Teaching Stories

The Civic University Online

A few months ago, I wrote a blogpost on urban spaces and the concept of the civic university. This topic is now reconsidered in the context a pandemic-affected world and has led me to ask some questions: what do civic teaching and learning activities look like in digital-only contexts? How can we engage our online practice with our city in meaningful ways?

‘How can students collect data and research without leaving the house?’

Data collection allows students to practice primary research (e.g. photographs, observations, air quality monitors, etc.). In digital-only settings, primary data collection could include online polls, questionnaires and crowdsourcing data from the public.  If you’re planning this, you’ll need to get ethical approval – you can find guidance, links and online ethics tools on this website.

The benefits of using primary data collection include improved confidence in handling primary data and conducting research, and transferable skills development through the process of data collection design and methodologies for data analysis.

If these options don’t fit your teaching context, use of secondary data is a great alternative while still allowing your students to respond to locally-relevant questions for the City of Bristol. A host of third-party data can be included as raw materials for teaching activities.

A good starting point to find this information is the Open Data Bristol website that is populated with data collected predominantly by Bristol City Council. Topics covered include transport, planning, housing, population, geography, democracy, energy, economy and education. This data can be compared against national datasets, such as the Centre for Cities that has a visual “cities data tool” alongside downloadable raw data.If you’re considering the use of historical information, you can find visualised historic maps of the city from 1746 via Know Your Place. This site is populated with crowd-sourced data, and your students can also contribute to the site directly.

If you’re considering the use of historical information, you can find visualised historic maps of the city from 1746 via Know Your Place. This site is populated with crowd-sourced data, and your students can also contribute to the site directly.

How can we communicate and reach out to communities during this period?

In 2019, the University of Bristol was one of 31 institutions to sign the The Civic University Agreement. One of its leading ambitions is to understand the local population and ask them what they want. Outward-facing engagement can take many different forms, such as festivals, public talks, exhibitions, research papers, blogs, videos, school educational events and resource development with many disciplines already engaging outreach activities as part of their degree programmes. Ideally, these projects employ two-way communication and co-collaboration – co-creating with the community, rather than at the community.

How can we embed this ethos into our teaching practice when we are constrained to the digital world? At this pandemic juncture, how do we adjust our teaching and learning approaches to be responsive to the current crisis, while also preparing students for a post-pandemic world?

We also need to consider equitability. How confident are we that the communities we engage with all have equal access to digital devices and reliable internet? If we only communicate digitally, does this exclude parts of the community? How can we circumvent these issues? These are questions that can be contextually situated within your degree programme, to fit your disciplinary boundaries and existing methods, and serve as critical prompts for your students to grapple with.

It’s worth noting that one of the recommendations made in the civic university agreement is to remove the suggestions that local research is inferior to international research. We can ask ourselves, is this something that implicitly or explicitly emerges in our teaching? Do we teach our students to value our civic ethos?


How does this relate to the curriculum framework? 

The University of Bristol’s curriculum framework includes six dimensions, one of which is global and civic engagement. We can see how this can take shape from both teachers’ and student’s perspectives: 

Ideas for what teachers can do Ideas for what students can do 
Make links to community projects and identifies opportunities for student involvement Work with stakeholders, identifies needs and contributes to novel solutions 
Partner with civic organisations for social good and mutual benefit, expanding and applying knowledge Participate in engagement opportunities such as careers fairs and internships 
Develop ‘live briefs’ with external clients for student participation Commit to actions and behaviours which align with values 
Teach about disciplinary conundrums and breakthroughs in relation to global challenges Sign up to relevant Bristol Futures units  
Work with employers, SMEs and voluntary organisations to shape aspects of the curriculum Conduct research related to grand challenges  
Create research projects which use the city as a lab for innovation Volunteer and feed external learning into curriculum outcomes 

Civic curriculum thematics and activities that resonate with the city of Bristol provide our students with opportunities to apply their knowledge to real world problems. This civic platform enables students to explore their local environment and communities in engaged ways, offering opportunities for them to make a difference.  

Ash Tierney

News, Teaching Stories

Our Digital Champions’ Do’s and Don’ts

We’ve established a network of Digital Champions to support you in the transition to blended education. There are Digital Champions in each school and can support you:

  • By contributing their own perspectives and expertise to central guidance, courses and advice; 
  • By feeding school- or discipline-specific perspectives of the types of teaching that they need to do, or the challenges they are facing into BILT and the DEO so that it can be considered in the digital environment, guidance and exemplars; 
  • By gathering and sharing examples of effective online approaches from and with colleagues; 
  • By advising colleagues on suitable tools and approaches, and directing them to further relevant advice, guidance and support. 

