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Although students’ hopes for education are vital to both ensuring student engagement and satisfaction, there is surprisingly little research on what students want from their overall learning experience in higher education. In this study (Quinlan & Salmen, 2019a), we asked more than 1700 students in one UK university open-ended questions about what they wanted from their learning experience in higher education and how that has turned out for them. Through thematic coding, we identified five key hopes. We will discuss the findings with reference to Quinlan’s (2016a) framework of key relationships in higher education, emphasising the emotional and relational nature of students’ hopes. In Quinlan and Salmen (2019a), we also gathered examples of students’ most powerful learning experiences, which will be used to illustrate how teachers can enrich those five key relationships. Through small group discussion, we will work together to explore further practical applications in our own teaching.
Dr Kathleen M. Quinlan is Reader in Higher Education and Director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Kent. She holds a PhD in Education from the Stanford School of Education and has researched teaching and learning in higher education for more than 20 years. She has led educational development programmes at The Australian National University, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and the University of Oxford and served as Educator-in- Residence (August 2014) at the National University of Singapore.
Her recent work focuses on emotions in learning and teaching in higher education. She is researching what interests students about their subject and about studying in higher education, as well as the link between teachers’ emotions and their values. She is the author of the book, How Higher Education Feels: Commentaries on Poems that Illuminate Emotions in Learning and Teaching (Sense Publishers, 2016).
just sitting here, I ain’t saying much I just think
And my eyes don’t move left or right they just
thought I’d start my 11th and final episode of the blog series with
a Dizzee Rascal quote, because as I was reflecting on the day, whilst grabbing
some lunch, these words came to mind.
Today, this instant, this very moment, is the last office session. At 5pm, 10 groups will hand in 10 reports and the unit will be over for the year. I am hoping for some help whilst I shift all the furniture that I have begged, borrowed and stolen back around the building and then hopefully it’s off to the pub for a swift celebratory beer for a job well done.
reason Dizzee’s words came to me is that every week the office has been a busy,
noisy, buzzing space, but today is different. Everyone is working hard. Really
hard. Because it’s deadline day. And I still have a few questions to answer,
but mostly people know what they are doing and where they are going they just
need to get there. And so I am, for the first time all year, able to sit in
‘The Office’ and write my blog post. I don’t intend on being overly long but I
thought I might reflect back on the 10 weeks.
mentioned last week, after each session I write a short reflection on the day
as I take the train back home to Bath. Re-reading these reflections now a few
things strike me:
attendance. Attendance has been outstanding. Every week everyone has come for
most of the day. Occasionally a few people are late in. And there were a few
times when people were ill or had other commitments. But overall the attendance
on this unit has been better than any I can ever remember running.
The space has worked well. Students would like even more desk space, but other
than that, this dreary flatbed lecture room is weekly transformed into a
buzzing office (see the video), with people working hard and discussing timber
engineering. Asking each other sensible questions.
I selected the groups for this unit and so they were pushed into groups with
people they hadn’t worked with before. This isn’t a new thing for our students,
but most years I have at least a few complaints about teams. This year there
have been none. And as I look around I can see diverse groups of students, some
of whom are studying on different degree programmes, and who, for the most part
have never worked together, collaborating to create something great.
One of the most striking things about ‘The Office’ is how much it sounds like
an office. Every week in my reflections I’ve noted it. That busy bustling
sound. Even without the pictures on the wall, and the breakout space, and the
boards to hide the lectern and extra seats, and the plants by the entrance, and
the tea point! Even without any of these other features that differentiate this
space from any other flatbed teaching space, it sounds like an office. It
doesn’t sound like a lecture theatre, which is both quieter when I’m speaking
and much noisier when I’m not. Neither does it sound like a work space where
students are all working on their own. Instead it has that unmistakable hubbub
of people collaborating and working together. I took a very short snippet of
this, and you can hear the sound of ‘The Office’ for yourself.
Every week we have had an external speaker come and give a lunch time talk.
These are not lectures, they are designed instead to replicate the weekly
lunchtime talks my old business’s organised when I worked in industry. They
have covered a wide selection of different areas of timber engineering and have
been well attended and well received by the students. My only thought for next
year was to ensure a higher proportion of female speakers, the unit was taken
by more than 40% female students and so it would be good to have 3-4 of the 7
speakers as female, rather than the one we had this year.
Cake. Cake for my birthday was a real highlight (for me at least). My wife and son made it. So next year I need to move the office day to a Saturday so it coincides with my birthday again.
