The following post was written by Emilie Poletto-Lawson, a BILT Fellow and Educational Developer in Academic Staff Development.
The Academic Practice Directorate at the University of the West of England (UWE) is the equivalent of Academic Staff Development[ team at the University of Bristol. They organised a week-long winter festival of learning  after the success of their one day Learning and Teaching Conference which started in 2011. This year, they aimed to “create a buzz about Learning and Teaching to coincide with the NSS survey”. I attended one afternoon but it was fantastic to see students and staff come together to share their enthusiasm for learning and teaching.
first half of the afternoon was entitled “Fresh approaches to T&L – A
session in our new laundry space to get you inspired” led by Dr Laura Bennett
(Associate director – academic practice directorate). The session included
members of staff that delivered sessions in the new ‘laundry room’ as well as
students that were attending sessions there but who were also using the room
for extra-curricular activities.
I valued the opportunity to visit the Glenside campus of the University of the West of England to discover the laundry room. At a time when a lot of thinking is going into teaching spaces in our University (BILT symposium June 2018 , BILT fellows working on space and design of Temple Quarter) it is always enriching to see what colleagues are experimenting with.
Before telling you about the presentation, let me tell you
about the room. When we came in, it was a big empty space. I must say it had a
medical feel to it, very white, sink at the back, metal shelves, not a warm
atmosphere but perfect for its intended purpose: “a practical learning space for trainee optometrists,
paramedics and occupational therapy students”. The facilitators were
coming straight from another session on the other side of the campus so we had
to build our classroom which was in itself a nice way to feel like we belonged
and it was our space.
The room can be described as a “connected classroom”. There
are four screens on both side walls, connected to a keyboard that enables
students to use the screen as a group and it is also possible for the
facilitator to show the main screen on all screens or to display the students’
screen on the main screen/all the screens. If you were able to attend a session
during the digital classroom roadshow two years ago (June 2017) the set up was
very similar apart from the fact that the tables were not fixed to the floor.
As the idea was to experience the technical aspect of the
room we built our on wheels foldable table next to the screen and sat on high
stools (not very easy if you have short legs like me) ready to roll. As I
managed to sit down I realised my bag was quite far down from me on the floor
and I had nowhere to put my coat. I was also quite far from the front as the
room can open on both sides to create an even bigger space so the screens are
at the back. Having moved the weekend before it did not take long for my back
to start hurting but I was not quite sure what to do when another lady voiced
the same issue and was given the option to grab a heavy chair instead of the
stool. It was good to have an option but the chair was considerably lower
creating some difficulties if you wanted to work from the table. Final hurdle
for me as a non-native speaker, a fan covered the voices of speakers that did
not use a microphone and it was a real strain to keep up.
However, despite all that, I still think it was a great
workshop because it was about possibilities, about teaching differently and the
space supporting your approach and ideas rather than limiting you. If you came
into the room and lectured for three hours just talking at students, you would
be missing the huge opportunities the toom has to offer to make your students
more active, to encourage and facilitate group work, peer learning etc.
Bennett introduced the aim of the session and presented key ideas from the
literature regarding space and concluded that “Space should be what you need it
to be”. The next speaker was Liz Reilly (Senior lecturer, social work) whose
presentation “The Laundry in action – pitfalls and possibilities” gave a very engaging insight into the
use of the room. Liz was very positive regarding the possibilities the room
offered for learning and teaching:
- Create groups based on
- Carousel approach –
screens act as flipchart
- Moving from one table
to the next made the students were very active
However, she also picked up on the inclusivity issues I
mentioned earlier and some other practical aspects.
- Inclusion: comfort, high
tables are a problem for people who cannot spent too much time on a stool and
for wheelchairs, far away so lip read or hearing impairment
- Booking of the room,
complained they could not hear what the lecturer said to specific groups
- Finally, being faced with one of her students
lying on the floor to do back exercises despite the active approach she had in
place was definitely not an outcome she expected.
Here are her pieces of advice:
- Play around in the
- Play around with what
you are doing
- Log in ahead of your
session and test everything: screens, keyboards, etc.
- Have a conversation
with people managing the room
- Get feedback from
- Get someone to observe you
following presentation, “Simulation:
the Laundry as Emergency Room” byAimee Hilton (Senior Lecturer,
Adult Nursing) took the original idea behind the design of the room and took it
quite a few steps further. She transformed the Laundry into an emergency room
treating the victims of a mass casualty event
for paramedics, radiographers and nurses students.
Drama students joined students paramedics, radiographers and nurses from other years to play the roles of patients. She also involved journalists
students whose aim was to get as much in the way as possible journalists would
should such an event take place. The
university security team, fire brigade and ambulance crew also joined in to add
to the realism of the situation. Did I mention
professional make-up? Now, I must admit I would have loved to be a fly on the
wall. The feedback from the students was extremely positive. It was very
interesting that the hardest part of the planning was recruiting enough actors.
I particularly liked the multi-disciplinary approach of the project.
presentation was by three students from the pre-hospital simulation society who
study in the room but also used it for one of their events. The society
provides “student led learning with the aim to facilitate realistic
quality simulations to improve clinical competency and confidence within
student Paramedics”. The Laundry is only one example of location, they have
created simulations in a car, outside, during freshers’ fair etc. The idea is
to design simulations of rare situations so that students are better prepared
should it ever happen to them in their professional life. Each simulation is
followed by a debrief at the end looking at what went well, what the literature
says about such a situation etc. Their enthusiasm and commitment were
Finally, Laura Bennet
concluded the session with a tour of the side rooms and suggestions of
technology to use to make your teaching more interactive. If you have attended
CREATE workshops, you will recognize a few of those:
I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend the event
and I feel I have learnt a lot. For me the main take away is that we need to
make the space work for us and to be mindful of who will be in the room and how
accessible out teaching as well as the room are.