News

Employability in the curriculum – Engaged Learning

This ‘Employability in the curriculum’ blog series is brought to you by the Faculty Employability Team at the Careers Service. These blogs are designed to give you practical advice and ideas to get started with enhancing how your curriculum prepares students for their future success. In this blog we look at Engaged Learning in an online context.   

As challenging as the pandemic has been, it has provided the opportunity to think about things differently. Our last blog explored authentic learning in the curriculum – what it is, why it matters, and some examples of where it is already being done at Bristol. For this blog post we’re taking a closer look at one particular example of authentic learning: Engaged Learning. 

Engaged Learning – aka Service Learning or Community Based Learning – involves students working with an external organisation on a real-world problem, as part of the curriculum. This benefits students as they have space to develop skills they may not pick up in the classroom as well as getting the chance to contribute to our civic mission. The partner organisation gets extra capacity, and many praise the benefits ‘a fresh pair of eyes’ can bring.   

There are, understandably, some challenges in delivering Engaged Learning projects at the moment – but in many cases it is still possible for these opportunities to go ahead. And at a time when it’s potentially harder for students to access traditional work experience, these can be a key opportunity for students to develop their employability as part of their programme and contribute to society. 

Student engaged learning outdoors along the Bristol waterfront

Interested in finding out how you could make Engaged Learning a success in your unit? Here are our five top tips: 

Choose a model that can work remotely  

Opportunities need to be able to translate into the digital world. For example, consultancy projects such as the MSc Environmental Policy and Management Consultancy Unit and the BSc/ MSc International Development business planning units involve students working in teams, sometimes virtually, to solve a question posed by a partner organisation.  They are less time intensive for partner organisations than placements as students aren’t based within the organisation nor do they provide the supervision but have a limited number of meetings.   

Communication is key! 

Partnership working can be carried out virtually allowing students to access and work with organisations across the globe. Meetings between the unit director and partner, as well as students and partner, can be conducted over platforms such as Skype, Zoom or phone.  Essential documents from partners can be shared via email; students can work on documents together using MS Teams or Microsoft cloud. 

However, there are limits to digital interactions.  In a face to face meeting, it’s easy to read other’s reactions.  This is harder over online platforms where it can feel stilted, not to mention connectivity issues leading to frozen faces!  This increases the need for clear communication throughout the project, including careful consideration and management of student and partner expectations.  For example, when preparing the students to ‘go out’ and engage with their partners, students need to understand that local knowledge is of equal value to academic knowledge.  Building relationships and communicating remotely will be a valuable skill for students to take with them into the workplace. 

Think creatively about assessment 

Choose an assessment method which meets the unit’s intended learning outcomes (ILOs) but also involves an accessible element for partners. A lengthy essay will probably be of no use to an external partner so alternative assessment methods should be sought.  

Methods could be formative or summative, with partners also given the opportunity to provide feedback. For example, our second year Physical Geography students do a presentation which is assessed by the academics while partners provide formative feedback which feeds into the student’s final report. Our Environmental Policy and Management partners answer one simple question contributing to 10% of the student’s mark.   

Presentations can be an accessible method for a wide variety of audiences – students can pre-record themselves presenting to a PowerPoint and then use a platform such as Zoom for questions. Partners could either attend the live presentation or watch the PowerPoint recording and meet separately with the students. 

Some other ideas on alternative assessment methods:  

  • reports 
  • podcasts 
  • videos 
  • online exhibitions 
  • digital storytelling 
  • concept maps 
  • policy briefings 
  • project plans 
  • app development 
  • Wiki 
  • blog post 

Don’t forget about accessibility

We must be mindful of accessibility for our students and partners, including potential issues with access to computers and broadband (see BILT’s recent blog on accessibility issues for external partners). The Digital Education Office recommends using a blend of synchronistic and asynchronistic content, with a focus on the latter to ensure inclusivity. 

Have a Plan B 

When Engaged Learning projects are well thought out, they run smoothly. Very occasionally things don’t work out – e.g. if a partner drops out or data becomes unavailable. A Plan B is important. You may want to plan other ways to include real-world learning in your unit or programme, so students can still apply their learning (see our previous blog on real-world learning for more ideas), or ensure that there’s accessible data available for students which doesn’t rely on the partner producing it. 

Although there are challenges, now is the time to think creatively about our curriculum offer for students. It’s also a chance to develop opportunities that are meaningful for our students, allowing them to work with our partner organisations to create a better society. 