So the last point was a joke (about teaching on Saturday – my Saturdays are
already busy, what with running, coffee, taking my son to rugby, watching Bath
rugby, cooking Saturday night tea, watching Strictly, there is no way I could
squeeze the office in as well!) As was the below that I found on one of my
architecture magazines. A joke I very much enjoyed, and I hope you do to.
And I just discovered why it is so quiet in the office today, most groups have moved up the corridor to one of our new group work teaching spaces where there are large touchscreen computers, ideal for the final edit of the report as the group collaborate and agree content and presentation together. Another new teaching space being put to good use by our students.
So in conclusion, I have really enjoyed teaching this unit in a
different way. I hope that my students have found it just as beneficial (I suspect
only time will tell on that front) and I am looking forward to delivering the
unit in the same way again next year (but hopefully with all the books I have
written to make it happen published and in the library).
So until next time goodbye and thank you for reading my weekly blog,
it’s been great fun sharing all my different thoughts on teaching and I really
hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
At some point in Spring 2018 I went for an interview to be a BILT Fellow
in Assessment and Feedback. All went well and I was offered a two-year Fellowship.
But on reflection, I wasn’t sure if I really should be doing Assessment and
Feedback – not because I don’t think it’s important, I do – but because I
realised that having worked on a number of university projects as a practising
engineer I was probably more suited to the other BILT theme, ‘Rethinking Spaces’.
And so, I switched.
Last year, I spent my BILT time digging through literature on space
(alongside all sorts of other things) and dreamt up some fun projects about it.
And from this, ‘The Office’ was born. But it turns out that when you change
space you change a whole load of other things as well. In simple terms, when I
moved from thinking about teaching as lectures and considered it as coming to
work, this raised so many more questions: questions about teaching delivery;
identity; community; authenticity- not just space.
As a result, whilst my main topic is ‘space’, it has taken until Episode
4 to really talk about the physical space because, in short, I had so many
other things to talk about. But this week I want to focus on the actual
Over the course of the last 6 months there were a number of questions to
be answered. Boring, practical questions.
could I base my office?
was it going to fit into the timetable?
would the space look like anything other than a class room with tables grouped
To answer the first two questions, I reached out to a variety of different
staff across the university, I visited different buildings, reviewed different
options, but in the end the solution to both came from Engineering Timetabling
– without whom this project could never have happened. We discussed pragmatic
solutions, like allowing students to be present for core hours – but being able
to go and do other things (like lectures, supervisor meetings or design project
meetings) outside of these. Above all else we started the conversation early in
the year, enabling options to be reviewed and timetabled early in the cycle –
long before official deadlines.
To answer the third question, we started by looking at actual office
spaces across the university campus, but nothing quite worked. And so, we went
back to the old flatbed teaching room, as beloved by engineering (a quick walk
around Queens building will show you just how much we love our flatbed teaching
The room was agreed before the summer break, enabling me to plan the space,
have a trial run and work out the different furniture I needed to beg, steal or
borrow. I made plans. The original plan is outlined below under week 1. There were
a number of key features:
Entrance – To make the space feel more like an office and less like a classroom the first step was to create a different entrance. This was achieved very simply by putting a company sign by the office door, and placing plants either side of the entrance.
Working Space – The working space is laid out as desks in groups. Much like my old companies – tables are in lines – but unlike my old companies where everyone has a computer and at least a table each, here to fit in the number of students we placed groups of 4 students around two tables and there are no computers.
Huddle Space – When working
in industry we used to have a Monday morning huddle – where we would plan the
week ahead – this space would also be the location for lunch time talks. I
created a large space where students could bring their chairs for the huddle.
Breakout Space – In addition to more formal working spaces, I wanted to create a breakout space which students could use to have a pause, discuss ideas, drink a cup of tea, read architecture magazines and generally refresh before cracking on with the next task at hand. It has 4 low chairs – taken from my own office (which now looks very sad) and a low coffee table. There is a couple of magazine racks with the latest issue of engineering and architecture magazines.
Directors’ Tables – When in industry I have always worked in companies where the directors are in the same open plan office space as everyone else, no fancy corner offices with large leather sofas. The theory is that this flattens the hierarchy (which is does) but I also imagine the financial saving from space and furniture is quite attractive. To start with the Directors tables (where a PhD student and myself sit) were located by the huddle space for the simple reason that the tables could be quickly moved making more room to huddle in.
