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A few weeks ago I was asked to give a 5 minute presentation on ‘The Office’. I have re-recorded here. Whether you are new to The Office or have followed the posts religiously I hope that this will be a great starting/ending point for you.
If you want to learn more about The Office there are a whopping 11 episodes with roughly 15,000 words and loads of pictures and videos. The full list of available episodes is given below:
just sitting here, I ain’t saying much I just think
And my eyes don’t move left or right they just
thought I’d start my 11th and final episode of the blog series with
a Dizzee Rascal quote, because as I was reflecting on the day, whilst grabbing
some lunch, these words came to mind.
Today, this instant, this very moment, is the last office session. At 5pm, 10 groups will hand in 10 reports and the unit will be over for the year. I am hoping for some help whilst I shift all the furniture that I have begged, borrowed and stolen back around the building and then hopefully it’s off to the pub for a swift celebratory beer for a job well done.
reason Dizzee’s words came to me is that every week the office has been a busy,
noisy, buzzing space, but today is different. Everyone is working hard. Really
hard. Because it’s deadline day. And I still have a few questions to answer,
but mostly people know what they are doing and where they are going they just
need to get there. And so I am, for the first time all year, able to sit in
‘The Office’ and write my blog post. I don’t intend on being overly long but I
thought I might reflect back on the 10 weeks.
mentioned last week, after each session I write a short reflection on the day
as I take the train back home to Bath. Re-reading these reflections now a few
things strike me:
attendance. Attendance has been outstanding. Every week everyone has come for
most of the day. Occasionally a few people are late in. And there were a few
times when people were ill or had other commitments. But overall the attendance
on this unit has been better than any I can ever remember running.
The space has worked well. Students would like even more desk space, but other
than that, this dreary flatbed lecture room is weekly transformed into a
buzzing office (see the video), with people working hard and discussing timber
engineering. Asking each other sensible questions.
I selected the groups for this unit and so they were pushed into groups with
people they hadn’t worked with before. This isn’t a new thing for our students,
but most years I have at least a few complaints about teams. This year there
have been none. And as I look around I can see diverse groups of students, some
of whom are studying on different degree programmes, and who, for the most part
have never worked together, collaborating to create something great.
One of the most striking things about ‘The Office’ is how much it sounds like
an office. Every week in my reflections I’ve noted it. That busy bustling
sound. Even without the pictures on the wall, and the breakout space, and the
boards to hide the lectern and extra seats, and the plants by the entrance, and
the tea point! Even without any of these other features that differentiate this
space from any other flatbed teaching space, it sounds like an office. It
doesn’t sound like a lecture theatre, which is both quieter when I’m speaking
and much noisier when I’m not. Neither does it sound like a work space where
students are all working on their own. Instead it has that unmistakable hubbub
of people collaborating and working together. I took a very short snippet of
this, and you can hear the sound of ‘The Office’ for yourself.
Every week we have had an external speaker come and give a lunch time talk.
These are not lectures, they are designed instead to replicate the weekly
lunchtime talks my old business’s organised when I worked in industry. They
have covered a wide selection of different areas of timber engineering and have
been well attended and well received by the students. My only thought for next
year was to ensure a higher proportion of female speakers, the unit was taken
by more than 40% female students and so it would be good to have 3-4 of the 7
speakers as female, rather than the one we had this year.
Cake. Cake for my birthday was a real highlight (for me at least). My wife and son made it. So next year I need to move the office day to a Saturday so it coincides with my birthday again.
So the last point was a joke (about teaching on Saturday – my Saturdays are
already busy, what with running, coffee, taking my son to rugby, watching Bath
rugby, cooking Saturday night tea, watching Strictly, there is no way I could
squeeze the office in as well!) As was the below that I found on one of my
architecture magazines. A joke I very much enjoyed, and I hope you do to.
And I just discovered why it is so quiet in the office today, most groups have moved up the corridor to one of our new group work teaching spaces where there are large touchscreen computers, ideal for the final edit of the report as the group collaborate and agree content and presentation together. Another new teaching space being put to good use by our students.
