary expert, but an expert on remembering
content long enough to regurgitate it in an exam where I’m separated from my
(admittedly slightly poorly written) notes.
Conversely, the content we did go over in PASS
sessions feels much more firmly cemented in my mind now. I had to understand it
if I was going to design activities based on it, and answering questions as
well as hearing the perspectives and thoughts of other students really pushed
and challenged that understanding.
There’s technically no barrier to creating
exciting revision activities to work on in study groups as students ourselves.
But when you’ve got 90 lectures worth of content to commit to memory (with
extra reading, of course) and 6 exams looming, you’re going to stick to what
works to pass the exam, even if that’s not the best learning experience.
And there’s something else really important that
I feel I’ve not mentioned enough, which is the fun element of more active and
collaborative activities. All of the student fellows did a podcast recently,
and we talked about how we don’t seem to focus on joy in learning nearly
enough. I’m sure part of the reason my knowledge of molecular genetics has
flown from my mind with such alarming speed is because of the unpleasant
association with stress, the signature ASS Library smell of sweat and energy
drinks (with a hint of desperation), and never-ending lines of garish notes,
highlighted in every colour imaginable
As part of my work as a student fellow, I’m developing a quick start guide to making teaching more active and collaborative. But while that’s still in the works, check out the Digital Education Office’s resources, which includes case studies from throughout the Uni of how digital tools can support active and collaborative learning.
A few weeks ago I was asked to give a 5 minute presentation on ‘The Office’. I have re-recorded here. Whether you are new to The Office or have followed the posts religiously I hope that this will be a great starting/ending point for you.
If you want to learn more about The Office there are a whopping 11 episodes with roughly 15,000 words and loads of pictures and videos. The full list of available episodes is given below:
just sitting here, I ain’t saying much I just think
And my eyes don’t move left or right they just
thought I’d start my 11th and final episode of the blog series with
a Dizzee Rascal quote, because as I was reflecting on the day, whilst grabbing
some lunch, these words came to mind.
Today, this instant, this very moment, is the last office session. At 5pm, 10 groups will hand in 10 reports and the unit will be over for the year. I am hoping for some help whilst I shift all the furniture that I have begged, borrowed and stolen back around the building and then hopefully it’s off to the pub for a swift celebratory beer for a job well done.
reason Dizzee’s words came to me is that every week the office has been a busy,
noisy, buzzing space, but today is different. Everyone is working hard. Really
hard. Because it’s deadline day. And I still have a few questions to answer,
but mostly people know what they are doing and where they are going they just
need to get there. And so I am, for the first time all year, able to sit in
‘The Office’ and write my blog post. I don’t intend on being overly long but I
thought I might reflect back on the 10 weeks.
mentioned last week, after each session I write a short reflection on the day
as I take the train back home to Bath. Re-reading these reflections now a few
things strike me:
attendance. Attendance has been outstanding. Every week everyone has come for
most of the day. Occasionally a few people are late in. And there were a few
times when people were ill or had other commitments. But overall the attendance
on this unit has been better than any I can ever remember running.
The space has worked well. Students would like even more desk space, but other
than that, this dreary flatbed lecture room is weekly transformed into a
buzzing office (see the video), with people working hard and discussing timber
engineering. Asking each other sensible questions.
I selected the groups for this unit and so they were pushed into groups with
people they hadn’t worked with before. This isn’t a new thing for our students,
but most years I have at least a few complaints about teams. This year there
have been none. And as I look around I can see diverse groups of students, some
of whom are studying on different degree programmes, and who, for the most part
have never worked together, collaborating to create something great.
One of the most striking things about ‘The Office’ is how much it sounds like
an office. Every week in my reflections I’ve noted it. That busy bustling
sound. Even without the pictures on the wall, and the breakout space, and the
boards to hide the lectern and extra seats, and the plants by the entrance, and
the tea point! Even without any of these other features that differentiate this
space from any other flatbed teaching space, it sounds like an office. It
doesn’t sound like a lecture theatre, which is both quieter when I’m speaking
and much noisier when I’m not. Neither does it sound like a work space where
students are all working on their own. Instead it has that unmistakable hubbub
of people collaborating and working together. I took a very short snippet of
this, and you can hear the sound of ‘The Office’ for yourself.
Every week we have had an external speaker come and give a lunch time talk.
These are not lectures, they are designed instead to replicate the weekly
lunchtime talks my old business’s organised when I worked in industry. They
have covered a wide selection of different areas of timber engineering and have
been well attended and well received by the students. My only thought for next
year was to ensure a higher proportion of female speakers, the unit was taken
by more than 40% female students and so it would be good to have 3-4 of the 7
speakers as female, rather than the one we had this year.
