An interview with..., Bristol Teaching Awards, Humans of Bristol University, News, Teaching and Learning Gallery, Teaching Stories

The Making of the Bristol Teaching Awards (and an interview with their creator, James Filbin)

The 2019 Bristol Teaching Awards was a fantastic night of celebration of the excellent teaching and learning that takes place at the University. The person deemed ‘best of the best’, awardee of the Vice Chancellors Award, went to James Filbin, a Teaching Technologist in the Faculty of Engineering.

We didn’t get a chance to meet James on the night (he was off setting up a festival!) so we got in touch shortly after to talk more about the work he had been doing. One conversation led to another and after finding out James had a degree in product design, as well as being the University’s expert on 3D printing, we thought it would be fantastic to design and create the trophies for the 2021 Bristol Teaching Awards.

We were up for designing a more unusual award (one of our discarded designs featured a floating apple!) and it was great to learn more about the process – we had a glimpse into why he had been nominated, shortlisted and then awarded a BTA himself. James told us he really enjoyed working on the awards, as well as having the freedom to use materials such as walnut and processes like ‘electro-plating’!

We love the fact James’ relationship with the Bristol Teaching Awards has come full circle, from winning an award to using the skills he was – in part- nominated for to make awards for winners in the year (and hopefully years… no pressure!) to come.

In the beginning, there was a space.

When James started at Bristol, the Hackspace was…a space, but it wasn’t fully operational, which James described as a great opportunity to fill the space with lots of toys. It was about 2 years in the planning and has now been open for business for three years. The Estates team worked hard to ensure development of the space was friendly and inclusive. This was done by using ply board, wooden backgrounds and bright colours to move it away from a traditional industrial warehouse environment. The ICAH at Imperial College was a great inspiration for the hackspace, and inspired them to create a strong brand identity, to separating it from the more traditional teaching spaces within the University. The Hackspace’s logo and branding includes reaction diffusion patterns which are a reference to Alan Turing’s work on mapping organic patterns, this creates a meaningful story behind the brand.

Response to the Hackspace was great and it continues to be an invaluable place for creativity and safe space to experiment, with student working groups and committees regularly meeting with James to discuss their needs, both as individuals and as cohorts.

Ensuring that the space feels inclusive was a big priority when it came to its design; students should feel no barriers when entering the Hackspace – opening up what engineering is and moving away from outdated stereotypes e.g. engineering as a male dominated environment. Not all students come from a traditional “engineering” background and are scared to try the technology; the Hackspace and technicians, as well as fellow students, provide support and encouragement. Students are taught how to use fire extinguishers (there have been four small fires!) and James tells students ‘if you break it, it’s my job to fix it!’.

Challenges since opening

The hackspace has not escaped the external challenges of Brexit and the pandemic.

Since leaving the EU, there have been challenges with obtaining resources, with some suppliers no longer sending orders below a certain value. Getting machine replacement parts have been affected by delays, meaning projects that should have been completed in days were still stuck waiting to be finished weeks later, with parts held up in customs.

Covid has, of course, majorly impacted the Hackspace. Although it had to close its doors to students during the first lockdown, James and the team continued to come in the 3D printers were put to work making PPE equipment, such as face visors, for NHS staff and key workers.

Student engagement with the Hackspace has continued – and grown to some extent – during the pandemic with the Facebook page now being used to host events and mini-competitions, as well as a space for students to share ideas and their work. Where students have been working from home, online sessions have been delivered through tech talks, blackboard content, quick start user manual guides and a new online induction, which would not have happened, at speed, if it weren’t for social distancing etc. This has been really beneficial for students and provides greater freedom of information.

A testament to its brilliance is how many requests they receive from schools outside the Faculty to use the space – Dentistry, Maths and the Vet School have all been involved, making it a great interdisciplinary space that students from across the university can share, fostering opportunities for students to collaborate! We were so happy to be one of those departments to collaborate with the Hackspace and have loved experiencing such a valuable and innovative part of the University – thank you James!

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