News, Uncategorized

#Digifest19: The technology conference encouraging more human interactions

The following post was written by Amy Palmer, BILT Digital Resources Officer.

This year’s Digifest explored the theme ‘Shaping education for a hyper-connected world’, in which ideas around the digital challenges we are facing were shared and discussed. I attended three panel events while I was there and found that similar conclusions were drawn from them all: the use of technology may be increasing, it is imperative that we do not lose human interaction. This may seem obvious, but throughout the day there were moments where I felt a tension between discussions around how technology in education was becoming central to the learning experience and technology’s role in the creation of current mental health challenges facing universities.

The first session I attended looked at a report recently released by Jisc in which a qualitative study was undertaken with lecturers across the sector.  Five key themes emerged from 2-hour interviews with staff, with a number of recommendations being made. The one I’d like to highlight is:

 ‘Teaching staff are concerned to support students’ wellbeing and they take a holistic approach to student welfare. Currently, much of this work is done face-to-face. With time and space at a premium, universities and colleges could consider how digital technologies can help to support student wellbeing as well as other, less strictly academic aspects of the student experience’

One part of this statement really jumped out at me, ‘digital technologies can help to support student wellbeing’ – my mind immediately conjured a scene in which a student having a mental health crisis was faced with a computer instead of a human and the potentially damaging impact this would have. I opened the conference magazine to a double-page spread looking at this exact question, ‘Can technology ease the mental health challenge facing universities today?’, with six solutions set out, the most striking of which was chatbots – a solution recently employed by Bolton College in which students struggling with stress or self-harm are provided links by a chatbot to online information and contact details for the mental health team. I couldn’t help but feel this was more a cost-saving approach that one that had direct benefits for these students in need (but perhaps I’m being cynical).  

I was encouraged by comments made from panellists in which they emphasized the importance of human interactions, agreeing that face-to-face engagement should be maximised, but that appropriate space on campus was needed for this. Risks around disengagement from students where they can not attended were raised, but were balanced by risks of students feeling isolated and lonely when too much emphasis was placed on technologies.

The second session was a horizon-scanning panel discussion in which the 2019 Jisc Horizons report was launched. The report’s title is ‘Emerging technologies and the mental health challenge’ with panel members discussing the different ways this could be addressed. One panel member suggested technology could be used to ‘streamline human interaction’ – another concept I felt uneasy with.

It was agreed that a balance needs to be struck between the increased use of learner analytics and the potential reduction of human interactions though increasing number of online services (such as lecture capture and VLEs) and the mental health challenges facing universities. The panel members all agreed that a key take-home message from the report was that there was a need for a person-centred approach and that the technology must not replace the human, though I wondered how this would practically play out in a climate of reduced budgets, streamlining of staff, automation of administrative tasks and increased reliance on online services.

The final panel discussion I attended was on the ‘fourth education revolution’ – with the host asking the participants what they believed was ‘Education 4.0’. Responses were mixed, but all centred around the idea that education needed to be personalised, on-demand and customisable. The relationship is changing between the student and professor from one which is a transactional to a more balanced, less hierarchical one. All panel members had a background in educational technologies, but all noted that these services created more time and space for richer, face-to-face interactions.

At the end of this session a question was raised about whether we would even need a physical campus in the future, which leads me beautifully onto the final part of my day.

Jisc have created a virtual reality experience, ‘Natalie 4.0’, in which the user can experience a day in the life of a student that does not attend a physical campus. You wake up in a ‘bedroom’ at the beginning of your day and interact with tutors and students though making choices in the virtual world. The experience was eye-opening and something I believe many others in the University would enjoy – we hope to put on an event with Jisc in the near future to allow staff to try out this new way of learning!

News, Uncategorized

Why I am Making a Zine about Assessment

Zoe Backhouse is a BILT Student Fellow and fourth-year Liberal Arts student.

