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The 2019 Bristol Teaching Awards took place on Wednesday 12th June, with colleagues from across the institution coming together to celebrate the inspiring teaching that takes place at the University.
The evening kicked off with a drinks reception in the Reception Room, where award nominees, faculty reps, academics and professional services staff mingled together over sparking wine. Attendees then moved into the Great Hall, where they were met with an thrilling performance by the Chinese Lion Dance Troupe. Drums beat and symbols clapped at the back of the room as dancers moved around the table handing out sweets to guests.
After a brief speech from the Vice Chancellor (in which he referred to the event as the ‘Oscars of Teaching’ – thanks Hugh!), the evening continued with a two-course dinner, with dessert accompanied by a performance from the delightful A Capella Society (male group), performing hits such as ‘Sound of the Underground’, ‘Five Colours in her Hair’ and ‘Big Girls’.
The performance was followed by another speech, this time from Sally Heslop, our interim PVC Education in which she highlighted some of the excellent work done by BILT over the past year. The first set of awards being given were the staff-led awards. Nominees for these awards were nominated by their colleges and included six University Awards for Education (one per faculty), an award for Enhancing the Student Learning Experience and Educational Initiative award (a full list of award winners can be found on the BILT website).
The second half of the evening was given over to the students, kicking off with a short video about what our BILT student fellows have been doing over the last six months – you, too, can watch the video here.
Nasra Ayub and Shubham Singh, our outgoing 2018/19 Undergraduate and Postgraduate Education Officers, gave their speeches, highlighting the fact that excellent teaching takes place across the institution and that celebrating ‘those who have been mentioned and those who haven’t’. We then moved onto awarding the Student Awards for Outstanding Educators, with one award for each faculty, and then the Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Postgraduate Student, the Students’ Award for Outstanding Support and finally the Students’ Award for Outstanding Supervision of Research Students .
The evening ended with the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Education, which is selected from the other 17 winners. This year, the award was given to James Filbin, who runs the Engineering Hackspace. Unfortunately, James was on holiday the night of the Awards so his manager, Jude Britton, had to collect both his awards for him, but I’m sure it will be an amazing surprise for when he is back!
Much like the real Oscars, we did have one ‘LaLa Land moment‘ (sorry to the Linguistics team, Mark France and everyone else in those categories!), but aside from that slight blip the evening was a roaring success and a great time was had by all. We are producing two videos of the event and we will share these will you in due course! Well done to all those who were nominated, shortlisted and those who won.
The following post was written by Fabienne Vailes, Language Director for French at the University of Bristol, holder of a University Teaching Fellowship, BILT Associate and author of ‘The Flourishing Student’.
Mental health issues and
problems in students have been regularly highlighted by the press and the media. The
Guardian has a whole section called ‘mental health: a university crisis’. And more
recently came reports that academics in Higher Education are not immune to this
stress and suffer from an ‘epidemic of poor mental health’.
When we know that our stress
is not just contagious but that it alters the brain of others,
it’s hardly surprising, is it?
As students are focused on
their end of year exams or finals and staff are working equally as hard to mark
their work or to process their marks, now seems like a good time to reflect on all
this and explain why building a flourishing institution which lays the
foundations and provides the framework and environment for all its participants
to not just survive but flourish is vital.
A flourishing institution that
bucks the ‘mental health crisis trend, provides opportunities and resources that
enable everyone to utilise their talents fully, develop positive and nurturing relationships,
and where a sense of community, support and social justice are the norm. Impossible,
given the current climate? Let’s see…
WHY ARE STUDENTS AND STAFF SO STRESSED?
In recent interviews, students
reported that their main sources of stress are academic workload and pressure,
social media, fear for the future, financial worries, fear of not finding a
job, relationship issues, difficulties in transitioning from secondary school
Staff talked about ‘excessive
workloads, lack of job security, lack
of support and pressure from managers’ to name but a few.
Although the source of stress might
seem different, what students and staff currently have in common is that they
all experience the consequences of the current external environment which is becoming ever more volatile
and challenging. This, it would appear increases their level of stress and
‘isolates and spotlights individuals’.
It also generates a ‘survival mindset’, a fear which motivates individuals to
become perfectionists and competitive and in turn afraid of failure. This would
explain the ‘cut-throat’, ‘lack of camaraderie and collegiality’ mentioned in
the press articles.
environment can clearly have an impact on our level of wellbeing and Maslow was
right when he said that if our physiological, safety and security needs are not
fulfilled it affects us deeply
Some like Michael Ungar argue that it is the most important factor.
what about all this talk about building resilient staff and students?