We asked our Digital Champions what their online teaching do’s and don’ts were and have shared them below.

Emma Slade (School of Management)
Do: emphasize interactivity. Content is everywhere online, it’s the interaction between students and between academics and students that is unique.
Don’t: try and do everything online that you would face-to-face.

Jon Symonds (School for Policy Studies)
Do: speak to colleagues about what ideas you are trying out and what is working for you.
Don’t: feel you need to use tech tools until you’ve decided what you want to use them for.

Andy Wakefield (School of Biological Sciences)
Do: consider onscreen fatigue for your students, as well as for you and your colleagues.
Don’t: be afraid to ask colleagues (champions) for help/advice.

James Freeman (School of Humanities)
Do: use breakout groups (although only with super-narrow tasks/questions).
Don’t: hunt for a single magic formula – things that promote engagement one week don’t necessarily work the next week.

Sean Lancastle (School of Civil, Aero and Mechanical Engineering)
Do: leave the chat box open in BB Collaborate – students seem more likely to ask questions online than in a face-to-face setting.
Don’t: stick to the conventional 50 minute slots – shorter is better!

Andrew McKinley (School of Physics)
Do: create space for asynchronous discussions to prompt ‘background thought’ about material for longer periods.
Don’t: spend your contact time transmitting information that students can find in other places online.

Robert Sharples (School of Education)
Do: use the opportunity to ‘curate’ learning that cuts across units (and disciplines)
Don’t: over-complicate the tech. If you’re comfortable with it, your students probably are too.

Rebecca Vallis (Bristol Vet School)
Do: spend time engaging with individual students – it is still possible to get to know students online!
Don’t: deliver a 40-minute lecture – students much prefer it when content is split into chunks.

Tom Hill (School of Mechanical Engineering)
Do: let students follow their own path of learning in the online classroom
Don’t: try and maintain the hierarchy of the classroom

Peter Allen (School of Psychological Sciences)
Do: use Zoom – a surprisingly good proxy for a tutorial room!
Don’t: keep everyone on mute – synchronous sessions are much richer when everyone has their cameras and mics on.

Kathryn Allinson (Bristol Law School)
Do: think carefully about what the best tools or platform is for your teaching outcome and build in opportunities to check in with students so that they can share feedback and questions with you. Recorded lectures are great but it is important that students still have the opportunity for ‘live’ interaction with you.
Don’t: be inflexible – just as with teaching in person, things will happen that will require you to think on your feet. This isn’t a disaster and if you have planned in alternatives and back-ups then you will be prepared and able to ensure students still get the best teaching possible.

To find out who the Digital Champion is in your school, visit this page.

Teaching Stories

Forums: five ways to get your students talking online

In these ‘unprecedented times’ (yes, I said it) one thing at least is certain…like it or loath it, online teaching is here to stay.

This ‘new normal’ requires us as educators to consider new and innovative ways of engaging students with course materials. Simultaneously, we are challenged with fostering a sense of community and connectedness at a time when we have never been more isolated from one another. Online forums are just one tool that can help tackle both these challenges at once.

Forums can play a big part in providing peer-learning opportunities for students, strengthening relationships, lessening the effects of social isolation and empowering students to develop a social presence. From an educational perspective, forums provide students with space to reflect and apply their learning which in turn aids knowledge retention.

In short, ‘forums construct a learning experience around collaboration as a means of deepening understanding.’

Assuming my powers of persuasion are strong, and you are now itching to set up a student forum, here are some simple suggestions for establishing and managing forums to maximising student participation and connectedness.

  1. Don’t keep it a mystery

Ensure early buy-in from your students by being explicit about the benefits they can enjoy by being an active participant on the forum (see above). If these are made clear, students will be much more motivated to get- and stay- involved.

2. MIND YOUR Ps & Qs!!!!!! – online etiquette or ‘netiquette’

Good forums provide a safe space to openly share ideas, opinions, questions and considerations. This can only be achieved if students feel that it is a respectful and supportive environment. Take some time to consider some simple ground rules you expect students to follow. This could simply include asking students to avoid excessive use of capital letters and explanation points – no one likes to feel they’re being shouted, whether it be online or in person.

