Three visits, three takeaways

The following post was written by James Norman, a senior lecturer in Civil Engineering and a BILT Fellow. 

Over the last three weeks we have visited three different universities who have recently (last ten years) built new teaching-focussed buildings. First, we visited the University of Northampton, who recently opened their brand new Waterside campus, bringing all they do into one location. We then visited Oxford Brookes’ John Henry Brookes building, which is a £100m new build on the Gypsy Lane campus, which was opened roughly six years ago. Finally, we visited the ‘Spark’ at Solent, which was opened in 2015. From these three visits I have taken away three key observations.

  1. The Atrium

The first is that all three buildings include large atrium spaces. These spaces, rather than being sterile and boring, feel alive. Filled with creative furniture and buzzing with people, they mirror in my mind the large chancel of a cathedral as people bustle in or out before a concert or the turbine hall at the Tate modern as people congregate, intrigued by what they are about to see, or debate what they have just seen. I always find these spaces inspiring; the huge headroom creating space to dream or imagine. And whilst we can’t magically create these spaces in our existing buildings, I trust and hope that we will aspire to them in future buildings.

  1. The Acoustics

The second take home for me is the sound of the spaces. This may seem strange, but there is something about the acoustic quality of these spaces. They feel warm and buzzing- not like walking into a bar where you need to shout to be heard, but neither like standing in an old library where you are self-conscious of every footfall and breath as people turn and stare at this noisy new intruder disrupting their thoughts. In these spaces the acoustic feel right. I am sure there are technical phrases for this but as a non-acoustician (and in my former life as a Structural Engineer working with -or against- acousticians I have often been skeptical of what they do) all I can say is that they sound right. Neither to loud, or too quiet, but just right. Of course, people associate acoustics and acoustic design with new buildings, and yet many of the acoustic devices that are used can just as easily be retrofitted to existing buildings as they can installed to new buildings. It is not the fabric of the building that makes the acoustics so good. I should know- I designed much of the exposed concrete at the John Henry Brookes building at Oxford Brookes, which left untreated would have led to awful acoustics. Instead, it is the strategic placement of noise absorbing finishes that make the difference, and these can be added to any building.

  1. The Furniture

Third, and finally, it is the furniture. It is only coming to these new (and reused) buildings that the importance of the furniture comes to life. The conversation is not just about the design of lecture theatres or types of chairs, square tables or plectrum, fixed furniture or movable. There are just so many options and we have seen a wide variety of different furniture approaches being implemented in these three buildings, though admittedly not all successfully. But this attitude of playfulness and experimentation is refreshing. One of the great things about furniture is if it doesn’t work you can try something different. So much of our furniture is rectangular tables (on wheels if you are lucky) but there are so many different options. And you don’t need to build a new campus or building to put new furniture (or repurposed furniture from a different space) to be playful and thought-provoking about how we use space to enhance student learning.

So, over the last three weeks, we have seen three new buildings and taken away three lessons on what you can achieve in both new and (more importantly) existing space.

(L-R: University of Northampton Waterside Campus; John Henry Brookes building at Oxford Brookes; The Spark at Solent)

Amy Palmer, Lisa Howarth, Neil Davey, Christian Spielmann and James Norman visited Northampton University and Oxford Brookes – see this blog for more details of the trip.

Amy Palmer, Lisa Howarth and James Norman visited Solent to visit Professor Tansy Jessop who is a Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol with BILT.  







Getting Creative in the Archive – Bristol University’s Theatre Collection

To celebrate National Storytelling Week 2019, The University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection ran a creative and free writing workshop which was open to all students from any degree course. Using original artifacts from the archive to prompt stories and conversations, the Theatre Collection stands as a testament to the therapeutic importance of integrating academic research with creative reflection in an informal and friendly environment.


