500 Words, Uncategorized

Informal exploratory writing: three activities you can try with your students

Studies have shown there is a strong correlation between the amount of writing a learner completes and their attainment (Arum and Roksa, 2011). John Bean, in his book ‘Engaging Ideas’ (2011), outlines a number of methods to increase the amount of informal writing your students undertake. He groups these under the theme of ‘thinking pieces’, and he highlights a number of benefits. He believes thinking pieces:

  • Promote critical thinking.
  • Change the way students approach reading – with an increase in writing down their thoughts it forces them to consider alternative and opposite arguments to the piece they are reading.
  • Produce higher levels of class preparation and richer discussions in class. Similar to the point above, if informal exploratory writing is done at the point of reading, students are more prepared with arguments and counter-points in discussion classes.
  • Are enjoyable to read, and make a nice change for markers from the normality of essays
  • Help to get to know your students better as you can see how their arguments are formed and where their beliefs lie.
  • Help assess learning problems along the way. Like any increase in formative work, the teacher can see any gaps in learning at an earlier point and assess whether this is the case for others in the cohort.

Bean describes 22 different exploratory writing tasks, which you can find in his ‘Engaging Ideas’ book; we have selected three to share in this blog.

Bio-poems

This task is easier to apply to some disciplines rather than others (philosophers, historians and politicians come to mind first) and is designed to make students think about the personal dimensions of a subject being studied in a course. A bio-poem is semi-structured and goes as follows:

  • Line 1: First name of the character
  • Line 2: Four traits that describe the character
  • Line 3: Relative of (brother of, sister of, etc)
  • Line 4: Lover of (list three things or people)
  • Line 5: Who feels (three items)
  • Line 6: Who needs (three items)
  • Line 7: Who fears (three items)
  • Line 8: Who gives (three items)
  • Line 9: Who would like to (three items)
  • Line 10: Resident of
  • Line 11: Last name

(Gere, 1985:222)

Not only does this make the subject more human and therefore more memorable, but it also provides a great revision tool when it comes to exams. If this is done as a task before the class, each person’s poem can be discussed to see differences they have found in their perception of the subject.

Writing dialogues between two different theorists/ arguments

This task asks students to write an ‘meeting of the minds’ piece (Bean, 2011:136), where they conjure a script between two theorists arguing different sides (e.g. Hobbes and Locke arguing over the responsibility in a state). This encourages the students to truly consider each side of the argument and also prepares them for discussion in class. This can be done as an individual task or in small groups, and suits many disciplines.

Writing during class to ask questions or express concerns.

Less creative than our other two suggestions, this piece asks students to ‘freewrite’ during a break in the class. You could ask students to summarise the lecture so far, or write down any puzzlements or questions they have. At the end of the freewriting time (which should be a maximum of five minutes), ask a couple of students to feedback. Not only do student practice writing, but it also means you can get real time feedback and allows students to ask questions part way through the lecture.

References

Bean, J., 2011. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom. Jossey Bass, United States of America.

Gere, A. R. (ed.), 1985. Roots in the Sawdust: Writing to Learn Across the Disciplines. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English.

Arum, R. and Roksa, J., 2011. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Teaching Stories

Teaching Stories #1: Rulers for All

Our first teaching story was written by Dr James Norman, BILT Fellow and Senior Teaching Fellow in Civil Engineering.

For many years I worked as a practicing engineer. One of the tools I could not do without as an engineer is a scale rule (a ruler with 4 different scales on). I can stick it on a drawing and know roughly how big something should be and I can draw a quick sketch to scale. However I never bought a scale rule and neither did the company I worked for, we were always given them by other companies, keen to have their logo and product on our desk each and every day. Even though I stopped practicing a few years back I still keep my scale rule close at hand (helpfully it doubled as cutlery the other day when my friend bought a pasta salad and forgot to pick up a spoon).

