Icons available on the Office 365 package

Exploring Microsoft Office 365 for Teaching and Learning

The ‘Exploring Microsoft Office 365 for Teaching and Learning’ event took place on Monday 10th September in Great George Street, and aimed to answer four questions:

  • How would tools for education improve learning, teaching, and experience of students?
  • What innovative practice could be brought in?
  • How would it work for HE and how would it scale?
  • What are the next steps for implementing these tools, in terms of experimentation and learning?

The Current Picture

The session started with review of the relevant strategic picture (BILT, Digital Learning Environment phase 2 and the Digital Workspace Programme, and examples from Bristol of Office and Google tools used for Education.  Mike Cameron from the Digital Education Office discussed their use of:

  • Google Docs to record collaborative group work/workshops. Roger Gardner from the DEO uses this tool as a collaborative scratch pad in workshops. One of the main benefits is that it saves time with sharing ideas in groups. The software runs relatively smoothly when multiple users are adding simultaneously.
  • Google Sheets and Forms to create a peer-review market, in which each student could post work for review, other students could volunteer to review it and the whole thing would run on a points system where students got marks for any reviewing they did and it cost them points to get their work reviewed. Whilst this only made it to the prototype stage, there could be great potential in developing the approach through Office tools in the future.
  • Yammer (part of the Office 365 package) as a channel for communication in the ‘MsC in Strategy, Change and Leadership’. This tool is more appropriate than Facebook though offers similar functionality to that of Facebook.
  • Excel Online (also part of the Office 365 package) to complete collaborative work in classroom and at a distance, with groups of 4 working collectively on a spreadsheet. The plan is for this to run as part of the Bristol Futures optional unit, ‘Inequality, Crisis and Prosperity: How to Make Sense of the Global Economy’, with collaborative work taking place regardless of being in a physical or digital space.
  • Blended learning in Modern Languages (with David Perkins de Oliveira). Most of the ‘blended learning’ has taken place via setting work before class groups. Students give feedback on problems they’ve identified in the pre-work so that the seminar can be tailored to the group’s needs.

A Case Study – OneNote in the Centre for Medical Education

A case study was then presented by Martin van Eker and Jane Williams, from the Centre for Medical Education eLearning team, on their use of OneNote for case-based learning.

You can view the case study here – for further details please contact Martin or Jane.

Office 365 Highlights and Tips

Ian Woolner, the Microsoft Representative, then showed the group the Office 365 Training Center, a place where staff and students can find training videos, PDFs and tip on how to make the most of the Office 365 tools. He highlighted some of the best tools he believed are available as part of the Office 365 package, including:

  • Quick Starter – builds a PPT template based on a web search. It is estimated that 20% of time working on a PPT is on the presentation; Quick Starter does this for you.
  • Translator – translates transcripts and then emailed back to you. This can subtitle live speech, so can support remote learning. Free add on, available now.
  • The Office 365 package complements VLE, but will not replace VLE. It links with Blackboard, in part using a CSV connector to enable Blackboard and Office to integrate.
  • Microsoft are currently consolidating different versions of programmes e.g. Excel Online and Excel Desktop. The interfaces of the online and desktop versions will soon become more similar. He explained that eventually there will only be one version that all will use though it will take approximately 5 years for full functionality to be available on the online versions.

Ian also highlighted Microsoft Teams as a key tool to support the Education agenda at Bristol. The interface for this tool has been vastly improved, making it easier to add and remove members, and with a great deal of added functionality. Some of the benefits Ian listed were; it supports students resolving issues together rather than going to a tutor, and therefore create opportunities for collaborative problem solving. ‘Teams’ also includes: IM and logs the chats (like an Outlook inbox); a calendar; Skype functionality and; details on team members. Get in touch with the Digital Education Office if you’d like to find out more about using Teams with your students.

Moving Forward

The final part of the session considered what will happen next, and how to move the conversations that had taken place forward. By the start of the 2019 academic year, all staff and all students will have access to Office 365 and be using Outlook as their email server (some students are using the Gmail server). In 2018/19 first year students will be using Outlook as their email server. The 2018/19 academic year will be seen as an experimental period in which selected programmes and units can test different tools in order to facilitate learning about functionality/ limitations/ scalability, etc. Both Bristol Futures and the CREATE programme were suggested as places for experimentation.

