BILT Conference 2023 – Building community and belonging in a challenging and changing world

BILT Conference 2023 logo - 4 jigsaw pieces in the BILT colours together but not fully connected
BILT Conference 2023 logo – 4 jigsaw pieces in the BILT colours, overlapping but not fully connected


Welcome to the homepage of the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching (BILT) 2023 conference, which explored the role of community and belonging in creating what bell hooks calls “the best climate for learning”.

A fitting theme as we returned for our first in-person conference since 2018.

How was your coffee?

As a pre-conference activity we organised an optional Randomised Coffee activity, a simple but powerful idea from Nesta. We wanted to get people talking, to connect and learn from each other, and break down silos.

We offered the opportunity for conference attendees to be paired up at random, have a coffee and chat together.

It was a great example of simple ways we can build community and our participants enjoyed being a part of it.

Full timetable

9.30amRegistration and welcome teas/coffees
10amOpening: Tansy Jessop
Keynote: Professor Nicola Dandridge (Professor of Practice in HE Policy)Title: Belonging and regulation: an essential relationship
11.30amRoom ARoom BRoom C
Developing student skills, confidence and communityStudent partnership and authentic learningDecolonisation, sustainability and community
Poster Presentations
1.30pmIntroduction: Ros O’Leary
Keynote: Sunday Blake (WonkHE) and Gail Capper (Pearson) Title: Building Belonging in Higher Education
2.30pmShort break
2.45pmRoom ARoom BRoom C
Staff and staff/student communitiesCommunity and belonging within and between programmes Sustainability
3.45pmShort break
4pmRoom ARoom BRoom C
Designing teaching and assessment to build communityStudent wellbeing and belongingDecolonisation
5pmDrinks reception and celebration of Curriculum Enhancement
6pmEvent closes

Click on the links below to view the presentations.

Keynote presentation (am):

Professor Nicola Dandridge
Belonging and regulation: an essential relationship
Professor Nicola Dandridge

Belonging and regulation: an essential relationship

The presentation considered the many ways in which issues of belonging and community underpin and inform broader policy and regulatory objectives for higher education. These may be explicit, such as the requirements for a supportive learning environment that form part of the Teaching Excellence Framework; or they may be implicit and indirect, such as the way in which belonging is strongly correlated with the positive student outcomes that form part of current regulatory requirements for all higher education providers in England.

The session considered the different ways in which approaches that promote belonging directly or indirectly inform policy and regulatory objectives, drawing on examples from across the sector, including activities undertaken by students’ unions. 

Although the importance of belonging is generally well-recognised within the higher education sector, the presentation concluded by asking whether more needs to be done to promote the role of belonging and community in wider policy and political discussions.

Professor Nicola Dandridge Biography

Nicola joined the University of Bristol as a Professor of Practice in Higher Education Policy in October 2022 where she is researching higher education governance with a specific focus on the relationship between teaching and research and its impact on students and other policy objectives. She was previously chief executive of the Office for Students, the higher education regulator for students in England. Before that she was chief executive of Universities UK, the membership organisation for UK universities. 

Afternoon keynote presentation with Nicola Dandridge, introduced by Tansy Jessop

Morning sessions (11:30 – 12:30):

Room A Session 1 – Developing student skills, confidence and community 

  • Angela Parry-Lowther: Why embedding key skills – no matter the programme of study – helps students thrive view abstract
  • Celine Petitjean and Manisha Koneru: Building community and self-confidence through mentoring between PGTS and post-docs view abstract
  • Juliet Pope and Stuart Pope: When MS Teams work makes the dream work view abstract
  • Nienke Alberts: Forced fun: questioning the role of personal tutoring in community building view abstract

Room B Session 1 – Student partnership and authentic learning 

  • Alex Paterson, Carla Forster and Nora Pau: The ‘Bristol Model’: learning with our partners view abstract
  • Domi Duff: Lived experiences of students enrolled on ‘authentic’ units view abstract
  • Hannah Tweddell and Peter Oliver: Connecting students with each other and the city through community engaged learning view abstract

Room C Session 1 – Decolonisation, sustainability and community  

Alix Dietzel presenting
  • Alix Dietzel: Philosopher Queens – Creating an inclusive and decolonized learning space view abstract
  • Alix Dietzel (written by Helen Thomas-Hughes): Students as community researchers: developing new insights? view abstract
  • Holly Bain: Applied learning in a challenging future. How ‘real world’ learning can connect students to global challenges view abstract
  • Katherine High: Building a new supportive learning community through formative assessment view abstract

Lunchtime poster presentations

Click to view each poster

Original PDF files:

Keynote speaker (13:30 – 14:30):

Gail Capper and Sunday Blake. Building Belonging in Higher Education
Gail Capper and Sunday Blake
Building Belonging in Higher Education

Building Belonging in Higher Education 

Despite research into the ways in which “belongingness” is produced and sustained in various pedagogical contexts, belonging can still be seen as a vague and indefinable concept. Where exactly do feelings of belonging come from in a university setting? What factors enhance or hinder it? And what can institutions do to better facilitate feelings of belonging? Wonkhe and Pearson research breaks down the concept of belonging and presents recommendations with the aim of helping universities extend pockets of best practice across the sector. 

Gail Capper biography:

Following an early career in English Language teaching, Gail has held commercial, development and insight roles at Pearson for over 18 years. She is currently delivering product and market insight internationally and produces research across a range of educational themes. Her latest publication, in association with Wonkhe, delved into the four foundations of belonging in Higher Education. 

