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This is the fourth year that Academic Staff Development have run Beyond Starting to Teach sessions to enhance teaching practice and enable space for reflection for PGRs who teach.
These sessions complement the other teaching developments we offer (Starting to Teach and CREATE for PGRs) and will take place between 12:30 – 14:00 in the PGR hub (so please bring your lunch). They are a great chance to meet fellow PGRs teaching across the university and grow your PGR network.
To book, please click on the session titles in the table below and come along to as many of them as your calendar permits. At the end of the academic year you will receive a certificate of attendance for all the sessions you have attended. We look forward to working with you during Beyond Starting to Teach sessions.
Pedagogy in practice
This session will explore current themes in pedagogical research to enrich your teaching practice. The format of this session will include multiple representations of pedagogical research to be examined through constructive debate.
By the end of this session you will be able to appraise pedagogical articles and relate themes in pedagogy to your practice.
I love lecturing. It’s awesome. I get that nervous excitement beforehand,
like an actor or musician about to perform – it fires up my imagination – I
think of new ways to say the same old thing. And then there is the lecture
itself. The whoops of joy as I derive the equation for timber design – the
ohhhs and ahhhs as it looks like my worked example has gone horribly wrong only
for me to save it at the last minute with a daring leap of engineering logic
(change the initial assumptions and post rationalising). And then there is the
cheering – the standing ovation – as 2 hours later we come in to land. Everyone
having been on an emotional rollercoaster.
Now I know what you are thinking, you think I am joking, but I am not
(in fact I very rarely joke as I have a below average sense of humour – as my
children like to regularly remind me). I am exaggerating – of course – but in
my mind the above is how a perfect timber lecture would go.
And so, when I say “I am not lecturing on my timber unit this year”, it
is with a heavy heart – and it’s important that you know that this was a hard
decision for me to make, a costly one.
But I have another agenda, a more important one, I really want my
students to learn about timber. I believe that the world needs more people who
can design not just with steel and concrete – that we need engineers who can do
more than just replicate the designs of the past – we need engineers fit for
the future who can design with more materials. And however much I love
lecturing I believe that by flipping the teaching my students will learn more.
Now let’s be clear. There is nothing new about flipped teaching. Back in
1997 when I was a green haired undergraduate studying Civil Engineering I
decided to take an option on the philosophy of science. Every week we were
required to read a book. And every week we would come not for a lecture but for
a debate. Facilitated and led by our ‘lecturer’. The whole thing worked really
well. Every week the chapter of the book would convince me that this was indeed
the ‘philosophy of science’ only for this philosophical viewpoint to be slowly
ripped to shreds over the course of an hours discussion and leaving me
wondering why I had been so foolish to believe it in the first place? I would
then read the next chapter, the next idea, which would respond to all the
arguments from the discussion we had in class, only for that approach to be
similarly reduced to rubble in the next discussion. Flipped teaching goes back
way further than my own education. And yet in engineering it happens very
rarely. We love to lecture.
But lectures are not the best way for people to learn. And so, this year,
in ‘the office’ there are no lectures. No derivations. Instead I have gone for
a different approach. But before I break this down maybe it would be helpful
for me to describe my old approach. It goes like this:
Part 1– Context
Talk about some projects that relate to the topic for this week for
about 20 minutes. This achieves a number of things: It gives the learning some
context – students can see why they are doing it. It also gives me, as their
teacher, credibility – I have done it. Finally it gives them some technical
language and understanding of why we do what we do – it helps them join the
‘community of practice’.
Part 2 – Theory
Next I reach for the notes. Personally I don’t like to use powerpoint
for this I proffer to use a stack of paper, a pencil, and a visualiser and I
will explain the theory of what we are doing – effectively teaching them what
is already written in the notes. This will typically take place as two blocks
of 20 minutes.
Part 3 – Example
Once the technical content has been delivered I will talk through a real
example by doing it on the board. This will normally last about 20 minutes. I
generally make these up on the spot – asking students for numbers. This way I
have to think about what I am doing and as a result I find it easier to explain
my thought process to students as I go through the example – it also slows me
down (a good thing). But this also has a negative effect, for I find writing
things down hard. I will say one thing and my hand will write something
different. It used to make maths exams tricky as I would regularly think the
right process but write down the wrong number, similarly for students my
mistakes can be confusing.
