Meet the BILT Student Fellows, News

Hackathon is go!

This week saw the start of our student hackathon, kicking off with two days of training and practice in digital storytelling, leading up to a showcase of the students’ own stories. Eva, Sam, Alex, and Samia share their reflections on the process.

Stories are the way in which we share things about ourselves, make sense of the world, and remember key moments in our lives. In our first two days, we utilised stories to share pieces of ourselves, to get to know one another and to warm ourselves up to telling some of the many stories which make up the university of Bristol.

Image showing people sitting round a camp fire.
Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

We were prompted into telling our stories through visual images, a task which at first seemed daunting in a room of people who up to a few hours ago were complete strangers. But through looking at some of the random pictures during the workshop, we found a spark and started to weave a story. The activity allowed us to put our creative hats on, in some cases for the first time in a while.

As for so many tasks, the hardest bit of writing a story is putting pen to blank sheet of paper. We tried a technique called free writing to get over this – spend 3 minutes just writing, not worrying about how good it is or self-editing, but just getting it down. Sounds awful, but in fact takes the pressure off, and we were all out of the starting gates!

The two days included both creative thinking and technological hands-on practice. We all found it hard to balance the ideal with the achievable, but even though our digital videos may not have been polished, we were amazed how well everyone’s story shone through. Thinking about how to structure and present a story has given us an impetus to explore and communicate experiences.

We were struck by how many educational issues and challenges were highlighted in our collective stories – think how many more there are in every lecture hall and lab across the university. It reminded us how important the student engagement work of the hackathon is, looking at some key issues for the university with that multifaceted student perspective.

The whole experience so far has been fun, interesting, unexpected, and enjoyable. We’ve connected with each other in novel ways, and the next four weeks don’t seem so daunting any more. We’re excited to see what Monday brings.

News

An introduction from Tansy Jessop, our Visiting Professor

Tansy

Here I am in my Christmas jumper, looking slightly silly #dachshundthroughthesnow, and telling you a bit about myself. First things first, I do have a twelve year old black and tan sausage dog whose origins are close to Bristol. So call my stint at BILT a bit of a return on behalf of my hound! I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to be a Visiting Professor at BILT for the year. My undergraduate years were spent at the University of Cape Town, not dissimilar in size and feel to Bristol but a campus university rather than a city one. From my four years in the fraught 1980s at UCT, I remember feeling both adrift and excited; mystified, enthralled and slightly confused at the relevance of T S Eliot and Catullus. My studies seemed slightly irrelevant in a context of tear gas and angry fists thrust in the air.  As I look back I now know I was experiencing what many students feel but cannot name in relation to their studies. Sarah Mann has written the best work on student alienation and as I read it, I know for myself that this is the root of much of student disengagement in higher education. Particularly for first generation students.  

My interest in alienation and in engaging students is a huge spur to my work in learning and teaching. In leading the ‘Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment’ (TESTA) research and change process for nearly ten years, and working with students and staff in many UK universities, I have encountered alienation in many guises. The defining feature of alienation is an absence of meaning or connection with something expected to bring meaning.  In the context of assessment, it is students disgruntled with the treadmill of repetitive assessments; overloaded with content; finding that their curiosity is not ignited by assessment; that they have little in the way of pedagogic relationship with their tutors in feedback, for example.  Students often experience their modular curriculum as fragmented and knowledge on one unit seems unrelated to another one. TESTA exposes some of the structural flaws in compartmentalised modular curricula. It calls to a much more programmatic and joined up approach to teaching and learning. 

But alienation is not all bad. It is part of what higher education is about as students wrestle with multiple perspectives and try to pick their way through different ways of understanding their disciplines. The soupy sea of ambivalence that higher education invites students to swim in is bound to be a bit unsettling. However, there are wonderful pedagogic ways of lighting beacons along the way for students. Through TESTA, I have seen academics embrace new ways of doing formative assessment, engaging students in challenging, playful and exciting learning which prepares them for summative tasks. I have seen academics stand back and see the whole programme for the first time. This new way of seeing is often a catalyst for programme teams drawing back from content-heavy, facts first approaches, and inviting them to partner with their students in slow learning. The ‘slow professor’ approach to teaching, learning and assessment is all about creating spaces for students to engage, integrate and apply their learning.  I hope over the coming months to share some of these ideas and engage various programmes in the TESTA process. I am really looking forward to getting to know the community at the University of Bristol, with or without my dog.  Definitely without my Christmas jumper.  

