What Academic Staff Development did for... Colin Dalton

Colin Dalton is the Undergraduate Faculty Education Director (FED) for Engineering and Academic Lead for Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Bristol. He is a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science specialising in visual effects and animation production and is passionate about emerging technology and the creative design process. This is reflected in his lectures, which introduce the technology and pipelines that enable professional animation and games production.

One role of a Faculty Education Director is to support and facilitate the implementation of the University's Education Strategy at faculty level. A key priority of the strategy is to provide effective and enabling educational leadership and structures that support educational enhancement. New to the role and with this priority in mind Colin needed some guidance so he asked around the Engineering departments and quickly discovered “if you want to discuss scholarship in teaching it is well known the person to talk is Jane” so he picked up the phone and spoke to Academic Staff Development Manager, Jane Pritchard for advice.

He was keen to explore ideas to develop collaborative interdisciplinary discussions about the future of learning and teaching, specific to engineering. Colin felt this was needed arguing that “in every other area of academic practice we work in collaboration, we are part of big research groups that are multidisciplinary and share best practice, and in Engineering we are constantly encouraging our students to work in teams and learn from each other. So why is it when it comes to education we work in silos?” After numerous conversations with Jane, the Academic Staff Development Team and Hilary Griffiths in Technology-Enhanced Learning, common advice was simply to Google Milton Cox and Faculty Learning Community for inspiration.

In November 2015 Jane was formally invited by Engineering to speak at one of a new series of Faculty pedagogy events where she introduced Cox’s model of a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) to academic staff. The FLC model is a voluntary, structured, year-long community of practice that aims to build community, share good practice and promote scholarship in learning and teaching.

An FLC is strictly a year-long project and can be Cohort or Topic based. The application process will start in May and Engineering will launch their first Cohort FLC in June 2016. Designed as a year-long collaborative learning and teaching project, this FLC will see academic staff from both Schools coming together to foster the scholarship of learning and teaching in Engineering. Throughout the project cycle participants will support each other in the development of novel, independent and shared learning and teaching projects, many of which will be directly linked to existing Engineering units and student project initiatives.

Every participant is an equal partner in the process and all will contribute to a programme of discussion sessions, peer and project reviews and pedagogy events, and colleagues have been keen to get involved. As, Dr Lucy Berthoud, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, explains “I wanted to get involved in an FLC because I am aware I am surrounded by brilliant colleagues with whom I can exchange ideas about educational research but until now there has been no formal forum to do it. I am hoping that it will motivate me to push my own projects forward and I also love to hear about what other people are doing and learn from them.” This sentiment is echoed by Dr. David Drury, Senior Lecturer in Electrical Engineering, who has found the preparatory meetings before the launch of the first official cohort very useful, he says “Primarily, I want to be part of the community that doesn’t feel embarrassed about discussing teaching at anything other than the surface level…..we are able to discuss teaching in a positive context rather than get frustrated with “the system” or “the students”.  At the (initial meetings) we normally end up discussing teaching methods, providing each other with positive ideas, etc. and I find this an attractive concept. It means that when I am teaching, I believe I am part of a team that is committed to that aspect of the job which drives me to raise my own standards. I have to stand up in front of 6th form students and tell them why they should study at Bristol rather than the other Russell group Universities and for this I have to believe that we truly offer the best experience.  The FLC (way of working) really helps with this.”

In launching their first Cohort FLC Engineering aim to:

Colin will facilitate this pilot and all academic staff in Engineering will be invited to apply to participate. At its conclusion in June 2017 the intention is to disseminate the experiences and outcomes of the project by publication, and at an open event. A clear aim is to use exemplars and lessons-learned from this pilot to encourage and inform a new annual cycle of University-wide Faculty Learning Community projects. The membership, shape and focus of future projects should vary year-to-year as each project informs the next.

And it all started with a simple phone call to Jane and the team in Academic Staff Development!