Cake. Cake for my birthday was a real highlight (for me at least). My wife and son made it. So next year I need to move the office day to a Saturday so it coincides with my birthday again.
So the last point was a joke (about teaching on Saturday – my Saturdays are
already busy, what with running, coffee, taking my son to rugby, watching Bath
rugby, cooking Saturday night tea, watching Strictly, there is no way I could
squeeze the office in as well!) As was the below that I found on one of my
architecture magazines. A joke I very much enjoyed, and I hope you do to.
And I just discovered why it is so quiet in the office today, most groups have moved up the corridor to one of our new group work teaching spaces where there are large touchscreen computers, ideal for the final edit of the report as the group collaborate and agree content and presentation together. Another new teaching space being put to good use by our students.
So in conclusion, I have really enjoyed teaching this unit in a
different way. I hope that my students have found it just as beneficial (I suspect
only time will tell on that front) and I am looking forward to delivering the
unit in the same way again next year (but hopefully with all the books I have
written to make it happen published and in the library).
So until next time goodbye and thank you for reading my weekly blog,
it’s been great fun sharing all my different thoughts on teaching and I really
hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
So this is the penultimate episode of The Office! As we draw towards the seasons finale I want to examine a hot topic – work/life balance. And I want to look at it from two perspectives – the students (employees) and my own (the boss!).
Right back in Episode 1 I outlined 7 aims of ‘The Office’ project. They are summarised below as I don’t imagine you can remember them:
Students to take ownership of their own learning
Students to more directly input what they are learning into what they are doing
Students to take ownership of feedback
Students to work sensible (office) hours and not work more hours than necessary
That both learning and assessment will be integrated so students co-learn and
That students produce outstanding projects which totally blow me away. Projects
which look amazing, have clearly used the problems/constraints of timber to
lead to a solution and can articulate this.
That students will be able to speak to their experience in a professional
context such as an interview and that it would add value for them in this
Note item 4, “students to work sensible (office) hours”. The idea was to
create a unit where time is boundaried. Where people come to work, they work
hard, and then they go home and leave their work behind them (and possibly go
for a cheeky post work drink, although without the boss!) Enabling them to
focus on the other challenges that are before them over the course of a week.
Office hours are 9-5 with setup occurring between 9-9.30 and set down
between 4.30-5. All students are encouraged to take an hours break at some
point during the day – this could be a longer lunch break or a shorter lunch
break with a couple of coffee breaks. There are also the lunchtime talks 1-2
which break the day up. And students have other commitments, lectures, project
meetings, interviews etc.
Employees are encouraged to leave all their work at work. This is
facilitated by every group having a large box which contains all of their
resources, from pens to calc pads. From books to notes. And their A3 and A4
folders which contain their work. Every week these boxes are put away in a
store room which is locked up. Employees can, of course, take work away with
them – I haven’t yet started a stop and search policy on bags – but I have
gently encouraged them not to.
As part of my own practice I have taken a 15 minute pause at the end of
every session to reflect on the day’s events whilst heading back to Bath on the
train. About week 4 I started to note that students were raising concerns about
how much there was to do and they started suggesting they would take work home
with them. I tried to tackle this in part by discussing where they felt the
pressure was and adjusting their expectations for the work in hand, something
that I will do more of when I run the unit again next year.
In week 7 I noticed one student stuffing their work folders in their bag
– something I hadn’t noticed previously, and I offered one extra session of
four hours during reading week (week 8) – which two groups utilised.
There have been a few disgruntled rumbles about the early start from
some of the more sporty of my employees (all staff are asked to be at work from
9 as the first task of the day is to agree workload) who have extra curricula
activities on a Wednesday night (I wouldn’t know about that, at Uni I wasn’t in
any sporting teams and I tried to avoid going out on a Wednesday night – preferring
instead Thursday nights when the clubs would stay open later and I could spend
the night bouncing around to Drum and Bass – as an original Junglist).
Last week I handed out a survey to my students (as part of my pedagogy
project) and asked them “How much time did you spend on this unit compared to
other fourth year engineering units?” Of the 28 students who replied only two
said less or the same whilst 15 said a bit more and 11 said a lot more. Whilst
I need to spend time fully reviewing the reasons it would appear that whilst
quite a few students noted they only worked during office hours, many noted
they worked a lot less than a day a week on other units. It was also
interesting to note that much of their motivation to work came from not wanting
to let other members of their group down, a perspective that I hadn’t
considered when preparing the unit.