She is an advocate for diversity, equality and inclusion challenges, wherever they are found, and is passionate about making a difference.

Sunday Blake biography:

Sunday Blake is associate editor at Wonkhe. Sunday is coming from the University of Exeter where she works in strategic development and delivery with a specific focus on belonging and inclusion. Previously, she was President of the University of Exeter Students’ Guild, where she worked for two years after completing a postgraduate degree.

She has carried out policy change work both locally and nationally in areas such as sexual misconduct, drug and alcohol use, student sex work, freedom of speech and no-detriment policies. She has worked alongside a diverse range of partners, from AdvanceHE to the Department for Education, and is interested in widening participation, access and retention, and graduate outcomes.

Highlights of the afternoon keynote presentation with Sunday Blake and Gail Capper, introduced by Ros O’Leary

Afternoon sessions (14:45 – 15:45):

Room A Session 2 – Staff and staff/student communities 

  • Christophe Fricker – Can there be a learning community if learning means vastly different things to different people? view abstract
  • Emilie Poletto-Lawson and Fiona Hartley – Developing belonging through interdisciplinary connections view abstract
  • Erin Brady, Max Watkins, Yasmin Zanker, Joel Ross and Becky Selwyn – Students as Partners in Engineering education research  view abstract
  • Fiona Hartley and Kevin Haines – Building a learning community amongst teachers view abstract
  • Jo Rose – Researching Teaching & Learning Across Disciplines in Higher Education

Room B Session 2 – Community and belonging within and between programmes

  • The BILT Transition Group Project (Robert Sharples, Claire Spencer, Keith Beasley, Emily Bell) – Thriving or surviving? What students say about the transition to the University of Bristol view abstract
  • Charlotte Verney – Fostering positive experiences of belonging for joint honours undergraduates view abstract
  • Christy O’Sullivan and Beth Eyre – An intro to academic societies view abstract
  • Emily Bell – Together from the start? Exploring students’ sense of belonging following a residential field trip at the start of their university journey.  view abstract
  • Maire Gorman – Statistics and social sciences students: building confidence, camaraderie and appreciation of relevance of statistics through inter and intra-cohort Mentimeter activities view abstract

Room C Session 2 – Sustainability  

  • Andy Wakefield – Offsetting teaching emissions: an educational opportunity for final year students (and staff) view abstract
  • Charlie Davey – Global Green Initiative view abstract
  • Eva Craig – Student reflections on climate education: Taking a ‘human’ approach? view abstract
  • Joanne Norris and Sophie Ross-Smith (written by Helen Thomas-Hughes) – Building an inclusive environmental research culture: exploring the Cabot MScR programme view abstract

Afternoon sessions (16:00 – 17:00):

Room A Session 3 – Designing teaching and assessment to build community

The start of the final session in Room A
  • Alicia Gonzalez-Buelga and Mike Wharton – Are your students falling asleep?Effective and inclusive flipped classroom from a student’s point of view. view abstract
  • Rachael E.H. Miles, Kerry J. Knox and Jonathan P. Reid – Building community through pedagogy: 2 stage assessments view abstract
  • Oghale Ayetuoma – Building community and belonging of students through teaching and assessment approaches view abstract
  • Rushana Khusainova – How we can use video and audio (podcasting) feedback to make assessment feedback more personal and meaningful view abstract

Room B Session 3 – Student wellbeing and belonging

  • Jacks Bennett – A whole university approach to student mental health and wellbeing support view abstract
  • Ros Death – Challenging the extension culture; what are the driving factors that encourage students to seek extensions? view abstract
  • Rosie Nelson – Trans and non binary inclusive classrooms view abstract

Room C Session 3 – Decolonisation  

  • Alice Robson, Lydia Miles, Bronwen Burton, Caroline McKinnon, Ames Mosley and Zaf Bashir – Decolonising and diversifying the Biomedical Sciences view abstract
  • Evelyn Miller – In review: decolonising Bristol University view abstract
  • Patricia Neville and Konrad Spiteri Staines – Diversifying Oral Medicine’s clinical images in Health Science teaching: creating an EDI inspired educational e-resource for dentistry, dental hygiene and therapy and medical undergraduates view abstract
  • Polly Barr, Peter Allen and Kristopher Magee – Decolonisation activities in Psychological Research Methods view abstract

Post-conference event (17.00 – 18:00):

Drinks reception and celebration of Curriculum Enhancement

Delegates at this optional post-conference event joined Professor Tansy Jessop, University of Bristol academics and BILT Student Fellows for a Q&A session to celebrate experiences of curriculum enhancement initiatives including TESTA, Curriculum Design Workshops and the Leadership Development programme.

While mingling with colleagues over drinks and canapés, delegates discovered more about how staff and students are transforming the curriculum and shared their own achievements and plans for curriculum design.

To find out more about the Curriculum Enhancement Programme, visit the webpage.

The CEP team at the conference event pose with copies of the CEP brochure

Members of the Curriculum Enhancement Programme team pictured at the conference with copies of their brochure.


Many thanks to our keynote and session presenters for engaging us with an amazing range of interesting presentations, practice and research.

Thank you also to all our session chairs and the magnificent BILT conference team who enthusiastically worked to put the conference and all its community building activities together.

We hope you enjoyed the day if you attended.

Thank you.

Delegates scan the QR code to visit the conference survey

Delegates scanning the QR code to visit the conference survey

Other images from the day: