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An introduction from Tansy Jessop, our Visiting Professor

Tansy

Here I am in my Christmas jumper, looking slightly silly #dachshundthroughthesnow, and telling you a bit about myself. First things first, I do have a twelve year old black and tan sausage dog whose origins are close to Bristol. So call my stint at BILT a bit of a return on behalf of my hound! I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to be a Visiting Professor at BILT for the year. My undergraduate years were spent at the University of Cape Town, not dissimilar in size and feel to Bristol but a campus university rather than a city one. From my four years in the fraught 1980s at UCT, I remember feeling both adrift and excited; mystified, enthralled and slightly confused at the relevance of T S Eliot and Catullus. My studies seemed slightly irrelevant in a context of tear gas and angry fists thrust in the air.  As I look back I now know I was experiencing what many students feel but cannot name in relation to their studies. Sarah Mann has written the best work on student alienation and as I read it, I know for myself that this is the root of much of student disengagement in higher education. Particularly for first generation students.  

My interest in alienation and in engaging students is a huge spur to my work in learning and teaching. In leading the ‘Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment’ (TESTA) research and change process for nearly ten years, and working with students and staff in many UK universities, I have encountered alienation in many guises. The defining feature of alienation is an absence of meaning or connection with something expected to bring meaning.  In the context of assessment, it is students disgruntled with the treadmill of repetitive assessments; overloaded with content; finding that their curiosity is not ignited by assessment; that they have little in the way of pedagogic relationship with their tutors in feedback, for example.  Students often experience their modular curriculum as fragmented and knowledge on one unit seems unrelated to another one. TESTA exposes some of the structural flaws in compartmentalised modular curricula. It calls to a much more programmatic and joined up approach to teaching and learning. 

But alienation is not all bad. It is part of what higher education is about as students wrestle with multiple perspectives and try to pick their way through different ways of understanding their disciplines. The soupy sea of ambivalence that higher education invites students to swim in is bound to be a bit unsettling. However, there are wonderful pedagogic ways of lighting beacons along the way for students. Through TESTA, I have seen academics embrace new ways of doing formative assessment, engaging students in challenging, playful and exciting learning which prepares them for summative tasks. I have seen academics stand back and see the whole programme for the first time. This new way of seeing is often a catalyst for programme teams drawing back from content-heavy, facts first approaches, and inviting them to partner with their students in slow learning. The ‘slow professor’ approach to teaching, learning and assessment is all about creating spaces for students to engage, integrate and apply their learning.  I hope over the coming months to share some of these ideas and engage various programmes in the TESTA process. I am really looking forward to getting to know the community at the University of Bristol, with or without my dog.  Definitely without my Christmas jumper.  

 

Berg, M. and Seeber, B. 2016. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. Toronto. University of Toronto Press. 

Mann, S. 2001.  Alternative Perspectives on the Student Experience: alienation and engagement. Studies in Higher Education. 26 (1). 

 

 

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“Why is my curriculum white?” Towards imagining what our curriculum might look like were it researched, taught, and learned from Black Queer-Trans perspectives

The following post was written by Omari G. Hutchinson, a PhD student at Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Education, Birmingham, UK, who attended an event hosted by BILT and the Centre for Black Humanities as part of the ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ series. 

“Why is my curriculum white?” Towards imagining what our curriculum might look like were it researched, taught, and learned from Black Queer-Trans perspectives”. Here are my thoughts after attending the above. On boarding the train from Birmingham’s New Street station, I was already increasingly excited about Dorothea Smartt’s talk. The pre-talk literature really engaged and intrigued me. Dorothea’s metaphorical bridge invited participants to enter a crossing, somewhere between the personal self and the local context when considering the national diasporic picture. Dorothea’s poetic writings filled me with anticipation and joy. She took me on an imaginative journey to Barbados and straight into the living room of two Black women, passionately in love, but who also caused me to consider (imagine) the many mothers’ who have practiced, queer erotic love, self-love and love of the Divine. This left me musing over the untold woman-to-woman love stories of Black Caribbean women. Like others at the talk, I too want to know how we go about unmasking the rich heritage of same-gender love, which might have been colonised.

Like me, those in attendance were able to stretch their thinking by attempting to decolonise, for ourselves, the ‘whitewashing’ of a generation of diasporic lesbians and queers. I was personally touched by thoughts of the queer diasporic web.

