500 Words, News

Is There Any Link Between Design Thinking and Essays?

The following post was written by James Norman, a BILT Fellow and Senior Teaching Fellow in Civil Engineering. 

It’s strange how a number of unconnected events can form an idea in your mind.

This weekend I stayed with my sister and we watched the film ‘Blood Diamond’, a harrowing film made in the early noughties about the illegal diamond trade. We started discussing the role of the press and, at a more meta level, the film industry, who were indirectly profiting from the same trade through film profits. It reminded me of a magazine I read a few years back called ‘Colors Magazine’. Each issue focused on a specific concept and the one that came to mind was Issue #86, which is all about making the news. In it there is a page on war photography, which included a harrowing photo seen in many newspapers. The magazine presented it by covering most of the photo and leaving just the part of the image widely presented in the press visible. Turn the page and you see the whole photo; it is a different story. Gathered around the incident are dozens of journalists and photographers capturing the moment. It is a shocking moment.

Fast forward a couple of days and I had the pleasure of meeting Ann Padley. Ann is a teaching fellow who works on the new innovation programmes and specialises in design thinking. As a designer of buildings and a teacher of people who design buildings, I would like to think I know a thing or two about design thinking. But it turns out there is a lot more for me to learn. Over a rushed lunch we discussed problem solving, problem definition and redefinition. We discussed narrative as well as more empirical ways to come to design decisions. We talked about the importance of active listening in problem definition. And we talked about something I have been struggling with, how do we differentiate between outcome and process? Is it possible for a student to successfully go through a design process but come up with a less successful solution and probably more commonly a successful solution without going through a successful design process (or at least unable to articulate the design process- something I have struggled with as an engineer across my professional career because it is actually really hard to do and requires a lot of practice)? Ann described the methods they use to set and assess design problems which don’t just focus on outcome but focus on the successful implementation of design processes.

Later that same day I spent a very enjoyable hour talking to Zoe Backhouse, one of the BILT student fellows. Our conversation was wide-ranging but covered different forms of assessment. We discussed the essays that she had written, and it started to occur to me that what is presented in an essay, much like the photos in the newspaper I mentioned at the beginning, is the story that we choose to tell. But what happened to all the other stories? How do we know that we have presented the right one?

These thoughts linked me back to my conversation with Ann. I realised that design thinking is not just important for designers but for anyone who is given a problem (or title) and then has to deconstruct the problem and find what the real problem is before deciding on the solution (when there are many possible solutions). Maybe not just engineers, but all of us would benefit both from learning to articulate not just the solution, but how we got there. The narrative around the solution. The options we considered and discarded. And maybe not only would we benefit from articulating this but also from discussing it with our friends and tutors. To receive feedback (or more precisely feedforward) not just on the output but on the processes through which we have gone to arrive at the solution (or essay).

Ann Padley is a Teaching Fellow in Design Thinking 3 days a week and is an independent consultant on design thinking for her other work days.

Zoe Backhouse is a final year student on the four year masters degree in Liberal Arts, she is a BILT student fellow and a fledgling zine maker. Zoe would welcome any musings, poems, doodles or cartoons from students & staff about your experiences of assessment at Bristol Uni. If you’re a student, you’ll get a £25 Amazon voucher for whatever you contribute! Email zoe.backhouse@bristol.ac.uk for more details.

Colors Magazine Issue #86 ‘Making the News’ published April 2013.      

News

Bristol Conversations in Education: Does School Design Matter? 16/1/2018

Professor Daniels presented an account of AHRC sponsored research that sought to address the need for learning environments to better respond to changing needs of curriculum and pedagogy.

I am a BILT Student Fellow working on the theme ReThinking Spaces and on the 16th January 2019 I attended a seminar by Professor Harry Daniels from the University of Oxford entitled ‘Does School Design Matter?’. I was particularly interested in the relationship between design and pedagogy and lessons that can be learned for the redesigning of spaces at the University.

Professor Daniels began by describing the impact that a building or physical space has on the way that we behave within it. He gave the example of starting a new job and using the built environment to help to determine the expectations for behaviour, communication and interaction. This is partly affected by physical features such as the furniture layout, lighting, and decoration, as well as the way that people interact with the space and with each other.