This information has been collated with the support of our academic colleagues 

If you have any further thoughts on how to run Engaged Learning opportunities, or are interested in becoming a part of the joint BILT – Careers Service peer support Engaged Learning Community, then get in touch with our Engaged Learning Coordinators – Hannah Tweddell and Hannah Cowell. 

News

Employability in the curriculum – why does it matter?

This ‘Employability in the curriculum’ blog series is brought to you by the Faculty Employability Team at the Careers Service. These blogs are designed to give you practical advice and ideas to get started with enhancing how your curriculum prepares students for their future success.

Many of us in the Careers Service have been participating in BILT’s fantastic Digital Design course over the past few weeks – and we’ve been inspired by all the innovative ideas and practice being developed across the University. You may wonder what that has to do with employability.

Well, we wanted to take this opportunity to start a conversation about the impact of the transformation of teaching and assessment on not only students’ current academic experience, but on their future life after university too. This is the first in a series of short blogs sharing practical advice, ideas, and inspiration to think about how you can realise and enhance this impact through your practice.

To kick things off, we thought we’d share our thoughts on what ‘employability’ is, why it matters, and why we think it has everything to do with the curriculum.

What is ‘employability’?

‘Employability’ as a term can be confusing, with various definitions in different contexts. It’s also not always a popular guest in conversations around the curriculum, sometimes bringing a perceived threat of making education transactional, or detracting from research-led, rich academic teaching.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. At the Careers Service we define employability simply as the skills, knowledge and attributes which equip students for life and work after university. Which makes our role essentially to help students succeed in their lives beyond their studies – a holistic approach to employability, which is also integral in our university’s vision for education. The engaging, innovative and challenging curriculum of the curriculum framework is one which prepares students to take their next steps.

And why are we talking about it now?

This is more important now than ever – current students will be entering a challenging graduate labour market, with fewer opportunities to gain work experience during their studies. Realising and enhancing the potential of the curriculum therefore becomes even more crucial to their future success. Whatever your feelings towards the term ‘employability’ itself, we can all agree that students’ academic experience should help them to get to where they want to be in the future.

So, what does this mean for the curriculum?

The Careers Service aspiration is that, through their academic studies, every student has the opportunity to:

  • Develop, recognise, and articulate their skills, knowledge, and attributes.
  • Apply their learning to real world contexts and gain insight into the world of work. E.g., through Engaged Learning , other authentic learning or work experience.
  • Connect these two things to the demands of and opportunities in the labour market and effectively plan their next steps.

Enhancing employability often means simply surfacing the benefits of existing pedagogic approaches, and the skills and attributes innate to the subject. It is not necessarily about doing more or adding things in, but might be a case of making small changes which can have a significant impact for students.

How can you do this in practice?

Clearly enhancing employability requires us working together, and the expertise of the Careers Service is here to help you. This series of blogs will provide you with practical advice and ideas to get started, and share some of the fantastic practice already happening across the institution.

Look out for our next posts which cover topics including surfacing employability already in your programmes, helping students to recognise and articulate their skills, and developing opportunities for real-world learning.

We would love to hear from you too.

  • How are you enhancing employability through your units or programmes?
  • What else do you need advice or inspiration on in order to do this?

Share your feedback to help us develop our advice and guidance in the coming months. Get in touch with Ellen (Faculty Employability Manager) at ellen.grace@bristol.ac.uk.

photo of bristol with colourful houses
Teaching Stories

Urban Spaces. Civic University.

The University of Bristol has pledged to make the city a better place1. Our research institutes are leading the charge to action this2, but how can we connect our research to our teaching? How can we support our students to consider the relevance and applicability of their studies to the real world on their doorstep? 

Here are four innovative ways that you can think about engaging your students with the idea of the “civic university”. Shared resource templates to support these approaches are available from BiLT, such as risk assessments, health and safety guidance, photography and film consent forms, and UoB’s indemnity insurance. 

1. Primary data collection 

Primary data collection in the city can be tailored to suit a broad range of subjects. In Chemistry, first year students ascend ladders to check air quality monitors. In Archaeology, students visit local cemeteries and record observations of burial sites such as demographics and mortality rates.   

Most data collection has simple requirements: notebook, phone camera and a space for sharing the data. This type of fieldwork is well suited to formative groupwork but can also contribute to summative assessment. 

The benefits of incorporating primary data collection early in the undergraduate curriculum include: 

  • Improves confidence in handling primary data and conducting research; 
  • Develops teamworking skills; 
  • Provides an opportunity for transferable skills such as film making and good health and safety practice. 

