Lots of staff have struggled with engaging their students from time to time. There are oodles of ways to address this problem, but in this blog, I want to showcase a fun approach taken in Biological Sciences.
What springs to mind when people think of Bristol and its countryside environs? Cheddar-gorge cheese? Morris dancing? Music festivals? Certainly cider is amongst the products most closely associated with this region. So, it’s no surprise that a unit devoted to cider-making would make a great fit for one of the modules in Biological Sciences. It’s already proven popular with students and even caught the attention of the press (see BBC, The Tab).
From a teaching development perspective, a wonderful aspect of the unit is that it developed from work conducted by a master’s student. Alex Graham, who now works with noted cider-manufacturer Thatchers, invited other students to join him to learn complex biological practices through cider-making. The unit has developed from the popularity and learning potential of the topic.
There are many positive aspects to this new development. Links with local industry strengthen students’ understanding of the real-world applicability of science. The fact that it was all started by a student who then involved other students is a testament to how engaged students can be. Academics in other universities are inspired too and already looking to see if they can adapt a similar approach for their programmes.
I was reminded of a project run at Canterbury Christ Church University who partnered with Canterbury Brewers & Distillers to create a heritage ale. The green hop ale celebrates the university’s heritage, and engages with community and students: “Our ale is a little taste of the history of Canterbury Christ Church University in a bottle. Each year the fresh batch of beer is made from heritage hops grown on campus and picked by our community, and is given a new name with an original bottle design created by our students”. The heritage aspect, with hops grown on the same grounds as the medieval monks of St Augustine’s Abbey, compliments the sustainability aspect which promotes planting that supports native pollinators.
External estates are hard at work creating biodiverse spaces across university lands, and are always looking for academics to get in touch. This is a great way to explore the potential of the “Living Labs” concept, where campus spaces become learning spaces – transforming the way that students feel about their environs and creating tangible expressions of their curriculum learning.
And here’s a video I recorded many years ago that has fun with cider!