The Office 365 package can meet a number of benefits the Education Strategy hopes to bring. The availability of tools online means that more online and blended learning can take place, though discussion about how this can be scaled still need to take place. The package also allows for equal access to all students – this supports students from widening participation and alternative route background. Further to this, using tools such as OneNote and Teams also allows for greater personalisation in teaching and creates links between spaces (digital and physical) and the individual.

The package can also support the Bristol Futures curriculum. The work around assessment, pedagogy and Programme Level Assessment, specifically how we can use technology to support inclusive assessment, can also be supported by the use of Office 365. The increased feasibility of online assessment needs to be met with questions about what value is brought by bringing assessment online, and the type of assessments that are used – are they fit for purpose when assessing students on different tasks?

Wider questions were then considered about the use of space in the University and how the Office 365 package, and general technology use, fits into this. The constraints of room bookings and timetabling were brought as a potential issue, as were issues about training.

It is imperative the tools do not drive the practice, and that pedagogy always comes first. A space where staff can record the activities and tools they experiment with, as well as the context in which they are being used, is essential for sharing practice and ensuring thinking and practice is ‘joined up’, rather than taking place in small pockets.

For more information about using any of the tools available in Office365, please contact the Digital Eduaction Office.

If you’re currently using the tools and would like to share your practice with colleague, please contact BILT.


Meet the BILT Fellows

Meet the BILT Fellows: Zoe Palmer

We asked our Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT Fellowship. The following blog is from Zoe Palmer, who has been a BILT Fellow since September 2018.

For the past six years (on and off!) I have been teaching in the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience in what is now the Faculty of Life Sciences.  Within our school we teach our own undergraduates and postgraduate students, but also students on professional programmes; vets, dentists and medics.  My involvement with the medical programme also extends to recently being appointed lead for teaching block one of year two of the new medical curriculum (MB21) and I have been developing material for an optional three week pharmacology skills development and training unit.  In addition, I am involved with outreach, widening participation and public engagement.  This summer I co-organised the first Biomedical Sciences International Summer School.  This new faculty-wide endeavour is aimed at external undergraduates who don’t have the opportunity to undertake many practical classes at their home universities and so visit us to take advantage of our laboratories and teaching skills.

I am particularly interested in assessment and during my BILT fellowship I intend to investigate methods of quality assurance in exam setting.  I recently submitted my CREATE Level 2 portfolio which included a project in which I retrospectively analysed and evaluated the reliability of standard setting exam papers.  Standard setting is a process whereby exam papers are scrutinised by a team of experts to (in theory) create a robust and fair pass mark, as opposed to employing an arbitrary pass mark of, for example, 50%.  The results of this investigation were thought-provoking.  I would like to use this preliminary work to explore whether there might be a more rigorous and accurate method of generating the pass mark for exams.  This, and finding out more about assessment processes across the university and beyond, will aid us in implementing best practice and making evidence-based decisions to ensure that our assessments are valid and fit for purpose.

Meet the BILT Fellows

Meet the Fellows: James Norman

We asked our Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT Fellowship. The following blog is from James Norman, who has been a BILT Fellow since September 2018.

For years I struggled to understand the inexplicable fact that two and a half hours into a three hour lecture on concrete half my students were asleep. However, at an architecture lecture by Professor Alexander Wright I had my eureka moment. Professor Wright was explaining that when a large group of people stay in a room for a long time with poor air circulation the carbon dioxide levels in the room rise, leading to people feeling drowsy. I knew it, I just knew it. There was no way 3 hours on concrete could put a room full of people to sleep1. It was the air. And this got me to thinking. If the air quality in a room affects how people learn, what else in a room affects how we learn? Does the room layout, the lighting, the colour of the walls, the acoustics, the background noise (or lack thereof), the furniture? What about technology? What about virtual reality?

 Over the next year I hope to explore some of these questions and more as I investigate “Rethinking Space”. Having been a practicing engineer for 12 years (and a genuine concrete enthusiast) and having worked on a number of award winning education buildings2 I hope to explore the current practice in space design in higher education both from a pedagogic perspective but also through conversations with leading practitioners. I hope to discover both how we can create new and diverse spaces for education whilst also considering how we can optimise our current spaces to enable them to improve educational practice. Finally as an academic with a lot of industrial experience I am interested in how we can promote professional practice through the novel use of space.

 If you have any ideas or have tried using space in a novel way (or feel frustrated by the lack of opportunity to do so) let me know. I would love to meet up and chat over a coffee.


