Earlier this month, the University ran its first Learning and Teaching (L & T) sandpit as a new route to awarding the half of the Teaching Development Fund’s £60,000 total on exciting ‘curriculum transformation’ projects. Twenty sandpitters from eleven academic departments were represented, along with four professional service departments. Together they formed five teams from which three projects were funded, totalling close to £26,000 (subject to approvals) of funding. The other two projects were invited to submit to the written funding round, which has an extended deadline of 21st February if you're thinking of applying, as more input was needed from across the campus.
What is a sandpit and why use them?
Sandpits are now routinely and successfully utilised in research for the allocation of funding. The principle and benefits of this approach can be applied to Learning and Teaching. Sandpits are about building community and networks, bringing people together from across disciplines who wouldn’t typically apply for funding together, to tackle big questions with blue sky thinking, and tend to result in more high-risk high-reward projects. A comprehensive overview of the EPSRC sandpit model can be found here. The aims of the TDF sandpit (in addition to spending the £30,000) were:
• To create new multi-disciplinary collaborations
• To forge new friendships and networks
• To have time to talk about, and think about, L&T with like-minded colleagues.
What did we do with the two days?
The sandpit was run off-campus at the Apex Hotel; one of the key features is to be away from normal work distractions. Once everyone arrived and had prepared themselves with the breakfast buffet, it was time to get down to work. After a short instruction, Andy Pitchford (Head of Learning and Teaching) ran the all-important ‘big challenges’ exercise to set the scene and focus for the development of the pitches. The sandpitters worked in small groups, moving around so everyone got to meet, discuss and suggest solutions to four of the curriculum transformation principles:
• Research engaged
• Citizenship and sustainability
• Partnership and collaboration
With the resulting array of post it notes, everyone was asked to come up with projects. The projects were grouped into themes, and after lunch the sandpitters chose their first and second choice – and all got their first! From here the group worked all afternoon on the five projects. Expert advice was on hand thanks to the CLT and Computing Services, and in the late afternoon each group gave a two-minute pitch and received ‘stop-start-continue’ feedback on their idea.
Half the attendees stayed for a well-earned dinner, with conversation and debate largely around one of the curriculum transformation principles – 'inclusivity' - alongside every-day chat and getting to know each other a bit better. The next morning, the teams reconvened and prepared their five-minute pitch presentations. The TDF sub-committee formed the panel, and, by 3pm, they had provisionally allocated the funding.
This fast-paced approach is not for everyone, but for some it is both a welcome alternative to written applications and time well spent - in this case it was less than two working days from a seed of an idea to a funding decision. Perhaps though, the activity was best summed up by
Momna Hejmadi, who took part in the Sandpit, said: “I was a bit sceptical initially because I wasn’t quite sure if attending the sandpit was a good use of my time, but I am glad I came because it was great to share ideas with like-minded colleagues who are passionate about student learning”.
Marianne Ellis, Chair, TDF Sub-Committee