Faculty of Engineering & Design staff

Sharing experience and best practice across the Faculty of Engineering & Design

Topic: Staff insight

Why I (mostly) like using the new CMS

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📥  Staff experiences, Staff insight

I've had a long hiatus from using the new CMS, but with our Faculty pages finally live, it feels like things are moving again and I've been reacquainting myself with the new system. I'm reminded every time I log into our old CMS what a better system we now have for those who update the website and those who read it. Here's why:

It forces you to write coherently

Before I even create a page in the new CMS I have to select a content type. This involves a good 10 minutes of working out what will fit my purpose. If I'm telling a story I'll probably select the case study content type, but I'll use a campaign if I'm writing persuasive content with lots of calls-to-action or a guide if I'm explaining something.

Once that's sorted I have to fill out a user need. I find this a really (really) tiresome job, but it's a good check to see if you are actually about to create a coherent page that someone will find useful. It's pretty tempting to stray into writing something you want to say and adding in content that is perhaps related but not directly relevant. When I scroll back up the page to check its user need, it helps me to refocus my writing on the intended audience: why am I doing this? Why is it important to someone?

It provides a structure to guide you

I'm not a fan of filling in boxes and until they introduced a preview button I really struggled to use the new CMS. I am often driven nuts by the word limits. For me the most annoying box of all is the one under the title, which is limited to 160 characters. I agonise over that box for about half the time the rest of the page will take. Then I turn around and show Becky and we agonise some more. The secret is, when you've got that sentence or two right, the rest of the page will follow. Getting it right in 160 characters means that you really know what your page is going to be about.

Screenshot of a page title and tag line

The 160 character tag line

I see now that other than the really useful things word limits ensure (not least how the pages are displayed in Google search results) they are actually helping me to write better. They force me to really get to the point and be concise. They are challenging me (quite literally, the page won't save if I've written too much) to take my time and really think things through. What I once raged against I see now is a support (still a frustrating one though) to guide my content and stop me settling for the quick win and a quiet life.

It demands better content

Pages need to have real substance now with information that delivers value or answers a question. Even the photos have to be better, a 16:9 ratio is unforgiving to non-professional shots. Using the new templates makes me realise how much we have been able to hide behind HTML styling in the old CMS. I was pretty horrified when I found out I wouldn't have access to the code in the new system (there's a part of me that would still like to have the option) but it really does make me focus on the quality of the content rather than spending 5 minutes faffing with a boxout. What I once saw as crushing the creativity of the content producer I now understand to be for the benefit of consistency.

Why you should find out more about it

Change can be a brutal process. I have often felt disheartened and confused during this CMS transition project. I still despair on a monthly basis, but when I look at a new page on a mobile I find my answer: the content and the design are so much better. I know the way to overcome many (not all) of my CMS frustrations is to learn more. Find out the rationale behind the compromise, the reason why my status quo has been challenged, what benefit a perceived sacrifice has been made for. I follow the Digital's team blog, 'watch' their release notes wiki page, attend their Show & Tell sessions, and most importantly click that 'suggest an improvement to this page button' and just find out why.

Once you know the thought behind the content strategy and the coding you will feel reassured as to the talent working on this new system and have faith in its ability to get better. I once used to ask myself "why is this happening on our watch?" Now I understand what an opportunity it is to question, to rethink, to reflect and improve. I wouldn't give up the past difficulties or the ones to come because it only makes us think more. With understanding it's impossible to return to before, there's only new ways, better ways.

 

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) for beginners ….

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📥  Staff experiences, Staff insight, Uncategorised

Back in December Selina (Jobson) and I thought we’d try and get to grips with the latest educational acronym  ‘TEF‘ and find out what on earth its all about.  Spoiler alert – there are a quite a few acronyms coming up! We attended a briefing event in London at which representatives from the Dept. of Education (DofE), the Higher Education Academy (HEA), and the National Union of Students (NUS) explained what TEF is, how it will operate and what it’s meant to achieve. The day also included presentations from two University administrators on how their Institutions are preparing for TEF, a presentation from the Vice Chancellor of the University of Greenwich and a general discussion.

So… what is TEF?

It’s a scheme introduced by the government with the aim of measuring the quality of teaching at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).  Universities will be given a rating to indicate the level of teaching quality they provide and as the scheme moves forward it will cover teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels and then move on to give subject /discipline level ratings. There are three areas (criteria) against which Universities are rated – Teaching Quality; Learning Environment and Student Outcomes & Learning Gain - which then produce one overall rating.  The ratings will be Gold, Silver and Bronze. This year it’s a voluntary scheme but the vast majority of HE Institutions have decided to participate (299 in total).