It is worth holding the above in tension with comments from last year’s
Timber Engineering unit (which I ran as a standard two hour weekly lecture). Students
suggested they were spending approximately 10 hours a week on the unit. So,
whilst the office hasn’t significantly reduced the number of hours they spend
on the unit, I don’t think it has increased it either. What it has done is move
it from an informal environment to a more formal one. My challenge for next
year is then how to help students to do a little bit less on the unit.
Whilst considering the work/life balance of employees (students) is very
important, to ensure that the method of delivery is sustainable it is also
important to consider my own work/life balance. I have for a while now been
wrestling with the idea that I want to care enough that my teaching is good
(not perfect, just good) whilst also wanting it to be sustainable. It’s no good
being great, if two years from now I have to leave and find another job! This
came to the fore for me two years ago when I found myself in hospital with
chest pains. Whilst at the time my results were inconclusive I have since come
to realise that I was suffering from anxiety. Over the last two years I have
both been to counselling (through the University) and spent six months on a
coaching course (through my church). Neither came easily to me, despite regularly
recommending students attend counselling, it took a year for me to attend my
first session, but they have both been highly beneficial.
All of that being said, I am still wrestling with work life balance. I
try and work a 40 hour week (confessing this feels very vulnerable as I know
that this is a struggle for so many), I very rarely work weekends, and I am
trying to tackle my obsessive checking of email outside of work time and wonder
how much is down to me just wanting the dopamine fix our electronic devices
provide when a new massage comes in?
I say all of this as I think it’s helpful context to my own reflections.
Working the office has been different. Not better, not worse, but different. To
enable it to happen I have had to block book a day a week. I also block book a
day a week for pedagogy – which is how I manage to write a blog post every
week, without doing it over coffee on a Saturday morning. The advantage of this
approach is that those days are dedicated, focussed and productive. The
downside is that my other three days can feel relentless. With meetings
starting at 9 and finishing at 5. However, I am trying to always have a lunch
break and I know that for every full on busy day or two there is a day drinking
amazing coffee whilst working on pedagogy – and this is a choice I have made.
The other thing is that as I am the Boss (and not the teacher) I work
when I am at the office. I can’t do big jobs (or confidential jobs) but I can
reply to emails, check things, do those little admin jobs. I do also, from time
to time, nip out for a short meeting. And I invite people to the office for
meetings. Generally this works well. Some weeks it works very well. One week I
packed too much seeing:
One member of the timetabling team
Two separate students to discuss their research projects
Three visitors from BILT
Four students in a group to discuss their design project (a 40 credit final year assessment mentioned in earlier blogs but not part of this unit)
Five first years keen to build a house somewhere out of straw
Six, there was no six, five was more than enough.
That evening I reflected I had packed in too much. Partly because it was
my Birthday and I wanted everyone to share in the cake goodness. So going
forward I have tried to pack in less.
Of course the real proof in the pudding will be how I feel as ‘the
office’ comes round again next year, or the year after, or the year after that.
I am all too aware that what can feel exciting and energizing at first can
become wearying in the end. But I also know that every year if someone asked me
to lecture on concrete I would jump at the chance, because I love it.
I am sorry- I am not sure I have any answers here. Has the office been OK in terms of work/life balance is hard to say. Partly because it takes time to reflect, partly because so much has changed, this year I have become School Education Director – a new role which I am learning to adapt to, last year I was Programme Director, an old role which I knew well. And therefore it is hard to know what of my current sense of busyness is due to my new role, what is due to my new method of teaching delivery, and what is due to my new level of self awareness (I now try and take 10 minutes each morning of quiet contemplation before I start the day).
I do know that I leave for work at 6.15am (I only do this on office
days, but actually it is not because of the office, but this was the best time
for my weekly coaching phone call, and the fact it has coincided with the
office has been helpful) looking forward to the day ahead. That I look around
at different points in my day and just drink in the atmosphere. That as I sit
on the train I feel weary but not dissatisfied. And that I have enough energy
to go again the next day, and the next week.
So as this year comes to an end, I suspect I will miss my office, but I
will also be glad for the break. I will be replete. A feeling I know well,
maybe it’s the feeling of a job well done.
Which brings us to the conclusion of our penultimate post. Next week, a final fair well to ‘The Office’ Season 1.
Last year, BILT funded a project looking into support for graduates on the Accelerated Graduate Entry Programme (AGEP), specifically looking at the impact physical and digital space had on learning.