Then we were encouraged to cross another bridge – connecting the rich history of Black, feminist, gay poets and activists here in Britain. For me, this is when it really got personal! I was suddenly transported back-in-time, to the feelings I had in that packed room, when Essex Hemphill read his own poetry on a visit to Britain. To say that the room was free from tension would be a miss representation. There was resistance expressed towards terms that might be deemed derogatory in one context, taken as a slur on efforts to queer the curriculum; but in this decolonizing learning space, it was liberating to suggest that we can reclaim terms that add meaning to the context in which we enter a given space.  This was an interactive conversation offering opportunities for self-conscious articulations of the hybrid identities of Black Queer-Trans perspectives.  Decolonising, queer love suggests Coleman, necessitates practice and commitment.

This was a really inspiring event. Thank you to Dorothea Smartt,
Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, and those staff and students involved in promoting such a stimulating exploration of the Black-Queer-Trans perspectives. I came away with a vision for how the curriculum might be reconfigured like were it researched, taught, and learned from Black Queer-Trans perspectives. The session marked an important milestone in my own development within this new and exciting field of inquiry.

News

‘Using Games in Teaching’ – 26/10/2018

The first ‘Using Games in Teaching’ event, organised by Chrysanthi Tseloudi and Suzi Wells from the Digital Education Office, saw 25 colleagues from across the University come together to discuss their experiences, hopes and ideas for gamifying learning. A wide range of staff attended the event, with both Professional Services and Academic staff represented, and with a wealth of experience among them.

Staff sat at a table at the using games in teaching event

The event started with an introduction from each member of the group, a summary of their experience with games and explanation as to why they had attended the session. It was clear that the understanding and experience of types of games varied vastly, from computer games to card games, everyone had a different perspective on what ‘using games in teaching’ meant.

The main part of the event looked at ‘Decisions and Disruptions‘, a decision-making game using Lego models and cards originally developed at Lancaster University and now being developed further by Ben Shreeve from the School of Computer Science. The game was created to try to understand how organisations have made their investment decisions in the hope to understand how cyber security failures occur. Players work as a team to advise their company what they should buy (items are on the cards), then once these decisions have been made players suffer various cyber-attacks and participants see how their decisions have impacted the organisation. They play the game through four rounds, attempting to secure the organisation over time with a finite budget and multiple consequences. The game is beneficial as it allows staff to work as a team with both technical and non-technical staff, with the Lego working as a visual aid to help the players relate to their own workplace. The tactile element of the Lego also helps embed the learning (a point which was seconded by a number of others around the room).

IMG-0710
Ben Shreeve and his Lego/ card decision making game (pictured here making a paper aeroplane!).

We concluded the event with a small and simple game to play. We were asked how often we would like the ‘Using Games in Teaching’ events to take place in future, ranging from once a teaching block to once a month, with a physical scale being shown from one end of the room to the other. The ‘game’ element came when we were asked to show our answers using a paper aeroplane we had just created launched across the room. This simple yet amusing activity lifted the session and was something which could easily be done in the classroom to add a little fun and make the session more memorable.

Please contact Chrysanthi Tseloudi or Suzi Wells if you’d like to come along to the next one.

Female student stood in front of other students discussing information on flipchart
Student Voice

Utilising Student Voice in Learning Support and Transition

The following post was written by BILT Associate and Senior Teaching Fellow in Bristol Law School, Imogen Moore. 

Sometimes we might wonder how much of the guidance we give to students to support transition and learning is heard and absorbed. Despite our efforts and best intentions, we may find the same mistakes being made, the same confusion continuing – and the same lack of satisfaction voiced in student surveys.

It can be tempting to apportion blame – if only students would just listen. But we can’t ignore our own responsibility for providing effective guidance and support. How can we help our students hear? Critical educational messages may be missed even when clearly delivered due to overload, anxiety, unfamiliarity, perceived irrelevance, and various other factors. There is much to be discussed in all those areas, but the focus of this blog post is the role student voice might play in overcoming obstacles to communication, particularly during transition.

Why consider utilising student voice to support learning and transition? In short, students typically respond well to guidance from their peers. Even within peer assessment and feedback, where students sometimes question the value of advice given by a peer rather than a tutor (Mulder et al, 164-5; Cartney 2010, 554), students typically engage well and have positive perceptions of the process (Nicol et al, 2013, 108-9). So even in a context where a contrast might be drawn between an ‘expert’ tutor and an inexperienced peer, students recognise and value peer advice.