IN EDUCATION- A HOLISTIC APPROACH
Building resilience in staff and
students has often been used as ‘the solution’ to ‘the mental health crisis’.
The truth is that we would all like to find a magic solution that would suit
every single person, but the reality is that just as we are all unique
individuals, so too are the solutions that will help us manage and improve our
wellbeing. There is no once size fits all, no magic wand or silver bullet.
Instead of focusing on
resilience, we need to create a workplace culture that encourages compassion to
oneself, where self-care is normalised. This requires a more holistic approach
to our wellbeing which focuses on caring for and managing not just our mental
health but also on social, physical, emotional and spiritual health.
What if the black-and-white
thinking used in recent years (either blaming the environment or the lack of
student’s or staff’s resilience) was not the only way forward?
ALL PART OF THE PROBLEM… AND THE SOLUTIONS
Seligman said that student wellbeing is a condition (or
pre-requisite) for effective learning 
But he forgot to add that so is staff wellbeing. One cannot
happen without the other. I would also add a third element in the mix. Our
environment plays an important role in our wellbeing.
None of the above elements are more important than the
We can either look at the current
situation in Higher Education and choose the simple cause and effect thinking
which suggests that for example university life or that the increased workload
are causing students and staff to become more and more stressed or we can choose to look at it from the lens
of Systems Thinking.
Systems Thinking brings a balance
between ‘holistic thinking’ versus ‘reductionist thinking’. It shows how any
set of distinct parts that interact with each other form a complex whole and
how the parts are intimately interconnected and highly interdependent. It does
not consider the parts in isolation and looks at how the various parts of the
system interact with each other and through a web of interrelated actions
produce behaviours and results and lead to effects on each other.
Senge defines it as a ‘the
ability to see the consequences of our own action. It points out to the
connections in any situations because very often we are reacting to an
immediate situation and we fail to see how things that we did or happened in
the past might have contributed to it and how things have unfolded over time.’ 
If we integrate this idea of
Systems thinking, we recognise that all participants in a system are part of
the problem and part of the solution. It encourages us to look at the issues
experienced, try to understand how they have arisen and to gain more
understanding and perspective to discover ways to deal with things differently.
Senge adds that to do this, it is
important to have a very deep and persistent commitment to learning and we must
be prepared to be wrong. For him, if it was obvious what we ought to be doing,
then we would already be doing it.
HOW TO CREATE A FLOURISHING INSTITUTION WITH FLOURISHING
STUDENTS AND STAFF?
We all know that our environment
is getting tougher. Everyone is expected to do more at a higher quality with
less resources. It’s not about incremental changes anymore but all about
quantum innovation. All actors in HE face more complex and bigger challenges.
We all respond to these
challenges differently. Some of us tend to focus on the things we can change
and some of us on the things we cannot change. It is not right or wrong, that’s
the way it is but the first step forward is to recognise what is true for us.
As mentioned previously, fear
triggers a ‘survival mindset’ which encourages us to focus on our own needs and
to protect ourselves. It’s completely normal and part of our make-up. Survival
of the fittest anyone?
If we are honest, we might even
be willing to admit that regardless of what part we play in the system, we have
mainly been focused on our individual aims and outcomes. Students just want a
good degree in the next 3 or 4 years to get a good job ; many staff just want
to focus on their research, on publishing papers, on just teaching their topic,
to get the promotion ; senior leaders are focused on finding ways to ‘future
proof’ HE. How can a system work when most of its parts are focused on their individualistic approach?
Through Systems thinking, it may
be time for Higher Education to take a hard look at how all the relationships
between all the actors, stakeholders and external factors (which include
parents, employers, secondary schools, government, policy makers etc) affect
each other rather than treating each part in isolation.
It will help us not only see but
understand how an improvement in one area of a system (i.e focus on student well-being
or student experience) can inadvertently aversively affect another area of the
system (staff well-being).
We can then start promoting real
organizational communication at all levels to avoid silos and to improve
interactions between the elements that compose the system that is an HE
institution (and any system for that matter).
This is what is increasingly
happening in the big global organisations (google, facebook, etc).