We congregate in a lovely booked-lined reading room within the Theatre Collection, where the windows are wide and the silence is not stressed, but rather soft and cushioning. “Let’s think of the next few hours as a lab,” we are told by Dr. Jill Sullivan, assistant keeper of user services at the Theatre Collection. I think about that word, “the lab,” and how it is not often used in the context of the Arts and Humanities. We see labs as spaces strictly for Science students; they are the ones we associate with experimentation, practical learning, theory testing, making mistakes but not being afraid to try again.

But I also think about how the Arts could learn from the Sciences, how they could adapt and apply the concept of the lab to their own sphere. Time and again, I sit in seminars of silence, sensing tense bodies with ideas on their lips, but lacking in the confidence to articulate ideas with a fear of ‘Sounding Stupid.’ To remedy this, perhaps we should think more in terms of a lab of literature, a historical playground, a resurrected marketplace of ideas. Thinking in terms of the lab in the Arts may encourage students to be more playful in their imagination; the seminar room can transform into a space of experimentation and risk-taking, not worrying so much if your ideas don’t quite work out the first time around.

So we sit in our archival lab, and we are encouraged to engage in free and creative writing responding to the array of items that Jill has brought up for us. The room is made up of students from Theatre, Film, History, and Liberal Arts, but around half of us hadn’t ever heard of the Theatre Collection before. This is pretty surprising, seeing as it’s the largest archive on British Theatre History in the country (except for the V&A) and is in the top five worldwide. It’s a thriving treasure trove of resources, exhibitions and community volunteer schemes, a rich source of materials for both academic study and creative inspiration, which remains relatively unknown to the wider student consciousness.

We were able to handle paint palettes, playbills, costume designs, and even a stage gun (but do not try this at home!)

Jill gently leads the group through a number of warm-up activities to get us into the swing of things, asking us to just freely write for a few minutes. At first, I found it hard to allow my brain to float freely from the initial writing prompt; it’s remarkable how, over the four years I have been studying across the Arts and Humanities at this University, there has been such little time reserved for actually writing, for emoting and for being creative during class time.

But after our fingers and thoughts are loosened, looped and working together, we open the first of the carefully arranged boxes to find a chorus of weird and wonderful normal things: mounds of dirt, marbles, pork pie wrappers, sweet wrappers, a 200-year-old mountain of debris curated from under the floorboards of the Bristol Old Vic (I guess all that glitters is not gold). We hold these shards of the past and write stories around them, filling in the gaps of history with imagination; we are completely fascinated by how the ordinary can be rendered extraordinary when framed within the care of archival preservation, the space between an object’s practical existence and how it then comes to be remembered.

A 19th Century children’s pantomime costume, alongside Laurence Olivier’s stage gloves and Vivien Leigh’s personal clutch bag!

We move on to some larger and more exquisite items from the archive, which leads to stimulating discussions surrounding the role of the archivist in the age of digital media and the mythologies of celebrity. “My favourite item from the workshop was Vivien Leigh’s handbag,” Charlotte tells me, who’s currently in her second year studying History. “It’s a beautiful little handheld handbag, and it has this cigarette stain on it which she actually made herself. It’s just amazing because if we had found this in a charity shop that wouldn’t be particularly unusual, but the provenance behind the bag is so important. It’s amazing that all these items are tangible, we can hold them and it brings everything to life really…especially in this weird digital world that we’re living in.”

In our theatre lab, we are given the space to be critical of the items we handle, exploring the ethics of confronting the past. Theatre & Film student, Perry, was particularly interested in the costume sketches for a production of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves at the old Prince’s Theatre (which used to be on Park Row, but was lost in the Second World War). “I just think the drawings are clearly very beautiful and intricate but it’s interesting to see what people’s point of references and impressions of “the orient” and eastern culture was like in those days. We are much more connected now and have much more cultural exchange than they did, so it’s fascinating to see how one person’s artistic impression of a particular culture can become embedded in the public consciousness, how something as creative and almost harmless as a costume design can become quite a political phenomenon.”