So in conclusion, I have really enjoyed teaching this unit in a
different way. I hope that my students have found it just as beneficial (I suspect
only time will tell on that front) and I am looking forward to delivering the
unit in the same way again next year (but hopefully with all the books I have
written to make it happen published and in the library).
So until next time goodbye and thank you for reading my weekly blog,
it’s been great fun sharing all my different thoughts on teaching and I really
hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Elsie Aluko is a second year Physics student, and founder of the AfroLit society. We meet to grab a coffee at the Hawthorn’s Café and are lucky enough to find one of the coveted window seats. We get the opportunity to reflect on the pitfalls of the ‘university bubble’, and discuss the risks and rewards of starting a new society.
So how has your experience been of Bristol so far? You’re allowed to say bad things but no swearing…
I wouldn’t dream of it! I think’s it been an interesting ride, initially I found it quite difficult, settling in to the city, and feeling like I belonged at the university took a while. I don’t know if I’m even really there yet. It’s a very different experience to my time at school, I think the university is quite disjointed to the city, initially that made me feel quite confused. Now I feel like I’m at home here, I’ve made friends, I’ve made connections with people that get me and I feel settled in my department at university. I feel like I have a community here and I love it. Sorry I’m not sure that was very cohesive!
No that was a lovely answer! You said the university feels quite disjointed from the city, why did you feel that way initially? Do you still feel that way now?
I definitely do still feel that way. I think it’s symptomatic of the city as a whole, I think Clifton, Redland, the city centre, I think the parts of the city that the university buildings are in are disjointed from the city. It’s really easy to feel like the triangle, Clifton and Eat-a-Pita, are the only things that exist in Bristol. No shade I promise! But there’s so much more to the city, there’s so much history, there’s so much culture and there’s so much going on. It’s so easy to get stuck in the uni bubble, and although it’s not a campus uni, it feels like a campus. You have to actively break out of that bubble or you’re going to spend your whole time here not knowing even ten percent of the story. So I didn’t feel like I had a place within that uni bubble initially, finding that there were other spaces outside of that bubble really helped.
How did you find those other spaces?
I think to some extent I just stumbled upon things. I think every now and then they’ll be opportunities that crop up in university that kind of draw you out and bring you to see that there are other things. Yeah, I think also through the community I also had at my place of worship. That made me feel I had a connection to the city, because it was a community completely outside of the university.
So this year you started AfroLit society, what does that stand for and why did you decide to start it?
So AfroLit is the African Literature society, the idea is that it’s a place that you can learn about, engage with and talk about literature produced by people of African descent. It’s essentially a book club. But I also want it to be a portal through which people can find opportunities, events and things to do with arts and culture produced by black people in this city. I started it because I always loved reading, but I’d not always read books by African authors, I’d just not done it. It’s not really something that is encouraged in school when you do English literature, the books I was presented with were all very specific white European authors, I wanted to widen my scope. Literary palate is the word I’m trying to avoid, it’s low-key pretentious! But yeah, that’s what I want to say. I think it’s important because I’d like to consider myself well-read but if you don’t read widely then you can’t be well-read.
This is particularly close to my heart because I’m Nigerian, so reading books by people that I can relate to more directly helps a lot with learning about myself. Literature is a great way to learn about yourself, to learn about others. That’s also kind of the point, you don’t have to be Nigerian to read Nigerian literature, you don’t have to be from the places that these authors are from or have been through the same experiences to appreciate it. In the same way that I didn’t live in Victorian Britain, but I can still read Dickens and appreciate it, because it speaks to something deeper than who we are on the surface, I think it’s about who we are as people. I wanted it to be just a chance for people to learn more about something I’m passionate about.
Do you feel like starting up a literature society was a risk?
Yeah, definitely! I do. I first had the idea for it in 2017 when I read ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I wanted to start this, but I was way too scared to do it. I didn’t think I was up for it. I didn’t know if anyone else would want to have me, or if anyone would care or anyone would want to be involved. I don’t like doing things that fail. I’m ‘allergic’ to failure, unfortunately for me, even though I do fail a lot. It’s really funny, I was at an assessment centre for a TeachFirst internship and two people I met there asked if I was involved in any societies. I told them I about the societies I was already involved in, but I had an idea for a society and they told me that I had to go for it. I just felt like these two people who don’t go to my uni, who don’t know anything about me are telling me to go for it. What is the worst thing that can happen? The worst thing is that it fails and that’s okay. So, I’m glad, because I was so close to not doing it.