Note 1 – In my first year of teaching I did lecture once for three hours without a break. I now try and limit myself to 20-30 minute sections with breaks and activities to help break up the lecture and help students think through and discuss the materials among themselves.

Note 2 – I have worked on a number of education buildings most notably I was the lead engineer on Oxford Brookes Gypsy Lane Campus which won a RIBA National Award (2015), RIBA South Building of the Year (2015), RIBA South Regional Award (2015), RIBA South Sustainability Award (2015) and was medium listed for the Sterling Prize (2015).     

Meet the BILT Fellows

Meet the Fellows: Christian Spielmann

We asked our Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT Fellowship. The following blog is from Christian Spielmann, who has been a BILT Fellow since September 2018.


Is there a future of large group lectures? When can virtual interaction substitute face-to-face contact and is it possible to link both virtual and face-to-face learning spaces to create greater flexibility in how students engage with learning materials? How do we best design learning materials such as video, podcasts or readings for blended and flipped teaching as well as online learning?

My name is Christian Spielmann and questions like the above drive my interest in pedagogy. I have started my BILT Fellowship in September 2018 and am working on the theme ReThinking Spaces.

In the face of growing student numbers and considering the increasing evidence that students learn best when constructing knowledge themselves, designing the space in which learning happens is more important than ever.

Thinking about ‘learning spaces’ means exploring options to make the physical space more suitable for innovative learning activities, but for me it also means exploring the possibilities of virtual and asynchronous learning to evaluate when and how these forms can achieve the intended learning outcomes.

I am a Reader in Economics Education at the School of Economics. Before joining Bristol University in 2017, I worked at University College London, where I co-founded the Centre for Teaching and Learning in Economics, which researches, implements and evaluates active teaching and learning strategies in economics. As part of the CORE project, I have been involved in rethinking the content and the way economics is taught to students all over the world. I am also a Senior Associated of the Economics Network, which is a network of economics educators dedicate to improve economics teaching in the UK Higher Education Sector.

ron barnett delivering his seminar
An interview with...

An interview with… Ron Barnett

Professor Ron Barnett delivered a interesting and amusing seminar on the topic ‘Global Citizenship: Feasible utopia or a dangerous mirage?’ as part of our 2017/18 Education Excellence Series. The seminar looked at the politics and philosophy around this topic and asked us to consider a number of questions around the timing of this topic and what is meant by the term ‘global citizen’ (full seminar can be watched here). Ron has continued the discussion as part of his interview below. 

In what sense is it important for students to engage with the concept of global citizenship?

A genuine higher education is just that, a higher form of education, which extends students in the fullest way; and the idea of global citizenship offers just this kind of prospect, to open to the students a space in which they can situate both their studies and themselves as persons in those infinite horizons.

You suggest the concept of the student as global citizen is messy? What do you mean by this?

The idea of the student as global citizen is messy because there are at least several interpretations of it, with criss-crossings and tensions between some of them (posing issues of the global economy, selfhood, world community, cross-culturality, empathy, worldly understanding, knowledge in a global setting and so on). This is a messy situation.  So a programme for global citizenship requires that fundamental choices be made – as between epistemology and ontology, curriculum and pedagogy, understanding and action and so on.

In what concrete ways could we bring together local and international students to help strengthen the sense of global citizenship at Bristol?

One way would be to look at the development goals of the United Nations (or their latest incarnation) and for students collectively to consider just how a student’s programme offers possibilities for interpretation, action and self-understanding in that context, ie, in helping to take up the challenges of those worldly goals.

Where does the concept of ecology fit in global citizenship?

Ecology speaks of (i) interconnectiveness, (ii) impairments or a falling short in the ‘ecosystems’ of the world, (iii) humanity’s responsibilities thereto. On all three fronts, ecology therefore is itself entangled with global citizenship.  The concept of ecology pushes global citizenship to identify impairments in the large ecosystems of the world – knowledge, economy, culture, learning, persons, the natural environment and society itself – and to identify, too, responsibilities and possibilities for attending to the impairments in those worldly ecosystems.

Is there any particular educational resource or book or article that you would recommend everyone should read?

A book in my library that catches my eye – but which still awaits my proper attention – is ‘Between Naturalism and Religion’ by Jurgen Habermas. It does not deal directly with ‘global citizenship’ but it both engages with many cognate issues – citizenship, liberalism, human rights, religion and so forth – and does so bringing to bear the large and generous horizons so characteristic of Habermas’ work.