A couple of years ago we decided to give all our students scale rules. As future engineers we wanted them to start acting like engineers and a scale rule is an essential tool. More than that, we wanted them to feel part of a community of practice, and a scale rule is an essential tool. More than that we wanted them to take their rulers out with them when they graduate, to sit on their desk as a friendly reminder of all that they have brought with them from their time at Bristol university. And hopefully some of them will hand in drawings to scale as well.

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Event Summary of ‘Making IT* Happen: from strategy to action’ at the University of Leicester

*Inclusive teaching

The following post was written by Emilie Poletto-Lawson, who has been a BILT Fellow since January 2018. 

I am a BILT fellow (based in Academic Staff Development), working on the BILT theme of inclusive assessment. On the 14th of November 2018 I attended a two-part workshop lead by Pete Quinn (Pete Quinn Consulting) and Dr Mike Wray (inclusininhe.com) that explored inclusion from theory to practice at University of Leicester.

The first part of the day focused on inclusivity from a disability perspective and the session looked at the current situation in universities regarding inclusivity and reflected on where we are at 8 years after the Equality Act was introduced.  Even though all stakeholders agree on inclusivity in principle, “making it happen” can prove somewhat difficult as new initiatives can meet resistance. Lecture Capture (new in some institutions) would be a very good example, it is a very important step for a great number of students and, in particular, students with a disability and yet this practice is still being greatly challenged by lecturers within universities and in the news. The main criticism is that students no longer attend lectures but the USS pensions-strike in 2018 also highlighted issues regarding who owns the rights to the recordings.

While universities must assure legal compliance, it is important to define what it is “reasonable” when it comes to reasonable adjustments we make to support our students learning. Pete Quinn highlighted the risk, stated by the Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education as a Route to Resilience publication, of “insufficient institutional oversight” which could lead to “unduly influenced [decisions] which are made by what individual members of staff perceive as reasonable” without a proper understanding of what the Equality Act requires or with appropriate emphasis being placed on relevant considerations”. It is therefore essential to break silos of practice within an institution and ensure all the relevant stakeholders work together to assure consistent and appropriate adjustments are in place.

Pete Quinn also presented the overview by Abi James (Assistive Learning Ltd) of public sector website and application regulations that all websites will need to comply with to ensure accessibility for all. Websites and content shared on intranets and extranets (this includes Blackboard) created after 23.09.18 will need to be compliant by September 2019, with anything created before 23.09.18 has September 2020 as a deadline. Finally, the deadline for mobile apps will be September 2021. You can find more information on this on the government’s website.

After looking at the work of the Office for Students, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and the equality and human rights commission we reflected on our institutions’ situation regarding the following themes:

  • Non-medical help provision
  • Assistive technology
  • Lecture capture
  • Inclusive teaching, learning and assessment policy
  • Inclusive teaching, learning and assessment in practice
  • Placement and internships

 

In the afternoon, Mike Wray presented Inclusive Learning and Teaching and Assessment Framework (ILTAF), an audit framework to help universities improve their level of inclusivity. The framework contains four sections:

  • Quality assurance
  • Before teaching
  • During teaching
  • Assessment

We were also given time to discuss inclusive learning and teaching in our institutions with a view to share good practice, agree goals and take stock in the future.  I am very grateful to colleagues from the Universities of Leeds, Durham, Bath and Edinburgh for very interesting exchanges.

What next?

A number of questions arose from the day and left me wondering how best to initiate change and champion inclusivity within Bristol and what can we do in our practice to support this?  I will be working on developing a self-assessment document that would support unit/programme leads in reviewing inclusive assessment (and teaching) practices across their units and programmes.

If you are interested in finding out more on inclusive practice, you might want to look into the following MOOC, from the University of Southampton, recommended by the speakers: Inclusive Learning Teaching.

Here are a few reading suggestions from the event:

On key actors and texts regarding inclusivity mentioned by the speakers:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/pdfs/ukpga_20100015_en.pdf

https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/

http://www.oiahe.org.uk/

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/587221/Inclusive_Teaching_and_Learning_in_Higher_Education_as_a_route_to-excellence.pdf

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en

 

 

News

Reflections on Dorothea Smartt and Travis Alabanza events

The following post was written by Nic Aaron, PhD candidate and Assistant Teacher in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies. 