 

Berg, M. and Seeber, B. 2016. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. Toronto. University of Toronto Press. 

Mann, S. 2001.  Alternative Perspectives on the Student Experience: alienation and engagement. Studies in Higher Education. 26 (1). 

 

 

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.

Professor Debby Cotton and Dr Rebecca Turner at their Education Excellence Seminar
News

Easing the transition of undergraduates through an immersive induction module

The opening Education Excellence seminar of 2018/19 took place on Thursday 20th September in 43 Woodland Road. Professor Debby Cotton and Dr Rebecca Turner (accompanied by Rebecca’s son, Thomas) came up from Plymouth University’s PedRIO to deliver a seminar on the immersive induction module all undergraduates take at their institution. The seminar was attended by almost fifty members of staff and was a great start to the 18/19 seminar series– there were only two minor hiccups; the first being the hospitalisation of Rebecca’s childminder (cue baby gurgles throughout the lecture) and the fact the RePlay box was still on its summer break (cue this blog post).

After a brief introduction from Alvin, Rebecca introduced the project to the audience. The project was proposed after it was recognised that students were struggling with the transition to university. It was hoped the immersive module would help with social integration, as well as allowing students a transitional period when beginning their university studies.

Following a successful pilot year in 2014, the immersive induction module was rolled out across all undergraduate programmes in the University. The module is a four-week introduction to the degree – students do not undertake any other modules during this time, in which they can focus on getting to grips with self-study, academic skills, the language of their subject. The module also gives students the opportunity to get to know others on their course through the use of group work. Team-building, peer interaction and academic integration are all used to boost motivation and enthuse students. Most students are asked to complete an assessment, designed to be inclusive, at the end of the module, which provides students with early feedback and reduces exam-linked anxiety.

It was hypothesised that this module would improve retention and student attainment – and it did. Initial results from the pilot showed retention approved across the board, with students naming a sense of belonging, academic integration, social integration and strong study skills as being key factors in the improvement. Peer collaboration and networking grows due to the collaborative work that takes place early in the programme. The average grade from first assignments went up from 62% to 67%, despite the fact the individual student needs had not always been recognised at this point. Both genders showed heightened performance, thought the enhancement was greater for males, therefore reducing the attainment gap.

There were a number of challenges that the immersive module has presented. One of the biggest issues caused was that it raised the students expectations to a level where they could not be maintained in modules going forward. Further to this, students felt like a ‘second transition’ had been created, and still struggled to an extent when the immersive module ended. Some students did not want to take part in self-directed study and group work at the beginning of their degree; they expect to be in lecture theatres and have their questions answered by the lecturer. Some lecturing staff were not enthusiastic about changing their way their subject was taught so it could be covered in one module, too. There were a number of operational issues that presented as part of the roll-out. Teaching spaces weren’t always ideal – though the majority of sessions took place in ‘flatbed’ spaces, a number of large lecture theatres had to be used and weren’t viable for interactive teaching as they are too large and become noisy.

Overall the project was very successful, increasing the retention and attainment of first-year students and generally improving the student experience, though this has come with some new challenges. We were left with a number of question to consider when thinking about whether we could implement a similar structure, including:

  • What opportunities could an immersive format offer you?
  • What challenges or concerns would you have?
  • How could an immersive format help create a sense of belonging?
  • How can we manage student expectations of HE on arrival?
  • How can we better prepare students to progress on to subsequent modules?

Look out for the next edition of our ‘An interview with’ series with Debby and Rebecca coming in October.

The full peer-reviewed paper can be found here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13562517.2017.1301906

An interview with...

An interview with… Naomi Winstone

The third interview in our series is with Naomi Winstone, who presented an excellent seminar on maximising the impact of feedback in March 2018. Naomi has helped to implement a new feedback system in Surrey and has had huge success; she was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2016 and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. You can find more about her research and publications here.

What are the most common problems you tend to observe with current feedback practices?