If we can create a community
which fosters diversity, inclusion, a sense of autonomy, the development of abilities
and strengths to create positive relationships and partnerships then we can all
start flourishing, and this will in turn lead to a flourishing institution.
This is what is truly needed for the next 10-20 years.
When we start our reflection on
how to create a flourishing institution – all participants in the system need
to think about what is within their locus of control and what they choose and
want to focus on. We also all need to reflect on how we are part of the system,
part of the problem and of the solution.
Once we have done this, we might
also want to look at the Canadian’s approach to ‘positive mental health’
(see image below) and to consider how we can foster wellbeing in education
through a caring and compassionate environment and how each one of us can
at an individual level?
At the family level (our
At community (school/Faculty)?
At the institutional level?
At society level?
Emerging evidence confirms that
student wellbeing can be cultivated and supported through intentional
curriculum design. .
And I believe that it would benefit not
only students but also staff.
But only when we have focused on
a systemic approach and started managing relationships across the different
silos of our institutions, can we start looking at how we can embed wellbeing
in the curriculum, develop a flourishing institution so that all actors cannot
merely survive but flourish and succeed in Higher Education, whatever their
And yes, this may seem like a
utopia and I most certainly won’t pretend I have THE answer. What I believe
though, as Gandhi said is that ‘we need to be the change we want to see in the
world’ and that it starts with each one of us.
Sometimes this might involve
simple things such as access to a staff room or a place to get together with
others to talk and debrief, the ability to refuse some of the accepted
workplace culture (i.e. to work long hours or answer emails in the evening or
over the weekend, to come to work when ill or not to take all of our annual
leave, particularly when staffing is under-resourced) or simply to take the
time to have a proper lunch break or to say ‘thank you’.
So, what will YOU do today to start this new movement toward a flourishing education?
 Toni-Lee Sterley, Dinara Baimoukhametova, Tamás Füzesi, Agnieszka A.
Zurek, Nuria Daviu, Neilen P. Rasiah, David Rosenegger, Jaideep S. Bains. Social
transmission and buffering of synaptic changes after stress. Nature
Neuroscience, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41593-017-0044-6
“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.
The following post was written by James Norman, a BILT Fellow and Programme Director for Civil Engineering.
Every year I give a lecture on the Civil Engineering unit ‘Engineering For International Development’. I love giving the lecture. It’s possibly my favourite lecture of my entire year, I think of it as my ‘This is why I teach’ lecture. And I talk about this weird thing called love.
Now, anyone that knows me knows that I love concrete. I absolutely flipping love it. I just adore the stuff. I think it’s amazing. Incredible. You can build almost anything from it and many of my favourite projects include it. I spent years obsessing over it. From the exposed concrete on Oxford Brookes which is cast against timber boarding and reflects the grain of the timber, to the existing concrete on the Tate modern in those huge, awe inspiring oil tanks under the extension. And I try and inject my lectures on the subject with the same sense of joy and excitement (I have been known to try and get students to whoop with joy at the very thought of concrete). But I don’t teach because I love concrete. I designed buildings out of concrete because I love concrete.
More recently I have been getting excited about wood. I am always looking for an excuse to move logs at my in-laws so that I can breathe in the smell of a wall of logs. I got an axe for my 40th birthday so that I can chop wood. Observe the grain. Feel the release of stresses locked in by years of growing as I drive the wood apart. I have a deep attachment to wood. I have written a book about wood, with another on the way. In fact, I love it. And if I went back into industry I would love to design more buildings out of wood. I think it is amazing. But I don’t teach because I love wood.
No – I teach for a different reason. I teach because I believe that teaching can make a positive difference in the world. I teach because I think that many of today’s challenges will be solved by engineers, by my future students. That reusing existing buildings will make a difference. That designing with wood will make a difference. That even concrete buildings, when designed right, can make a difference. And once a year I stand up and tell my students my story. I tell them that at age 18 I was going to make a difference. That I had a plan. That I have failed to do my plan! But I haven’t stopped caring and loving. I have tried and tried again. I talk about what drives me. I mention this weird, unquantifiable thing called love. I mention my personal faith as a Christian. I put up some quotes about love to make myself feel less foolish and make the experience feel more rigorous. Quotes like:
Seek: You will find your way, It is In the Same place As Your love.”