Such positive perceptions are likely to be all the stronger in relation to more general guidance on studying and the student experience. That is because in this context the student is undoubtedly the expert: expert in the modern student experience; expert in what works for them; expert in understanding the concerns and confusions of a student in transition. A lecturer will inevitably be (at least) one step removed from the student experience, and probably perceived to be a great deal further away than that. Furthermore the lecturer may be viewed as having their own (possibly unrealistic) agenda, rather than genuinely understanding a student’s concerns.

Utilising student voice may thus enable the provision of expertise and understanding in areas a lecturer is less equipped to comment upon. Even those directly engaged in transition may not fully recognise what new students need to know, as our own experiences and recollections might be misremembered or reflect a different era. It has been observed that what may be “obvious to those of us indoctrinated into university life … is information that is very difficult for someone on the outside of the institution to obtain without inside assistance”, particularly “those coming from backgrounds without a tradition of university attendance” (Clapham, 2018, 373). We may fail to identify ‘unknown unknowns’.

Even in respect of ‘known unknowns’, we may be perceived to be inexpert. Our distance from the listener may significantly reduce the perceived value of our guidance to the student. Even a new lecturer has by definition already cracked the code and is now on ‘the other side’. A student is inherently more relatable, a fellow traveller who is learning the route, has spotted some of the dead-ends (and shortcuts), and whose experience is directly relevant to the listener. It is probably for this reason that student reviewers of ‘The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’ (Moore & Newbery-Jones, 2018) responded so positively to the inclusion of authentic student comments. One anonymous student reviewer remarked that their own experiences were similar to many of those mentioned, while another stated that they were more likely to listen to advice from a fellow student than from a lecturer. This tallies with observations within the context of peer-assisted learning: students often found it easier to relate to a peer than an authority figure (Zacharopoulou et al, 2013, 202).

The relatability of the messenger has particular significance in transition. Pre-transfer students may have difficulty envisaging university life and accurately predicting their student experience, which can cause difficulties in adapting to higher education (Briggs et al, 2012, 5). The ability to picture ‘someone like me’ (Briggs et al, 2012, 14) in the voices of real students may therefore have particular value in that context.

Student experience and student voice might then be utilised more fully in transition and learning support. Much good work has already been done in this area for example through PASS mentors, at least when the system works well. But there may be further scope for utilising student voice within programmes, whether in welcome lectures, transition events or skills development (although care must be taken to ensure students are not perceived as a cheap substitute for ‘expert’ advice in this area), and even within individual units. For example unit leaders might ask past students to give tips and reassurance to new students, in place of more typical top-down lecturer advice. In my own unit that takes the form of short video clips on Blackboard from a small, diverse group of high-achieving students from the previous year (“The Survivors”), to demystify the subject and build trust. (With thanks and acknowledgements to Dr Lana Ashby of the University of Durham, who originated the ‘Survivors’ tag.)

Incorporating student voice within programmes and units – rather than leaving it entirely outside the classroom – ensures we do not appear to be delegating our educational responsibilities to the student body, enables us to check any advice given is genuinely helpful, and provides reassurance to the recipient. My experience within units and programmes and in writing ‘The Successful Law Student’ has shown that authenticity is essential (hence the importance where possible of using attributed comments and materials), but this cannot remove our responsibility for ensuring advice is appropriate and accurate. Student voice as learning support is therefore a potentially powerful tool that should neither be neglected nor manipulated, but nonetheless requires oversight.

References:

Briggs, A.R.J., Clark, J., & Hall, I., (2012) ‘Building bridges: understanding student transition to university’, Quality in Higher Education 18(1), 3-21
Cartney, P., (2010) ‘Exploring the use of peer feedback as a vehicle for closing the gap between feedback given and feedback used’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35(5), 551-564
Clapham, N., (2018) ‘Book review: The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’, The Law Teacher, 52(3), 372-374
Moore, I.K., & Newbery-Jones, C., (2018) ‘The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’, Oxford University Press
Mulder, R., Pearce, J. & Baik, C., (2014) ‘Peer Review in higher education: student perceptions before and after participation’, Active Learning in Higher Education 15(2), 157-171
Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C., (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective’ Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 39(1), 102-122
Zacharopoulou, A., & Turner, C., (2013) ‘Peer assisted learning and the creation of a “learning community” for first year law students’, The Law Teacher 47(2), 192-214

This blog post is published with thanks and acknowledgements to the University of Bristol Law School Blog (https://legalresearch.blogs.bris.ac.uk/) where a version of this piece first appeared.