The government’s aim is that TEF will be used to:

  • Provide clear information to students about where the best provision can be found
  • Encourage providers (i.e. Universities) to improve teaching quality to reduce variability
  • Help drive UK productivity by ensuring a better match of graduate skills with the needs of employers and the economy
  • It will also be used as a mechanism to allow Universities to raise the level of tuition fees charged to students (more on this later!) and to promote quality, choice & greater competition.

How will it work?

TEF ratings will be mainly assessed by metrics – what are those I hear you cry? Metrics are large sets of data and statistics which Universities already coordinate and provide to bodies such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). It will also be important that all academics involved in teaching have recognised Teaching Qualifications – here at Bath there is likely to be a major push to ensure this happens.  Three years-worth of metrics will be used for TEF and they are

  • National Student Survey (NSS)  - for info on students’ perceptions of the quality of teaching, assessment, feedback, academic support
  • Destination of Leavers from HE (DLHE) – the annual survey of recent graduates which provides info. on what our graduates are doing e.g. are they in ‘graduate’ employment or further study or unemployed!
  • Higher Educations Statistics Agency (HESA) data – the annual return which is prepared by SREO and which covers recruitment and retention (in broad terms the number of ‘student bums on seats’)
  • In the future TEF might also include additional metrics e.g. Longitudinal Earnings Outcome (LEO) data (what type of employment graduates have 5 years after graduation).

Each University also submits a written report (limited to 15 pages – the font and margin sizes have also been specified). This written report should explain or comment on any anomalies in the metrics (contextualise the data) but primarily focus on the impact and effectiveness of teaching. The ‘student voice’ is also supposed to be clear within the written report. Ultimately each University’s written submission will be published.

The metrics and written submission are then considered by the TEF Assessment Panel, chaired by Prof Chris Husbands, VC at Sheffield Hallam University (appointed by the government for 2 years).  The TEF Panel will announce the outcomes and award Universities Gold, Silver or Bronze ratings which are valid for 3 years. If a University has been awarded a ‘bronze’ it could choose to reapply to TEF in subsequent years to try and raise its rating but otherwise you keep your rating for three years.

What’s the timeline?

We’re in the first ‘proper’ year of TEF (elements of the process were kick-started in 15/16 TEF year 1 which is why 2016-17 is referred to as TEF year 2).

The University submitted its written report at the end of January, the TEF Panel will now start reviewing all the metrics and reports from all participating Institutions and the outcomes will be announced in late May. We’ll find out whether we’ve got GOLD!!

Next year (2017-18) the TEF approach will applied to subject level pilots and in the following year (2018-19) taught postgraduate programmes will be included.

Talking points

Not surprisingly there’s a lot of discussion and debate about TEF. Here’s a potted summary of views and opinions about TEF,

  • There’s a general welcome for the focus on teaching and the quality of student’s learning experience, as it’s considered to be long overdue.
  • There are hopes that the esteem and profile of teaching will be raised (compared to research).
  • However there’s concern that the metrics themselves don’t actually tell you how ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ a University’s teaching is and in any case no-one really seems to be able to define what ‘Teaching Excellence’ is (although apparently everyone knows it when they see it). What for example can the metrics on post University destinations and employment tell us about the quality of teaching a student received?
  • TEF ratings (gold, silver etc.) will be directly linked to the level of fees a University can charge its students. From 2018-19 those Universities with a gold or silver rating will be allowed to increase undergraduate fees at a higher rate than those Universities with a bronze rating. Over time this will lead to a widening gap between higher and lower fee charging Universities. The NUS is particularly unhappy about the link between TEF and fee levels and has voted to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) in protest. As the NSS scores are one of the key TEF metrics it’s not entirely clear what impact the boycott will have.
  • The NUS is also concerned that the reliance and focus on metrics will drown out the  ‘student voice’
  • There are significant reputational implications for Institutions awarded a bronze or even a silver award. Who wants to go to a University that’s not got gold?
  • Subject level TEF will be a whole new challenge – what happens if at a subject level you’re rated bronze but at a university level you're rated gold (already being referred to as medal clash)?

What’s been happening here at Bath

The University’s written report went in to the TEF Panel at the end of January.  I don’t know what went into the report or who was consulted but I should think the Students’ Union was involved.  There’s a real drive towards getting all academic staff involved in teaching to have formal Teaching Qualifications, which you may have heard discussed in various fora. The Bath branch of the NUS is formally participating in the boycott of NSS (more details can be found here: https://www.nus.org.uk/Documents/Boycott%20the%20NSS%20Flyer_.pdf.

And if you’re interested in finding out more…

Come and have a chat with me (Rachel Summers) or Selina - we most definitely do not have all the answers but might be able to point you in the right direction to find them.

 

Introduction to wiki (again)

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📥  Staff insight

confluence_rgb_blue

 

Wiki, wiki, wiki...

We've all heard about it. Our Faculty's internal web pages. But why should we use it?

Basically it has all the information you need... About everything else.

