Category Archives: blog

Learning Spaces…

by Dr. Hilary Cunliffe-Charlesworth

When you arrive at a new work place there are two things that impress:  the look of the inside of the building and the quality of the coffee!

So what has this got to do with the Learning and Teaching and Assessment conference?

Just as if a company wants to recruit and retain good staff, we as the university want to recruit and retain good students – and to do this we have to have an ‘offer’.  The buildings might be ‘superficial gloss’ but just as with the coffee – they provide an environment that gives out messages:  we are modern,  we are clean and take pride in our spaces, and we want you, our students to value and respect the spaces, and we as staff are professional in how we work with you the student and how we value you.

A_small_cup_of_coffeeWhen I worked with Design Yorkshire the key priority was the quality of the coffee – was it drinkable?  Was it in a chipped mug or a paper cup with a badly designed logo?  How was it served? What was the attitude of the staff?  Did they listen or just dispense or were they too busy chatting with each other to hear your questions?


And what about the furniture? Was there a variety of heights of tables and chairs so you could talk or work?  Is the free wifi good?

So, when as a staff member you are drinking your LTA conference coffee, consider the coffee you bought in the local independent cafe: what would make the experience of your teaching environment better for you and your students?


Space to think?

' You'll think of me' by Gabrielle Sinatra

‘ You’ll think of me’ by Gabrielle Sinatra


By Juliet Hinrichsen  

It is surprising how complex the idea of a ‘learning space’ is and the many subtle influences on what positively or negatively impacts on such spaces. The variety of perspectives, approaches and meanings in this topic are well represented in what looks to be a fascinating and stimulating programme.

I am looking forward to the keynote by Alexi Marmot , not only because it allows us to see the issues of space design through a professional lens, but also because it affords an overview of what is happening in other institutions, on other campuses, in our sector. What I am wondering is whether she will address the ‘whole’ university? We think of learning spaces as the sites of student learning, and of course they are. But they are also our working spaces, and indeed our own learning spaces. Teaching staff are not only conduits to student learning; as academics they, we, are part of disciplinary communities which are fundamentally professional learning communities. What is the nature of the space which facilitates both our learning and our teaching?

The teaching-research nexus is often extolled as a powerful framework both for academic practice and teaching methodology. What happens when we look at our working spaces in this light? The traditional ‘senior common room’ and similar collegiate spaces are all but gone and in some modern universities have never existed. Where and how do we have our informal conversations, practice sharing and peer review?

The annual LTA conference is perhaps one such ‘space’ but cannot replace, or replicate, the micro interactions of daily practice. Academic practice requires periods of quiet, intensive study for staff as well as students. Increasingly, the workplace leaves no room for scholarship. I would argue that activities such as marking are actually scholarly activities; as is preparing a lecture or seminar. I hear anecdotes from colleagues that they do these things at home, because the workplace is not conducive to quiet concentration with open plan offices and the library full to capacity. Ironically, are we saying that the university is not conducive to study, to scholarship? And what issues of equity does this raise? Those with more room may be more able to fulfil their working requirements outside the workplace. Households where children have grown and left may be more suitable for such work than those with young children and toys underfoot. I also believe that the notion of ‘space’ includes time, as when we talk about ‘space to think’ or ‘headspace’ and that this kind of space is also being rapidly eroded. As my work is very much focussed on the development of academic staff, these issues concerning our own academic working/learning spaces, and their impact on the learning spaces of students, continues to exercise me and this is one of the things I will be thinking about during the conference.

Conference engagement: a personal view


by Natasha Taylor

So, how will you engage with your own conference?’, asked a colleague, yesterday.

This last fortnight has been a whirlwind of printing, uploading and dealing with last-minute panics, all with the aim of making sure 500 people have a good conference experience next week.  But a conversation yesterday made me stop and think: what am I looking forward to?

Organising a conference can be all consuming. It is easy to get lost in the admin and barrage of deadlines. I’ve read every abstract, liaised with every presenter and toiled for hours (literally) to make sure that everything makes sense. I know the programme better than anyone else, and there is something in every session  that is genuinely of interest to me. So, how do I decide what to do and go to on the day?

For me, going to a conference is a rare opportunity to learn about something new. So, I try to choose sessions which are not obviously and directly related to my discipline/research topic, but appeal because they make me curious. What could I learn from other people’s worlds?

