We are BILT, and we're here to provide information and resources to promote educational excellence in the University and beyond. This is our blog site, where you can also find resources, videos and our discussion forum!
A few weeks ago I was asked to give a 5 minute presentation on ‘The Office’. I have re-recorded here. Whether you are new to The Office or have followed the posts religiously I hope that this will be a great starting/ending point for you.
If you want to learn more about The Office there are a whopping 11 episodes with roughly 15,000 words and loads of pictures and videos. The full list of available episodes is given below:
For the last year I have been on a BILT fellowship looking into learning
space. I have travelled far and wide to see different teaching spaces, I have
read numerous papers and I have written a few blog posts on the way. But also
over the last year I have been planning and plotting and on Thursday this hard
work all comes to fruition. Over the next ten weeks I plan on writing regular
updates but let’s rewind back to the beginning.
Before I started in academia, before I did a PhD, I worked for an
engineering firm designing buildings. And this work took place in an office.
Now, for many years people have learnt to do things in an authentic environment.
I learnt to drive a car in a car not in a classroom.
I have taken my children to multiple swimming lessons that occur in a swimming pool and not in a classroom.
We take our engineering students out into the field to measure and set
out because you really can’t learn this just in a classroom.
And yet for many years I have taught practical subjects, like the design
of buildings, in a classroom and not where they actually occur, in an office.
No more. This week, in just three more days, 40 students will walk into
my new engineering practice, called Just Timber, where they will learn about
Timber Engineering (a fourth year engineering option). To make this possible I
will be transforming a flatbed classroom into an office.
To understand what I will need to make this space feel like an office I
went back to my old practice, Integral Engineering Design, and took a look
around. I made a note of what they had, the photos of projects on the wall, the
office plants, the meeting table and chairs, the library of useful books which
you reach for when stuck, the comfortable waiting space, the architecture and
engineering magazines which were in racks on the walls.
Over the last year, I have been collecting up the necessary items, my office
now more like a storage room than an office. I contacted old colleagues for
images to put on the walls (in time I hope to add to these with students own
designs). I have secured the loan of large pot plants for a day a week, will be
donating my own comfortable chairs and coffee table. I have also created a
library of information that each group of 4 students will have access to, this
has included writing two books to fill gaps in what’s currently available and I
have subscribed to engineering and architecture magazines.
Over the summer I had a trial run, moving tables and chairs around to
make it feel more like an office. The typical teaching space lectern and screen
hidden behind a screen along with excess tables and chairs. Pictures were
spread around the space (although I didn’t attach them to the wall at the
time). Plants will be brought in. And students will be encouraged to
personalise their spaces, making their desk and their team space their own.
one of the things I have learnt in my last 12 months as a BILT fellow is I
can’t just have an idea and do it, there needs to be a purpose, a research
question. And so I wrote out what I was trying to achieve. I iterated it,
discussed it with my BILT mentor (Jane Pritchard) and eventually I came up
what ways does simulating a professional design office influence students
approach to their learning in Timber Engineering 4?’
then tried to work out what I was hoping it would achieve. I looked back over
the last three years of feedback I had had on my Timber Engineering Unit. What
had worked well, where were their concerns. And I came up with a number of
desired outcomes. I subdivided these into learning outcomes and professional
Students to take ownership of their own learning
Students to more directly input what they are learning into what they are doing
Students to take ownership of feedback
Students to work sensible (office) hours and not work more hours than necessary
That both learning and assessment will be integrated so students co-learn and
That students produce outstanding projects which totally blow me away. Projects
which look amazing, have clearly used the problems/constraints of timber to
lead to a solution and can articulate this.
That students will be able to speak to their experience in a professional
context such as an interview and that it would add value for them in this
the next few weeks I will let you know how it’s going, talk about ‘authentic
learning’, identity, feedforward and flipped teaching. I hope to learn a lot
along the way and more importantly I hope that my students both learn a lot and
really enjoy it.
“I tell them about where I live and why I live there. I tell them why I teach. And I explain to them that when we combine our values with what we do small beautiful things can happen.” – Dr. James Norman, ‘This is why I teach’.
I read Dr. James Norman’s
ode to concrete, wood, love and teaching just after I had finished four whole
years studying for my degree (eek!). Since handing in my final assignments last
week, I have felt that the dust hasn’t yet settled and the cement hasn’t properly
set. After reading his piece, I started to think about what exactly I had made
out of the last few years of being here. What materials do we use to build our
James got me thinking about
the idea of building more generally, and how integral it has been in defining
and shaping my time at university. Of course, I am not just referring to the
physical structure of buildings. Just as this year’s BILT theme of ‘Spaces’ has
taught me, structures often carry much more weight than their physical
manifestation. Buildings and spaces are mere vessels in which relationships can
be cemented, interests can be mixed together and built upon. The bricks of my
university are made out of more than clay, but they are rather made of people,
places, things, hobbies, highs, lows, experiences, curiosity, and
determination. While many of us dwell in the same buildings throughout our years
at university, the experience we actively build there is completely unique to
I write this blog in limbo,
as my time at Bristol is not yet fully built. I have finished all my
assignments, but I can’t yet call myself a graduate until I receive the results
that will confirm the outcome of my degree. It’s easy to let my mind slip into
this blank space of anticipation, as if my entire university career will be
defined by a number out of 100. But James’ piece has shifted my perspective. A
single brick cannot construct an entire building, just as your final grades
cannot possibly account for the complexity of each university life. They are
one part of a larger totality. Just as my History teacher told me at school
before we were to take our final exams: ‘you have your education now, and no
one can take that away from you – the exams are just the finer detail.’