Storage – Finally to keep the illusion alive that this was an office and not a classroom a screen is set up (which students are invited to cover with inspirational images) and behind this all the excess chairs and tables are stored along with the lectern (nothing says lecture more than a lectern) and the giant projector screen. As the screen cannot be used a large TV is now wheeled in for all presentations.
reflection following the first week
Following the first week of delivery there was some immediate feedback
from the students, most notably that there was not enough desk space. In
addition, my plan to huddle did not materialize. Maybe because students were on
heavy static seats rather than seats with wheels which can quickly be moved to
other locations. As a result, the layout in week 2 was revised. More tables
were put out, so groups now had 3 tables each rather than 2. The huddle space
There were some further consequences to this change in the use of the
space in that there was now less furniture to store (all the tables in the room
were being utilized) and as a result the breakout space became much bigger. In
the first week I didn’t notice any groups sit in the comfy chairs, but in week
2 the space was used by a number of different groups during the day. This of
course may be due to the students becoming more familiar with the space and the
fact that one of their projects is much more open ended and so inspiration from
different sources is required. But I also believe the space is now more
We also opted to move the directors table to a more central position, so
we were more in the mix. This didn’t change the number of enquiries during the
day, but I was able to get a better feel for what was happening in the room and
the conversations that were taking place – being in the ‘thick of it’.
Following the end of week 2 students confirmed that they were much
happier with the space. One student requested that we use the large screen as
the TV was harder to see, but I am reluctant to do this as there is still space
for students to move closer if they wish and we would be back to just a flat
bed teaching room if we have a lectern and large screen.
I also wonder if, by moving groups apart (there is a clear gap between
each group now), whether there is a reduced sharing of information across
groups and the groups become more insular, something I am very keen to avoid as
the aim is that all students learn as much as possible. I will monitor in the
weeks ahead. My feeling was, certainly in the first week, that when I shared
some key information with one group – this was being quickly fed to other
groups. For example one of the questions was whether all floor joists should be
the same depth? Once explaining the different arguments to one group I found as
I talked to other groups they presented back to me the same reasoning I had
given, acknowledging that this seemed to be the consensus among others.
So next week as we continue to consider pedagogy and ‘the office’ we
will look at authentic learning. In the spirit of the project if you would like
some pre-reading I would recommend you read ‘Authentic
Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview’ By Marilyn M. Lombardi (Educase 2007).
My name is Marnie Woodmeade, I am a fresh-faced Student
Fellow working on the ‘challenge-led, authentic learning’ project. The reason I
took on this project is fairly simple: I want to help create a future where
university teaches you outside of lecture halls, working on real projects that
impact the community in which you live.
As an (ex) social policy student, I spent three years
learning all of the nitty gritty of what makes a policy work and what makes
government tick. Yet, when asked to create my own policy I was flummoxed, I
couldn’t even think of how to start. This presented a real issue concerning
university education. We spend so much time learning theorists and academics,
and while this is useful it does not lean itself toward independent forward
thinking. The BILT project presents the opportunity to find out if other
university students are facing similar issues and how they want this to look.
The new Temple Quarter campus provides the university an
exciting opportunity to expand the type of learning and teaching they provide,
and I want to ensure that challenge-led, authentic learning is high on their
agenda. Located directly in the centre of Bristol there are possibilities to
learn outside the classroom and work closely with other organisations that can
provide real-life challenges that students can tackle.
Currently I am studying for my Masters’ in international
development, studying part-time because unlike the masters funding suggests, I
am unable to live on the equivalent of 86p an hour. When not in university or prattling on about
how to overhaul the education system, you can find me tackling climbing walls
or falling into a lake attempting to windsurf.
So, there we have it, if you have any ideas, thoughts, or
even musings on anything you’ve read today please let me know and I look
forward to working with you in the year to come.
Hi, I’m Emily Kinder. I did my undergrad degree at Bristol but
just couldn’t stay away, and now I’m back to do an MPhil in English and to work
as a BILT Student Fellow on a project called ‘students as researchers’.
Starting a research degree is pretty daunting; it’s filled with a lot of lone
study and bouts of imposter syndrome and the recurring feeling that you’ve no
idea what you’re doing. But it’s also really fun and exciting, and the best
part of research is knowing that you’re working on something that hasn’t been
With the new Temple Quarter campus being built and the new
curriculum framework in the works, the Uni is really putting an emphasis on a
‘research-rich education’. But as a student it’s easy to feel cut off from
these taglines and often we become disillusioned as everything seems like it
leads back to assessments and marks.
