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The Connected Conference – (re)connecting with students, our campus and the city

The conference took place on 14th July 2021 on Zoom and explored how different connections have been established and nurtured, both in-person and online, and how we can take this forward into next year for both new and returning students.

Jump to the recordings:

Keynote – ‘Building communities in a digital age’

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Speakers: Prof. Helen O’Sullivan (DVC and Provost at the University of Chester) and Dave White (Head of Digital Education and Academic Practice at the University of the Arts London)

Session description: Helen and Dave discussed a number of questions relating to how we support students to connect to each other, their teachers and their subject, including:

  • How do you build communities and support social learning in a digital and blended world?
  • Do we need to think about physical spaces differently when teaching is more blended?
  • How do we work with students to make the most of the opportunities of active and blended learning?
  • How do we engender agency in students without them feeling like they’re ‘teaching themselves’?


Professor Helen O’Sullivan

Helen: As Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Chester, Professor O’Sullivan is responsible for providing strategic leadership of the academic function of the University, including enhancement of the teaching and learning experience. She joined Chester in April 2021 and before that was Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Keele University.  

Helen is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Association for Leaning Technology (ALT) and is a member of the Advance HE Board. 

Helen’s background is in biological sciences and medical education, and she led the HEFCE-funded Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Liverpool. Her research focuses on the role of emotional intelligence in developing professionalism and leadership in doctors. Her subsequent interest in how developments in digital education can support social learning as well as developing flexible, online and transnational education led to her appointment as Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor for Online learning at Liverpool. 

Dave White

Dave: Is the Head of Digital Education and Academic Practice at the University of the Arts London, President of the Association for Learning Technology and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

He is best known for the Digital Visitors and Residents idea which provides a framework to explore modes of online engagement. He is a keen advocate for Open Educational Practices and a well-known thinker in online education. Read more about his work in this area on his blog:

You can find out more about Dave and his work at or follow him as @daveowhite on Twitter.

Connecting with tutees 

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This session explored a range of examples illustrating how personal connections have been built with and between tutees during the past year and includes presentations from some of this year’s Bristol Teaching Awards – Outstanding Personal Tutoring shortlist. Contributors include: 

  • Dr Peter Scott from the Department of Music – speaking about the positive (and occasionally negative) impact of university extra-curricular activities, particularly in relation to first year tutees. 
  • Dr James Norman from the Department of Civil Engineering – speaking about how tutorials offer many benefits to students, not least being our primary form of pastoral support. However, to ensure good student engagement with tutorials we believe that they need to be consistent, valuable and fun. To enable this to happen this year we created a 24 week plan and sent all tutors a weekly email with a ready made tutorial plan. Find out what was in the plan. What worked. What didn’t. What we will be doing better next time. And how to design a snack that is scary in under a minute!  
  • Dr Joe Williams from the School of Geographical Sciences – speaking about some easy ways to foster a sense of community among postgraduate students. Joe will discuss his approach during Covid-19 restrictions and will outline how this will inform his tutorials now restrictions are starting to lift. 
  • Julian Kendell a Lecturer in Academic Development in the BILT Team and Ruth Day the Student Living Officer in the Students Union speak about a collaboration between the Student Union Sabbatical Officers and BILT, to develop online training resources that introduces academic personal tutors to the key aspects of the role and will help them in other important areas such being inclusive and supporting students wellbeing.
  • Dr Julie Townsend and Dr Allison Fulford from the School of Anatomy – speaking about pastoral support for students on the Gateway Programme in Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science, the widening participation course for clinical programmes. The first year, based in the School of Anatomy, enables dental, vet and medically-qualified Anatomy academic staff to support all three programmes locally. We will reflect upon the model of group and individual tutorials that aims to encourage peer-peer support, nurture study skills, support wellbeing, provide career mentorship and enable students to prepare for year 1 of the 5 year clinical courses.

Connecting with the city

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This session explored ways we can support students to connect with Bristol as part of, and beyond the curriculum. Contributors include:

  • Dr Keir Williams from the Centre for Innovation and Marika Zeimbekis a Subject Librarian – ‘How do we get students to be digitally literate in a way that’s meaningful to them’
  • Lucinda Parr, Registrar and University Secretary and Christina Gray, Director for Communities and Public Health, Bristol City Council – ‘Collaboration in the time of covid: what can we learn from the close collaboration between the university and the city during the pandemic?’
  • Hannah Tweddell the Engaged Learning Co-ordinator in the Careers Service – ‘Engaged Learning – how we can support your connection with the city’.

The first connection 

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In this panel discussion followed by Q&A, we hear from experts from across the University about how we can best support students at the start of their University experience, following a year of restrictions. The panel consists of:

  • Simon Gamble (Head of Study Skills)
  • Maxine Gillway (Director of the Centre for Academic Language and Development)
  • Suzanne Collins (Senior Digital Education Developer in DEO)
  • Scott Farmer (Interim Director of Student Voice at the University Union). 

Connecting to the curriculum  

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This workshop session was led by Prof. Leon Tikly, Prof. Alvin Birdi and Prof. Madhu Krishnan – Drawing on recent examples from across the university, this session provided an overview of the opportunities and challenges involved in efforts to decolonise the curriculum. The session provided an opportunity for participants to reflect on how they might approach decolonising the curriculum in their own department.

Connecting with cohorts

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This session explored innovative ways to connect cohorts through informal learning opportunities. Contributors included: 

  • Iain Gilchrist and Chris Kent – on school assemblies in the School of Psychological Science 
  • DEO Student Digital Champions on fostering community in the University
  • BILT Student Fellows on the Bristol Undergraduate Research Journal
  • Alison Blaxter and Michelle Farrow (VN student graduate) on the Summer Journal Club in the Vet School
  • Rabeya Khatoon on building connections across a PGT cohort

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