Amongst the many opportunities on offer to me as a University of Bristol PhD student, the performance of Burgerz by Travis Alabanza, and the poetry reading and discussion with Dorothea Smartt, have stood out for me this term. These events, co-hosted by the Bristol Institute for Learning, alongside the Critically Queer Working Group, the Centre for Black Humanities and the Theatre Department, have shaped my PhD research, informed my seminar teaching, and reaffirmed my trans identity, while enabling me to critique my whiteness.

Burgerz is a show written and performed by Travis Alabanza after a man threw a burger at them while shouting transphobic abuse – and no one on the busy London street said or did anything. Having sold out in London, it was an incredible opportunity to see Burgerz in Bristol. The hour-long show was enthralling: Travis’ deconstructed the daily transphobic and racist abuse they encounter while simultaneously cooking a burger with a white cis man from the audience, conveying a raw sadness and vulnerability, whilst also, somehow, being hilarious. It was reaffirming and comforting to hear their articulation of many of the problems and fears I have encountered  as a trans person in 2018. More so, in the midst of increasing levels of abuse and hostility towards us on so many fronts.  It was also deeply challenging, provoking questions about intervening in situations of street harassment, and critique of the marginalisation of trans people racialized as black or brown by the trans community itself. On readdressing my own academic work after the show, I have sought to centre decolonisation when addressing transphobia and gender essentialism in the context of British Law on Sexual Violence.

If Travis’ performance provoked questions, Dorothea Smartt’s poetry reading and discussion provided a place to start to think about some of the answers. Listening to poetry about slavery and racism inside the Wills Memorial Building – named for a family who accumulated their wealth through the Tobacco industry and, therefore, the trans-Atlantic slave trade – highlighted the embedded and ongoing character of racism within British society, and the University of Bristol itself. The poetry was enlightening, not least in the ways it revealed the extent of my unfamiliarity with British History, despite having been in full time education for going on twenty years. Dorothea centred her queerness in her account; a reminder that black queer voices are so often erased. Her talk provoked a lively discussion as to how the curriculum can be decolonised and the importance of doing so. As a teaching assistant on the ‘Social Identities and Divisions’ Unit for first year Sociology undergraduates, the session provided many key insights into seminar topics relating to migration and belonging. Many of those in my seminar expressed interest in attending the session, demonstrating the relevance of this event for scholars at every stage.

As the term draws to a close and I knuckle down to complete a draft chapter ahead of the New Year, I am struck by the ways in which both Travis and Dorothea have been instructive in how to approach academia. I am excited to see more of these types of events, to further push and challenge the academic work that we are doing, and to amplify voices and ideas of those marginalised by the academy and in Bristol more broadly.

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On attending University of Bristol’s Gender Research Centre and Centre for Black Humanities joint seminar: A conversation with Dorothea Smartt, (30 Nov 2018).

The following blog post was written by Charlotte Hooper, a Senior Teaching Associate in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies. 

This seminar was billed as the first in a series of conversations ‘imagining what our curriculum might look like were it researched, taught, and learned from Black Queer-Trans perspectives’,

Dorothea Smartt is an accomplished poet so, yes, I was expecting some poetry, but mainly a stimulating, if principally academic discussion of such issues as who gets taught and cited, and who to ask and frame the relevant questions. The conversation led by Dr Nathaniel Coleman did touch on these topics, but what the seminar delivered was, for me at least, rather more of a transcendental experience than an academic discussion.

The poetry, inflected with ‘Black Londoner’; ‘Barbados’ and ‘Queer’ themes, was stimulating; ironic and playful at times; serious at others; always evocative and insightful.  Smartt’s voice rang soft, tender, and penetratingly clear, accompanied by the voices of sisters, lovers, mothers, aunts and ancestors – all emerging steadily through the performance.  At one point, Medusa came to life as a symbolic Black woman in a dangerous mirror-reflection with a turned-to-stone stare and snakes-for-hair. At another, a lover materialised as a goddess of the female form.

