An interview with...

An interview with… Michaela Borg

Michela Borg is the Educational Development Manager in the Centre for Academic Development and Quality at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). She has been involved in our SCALE-UP work from the beginning. As they embarked on a pilot of the approach (2012/13), she worked with Jane McNeil (Executive Dean of Learning and Teaching) to recruit and prepare colleagues for teaching using SCALE-UP and she led the evaluation of the work.

In 2017, Jane led a successful bid for Catalyst funding, with partners Anglia Ruskin University and University of Bradford, to increase the use of active learning pedagogies at the three institutions as a strategy to address attainment disparities. She two roles in the project:  she is the evaluation lead for the project overall and she leads NTU educational development support for SCALE-UP.

What inspired the SCALE-UP project?

Back in 2012, Jane visited the United States on a study tour with several other senior colleagues from NTU. She met Physics Professor Robert Beichner at North Caroline State University and returned with great enthusiasm for an approach he had named SCALE-UP.

SCALE-UP offered a number of benefits: it enabled the use of enquiry-based learning with larger cohorts through the careful design of both the learning space and the activities; it challenged the dominance of the lecture, providing an accessible framework for tutors who wanted to take a more active, collaborative approach to their teaching. Finally, it was underpinned by a rigorous evaluation that evidenced impact on problem-solving skills, engagement and attendance, reduction in failure rates—particularly for gender and ethnicity—and, better performance for ‘at risk’ student on later modules (Beichner et al 2007).

What are the main elements of SCALE-UP?

SCALE-UP stands for Student-Centred Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies. It is an active, collaborative mode of learning in which lectures are replaced by problem-solving and enquiry-based activities that are carried out in strategically-assigned groups. To foster collaborative learning, the re-designed classroom environment incorporates circular tables and technologies to enable students to share their work in small groups and in plenary. These elements are supported by rotating group roles and ‘upside-down pedagogies’ such as flipped learning and peer teaching. The shift away from lectures frees up class time for students to focus on challenging aspects of the material, to work at their own pace, and to receive on-the-spot feedback on their work from peers and the tutor.

What do you think are the biggest challenges when implementing SCALE-UP and what advice would you give for tackling them?

From the beginning, our introduction of SCALE-UP at NTU has been very strategic so while developing the estate and thinking through implications for timetabling are challenging, I’m going to pick course planning and redesign as the biggest challenges. Academic colleagues who adopt SCALE-UP need to get their heads around how the approach works and is different to what they do already. Then there is the redesign element—introducing new tasks into teaching and perhaps rethinking how the module is assessed. In our experience at NTU, we have found that this works best when a course team have considered how SCALE-UP will be used on the course—which module (and preferably more than one), who is teaching it, etc. This increases the coherence and support for students and helps them to see that this is a considered approach to their learning. It also provides support for colleagues using the approach and for new people joining the teaching team.

How can universities help students understand the benefits of SCALE-UP?

I think on one level the answer to this question is simple—talk to them! Of course, it isn’t really quite that simple as for many of our students, this form of enquiry-based learning which centres on groupwork and problem-solving tasks is quite a break from what they have experienced in their past learning and not what they may be expecting of study at university. So, we need to articulate the benefits of SCALE-UP, both in terms of their performance while at University and in terms of the skills that they will hone that will support their employability in the future. We need to help students to understand that while it may be more challenging and a little strange early on, their persistence and engagement will be rewarded.

Is there a specific piece of feedback/statistic you have that would encourage a member of staff to adopt SCALE-UP?

I’ll choose feedback—a quotation from a lecturer who wonderfully articulated the benefits that we intended for SCALE-UP:

“The main thing with SCALE-UP is capturing how students learn because I think years and years of evidence have shown that students do not learn the way we teach so what we need to do is to start teaching the way they learn and that’s what SCALE-UP does”

We are working on establishing an evidence base at the moment as our Catalyst funding includes a substantial evaluation. We are looking at a range of areas: how SCALE-UP impacts on the unexplained disparities in student progression and on student engagement, how it is experienced by students and their satisfaction with the approach, and, which elements of SCALE-UP tutors are most commonly using (or not using) when they use the approach.

If universities could invest in one furniture/ technology to promote active learning, what would you suggest?

