We asked our Student Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT role. The following blog is from Zoe Backhouse, who has been a BILT Student Fellow since December 2018.
My name is Zoe Backhouse. I’m a fourth year Liberal Arts student newly appointed as a BILT Student Fellow. I’ll be working on a project called Improving Students’ Understanding of Assessment.
This marks my fifth year trying to shake up education practice here, which either makes me an education practice nerd or suggests there’s a lot to change at Bristol. Just kidding! I love Bristol Uni 😊.
When I started in 2014 I needed a part-time job and overheard that the Students’ Union was a great place to look (its Living Wage Employer status meant high £££ for first years). By my second week, I’d landed a role as an Administration Assistant with the Educational Representation team. Without realising, I’d found a passion. I worked with student reps and academics from across the University, supporting them to challenge the curriculum and change degrees from the grassroots. Inspired, I went on to become a course rep, a faculty rep and then took a year out after second year to work as the Undergraduate Education Officer.
I learned a huge amount over those three years. I encountered diverse opinions and practices and, although overwhelming, this taught me that there was no one way to experience this University. Despite the difference, there was something that became consistent to me – whether it was as a high or a low, most students’ time was defined in some way by their experience of assessment.
Just as I began to develop a detailed picture of student needs and was putting together a manifesto for the University to help address this time-old problem, my term ended at the Students’ Union and I had to go to McGill University in Montreal, Canada for my year abroad. What a shame!
I ended up having probably the best year of my life there. Although this was of course because I was in one of North America’s most exciting cities, I have to be honest in saying that the year was special in what it gave me educationally.
Suddenly I was at a University where I wasn’t just studying disciplines I’d encountered in school. I was being educated in Indigenous Studies, Jewish Studies, learning about contemporary Canadian history through Fine Art and historic Islamic law through English Literature. I was assessed through volunteering, creative writing, building real-life grant bids for a project I’d set up in the city, and, yes, through formal research papers. I felt I’d never learned so much in my life.
Coming back to Bristol, a university with many of the same qualities and challenges as McGill, I saw only opportunity in terms of where we can go. I love what BILT does and think it’s already had a huge effect in supporting academics to take risks with their teaching practice and experiment with whole new concepts in Higher Education.
Now I’d like to see how this applies to students. What is the potential of us co-creating assessment? How can we cross disciplinary boundaries and be assessed on, or even beyond, our programme? And, perhaps most importantly to me personally, how can we understand our mental health in the context of our learning and assessment (not just in the context of support services)?
Prepare for focus groups, debates and more blogs over the word limit. I can’t wait to start!