One of the key problems I think we face is the positioning of students as passive receivers of feedback, where feedback is something that is ‘done’ to them, and where the delivery of feedback by their tutor represents the end of the feedback process. In fact, this should be seen as the beginning of the process, where student engagement and action are the most important determinants of the impact of the feedback.

We perhaps unwittingly reinforce students’ position in this way by focusing on feedback as written comments (what David Carless terms the ‘Old Paradigm’ of feedback practice), often provided at the end of a unit or module. We are also perhaps telling students that this is the model of feedback that we value, by asking them in surveys such as the NSS to evaluate the quality of assessment and feedback according to what they have ‘received’. The modularisation of curricula also places feedback into topic-based silos, making it harder for students to see feedback as part of an ongoing learning journey.

A lot of efforts to improve students’ satisfaction with feedback focus on the role of the educator, for example, promoting the use of particular language in feedback comments, or designing new feedback pro-formas. I don’t think we will ever see a transformation in the assessment and feedback process unless we focus not on the feedback itself, but on its impact on student learning and development.

What benefits do students experience through a better understanding of the feedback process?

The ability to use feedback effectively is not just a critical academic skill, but also a crucial life skill. If students gain an appreciation of the power of feedback, and learn how to apply it beyond just the next piece of work, they are developing skills that will support their learning and development way beyond their time at University. Understanding the feedback process enables students to develop the ability to evaluate their own work, making them less reliant on external sources of feedback.

How can Universities help students to understand these benefits?

I think that it is essential to build time into the curriculum to support students to develop and hone the skills needed to implement feedback. We use the workshop tool from the Developing Engagement with Feedback Toolkit (tinyurl.com/hea-deft) to equip our incoming students with these skills. Dialogue is also essential; we should be continually talking to students about the impact of feedback and their role in the process.

What are the most valuable resources/articles you use?

There are so many people whose work has had a huge impact on me, and whose articles I return to time and again, and always gain something new from. In particular, Margaret Price’s work encouraged me to focus on engagement with feedback rather than its delivery, and the work of David Nicol, David Carless, and David Boud has also been very influential. If I were to identify one ‘go-to’ resource, it would be David Boud and Elizabeth Molloy’s 2013 edited volume entitled ‘Feedback in Higher and Professional Education: Understanding it and doing it well’. It’s a really comprehensive and thought-provoking resource with contributions from leading scholars.

What one piece of advice would you give to help improve students understanding of the feedback process?

Don’t focus just on the feedback you get when an assignment is marked. There is potentially no limit to the amount of feedback you can get whilst at University. You can continually gain feedback from tutors, learning advisors, librarians, peers, family members, and through your own self-assessment. In order to gain maximum benefit from these sources of feedback, you need to be willing to ask for it!

What inspired you to first start looking at feedback practice and advocating change?

As a psychologist, I am primarily interested in the reasons behind people’s behaviour. We hear a lot of negativity about students’ engagement with feedback, that they often don’t read or even collect feedback! I think it is important to ask why this might be the case, and better understand why students don’t feel that the feedback holds value for them. In previous roles (Head of Level 4, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Director of Learning and Teaching, Associate Dean Learning and Teaching) I spent a lot of time talking to students, and hearing about the challenges they face when trying to implement feedback. I wanted to explore the impact of feedback by focusing not on what the educator does, but on what the student does.

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

I have really enjoyed reading “Thanks for the Feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Their focus is on receiving feedback in the workplace, but there are so many parallels to educational contexts. I also recently came across a story book for children called “Thanks for the feedback…I think…” which teaches young children the value of feedback. There is an accompanying teacher resource pack which is brilliant!

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

That we move towards a model where we position students as genuine partners in their education. I don’t think it’s enough to tell students that they shouldn’t see themselves as consumers if we don’t then work hard to create an environment where their input, participation and expertise is fully valued and integrated into innovation and decision-making at all levels.

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

My A-Level Psychology teacher, Mrs Middleton, was the most inspiring teacher I had at school. She brought psychology to life, giving us the opportunity to explore the relevance of theory to everyday life. I had gained a place at university to study music, but in giving me feedback on one of my essays, she suggested that I seriously consider doing a psychology degree. Therefore, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am now without her encouragement!

You can watch Naomi’s Education Excellence seminar here.