Do you feel like the university encourages or supports you to take those kinds of risks?
I think to an extent yes, the whole point of university is learning and discovery, of yourself, of your subject, of politics, of arts. I feel like it does foster an environment where you are allowed to and encouraged to try new things. So far, I do feel like I’ve had a lot of support. I guess it depends on what kind of risks you’re taking, in AfroLit people have supported me way more than I thought they would, people have shown way more interest than I thought they would. I wouldn’t be here without the support of people. I think people appreciate it when you take risks at university and they want things to work for you, especially if they care. So yeah, I think you are supported in taking risks here.
That’s actually really encouraging to here, it’s interesting talking to people, when it comes to academia some of the students I’ve spoken to felt really nervous about taking risks. They feel such intense pressure to do well. So, taking any sort of risk becomes a big dangerous deal, but it’s nice to know that there are areas where students feel really supported. What are your aspirations this year for yourself and the society?
I want to be able to balance it alongside my degree, I don’t want to let it overrun my studies. For the society my only aspiration is that people who are involved in it enjoy it and feel like it’s worthwhile. Because I started it for myself because I wanted to join a society like this, but it’s not about me. I want to create a space where people can come and learn, no judgement, you don’t have to know anything. I don’t know that much, so you can know literally nothing, you don’t even have to have read a book in the last three years but I want the people that come to our events to feel like their opinions are still valued and feel like they’ve learnt something or enjoyed something. In that sense that’s my only real aspiration for the society. But I’d love to be able to pass it on, that I’ve created something that can be sustainable.
Marnie Woodmeade, BILT Student Fellow, November 2019
Amy Palmer, Toby Roberts and Marnie Woodmeade all visited James Norman’s ‘The Office’ project and have shared their experiences below.
looking forward to visiting James’ ‘Just Timber’ office since before the
concept had even come to fruition. Last year, while catching up over coffee,
James told me about his plan to turn on one his classrooms into an office, and
I was instantly excited. The project was a combination of all my favourite
pedagogies: active learning, blended learning, challenge-led learning,
authentic learning, group work… all coming together to form the ‘Just Timber’
office in 1.32 Queens Building.
‘Just Timber’ is a fictional engineering company James has created. His students (employees) were all set timber engineering design projects at the beginning of the unit and are working together to create real designs with real equations in an almost real-world environment. If you want to read more about the project so far, I highly recommend reading ‘The Office’ blog series .
A date was
set in the diary to visit, and I invited two of our Student Fellows to come
along and join me. And so, last Thursday, we went along and waited for James to
show up fifteen minutes late to our visit after almost forgetting we were
coming – helping further imitate the real-world, authentic environment (just
kidding) and heighten our anticipation further.
we arrived, we were not disappointed. We were welcomed by an offer of tea or
coffee (served in a ‘Just Timber’ mug, of course) and then proceeded to look
around the office and take it all in.
thing I was struck by was the buzz in the room. Not a noisy, can’t-do-any-work’
buzz, but the natural up-and-down of a genuine office environment, with
students in their groups switching between their sketching, calculations and
discussions with each other over how best to proceed in their projects. Barely
a glance was thrown in our direction when we bumbled into the room, the
students so engaged in their projects that they weren’t looking for
We had a
quick look around the office, admiring the various projects pinned on the wall,
and browsing the elegant engineering magazines by the break-out space. We then
proceeded to interrupt students by asking them questions about how they were
finding the unit and how it compared to others they were taking.
As you can
imagine, they loved it. Of course, they are students, and so the conversations
were not void of the odd grumble (nothing you wouldn’t expect from a unit being
run for the first time), but the overwhelming response was that they looked
forward to Thursdays – regardless of the fact they were spending eight hours in
the office – and that the learning they were doing there was both enjoyable,
challenging and reflective of an authentic engineering office environment. Some
of the students even ended the day with a traditional post-work trip to the
pub, further preparing them for life out working in the ‘real world’.
been keeping up with The Office blog series, you’ll know that students prepare
for their day’s work by watching videos James has created on their VLE, and then
come to work to study their projects. This means that time in class/ office is
dedicated purely to student-centred work with no didactic teaching. Students
highlighted that their favourite aspects of the unit were the group work
element, the room layout (large groupings of desks together), the
project-centred work and the fact that they had a day dedicated to the unit.