First I have to look hard at the landscape, at the woods and trees, the leaves, the grasses, the animated surface of the earth, and then develop a feeling of love for what I see – because we don’t hurt what we love. We treat what we love as well as we possibly can.”
Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture, Birkhäuser GmBH, 2010
So, I tell them about my values, about this thing called love*, and about how I have tried to live these values out in all parts of my life. 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.
So why do you teach? And do your students know? Do they really know what gets you up every day?
* Note this is an intentional reference to the Frank Sinatra song .
The student engagement movement has become a worldwide phenomenon and national student engagement surveys are now well-established internationally. Curriculum initiatives closely associated with student engagement policies include compulsory attendance requirements, class contribution grading, group and team working assignments and reflective exercises often linked to professional and experiential learning. These types of initiatives grade students for their ‘time and effort’ and commitment to active and participatory approaches to learning. They are justified largely by reference to improving retention rates and achievement levels. However, these policies have led to practices that constrain the extent to which higher education students are free to make choices about what to learn, when to learn and how to learn. Three forms of student performativity – bodily, participative and emotional – have been created that demand academic non-achievements to be acted out in a public space. A higher education is, almost by definition, intended to be about adults engaging in a voluntary activity but the performative turn in the nature of student learning is undermining student rights as learners – to non-indoctrination, reticence, choosing how to learn, and being trusted as an adult – and perverting the Rogerian meaning of ‘student-centred’. This presentation will be based on arguments presented in a recent book entitled Freedom to Learn (Routledge, 2017).
Bruce Macfarlane is professor of higher education, Head of the School of Education at the University of Bristol, UK and distinguished visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He has previously held chairs at a number of universities in the UK and Hong Kong. Bruce’s publications have developed concepts related to values in higher education such as academic freedom, the ethics of research and teaching, the service role, and academic leadership. His books include Freedom to Learn (2017), Intellectual Leadership in Higher Education (2012), Researching with Integrity (2009), The Academic Citizen (2007) and Teaching with Integrity (2004).
Dr Alex Forsythe has been an educator and psychologist since 2003 and among her various accomplishments, she is Senior Lecturer at University of Liverpool, Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and Head of Professional Certification for the Association of Business Psychology.
What are the main benefits students experience through goal-setting?
When we want to get something done,
we set ourselves specific goals and deadlines in order to get where we want to
be. We set ourselves these goals because we know what we need to achieve in
order to progress. Whether it is in our careers, our lifestyle, or our fitness,
goals create a specific psychological reaction that make us all the more
motivated to accomplish the goals we have set ourselves.
Our brains are very complex machines, but they are also very simplistic in some of their processes. The hidden secret of goal setting lies in the fact that our brains cannot differentiate between what we want and what we have. Instead, the brain absorbs the information of what we want and projects it into our self-image. When our reality doesn’t match up to our self-image, we are all the more like to motivate ourselves to change. Goals give us a strategy for achievement.
What inspired you to first start looking at goal-setting and its impact on learning?
I am an occupational psychologist and most of these strategies have been around in the business and sports literature for some time. We know the technique works. It was simply a matter of applying my knowledge of psychology in the workplace to help students regulate their performance.
What are the most valuable resources/articles you use?
I have a book chapter forthcoming which pulls together the key resources in this area and the science behind the processes. I am very happy to provide that to any interested academic.
What piece of advice would you give to help students understanding of the feedback process?
In life, some feedback has no basis in reality it is nothing more than obnoxious aggression, that kind of feedback should be rejected. The problem is that challenging feedback which is designed to critique our work, evaluate us and move us progressively forward, can generate the same fight or flight emotions as receiving obnoxious aggression. Evaluation is loud and it is hurtful and getting upset is a natural response, but when we rely on our emotions to make a decision about whether or not feedback is obnoxious aggression or candid language designed to move us forward, we end up making all sorts of attribution errors that can leave us stuck. To move forward, it is critical to find ways to regulate the negative emotions that are integral to good evaluation so that we can embrace failure as a friend and work actively with those who wish to help us improve our performance.
Can you tell us where you’ve used goal-setting in your life to achieve something?
It has taken practice, but I now regularly use regulatory techniques to pivot my focus away from distractions that are getting in my way. I also find that such processes help me to have confidence in myself, believe that I can achieve and that I can overcome the inevitable obstacles that will come my way. One of the most important changes that I have noticed is that I have more patience for myself. I am much better at switching my focus away from how to do things, towards dedicating more time towards thinking about what, why I am doing what I do. This has really helped me live in the moment, feel less stressed and achieve more.