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

This is easy. Terry Moore (who is no longer with us), who was my MPhil and PhD supervisor (at the London Institute of Education).  He modestly admitted to me that he knew nothing about the focus of my interests – in forging a philosophy of higher education – but he (a) gave me space to develop my own thinking, (b) supported and encouraged my efforts, and (c) brought to bear a discipline in my thinking and writing.  I owe him much and was very happy to dedicate one of my books to him.

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

  • Again, this is easy and yet difficult. It would be to require that every programme of higher education could demonstrate that it seriously required (and not frivolously) that their student think.
  • Heidegger remarked that ‘In universities especially, the danger is still very great that we misunderstand what we hear of thinking …’ In other words, we may not even understand properly what is to count as thinking.  And Bertrand Russell was said to remark (perhaps apocryphally) that ‘the English would sooner die than think’ and he added ‘and most of them do’.
  • Serious, searching thinking, that takes nothing for granted and is determined to get to the bottom of things and even emerge into a new clearing, is extremely hard, discomforting and even painful.
  • I see many signs of a reluctance or an inability to think in research, in scholars’ writing, in papers for review, in doctoral students’ theses, in students’ approach to their own learning and so on.
  • We are slipping, unwittingly, into a non-thinking culture. The contemporary French philosopher, Bernard Stiegler, speaks of a general ‘stupidity’.  I wouldn’t go this far, but we can surely talk of a general un-thinkingness.  But a genuine higher education calls for, and even demands, serious thinking.

What one film/book/resource would you like to share with the academic community?

  • Again, this is surprisingly easy. It is George Orwell’s little book ‘Why I write’.  It is a very short book but it can be recommended just on the basis of its first chapter (‘Why I write’) and its last (‘Politics and the English language’).
  • The point here is to care about language and to care about writing and, therefore, for one’s own writing.
  • I fear that I sense little care or concern for writing among scholars these days. There are, of course, exceptions to this generalisation.  There are scholars who write with care, and who have a care for their readers; and there are even scholars who are trying to help to improve the character of the writing of scholars today – such as Steven Pinker, Michael Billig and Helen Sword.  But those efforts are undermined by certain scholars – especially in philosophy and social theory – who are explicit in inveighing against clarity, lucidity and accessibility.  I’ll not name names.
  • But if we do not have a care for writing and a care towards our own writing, why should the reader take seriously anything we have to say?
Image of Chris Rust delivering workshop symposium
An interview with...

An interview with… Chris Rust

We spoke to Chris Rust, Professor Emeritus of Oxford Brookes University and author of ‘Assessment Literacy: The Foundation for Improving Student Learning’ and numerous other publications on assessment and pedagogy. Chris was BILT’s first visiting professor and has facilitated a number of workshops for BILT. He was the keynote speaker in BILT’s launch symposium in June 2017 on Assessment and Feedback.

What are the most common problems you tend to observe with current assessment practices?

I think the most common problem is a lack of alignment, or a fudging of alignment, between the learning outcomes and the task set. And then a further fudging when it comes to the assessment criteria (which may bear little or no connection to the outcomes), the fact that it as all then finally reduced to one virtually meaningless number (mark), and the subsequent opacity of the feedback given. There may be four or five excellent outcomes but then the task chosen to assess them may be an essay, or a report, or exam, or whatever (regardless of whether that will actually assess whether the outcome/s have been met or not) and the assessment criteria then tend to focus on the medium of the task rather than the individual outcomes – structure, fluency, grammar, spelling, referencing, etc. Now while those all may be important, they almost certainly do not explicitly feature in the learning outcomes. And then finally, the worse sin of all, the assessment decisions are aggregated.

What benefits do students experience through a programme level approach to assessment?

Well the programme specifications and subsequent programme level outcomes, should be the vital things the student needs to achieve to merit the qualification. So focussing on them should benefit both the teaching staff and the student. The problem with unitised or modular programmes is that outcomes can be atomised at the lower level to the point that they don’t add up to the espoused programme outcomes, or reach the greater depth and complexity of programme outcomes. A programme level approach should also benefit students by explicitly encouraging the integration of learning from the different units or modules.

How can Universities help students to understand these benefits?

By being explicit at all times – in programme and module documentation, when assessment tasks are set and discussed – and also be ensuring that assessment tasks are valid and, wherever possible, authentic.

What are the most valuable resources/articles you use?

I have summarised a lot of the useful research in a freely available paper: ‘What do we know about assessment?’ I would also recommend the Australian website Assessment Futures (found here).