Professor Daniels’ journey into this area began around 2003 when, noticing the impact of wall displays in schools, he asked himself; ‘if a wall display can be powerful, what about the building itself?’ This has led him to research the perception and actions of students and teachers at four secondary schools in Kent, which were part of the Building Schools for Future (BSF) programme introduced in 2004 and were newly built or refurbished between 2010 and 2012.

Professor Daniels emphasised that the way that a space is used is not necessarily how it was designed to be used. The four schools in question were designed to promote the personalisation of learning, with teachers to be viewed as coaches or mentors. The County Council deemed that:

  • learning spaces should be versatile and flexible to cover all curriculum areas
  • there should be breakout areas and informal learning zones
  • students should have greater independence and agency over their learning
  • teachers should share many spaces with students and other staff
  • staff should teach in teams
  • there should be a high degree of visibility with the use of glass and an open plan design
  • community engagement should be promoted

The School Connectedness Questionnaire was distributed to children at the end of primary school, at the beginning of Year 7 and Year 8, and every time there was a change of headteacher. The research found that when teaching practice aligned with the design, the connectedness score was significantly higher than when the practice did not align with the intended design.

Whilst some schools found positive outcomes, with improved behaviour of students and better formative assessment practices by teachers, others struggled to use the space effectively. Two of the schools closed off open areas with glass panels or furniture, effectively attempting to reverse the radical changes that had been made. Professor Daniels explained that these differences in success can partly be accounted for by different approaches to school leadership and management. In places where high visibility was seen by management as allowing passive control and surveillance, teachers and students felt watched over, whereas in more relaxed settings where visibility was viewed as a way to promote a sense of community and belonging, staff and students enjoyed being able to collaborate and socialise more easily with others.

Where the redesign was successful, there was a strong vision from the start and an excellent programme of staff training in how to successfully work in the new spaces. Staff continue to collaborate to solve problems related to design issues and students are included in this dialogue. Staff report that students feel wanted, have improved confidence and aspirations. The open-plan environment mirrors the professional working environment and develops the skills that the commercial world is demanding. Professor Daniels highlights the importance of learning from other similar learning environments when redesigning educational spaces.

So, what does this teach us about the relationship between design and pedagogy, and what can we learn from it? This seminar highlighted to me that redesigning space does not necessarily transform pedagogy. This requires an ethos of trust where staff feel confident enough to be observed and to collaborate with others, and where staff are trained in teaching practice which aligns with the space design. In Higher Education, we need to learn from similar institutions which have redesigned their spaces to align with the shift towards more active, collaborative and inquiry-based learning. Yesterday, BILT visited the new Waterside Campus at the University of Northampton who are doing just that, and BILT are gaining staff and student perspectives on teaching spaces, as well as providing resources to staff, in the hope that our space will be fit for an imagined future.

References

Harry Daniels, Hau Ming Tse, Andrew Stables & Sarah Cox (2018) Design as a social practice: the experience of new-build schools, Cambridge Journal of Education, DOI: 10.1080/0305764X.2018.1503643

News

No lecture theatres? No problem!

The following post was written by Amy Palmer, BILT Digital Resources Officer.

In 2012, the University of Northampton decided to embark on a challenge that would set them apart from all other UK universities.

Six years later their new, £330 million ‘Waterside’ campus was launched with one key difference – there are no lecture theatres*. All courses have been redesigned and adopted active-blended learning as their pedagogical approach, which has transformed the way students learn. Further to this, all staff offices (including the VC’s!) have been removed in place of communal workspaces and hotdesking. The eradication of passive learning experiences and focus on active, activity-based sessions is a daring and challenging move that has taken a huge amount of courage, time and commitment. The creation of a learning design team, as well as the support of both academic staff development and learning technologists has been central to the success of this project, as well as the unwavering support of senior management.

When asking the Dean of Learning and Teaching, Professor Alejandro Armellini, what really works about the Waterside project, his answer was clear – everything. Apart from the addition of a few more plug sockets in their ‘Learning Hub’ (a grand, multi-purpose building housing libraries, teaching and social spaces, though with no signs or labels defining these areas), there is nothing they would do differently. It’s too early to see how the new campus and educational approach will affect learning gain and student recruitment and retention, but the feeling so far is that it is working well.