You could also provide more structured guidance to encourage a positive culture based on thoughtful and constructive engagement, this will help create an inclusive environment which encourages reluctant students to engage more freely.

Example: the ‘3CQ method’ suggests contributions should include compliment, a comment, a connection or a question.  This helps to keep discussion constructive and supportive whilst also avoiding dead-end comments like ‘I agree’.

3. Creative contributions

Make your forum somewhere that students want to come to by making it interactive and fun. This can be achieved by encouraging contributions which use multi-media, such as pictures, weblinks and personalised videos, YouTube content and PowerPoint presentations. Lead by example by contributing multimedia yourself. Your contributions will help set the tone and demonstrate to students that the forum can be a place for creative contributions outside of the traditionally academic.

4. Get involved

Forums are driven by discussions. Your active involvement on the forum will have a big impact on student engagement. Take the time to respond to comments and messages to keep the forum dynamic and lively. Follow up on questions, both privately and publicly, and provide affirmations, prompts, feedback and pose open-ended questions in order to encourage students to think deeper and more critically. Your involvement may also help identify any students who are less engaged and you can encourage their participation.

A word of warning – although your contributions help keep the forum dynamic and active, it is also important to give students space to discuss and share ideas. Try not to dominate.

5. Lose the lurking

Research shows that introverts are more likely to engage in forums than contribute in class. You may still find however, that some students are more eager to get involved than others, you may even get the odd ‘lurker’ – someone who views the forum but doesn’t actively contribute.

Lurking can occur because of a perception that those students who confidentially contribute have a better understanding of discussion topics. More often than not, active contributions have little to do with greater knowledge acquisition and far more to do with a student’s general confidence to engage with forums as a learning tool. Encourage lurking students to participate, contact them privately to tease out and challenge any preconceptions they may be harbouring about active contributors and encourage them to get involved by reiterating the benefits that can come with active engagement.

If you would like any help with setting up a forum please get in touch with DEO or attend one of their drop-in sessions details of which can be found here.

Caroline Harvey

space raiders
Teaching Stories

Three super low-tech ways to gamify your learning

Adding game design and mechanics to your online content can make it more engaging, motivational and enjoyable. Online educational content is competing with social and entertainment content, and so now is as good a time as any to start adding a bit of fun to your teaching.

We’re going to look at three very simple ways to add game design elements into teaching online to encourage students to engage with your content and activities.

1. Challenges rather than tasks.

By framing work as a ‘challenge’, ‘quest’ or ‘mission’ rather than a ‘task’ or ‘activity’, you can completely change the tone of a piece of work, even if the content is exactly the same. Adding an element of team work to this further creates a sense that they are playing a game together, rather than just engaging in another dreaded piece of group work. The work could also ask you students to assume a certain role(s) to help them complete the challenges.

Compare these two examples below:

Example 1: Today’s mission asks you to analyse the following intercepted telecom for hidden messages sent to the Nazis by renown double-agent Eddie Chapman (‘Zigzag’). In your role as linguistic analyst, you need to report back your findings in less than 500 words summarising what you have found and the reasoning behind your answers. You have just an hour to complete your mission.

Example 2: Analyse the following telecom for hidden messages in less than 500 words, including reasoning for your answers. The telecom was intercepted by MI5 from Eddie Chapman to the Nazis. (1 hour task).

You’ll need to scaffold this sort of activity around similar others, or you could just choose to have a week dedicated to ‘missions’ rather than your traditional content and get feedback on how your students have found it.

2. Progress indicators and difficulty levels.

Seeing out how much content you’ve made it through on a certain day or week’s worth of learning can create a sense of achievement and like you’ve progressed in your learning.  

In many games you know how much you have left to complete the level either by a percentage or star system. Each ‘level’ or stage is often divided up into more manageable chunks of increasing difficulty for you to progress through. Once you get to the end of that stage you feel a sense of achievement and are motivated to carry on and complete the next level.

We can apply similar mechanics to online learning and a similar effect will occur. All you need to do to add this sort of engagement is structure the content in a way that looks like students are moving through stages or levels, rather than just completing one activity after another. Adding a ‘%’ to each task also helps students understand how long they should be spending on different activities

Consider the three different ways this week’s activities are presented and think about which one attracts you the most and why. What don’t you like about them?

Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are. (10%)  

Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live). (30%)  

Complete the week’s challenge. (50%)  

Feedback and share using the discussion board. (10%)  
BONUS: Complete this code-breaking game to unlock the secret material.  
Level 1 (Easy): Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are.  

Level 2 (Moderate): Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live).  

Level 3 (Moderate – Difficult): Complete this week’s challenge.  

Final task (Easy): Feedback and reflect on the discussion board.  

*Optional extra: Complete this code-breaking game to unlock secret content.    
Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are.  

Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live).  

Complete the week’s task.
 
A checkpoint/ opportunity for feedback.  

*Extra activity – complete this  game for extra material.

Go one step further…

  • Consider adding questions or quizzes students have to complete before moving onto the next ‘level’.
  • Add ‘secret’ content students have to unlock by completing small challenges.

3. Healthy competition.

One of the more controversial aspects of gamifying education is the use of competitive elements, such as leaderboards and rewards. However, if integrated sensitively, they can provide light competition and drive among students, furthering engagement with the materials.

One way to do this is to allow students to vote on their favourite contribution to a discussion board, or a prize for the student who has engaged the most with the discussion.

You can also have a leaderboard for any quizzes that students take as part of the online content.

To bring some team work into your online teaching, consider hosting a weekly ‘pub quiz’ for students to show off what they’ve learnt during the week.

If you’re interested in gamification and game-based learning, you can join the Digital Education Office/ BILT ‘Learning Games’ learning community by getting in touch with either BILT or DEO.

BONUS: Further reading.

Read about ‘Gamifying History’ at the University last year here.
Watch this TEDx talk on ‘How gaming can make a better world’.
Take the ‘Lifesaver’ game – a brilliant example of using a game for learning.

Amy Palmer.

computer keyboard
Teaching Stories

Learning from the experience of higher education in China

Chinese higher education institutions are ahead of the rest of the world in adapting to the Covid-19 pandemic, testing new approaches and technologies to identify the best ways to help their students. AdvanceHE welcomed staff and students to a live webinar earlier this week to share these experiences and lessons learned. This “Lessons from China” webinar was broadcast to over 400 hundred global participants using the Zoom platform.

The conversation started with some tips on motivation: helping others and sharing how to succeed can be a source of encouragement; along with staying patient and focused on the work.

The range of technologies employed was next on the agenda. The experience was described as “a technology experiment” that employs a broad swathe of learning resources and digital tools. Social media is a useful backup facility if core teaching systems are having difficulty. Each platform has its own strengths, but students can become confused when switching between platforms. So it’s best to stick to one or two core platforms. At Bristol, we may consider how this advice plays out within Schools and especially within programmes that run across Schools, such as our Innovation degrees.

The experts highlighted the need to ensure that students understand how to use the selected online platforms by providing dedicated tutorials. This extends to individual support that falls outside normal timetabled hours. It was not clear how these additional hours were balanced against academics’ overall workload, so this is something that should be highlighted with one’s line manager and School for review.

The panel noted that getting continuous feedback from students ensured that this new way of learning was effective, and any issues could be remedied quickly.

Students were observed to communicate together effectively on social media platforms. They also used these platforms to collaborate on social good projects, such as a celebration video in support of those in Wuhan. While outside the formal curriculum, this activity gave them a sense of belonging within the cohort.

Learning materials are accessed differently in different regions of the world. In China, there was a need to open up access to online learning resources, using VPNs (virtual private networks), direct provision of e-text books and PowerPoints, and additional source materials. Some academics even mailed books to students’ homes, especially when those students had limited internet.

Teacher-student relationships changed as a result of this situation. Student panellists noted that when the academic’s camera was turned off, they felt more disconnected. However, this was typically done to reduce bandwidth issues for those with limited internet. Students also noted that they were aware of the stress the academics were under and were reticent to ask questions or make additional demands on their teachers. One reflected how he felt the experience made him a better, more independent learner, more able to study by himself. However, students also noted that at the start of a new term two areas were negatively affected: (1) they were unable to make new friends easily and (2) newly-assigned teachers were unable to forge a bond with their students. While making friends became more challenging, the change in the way students interacted also led some to develop more intimate relationships.