Part 4 –
Application and conversation
Students are set a number of problems to work through where they build
up and extend their understanding of the course materials: – This occurs both
in example classes, where I am able to answer questions and discuss the content
with them. But also outside of the taught time as students work on their own.
This year I have used the same model in many regards but rather than
deliver parts 1-3 in a lecture with part 4 predominantly happening elsewhere I
have flipped it (hence the term
flipped teaching) so part 4 happens in my teaching environment with parts 2 and
3 occurring elsewhere.
So this is how it (hopefully) works:
Part 1 – Context
I no longer give a 20 minute talk on projects at the start of each week.
Instead I have done a few different things:
have covered the walls with pictures of real projects – to give them a sense of
what they are working towards
have included case studies and inspiring photos of projects in the course notes
have invited a number of practioners in to give lunch time talks (we used to do
these when I was a practicing engineer) on real projects
I have authored books on timber, which I hope gives me credibility without having
to talk about my projects
Part 2 – Theory
mentioned in episode 2
I have slowly built up a set of notes which are highly detailed over the last 8
years. So now, rather than effectively read them to the students (and anyone
who has witnessed me reading a bedtime story will know that that is a lot more
engaging than it sounds – see my BoB lecture for evidence)
I let them read them to themselves. It’s that simple.
week I have a list of pre-reading which has been there since before the course
began so that student can read it in their own time for the whole course.
Part 3 – Example
the biggest change for me this year has been that I have created a series of
worked example videos. These go through the core concepts for each week. There
are many advantages to this approach (rather than doing it live in class)
students can pause – rewind – re-watch – jump ahead to where they are stuck.
And more importantly I don’t make mistakes! The casual feedback from students
has been very positive. The down side is that each 15 minute example takes
about 1-2 hours to produce. And I need to find a silent location with no
interruptions to make them in.
Part 4 – Application and conversation
brings us to the purpose of all of this. By enabling students to learn about
the subject for each week before they arrive at ‘the office’, we can use the working
day to apply the information. I have created 4 projects which they will work on
over the course of 10 weeks. Each designed to challenge them in a different
way. Each designed to build up their engineering understanding. I have also
provided a map to show how everything links together.
run the office for two weeks it really seems to be going well. Students come
ready to learn. As I sit and work on my own projects I listen to the buzz in
the room. The hum of conversation. And much of it is around the technical
details of timber design. The students are discussing their work together. Working
together. And I do get a good and steady stream of questions – but good
questions. No one yet has asked me to give a mini lecture. So whilst there is
still a long way to go (8 weeks) at this stage it feels like it is working.
Why don’t we all do it
the obvious question is, why doesn’t everyone do this? The honest answer is for
me that it is so much more work. I can see that in the long run, once it is up
and running, it will be less work. But if you are time strapped now it is so
hard to invest in the future – despite the reward.
also fear it is more work for students. Not that they will spend longer working
– but that it feels harder. That lectures seem easy – information being
delivered in accessible bite size chunks and that somehow this is more
challenging. And coupled with this, I fear that they won’t love it as much as
they love my lectures – that my ratings will drop!
challenge is space. Physical space. Working in collaborative groups – with easy
circulation and easy access for students and staff to ask question – takes up
more space than lines of desks all looking towards the screen. I have been
lucky in that I have got a small enough group (36) where it works. But I also
understand just how big the space challenge is.
a little bit of me is missing the excitement of standing up and giving a
Problem based learning (PBL) is an approach to teaching that supports creative and complex problem-solving. It seeks to address open-ended problems and real-world scenarios that researchers and industry encounter in professional practice. The higher education sector has employed PBL in a range of subjects. In fact, PBL can be adapted to work in virtually any discipline. Often, the best use of PBL is when it is adapted to work on “grand challenges” like climate change, migration, equality and diversity, and any other area that requires multi-faceted approaches and the applied use of disciplinary-specific techniques and theory. PBL is also an excellent vehicle for encountering interdisciplinarity and creativity.