This new and daring approach to higher education took a number of years to achieve and was only possible with the support of the Vice Chancellor who, when announcing the plans, told staff ‘you either get out of the way, or get on the bus’. Some staff did get out of the way, and many that stayed were hesitant to ‘get on the bus’, often feeling that the change in approach was a personal attack on their style of teaching. When the learning design team spoke with individuals and asked what they really valued, it was never ‘standing up in front of people speaking’ but rather ‘when I see my students have learnt something’ and ‘when students are engaged’. Extensive research was done into how to engage students with active-blended learning – you can read their findings here.

Teaching hours for staff have increased across the piece with students now split into groups of (max) 40 students, who they will stay with throughout their degree, with the intention this creates a sense of community and belonging among fellow students. This will no doubt help with issues around wellbeing and first-year student retention, though there may be some protests that it is very much like school and not the ‘traditional’ university experience where you anonymously sit in a huge lecture theatre and take down notes.

The Waterside project will be interesting to follow over the next couple of years, especially when it comes to crunching the data. They openly admit that there are some staff who are still lecturing at their students but believe that will change; the focus on teaching is gaining momentum yet there are still some who are yet to be caught up in it. We have invited colleagues from Northampton to visit us when the new Temple Quarter campus is built – we hope that some lessons can be learnt from our trip there!

*Okay – there is one lecture theatre, but it only seats 80 and is used mainly for external speakers.

News

Learning Games #2

The second ‘Learning Games’ event took place on 17th January. To give everyone a chance to eat their lunch, the session started with a discussion around the tables about where we would like to use games in our teaching, and barriers we have (except for time – time is a problem for everyone!). Each group fed back and the key barriers were:

  • Resistance to change – some colleagues may not believe that learning with games can be as effective as more ‘traditional’ forms of learning.
  • Not knowing where to start – lack of experience in making/ designing games, what to make the games for, what tools to use, etc.
  • Having the resource/ capacity – this is quite similar to lack of time but is a key point – many staff would like to take time to create a game for their learners but there is not capacity in the team.

Dr Kieren Pitts, a senior developer in Research IT, presented a game he has been working on as part of a research grant with colleagues from physiological science. The game, EyeTrain, was developed to improve oculomotor control in children and consists of three ‘scenes’ (one urban, one woodland and a high contrast scene) in which the player has to tap when they see an animal move. The game encourages the player to move their eyes in repeated, specific movements with both smooth and saccade motion. The game begins with an animal that has quite obvious movement (e.g. a hare that moves its ears) and as you improve more animals are unlocked, each with more subtle movements, and the backgrounds (scenes) becoming more complex and detailed as the player improves. Illustrations were done by Bristol-based illustrator, Alex Lucas, whose work can be seen in the School of Education and on walls across the city.

eyetrain.jpg
Example image from ‘EyeTrain’.

Settings in the game are highly configurable and it has been programmed to collect vast amounts of data to ensure its effectiveness. Early testing has shown it to be effective in improving oculomotor control in children. More information about the game can be found here.

We then heard from two members of staff who have recently been awarded Discretionary Seedcorn Funds from BILT. Dr Frankie MacMillan from the School of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience explained the card game they are making for students studying Histology. Students must place down a card, with the next player putting down a card linked the image on the card before and explaining why. If a student can not go, they can use red blood cell ‘counters’ to buy an answer off another player. They hope that this game will make quite a ‘dry’ topic more interesting and memorable as the students have to create links between the types of cells and tissue themselves.

Next, we heard from Dr Isabel Murillo Cabeza from the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and her game, Microbial Pursuit. The plan for this game is for it to be played across two sessions and is to be used as both a learning and revision tool. The first session students are split into small groups and each write multiple choice questions with three options. The students can use their lecture notes, eBioLab materials, tutorials, essays and other academic material to help them write the questions. In the second session, students are reshuffled into different groups and use the questions to play a board game, similar to the layout of Trivial Pursuit. Students can play as individuals, in pairs or in threes.

