ESLTIS in Edinburgh

Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship (#ESLTIS19) was held this year in the wonderful Edinburgh Napier (July 18-19 2019) (photo credit: Tracey Madden)


Another great conference for those involved with teaching and learning in HE. Highlights for me included:

  • A focus on active learning including playfulness, problem based and of course team based learning.
  • A great community of academics and practitioners, already committed to innovation in teaching, where the “conversation can start at level 3” to paraphrase the welcoming statement from Prof Alyson Tobin.
  • And of course Edinburgh itself (photo credit: Matthew Funnel, who got up earlier than I did!)
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Team Based Learning: Lessons from practice

At the end of 2018, I posted upbeat blog on Team Based Learning. Having now delivered two major units in TBL style, it is high time to post some of my reflections on the topic. Quick summary: I am still upbeat, but nothing ever goes perfectly first time around and there are quite a few lessons I learnt, which will hopefully be of use to anyone else introducing TBL to their teaching.

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Team Based Learning Conference

Tampa, Florida, 13-15 March 2019

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the annual gathering of the Team Based Learning (TBL)  Collaborative. In summary, the themes including leading educational change (not just TBL) in an institution, trends including TBL online and extended reality, the relevance to current issues including accreditation, work readiness, student inclusion and wellbeing.

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Team Based Learning #1: Motivation

This semester, I have been experimenting with Team Based Learning; I am really happy with the outcome so have decided to write a series of blog posts about it. First up is this post on motivation. Read on if any of these sound intriguing: an alternative to ‘transmission’ lecturing; challenges of scaling up your teaching to larger cohorts (what works for 30 doesn’t work for 100); opportunities to improve engagement and interaction, building skills of leadership and peer evaluation; turning groups of students into high performing teams.

I have been lecturing in higher education for almost a decade now, and increasingly I have been dissatisfied with the traditional lecture mode of delivery. Don’t get me wrong – lectures have their place and I am willing to travel for a high quality lecture.

A lecture is also very scaleable, once the cohort goes much above 50 students then really the sky’s the limit, you can deliver the same contact (in a didactic manner) to thousands of students. Nor is interaction out of the question here – you can use quizzes and polling to deliver a much more interactive experience, even to remote participants.

But the central problem remains – a nagging truth for me which is:

I am the bottleneck

Turning this round, think of the opportunity. We have a group of smart, motivated learners who have chosen to gather together in the same (maybe virtual) space and at the same time. There is geographical and temporal synchronicity.

I should be able to harness this opportunity better than just talking at you.

Put it another way, what is the key resource available to learners. Is it me? Is it the University? Is it the internet? I would argue that

The most valuable resource available to a community of learners is each other

If we can somehow harness this resource in a more effective way than traditional methods we have a way to: deepen engagement; build stronger learning communities; scale learning; and add richness to the student experience. As a side effect we build high performing teams, give learners skills in teamwork, leadership, performance evaluation, and critical review.

Team Based Learning is a way to achieve all of this (but there are some challenges, drawbacks and limitations which I will explore in the next blog). My current plan of blog posts are as follows

  1. Motivation (this post)
  2. Caveats (problems, challenges, limitations)
  3. How to do it – the nuts and bolts.
  4. Top tips – some specific things that I learnt along the way

I will finish with a motivational picture of students hard at work in a TBL session.


If that’s not enough, have a look at these student comments: 

It has been interesting and fun to learn using the method used, and I haven’t forgotten everything we’ve already done which you tend to feel happens when your module consists of normal lectures and an exam at the end. So it builds long term memory of the content covered.

Please do the RAT test again. The first two hours on Friday flew by (which would be impressive at any time, but for a Friday afternoon is bordering on a miracle) and it was a very effective method for learning

Hope that’s enough to whet your appetite!

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ESLTIS (Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship) is a learning and teaching conference – in its 4th year (and I have gone to all of them) this year it was in Bristol and the theme was ‘transitions’. This applies to our 1st year students but equally to our masters and indeed our graduating students (going into the world of work). Indeed, many of our institutions are transitioning to a more holistic, programme level approach to educational design.  The conference was, as usual, thought provoking and inspiring, and it is a joy to mix with like-minded teaching focussed professionals.

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Active Learning Conference: Sussex, June 2018

Conference summary : meetup with lots of folks passionate about active learning of various forms; this report contains my overall impression plus a list of those ideas I thought worth further consideration including: agile scenario construction; study of emergent network behaviour through the medium of dance (!); team chess and distributed responsibility;  plus of course lots of Team Based Learning. 

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Reflections on the #ucustrike

We are now at the end of (the first) 4 weeks of an industrial dispute between the Universities UK (UUK) and the University and College Union (UCU). I thought it useful to reflect on the dispute for the benefit of anyone interested, particularly my students.

In summary – the dispute should be seen in a wider context in terms of:

  • stakeholders (staff and students);
  • time (longer term trends and issues); and
  • scope (university governance, fairness, representation and even the philosophical standing of Higher Education).

I provide a list of actions that interested individuals (particularly students) can take depending on their point of view.

Of course all opinions are my own and not the University’s (nor indeed UCUs).

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Masters programmes in Engineering Management @UniOfBath

Context: this is a blog post describing a new MSc course for 2018. Therefore it is somewhat less objective than my usual posts – I have led the development of this course, and I am very proud of it! In addition it will be mainly of interest to potential students. The course, Engineering Business Management (EBM), is an interdisciplinary offering in the Engineering Management space. It joins our existing masters in Innovation and Technology Management. For more details, read on…

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The TODAY folder

For some years I have been using what I call the ‘zero tolerance inbox’ . This avoids the visual and cognitive distraction of a bunch of emails vying, cuckoo-like, for your attention. In order to achieve this you need to triage (quadrage?) email ruthlessly:

  1. Delete emails that have no relevance for you
  2. File/archive information that needs no action but may need to be referred to later
  3. Turn emails into actions (you can use inbuilt tools eg Outlook tasks, I have my homebrew spreadsheet solution).
  4. Or if it can be dealt with immediately in under 2 minutes then do it then and there.

So this is the approved way of Getting Things Done.

However I found this is not optimal for a number of reasons – in this post I will describe my solutions

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Launch of new MSc: Engineering Business Management

A couple of weeks ago I went to Thailand to launch our new MSc programme on Engineering Business Management.  This has been consuming most of my summer, it’s shaping up to be quite an exciting development (in my view anyway) and this post gives some more details

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