My time at Bristol can only
been seen as a complete structure when, as James puts it, ‘we combine our
values.’ It is only in such a matrix that we get a more trusting and fulfilling
illustration of our university life, one that is entirely tailored to you. In
our true university building, each brick is held together by the essence of
your character. I am not just my grade, I am also my love of journalism, music,
theatre, learning, people. I am my time living in Stoke Bishop (for better or
for worse), Redland, Hotwells, and Montréal. This emphasis is what I have
particularly enjoyed about studying Liberal Arts; the degree structure hangs
off you and you get to decide how your learning goes, how you construct your
own path in pedagogy.
I loved James’ description
of driving wood apart. He said it was like a ‘release of stresses locked in by
years of growing.’ Here, the force of the axe is not a means of total
destruction, but productive reinvention; the axe sublimates the release of
stress into reconstruction and reconstitution, channelling years of growth into
driving energy. A student is like wood in this way. I can only really grow if I
am willing to embrace change, allowing myself space to release and reshape,
adapt and reconstitute in the swiftly changing times of university life. From
taking up new hobbies and subjects every year, to moving away to Canada for my
year abroad, I now feel like a completely different person to when I was in
first year. I share in James’ enthusiasm for wood; I admire its ability to
change and be changed.
This is also where I find
James’ mutual love of wood and concrete tricky to reconcile. At first, I don’t see
such a willingness to change in concrete, particularly when I look up at the neogothic
tower of Wills Memorial building, made of mainly reinforced concrete. When such
a building holds the weight of the past and prestige on its back, how can a
building, and the people within it, look on to the future? Sometimes, university
buildings can make people stubborn, helping only to hinder the progress of
ideas and keeping the practice of pedagogy stuck in a different time and place,
an outdated epoch when university was made for a very specific, limited and
privileged demographic. For me, concrete feels like essay upon essay upon essay
upon essay. Concrete feels like an entire reading list built from the minds of
only white men. Concrete feels like being stuck in your ways.
When I get really
frustrated at the rigidity of such tradition which pervades many red brick
universities, I sometimes cannot help but hear the words of Virginia Woolf:
Take this guinea and with it burn the college to the ground. Set fire to the old hypocrisies. Let the light of the burning building scare the nightingales and incarnadine the willows. And let the daughters of educated men dance round the fire and heap armful upon armful of dead leaves upon the flames. And let their mothers lean from the upper windows and cry, “Let it blaze! Let it blaze! For we have done with this education!”
Hear me right, I am not
endorsing arson. I think concrete can bring solidarity, continuity and a sense
of stable educational identity; it is an integral aspect to building a
university community and History. What I am proposing is that we should seek to
rebuild the ivory tower of the UK university system by integrating wood within
the backdrop of concrete. Let us throw it into the mix, injecting its potential
for conversion, fire and change. This would bring a lightness to the hefty
prestige and traditions of our education, made of a willingness to radically
innovative and to keep moving forward in these rapidly changing times.
I send my sincerest apologies to the discipline of civil engineering for pounding these materials into metaphors.
Since the launch of the ‘Rethinking Spaces’ theme in June 2018, several things are going on.
The ‘Teaching Space Principles’ were formally signed off in October and are now available to be used as a guide when refurbishing or building new teaching spaces. The ‘Teaching Space Principles’ are as follows, though you can read a fuller version via this blog post.
Teaching spaces will allow all students to actively engage with content through appropriate design and technologies that support multiple modes of teaching. The learning that takes place in these spaces will be accessible to all students
. The University will foster a welcoming environment for students beyond timetabled teaching activities, to include social, learning and recreational spaces so that students’ experience of time spent at the University is coherent and integrated and supports their well-being.
Teaching and learning environments will encourage active collaborative interactions between students. Peer learning, multi-disciplinarity, in large or small groups, through and with technology, will be key to supporting students to create, develop and extend their own understandings and learning activities. Teaching spaces should therefore be designed to an appropriate size to allow for meaningful and comfortable interaction.
Our teaching and learning spaces will allow interaction between teachers, students and others, and will thereby encourage the active facilitation of student learning. This learning environment will be flexible, incorporate appropriate technologies, and have space to move around in by staff and students.
Teaching and learning spaces should be designed using the best current evidence-based practice and flexible enough to allow for emerging and future pedagogies.
Two of our BILT Fellows are focusing on teaching space. James Norman, a senior teaching fellow in Engineering and Christian Spielmann, a Reader in Economics, are both exploring the relationship between space and learning, though from different slants – James is looking at physical space design and Christian is looking at Bristol Futures and how his open unit uses digital space. Both have published blog posts, which can be found here. We have also appointed a student fellow, Lisa Howarth to explore this theme – her introductory blog post can be found here.
We are working on the links between pedagogies, physical and digital space. To this end we are developing strategic plans to work with interested schools wishing to move to more active styles of teaching, learning and assessment and the link to the design of classrooms. This brings together members of BILT, Digital Education Office (DEO), and AQPO. A pilot workshop was help with member of the School of Management and more are planned.
The inaugural meeting of the Learning Environment Committee (LEC) has been held. This committee will take strategic oversight for advising the University on teaching and learning space.