This workshop showed the importance of creativity in the academic setting. The workshop made for a wonderful space of experimentation, which we filled with relaxed learning, stimulating conversation and therapeutic creativity. Theatre and Performance Studies student Sally noted that “it brings out teamwork, and it’s really not appreciated enough.” Open workshops like this are so important for student engagement at the University, as they offer an opportunity to meet with, and think with, students from a range of disciplines and departments who you may not have otherwise come into contact with.

“It’s all about unlocking someone’s potential as well” Perry reflected towards the end of the session, “because there are big debates around standardization in education and whether exams are good etc, but creativity allows you to get someone who isn’t really into chemistry or Shakespeare and to unlock their interests and say actually there is something that you can connect to here. And often it’s very one-sided where the teacher is saying here’s what I’ve got to offer and this is what I’m going to tell you, but in this workshop we were all treated as if we were all part of the conversation; it made sure to treat you like an individual with your own ideas.”

Although the Theatre Collection is physically adjoined to the University Theatre Department, the Collection is an invaluable and underrated resource for Literature, History and History of Arts students alike. It’s an interdisciplinary space that allows for new connections to be made; they even collaborate with the MA Art History students on their curatorial unit, where items from the archive are curated, presented and brought to life in a public exhibition.

More than simply an extensive resource for academic research, Jill wants the Theatre Collection to be received as a peaceful and mindful space to come to read, work or just to reach outside of the University bubble, a space where you can be surrounded by local artists and community volunteers, books and exhibitions. A few years ago, I myself used to run a play-reading group for students in the reading room every Friday afternoon, which made for an intimate and personable alternative to the sometimes overwhelming rush of the Arts & Social Sciences Library.

I look at the table when our lab is over, now strewn with paper and pencils, thoughts and scribbles: evidence of our living archive. In a world which seems to orbit around the permanence of the keyboard and screen, I find it refreshing to place my pencil back into the pot, and to see how its led has worn down to bluntness: the mark of a mind set free.

Words by Phoebe Graham, BILT Student Fellow

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 11.22.24

Theatre Collection Website:


Surveying the Students

The following post was written by Corrie Macleod, a BILT Student Fellow. 

Lisa, Zoe, Phoebe and I were stationed outside of Senate House, ready to seduce students with free tea, coffee and biscuits in exchange for their raw and honest opinions about their course, their student life and their state of mind.

 We were ready to hear honest, unedited student thoughts during this post-exam January blues. Were they worried about the results they were going to get? Were they anxious for the semester ahead? Surprisingly, none of them were.

‘I’m having a hoot today!’ ‘To be honest, it’s been really good’ and ‘Yeah I had a great night at Lizard Lounge last night and my lectures were alright’ were one of the few happy responses we got from students. Given the unexpectedly beautiful sunshine and clear blue skies that kept us company throughout our 1h30 of questioning, it’s maybe no surprise people were feeling more positive today.  

We spoke to more than a dozen students, both undergraduate and post-graduate, from courses ranging from Politics, to Neuroscience, to Mechanical Engineering. No one seemed to be having a bad day and we were starting to wonder if students were just giving us polite and agreeable answers to thank us for the freebies? We then worried that our survey wouldn’t be an accurate representation of what students were feeling given its small sample size and the absence of Arts students (most of them are currently on Reading Week). Furthermore, could it just be that those students who were miserable simply weren’t on campus and were commiserating in the comforts of their homes? There were obviously some drawbacks to our little informal survey, but, as we continued these conversations with students, their answers became more and more layered and articulate.

We were most surprised by an almost unanimous agreement that having fewer assignments that count for a large chunk of degrees created unnecessary pressure for students to perform well without being given time or opportunity to improve. To have a summative assignment worth 100% of a module made students stress out and scared to fail – it does not successfully gauge the performance of scholars or their level of engagement with their degree.

‘This might be controversial, but I wouldn’t mind having more assignments…’ said an Anonymous final year Neuroscience student. But little did she know, she was actually in the majority of people who thought that more frequent assignments would enhance their understanding of their content and their relationship to their course. Some students, namely in Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering, felt that they had a lot on their plate already. But could this be because their degrees were already shaped up by a diversity of short assignments, group projects and exams spread out throughout the year?