I’m making a Zine about assessment at Bristol uni. This Zine is going to be creative, visually-engaging and, most importantly, fun! 
Zines are great ways to bring narratives together from different types of people. I’m talking to students and academics across campus to understand how they experience assessment at the moment and what they want to change for the future. Assessment is important to us on more than just a pedagogical level. Talking to Physicists last month, I learned a culture of self-certifying where students feel so pressured by stacked deadlines that they tactically decide which exams to opt out of and re-sit in summer. At the same time, the Physicists also had more of a sense of community than any students I’ve come across in Arts. Their lab assessments, group projects and tight-knot relationship with alumni – who frequently post help for problems on their giant Physics Facebook group - has brought together a huge Physics family. Assessment can unite and divide us!
I want to understand more about why assessment is so important for how we experience university, both as teachers and learners. What concepts are currently discussed in the Higher Education sector that we should be taking on at Bristol? What good practice is already happening here that more people should know about? And how can we make the most of our student body, campus and vibrant city to improve how we assess and feedback?
The Zine will consist of drawings and paintings submitted by students, snippets from conversations with academics, quotes from student focus groups and easy-to-read articles condensing theory in HE. It will give academics and student reps ideas on what’s currently being debated and what methods we can move as we become a more pedagogically-focussed university.
Hopefully this will also be an opportunity to introduce Zine as a more mainstream method for presenting information and effecting change! We’d be behind the USA where universities are already harnessing Zinemaking as a way to teach – and learn - from their students. 
Have some thoughts on assessment you want included in the Zine? Know someone who would be good for me to talk to? Want to contribute a doodle, cartoon, sketch or piece of creative writing responding to the theme of assessment? Email me at zoe.backhouse@bristol.ac.uk to be involved!

Zine [definition]: some sort of publication, usually mass-produced by photocopying (in some cases scanned, put on the net, or copied via fax) on any range of topics, but usually filled with passion, a means of telling one’s story, sharing thoughts, and/or artwork/ comics/ doodles.

I’m making a Zine about assessment at Bristol Uni. This Zine is going to be creative, visually-engaging and, most importantly, fun!

Zines are great ways to bring narratives together from different types of people. I’m talking to students and academics across campus to understand how they experience assessment at the moment and what they want to change for the future. Assessment is important to us on more than just a pedagogical level. Talking to Physicists last month, I learned a culture of self-certifying where students feel so pressured by stacked deadlines that they tactically decide which exams to opt out of and re-sit in summer. At the same time, the Physicists also had more of a sense of community than any students I’ve come across in Arts. Their lab assessments, group projects and tight-knot relationship with alumni – who frequently post help for problems on their giant Physics Facebook group – has brought together a huge Physics family. Assessment can unite and divide us!

I want to understand more about why assessment is so important for how we experience university, both as teachers and learners. What concepts are currently discussed in the Higher Education sector that we should be taking on at Bristol? What good practice is already happening here that more people should know about? And how can we make the most of our student body, campus and vibrant city to improve how we assess and feedback?

The Zine will consist of drawings and paintings submitted by students, snippets from conversations with academics, quotes from student focus groups and easy-to-read articles condensing theory in HE. It will give academics and student reps ideas on what’s currently being debated and what methods we can move as we become a more pedagogically-focussed university.

Hopefully this will also be an opportunity to introduce Zine as a more mainstream method for presenting information and effecting change! We’d be behind the USA where universities are already harnessing Zinemaking as a way to teach – and learn – from their students.

Have some thoughts on assessment you want included in the Zine? Know someone who would be good for me to talk to? Want to contribute a doodle, cartoon, sketch or piece of creative writing responding to the theme of assessment? Email me at zoe.backhouse@bristol.ac.uk to be involved!

An interview with..., Humans of Bristol University, News, Uncategorized

Tricha Passes

Tricha Passes is a Teaching Fellow in History of Art. Her ‘Best of Bristol’ Lecture on the 14th of March explores the role of the Parisian Café as a meeting place for the exchange of art and ideas in the early twentieth century.

La-rotonde

Who inspired you to go to university?

My parents encouraged me to go, and I went with the goal and expectation of increasing my knowledge and understanding of art history. The lecturers at the Courtauld Institute were very inspirational.

Tell us about your favourite teacher.

Dr. Robert Ratcliffe was a brilliant teacher, and one who really made me think about the power of looking and pausing to look and reflect. He was an expert in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, particularly on Paul Cezanne.

Did you know what you wanted to do after university?

I was unsure exactly what I wanted to do after university, but I knew I wanted to work in the creative arts!

What kinds of things do you do in the classroom to engage your students?

I like students to think about the cultural impact of the period that they are studying and researching. The use of music, film and poetry all play a very significant role in aiding our understanding.

Have you got any surprising stories from your time as an art historian?

I think my most surprising stories come from the fascinating interviews I have undertaken with a range of artists and their families. I remember taking the railway historian and travel writer George Behrend out for a midsummer meal in the Scottish Highlands while I interviewed him about his father’s commissioning of Sir Stanley Spencer for the Burghclere murals. He had been a chauffeur for a time to Benjamin Britten, the composer! He had some good stories to tell.