Meet the BILT Fellows

Meet the Fellows: James Norman

We asked our Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT Fellowship. The following blog is from James Norman, who has been a BILT Fellow since September 2018.

For years I struggled to understand the inexplicable fact that two and a half hours into a three hour lecture on concrete half my students were asleep. However, at an architecture lecture by Professor Alexander Wright I had my eureka moment. Professor Wright was explaining that when a large group of people stay in a room for a long time with poor air circulation the carbon dioxide levels in the room rise, leading to people feeling drowsy. I knew it, I just knew it. There was no way 3 hours on concrete could put a room full of people to sleep1. It was the air. And this got me to thinking. If the air quality in a room affects how people learn, what else in a room affects how we learn? Does the room layout, the lighting, the colour of the walls, the acoustics, the background noise (or lack thereof), the furniture? What about technology? What about virtual reality?

 Over the next year I hope to explore some of these questions and more as I investigate “Rethinking Space”. Having been a practicing engineer for 12 years (and a genuine concrete enthusiast) and having worked on a number of award winning education buildings2 I hope to explore the current practice in space design in higher education both from a pedagogic perspective but also through conversations with leading practitioners. I hope to discover both how we can create new and diverse spaces for education whilst also considering how we can optimise our current spaces to enable them to improve educational practice. Finally as an academic with a lot of industrial experience I am interested in how we can promote professional practice through the novel use of space.

 If you have any ideas or have tried using space in a novel way (or feel frustrated by the lack of opportunity to do so) let me know. I would love to meet up and chat over a coffee.

 

Note 1 – In my first year of teaching I did lecture once for three hours without a break. I now try and limit myself to 20-30 minute sections with breaks and activities to help break up the lecture and help students think through and discuss the materials among themselves.

Note 2 – I have worked on a number of education buildings most notably I was the lead engineer on Oxford Brookes Gypsy Lane Campus which won a RIBA National Award (2015), RIBA South Building of the Year (2015), RIBA South Regional Award (2015), RIBA South Sustainability Award (2015) and was medium listed for the Sterling Prize (2015).     

Great Debate

The Great Debate: Engagement vs Attendance?

The fifth blog in this series has been written by Jenny Lloyd, a BILT Fellow and Senior Teaching Fellow in the School of Economics, Finance and Management. 

Today’s’ students – not so different after all?

A few weeks ago, my twin daughters returned home for a weekend from their respective universities. As they tumbled through the door, clutching suitcases and bags of washing, voicing complaints about being overworked, laughing about some mildly embarrassing incident and, of course, heading straight for the fridge, it occurred to me that despite the changes in the educational landscape, students themselves were very much the same as when I went to university.

However, it was after they’d filled the washing machine, emptied the fridge, and decided they needed to do a bit of work that the real differences began to show. They rejected the quiet bedrooms and sensible desks that I would have used and instead colonised the kitchen table with their laptops, phones, and seemingly any other device they could find. As a student, I would have worked in isolation, wrestling with library books and folders of handwritten notes; by contrast, my daughters skimmed through databases, websites and forums, annotating handouts and worksheets they’d been given. They typed directly into Google docs that formed the bases of projects with collaborators who were offering their own contributions from tens or even hundreds of miles away.

As I watched them work, I couldn’t help but reflect upon this difference between generations of learners. It occurred to me that differences between them are less about what is learned and more about how it is learned and the information landscape in which the learning takes place. True, developments in research have driven changes in the content of courses – for progress to occur that should always be the case. However, the subject matter remains little changed; Law, Medicine, Economics, Politics, Classics – students are still studying so many of the same subjects that were available to generations of students before them.

The real difference between students of my generation and those of my daughters’ is how they engage with the subjects they study. I grew up in an educational environment that was primarily dictated by the ‘transmission’ model of learning: it was the role of teachers, and later lecturers, to deliver information, and my role as student to learn it[1]. ‘Learning’ was a much more singular process and related more to outcome than process. In contrast, my daughters’ learning experience both at school and at university has been much more akin to what Lave and Wenger (1991)[2] describe as ‘engagement in actions and interaction and situated in a social world’ (p.35). Harlan, Bruce and Lupton’s (2012)[3] recognition of the pivotal role that social context plays in teenagers’ practices of gathering information, thinking about that information and ‘creating’ (ie producing the required artefact) appears particularly pertinent. Digital communities and multiple points of contact seem not only to drive the sources of information they use but to offer both normative influence as to what is acceptable/appropriate and feedback on the outcome in terms of positive or negative reinforcement.