The session concluded with a short game that was based around weather predictions (but I’m not sure where the weather link came in!). We all started with a coloured counter balanced on the back of our hands and the aim of the game was to be the last person with their counter on their hand, while at the same time attempting to knock off other peoples.

If you’d like to come along to play a silly game, hear about what others are doing with games and their teaching and discuss your ideas for gamifying learning, get in touch with Chrysanthi Tseloudi or Suzi Wells to find out when the next session is on.

digital education office logo

Help your Students Engage with your Blackboard Course (DEO Webinar)

Learn some quick and easy ways to help your students – and colleagues – to navigate your Blackboard content. During this short webinar we will run through our top tips and answer your questions.

This webinar is aimed at both academic and administrative staff. The webinar is suitable for all levels of experience; some basic knowledge of Blackboard would be helpful but isn’t essential.

This webinar will be presented by David Perkins de Oliveira and Suzi Wells from the Digital Education Office.

News

The Gap Between Pedagogy and Design

The following blog was written by James Norman, a Senior Teaching Fellow and a BILT Fellow since September 2018. 

For centuries universities have taught in lecture theatres. But the lecture theatre may well soon be a thing of the past. The new lecture theatre is the flat-bed teaching room. Or classroom to anyone who has been to school. The flat-bed teaching room offers many advantages over the lecture theatre. It is flexible. People can re-arrange furniture and work in groups. It removes some of the hierarchy between the teacher and the learner. But are flat bed teaching rooms really the solution to all our problems? Do flat bed teaching spaces really make pedagogical sense?

“Pedagogy needs to be explored through the thinking and practice of those educators who look to accompany learners; care for and about them; and bring learning into life.”

(Mark K. Smith, 2012)

Pedagogy is not about teaching. It is about learning. It is about understanding how people learn and by extension where people learn. I have been learning about pedagogy by reading in a coffee shop. Not in a flat-bed teaching room. I learnt to drive in a car, not in a flat-bed teaching room. We teach dentists the practical skills they need in a mock dentist’s surgery, not in a flat-bed teaching room. But what about lawyers and economists. Archeologists and historians. Where do they learn and how do we design spaces that work for them? So much learning occurs not in the lecture theatre OR the flat bed teaching space. So how do we approach the design of learning spaces and how do we keep pedagogy at the center of this process?

Is the solution rows and rows of flat-bed teaching rooms with movable partitions as suggested by the “Learning Space Rating System” (2017) or is it the use of metaphor to imagine our learning spaces as trees or gardens as advocated by The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit? Professor Wright from the University of Bath would acknowledge both of these approaches as design strategies in the design of architectural space. But these are just 2 of 14 approaches. And Professor Wright’s approach is just one of many available design methodologies that can be utilized. So the question becomes how can we best combine pedagogy and design methodology to understand how to enhance the learning of our students. I don’t yet know the answers but I am looking forward to learning in unexpected places to try and find a new perspective on placing pedagogy at the heart of designing space.

Mark K. Smith, What is Pedagogy? (2012), http://infed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/ accessed 14/11/18

Malcom Brown et al, Learning Space Rating System, Learning Space Rating System initiative, EDUCAUSE, 2017.

Gill Ferrell, The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit, Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association.

Alexander Wright, Critical method: A pedagogy for design education, Design Principles and Practices, vol. 5, no. 6, pp. 109-122, 2011.

Designing and Creating Digital Materials (DEO)


The increased availability of mobile devices gives teaching staff an opportunity to allow guided and self-paced learning to continue outside of traditional settings. This workshop will help you to get started in creating digital materials, moving from the initial idea through to creation and publishing the final content. The course will give you hands on experience with content creation tools and approaches and is intended for anyone wanting to create their own online or electronic resources. 
 
By the end of the workshop participants will be able to :
  • Develop a concept from an initial idea
  • Select appropriate tools
  • Design to improve materials ‘flow’
  • Storyboard content
  • Work through the development process
  • Implement the finished content

If you have any queries or would like to discuss further whether this course is suitable for you, please contact Martin Nutbeem.