Without a doubt I’d recommend round tables. I’m a complete convert and have learnt a lot over the years as I’ve had to explain (and at times justify) their importance in a SCALE-UP room. I think that anyone who has sat in a meeting knows that rectangular tables can make eye contact and conversation a challenge—you end up talking to the people opposite you or at the end of your table rather than those sitting either side of you. And don’t get me started on sitting in rows! It isn’t just something that I care about—students and module leaders involved in piloting the approach were also very positive about the tables. One lecturer commented:

“For me the real positive was the room and Professor Bob Beichner was dead right when he said the most important technology in the room was the round tables, the round tables worked really well for discussions”

Interestingly, Prof. Beichner evaluated the impact of different shapes and sizes of tables on student interaction (Beichner and Saul, 2003). They tested tables of 7, 8, 9 and 10-foot diameter and found that although students preferred the larger tables, these didn’t facilitate communication between the groups. They concluded that 7-foot tables were the best compromise between giving students enough personal space without reducing communication with students who were further away. At NTU, as our estate is at a premium, we had to go a little smaller than 7-foot but the principles remain important.

If you could change one thing about HE in the UK what would it be?

As many people reading this will be aware, there are unexplained disparities in attainment and progression for particular student groups, even when you control for grades on entry. At NTU we are working hard to ensure that all of our student have an opportunity to excel in their study and to reach their potential—to transform themselves and their lives and to contribute to transformation in our wider society. Our work to close these gaps has led to a range of creative projects and innovations that support student success. However, this is an on-going challenge.

Who was your favourite teacher at school/university and why?

I studied Geological Sciences in University of Birmingham for my undergraduate degree and we had a professor who taught quaternary studies and palaeontology, Professor Russell Coope. He was a wonderful teacher—funny, thoughtful and had the most infectious enthusiasm for his subject. All of my best experiences were in his classes. I remember washing beetle wings out of sediment to better understand paleoenvironments and, probably best of all, carefully cleaning the bones of a newly-discovered woolley mammoth. It was such a privilege and a thrill that has always stayed with me.

References
Beichner & Saul (2003) http://www.ncsu.edu/per/Articles/Varenna_SCALEUP_Paper.pdf
Beichner et al (2007) http://www.per-central.org/items/detail.cfm?ID=4517

News

‘Using Games in Teaching’ – 26/10/2018

The first ‘Using Games in Teaching’ event, organised by Chrysanthi Tseloudi and Suzi Wells from the Digital Education Office, saw 25 colleagues from across the University come together to discuss their experiences, hopes and ideas for gamifying learning. A wide range of staff attended the event, with both Professional Services and Academic staff represented, and with a wealth of experience among them.

Staff sat at a table at the using games in teaching event

The event started with an introduction from each member of the group, a summary of their experience with games and explanation as to why they had attended the session. It was clear that the understanding and experience of types of games varied vastly, from computer games to card games, everyone had a different perspective on what ‘using games in teaching’ meant.

The main part of the event looked at ‘Decisions and Disruptions‘, a decision-making game using Lego models and cards originally developed at Lancaster University and now being developed further by Ben Shreeve from the School of Computer Science. The game was created to try to understand how organisations have made their investment decisions in the hope to understand how cyber security failures occur. Players work as a team to advise their company what they should buy (items are on the cards), then once these decisions have been made players suffer various cyber-attacks and participants see how their decisions have impacted the organisation. They play the game through four rounds, attempting to secure the organisation over time with a finite budget and multiple consequences. The game is beneficial as it allows staff to work as a team with both technical and non-technical staff, with the Lego working as a visual aid to help the players relate to their own workplace. The tactile element of the Lego also helps embed the learning (a point which was seconded by a number of others around the room).

IMG-0710
Ben Shreeve and his Lego/ card decision making game (pictured here making a paper aeroplane!).

We concluded the event with a small and simple game to play. We were asked how often we would like the ‘Using Games in Teaching’ events to take place in future, ranging from once a teaching block to once a month, with a physical scale being shown from one end of the room to the other. The ‘game’ element came when we were asked to show our answers using a paper aeroplane we had just created launched across the room. This simple yet amusing activity lifted the session and was something which could easily be done in the classroom to add a little fun and make the session more memorable.

Please contact Chrysanthi Tseloudi or Suzi Wells if you’d like to come along to the next one.

Female student stood in front of other students discussing information on flipchart
Student Voice

Utilising Student Voice in Learning Support and Transition

The following post was written by BILT Associate and Senior Teaching Fellow in Bristol Law School, Imogen Moore. 

Sometimes we might wonder how much of the guidance we give to students to support transition and learning is heard and absorbed. Despite our efforts and best intentions, we may find the same mistakes being made, the same confusion continuing – and the same lack of satisfaction voiced in student surveys.

It can be tempting to apportion blame – if only students would just listen. But we can’t ignore our own responsibility for providing effective guidance and support. How can we help our students hear? Critical educational messages may be missed even when clearly delivered due to overload, anxiety, unfamiliarity, perceived irrelevance, and various other factors. There is much to be discussed in all those areas, but the focus of this blog post is the role student voice might play in overcoming obstacles to communication, particularly during transition.

Why consider utilising student voice to support learning and transition? In short, students typically respond well to guidance from their peers. Even within peer assessment and feedback, where students sometimes question the value of advice given by a peer rather than a tutor (Mulder et al, 164-5; Cartney 2010, 554), students typically engage well and have positive perceptions of the process (Nicol et al, 2013, 108-9). So even in a context where a contrast might be drawn between an ‘expert’ tutor and an inexperienced peer, students recognise and value peer advice.

Such positive perceptions are likely to be all the stronger in relation to more general guidance on studying and the student experience. That is because in this context the student is undoubtedly the expert: expert in the modern student experience; expert in what works for them; expert in understanding the concerns and confusions of a student in transition. A lecturer will inevitably be (at least) one step removed from the student experience, and probably perceived to be a great deal further away than that. Furthermore the lecturer may be viewed as having their own (possibly unrealistic) agenda, rather than genuinely understanding a student’s concerns.

Utilising student voice may thus enable the provision of expertise and understanding in areas a lecturer is less equipped to comment upon. Even those directly engaged in transition may not fully recognise what new students need to know, as our own experiences and recollections might be misremembered or reflect a different era. It has been observed that what may be “obvious to those of us indoctrinated into university life … is information that is very difficult for someone on the outside of the institution to obtain without inside assistance”, particularly “those coming from backgrounds without a tradition of university attendance” (Clapham, 2018, 373). We may fail to identify ‘unknown unknowns’.

Even in respect of ‘known unknowns’, we may be perceived to be inexpert. Our distance from the listener may significantly reduce the perceived value of our guidance to the student. Even a new lecturer has by definition already cracked the code and is now on ‘the other side’. A student is inherently more relatable, a fellow traveller who is learning the route, has spotted some of the dead-ends (and shortcuts), and whose experience is directly relevant to the listener. It is probably for this reason that student reviewers of ‘The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’ (Moore & Newbery-Jones, 2018) responded so positively to the inclusion of authentic student comments. One anonymous student reviewer remarked that their own experiences were similar to many of those mentioned, while another stated that they were more likely to listen to advice from a fellow student than from a lecturer. This tallies with observations within the context of peer-assisted learning: students often found it easier to relate to a peer than an authority figure (Zacharopoulou et al, 2013, 202).

The relatability of the messenger has particular significance in transition. Pre-transfer students may have difficulty envisaging university life and accurately predicting their student experience, which can cause difficulties in adapting to higher education (Briggs et al, 2012, 5). The ability to picture ‘someone like me’ (Briggs et al, 2012, 14) in the voices of real students may therefore have particular value in that context.

Student experience and student voice might then be utilised more fully in transition and learning support. Much good work has already been done in this area for example through PASS mentors, at least when the system works well. But there may be further scope for utilising student voice within programmes, whether in welcome lectures, transition events or skills development (although care must be taken to ensure students are not perceived as a cheap substitute for ‘expert’ advice in this area), and even within individual units. For example unit leaders might ask past students to give tips and reassurance to new students, in place of more typical top-down lecturer advice. In my own unit that takes the form of short video clips on Blackboard from a small, diverse group of high-achieving students from the previous year (“The Survivors”), to demystify the subject and build trust. (With thanks and acknowledgements to Dr Lana Ashby of the University of Durham, who originated the ‘Survivors’ tag.)

Incorporating student voice within programmes and units – rather than leaving it entirely outside the classroom – ensures we do not appear to be delegating our educational responsibilities to the student body, enables us to check any advice given is genuinely helpful, and provides reassurance to the recipient. My experience within units and programmes and in writing ‘The Successful Law Student’ has shown that authenticity is essential (hence the importance where possible of using attributed comments and materials), but this cannot remove our responsibility for ensuring advice is appropriate and accurate. Student voice as learning support is therefore a potentially powerful tool that should neither be neglected nor manipulated, but nonetheless requires oversight.