Staff can consider using this data within their research so that students’ research is seen to be valued and incorporated into larger projects. This enhances students’ sense of the value of their coursework. 

2. Designing for the city 

Designing for the city can include civil engineering projects, temporary city installations and exhibitions, and embedded urban technologies, to name a few.  

The tools needed for this approach can range from simple pen, paper and observational walks, to advanced design software packages. It can be purely classroom based, or engage with external organisations. The permutations are endless. But at the core is the ethos of creating an asset for a defined public space. 

By choosing a specific space or type of space for the asset, students need to keep in mind the limitations of that space. This approach works well in groups, with dedicated groupwork sessions supported by staff.  

A suggested facet of this approach is to “throw a spanner in the works” in the middle of the project. For example, telling students that their planned asset must make a 20% reduction in budget, to reflect real world dynamic challenges. 

The benefits of the design approach include: 

  • Enhances appreciation for the complexity of applying theoretical learning into real world contexts; 
  • Develops adaptability in challenging circumstances; 
  • Increases creativity and innovation skills. 

This approach can also invite direction from external collaborators who suggest assets for students to develop to meet particular needs. This might include local community groups or Bristol City Council. This relevance can support students’ improved sense of the value of their studies.  

3. Equitability and Sustainability 

Take students on a series of local fieldtrips across Bristol, incorporating observation and primary data collection. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a useful framework for considering how your subject relates to social, environmental and economic challenges faced in different ways in different city districts. 

You can take students on walks, on public buses or hire buses, depending on your budget and accessibility requirements. Sites might include the industrial landscape of Avonmouth, the historic harbour and docks, the mix of nature and residential in St Werburgh’s, or the Clifton bubble. 

Students can be tasked with seeing how their subject relates to the SDGs in the applied context of the city. This approach can be delivered as an “outdoor lecture” or through directed tasks for students to conduct in the various outdoor settings, perhaps with printed template worksheets. 

The benefits of this approach include: 

  • Enhances cohort cohesion, as students undertake a shared experience; 
  • Encourages engagement with themes of sustainability and global challenges; 
  • Greater understanding of the lived experiences of people from different socio-economic backgrounds. 

This approach works well as a shared start of term activity that brings the whole cohort together and is then integrated into successive classroom sessions as a point of reference. It can also invite co-delivery with external organisations visited during fieldtrips. 

Specific questions posed to students could include: 

  • How should we innovate the city to prepare it for the future? This might consider rising sea levels, emerging technologies, increased populations, housing shortages, changing demographics, transport, etc. 
  • Is Bristol a City for All? This might consider designed abelism, economic zones and divisions, the density and provision of healthcare, etc.  

4. Haptic experiences

Space for reflection and the individual experience is intrinsically valuable. One way to invite introspection is to consider haptics (see Paterson 2007). This considers the sensorial world created in different places in the city, the sights, sounds, smells, textures and “Bristol vibe”.  

Students can take theoretical concepts of phenomenology3 and sensorality and apply them to lived personal experiences, expressed through personal reflective writing. Sites can be visited multiple times to see how weather, events, and the time of year affect the experience of space, place and meaning. For example, St Nicholas’ market visited on a Monday morning is an entirely different space to a Saturday Christmas fair. Landscapes too are dynamic and ever changing, where a summer stream can transform a winter river. 

Haptic investigations can impact new ways of understanding the world and invite fluid readings of space and time. It can also challenge recorded experiences in the literature. For example, antiquarian explorers recorded their observations from the subjectivity of an able-bodied male (Johnson 2012). Students can be tasked with questioning urban spaces from other perspectives, such as from the viewpoint of women, children, or the elderly. 

We can also invite intercultural dialogue in understanding the senses, as they are both physically and culturally perceived (Classen 1997: 401-410). The senses are not confined to the five we learn in school (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell), they extend to inclination, temperature, acceleration, hunger, time, etc. How these senses are externally controlled or created can be queried, such as through the design of public spaces. 

References: 

  • Paterson, M. 2007. The Senses of Touch: Haptics, affects and technologies. Oxford: Berg 
  • Johnson, M.H. 2012 ‘Phenomenological Approaches in Landscape Archaeology’ Annual Review of Anthropology 41, pp. 269-284 
  • Classen, C. 1997 ‘Foundations for an anthropology of the senses’ International Social Science Journal 49(153), pp. 401-412 

Coming soon- a podcast, ‘The City as a Learning Space’ – only available on the BILT Broadcast Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Soundcloud.

Dr Aisling (Ash) Tierney – a.tierney@bristol.ac.uk  

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Marnie Woodmeade

Dear reader,

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.