Academically, this is a double-edged sword. The noise and the energy of the digital environment (or the kitchen) is much more akin to the world outside of the university, and I can’t help but feel that it is good that they are acclimatising to it early. The digital environment also gives students access to resources that allow them to research their work more widely, and in more depth, than previous generations. Moreover, the opportunity to collaborate and exchange ideas on online fora is potentially an invaluable way to challenge preconceptions and generate new ideas.

The flipside, however, as Harlon, Bruce and Lupton (2012) note, is that teenage learners are not necessarily drawn to ‘challenging’. Instead they tend to prefer sources that have low barriers to entry and are welcoming; something that explains why students often eschew academic journals in favour of Wikipedia and other such sources of variable quality. Moreover, online fora are effectively self-selecting ‘communities of practice’ which can often become uncritical echo chambers. This being the case, they can stifle the very rigour and intellectual debate they should be promoting.

In the end, I suppose the choices students make in the long term will come back to the results their work generates and the feedback they get. Like their parents’ generation, they will treat the marks they receive as a barometer of success or failure and, if they engage with them, the comments will act as signposts as to which sources were of value and which weren’t. The old cliché applies – the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In the case of my daughters, fortunately they seem to be doing OK. However, I must say it defeats me as to how they achieve so much with noise of the latest reality television show rattling along as a soundtrack in the background. In fact, I was about to say as much when I remembered my mother saying exactly the same thing to me when she found me sitting amongst a pile of papers and listening to the Sunday night chart show on Radio One. Perhaps things haven’t changed that much after all?

[1] Tishman, S., Jay, E. and Perkins, D.N., 1993. Teaching thinking dispositions: From transmission to enculturation. Theory into practice32(3), pp.147-153.

[2] Lave, J. and Wenger, E., 1991. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.

[3] Harlan, Mary Ann, Bruce, Christine and Lupton, Mandy. (2012) Teen Content Creators: Experiences of Using Information to Learn, Library Trends, Vol 60, No.3, Winter, pp 569-587.

We invite you to leave comments below. 

Great Debate

The Great Debate: Engagement vs Attendance?

The fourth blog in this series has been written by Emilie Poletto-Lawson, a BILT Fellow and language associate in the School of Modern Languages. 

Have you ever tried to learn a language? Gone to your local bookshop or library and brought home the best resources you could find, sat in front of them, very excited and determined, that day is the day you start your journey! You booked on the highest rated course and sat there listening. And yet, ten minutes later, half an hour later, two hours later, one year later you realise that, well, you cannot have this philosophical conversation you dreamt of having with a native speaker, you cannot read your favourite writer in her/his original language, you cannot watch the latest film by your favourite foreign director without subtitles. Why? Because no matter how good the resources, no matter how good the facilitator, if you do not engage, if you only sit there, it will not work, it is about you.

I chose this example because I am a language tutor and this is a story I hear often but I think this applies to anything you do in life. Attending a talk, a workshop, reading a book, going to university etc. it will not work unless you engage with it. You might need to define what engaging is to you but it certainly is not sitting there, waiting for a miracle. You are the key and that can be daunting or extremely empowering.

As an educator, It think it is essential to build a supportive community in class, of course, but also outside of class. I remember amazing lectures from my time at university but my fondest memories are the activities I chose to engage with and the human adventure they were. Bearing this in mind, I try to offer those to my students. Starting a radio show in French, directing the French year abroad on stage acts, running subtitling workshops are all activities I love and that bring me closer to my colleagues involved in the project, and to my students. Seeing colleagues come together and students engage, build their confidence and further their language skills is the best reward for a teacher.  As facilitators we can make offers, we can listen, we can guide but the key lies with the students themselves.

We invite you to leave comments below.

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Welcome!

Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching exists to support the University in providing its students with an education which is evidence-based, innovative and effective. It supports and promotes pedagogic innovation and research into all aspects of education and it hosts a number of activities and awards which promote and disseminate good practice.

We’ve set up this site so you can connect with colleagues, share your practice and search for resources to support you in developing your teaching. We want you to interact with the site as much as possible, so please leave comments on posts and chat to each other in the forums! You can find general information and our Events listings on our University of Bristol site.