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 

Footnotes:

  1. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2019/february/civic-agreement.html 
  2. For example, the Cabot Insitute’s City Futures theme https://www.bristol.ac.uk/cabot/what-we-do/city-futures/ 
  3. One’s personal experience of a place, including one’s feelings, emotions and senses.

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

Ash Tierney





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 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.

Three children looking at a test tube and beaker in a laboratory
Education Enhancement Funds

MAP: Bristol

A Teaching Innovation Grant was awarded to Dr Chris Adams for the academic year 2017/18 – you can find a summary of the project he undertook with his grant below. If you would like to read the full report, please contact the BILT Team

Project summary
MAP-Bristol (Monitoring atmospheric pollution in Bristol) was a project which allowed first-year students to participate in a real scientific investigation by carrying out a survey of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution across the city of Bristol. They used the investigation to provide the raw material for workshops in scientific report writing and data handling which form part of their first year-unit ‘Communication and Information Skills in Chemistry’.

At the same time, the ‘Eco Team’ from Bristol Grammar Primary School undertook a similar monitoring project. They were then invited into our labs to do some chemistry and analyse their results, with some of our first year undergraduates acting as laboratory demonstrators.

Conclusions 

Overall, I would give this a 7/10. The students engaged with it, liked the societal relevance, and generally enjoyed it. The practical aspects worked and went well.  

Just reiterating how enjoyable and valuable the NO2 project has been. Very glad to see public health issues and science being linked in this way, especially on the first year of our course! 

As described above, I was disappointed by the quality of the written work produced by many of the students, and this will be the focus going forward. 

The project has a number of ‘hidden’ benefits. This may well be the only time during their time here that students do any practical which is (a) not entirely laboratory based and (b) relevant to their everyday lives, and it will certainly be the only time that most of them get on a bus and venture into Fishponds and beyond. It teaches a broad range of ‘transferable’ skills in an authentic context and makes the second year of the degree program ‘fairer’ – currently students write a number of reports which are all summatively assessed with absolutely no training whatsoever. Many of the activities were carried out in groups, and students therefore also gained a great deal of experience in group working. 

It addresses several points of the University’s Education Strategy: 

  • We will embed assessment for learning, as articulated in our Institutional Principles for Assessment and Feedback in Taught Programmes across the institution such that a common approach to assessment is formed articulating the cyclical relationship between learning, assessment and feedback and improving students’ understanding of their learning experience. (2.3) 
  • We will provide a curriculum that supports the development of enduring, transferable skills and attributes in disciplinary appropriate ways within all programmes (3.2)  
  • We will provide students with the opportunities for professional and community engagement in a variety of contexts, including, internships, placements or volunteering activities. (3.4) 
  • We will provide a Bristol Skills Framework against which students can assess their skills development, evidencing and recording their personal development in order to foster and demonstrate a rounded set of graduate attributes. We will provide academic study skill resources to support students to successfully transition to study at University and progress through their academic programmes (3.1) 

This kind of model could be replicated across the University – indeed, Geography are already doing something similar (above), and I have been contacted by a microbiologist colleague who is thinking about distributing sample tubes about Bristol in a similar fashion. It is my belief that many of the schools in the science faculties are trying to teach similar skills and could implement similar programs – indeed, that is one of the reasons for the forthcoming Educational Excellence seminar. I do firmly believe that many colleagues across the University are trying to teach many of the same things, and that sharing ideas and practice is a necessary prerequisite for improving the University’s educational offering.