The group, led by Emma Love, with additional support from Chloe Anderson, Lindsey Gould, Simon Atkinson and Sheena Warman undertook focus groups and test CBL sessions with students on their AGEP programme. Lindsey presented a poster (below) outlining their findings at the VetEd conference in July 2019.
One of their students, Cerise Brasier, has written a blog about her experience taking part in the project.
My experience during the pilot for case-based learning in veterinary graduate education was very positive. As the cohort for veterinary studies is usually large, the case-based learning enabled me to meet people on my course that I hadn’t spoken with yet, which helped build new working relationships and new friends.
We were given an opportunity to try different facilities and environments to learn in and prior to this experience, I hadn’t considered the learning environment as such a big factor towards effective studying, so this helped me to consider the best places for me to study.
The digital facilities made it easy for us to collaborate ideas as a group, meaning we could cover learning outcomes faster, more interactively and thus more effectively. Learning how to utilise the OneNote programme as a group meant that many of us went on to use this programme for future group and individual work, which enhanced our learning for the rest of the year. Solving hypothetical cases as a group encouraged use of evidence based medicine, communication between students which is important for future veterinary work and I felt solving these cases together helped me to retain information, which helped me with my end of year exams.
Having a facilitator within the group helped us to stay focused on the topic and delve further into the subject than perhaps we would have considered to do on our own. Release of material prior to the session was adequate for preparation of our learning outcomes and the delivery of material is most suitable for a graduate learner who would be used to independent self-directed studying. The programme allowed for active learning rather than passive learning, which resulted in a greater level of information retention.
Have you ever attended an event and just thought ‘I wish
more people were here to hear this’? That is exactly how I felt all afternoon
whilst attending the second Employability Exchange event on Wednesday
I didn’t know much about the event before attending,
other than that there was a free lunch (I was sold) and there was a focus on
authentic learning – something I passionately feel we should be exploring more
in the curriculum. Regardless of my lack of knowledge on what would take place,
I was looking forward to the afternoon in Engineers’ House.
And I was not disappointed. From Tansy’s energetic
introduction to her vision for education at Bristol and the new Bristol Futures
Curriculum Framework (more on this at a later date) to the quick-fire
contributions from colleagues implementing authentic learning in their
programmes, the four-hours were pack with inspiration and enthusiasm for
embedding employability authentically in the curriculum.
We were lucky to have Dr Kate Daubney, Head of Careers and Employability at Kings College London, join us, where she shared their ‘Employability Touchstone’ approach to embedding employability. Their focus is not on adding employability into an already packed curriculum but rather looking at what is already covered and highlighting where tasks, activities and content enhance students’ employability. It isn’t about fitting something new in, it’s about taking what is already there and enhancing it – you can read more about this in Kate’s slides.
Kate’s talk was followed by a panel discussion with Tansy, Kate and BILT Student Fellow Marnie Woodmeade and SU Undergraduate Education Officer Hillary Gyebi-Ababio. They shared how they believe authentic learning could support both students learning experience and wellbeing, and the impact it could have on their future careers.
We then had six very quick presentations from colleagues
(four listed below) on their use and experience of authentic learning, ending
with a 50-slide, 5-minute presentation from James, in which he whizzed though
his journey in ‘The Office’ at a rate of six seconds per slide! I don’t want to
make any promises, but rumour on the street is that we may be getting a
recorded version of it to share with those who couldn’t be there… watch this
Some time was then spent in Faculty groups discussing
next steps for exploring this further and each of the FEDs (plus a SED!) fed
back to the group. The only questions I left with was how to share the day’s
events with more people – and so here we are.
The day was jointly hosted by the Careers Service and BILT. Stuart Johnson, Director of Careers, has shared his thoughts:
We’re delighted to have hosted such a positive and well-received event. The presentations and discussions demonstrated how employability already is an authentic part of some curricula, and how creatively it can be explored as part of the overall student education experience. We look forward to continuing to work with BILT to surface and share activity, and to working in partnership with Schools to ensure every programme authentically embeds employability and that students recognise the associated benefits of what they’re learning.
You can find more information about the authentic learning projects below:
Last week, two of our student fellows, Marnie & Toby, went for a ‘school trip’ to Langford to visit the Clinical Skills Lab with Alison Catterall, and to meet with Chloe Anderson and Lindsey Gould. Chloe and Lindsey have developed the new Accelerated Entry Vet course which uses case-based learning as a primary teaching method, and the Clinical Skills lab is a way for Vet students to learn critical clinical techniques in an authentic, active way. As Marnie and Toby’s projects for the year focus on ‘Authentic, Challenge-Led Learning’ and ‘Active, Collaborative Learning’ respectively this was a great opportunity to talk about the successes and challenges the Vet School has faced.
‘Everyone should have a Langford day’, this was a sentiment that was repeated to me by every vet I’ve met: and I couldn’t agree more. As a die-hard city center dweller (stoke bishop who?), the opportunity to visit the countryside campus and look at some of the ways vets were using authentic learning was a breath of fresh air.
The clinical skills lab itself was a wonderland of models. I had never considered how many different uses there are for an IKEA dog, and honestly, they are underpriced. In a very real sense, this was authentic learning in it’s most literal form. Everything from the lab area, where students are required to follow the same rules they would in a real lab, to the scale models of horses, the skills lab epitomized learning byreplicating ‘real-life’ situations.
One of the components of the clinical skills lab really left me thinking about how stakeholders can be replicated in the classroom. In essence: teatowels. In order to practice sutures, vet students use teatowels, which has been demonstrated to be just as effective as prosthetic limbs. In order to do a good job, students have to match up the lines to ensure that their sutures are neat. Not only did this leave me very impressed with the innovation of Alison and her colleagues, but it also reminded me that in order to allow students to practice, not every piece of work needs to have a fully realized client. Sometimes they just need a tea towel.
On the flip side, the work that Lindsey and Chloe are doing represents the ‘fully realized clients’. Students are not only expected to work with a mock case, that has a variety of different stakeholders but also consider the person that comes attached to the animal, with issues that they may experience in a veterinary clinic. This can include customers having a lack of funds, or not wanting to pursue a certain line of treatment. Students are expected to work in groups of ten in facilitated sessions to try and work out how best to tackle a particular case.
In terms of authentic learning, this hit the nail on the head, it provided an ill-defined problem that required sustained investigation while collaborating with other learners and engaging with multiple sources, with multiple interpretations and different outcomes. However, some of the challenges they were facing with students stemmed from just this. Students want to do well, and Bristol students, who are already academically high-achieving, often do not want to feel like they are jeopardizing their grades by giving an answer they think may be wrong. This to me, presented a very real issue. While students have seemed to be open to authentic learning, authentic assessments are an entirely different ball game.
Students want to know how to do well and are used to their being a right answer, which leaves educators with a paradox. In the ‘real-world’ more often than not, there is no one right answer, and you are dealing with a multitude of different issues at the same time and doing your best to muddle through. So should educators be preparing students for this world, riddled with uncertainty, (at the possible expense of frustrated students) or should they just be imparting their knowledge? Either way, the work at the vet school is inspired, and I’d like to say a massive thank you to Lindsey, Chloe, and Alison for showing us around and taking the time to tell us about their work.
In the clinical skills lab, one of the models I found most interesting (ignoring the haptic cow which was both fascinating and highly disturbing) was the plaque removal station. It’s pretty simple – just a bathroom tile with the outline of carnivore teeth on, some red insulating tape ‘gums’ and some plaque in the form of a hard putty. Students remove the plaque with the dental tools, then build it back up again once finished for the next student to use. But Alison made a really good point about it – not only are the students practicing an important clinical skill, they are also learning the layout of the teeth in a carnivore’s mouth.
For me, that’s a lot of what active learning is. It’s just about doing something with what you’re learning. I’m not suggesting Philosophy students learn about Aristotle by scraping plaque off of a paper on virtue ethics (although I guarantee you they would remember it). But the general idea can be applied across the university. The use of the dental tool is the ‘doing’ part, and the dental layout is the (in this case quite literally) underlying concept that they need to learn.
Problem-based learning, a method of teaching that Lindsey and Chloe have introduced to the accelerated entry vet course, is one way to do this. The doing, in this case, is the working through of the case: researching the background, reading through the amazing materials provided on OneNote and working as a team to find potential solutions. This means the key knowledge the students need is learned in context, in an active way, alongside skills like communication and problem-solving.
One thing that was clear from the visit to Langford was the Vet School’s willingness to identify weaknesses in teaching and change. Students were going into practice without the skills and confidence they needed so they developed the fantastic clinical skills lab. They needed to produce more complete vets with a broad skill set to excel after university, so they’ve introduced problem-based learning and a framework that looks at all of the aspects that make a Vet. In other subjects, it might not be as obvious whether students are graduating prepared for success or not. But it’s definitely a question worth considering – is Bristol producing complete students that can leave university confident that they will be able to handle what comes their way, or just walking textbooks with plenty of knowledge but no idea how to apply it?