What we do know, is that these responses we got today are not meant to fully encapsulate the feeling of the entire student population, they should provide an interesting snapshot of it. We obviously need more opinions to determine whether there is a strong correlation between student engagement and the frequency and diversity of assignments they receive throughout their education. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to these concerns. But, there is definitely a discussion we need to take part in to find this multifaceted answer towards greater student satisfaction.

Without greater conversation, there is no way of knowing what students truly want.


Bristol Conversations in Education: Does School Design Matter? 16/1/2018

Professor Daniels presented an account of AHRC sponsored research that sought to address the need for learning environments to better respond to changing needs of curriculum and pedagogy.

I am a BILT Student Fellow working on the theme ReThinking Spaces and on the 16th January 2019 I attended a seminar by Professor Harry Daniels from the University of Oxford entitled ‘Does School Design Matter?’. I was particularly interested in the relationship between design and pedagogy and lessons that can be learned for the redesigning of spaces at the University.

Professor Daniels began by describing the impact that a building or physical space has on the way that we behave within it. He gave the example of starting a new job and using the built environment to help to determine the expectations for behaviour, communication and interaction. This is partly affected by physical features such as the furniture layout, lighting, and decoration, as well as the way that people interact with the space and with each other.

Professor Daniels’ journey into this area began around 2003 when, noticing the impact of wall displays in schools, he asked himself; ‘if a wall display can be powerful, what about the building itself?’ This has led him to research the perception and actions of students and teachers at four secondary schools in Kent, which were part of the Building Schools for Future (BSF) programme introduced in 2004 and were newly built or refurbished between 2010 and 2012.

Professor Daniels emphasised that the way that a space is used is not necessarily how it was designed to be used. The four schools in question were designed to promote the personalisation of learning, with teachers to be viewed as coaches or mentors. The County Council deemed that:

  • learning spaces should be versatile and flexible to cover all curriculum areas
  • there should be breakout areas and informal learning zones
  • students should have greater independence and agency over their learning
  • teachers should share many spaces with students and other staff
  • staff should teach in teams
  • there should be a high degree of visibility with the use of glass and an open plan design
  • community engagement should be promoted

The School Connectedness Questionnaire was distributed to children at the end of primary school, at the beginning of Year 7 and Year 8, and every time there was a change of headteacher. The research found that when teaching practice aligned with the design, the connectedness score was significantly higher than when the practice did not align with the intended design.

Whilst some schools found positive outcomes, with improved behaviour of students and better formative assessment practices by teachers, others struggled to use the space effectively. Two of the schools closed off open areas with glass panels or furniture, effectively attempting to reverse the radical changes that had been made. Professor Daniels explained that these differences in success can partly be accounted for by different approaches to school leadership and management. In places where high visibility was seen by management as allowing passive control and surveillance, teachers and students felt watched over, whereas in more relaxed settings where visibility was viewed as a way to promote a sense of community and belonging, staff and students enjoyed being able to collaborate and socialise more easily with others.

Where the redesign was successful, there was a strong vision from the start and an excellent programme of staff training in how to successfully work in the new spaces. Staff continue to collaborate to solve problems related to design issues and students are included in this dialogue. Staff report that students feel wanted, have improved confidence and aspirations. The open-plan environment mirrors the professional working environment and develops the skills that the commercial world is demanding. Professor Daniels highlights the importance of learning from other similar learning environments when redesigning educational spaces.

So, what does this teach us about the relationship between design and pedagogy, and what can we learn from it? This seminar highlighted to me that redesigning space does not necessarily transform pedagogy. This requires an ethos of trust where staff feel confident enough to be observed and to collaborate with others, and where staff are trained in teaching practice which aligns with the space design. In Higher Education, we need to learn from similar institutions which have redesigned their spaces to align with the shift towards more active, collaborative and inquiry-based learning. Yesterday, BILT visited the new Waterside Campus at the University of Northampton who are doing just that, and BILT are gaining staff and student perspectives on teaching spaces, as well as providing resources to staff, in the hope that our space will be fit for an imagined future.