For subjects that require practical labs, a number of new techniques were employed. At one institution, a pre-existing three-year VR platform project allowed basic experiments to be completed online covering almost every discipline that uses practical labs. These labs are not recordable however, and difficult to include in student reports. Another approach required students to use their mobile phones to take photos and video. The panellists recommended conducting a survey in the first instance to see what tools students have ready access to, what physical space they have (such as a garden), and that can help inform what tasks they can complete. For some subjects, such as Chemistry, those students may need to return to campus earlier than others and complete more paper reading and writing assessments in the meantime.

The question of how to track or understand engagement on online platforms was addressed by using interactive activities, such as yes/no questions during live sessions. Most platforms also provide analytical tools that can help inform participation queries.

Patience was identified as “our most powerful weapon” wherein both staff and students should aim to do their best to participate, and use this as an opportunity to explore existing online learning opportunities like free online courses. At Bristol, several such courses are available via the FutureLearn platform, see https://www.bristol.ac.uk/bristol-futures/open-online-courses/.

The panellists spoke of their hopes and expectations for the future. In China, the focus is on employment, distribution channels, and how the government can provide more opportunities. The student panellists reflected that they cherish the opportunity to study even more and look ahead to when they graduate and can better serve the community. Career planning sessions and counselling services were expanded by their institutions and were gratefully received by students.

Finally, the session looked to assessment. The biggest challenge is how to conduct exams. For some disciplines this was considered straightforward, such as live face to face oral exams for language programmes. However, for physics, medicine and other subjects, decisions are still in flux as to how to assess. A major concern is about equality. When staff and students do not have reliable fast internet, and not every home has a laptop, the panelists reflected that a “no detriment” approach should be taken, and no student should feel left behind. Assessment regulations were freed up to allow a greater degree of assessment flexibility. For example, exams could be cancelled, assessments based on weekly assignments and quizzes could be used for grading, and individual professors would decide what is best for their cohort. Bristol has taken a similar approach by introducing a “no detriment” policy to our students, creating a safety net that will ensure no student is disadvantaged by the current crisis.

Staff can find further support on assessment here: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/digital-education/guides/coronavirus/assessment/.

Further guidance on online teaching is available here: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/digital-education/guides/coronavirus/.

As always, we welcome questions and requests for support, and we encourage you to share any good practice with us!

Dr. Ash Tierney, BILT Lecturer.

500 Words, Teaching Stories

Six ways to engage your audience online (regardless of bandwidth or timezone!)

1. Start with an activity.

Engage students from the beginning by asking them to write a question they’d like to be answered during the session, drawing a picture of their initial impressions of the topic or even take a selfie of their expression towards the day’s session and sharing it with the group! By doing this they make an initial investment in the session and you can use it to come back and reflect on these contributions at the end of the session.

2. Outline the session.

People want to know what they’re in for before investing their time. Have you ever checked out the menu at a restaurant before you’ve been? Looked at the running time for a film before you’ve watched it? The same applies here. Outline each activity, what materials are needed for it and how long you expect it to take – that way students can plan around how much time they have. Don’t forget to include those all-important ILO’s!

3. Break it down.

Just because your students can sit through an hour-long lecture you give doesn’t mean they can do the same online… Try and make any ‘passive’ activity (videos, podcasts, narrated presentations, reading (without note-taking)) no longer than 10 minutes at a time.

4. 50% active, 50% passive.

This is ambitious, but a great target to aim for when you’re designing your content. ‘Active’ includes anything the student has to do: write, type, draw, play, interact, take quizzes; passive includes everything else. Studies have repeatedly shown students benefit from a mix of both of these activities but try and keep the balance in check.

5. Keep telling your stories.

Moving content online doesn’t mean you have to become a robot in your delivery. Stories enrich teaching, creating a personal and emotional connection to the content and therefore make it more memorable and engaging. Try and keep your delivery as close to your classroom style as possible – this is what students are used to and we want to continue that where we possibly can.

6. Gamify it.

Gamifying content shouldn’t be reserved for the super-techy and it doesn’t mean just turning your content into a game. Adding game-like elements to sessions can have a massive impact on engagement and makes the learning more fun. Simple implementations include students moving up ‘levels’ as they move through content, adding quizzes to ‘unlock’ secret content and even having a leaderboard for top contributors to online forums.  

Please get in touch with the BILT Team for more information about how to do anything we’ve mentioned above, or have an idea you want to discuss further with someone on the team.

