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Insights from attending UWE’s Festival of Learning for an afternoon

The following post was written by Emilie Poletto-Lawson, a BILT Fellow and Educational Developer in Academic Staff Development.

The Academic Practice Directorate at the University of the West of England (UWE) is the equivalent of Academic Staff Development[  team at the University of Bristol. They organised a week-long winter festival of learning [] after the success of their one day Learning and Teaching Conference which started in 2011. This year, they aimed to “create a buzz about Learning and Teaching to coincide with the NSS survey”. I attended one afternoon but it was fantastic to see students and staff come together to share their enthusiasm for learning and teaching.

The first half of the afternoon was entitled “Fresh approaches to T&L – A session in our new laundry space to get you inspired” led by Dr Laura Bennett (Associate director – academic practice directorate). The session included members of staff that delivered sessions in the new ‘laundry room’ as well as students that were attending sessions there but who were also using the room for extra-curricular activities.

I valued the opportunity to visit the Glenside campus of the University of the West of England to discover the laundry  room. At a time when a lot of thinking is going into teaching spaces in our University (BILT symposium June 2018 , BILT fellows working on space and design of Temple Quarter) it is always enriching to see what colleagues are experimenting with.

Before telling you about the presentation, let me tell you about the room. When we came in, it was a big empty space. I must say it had a medical feel to it, very white, sink at the back, metal shelves, not a warm atmosphere but perfect for its intended purpose: “a practical learning space for trainee optometrists, paramedics and occupational therapy students”. The facilitators were coming straight from another session on the other side of the campus so we had to build our classroom which was in itself a nice way to feel like we belonged and it was our space.

The room can be described as a “connected classroom”. There are four screens on both side walls, connected to a keyboard that enables students to use the screen as a group and it is also possible for the facilitator to show the main screen on all screens or to display the students’ screen on the main screen/all the screens. If you were able to attend a session during the digital classroom roadshow two years ago (June 2017) the set up was very similar apart from the fact that the tables were not fixed to the floor.

As the idea was to experience the technical aspect of the room we built our on wheels foldable table next to the screen and sat on high stools (not very easy if you have short legs like me) ready to roll. As I managed to sit down I realised my bag was quite far down from me on the floor and I had nowhere to put my coat. I was also quite far from the front as the room can open on both sides to create an even bigger space so the screens are at the back. Having moved the weekend before it did not take long for my back to start hurting but I was not quite sure what to do when another lady voiced the same issue and was given the option to grab a heavy chair instead of the stool. It was good to have an option but the chair was considerably lower creating some difficulties if you wanted to work from the table. Final hurdle for me as a non-native speaker, a fan covered the voices of speakers that did not use a microphone and it was a real strain to keep up.

However, despite all that, I still think it was a great workshop because it was about possibilities, about teaching differently and the space supporting your approach and ideas rather than limiting you. If you came into the room and lectured for three hours just talking at students, you would be missing the huge opportunities the toom has to offer to make your students more active, to encourage and facilitate group work, peer learning etc.

Laura Bennett introduced the aim of the session and presented key ideas from the literature regarding space and concluded that “Space should be what you need it to be”. The next speaker was Liz Reilly (Senior lecturer, social work) whose presentation “The Laundry in action – pitfalls and possibilities” gave a very engaging insight into the use of the room. Liz was very positive regarding the possibilities the room offered for learning and teaching:

  • Create groups based on theme 
  • Carousel approach – screens act as flipchart 
  • Moving from one table to the next made the students were very active 

However, she also picked up on the inclusivity issues I mentioned earlier and some other practical aspects.

  • Inclusion: comfort, high tables are a problem for people who cannot spent too much time on a stool and for wheelchairs, far away so lip read or hearing impairment 
  • Booking of the room, paperwork involved
  • Groups complained they could not hear what the lecturer said to specific groups 
  • Finally, being faced with one of her students lying on the floor to do back exercises despite the active approach she had in place was definitely not an outcome she expected.

Here are her pieces of advice:

  • Play around in the room 
  • Play around with what you are doing 
  • Log in ahead of your session and test everything: screens, keyboards, etc. 
  • Have a conversation with people managing the room 
  • Get feedback from students 
  • Get someone to observe you 

The following presentation, “Simulation: the Laundry as Emergency Room” byAimee Hilton (Senior Lecturer, Adult Nursing) took the original idea behind the design of the room and took it quite a few steps further. She transformed the Laundry into an emergency room treating the victims of a mass casualty event for paramedics, radiographers and nurses students. Drama students joined students paramedics, radiographers and nurses from other years to play the roles of patients. She also involved journalists students whose aim was to get as much in the way as possible journalists would should such an event take place. The university security team, fire brigade and ambulance crew also joined in to add to the realism of the situation. Did I mention professional make-up? Now, I must admit I would have loved to be a fly on the wall. The feedback from the students was extremely positive. It was very interesting that the hardest part of the planning was recruiting enough actors. I particularly liked the multi-disciplinary approach of the project.

The last presentation was by three students from the pre-hospital simulation society who study in the room but also used it for one of their events. The society provides “student led learning with the aim to facilitate realistic quality simulations to improve clinical competency and confidence within student Paramedics”. The Laundry is only one example of location, they have created simulations in a car, outside, during freshers’ fair etc. The idea is to design simulations of rare situations so that students are better prepared should it ever happen to them in their professional life. Each simulation is followed by a debrief at the end looking at what went well, what the literature says about such a situation etc. Their enthusiasm and commitment were exemplary.

Finally, Laura Bennet concluded the session with a tour of the side rooms and suggestions of technology to use to make your teaching more interactive. If you have attended CREATE workshops, you will recognize a few of those:

I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend the event and I feel I have learnt a lot. For me the main take away is that we need to make the space work for us and to be mindful of who will be in the room and how accessible out teaching as well as the room are.

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