That’s why I want to make celebrating undergrad research a
priority, so we feel enthused and excited about the work we do and start to
think of it as something more than part of our overall grade. I have a few
ideas already for the year, such as recruiting a group of undergrads for the
British Conference for Undergraduate Research (click here
to sign up, it’s going to be a lot of fun!) and establishing a multi-disciplinary
journal to publish our best essays and projects.
But that’s not all – I also want to hear from you. I want to bridge the gap between the institution and the students, to talk to students about what ‘research’ means to them, and ultimately to develop a culture of celebrating and encouraging undergraduate research. You can expect workshops, focus groups and countless cups of coffee. I’ll keep you updated with how it goes!
Hi, I’m Toby Roberts, and I’ll be working as a BILT Student
Fellow alongside my final year as a Biology undergrad in Bristol. The project
I’ll be working on is Active, Collaborative Learning.
I’m quite new to Bristol, having arrived last year after
transferring from Exeter’s Penryn Campus. Although it was heartbreaking to
leave Cornwall behind, I wasn’t happy with my course and the way I was being
taught, so I headed for the big city. This meant that I came to Bristol with
huge expectations, both for the university and for myself.
After a year, I was feeling a lot more like a biologist,
but was still trying to figure out what
‘University’ really is and what it is for. Spurred on by a successful decision
to move away from Exeter and find a course that suited me better, I was in the
mindset of ‘if I’m not happy with the
way things are, it’s not enough just to moan, I need to do something about it’.
That was when I saw the advert for the BILT Student Hackathon.
Although what I really needed after exams was a few weeks of
solid sleep, I threw myself into it and was really glad I did. It was crazy to
see inside of the lumbering, bureaucratic machine that the University can seem
like to a student, and some things I saw and heard did reinforce that view. But,
at the same time I met students and staff (including the lovely BILT team) that
made me believe that people really are working to make fantastic things happen
and fighting the students’ corner. It was great to feel like a part of that.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the work we’d put in over
the four weeks of the Hackathon, so am incredibly excited to get to continue
working with BILT as a Student Fellow. Finding ways to make teaching and
learning more active and collaborative is something I’m hugely passionate
about. Shaking up the way we learn is scary, and that goes for me as a student
too. But, there’s a massive amount of creativity in the university and the city
and if there’s a way to unlock that and connect people together I’m going to do
my best to make that happen.
I’ll keep you posted with everything we get up to and achieve over the course of the year!
I am in my final year
of study on the Master of Liberal Arts degree programme majoring in Philosophy
and minoring in History. I recently returned to Bristol fresh-faced and
revitalised after studying abroad at Charles University in Prague and
University College Utrecht. I will be working alongside an excellent team of
stakeholders on this year’s ‘Wellbeing and the Curriculum’ project. We
are part of university-wide effort to consider student and staff wellbeing in
policy developments and new projects.
Over three years ago, I
took the fretful leap to move out from a small town in Greater Manchester to
see what all the fuss was about down in the “sunny south”. After arriving at a
new city surrounded by new accents, noises, and necessities certainly required
an extra ounce of resilience than what I was typically used to. I can only
describe these four years as an extensive learning process, sometimes more
personally than academically, the most eye-opening thing I learnt from my time
here in Bristol was after watching a little performance called ‘Help’ at the Wardrobe
theatre, a piece that truly hammered home the notion that it was ok to ask for
help. Hereon, I have been doing just that. I ask for help as and when I need as
well as give a little helping hand to others when they need it, whether that
hand be for the lovely Welsh lady who needed a powerbank for her phone as we
both endured a long coach journey sat side-by-side, or a hand pointing in the
direction for a disorientated fresher.
I am looking forward to getting to know new faces
from the academic and student community. I will be making it my responsibility
to familiarise myself with student wellbeing and learning about what makes all
of us tick, especially since the factors that are constitutive of good levels
of wellbeing tend to vary across our lived experiences. Crucially, I am making
it my mission to give as many students a seat at the “Wellbeing and the
curriculum” table as possible, where we can look at the interplay between wellbeing
and risk: from fears around failure, to fears around introducing yourself to
new people – any and every of your wellbeing concerns matter.
Throughout my time here, many Bristol residents have spotted me pulling pints at Thekla, wearing an unflattering blue t-shirt on campus tours, cycling (often singing) around town to the sweet sounds of Corinne Bailey Rae, and hip-swinging on sticky dance floors. I am sure there will be a lot more of my face around town this year too, see you around.
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.
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.
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).