What one piece of advice would you give to help improve students’ assessment literacy?

You must involve students in the activity of assessment – marking work and having to think like assessors – whether it is through marking exercises, giving self and/or peer feedback, or actually allocating actual marks.

You advocate ‘quick and dirty feedback’- what does this mean?

I only advocate this when detailed, individualised feedback may not be logistically possible, or perhaps necessary. In the case of, say, weekly lab reports it is much more useful to take them in and sample them and then send an all class e-mail with generic feedback than for students to receive detailed individualised feedback on a report they did three weeks ago, and since then they have done another two. I would also class on-line possibly multiple-choice quizzes in this category. They may not be able to assess at the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy (discuss!) but they can give instant feedback to the student on how much they have understood this week’s topic, and depending on the software can also possibly give hints and tips when the answer is wrong.

What inspired you to first start looking at assessment practice and advocating change?

When I did my MEd at Bristol, I had a session from David Satterly and was introduced to his book Assessment in Schools which highlights many of the problems in assessment practice which sadly still exist today over 30 years later. And out of all of them, I am especially incensed by the misuse of numbers in assessment, and the fact that university assessment systems get away with doing things a first year statistics student would fail for.

Are there any models you would recommend following to redesign programme assessment? 

Yes. I particularly like the idea of requiring programmes to identify cornerstone and capstone modules, which are where the programme outcomes are explicitly assessed. I also think that Brunel’s system of allowing the separation of what they call study blocks from assessment blocks is especially ingenious and clearly allows for all sorts of creativity by the programme team.

Can you think of any case studies from other institutions that would inspire staff to change their programme assessment?

Further to what I said above, I think the Brunel model is certainly worth the effort needed to understand it because of the potential it opens up.

What is your view on 100 point marking scales and would you advocate use of any different forms of marking scales?

If I had my way I would ban the use of numbers in the assessment process completely – they are worse than unhelpful, and I have written on this at length! See for example: Rust, C. (2011) “The unscholarly use of numbers in our assessment practices; what will make us change?” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 5, No. 1, January 2011 (available here). I would advocate much simpler grading – pass/fail, or perhaps pass/merit/distinction, or at most a four-point scale (perhaps based on Biggs’ SOLO taxonomy) – specifically for each learning outcome.

What one film/book/resource would you like to share with the academic community?

In addition to those already mentioned, maybe the video A Private Universe. (available here). It is quite old now but still totally relevant regarding issues of teaching and the failure of many of our assessment practices.

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

Banning the use of numbers in assessment.

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

That’s hard – I went to a boys’ grammar school – much easier to list the bad teachers, and why. Not sure about favourite but I can only remember two good teachers at school – Mr Allen for English and Mr Thomas for maths – and they were good in that they explained things in easily accessible ways, with humanity and humour, had passion for their subjects and appeared to care about us learning.

Meet the BILT Fellows

Meet the BILT Fellows: Jonas Langner

We asked our Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT Fellowship. The following blog is from Jonas Langner, who has been a BILT Fellow since February 2018.

As the German Language Director in the School of Modern Languages I oversee all German language teaching offered at the University of Bristol, ie German language classes for students of German and those attending classes as part of the University-wide Language Programme. This also entails the setting of exams assessing the four skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) plus translation. Very often, language papers are designed in a way that test the student’s language skills by asking them to fill in the gaps with the correct verb form or translating a text without access to a dictionary. I am sure that everyone who has ever attempted to learn a language will have come across those exercises. While these tasks allow the learner to check their declarative grammar and vocabulary knowledge, both examples do not really test their procedural knowledge and do not really serve any other purpose other than enabling the tutor to award a mark.

This established and very traditional approach should come as a surprise, as languages are first and foremost a tool for communication. There should be plenty of opportunities to assess languages in contexts that at least simulate a dialogue with someone else, thereby trying to replicate a real-world situation.

With that in mind, I redesigned the translation-into-German part of our degree programme last summer by replacing it with mediation tasks. Students are no longer asked to translate a text into German in exam conditions, ie on their own and without a dictionary, as I think that this is neither a realistic nor an authentic task, and very few of them will ever work as translators into German. Instead, they are now given a specific situation and target readership for which they have to paraphrase an English text into German (the German term for this is ‘Sprachmittlung’). This requires students to reduce the text to the most important and relevant information for their readers, and enables them to be more flexible with the use of vocabulary and phrases. Furthermore, they have to ensure that the register and text type they use is appropriate to the given scenario. I can easily imagine graduates having to do something similar in their jobs – either in written or spoken form – even if they have to do it within English. Thus, this task should prepare them for work, an important aspect given the need to ensure the employability of our students.