References:

Briggs, A.R.J., Clark, J., & Hall, I., (2012) ‘Building bridges: understanding student transition to university’, Quality in Higher Education 18(1), 3-21
Cartney, P., (2010) ‘Exploring the use of peer feedback as a vehicle for closing the gap between feedback given and feedback used’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35(5), 551-564
Clapham, N., (2018) ‘Book review: The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’, The Law Teacher, 52(3), 372-374
Moore, I.K., & Newbery-Jones, C., (2018) ‘The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’, Oxford University Press
Mulder, R., Pearce, J. & Baik, C., (2014) ‘Peer Review in higher education: student perceptions before and after participation’, Active Learning in Higher Education 15(2), 157-171
Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C., (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective’ Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 39(1), 102-122
Zacharopoulou, A., & Turner, C., (2013) ‘Peer assisted learning and the creation of a “learning community” for first year law students’, The Law Teacher 47(2), 192-214

This blog post is published with thanks and acknowledgements to the University of Bristol Law School Blog (https://legalresearch.blogs.bris.ac.uk/) where a version of this piece first appeared.

group of students on round table
News

University of Bristol Teaching Space Principles

Introduction

The principles below are intended to provide a pedagogical framework for the design of teaching and learning spaces. Each of the five principles is oriented towards facilitating active interaction and ensuring flexibility as follows:

  1. The interaction of students with the content or material being learned. Encouraging active, tailored and accessible learning.
  2. The interaction of teaching and learning spaces with social and recreational spaces and the wider environment. Encouraging a cohesive learning experience and promoting well-being.
  3. Interaction between students. Encouraging peer to peer, cooperative and collaborative learning.
  4. Interactions between teachers and students. Encouraging the effective support and facilitation of research-rich learning by teaching and research staff.
  5. Flexibility in relation to current and future pedagogies. Encouraging evidence-based practice and innovation in teaching and learning.

 The Principles

  1. Teaching spaces will allow all students to actively engage with content through appropriate design and technologies that support multiple modes of teaching[1]. The learning that takes place in these spaces will be accessible to all students.
  2. The University will foster a welcoming environment for students beyond timetabled teaching activities, to include social, learning and recreational spaces so that students’ experience of time spent at the University is coherent and integrated and supports their well-being.
  3. Teaching and learning environments will encourage active collaborative interactions between students. Peer learning, multi-disciplinarity, in large or small groups, through and with technology, will be key to supporting students to create, develop and extend their own understandings and learning activities.  Teaching spaces should therefore be designed to an appropriate size to allow for meaningful and comfortable interaction.
  4. Our teaching and learning spaces will allow interaction between teachers, students and others, and will thereby encourage the active facilitation of student learning. This learning environment will be flexible, incorporate appropriate technologies, and have space to move around in by staff and students.
  5. Teaching and learning spaces should be designed using the best current evidence-based practice and flexible enough to allow for emerging and future pedagogies.

Notes:

By flexible we mean that there is no fixed furniture or if fixed furniture is used, it must allow for different types of learning activities. That tables and chairs can be moved easily into new and different configurations. Whiteboards will be available on many walls. Technology and charging points will be available for all users of the space.  There will be no fixed lectern, multiple screens will be available.  Storage space (for spare furniture) and storage space for coats, bags etc, will be available.

[1] Finkelstein, A., Ferris, J., Weston, C. & Winer, L (2016) Research-informed principles for (re)designing teaching and learning spaces.  Journal of Learning Spaces, 5 (1) 26-40.

News

More Good News For Education And Pedagogy Researchers In SSL!

BILT Fellow Jenny Lloyd updates us on the latest from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law. 

For those in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law who have an interest in education and pedagogy, it’s been a pretty good couple of years.  For the last two years the Faculty has sponsored an Education and Pedagogy conference that has drawn together academics and professional staff from across the Faculty to debate, discuss and disseminate developments in research in education and pedagogy and also in its application.