Student wouldn’t want all of their modules to run as full-day units,
however, but would have found a unit like this in their previous years of study
valuable and enjoyable and a great chance to get to know others in their
Just Timber office is a product of a great idea, hard work and dedication to a
new way of learning, and there are many lessons we can take away from designing
a unit in this way. Please get in touch with BILT if you’d like to learn more
about setting up a project similar to this in your unit.
I had an extremely positive outlook on
the Office before I even entered the building; the concept reflected the
challenge-led work that I only ever dreamed about during my undergrad. My
positivity was only enhanced by the almost immediate offer of cake and tea (an
important part of daily office life).
However, two pieces of feedback from
students struck me as unexpected. The first was that students said they
genuinely enjoyed being in the Office. Not merely that it was a great
educational experience, but they actually looked forward to coming in each day.
Having an open-plan office where interaction is encouraged clearly enabled
students to really enjoy their time there.
The other piece of feedback was perhaps
more sobering. One student pointed out that although they enjoyed the way the
office replicates an engineering company, a ‘real boss’ is unlikely to give
mass amounts of work on the same day that five of your other supervisors have
given you a deadline. In order for more projects like the Office to succeed,
students felt that communication between units is key. This not only has the
benefit of reducing their stress but treating students as valued workers
positively impacts their outlook on university.
One of the things that really struck me about the atmosphere in the Just Timber office (other than the delicious smell of cake courtesy of James’ wife and son) was how much it reminded me of a classroom. Not a school classroom – there wasn’t any paper being thrown around and James hadn’t sent me out to think about how my behaviour affects the rest of the class – but a calmer and more focused 6th Form classroom. And to me that’s a real positive. All of the ‘employees’ were clearly getting work done and you could tell there was a strong sense of purpose. But at the same time, they were relaxed and there was friendliness between them, and the noise of conversation was a world away from the awkward silence of lectures or the hyperactive buzz of a library in exam time.
However, I wasn’t there to drink in the atmosphere and reminisce about college. The students seemed more than happy to talk to us about the unit, and I think that was in part due to how much they enjoyed it. It was clear that the effort James had put into it had had an effect on them and their attitudes, but it had paid off in producing a rewarding learning experience.
One area that students weren’t
unanimous on was the intense one-day-a-week schedule. Some felt more
productive, others exhausted (there was a suggestion that maybe in the future
it could not be the day after sports night). However, one interesting element
to me was the effect on wellbeing. With so many units and assignments to
contend with at once it’s very easy to get overwhelmed as a student. Containing
the work within a single 9-5 day helps to compartmentalise and means there’s
one less thing to worry about for the rest of the week. Instead, something to
look forward to every Thursday.
A few months ago, I was sat in a conference when I got an email from one of the heads of department asking me if I was around. Without thinking, I replied that I was working but not in the office. The subsequent email asked me, in broken English, whether I could purchase £500 in Amazon vouchers and send them back to them. My suspicions were raised so I checked the email address – and, lo and behold, it had come from a scammer.
I spent the rest of the conference not thinking about the topics of discussion but how the scammer could improve the scam – how they might increase their chances of catching me out – and the feedback I should give them. I can’t help it. I love feedback (although I have learnt to keep feedback on the precise science of loading a dishwasher to a minimum over the years).
In today’s episode, I want to talk about feedback. It’s amazing. For me, it is one of the biggest reasons I am in education – to give kind, constructive, thought-provoking and applicable feedback. If you want a great lecture on concrete I am sure there are thousands of YouTube videos just waiting to be discovered (or maybe not) but getting personal feedback really is gold. Being able to present your design to an engineer who can gently ask questions and help a student to realise both what works and what maybe doesn’t is really important.
So when I design a unit ‘feedback’ is one of the items I really focus on.