Based on this reasoning, I will go to at least one of the Make Space workshops. I’ll confess that I am a ‘maker’ at heart; I’m not artistically talented but I love learning new creative skills, especially in the company of other ‘enthusiastic novices’. There is enormous satisfaction to be had in being free to think about things in different ways – in my work there is not much scope for exploring images and sounds and the writing is always very academic – and some of my most satisfying learning experiences have come through making collages, drawing (awful) pictures, and building sculptures. So often, it is not the artefact produced at the end of the lesson that is important, but the learning process you go through to get there, and the conversations you have with others. These experiences have profoundly impacted on my teaching practice, and I constantly find myself finding ways of using activities, resources and assessments which encourage my students develop key academic skills and build confidence through creativity.

In putting together the programme, I have been lucky enough to enjoy fascinating conversations with the SIA staff who have kindly opened up the doors of their studio spaces for the conference. We can learn so much from the pedagogies of the creative arts and I find it almost impossible to chose between the workshops on offer. I can easily see how I might draw on the techniques used by Peter Kaye for helping students who struggle to use language, to define concepts and analyse things. Frazer Hudson’s work excites me because it reminds us to look outwards, to be aware of the world and to be open to see things differently (he has also found a way of using the workshop as part of his own research project and that is just brilliant). Liz Noble’s session on screen printing is as just as much about learning a process, in a very special room with special equipment, as it is about developing a learning community. Finally, Joanna Rucklidge’s workshop explores how you can use play and interaction to support creative thinking, helping students out of that ‘fear of getting things wrong’ mode. Spoilt for choice, I think I might join Frazer’s session because I can see so many applications for his approaches in my own work (that said, I am inextricably drawn to the idea of getting inky hands!).

When I step back and think about it, I have no control over how 500 people engage with the conference on the day. But I have made it my own mission to engage with it creatively; I’m going to step in to the realm of another discipline and learn from their pedagogies. I’m going to finish the day with ideas to try out in my own teaching. Most importantly, I’m going to enjoy it!

Unexpected Connections

Brian Irwin

Rococco Chair by Thom Gill.

Rococco Chair by Thom Gill.

For the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of being a session chair. While this may not sound like a great pleasure, I have always found it interesting. One of the best things about being a chair is that it prompts you to think of some good questions about the presentation (in the rare event the audience is lacking any), which really gets you to think about the presentation and what you don’t understand. Another thing that happens is you have to think of the connections between sessions, particularly when questions are at the end after several presentations. I remember one session where both presentations touched on simulated work experience and it was quite easy to see the connection: the lecturers even started talking of a joint cross-disciplinary work experience they could do. Other times the connection is more abstract, such as student engagement, where each lecturer may be doing something completely different but there is a connection around the underlying goals and philosophy taken. I find these connections fascinating as often they are happening in a cross-disciplinary way only because of the conference and the opportunity it provides. Keep an eye out for them this year and they can help you think about how to relate something to your practice that at first doesn’t seem as relevant.

Thinking ahead


By Jill Lebihan

(Student Engagement, Evaluation and Research)

Don’t judge me too harshly but I was pleased that this week (9th June 2016) saw the release of the results of the 2016 HEPI Student Academic Experience survey.  The HEPI report is based on a relatively large survey of the student population (a bit over 15,000 respondents from across the HE sector).  The report covers the usual satisfaction and value-for-money/student-as-consumer stuff, but it also reports on students’ happiness and their own sense of motivation and responsibility for learning.  Many of the issues that the report considers will be discussed at SHU’s forthcoming Learning and Teaching Conference and I have a vested interest or two.

One area of the report which shows there is dissatisfaction is in support for students to develop their own interests. So I’m drawn to sessions in the Learning and Teaching conference that address this problem, in particular to the solution of co-designNatasha Taylor and Will Roberts have used Google+ to engage students as active participants and co-producers of their learning resources, rather than passive consumers.  Getting students to design their own learning package is a way to support them to develop their own interests and share those with peers, so I’m going to see what practical tips Natasha and Will have to offer.  Stella Jones-Devitt is also concerned with student engagement and she is going to be looking at ways of making barriers to participation more permeable, allowing a bit more flux and flow between roles of teacher and student.  She’s asked me to do a bit of roller-derby-style blocking in that session, so I’ll be digging out my shin pads.

HEPI, with impeccable timing, have also just published a report on students’ views on freedom of speech on campus, and their conclusions provide food for thought for Liz Austen and my own session on ‘Safe Spaces’.  The HEPI/YouthSight report suggests that many students are not as opposed to restrictions on speech and discussion on campus as we might assume, even though the NUS has been very vocal in its opposition to Prevent.  The report concludes that students are, at the very least, confused in their views on freedom of speech.  I think we may find, in our workshop, that lots of us are conflicted on this matter.  I’m looking forward to having the chance to explore all of this a bit further with colleagues at the event.