Harry Daniels, Hau Ming Tse, Andrew Stables & Sarah Cox (2018) Design as a social practice: the experience of new-build schools, Cambridge Journal of Education, DOI: 10.1080/0305764X.2018.1503643


No lecture theatres? No problem!

In 2012, the University of Northampton decided to embark on a challenge that would set them apart from all other UK universities.

Six years later their new, £330 million ‘Waterside’ campus was launched with one key difference – there are no lecture theatres*. All courses have been redesigned and adopted active-blended learning as their pedagogical approach, which has transformed the way students learn. Further to this, all staff offices (including the VC’s!) have been removed in place of communal workspaces and hotdesking. The eradication of passive learning experiences and focus on active, activity-based sessions is a daring and challenging move that has taken a huge amount of courage, time and commitment. The creation of a learning design team, as well as the support of both academic staff development and learning technologists has been central to the success of this project, as well as the unwavering support of senior management.

When asking the Dean of Learning and Teaching, Professor Alejandro Armellini, what really works about the Waterside project, his answer was clear – everything. Apart from the addition of a few more plug sockets in their ‘Learning Hub’ (a grand, multi-purpose building housing libraries, teaching and social spaces, though with no signs or labels defining these areas), there is nothing they would do differently. It’s too early to see how the new campus and educational approach will affect learning gain and student recruitment and retention, but the feeling so far is that it is working well.

This new and daring approach to higher education took a number of years to achieve and was only possible with the support of the Vice Chancellor who, when announcing the plans, told staff ‘you either get out of the way, or get on the bus’. Some staff did get out of the way, and many that stayed were hesitant to ‘get on the bus’, often feeling that the change in approach was a personal attack on their style of teaching. When the learning design team spoke with individuals and asked what they really valued, it was never ‘standing up in front of people speaking’ but rather ‘when I see my students have learnt something’ and ‘when students are engaged’. Extensive research was done into how to engage students with active-blended learning – you can read their findings here.

Teaching hours for staff have increased across the piece with students now split into groups of (max) 40 students, who they will stay with throughout their degree, with the intention this creates a sense of community and belonging among fellow students. This will no doubt help with issues around wellbeing and first-year student retention, though there may be some protests that it is very much like school and not the ‘traditional’ university experience where you anonymously sit in a huge lecture theatre and take down notes.

The Waterside project will be interesting to follow over the next couple of years, especially when it comes to crunching the data. They openly admit that there are some staff who are still lecturing at their students but believe that will change; the focus on teaching is gaining momentum yet there are still some who are yet to be caught up in it. We have invited colleagues from Northampton to visit us when the new Temple Quarter campus is built – we hope that some lessons can be learnt from our trip there!

*Okay – there is one lecture theatre, but it only seats 80 and is used mainly for external speakers.


Learning Games #2

The second ‘Learning Games’ event took place on 17th January. To give everyone a chance to eat their lunch, the session started with a discussion around the tables about where we would like to use games in our teaching, and barriers we have (except for time – time is a problem for everyone!). Each group fed back and the key barriers were:

  • Resistance to change – some colleagues may not believe that learning with games can be as effective as more ‘traditional’ forms of learning.
  • Not knowing where to start – lack of experience in making/ designing games, what to make the games for, what tools to use, etc.
  • Having the resource/ capacity – this is quite similar to lack of time but is a key point – many staff would like to take time to create a game for their learners but there is not capacity in the team.