Teaching Stories

Engaged Learning 101

During our smooth, buffer-free Skype call, Senior Lecturer in Design Thinking Ann Padley and I chatted about the fresh take the Innovation course at Bristol has undertaken. The 4-year integrated master’s programme collaborates with 14 subject disciplines (from Music, to Computer Science to Social Policy) and has a cohort of up to 80 students. The interdisciplinary programme is structured around two aims: i) specialisation in a subject and ii) the acquisition of practical skills and initiative.

‘Through the programme, we aim to make our students T-shaped graduates.’ What Padley means by this is that the course combines the breadth of practical skills students learn at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship with the depth of knowledge from their subject disciplines. But how does the programme strike this balance between breadth and depth?

The course encourages students to fully immerse themselves within the department of their chosen subject area by fulfilling the same unit requirements as Single Honours Students. The added dimension of students in Innovation comes through core units.  

These units are not graded with the typical summative exam students are used to. These assignments are not floating around waiting to be marked, processed and dissolved into the academic ether.

These assessments are not meant to be forgotten. They are meant to engage and be engaged with.  

Such assessments are business plans, client presentations, and proposals for new innovations organisations to consider… They are projects that burst through the bubble of academia.

The value of these projects does not only come from their unconventional format. They reside in collaborative partnerships students build with each other, their tutors and… external actors. That’s right, students work with professionals through the concept of engaged learning.

In a nutshell, engaged learning is that bridge where theoretical knowledge and the oh-so-desired work experience employers seek finally meet. But the experience isn’t a simple binary between academia and the professional sector. Engaged learning fosters skills like collaboration, creativity, problem-solving… Transferable skills and experiences that would make students well rounded scholars as well as well rounded people.

The projects that students take on are conceived through their working relationship with tutors and the organisations that supervise them.  These projects are usually a long-term process. 2-3 weeks are taken to flesh out and evaluate the parameters of assignment and 9-10 weeks are taken to execute the project throughout a Teaching Block. This extended effort allows students to engage with a project they co-produced with their tutors.  Students get to shape their project alongside their industry professionals and give them the opportunity to claim authorship of their work.

You could call the Innovation programme the lovechild between a consultancy position or start-up experience and a full-time degree. The programme is practically designed to whet students’ appetite for experience and quench recruiter’s thirst for well-equipped entry-level applicants.

Ten engaged learning projects were led last year on the Centre’s Client-Led Briefs unit with companies ranging from a top national law firm to Northern Surveying, a family-owned quantity surveying practice. Padley highlights that such projects allow the concept of engaged learning to be put into practice rather than being taught as an isolated ‘island’ concept that students learn about without applying it to their wider academic interests and/or working skills.  

Engaged Learning projects are a refreshing pedagogical step forward, however, they are not without their challenges. This type of learning makes students learn about the unavoidable obstacles of the working world. (Clients that are difficult to get a hold of, team members not pulling their weight, uncertainty about the best next step to take…etc.)

This is when partnership principles are put into place to mitigate the obstacles of such projects and to safeguard and preserve the interests of students, academics and the external institutions.

When conceptualising these principles, Padley states ‘We need these principles to be able to help shape the way engaged learning takes place and to build an ecosystem focused on creating value for all parties involved.’ For her, principles are not only put into place to guide methodology, but to manage power dynamics between parties and peoples. Padley states that as well as collaborating with others, students and staff should also learn to gage compatibilities and delegate responsibilities in a just manner.

This hierarchy of power and responsibility should be viewed as a network that encourages the collaboration of knowledge. In the Client-Led Briefs units, Innovation students are considered ‘junior consultants’ and their tutors ‘senior consultants’. These titles do confirm that a hierarchy does not necessarily negate a partnership but enhance it.

Padley highlighted that students are not ‘placing an order from a set, defined menu.’ Although I was a bit confused at first, this intriguing metaphor did make sense. Students aren’t placing a fast order of work experience to companies through a quick business transaction. Students must think about the impact of their order, and the contributions of their exchange. Companies are not cashiers, they are waiters, more interactive and receptive to the order. They let you know about the seasonal specials, the tasty work constraints, the crunchy financial plans…

Engaged learning is about understanding this academic transaction. Students, staff and academics do not just create a partnership to passively exchange notes, but to examine and evaluate the benefits of their collaborative efforts.