Feedback for last year’s event ‘Evolution or Revolution’ was really positive. The conference appeared to strike the right balance of academic papers, practical workshops and key note speakers whilst the exhibition provided the space to discuss ideas and network with colleagues with shared interests.  Building upon this success we will soon be issuing a call for papers for the 2019 conference on the theme of ‘Space, Time and Education’. This theme was chosen because it hoped to encourage contributors to think about space and time in all of its dimensions – from the physical constructions of teaching rooms and buildings to the liminal space that so often initiates or inhibits creative change. From the perceptions of time, users of time, temporal constructions of time (i.e.the academic day/year) to historical reflections and implications of working in academia in modern times.  We are also keen to encourage creativity in the formats that contributions might take. Abstracts outlining academic paper presentations are always welcome but if contributors wish to run workshops or communicate their ideas using other media, we would certainly welcome the proposal.

However, that is not our only good news! Something that is particularly exciting is that, following the success of the last two conferences, our proposal for a Faculty Research Group (FRG) in Education and Pedagogy has also been approved. We are thrilled at this development as this has the potential to not only build on the legacy of the previous conferences but has the potential to provide the pipeline of papers and workshops for the forthcoming one. The primary vehicle for this pipeline will be a set of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) that provide networking opportunities and support for academics and professional staff with shared interests and who are interested in the co-creation of research.  Feedback from last year’s conference suggested that there was interest in the following areas:

  • Assessment and Feedback
  • Digital Technologies and Blended Learning
  • Learning Theory
  • Employability Skills and Graduate Attributes
  • Designing Learning
  • Space and Time
  • Student Engagement and Transition

Calls for interest and an announcement about a launch event will be sent out soon so watch this space. In the meantime, if you are interested in being a member of the FRG in Education and Pedagogy and/or would be like to be a member of a SIG contact me at jenny.lloyd@bristol.ac.uk  and I will add you to the mailing list.

Meet the BILT Associates

Meet the Associates… Sam Hitchmough

The following post was written by Sam Hitchmough, a Senior Teaching Fellow and Director of Teaching from the School of History. Sam has been a BILT Fellow since September 2018.

I joined Bristol in September 2017 as a Senior Teaching Fellow in US History (particularly American Indian History) and Director of Teaching. Prior to this I was Director of Teaching and Learning for the School of Humanities at Canterbury Christ Church University where I taught on the American Studies programme.

I have longstanding interests in artefact-based teaching and how to engage with especially difficult and sensitive topics. This has involved a large archive digitisation project in Kent, numerous seminars and workshops, as well as conference papers.

The first of my proposed outputs is a case-study on how historians approach the teaching of difficult histories. Teaching difficult topics has made me reflect on my role as someone transmitting/mediating knowledge, the mechanics of how such thorny topics are taught in the classroom, and how student learning experiences might be affected by subject matter or the dynamics of the group.

This case study will discuss the business of teaching difficult histories, using a series of conversations with colleagues in the History department (and historians within other departments) about the difficult/controversial/provocative topics that they deal with, and how they approach and teach them. It will look for patterns and devise strategies that can be applied to classroom teaching. The study will also integrate, where appropriate, wider discussions on issues such as trigger warnings, political correctness, the role of the university, and the role of History itself. The end result will be an emerging companion/toolkit for discussing difficult things that could be widened out to broader canvasses.

The second output will be an opinion piece that explores tropes associated with American Indians, and how these are utilised by two groups in the English southwest that have no historic connection with any Indian nation: the Exeter Chiefs rugby union team and the Bristol Savages art collective. The histories they have constructed featuring Indian images and symbols are concoctions that tap into a rich vein of transatlantic relationships between the UK and the US. It’s a history of representation and appropriation, accumulated and distorted through the lens of popular culture, ranging from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show to playing cowboys and Indians.

There’s no long history of American Indian physical presence in the UK, even more so the case in the Southwest, but through an intricate web of signifiers, meanings and values, Indians have had a presence for centuries without largely being present. This piece focuses on the two groups to reveal a tangled conversation about identity, cultural appropriation, political correctness and cultural respect, and to ask whether their names are appropriate in modern Britain.

 

Meet the BILT Associates

Meet the Associates… Humphrey Bourne

The following post is from Humphrey Bourne, who has been a BILT Associate since September 2018.

Hello, I am Humphrey and I currently have the role of Graduate Education Director with responsibility for PGT students in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law.  As a BILT associate, my project is in and around academic integrity (and misconduct).

