Teaching Stories

Five Things to Try in your Teaching Next Year

We sent round bookmarks to academic staff outlining five new things they could try in their teaching – this post includes more detail about those things and where you can get support to try them.

1. Get Moving – Spend five minutes of your session moving the furniture around to create a more dynamic learning environment and energise your students.

2. Live Lecture Polling – Introduce online polling for instant learner feedback and to encourage active learning.

The Digital Education Office exist to support with this sort of activity – get in touch with them to find out more here.

This comprehensive bibliography on classroom responses systems includes subject-specific examples.

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.

Teaching Stories, Uncategorized

‘Snow’ days and the death of lecturing…

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))

 We now 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).

News, Uncategorized

Teaching Space as a Teaching Lab

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.

Photo provided by Design Engine Architects

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).

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.