What one film/ book/ resource would you like to share with the academic community?
As a ‘hard faced’ scientist and psychologist, we are not really encouraged to explore psychoanalytical theory, however, two books of that elk really spoke to me, possibly because both are written from the lived experiences of therapists. “The Examined Life” by the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. This is a very short book which explores how to change by exploring the stories of how people become the prisoners of history, their thinking or doing and the poor choices they make. This book, and “Why do I do that?” by Joseph Burgo helped me formulate my thinking about how students were coping (or not) at university.
If you could change one thing about HE in the UK what would it be?
That we stop chasing metrics. People will work to whatever measurement system is put in place, often with perverse consequences. When we go directly at improving a metric, we rarely get to the right result and in the process, we demoralise our staff. Good results are the outcome of high performing teams, so HE should spend more time focusing on the health, wellbeing and performance of its teams and the results will follow.
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.
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.
Dr James Norman is a BILT Fellow and Programme Director for Civil Engineering.
Take a break
Many, many years ago I gave a three hour lecture on concrete with out taking a break. In the three hours I barely paused for breath, let alone stopping to enable students to collect their thoughts and order them (or go to the loo). This was back in 2003 and I had recently become a Research Assistant. A combination of my own exhaustion, friendly feedback from a member of staff and a few reasonable student comments helped me realise that maybe three hours without a break was a little unreasonable.
So I started subdividing my sessions, first into 50 minute
chunks but now into (roughly) 20 minute chunks. I generally deliver my units in
two hour sessions and so I now divide this into 4 20 minute chunks. In the gaps
sometimes I give students exercises and things to do or dwell on, but sometimes
I just suggest they stretch their legs, get some fresh air, take a moment to
catch up. I often answer questions in these breaks and I try and move around
the teaching space making myself available. Sometimes these will be questions
on the subject at hand, sometimes they will be about something tangential
(grand designs seems to come up lot) and sometimes it will be advice about
other parts of life (jobs, other units, projects they are working on, societies
they are involved in).
This teaching story is submitted by Aydin Nahessi, a Reader in Manufacturing Systems and Head of Mechanical Engineering.
Using name labels to
make the interactions more personal
In a medium sized class (around 40
students) dealing with a relatively technical subject, I wanted to create more
interactivity. I observed that asking questions from “the student with the red
top” or “the student with the blue jacket” was very impersonal and strengthened
the feeling that I was “picking” on students. Last year, I asked them write
what they would like to be called on a piece of paper and put it in front of
them. I then used these names to ask them questions or create dialogue between
them (e.g. Ed what do you think about Joshua’s point?). In addition to creating
lively discussions, this had the side effect that by the end of the teaching
block, I had learned the names of the majority of the class.
The following post was written by Emilie Poletto-Lawson, a BILT Fellow and Educational Developer in Academic Staff Development.
The Academic Practice Directorate at the University of the West of England (UWE) is the equivalent of Academic Staff Development[ team at the University of Bristol. They organised a week-long winter festival of learning after the success of their one day Learning and Teaching Conference which started in 2011. This year, they aimed to “create a buzz about Learning and Teaching to coincide with the NSS survey”. I attended one afternoon but it was fantastic to see students and staff come together to share their enthusiasm for learning and teaching.
first half of the afternoon was entitled “Fresh approaches to T&L – A
session in our new laundry space to get you inspired” led by Dr Laura Bennett
(Associate director – academic practice directorate). The session included
members of staff that delivered sessions in the new ‘laundry room’ as well as
students that were attending sessions there but who were also using the room
for extra-curricular activities.
I valued the opportunity to visit the Glenside campus of the University of the West of England to discover the laundry room. At a time when a lot of thinking is going into teaching spaces in our University (BILT symposium June 2018 , BILT fellows working on space and design of Temple Quarter) it is always enriching to see what colleagues are experimenting with.
Before telling you about the presentation, let me tell you
about the room. When we came in, it was a big empty space. I must say it had a
medical feel to it, very white, sink at the back, metal shelves, not a warm
atmosphere but perfect for its intended purpose: “a practical learning space for trainee optometrists,
paramedics and occupational therapy students”. The facilitators were
coming straight from another session on the other side of the campus so we had
to build our classroom which was in itself a nice way to feel like we belonged
and it was our space.