How can students get feedback? From whom? How can they apply it in the future
on other units? And more importantly how will they apply it when they go into
industry and act as a professional engineer?
I love to draw. And so rather than list the types of feedback I will use, I map them. For ‘Timber 4’ the feedback map looks like this:
So, what on earth is going on here? Well I have tried to show also sorts of different ‘feedback’ mechanisms.
On the left we have the ‘feed-in’ what have they learnt previously – and
what feedback did the students receive which will help them on this unit.
On the right we have the ‘feed-out’ what happens to the feedback I give
the students after the unit – this looks forward both to other units (which at
this point in their degree is quite limited as they only have one term to go
after this unit) but it also looks beyond this – to their life as a practising
engineer – and the skills they will need and the experiences they will have.
The feedback on the final project is designed to support them in another
project – their 40 credit Masters design project. I use the same marking pro
forma and will provide feedback so that they can learn for this next project.
In the middle is all the formative feedback which occurs within the
unit. We might call this feed forward or feedback cycles, I’m not sure what the
exact pedagogic term is, but in my mind, it is where much of the learning occurs.
And it’s where I can bring real value to the students by being involved. I have
tried to build in a number of different mechanisms.
Firstly, I sit in the office and discuss questions that students might have. Some people call this feedback, I actually don’t like this term… I prefer ‘conversation’ or just plain old ‘teaching’! I think it’s useful to differentiate the two, feedback should be focused and specific not just a conversation. This of course doesn’t mean that these conversations are not important, they really are, it’s just I think that if we call them feedback its confusing.
Secondly, students are required to review each other’s work. Every group has a checking log which records the feedback students have produced, every calculation page has a checking box – which should only be signed once the page is checked, and every drawing has the same box. The aim is to get students to support each other’s learning whilst also learning from each other.
Next, students are required to submit their drawings from the first project and these are reviewed both by me (who will provide some generic feedback) and much more importantly, by a timber fabricator who will attempt to cost the students designs based on the information they have provided.
Finally, there is a ‘Quality Assurance Review’. This will involve sitting together with each team and reviewing their progress on all four projects. Three should be complete, and one will be in progress. The three complete projects will be reviewed to ascertain whether they can competently design a number of key components. It will also ensure they have checked each other’s work (a checking log is provided to students beforehand so they can clearly see what they need to do). Once we have reviewed the three projects we will then discuss project 4 (the Quality Assurance Review). This is the summative project which they will be about a third of the way through. The aim of the review is to give some technical feedback (based on projects 1-3) but also provide some feedforward on the project they are working on. This review is not credit bearing, but if I am not convinced that they are competent in certain areas of design I will ask for them to include these again within their final project submission.
feedback – Myth busting
I don’t remember how many times people have said to me – ‘if the
assessment is formative students won’t do it’ – but it’s a lot. I don’t agree.
I think it is much more complex than this. Take the week 3 project for example.
The assessment is formative – but ten out of ten groups submitted drawings.
That’s 100%. Or everyone. So maybe they will do it if they have a good reason?
I like to think that there are lots of good reasons for doing formative
assessment including (but not limited to) it’s fun, it’s interesting, it will
help build a portfolio of work I can show other people, it will help me develop
as I work towards my summative assessment, it helps me to know what I do and
don’t know (although I appreciate it’s rarely that simple). Much of this is
described in detail in ‘Formative
assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good
Feedback on the unit
So finally I thought I’d let you know how the unit is going. I don’t
have any formal feedback, yet. But I am writing a reflective diary every week
so I don’t forget anything. Highlights to date have included:
Some really interesting
external talks – including one on timber gridshells by Jonathan Roynon of
BuroHappold and one on timber architecture by Fergus Feilden who’s Yorkshire
Sculpture Park project was shortlisted for the Stirling prize – the highest
honour in British architecture.
Taking the students to
the Old Vic for a tour – this had two purposes – the Old Vic have agreed to be
the client and they had a brand new entrance built from timber I wanted the
students to see – I loved hearing their conversations as they noticed specific
The buzz of the office
– every week it’s busy – people come and go – but there are always more people
in than out (lot’s of students have other commitments through the day) and the
conversation reminds me of when I used to work in industry – a mix of what you
did the day before and technical discussion.