A few years ago, I took on the role of plagiarism officer within the Faculty which largely involved investigating cases, sitting on a lot of plagiarism panels and giving plagiarism talks, mostly to students but occasionally to staff.  It was here that I developed an increasing interest in the issues confronting students from all over the world as they came to grips with our conventions on writing, referencing and authorial authenticity, which at times they found to be quite at odds with those that they had learned on their journey to Bristol.  This interest led to something of a determination to try to change the way we look at plagiarism and other forms of misconduct, and the opportunity arose when I was asked to head up a University working group reviewing our approach to academic integrity, with a focus on plagiarism.  The group reported in October 2017, its recommendations accepted.  In brief, the key recommendation is that the University embrace a developmental approach to academic integrity, emphasising learning over policing and relevant to all students and staff throughout their time here, and beyond.  An academic integrity approach is based in values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility and courage, with the principle that committing to these values helps to distinguish conduct that is sound and acceptable from that which is not, in ways that can be applied to all academic endeavour.  I am now continuing the work of implementing the recommendations, starting with a new policy statement on academic integrity which is, as I write going through the final stage of approval, this to be followed over the coming year by revised guidelines, practices and procedures.

Over the next two years I shall bring aspects of academic integrity (and misconduct) work into the BILT environment, starting with a session on contract cheating (“Write my essay for me!”) in February 2019 and continuing with information and support for enhancing and developing academic integrity in schools across the university.

Two cows at the gate
Education Enhancement Funds

Implementing a Mental Wellbeing Toolbox: Reflections on integration into the veterinary curriculum and identification of opportunities for wider application

A Teaching Innovation Grant was awarded to Dr Louisa Slingsby, Dr Rose Grogono-Thomas, Dr Julie Townsend, Ms Lucy SW Bates for the academic year 2017/18 – you can find a summary of the project they undertook with their grant below. If you would like to read the full report, please contact bilt-info@bristol.ac.uk

Project summary

Mental wellbeing encompasses the ability to feel good and function well within one’s life. This is a priority area to address within the university and beyond; wellbeing is a high importance topic within the veterinary profession.

Building on previous work we have devised a novel, evidence based “Mental Wellbeing Toolbox” (MWT) which we have introduced as a wellbeing vertical theme within the undergraduate veterinary programme (BVSc). The aim is to assist students in building their mental wellbeing, personal resources, skills and confidence, and in doing so prepare them for graduation and the workplace. It also aims to highlight how anyone can benefit from improving their mental wellbeing, resulting in better job (and life) satisfaction.

Each year group of the BVSc now has a three-hour seminar introducing one aspect of the Toolbox. A MWT Handbook has been developed for students to access at any time; if desired, it is possible to look ahead to aspects of the Toolbox taught in later years.

Following ethical approval, quantitative and qualitative data has been collected from students to evaluate the introduction of the MWT into the curriculum. Generally, feedback has been positive, with some key areas highlighted for improvement.

Conclusions

  • The MWT offers a more forward-thinking approach to teaching mental wellbeing, by encouraging all students to engage in their mental wellbeing, rather than focusing on those that are unwell.  
  • The integration of the MWT has been well-received. 
  • An aim of the project was to build a curriculum that will assist students in building their mental wellbeing, personal resources, skills and confidence, and in so doing prepare them for graduation and the workplace. On average, 80% of students learnt something new as a result of the seminars and 60% will look up something new and/or do something differently as a result of a seminar, hopefully indicating the curriculum has helped students build resources and skills.  
  • Teaching methods which are deemed positive when delivering a mental wellbeing curriculum include providing interaction with the material (while allowing anonymity), and content which is relatable, personal, interesting and/or scientific.  Anecdotes are also well-received.  

 

Three children looking at a test tube and beaker in a laboratory
Education Enhancement Funds

MAP: Bristol

A Teaching Innovation Grant was awarded to Dr Chris Adams for the academic year 2017/18 – you can find a summary of the project he undertook with his grant below. If you would like to read the full report, please contact the BILT Team

Project summary
MAP-Bristol (Monitoring atmospheric pollution in Bristol) was a project which allowed first-year students to participate in a real scientific investigation by carrying out a survey of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution across the city of Bristol. They used the investigation to provide the raw material for workshops in scientific report writing and data handling which form part of their first year-unit ‘Communication and Information Skills in Chemistry’.

At the same time, the ‘Eco Team’ from Bristol Grammar Primary School undertook a similar monitoring project. They were then invited into our labs to do some chemistry and analyse their results, with some of our first year undergraduates acting as laboratory demonstrators.

Conclusions 

Overall, I would give this a 7/10. The students engaged with it, liked the societal relevance, and generally enjoyed it. The practical aspects worked and went well.  