The room can be described as a “connected classroom”. There
are four screens on both side walls, connected to a keyboard that enables
students to use the screen as a group and it is also possible for the
facilitator to show the main screen on all screens or to display the students’
screen on the main screen/all the screens. If you were able to attend a session
during the digital classroom roadshow two years ago (June 2017) the set up was
very similar apart from the fact that the tables were not fixed to the floor.
As the idea was to experience the technical aspect of the
room we built our on wheels foldable table next to the screen and sat on high
stools (not very easy if you have short legs like me) ready to roll. As I
managed to sit down I realised my bag was quite far down from me on the floor
and I had nowhere to put my coat. I was also quite far from the front as the
room can open on both sides to create an even bigger space so the screens are
at the back. Having moved the weekend before it did not take long for my back
to start hurting but I was not quite sure what to do when another lady voiced
the same issue and was given the option to grab a heavy chair instead of the
stool. It was good to have an option but the chair was considerably lower
creating some difficulties if you wanted to work from the table. Final hurdle
for me as a non-native speaker, a fan covered the voices of speakers that did
not use a microphone and it was a real strain to keep up.
However, despite all that, I still think it was a great
workshop because it was about possibilities, about teaching differently and the
space supporting your approach and ideas rather than limiting you. If you came
into the room and lectured for three hours just talking at students, you would
be missing the huge opportunities the toom has to offer to make your students
more active, to encourage and facilitate group work, peer learning etc.
Bennett introduced the aim of the session and presented key ideas from the
literature regarding space and concluded that “Space should be what you need it
to be”. The next speaker was Liz Reilly (Senior lecturer, social work) whose
presentation “The Laundry in action – pitfalls and possibilities” gave a very engaging insight into the
use of the room. Liz was very positive regarding the possibilities the room
offered for learning and teaching:
Create groups based on
Carousel approach –
screens act as flipchart
Moving from one table
to the next made the students were very active
However, she also picked up on the inclusivity issues I
mentioned earlier and some other practical aspects.
Inclusion: comfort, high
tables are a problem for people who cannot spent too much time on a stool and
for wheelchairs, far away so lip read or hearing impairment
Booking of the room,
complained they could not hear what the lecturer said to specific groups
Finally, being faced with one of her students
lying on the floor to do back exercises despite the active approach she had in
place was definitely not an outcome she expected.
Here are her pieces of advice:
Play around in the
Play around with what
you are doing
Log in ahead of your
session and test everything: screens, keyboards, etc.
Have a conversation
with people managing the room
Get feedback from
Get someone to observe you
following presentation, “Simulation:
the Laundry as Emergency Room” byAimee Hilton (Senior Lecturer,
Adult Nursing) took the original idea behind the design of the room and took it
quite a few steps further. She transformed the Laundry into an emergency room
treating the victims of a mass casualty event
for paramedics, radiographers and nurses students.
Drama students joined students paramedics, radiographers and nurses from other years to play the roles of patients. She also involved journalists
students whose aim was to get as much in the way as possible journalists would
should such an event take place. The
university security team, fire brigade and ambulance crew also joined in to add
to the realism of the situation. Did I mention
professional make-up? Now, I must admit I would have loved to be a fly on the
wall. The feedback from the students was extremely positive. It was very
interesting that the hardest part of the planning was recruiting enough actors.
I particularly liked the multi-disciplinary approach of the project.
presentation was by three students from the pre-hospital simulation society who
study in the room but also used it for one of their events. The society
provides “student led learning with the aim to facilitate realistic
quality simulations to improve clinical competency and confidence within
student Paramedics”. The Laundry is only one example of location, they have
created simulations in a car, outside, during freshers’ fair etc. The idea is
to design simulations of rare situations so that students are better prepared
should it ever happen to them in their professional life. Each simulation is
followed by a debrief at the end looking at what went well, what the literature
says about such a situation etc. Their enthusiasm and commitment were
Finally, Laura Bennet
concluded the session with a tour of the side rooms and suggestions of
technology to use to make your teaching more interactive. If you have attended
CREATE workshops, you will recognize a few of those:
I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend the event
and I feel I have learnt a lot. For me the main take away is that we need to
make the space work for us and to be mindful of who will be in the room and how
accessible out teaching as well as the room are.