Later in the recital came poems originally commissioned as a response to ‘Samboo’s grave’ in Morecombe Bay, re-imagined the life of a captive African boy destined for an early death in Britain. This story reminded me of the young slave ‘Scipio Africanus’ –buried here in Bristol (at St Mary’s, Henbury), who met a similar fate, albeit ending up with the ‘Christian’ grave denied to ‘Samboo’, or ‘Bilal’, as Smartt named him.  The performance of this poetry paying homage to Bilal’s short and wasted life was made all the more poignant by the seminar setting: the Old Council Chamber, a court-like inner sanctum of the Wills Memorial building.  The back wall of this room is adorned with stone plaques bearing the coats of arms of the University’s wealthy benefactors, including the arms of the building’s namesake, H. O. Wills, of tobacco fame. There is no acknowledgment here of the many other, less illustrious, founding ‘benefactors’, whose plantation labour (along with that of assorted local factory women and labourers) also financed this building, and this University.

As Smartt invoked Bilal’s voice and spoke his story, the seminar was temporarily transformed into a reverential wake.  I could almost sense these unsung contributors crowding in as we listened to the resurrected voice of their African cousin.  Long denied entry, but now tentatively taking their rightful place in the pantheon of founding mothers and fathers – invited in through the medium of a poet-daughter.  The air of this fusty old room unmistakeably rustled and stirred, the atmosphere became charged, and the past seemed to momentarily merge with the present.

Speaking for myself, this felt like a transformational moment. Having Dorothea Smartt perform this particular material in this particular space was an experience that for me was stimulating, horizon-broadening, empathetic, politically challenging, and personally discomforting.  A vital (in all senses of the word) step on the road to our shared, enhanced and broadened educational future.

News

An introduction from Tansy Jessop, our Visiting Professor

Tansy

Here I am in my Christmas jumper, looking slightly silly #dachshundthroughthesnow, and telling you a bit about myself. First things first, I do have a twelve year old black and tan sausage dog whose origins are close to Bristol. So call my stint at BILT a bit of a return on behalf of my hound! I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to be a Visiting Professor at BILT for the year. My undergraduate years were spent at the University of Cape Town, not dissimilar in size and feel to Bristol but a campus university rather than a city one. From my four years in the fraught 1980s at UCT, I remember feeling both adrift and excited; mystified, enthralled and slightly confused at the relevance of T S Eliot and Catullus. My studies seemed slightly irrelevant in a context of tear gas and angry fists thrust in the air.  As I look back I now know I was experiencing what many students feel but cannot name in relation to their studies. Sarah Mann has written the best work on student alienation and as I read it, I know for myself that this is the root of much of student disengagement in higher education. Particularly for first generation students.  

My interest in alienation and in engaging students is a huge spur to my work in learning and teaching. In leading the ‘Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment’ (TESTA) research and change process for nearly ten years, and working with students and staff in many UK universities, I have encountered alienation in many guises. The defining feature of alienation is an absence of meaning or connection with something expected to bring meaning.  In the context of assessment, it is students disgruntled with the treadmill of repetitive assessments; overloaded with content; finding that their curiosity is not ignited by assessment; that they have little in the way of pedagogic relationship with their tutors in feedback, for example.  Students often experience their modular curriculum as fragmented and knowledge on one unit seems unrelated to another one. TESTA exposes some of the structural flaws in compartmentalised modular curricula. It calls to a much more programmatic and joined up approach to teaching and learning. 