Student Voice, Teaching Stories

A PASSion for Active Learning

With Christmas over, I’ve been looking over my timetable to see what the next teaching block has in store for me, and there’s now a conspicuous absence on a Tuesday afternoon. Until now, I’ve spent my time after lunch on a Tuesday with a friend scouring Blackboard, my fantastically unhelpful notes, and her slightly more helpful notes to try to plan an hour’s worth of interesting and useful activities for somewhere between one and seven 2nd year Biology students. That’s not just out of the kindness of my heart – alongside being a BILT student fellow, I’ve been moonlighting (or maybe it’s more accurate to say twilighting) as a PASS leader.

If you’re not aware what PASS is, it stands for Peer Assisted Study Sessions. It’s an initiative run for about 24 subjects in the university that provides student-run sessions for students to come and work on study skills, ask questions, get support with uni work and life and meet other people on their course. PASS is highly flexible, and changes to meet the needs of the students, but there are some key concepts:

  • It doesn’t replace teaching
  • It’s collaborative
  • It’s fun
  • It’s a partnership
  • It’s inclusive

PASS is definitely not more teaching for students. I’m barely qualified to be a student, let alone a lecturer, so I’m not there to give a seminar or disseminate knowledge. It’s about facilitating students to take charge of their own learning. But they don’t have to go it alone (the clue’s in the PA part of PASS). Students work as a team, helping each other by sharing knowledge and skills, in an engaging, enjoyable (I hope!) way. And more importantly, in the way they want – every part of the session: the plan, the content, the activities, is flexible to respond to what the students are getting the most from. There’s no point running an essay planning workshop when they’ve all got a coding assignment due in the next few days. There’s also no point running sessions that aren’t inclusive. By making sure feedback is asked for and heard, PASS can be made useful and enjoyable for everyone who attends. 

Sounds a lot like active, collaborative learning? With one key exception – PASS doesn’t replace teaching. It shouldn’t, either, it’s really great as an augmentation to the way students study already, and having a risk-free space where students can ask questions they might not be comfortable asking academics is very important. But, I think other forms of active, collaborative learning should start to replace teaching. 

Not all of it, certainly, and in many cases across the university, it already has. But it’s really important that lecture heavy, content loaded subjects think about what they can change up. Being a PASS leader really highlighted to me the failings of lecture-centric teaching and what’s great about active, collaborative learning. 

It’s not even been a year since I passed my exams on the content we were giving PASS sessions on, and I really struggled to remember it. “Rings a bell, definitely sounds like genetics” isn’t quite the same as having a deep understanding of the content, but in a lot of cases it was all I could muster up. And yet, an often used defence of the more traditional teaching style is that university needs to create disciplinary experts. I wouldn’t say I’m a disciplinary expert, but an expert on remembering content long enough to regurgitate it in an exam where I’m separated from my (admittedly slightly poorly written) notes. 

Conversely, the content we did go over in PASS sessions feels much more firmly cemented in my mind now. I had to understand it if I was going to design activities based on it, and answering questions as well as hearing the perspectives and thoughts of other students really pushed and challenged that understanding. 

There’s technically no barrier to creating exciting revision activities to work on in study groups as students ourselves. But when you’ve got 90 lectures worth of content to commit to memory (with extra reading, of course) and 6 exams looming, you’re going to stick to what works to pass the exam, even if that’s not the best learning experience. 

And there’s something else really important that I feel I’ve not mentioned enough, which is the fun element of more active and collaborative activities. All of the student fellows did a podcast recently, and we talked about how we don’t seem to focus on joy in learning nearly enough. I’m sure part of the reason my knowledge of molecular genetics has flown from my mind with such alarming speed is because of the unpleasant association with stress, the signature ASS Library smell of sweat and energy drinks (with a hint of desperation), and never-ending lines of garish notes, highlighted in every colour imaginable

As part of my work as a student fellow, I’m developing a quick start guide to making teaching more active and collaborative. But while that’s still in the works, check out the Digital Education Office’s resources, which includes case studies from throughout the Uni of how digital tools can support active and collaborative learning.

Toby Roberts, BILT Student Fellow

students working in the office
News, Teaching Stories

The Office: Episode 0 (Trailer)

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a 5 minute presentation on ‘The Office’. I have re-recorded here. Whether you are new to The Office or have followed the posts religiously I hope that this will be a great starting/ending point for you.