For the instructor, PBL can invite innovation in their teaching practice. Typically, PBL places the instructor as a facilitator in teaching sessions. It switches the dynamic to student-action, rather than traditional didactic teaching approaches. Students often encounter peer-to-peer evaluation and personal self-reflection of this type of teaching practice. Through its applied approach, PBL also enhances students’ ability to understand the relevance of their degree when they become graduates. Rather than just learning-by-heart, students learn by doing, by failing, by innovating and by being critical. As a result, students become better learners. For the instructor, PBL is an excellent route to demonstrate alignment with intended learning outcomes and a means to articulate how learning connects to professional skills.
Students respond well to the use of PBL. Evidence supports the success of PBL, for example, it enhances long-term knowledge retention and application (Dolmans et al. 2015; Yew & Goh 2016). The real-life applicability of PBL enhances students’ appreciation for the relevance of their subject, their learning and their intrinsic motivation. There is a greater sense of authenticity and a better understanding of the practice of their subject through PBL. Students become active learners and engage with their subject at a deeper level in PBL learning environments. The nature of PBL, typically working in groups collaboratively, ensures that students become better communicators and team-players, alongside developing core research skills.
Instructors can also collaborate with alumni and external industry experts to deliver PBL-style teaching. Light-touch engagement can include guest lectures and interactive Q&A sessions. More in-depth collaboration can take the form of problems sourced from industry and industry partners becoming part of the assessment process. Likewise, interdisciplinarity can be enhanced by working with these external stakeholders and with internal academic colleagues in other subjects.
The best way to start thinking about PBL is to consider open-ended problems in your discipline, problems that can’t be answered with a quick internet search. PBL also succeeds when it is taught in flexible scenarios where discussion, groupwork and feedback are iterative. Students move through problem-solving to research and reflection multiple times during the PBL process. Approaches that incorporate a sense of trial-and-error can ensure that students develop skills and attitudes that foster resilience in both their learning and their approach to real-life problems. Outputs from PBL can be in virtually any format, from presentations, to conference posters and infographics, annotated diagrams, workbooks and portfolios, videos, blogs, consultancy documents and formal reports.
Practically, flat-bed teaching spaces with wifi and suitable seating arrangements support PBL best. Students succeed best when they have easy access to group-working tools and dedicated, frequent timeslots for collaboration. Part of the teaching should also focus on team-working, communication and delegation skills. To ensure students commit to the PBL process, they also need to be confident that the ways they are marked, in particular group work marks, are perceived as fair. Formative peer-review marking can support this. Marks can be awarded for subject knowledge, presentation, and skills such as record keeping, range of appropriate methods employed, teamwork and communication.
PBL doesn’t need to be constrained to later years of degree programmes. Indeed, elements of PBL can be introduced early in a degree programme and developed year-on-year to invite a sense of programme cohesion for students who grow through greater levels of PBL complexity as their degree progresses. PBL also succeeds when it is delivered in learning intensive situations, such as one-week “bootcamps”.
Once PBL becomes a comfortable model for teaching and learning, instructors can also invite students to co-create the curriculum where they suggest or dictate the content. Our research community can also be a source of PBL ideas, which supports the University’s aim for research-led teaching.
Garner, P. & Padley, S. 2017. ‘Utilizing problem and scenario based learning to develop transformational leadership qualities and employability attributes in students through undergraduate teaching’. [PowerPoint Presentation] HEA Annual Conference 2017.
3. Start a Podcast – Create informal engagement with your subject by starting a podcast and invite your students to take part.
We can help you set up your podcast using our equipment and advise you on any purchases you may want to make, as well as how to make the podcast available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. We can also put you in touch with staff who have set up podcasts for their subject to provide additional support.
4. Explore the City – Students love to feel connected to our city and it makes learning memorable when concepts are connected to reality.
The Engaged Learning team exist to support academics in partnering with community organisations and businesses.
There are many examples where academics have used the city and its history to connect learning to a space. Two excellent examples are the MAP Bristol project, undertaken with a BILT grant in 2017/18 by Chris Adams, and the Bristol Futures open units.
5. Gamify Learning – Whether it is a points-based system for engagement or a tailored card game, games can make difficult content more accessible and enjoyable to learn.