What do you like to do to relax in your free time?

I like to wild swim or go for a walk in the woods.

What advice would you give students who are worried about the future after university? 

It is as important to know what you don’t want to do, as well as what you want to aim  for. Use all the university and friend networks to help you on your way. Don’t be shy about writing to people or companies you want to work for. Nothing ventured, nothing gained – shoot out those arrows!

Have you got a favourite café in Bristol or Paris?

My favourite café in Paris is one facing Place des Voges in Le Marais, and my favourite in Bristol is The Albion in Clifton, though that’s technically a pub.

Describe your lecture in three words?

I can do it in six: ‘A journey to a past time.’


Reserve your free tickets for Tricha’s lecture now: ‘Cafe Cosmopolitanism in a Pre-Starbucks Age: Paris Internationalism pre-WW1’ 

 

 

500 Words, Uncategorized

My Flirtation with Dungeons and Dragons: Musings on Leaving

The following post was written by Amy Palmer, BILT Digital Resources Officer. 

In November 2018, I joined my first Dungeons and Dragons group. And now, three months later, I’m leaving.

It hasn’t been an easy decision to make, and it isn’t one I’ve taken lightly.

I’m writing this blog is because while I was making the decision to leave something occurred to me – my investment in D&D was minimal compared to a student who had started their course and, three months later, decided that it wasn’t for them.

So many difficult feelings must come into play, which I can only imagine from my flirtation with D&D, and I will attempt to translate them in the following paragraphs.

The overriding feeling I have is one of embarrassment – I didn’t fully grasp the game and its rules; each week I am finding it difficult to follow, while others in the group seems to be going from strength to strength. Not only is the game play (read for a student ‘content’) not what I expected, but it is also filled with skills I did not expect I would need. Further to this, it just doesn’t excite me in the way that it thought it would. The idea of it is so much more appealing the reality. This must be the case for so many students who decide that their course and, further to this, university, is not for them. Many Bristol students are used to being at the top of their class and upon arriving at Bristol find that they are amongst others who are just as intelligent as they are, which can be a huge blow to their self-confidence. Pair this with a lack of passion for the topic and a struggle to keep up and students can find themselves wondering if they’ve made the right decision.

The next is a concern – a worry – that I’m letting people down. Guilt. Human investment in my D&D experience consists of the group I play with and my husband having to listen to me retelling the events of each week’s session. But for a student, there are so many more people involved – their family, the friends and schoolfriends they’ve said goodbye to, the jobs they’ve left to start their new course. I’ve wondered about how I’ll break the news to my D&D group members but there are just 7 of them to tell – I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for a student to come back to their hometown or country and tell everyone it didn’t work out.

Another consideration is the financial implication of my decision. Luckily for me, I’d invested all of £7.99 into my D&D career (a lovely pink and blue set of dice), but for students who decide to leave three months into their course they have already sunk thousands in tuition fees and that’s without even considering the living costs incurred during that undoubtedly difficult and uneasy period.

Regardless of all of theses worries and concerns – I know I’m making the right choice. Why invest in something that I’m not passionate about? It’s a cliché, but life is too short to spend large amounts of time doing something that doesn’t make you happy. When it comes to getting a degree, it is not the only way to be a success in life, and their time would be much better spend doing something they get excited about.

What I hope to achieve by saying all of this is that next time a student on your course is considering leaving, be upfront about all of these concerns. Recognise the costs, the guilt, the embarrassment.  But remind them how short term these issues are compared to another three/ four years of how they are feeling now. For most students in six months, it will be forgotten about and they will be happier. It is so easy to get stuck in the moment it is hard to look to the next few years. Perhaps we should reconnect with students who left the course and share their experiences with students who are thinking of leaving – or share our own anecdotes of leaving something in pursuit of something to make us happier.

It is possible that the student approaching you saying they need to leave the course actually just needs some additional support, but we need to be open to the idea that university isn’t for everyone and although it isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, it can sometimes be the right one.

One thing I can take away from my D&D experience (aside from a cool, but now useless, set of dice) is that I tried it, and although I found it isn’t for me, I have learnt more about myself in the process.

500 Words, Uncategorized

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

The following post was written by Amy Palmer, BILT Digital Resources Officer. 

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

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

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

Bio-poems

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

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

(Gere, 1985:222)

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

Writing dialogues between two different theorists/ arguments

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

Writing during class to ask questions or express concerns.

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

References

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

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

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