But alienation is not all bad. It is part of what higher education is about as students wrestle with multiple perspectives and try to pick their way through different ways of understanding their disciplines. The soupy sea of ambivalence that higher education invites students to swim in is bound to be a bit unsettling. However, there are wonderful pedagogic ways of lighting beacons along the way for students. Through TESTA, I have seen academics embrace new ways of doing formative assessment, engaging students in challenging, playful and exciting learning which prepares them for summative tasks. I have seen academics stand back and see the whole programme for the first time. This new way of seeing is often a catalyst for programme teams drawing back from content-heavy, facts first approaches, and inviting them to partner with their students in slow learning. The ‘slow professor’ approach to teaching, learning and assessment is all about creating spaces for students to engage, integrate and apply their learning.  I hope over the coming months to share some of these ideas and engage various programmes in the TESTA process. I am really looking forward to getting to know the community at the University of Bristol, with or without my dog.  Definitely without my Christmas jumper.  

 

Berg, M. and Seeber, B. 2016. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. Toronto. University of Toronto Press. 

Mann, S. 2001.  Alternative Perspectives on the Student Experience: alienation and engagement. Studies in Higher Education. 26 (1). 

 

 

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Corrie Macleod

We asked our Student Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT role. The following blog is from Corrie Macleod, who has been a BILT Student Fellow since December 2018.

My name is Corrie Macleod and I am a new Student Fellow working with BILT! I am a final year Masters of Liberal Arts student majoring in Anthropology. After my degree, I hope to pursue an interdisciplinary research project examining the representation of transcultural identity and race in contemporary fiction. I first wanted to get involved with BILT to feel more engaged with my university community and to learn bout about the pedagogical structure of tertiary education.

During my time at Bristol, I found that my most memorable learning experiences in the classroom always involved a dynamic relationship between my peers and my lecturers. The perfect recipe for an enriching learning experience would strike a balance between sharing and absorbing new knowledge of disciplines and subjects, and having dynamic and engaging conversations with students who shared the same academic curiosity and interests that I do.

As a student fellow, I will be working on Project 3- ‘Empowering Students to Impact their Teaching and Learning’ – with my colleague (and friend) Phoebe Graham. Having just come back from our year abroad, we hope to bring fresh, new and international (!) perspectives on education. Through our project, we would like to learn and understand: i) How we can help students gain more authorship over their degrees and ii) How can we enhance their university experience to make it an enriching academic experience?

From inter-faculty film nights, to cross-disciplinary lecture series and to interactive social media postings, we hope to get students to feel more engaged with their community and to encourage them to learn beyond the scope of their degree in an innovative and entertaining manner. We hope to investigate the intricacies of tertiary education to finally understand: what part can students play in shaping the future of academia?

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Lisa Howarth

We asked our Student Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT role. The following blog is from Lisa Howarth, who has been a BILT Student Fellow since December 2018.

I am currently studying for a MSc in Education and Neuroscience, which combines my interest in brain development with my career in primary school teaching. I am passionate about education as a means towards social justice and have taught in the UK, Hong Kong and California. In San Diego I taught a project-based curriculum, with a focus on equity, personalisation, authentic work and collaborative design. The level of student engagement was extremely high and their creativity, confidence and sense of social responsibility was inspiring. Although these children were accustomed to an innovative inquiry-based curriculum, where they were accountable for their learning and could think critically, they struggled when attending university.

The gulf between teaching in primary and secondary schools and teaching at university was particularly apparent to me after returning to higher education as a student after a break of several years. I believe that higher education should encourage and facilitate critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration, and that teaching spaces should reflect and inspire an evolving pedagogy. For this reason, I am very excited to be working on the project ‘Making the most of our teaching spaces’ as a Student Fellow.

I hope to gather views from a range of staff and students about their experiences and expectations of teaching spaces at the university, to encourage conversations around a changing pedagogy and to give students and staff a sense of ownership over their spaces. When undertaking this project, I would like to gain inspiration from the use of space in other teaching and work environments, inquire into a range of perspectives about current teaching spaces and to gather views on the future of teaching spaces, both physical and virtual. I look forward to working with many of you in the future!

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Should all assessments be inclusive?

