Photograph of Mike Neary

Teamwork: Students as Producers



Abstract

Student as Producer was established at the University of Lincoln in 2010 to embed research-engaged teaching as the organising principle for teaching and across the institution. This approach to research-engaged teaching was informed by critical theory, critical pedagogy and popular education. Mike Neary will talk about the practical and conceptual issues involved with implementing Student as Producer at Lincoln. He will go on to discuss the way in the pedagogic model is being used to create a new framework for higher education in the form of a co-operative university.

Bio

Mike Neary is Professor of Sociology at the University of Lincoln. He was the Dean of Teaching and Learning at Lincoln 2007-2014. Before working at Lincoln Mike taught Political Sociology at the University of Warwick (1994-2007). He is a National Teaching Fellow (since 2007) and Principal Fellow (since 2016) of the Higher Education Academy. In 2014 Mike was made an honorary life member of Lincoln’s Students’ Union for his work with students. He is a founder member of the Social Science Centre, a co-operative organising no-fee higher education in Lincoln.

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Johannes Schmiedecker

We asked our Student Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT role. The following blog is from Johannes Schmiedecker, who has been a BILT Student Fellow since December 2018.

Hi!

My name is Johannes Schmiedecker, I come from the beautiful country of Austria, where I studied law at the University of Vienna. In finished my degree in June 2018 and in September, I moved to Bristol and now study the LLM programme European Legal Studies here at the University of Bristol.

Studying European law in the UK in those times might not be everyone’s first choice but I find it interesting to see the Brexit debate from the British point of view. And, who knows, what will happen it the next months. Apart from studying I enjoy exploring the city, travel around in England and use the sports facilities at the University as well as engaging in different societies. The openness and friendliness of the Bristolians really surprised me in a positive way and I enjoy living here. I want to use this (probably) last year as a student for improving my language skills, get to know different people from around the world and learn as much as possible before I will start working.

I got appointed as a Student Fellow for Project 4, which is researching BILTs new theme. In this position, I will, among other things, do research about how we can improve learning and teaching by analysing the big amount of information that is collected. I find this a great opportunity to explore new digital technologies and how they might be useful in the academic environment. One thing that I would like to focus on is Big Data. The huge sums of information that are collected nowadays could be used effectively to improve the teaching and learning atmosphere. Doing research in this field is new to me, as I come from a legal background, but I am very excited in exploring new areas.

Photo from Chris Adam's Education Excellence Seminar
An interview with...

An interview with… Chris Adams

Chris Adams is a teaching fellow and first-year coordinator in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, where he has been teaching undergraduates for nearly twenty years. He is interested in all aspects of education, from digital learning to practical chemistry, and was recently awarded a BILT Teaching Innovation Grant to try and get first-years to do some real research.

What are the biggest benefits of near-peer learning?

I think that students really appreciate getting to know fellow students from other year groups. Especially with a first year unit, the older student can pass on a whole host of tips for being a successful student. This mirrors what Imogen Moore has recently talked about in law: students like hearing the voice of other students.

Did you encounter any challenges? How did you overcome them?

I was anticipating challenges to the ‘legitimacy’ of being taught by fellow undergraduates, but that has never happened, possibly because they’re not awarding marks. Also, they’re not really teaching – it’s more that they’re facilitating learning, which is why I always call them facilitators. Timetabling is problematic – trying to get students from two different year groups to the same place at the same time is not straightforward.

Do you think near-peer learning could be effective with other areas of the curriculum?

I think that it’s especially useful for what we call ‘transferable’ skills. I would think long and hard before using a similar scheme to teach academic knowledge, though there are many examples of instructor-led near-peer teaching sessions where students help teach factual knowledge, with an academic present to provide oversight and fill in the gaps.

What advice would you give to staff who wanted to set up a similar project?

Make sure that you’ve got a reliable group of facilitators, and write a ‘lesson plan’ for every session. Then, go through each session beforehand with them as participants so that they experience it as a student.

What one film/book/resource would you like to share with the academic community?

I like Graham Gibbs ‘53 powerful ideas’ series, available at https://www.seda.ac.uk/53-powerful-ideas. Bite size chunks of deep  teaching wisdom which should be compulsory reading for anybody teaching in HE.

If you could change one thing about HE in the UK what would it be?

Student fees. When I went to University I went purely because I was interested in chemistry, and my only goal was to learn as much about it as possible. Nowadays, students end up with such a huge debt that there is tremendous pressure on them to do well and get a well-paid job, and that pressure is detrimental to their well-being.

Who was your favourite teacher at school/university and why?

My chemistry teachers at school, Mr Herrett and Mr Waugh. Both of them were old-school masters who delighted in setting fire to things, preferably with as much coloured smoke as possible, and who didn’t get too upset when I blew the bin up, or pointed the Bunsen burner at their hand.

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.