Innovation is entering its fourth year and is expected to export its first cohort of graduates next summer. When I asked Padley about the work opportunities her future graduates were expected to fall into, she said that some graduates would have the potential to start their own business, use their entrepreneurial mindset within existing organisations, go into consulting, or forge their own path into a completely different sector they are passionate about.   The Innovation programme’s incorporation of Engaged Learning is a glimpse into the future pedagogical landscape of tertiary education. This is hopefully a landscape where assessments and projects are no longer feared for their immediate numerical outcomes but valued for their emergent learning experiences.  

Corrie Macleod

Teaching Spaces Workshop (pm)

Description

Students, come along and have your say on the future of physical and virtual teaching spaces at the University of Bristol! As universities move towards more active learning, teaching spaces are becoming more flexible and adaptable, with traditional lecture theatres being redesigned to facilitate group discussion and collaboration. Technology is becoming better integrated into teaching spaces and students are expected to engage with online learning environments and participate in class via Apps. With all of these changes taking place, it is important that your views are heard! Should we get rid of lecture theatres? Should digital learning replace face-to-face teaching? Should libraries be updated to allow for group work and collaboration? This workshop will involve a range of short activities designed to elicit your views on how you would like teaching spaces to look in the future. Come prepared to talk, draw, drink coffee and eat cake! Bring friends! As a thank you, all participants will receive a £5 Amazon voucher. Spaces are limited!

Organiser

Lisa Howarth is a Student Fellow, studying at the University of Bristol and working for the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching (BILT) to gather student perspectives on teaching spaces.

News

‘myopportunities’ and the launch of the Bristol Futures Engagement Opportunities badge

The Professional and Community Engagement Manager, Jordan Hurcombe, shares this exiting news around the launch of a new system to support students and staff in engagement opportunities.

Bristol Futures Engagement Opportunities connect our students, the University and wider stakeholders through the sharing of knowledge, resources and skills. We achieve this through collaborating with local, national and global organisations on projects that support all students to develop key personal and professional attributes aligned to the Bristol Skills Framework.

Engagement Opportunities allow students to build roots and connections outside of their existing networks, apply their learning outside of their formal curriculum and develop new skills. Opportunities range from internships and employer vacancies, through to volunteering, student leadership and mentoring. These opportunities non-credit bearing and mutually beneficial, with no minimum time commitment.

We know there are already lots of exciting ways our students can engage outside of their studies. We want to support colleagues delivering these opportunities to promote them, as well as ensure students are aware of the opportunities available to them. From March 2019, we will be launching an online platform, to help students easily find opportunities to develop their skills outside of their studies all in one place.

Already involved in delivering engagement opportunities? Promote your project using myopportunities and be recognised by applying for a Bristol Futures Badge.

If you would like a demo of the system or support to add your opportunity, we will be holding drop-in sessions for staff on the dates below;

  • Tuesday 22 January, 2pm-4pm, Priory Road 4, Room B16
  • Tuesday 12 February, 2pm–4pm, Priory Road Complex F Block, Room 2F4

Please confirm your attendance by registering here.

For more information on the badging and guidance on promoting your opportunity, please visit the Bristol Futures Engagement Opportunities Staff Page.

If you would like to meet a member of the team to discuss how we can work with your specific School, Faculty or Department, or if you’d like us to present at a meeting, please do contact us.

Engaged learning network graphic

Engaged Learning Network – Mingle: Reflecting on Ethics


An open space to reflect on what we have discussed throughout the Autumn Event Series and speak to other academic staff working on Engaged Learning across the University.

This mingle is part of the Engaged Learning Network’s autumn event series on the ethics of Engaged Learning. Each event is designed to build upon discussions from the previous sessions, but don’t worry if you can’t attend all the events in the series. We will ensure that you will still be able to contribute to and benefit from each individual session.

The Brambles is located at the back of The Hawthorns (home to Conferences and Hospitality) on the corner of Woodland Road and Elton Road.

You can enter through the Hawthorns garden, which faces Elton Road, or through the dining room behind the Hawthorns bar. You will need your U-Card for access.

Please note, this event is only open to University of Bristol staff members.

Engaged learning network graphic

Engaged Learning Network – “What the eth-ics?” with Prof Morag McDermont


Exploring the ethical challenges and solutions of Engaged Learning.

Join the Engaged Learning Network for the first of their Autumn Event series focussing on ethics for the Engaged Learning Network.
Professor Morag McDermont, who recently completed a large collaborative research programme with community organisations in Bristol and South Wales (see http://www.productivemargins.ac.uk), will talk about ethical challenges and ethical innovation in the sector of Engaged Learning followed by Q&A and a reflective exercise to identify key challenges ahead of the workshop.