If you want to learn more about The Office there are a whopping 11 episodes with roughly 15,000 words and loads of pictures and videos. The full list of available episodes is given below:

News, Teaching Stories

The Office: Episode 11

‘And that’s a wrap…’

“I’m just sitting here, I ain’t saying much I just think
And my eyes don’t move left or right they just blink”

I thought I’d start my 11th and final episode of the blog series with a Dizzee Rascal quote, because as I was reflecting on the day, whilst grabbing some lunch, these words came to mind.

Today, this instant, this very moment, is the last office session. At 5pm, 10 groups will hand in 10 reports and the unit will be over for the year. I am hoping for some help whilst I shift all the furniture that I have begged, borrowed and stolen back around the building and then hopefully it’s off to the pub for a swift celebratory beer for a job well done.

The reason Dizzee’s words came to me is that every week the office has been a busy, noisy, buzzing space, but today is different. Everyone is working hard. Really hard. Because it’s deadline day. And I still have a few questions to answer, but mostly people know what they are doing and where they are going they just need to get there. And so I am, for the first time all year, able to sit in ‘The Office’ and write my blog post. I don’t intend on being overly long but I thought I might reflect back on the 10 weeks.

As I mentioned last week, after each session I write a short reflection on the day as I take the train back home to Bath. Re-reading these reflections now a few things strike me:

Firstly attendance. Attendance has been outstanding. Every week everyone has come for most of the day. Occasionally a few people are late in. And there were a few times when people were ill or had other commitments. But overall the attendance on this unit has been better than any I can ever remember running.

Space. The space has worked well. Students would like even more desk space, but other than that, this dreary flatbed lecture room is weekly transformed into a buzzing office (see the video), with people working hard and discussing timber engineering. Asking each other sensible questions.

Team. I selected the groups for this unit and so they were pushed into groups with people they hadn’t worked with before. This isn’t a new thing for our students, but most years I have at least a few complaints about teams. This year there have been none. And as I look around I can see diverse groups of students, some of whom are studying on different degree programmes, and who, for the most part have never worked together, collaborating to create something great.

Sound. One of the most striking things about ‘The Office’ is how much it sounds like an office. Every week in my reflections I’ve noted it. That busy bustling sound. Even without the pictures on the wall, and the breakout space, and the boards to hide the lectern and extra seats, and the plants by the entrance, and the tea point! Even without any of these other features that differentiate this space from any other flatbed teaching space, it sounds like an office. It doesn’t sound like a lecture theatre, which is both quieter when I’m speaking and much noisier when I’m not. Neither does it sound like a work space where students are all working on their own. Instead it has that unmistakable hubbub of people collaborating and working together. I took a very short snippet of this, and you can hear the sound of ‘The Office’ for yourself.

Speakers. Every week we have had an external speaker come and give a lunch time talk. These are not lectures, they are designed instead to replicate the weekly lunchtime talks my old business’s organised when I worked in industry. They have covered a wide selection of different areas of timber engineering and have been well attended and well received by the students. My only thought for next year was to ensure a higher proportion of female speakers, the unit was taken by more than 40% female students and so it would be good to have 3-4 of the 7 speakers as female, rather than the one we had this year.

Cake. Cake for my birthday was a real highlight (for me at least). My wife and son made it. So next year I need to move the office day to a Saturday so it coincides with my birthday again.

Jokes. So the last point was a joke (about teaching on Saturday – my Saturdays are already busy, what with running, coffee, taking my son to rugby, watching Bath rugby, cooking Saturday night tea, watching Strictly, there is no way I could squeeze the office in as well!) As was the below that I found on one of my architecture magazines. A joke I very much enjoyed, and I hope you do to.

EP11-a.jpg

And I just discovered why it is so quiet in the office today, most groups have moved up the corridor to one of our new group work teaching spaces where there are large touchscreen computers, ideal for the final edit of the report as the group collaborate and agree content and presentation together. Another new teaching space being put to good use by our students.

So in conclusion, I have really enjoyed teaching this unit in a different way. I hope that my students have found it just as beneficial (I suspect only time will tell on that front) and I am looking forward to delivering the unit in the same way again next year (but hopefully with all the books I have written to make it happen published and in the library).

So until next time goodbye and thank you for reading my weekly blog, it’s been great fun sharing all my different thoughts on teaching and I really hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

James