Starting as a BILT fellow in February was a welcome opportunity to research the field of assessment further. Given my experience outlined above, I quickly decided to look into authentic assessment, with the aim of introducing further real-life tasks into the German programme, but also to come up with recommendations for the institution as a whole. A good starting point to familiarise oneself with this concept is the article “A Five-Dimensional Framework for Authentic Assessment” by Judith T. M. Gulikers, Theo J. Bastiaens and Paul A. Kirschner (2004) in Educational Technology Research and Development, 52 (3), pp. 67-86.

The publication date of this article shows that this is not a brand-new concept and has been around long before the debate about the ‘employability’ of university students started to dominate the discussion in higher education. This surprised me, as authentic assessment has never been a theme for any of the conferences on modern languages teaching in the UK in recent years.

One of the aspects discussed by Gulikers et al. is that authentic assessment should take place in a “physical or virtual context [that] resembles […] professional practice” (73). This is where – in my view – the challenge for German and languages as a degree subject generally lies. Our students go into a wide range of different careers, ranging from banking through law to teaching and translating. This poses the question of what “professional practice” we should prepare our students for.

I hope that looking at the subject benchmark statement for languages, cultures and societies by the QAA  and the report on “Global Graduates” – which students doing languages and spending a year abroad should be – by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, the Council for Industry and Higher Education and CFE Research and Consulting (, as well as getting more information from the University’s Management Information Team about the careers our students go into will leave me better placed to answer that question. Together with my research into authentic assessment, my goal is to come up with practical ideas of how to change the way we currently assess to arrive at assessment that is more authentic and therefore more useful to our students.

Meet the BILT Fellows

Meet the BILT Fellows: Helen Heath

We asked our Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT Fellowship. The following blog is from Helen Heath, who has been a BILT Fellow since September 2017.

Programme Level Assessment – A return to finals?

The summative assessment degree started on a Thursday morning with a bell ringing. At that point the waiting students were able to run to their allocated desks and start writing. I was elbowed out of the way by someone I’d considered to be a friend for three years. The summative assessment for my degree concluded, seven exam papers later, the following Monday lunchtime. Seven papers in four and a half days with a Sunday “off” after the first six exams. I don’t think anyone ever explained how the various papers contributed to the overall mark and I’ve certainly never had a transcript. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”1

I can testify that finals were not stress free.

I am currently a BILT academic fellow considering programme level assessment. This is not a return to finals but a rethink about how to design and implement assessment of programmes. In the past I have worked with programme directors as a “critical friend” during the development stage of programmes. No programme director sets out to design a programme with an incoherent and inappropriate assessment regime that puts too much stress on students and doesn’t assess the skills or knowledge that they hope students will acquire or provide the formative assessment they need to develop. The new programme directors I worked with were all keen to devise appropriate assessments, in quantity and level, with some innovation in assessment methods to provide good quality feedback in novel and helpful ways. However, programmes don’t always remain as designed.

We are aware that students are stressed. Their work load at times is difficult to cope with and they also struggle to cope with the many different demands. At the same time university staff are struggling to provide meaningful feedback to increasing cohorts of students. We are advised to reduce assessment load, but students want more feedback. A solution could be more formative assessment and less summative. If we move to more formative assessment and less summative, the summative becomes more high-stakes and therefore, presumably, more stressful.

Jessop and Tomas2 write “The idea that well-executed formative assessment could revolutionise student learning has not yet taken hold.” This paper also suggests that a large variety in assessment can cause students confusion. Here, a programme level approach for design of formative and summative assessment might help.

As an example, in my subject area it is considered that weaker students do better on course work. In exams with numerical questions students may not be able to start a question or to get it completely wrong. In order to improve performance on their unit a lecturer may introduce some element of summative course work. There are examples in the literature of this being very successful. From personal experience, when one lecturer introduced a continuous summative assessment, through problem sheets, to a 4th year unit, the performance on that unit improved. A success! Except in this case students reported spending so much time on this one unit that the other units suffered. A possibly more serious consequence is that all lecturers see the success of the approach and students end up swamped in course work.