Suzi Well and Chrysanthi Tseloudi run a ‘Learning Games’ event, where staff come together to discuss their ideas and examples of game-based learning. Any upcoming events will be shared in the BILT Briefing.
The BILT Discretionary Seedcorn Funding is available for staff to apply for small amounts of money (up to £1500) – last year three games were developed from this funding.
The following post was written by Alison Blaxter, a BILT Associate and Clinical Teaching Fellow in the Vet School.
It’s August and bright sunshine but time for
reviewing my teaching year. I was remembering
the ‘snow days’ we have had over the last few years. The vet school in the heart
of the Mendip Hills briefly closed its doors for business and students because
of snow at the end of January. Those of us providing animal care stayed to deal
with emergencies but I was also due to lecture that day and the undergraduate students
missed my well-crafted lecture on reproduction in cats. Instead I recorded the
lecture on mediasite at my desk and it was up on Blackboard the next day. In
the case-based session at the end of the cat and dog reproduction course
the students didn’t express any significant difficulty with the material, nor
were there a disproportionate number of questions from the content of that
lecture in comparison to the others in the series.
This and a fascinating keynote speech on the formation of memory at the VetEd, the veterinary education community’s annual symposium (https://vetedsymposium.org/) by David Shanks at UCL started me thinking about the benefits of lecturing. Lectures are a way in which we can decide as instructors what knowledge our students need and deliver it in a relatively quick and easily produced way to classes of infinite size. We also know that students who have a learning style where listening is key to their development of memory and understanding this form of knowledge transfer may be highly appropriate.
However, we also know that active learning where the learner is engaged
in activity associated with the material is a better model to aspire to. There
is evidence that such an approach
improves, among other attributes, critical thinking, decision making and creativity
(Freeman et al. (2014). My understanding from David Shanks keynote address
is that memory formation and the ability to apply information increases where
testing is an inherent part of the learning process, Fascinatingly, testing before,
during and after novel information transfer improves memory formation. (Yang C., Potts R., and Shanks D.R. (2018))
routinely use audience response systems such as ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Mentimeter’
to deliver in-lecture quizzes, we use case-based-learning in medicine and
veterinary medicine to apply knowledge immediately to specific professional
contexts, we promote ‘flipped classroom’ teaching with students preparing in
advance for whole cohort interactive teaching and team based learning
where peer interaction is pivotal to the learning process or other forms of
peer assisted learning are celebrated. Our new accelerated graduate entry
programme for the vet course (AGEP) has adopted case-based learning with
an emphasis on active participation in a self-directed environment as its core.
Do traditional lectures still have a role?
There is also the issue that I don’t always enjoy lecturing. The majority of my teaching is in the work-place where I am fortunate to mentor and teach veterinary students at the end of their undergraduate career on a one to one basis. Dealing with illness and health in real patients, with all the uncertainty this entails is an exciting and stimulating teaching environment. When I lecture the sound of my own voice for a long period of time can feel tedious and I get bored without the great stimulus I get from face to face teaching, so I plan active participation throughout the 50 minutes and my ‘lectures’ can be noisy and chaotic.
So my vision of the
future involves lectures being pre-recorded, perhaps divided into smaller
chunks of material and delivered in the context of a whole variety of resources
to a student – videos, audio, text, quizzes and tasks. Once established
our face-to-face time becomes available to guide and mentor students by cultivating
their curiosity, facilitating creative application of knowledge and engaging
them in a more direct and personal way. Could
lectures as we understand be obsolete?
Freeman et al. (2014), Active learning increases
student performance in science engineering and mathematics PNAS 111 (2) 8410–8415
Yang C., Potts R., and Shanks D.R. (2018) Enhancing learning
and retrieval of new information; a review of the forward testing effect. Science
of Learning 3(1).
The following post was written by James Norman, a BILT Fellow and programme director for Civil Engineering.
Today I continue my physical journey into the research of space as I embark on my third road trip of the year. I am back in Winchester, where I spent so many hours, ten years ago, when working on the Oxford Brookes project I discussed in my previous blog.