Students turning up in
work attire (for the most part) every week.
Students not taking
work out the office to continue working on it in their own time (as far as I am
aware) – some students started to raise concerns that they might need to do
this – but rather than pursue that option we reviewed what they were doing and
why they had concerns.
And so at this midpoint in the project (and blog series) it seems to be
Next week – funding and the student BILT fellows will be coming to visit!
Note 1: I decided – for ethical reasons – not to give feedback to the
scammer in the end.
Note 2: My son recently discovered a TED talk by James Veitch on
replying to scammers which we all watched and laughed to – a lot – If you have
ten minutes and need a good laugh I can recommend – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4Uc-cztsJo.
Note 3: I just made up the phrase feed-in and feed-out. I was trying to
think of fun names for the episode and I was trying different variants and they
seem to make sense to me. If you have seen them used before please let me know
so I can reference them in future.
Note 4: Full reference is Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D., Formative
assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good
feedback practice. Studies in higher
education, 31, 2006.
My name is Marnie Woodmeade, I am a fresh-faced Student
Fellow working on the ‘challenge-led, authentic learning’ project. The reason I
took on this project is fairly simple: I want to help create a future where
university teaches you outside of lecture halls, working on real projects that
impact the community in which you live.
As an (ex) social policy student, I spent three years
learning all of the nitty gritty of what makes a policy work and what makes
government tick. Yet, when asked to create my own policy I was flummoxed, I
couldn’t even think of how to start. This presented a real issue concerning
university education. We spend so much time learning theorists and academics,
and while this is useful it does not lean itself toward independent forward
thinking. The BILT project presents the opportunity to find out if other
university students are facing similar issues and how they want this to look.
The new Temple Quarter campus provides the university an
exciting opportunity to expand the type of learning and teaching they provide,
and I want to ensure that challenge-led, authentic learning is high on their
agenda. Located directly in the centre of Bristol there are possibilities to
learn outside the classroom and work closely with other organisations that can
provide real-life challenges that students can tackle.
Currently I am studying for my Masters’ in international
development, studying part-time because unlike the masters funding suggests, I
am unable to live on the equivalent of 86p an hour. When not in university or prattling on about
how to overhaul the education system, you can find me tackling climbing walls
or falling into a lake attempting to windsurf.
So, there we have it, if you have any ideas, thoughts, or
even musings on anything you’ve read today please let me know and I look
forward to working with you in the year to come.
Last Thursday evening as I sat on the train heading home I reflected on
my day. It had been a variety of things, exhausting, exhilarating,
extraordinary, just another day at work, surprisingly straightforward and above
all else not a complete disaster, yes!
Of course, last Thursday was not any old day, it was the first day that
I ran my ‘office’ teaching project. I arrived at work at 7.30 – having unloaded
my academic office (where I had been collecting stuff for months) into the
teaching space the night before – and I moved furniture, set out tables and
chairs to make the space feel like an office. I put stuff on tables – so much
stuff (more on that in a minute) and tried to get everything ready. At 9am
sharp my new employees (current fourth year undergraduate students) arrived
ready for work, generally in work attire. People moved to their designated
groups – unpacked and sorted all the equipment I supplied – and by 9.30am were
ready for their first day of work. Which, believe it or not went without any
At the end of the day I asked students for feedback. Two major items
were raised – firstly that they wanted a bit more desk space – so I will
reconfigure the room next week. Secondly and much more importantly they want
milk for their cups of tea!
So I think as a first day goes it was a success.
Across the next 9 weeks, as well as recording and reflecting what
happens in my office sessions I want to also unpack some of my thinking – and
some of the practical sides of the project. I sat down a few minutes ago and wrote
a list of 7 topics I want to cover without thinking – I’m sure more will arise
as the weeks develop. In many ways the topics overlap and intersect. I fear it
will be hard to discuss some – without referring to others, so apologies if I
keep saying (especially in the early weeks) ‘more on this in a later episode’.
This week I wanted to focus on stuff.