I’d also suggest that the frequently-heard complaint that students only do work that is assessed is much more likely to be true when the work that’s assessed takes up most of their time. By over-assessing in order that the work is done we ensure that unassessed work isn’t done. A move towards programme level assessment would develop programme teams with an overall view of how the programme is assessed; to move from a model where the unit is owned by a lecturer to one where the programme is owned by a team and where there isn’t competition to get students to work on “your unit”.

In my school we are taking a step backwards by removing the assessed course work element from the core lecture units in our first year. Work will still be submitted for formative feedback. The change from historic practice is that students are required to engage with the work to pass the unit, but the marks won’t count. The aim is to move students to using the course work as a formative exercise, using it to identify where they are having conceptual difficulties rather than (as is anecdotally the case) searching on the Internet for a very similar solved problem to copy without understanding, just to secure the additional marks. Working on the problems is the learning experience, not writing down the correct answers. What will happen? Watch this space.

1 L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

2 Jessop, T. and C. Tomas (2017). “The implications of programme assessment patterns for student learning.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 42(6): 990-999.

Meet the BILT Fellows

Meet the BILT Fellows: Emilie Poletto-Lawson

We asked our Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT Fellowship. The following blog is from Emilie Poletto-Lawson, who has been a BILT Fellow since February 2018.

Based in the School of Modern Languages, I specialise in teaching French both in the degree programme and University-Wide Language Programme. My areas of interest are student motivation, feedback and digital enhancement of learning.

I started my BILT fellowship on inclusive assessment on the 1st of February 2018. Looking at how best to design a curriculum and assessments to meet the needs of all our students while maintaining strong academic content is a highly motivating challenge. I strongly believe that education is our greatest asset on the path to equality, and it is with this in mind that I am researching this theme.

Looking at inclusivity, my first task is defining “inclusive assessment”, encompassing all of its dimensions as it has been evolving, and looking at the myth of inclusive assessment as a “dumbing down” of education. My postulate is that acts such as the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and the 2010 Equality Act were catalysts for this field, but I am still at the beginning of my journey.

If you are interested in this topic, I would recommend the following article, as it raises some very interesting questions and tackles the main criticism of inclusivity, that it is “dumbing down” education:

Haggis, T. (2006) Pedagogies for diversity: retaining critical challenge amidst fears of ‘dumbing down’. Studies in Higher Education, 31(5), pp.521–535. [Accessed 15.03.2018]

The aim of my research is to learn from the literature to inform our practice at the University of Bristol. At this stage I have many questions. What does an inclusive syllabus look like? What does an inclusive educator look like? What should educational development for the latter look like? What is the first step? And what are the next ones? Who can/should initiate change? Is inclusivity a way to improve engagement? What does all this mean for us at UoB? These are but a few!

If you would like to discuss inclusivity in assessment, do not hesitate to contact me.

You can read my blog post on the ‘Attendance vs Engagement’ debate on the BILT Blog.

An interview with...

An interview with… Kris Roger

The fourth interview in our series is with Kris Roger, who, with his colleague, presented an interesting and informative lecture on the transformation of learning spaces at LSE at the second BILT annual symposium, which launched our new theme, ‘ReThinking Spaces’. Kris’ is a Senior Learning Technologist at LSE and his expertise includes flipped learning, learning spaces design, active learning methods and educational use of digital media. 

What benefits do students experience through a better understanding of learning spaces?

With appropriate learning spaces design we can enable teachers to embrace pedagogical approaches that are based on student activity and experience rather than transmission of information. Appropriately designed spaces will create opportunities for students to engage in activities where they are making, discussing, and analysing collaboratively. Such spaces allow teachers to move around the room while they observe, listen and guide their students through the construction of their own knowledge. It is also possible to design flexibility into such spaces to allow for those occasions where there may need to be some transmission of information required or to consult online content while in class. Some institutions are establishing or switching to programmes of study founded on student-based active approaches to learning, such as team-based, problem-based and flipped learning. Designing social learning spaces that students actually want to use will also encourage students to stay on campus and hopefully instil a sense of belonging to the academic community of an institution.

How can Universities help students to understand these benefits?