Dr Kieren Pitts, a senior developer in Research IT, presented a game he has been working on as part of a research grant with colleagues from physiological science. The game, EyeTrain, was developed to improve oculomotor control in children and consists of three ‘scenes’ (one urban, one woodland and a high contrast scene) in which the player has to tap when they see an animal move. The game encourages the player to move their eyes in repeated, specific movements with both smooth and saccade motion. The game begins with an animal that has quite obvious movement (e.g. a hare that moves its ears) and as you improve more animals are unlocked, each with more subtle movements, and the backgrounds (scenes) becoming more complex and detailed as the player improves. Illustrations were done by Bristol-based illustrator, Alex Lucas, whose work can be seen in the School of Education and on walls across the city.

Example image from ‘EyeTrain’.

Settings in the game are highly configurable and it has been programmed to collect vast amounts of data to ensure its effectiveness. Early testing has shown it to be effective in improving oculomotor control in children. More information about the game can be found here.

We then heard from two members of staff who have recently been awarded Discretionary Seedcorn Funds from BILT. Dr Frankie MacMillan from the School of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience explained the card game they are making for students studying Histology. Students must place down a card, with the next player putting down a card linked the image on the card before and explaining why. If a student can not go, they can use red blood cell ‘counters’ to buy an answer off another player. They hope that this game will make quite a ‘dry’ topic more interesting and memorable as the students have to create links between the types of cells and tissue themselves.

Next, we heard from Dr Isabel Murillo Cabeza from the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and her game, Microbial Pursuit. The plan for this game is for it to be played across two sessions and is to be used as both a learning and revision tool. The first session students are split into small groups and each write multiple choice questions with three options. The students can use their lecture notes, eBioLab materials, tutorials, essays and other academic material to help them write the questions. In the second session, students are reshuffled into different groups and use the questions to play a board game, similar to the layout of Trivial Pursuit. Students can play as individuals, in pairs or in threes.

The session concluded with a short game that was based around weather predictions (but I’m not sure where the weather link came in!). We all started with a coloured counter balanced on the back of our hands and the aim of the game was to be the last person with their counter on their hand, while at the same time attempting to knock off other peoples.

If you’d like to come along to play a silly game, hear about what others are doing with games and their teaching and discuss your ideas for gamifying learning, get in touch with Chrysanthi Tseloudi or Suzi Wells to find out when the next session is on.


‘myopportunities’ and the launch of the Bristol Futures Engagement Opportunities badge

The Professional and Community Engagement Manager, Jordan Hurcombe, shares this exiting news around the launch of a new system to support students and staff in engagement opportunities.

Bristol Futures Engagement Opportunities connect our students, the University and wider stakeholders through the sharing of knowledge, resources and skills. We achieve this through collaborating with local, national and global organisations on projects that support all students to develop key personal and professional attributes aligned to the Bristol Skills Framework.

Engagement Opportunities allow students to build roots and connections outside of their existing networks, apply their learning outside of their formal curriculum and develop new skills. Opportunities range from internships and employer vacancies, through to volunteering, student leadership and mentoring. These opportunities non-credit bearing and mutually beneficial, with no minimum time commitment.

We know there are already lots of exciting ways our students can engage outside of their studies. We want to support colleagues delivering these opportunities to promote them, as well as ensure students are aware of the opportunities available to them. From March 2019, we will be launching an online platform, to help students easily find opportunities to develop their skills outside of their studies all in one place.

Already involved in delivering engagement opportunities? Promote your project using myopportunities and be recognised by applying for a Bristol Futures Badge.

If you would like a demo of the system or support to add your opportunity, we will be holding drop-in sessions for staff on the dates below;

  • Tuesday 22 January, 2pm-4pm, Priory Road 4, Room B16
  • Tuesday 12 February, 2pm–4pm, Priory Road Complex F Block, Room 2F4

Please confirm your attendance by registering here.

For more information on the badging and guidance on promoting your opportunity, please visit the Bristol Futures Engagement Opportunities Staff Page.

If you would like to meet a member of the team to discuss how we can work with your specific School, Faculty or Department, or if you’d like us to present at a meeting, please do contact us.


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 ( 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:




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.


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.