To make the office feel like an office I have generated a lot of it. Partly I
have done this because I am old fashioned and used to work in a paperfull
office (as against to paperless). Partly, whilst digital tools are nice, I
couldn’t assume all students would have the same access to resources. And
partly because at the end of the year when students graduate I hope they will
take some of the items with them and treasure them in their future adventures,
I produced a lot of stuff.
When you start at a new firm, hopefully, they will provide you with some
information about what working there might look like. From policies on flexible
working to how to use the printers. Rather than create a course pack which
explains ILOs contact hours, methods of assessment, I created a ‘New Employee
Induction Pack’. This pack covers a wide variety of topics from what to wear,
EDI, company document formatting (for use in the coursework submission),
quality assurance, what resources are available and what they will hopefully
learn whilst working for ‘Just Timber’.
Calcpad, mug and
As part of my step into creating a work identity and creating a
‘community of practice’ I selected some of the ubiquitous tools of an engineer.
The trusty calcpad (a pad of paper with squares on and a title block that
records a number of details about the design necessary for quality assurance), ‘sign
pens’ in black for rough sketches and drawing large details and orange for
shading in timber. And a mug, for all those cups of tea one drinks when
designing buildings (I don’t actually drink tea but the firms I worked for
always had a company mug). I hope that these items help students to identify as
‘employees’ of my firm – and I hope they resonate with their own experiences
working for engineering companies over the summer, whilst also giving some
insider information on the tools an engineer might use.
Note: I intentionally did not provide scale rules (see https://bilt.online/teaching-stories-1-rulers-for-all/) because no
engineering firms has their own rulers, they instead have a selection in their
draws from the different sales people that routinely come to the office to tell
them about their products.
I have been teaching Timber Engineering 4 for about 3 years now (maybe a
little longer) and before this timber was part of another unit called
Sustainable Construction, which I have run for 8 years. Over this time, I have
developed the notes from 8 sides of A4 and an old handout from 20 years ago
(which a colleague in my old engineering firm found for me from the days he
studied in Bristol) into a detailed set of notes covering a large array of
different topics with a number of worked examples which are not just the course
notes but a valuable resource for practicing engineers. This year about the
only thing I haven’t changed about the unit is the notes. Students receive them
on their first day (and are also provided with a PDF on blackboard which they
can access about a week before they start).
A library of
Beyond the notes this year students are provided with a library of
information. These are the books and resources they would find on the shelf of
an engineering practice. They are not course notes as such and I certainly
don’t expect them to be read from cover to cover, but they are valuable
references covering a variety of topics. Each group receives 5 books (one of
the minor hiccups of the unit is that one of the books isn’t published – I am
hoping it comes before the unit is complete) 3 from industry and 2 currently
issued to publishers for review prior to publication which have been written by
a variety of academics from Bristol and further afield. These are coupled with
a wide variety of online resources which students have access to in the same
way they would if working in industry. When they get stuck students are
encouraged first to find the answers themselves in their engineering library,
secondly to talk to other employees and finally to ask directors. This is not
because the directors don’t like answering questions (we really do) but because
in industry this would be the expected process, you would try and answer
questions yourself, failing that you would speak to another engineer at a
similar level and only if they can’t answer would you ask a more experienced
member of staff (with other engineers eager to listen in on the answer).
On top of the pens, employees are given an A4 and A3 folder to store
calculations and drawings respectively, file dividers to keep their work
organised (they have 4 separate projects to work on over their 10 weeks) a hole
punch, stickers to label loose sheets of paper (when inspiration strikes whilst
eating falafel and you have to write on a napkin, that sort of thing), and of
course a propelling pencil (as maths should always be done in pencil and never
in pen). Finally, every group has an A3 box to put everything in, both during
the day and afterwards – so they can leave work behind them until next week.
Ideally this would be shelves which could be locked, but both space and budget
constraints required something a little more lofi. And anyway when I worked in
industry, when we finished a project, the paper work all went into a large A3
box where it could be archived, just in case we ever needed to look back over
what we did.
On Thursday the office will reconvene. Those large A3 boxes will be
re-opened, project folders will be reviewed. And a new project will be
launched. In next week’s episode I hope to cover ‘what the flip is flipped
teaching’ as well as reflecting on another week in the office. Until then, take