Students Talk Spaces

The following post was written by Lisa Howard, a BILT Student Fellow. 


I am a Student Fellow at BILT and on Monday 18th February I ran a workshop for students at Beacon House. Although posters and online advertising had attracted a small number of students, the most effective method of recruitment was handing out fliers and encouraging hungry students to join me with coffee and cake! We ended up with 13 engaged undergraduates and postgraduates, all discussing their opinions about learning and teaching at the University of Bristol. After a short introduction and slideshow of the variety of physical spaces at other universities, students rotated around a carousel of activities with a focus on physical and virtual teaching spaces in higher education. Below is an overview of activities and initial observations.

1. Design a classroom

Students were given inspirational photos of the variety of furniture available to use in classroom design and tasked with designing a classroom space for 15 people, giving reasons for their choices. Most students discussed the need for comfortable furniture and curved tables to encourage engagement. They also talked about the need for natural light and a comfortable temperature. Students liked the idea of having flexible seating and all agreed that there should be more storage and plug sockets!

2. Sorting Spaces

Students were presented with photos of physical spaces from around the world, some of higher educational establishments, some of learning spaces in schools and others of public spaces. They were encouraged to discuss whether the spaces fell under the category of ‘teaching’, ‘learning’ or ‘social’. There was a huge difference in opinion as to whether the courses were social, teaching or learning spaces depending on what course the students were on. For example, students on modern languages courses were much more flexible in the type of space they believed could be used for teaching, whereas Law students were much more fixed in their view of room purpose. The only consensus that was met by these students was that traditional, individual-seated, tiered lecture theatres could not be used as social or learning spaces, as they did not allow for interaction, but that was the only agreement across the piece

3. University: Expectations vs Reality

This activity was designed to elicit student ideas around expectations for technology and spaces, as well as linking to the project ‘Empowering Students to Impact Their Teaching and Learning’. With word prompts for support, students wrote thoughts on post-it notes to create a t-chart of their expectations of university life versus their reality. Around the theme of assessment, the general feeling was that more and shorter assessments would lower the stakes, allowing better exploration of material and preventing deadlines from being so close together. In teaching and learning, there was an expectation for more tutorials and seminars, whereas many students described their courses as consisting mostly of lectures. A few students felt that socially there was not as much opportunity as they had hoped for social interaction with other students on their courses. When thinking about technology and digital spaces, many students agreed that they found RePlay very useful and were pleased to be able to submit assignments online.

4. What if…?

Students were given a number of provocations for this activity, including ‘What if there were no lectures?’ and ‘What if all learning was virtual?’. The predominant theme was the need for balance in terms of styles of learning, types of assessment and variety of teaching spaces in order to accommodate the needs of all learners and to give students a range of different experiences.

5. Photo Booth

Students were filmed answering questions about their experiences of UoB in relation to spaces. The photo booth element gave the illusion of privacy and was designed to encourage students to be honest and open with their responses. The questions included ‘Describe the type of class where you do the most learning. How does the physical space have an impact on this?’. In response to this question, the general consensus was that classes with interaction and discussion allow for the most learning, although some felt that content delivery was best through lectures. In their opinion, elements of the physical space that make learning possible include having enough space for a laptop or notebook and having comfortable seating. Most students agreed that they preferred face-to-face teaching to learning online.

6. How do you feel about Blackboard?

For this activity, I used the website to elicit responses as I wanted to create the feeling of anonymity. Some positive feedback about this virtual space was that everything is in one place and that information can be accessed remotely. Students felt that it could be improved by allowing access to materials from other courses or units, enabling interdisciplinary connections to be made and allowing students to make more informed decisions on unit choices. There was also a feeling that improving the aesthetics and organisation of the spaces would make it more user-friendly.

It was great to hear from students from a variety of faculties and I am looking forward to publishing some videos showing the range of responses. Keep checking the BILT website for further insights!

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