The following post was written by Emilie Poletto-Lawson, an Educational Developer and BILT Fellow. 

I am a BILT fellow based in Academic Staff Development where I work as an Educational Developer. I have been working on the BILT theme of assessment – focusing on inclusive assessment since February 2018. I am undertaking a literature review with a view to making recommendations around inclusive assessment principles that we can embed into our units and programs at the University of Bristol to work alongside our institutional principles on Assessment and Feedback.

From my reading to date the  main take away is that inclusivity is predominantly discussed as a means for supporting students with disabilities. It is very much viewed as a deficit approach to considering assessment, however, I strongly believe it is far more than that, we want to be inclusive of all learners and for inclusive assessment to actually be more inclusive.

As part of my BILT fellow role I recently attended an event at the University of Leicester called “Making IT* Happen: from strategy to action (*Inclusive Teaching)’, led by Pete Quinn and Mike Wray (blog available here). The focus was very much on supporting disabled students in our institutions and ensuring universities are legally compliant with the Equality Act. In preparation for the event, the experts highlighted good practice in the work we do at Bristol, for example we received positive feedback on our institution website regarding inclusivity (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/disability-services/study-support/reasonable-adjustments/) and in particular videos created by Louise Howson from Academic Staff Development (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/staffdevelopment/academic/resources/learning-and-teaching-resources/learning-and-teaching-videos/ ).

Regarding the literature review I am working on, when researching the key words “inclusive” “assessment” in “higher education”, I obtained 9596 results in ERIC and yet, going through the abstracts not that many articles encompass all three parameters. It appears there might be a gap in the literature here despite inclusivity being key to university strategies in the UK and beyond for a number of years now. So far, the key emerging themes from my searching can be seen below.

Inclusive Assessment in Higher Education map created by Emilie Poletto-Lawson
Created with Mindmeister 21.09.2018

In the US literature the Inclusive aspects of articles relates to the idea of an inclusive campus and looks at inclusivity from the selection process (access) to the students completing their degree (success). In the UK, the literature shows there is an acknowledged need for policies, strategies and processes as well as professional development to bring about inclusive practices.

Initial readings suggest there is a rhetoric of inclusivity as a given good, but it is difficult to identify concrete examples, especially when it comes to assessment. The literature review is the first step to articulate a clear definition before focusing on what inclusive assessment means for us at the University of Bristol.

If you are interested in this topic why not read “Against being Inclusive” by Jeffrey Carlson, interim provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Dominican University? I appreciate it might be an odd recommendation since this post advocates that all assessments should be inclusive, but I think this article, published in 2016, does offer food for thought and reinforces the need to clearly define what we mean by “inclusivity” before we move to making recommendations at Bristol.

News

Update on the ‘Rethinking Spaces’ theme

Since the launch of the ‘Rethinking Spaces’ theme in June 2018, several things are going on.

The ‘Teaching Space Principles’ were formally signed off in October and are now available to be used as a guide when refurbishing or building new teaching spaces.  The ‘Teaching Space Principles’ are as follows, though you can read a fuller version via this blog post.

  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.

Two of our BILT Fellows are focusing on teaching space. James Norman, a senior teaching fellow in Engineering and Christian Spielmann, a Reader in Economics, are both exploring the relationship between space and learning, though from different slants – James is looking at physical space design and Christian is looking at Bristol Futures and how his open unit uses digital space. Both have published blog posts, which can be found here. We have also appointed a student fellow, Lisa Howarth to explore this theme – her introductory blog post can be found here.

We are working on the links between pedagogies, physical and digital space.  To this end we are developing strategic plans to work with interested schools wishing to move to more active styles of teaching, learning and assessment and the link to the design of classrooms.  This brings together members of BILT, Digital Education Office (DEO), and AQPO. A pilot workshop was help with member of the School of Management and more are planned.

The inaugural meeting of the Learning Environment Committee (LEC) has been held.  This committee will take strategic oversight for advising the University on teaching and learning space.