Just reiterating how enjoyable and valuable the NO2 project has been. Very glad to see public health issues and science being linked in this way, especially on the first year of our course! 

As described above, I was disappointed by the quality of the written work produced by many of the students, and this will be the focus going forward. 

The project has a number of ‘hidden’ benefits. This may well be the only time during their time here that students do any practical which is (a) not entirely laboratory based and (b) relevant to their everyday lives, and it will certainly be the only time that most of them get on a bus and venture into Fishponds and beyond. It teaches a broad range of ‘transferable’ skills in an authentic context and makes the second year of the degree program ‘fairer’ – currently students write a number of reports which are all summatively assessed with absolutely no training whatsoever. Many of the activities were carried out in groups, and students therefore also gained a great deal of experience in group working. 

It addresses several points of the University’s Education Strategy: 

  • We will embed assessment for learning, as articulated in our Institutional Principles for Assessment and Feedback in Taught Programmes across the institution such that a common approach to assessment is formed articulating the cyclical relationship between learning, assessment and feedback and improving students’ understanding of their learning experience. (2.3) 
  • We will provide a curriculum that supports the development of enduring, transferable skills and attributes in disciplinary appropriate ways within all programmes (3.2)  
  • We will provide students with the opportunities for professional and community engagement in a variety of contexts, including, internships, placements or volunteering activities. (3.4) 
  • We will provide a Bristol Skills Framework against which students can assess their skills development, evidencing and recording their personal development in order to foster and demonstrate a rounded set of graduate attributes. We will provide academic study skill resources to support students to successfully transition to study at University and progress through their academic programmes (3.1) 

This kind of model could be replicated across the University – indeed, Geography are already doing something similar (above), and I have been contacted by a microbiologist colleague who is thinking about distributing sample tubes about Bristol in a similar fashion. It is my belief that many of the schools in the science faculties are trying to teach similar skills and could implement similar programs – indeed, that is one of the reasons for the forthcoming Educational Excellence seminar. I do firmly believe that many colleagues across the University are trying to teach many of the same things, and that sharing ideas and practice is a necessary prerequisite for improving the University’s educational offering. 

Image of the outside of Dolberry Building in Langford Campus
Education Enhancement Funds

The LeapForward Project

Dr Sheena Warman was the lead academic on her project, ‘LeapForward’, for which she was awarded a Catalyst Fund from BILT for 2017/18. The project summary and conclusions can be found below – if you would like to view the full report please contact the BILT team.

Project Summary

The LeapForward project aimed to evaluate and improve feedback and feedforward practices within undergraduate Health Sciences programmes (BVSc Veterinary Science, MBChB Medicine, BDS Dentistry), MSc Social Work, and BA Theatre and Performance Studies – a truly interdisciplinary approach. We have focused on student transitions, particularly that from classroom to workplace-based learning environments. 

The overall aims and objectives of our research were to: 

  • Explore the impact of current feedback and feedforward practices 
  • Identify priorities for improvement in feedforward in supporting students’ self-regulatory workplace skills 
  • Develop a novel feedforward intervention/resource relevant across diverse disciplines 
  • Identify what different disciplines can learn from each other’s practice 

In Phase 1 of the project we explored the impact of current feedback and feedforward processes and practices, by collating existing resources and running ten focus groups, talking to groups of students and staff from each discipline (in separate groups) about their experiences.  Analysis of the staff and student focus groups enabled us to identify twelve overall themes, clustered into three overarching categories, which illuminate the student and staff experience of feedback and feedforward across the different disciplines, in the Bristol context.  

In Phase 2, we built on the earlier findings to design and develop a modular training package for both students and staff which is intended to support students in their development of self-regulatory workplace skills and provide new feedforward interventions which have the potential to be applicable more widely across the university. 

 Conclusions

  • Interdisciplinary approach: there are similarities as well as differences in practices and experiences of feedback and feedforward and both are instructive in understanding feedback and feedforward processes at the University of Bristol  
  • The interdisciplinary nature of the project means that both Phase 1 findings and Phase 2 training packages developed can potentially be applied widely across the University to both Students and Staff, and that there are consistent messages for both parties in the feedback /feedforward dialogue. 
  • Student and Staff ‘Feedback Literacy’ is similar, however, for maximum overall benefit, both groups can be supported to move through ‘literacy’, via ‘capacity’ and ‘managing affect’ to ‘action’ (Carless and Boud, 2018) on a consistent and agreed trajectory.