One of the key ways we can help students understand these benefits is to fully involve our students in the design of social or informal learning spaces. This isn’t always easy, we sometimes need to make the benefits of contributing to the design of such spaces clear. We need to help students feel a sense of ownership over their spaces – it’s an opportunity to shape and create their own work and study environment. In addition to being involved in the initial design, this sense of ownership can be encouraged through making those spaces flexible and giving control over certain aspects of the environment – such as lighting and placement of furniture. In terms of understanding the benefits of the design of classrooms it’s more important that students understand the approach to learning enabled by flexible learning spaces design. This is more about setting clear expectations for active learning so that students see the value in actively participating and engaging. Also, if spaces designed for active learning are primarily used for lecture-based teaching then students are unlikely to see and understand the benefits of such classroom designs. Therefore, it is key that we work with our teachers to help them understand the possibilities enabled by modern learning spaces.

What are the most common problems you tend to observe with current learning space design?

As education professionals we are interested in all potential learning spaces that our students use – from bedrooms at home or in halls, to the local coffee shop. However, we can only really influence the design of our own spaces on campus – such as classrooms and spaces where students work independently of their teachers. Space is a critical part of shaping learning and teaching and one challenge that we face is to ensure that these learning spaces are fit for the learning and teaching needs of our students and teachers. What does that mean? Many classrooms and lecture rooms continue to be built around a traditional teacher centred approach, without interrogating alternative pedagogical approaches. Students are arranged in rows, for efficient space planning, or in a horseshoe, with all eyes on the teacher at the front of the room. Is that the best layout if the curriculum demands that students partake in collaborative activities in class? Extending this line of questioning, do universities provide sufficient space for students (and staff) to collaborate in groups outside of class. Often, the library is the place to go for independent study where the expectation is silent individual study. Additionally, students value workspace proximity – they like their independent workspaces to be near to where they will be attending class. We therefore need to create attractive modern workspace environments wherever we can find space on our campuses, ranging from those that enable a short stop between class to spaces for working in groups for an extended amount of time.

In terms of design, we often face a number of tensions. How do we enable pedagogical needs to have primacy over other requirements, which are often the first considered, such as the need to maintain the capacity of a particular space? How do we define value for money? Sometimes when we are asked to cut costs or “value engineer”, these initial savings result in a fatal compromise in the design of a space. Also, limited attention is sometimes given to the environmental properties of learning spaces – light, colour, textures, temperature and noise. Our learning spaces need to be engaging, inspiring and comfortable.

Finally, we need to ensure that we design spaces in collaboration with students and teachers. Too often new or refurbished spaces are created as copies of existing spaces without consultation with those people that will be using the spaces. This requires an institution wide collaborative approach that involves multiple stakeholders including educational development professionals, learning technologists, estates, timetables, technology support and more.

What is your favourite learning space in your university?

My favourite learning space at LSE is actually a collection of spaces in our Clement House building. It is the project that I feel closest to, as we had full creative control over a variety of space types. The idea was to create a set of experimental spaces in response to student demand for more independent and collaborative workspaces, where they could charge their devices, work, eat (without having to buy something) or simply chat with friends. The spaces range from comfy armchairs designed for reading to a space with little in the way of seating, but the walls are covered in writable surfaces. We also created individual identities, based on global cities, for each space. Outside of term time, I even use some of the spaces myself when I want to work away from the office.

What inspired you to first start looking at learning spaces and advocating change?

My interest in learning spaces, as a learning technologist, started with my involvement in creating a “Flipping the Classroom” staff development workshop. In the workshop we would discuss various alternative classroom activities with our teachers and they would always ask “How can I do this group discussion activity in a lecture theatre where the seats are fixed and nobody can move around easily?”. So, with our head of learning technology, I grew my interest and involvement in transforming LSE’s ‘traditional’ teaching and learning spaces.

What one film/book/resource would you like to share with the academic community?

A good place to start is Diana Oblinger’s “Learning Spaces” book published back in 2006, available as a free PDF download. While some of the case studies are now a little out of date, it provides an excellent outline for the rationale behind the movement to rethink teaching and learning spaces in higher education. It was probably my introduction to the field of learning spaces design and I’d say my favourite chapter is “The Psychology of Learning Environments” by Ken Graetz.

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

Like others I’m deeply wary of the increasing marketisation of HE in the UK and the unintended consequences of measuring things that are difficult or impossible to measure. But, I am keen that reward and recognition for teaching be given a higher priority in (some of) our institutions.

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

My favourite teacher was Jim Fanning who taught me history in my 1st and 2nd years at secondary school. He showed immense enthusiasm for the subject, took us on many field trips and always taught with a great sense of humour. He truly conveyed the idea that we would understand the subject if we could imagine how it felt to be a particular person at a particular point in time. It wasn’t about learning dates and facts, it was about actively experiencing history, as far as is possible.