The reason for my visit is to revisit the architecture practice I was collaborating with to ask them their views on pedagogy informed design in higher education. Before I go any further I need to come clean, I am a huge fan of what they do. I really enjoyed working with them on Oxford Brookes and I have a great respect for their work more generally. And I am not the only one, they have been short listed three times in the last four years as Education Architect of the Year.
I was expecting our conversation to be simple, straight forward and pedagogy-focussed. Instead it was wide-ranging, chaotic, with ideas flying everywhere. I tried to keep up typing away. But my notes are so wide-ranging it’s hard to know what exactly to say. So, I will do my best to summarise two different overlapping conversations.
The first is around pedagogy informed design, at some point about one and a half hours into our conversation I asked, “When you design a building do you bring a pedagogy or do you respond to the clients pedagogy?” to which Richard Jobson, one of the directors, replied, “it’s a bit of both and we look for common meeting ground. Our job is to challenge people. You can learn and talk to people and move your own thoughts on”.
This led to a much richer discussion about not just pedagogy but all the different competing stakeholders on a university project and how each one comes with an agenda, each one has set requirements and also a vision for the future. And each one is constrained by time, money, but also the needs of other stakeholders. And that the challenge to these ideas by the architect was robust, sometimes fierce and charged with emotion. We discussed how, in our collective experience, pedagogy can be discussed and agreed before a project starts (which the literature suggests is ideal), as a project starts, or some point further down the process, even sometimes after the physical building has started to be constructed.
This led to the discussion that unlike for other stakeholders like library services there is often not a dedicated group of people who are already engaged in conversations around pedagogy and space waiting for the next large building project, that these groups need to be assembled ad hoc (or even post hoc) to try and engage with the design process. As a result, it is hard to have pedagogy before a project and too often the pedagogy comes at some later point in the projects development.
Which of course leads to a bigger discussion, and one we
will hopefully be able to respond to in time. Why don’t we have a group who are
interested in pedagogy and space who are constantly active? Not waiting for the
next project but creating their own. Who are trialling and developing teaching
methods in different spaces not as a one-off event but as an ongoing discourse
in pedagogy. Maybe the BILT fellowships in space are the start of this. But it
strikes me this needs to be a long-term question. Buildings takes years (Oxford
Brookes took 7) from idea to completion and we need conversations which
understand this and develop with both the buildings and pedagogy.
John Ridgett, the project architect on Oxford Brookes,
thought aloud “why not have a teaching lab? A space dedicated to trialling new
teaching, both physical and digital. It could be a large warehouse with
internal partitions which is designed to be constantly reconfigured”. This
strikes me as a fantastic idea which I would like to explore further.
I headed out of Design Engine to walk along the road to
their neighbour Winchester University. Here I can see Design Engines work in
action. I am currently sitting and typing in one of their spaces. The campus is
compact and vibrant with a multitude of lovely design touches. As I am shown
round campus by Mat Jane of estates I am introduced to a number of people
including Dave Mason who is literally in the middle of looking at furniture
layouts. He describes how they, at a smaller scale, do what Design Engine were
just suggesting. They trial room layouts, they play and see what works. They
notice which rooms are popular and which are not, and they carry out surveys
with both staff and students on which spaces they enjoy learning in. The
teaching spaces became teaching laboratories.
Take the example below. One of the many observations of a teaching space is that the front rows are often empty. So they have provided different furniture at the front. Comfy seats and sofas, and suddenly the front third of the room is more heavily utilised. Of course, if this hadn’t had the desired outcome a different arrangement can be tried, and another, and another.
And so, as I reflect on my day, I am left asking myself “why haven’t I thought to do this before?”. It seems so simple, with hundreds of rooms, there is no reason why we also shouldn’t experiment, prototype and explore a wide variety of teaching spaces with a view to exploring what works and what doesn’t. Rather than wait and then refurbish large swathes of rooms with untested approaches we should play, learn, reflect and improve.
My sincere thanks go to Richard Jobson and John Ridgett of Design Engine (designengine.co.uk) for giving up two hours of their time to have such a wide-ranging conversation about the design of space and to Mat Jane who showed me around Winchester University with such enthusiasm and pride and also for all his insights on sustainability around the campus (including my free cup made from recycled chewing gum).
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.