Imagine this. You need to know what the new email address is for the Faculty Student Centre. Immediately. But oh no, everything has changed and moved around. Oh, if only there was a space where this useful information is held… (hint, hint).

A quick overview

Using wiki allows you to:

  • Create, share and collaborate on information quickly.
  • Easily publish, organise, and access information in one central location.
  • Capture, store, and grow your team's knowledge so you can stay up to date and on the same page - quite literally.

Sure, it’s another system to learn. But if I can use it so can you. I mean, just look at this amazing page on E-Communications I made… *whispers* all by myself!

wiki

E-Communications Design Best Practice wiki page

I’ve used loads of different ‘macros’ which have helped me make the page more, what I like to say, aesthetically pleasing. Tracey Madden writes monthly posts called (funnily enough) ‘Tracey’s macro of the month’. Check them out to find out more useful information.

My saved pages:

If you’ve made it this far into my blog, I applaud you. By the way, here are some of the pages which I find useful:

  • New staff. I’ve had to look back on this plenty of times when I’ve needed to check out information on person profiles.
  • Faculty Structure Charts. Also incredibly useful.
  • Help with wikis. Because even I have to look back on further support.

And that’s just the beginning!

But hey, don’t ask me… find out for yourself: go.bath.ac.uk/fedstaffwiki

 

Building networks at the Engineering Placement Fair

  

📥  Staff event, Staff insight

Alison Ukleja, Placements Manager, writes about our recent Engineering Placement Fair:


In November we welcomed over 70 companies to campus for our Placement Fair. Our industrial partners got the opportunity to promote their businesses and talk with our students about placements, summer jobs and graduate roles. We aimed to promote engineering businesses on campus that may not be household names and introduce students to companies they may not have heard of.

Although our focus is on 12 month placements, we wanted to expand the scope and appeal of the Fair to STEM undergraduates, finalists and postgraduates as well. With over 1200 students through the door (mostly engineers, but also some Maths and Physics students) we felt we achieved what we hoped to do.

Showcasing a variety of technology

Martin Baker Aircraft Company brought a jet pilot ejector seat, Saietta an electric motorcycle, Honeywell Aerospace a cooling system, while Anthony Best Dynamics demonstrated their steering robot for driverless cars. Bryden Wood drew the crowds giving a virtual reality demonstration where students toured construction projects in a virtual world. Most companies were able to show a range of technology and products to engage students’ interest including Herman Miller from Bath displaying a range of their innovative ergonomic chairs. Two popular stands were Mondelez with a supply of chocolate that lasted all day and Heineken handed out beer and cider prizes in their quiz.

Alex Powell, IMEE finalist in a pilot ejector seat at the Martin Baker stand

Alex Powell, IMEE finalist in a pilot ejector seat at the Martin Baker stand

The Fair was also a great opportunity for employers to discover the impressive achievements of our student projects. Team Bath Racing, Team Bath Racing Electiric, Bath Zero Emissions Motorcycles, Team Bath Drones and Bath Underwater Racing Submarine Team all exhibited their work enabling the teams to make new contacts for technical support or sponsorship. Our Drone team attracted attention from defence company Harris Corporation, with their expertise in release mechanisms, opening up new possibilities to drop things!

A great day

The whole event demonstrated real energy and enthusiasm for engineering, making for a successful day of recruitment, networking and collaboration. Our industrial partners fedback how brilliant it was to talk with such motivated future engineers. I'd like to thank my team for their hard work in organising the event and look forward to doing it all again in two years' time.

 

Using Wiki to improve processes

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📥  Staff insight

I first used Wiki when I started in my current role to share papers for a group meeting. I only used very basic features to start with, such as uploading papers and using permissions to give new members access, but I was curious to learn more.

Learning about Wiki

I was initially a bit nervous about creating my own Wiki pages, but support from Tracey Madden, Learning Enhancement Adviser, gave me an overview of Wiki and also introduced me to macros. Macros allow extra functionality to be added to a page and range from including an attachment to inserting content from an Excel spreadsheet, or embedding a twitter feed or video. Every month, Tracey publishes a macro of the month blog post, which is great for finding out about different macros.

Improving processes

In discovering more about Wiki, I began to see potential for using Wiki to improve the efficiently of a number of processes. I have now created Wiki pages to enhance information sharing and to contain extensive resources for staff to access (for example, the documents for the Faculty’s REF paper grading workshops). I also use Wiki to manage informal meetings, contribute to project work and find information on the Faculty’s Staff Wiki space.

Advantages of Wiki

There are many advantages of using Wiki. You can set up and manage permissions to allow individuals or groups access to all, or some, of your pages. Wiki provides a permanent hub of resources that are available at any time. It is also useful for project work, particularly when working with staff throughout the Faculty or University, as pages can be easily accessed and updated by various staff.

Your turn!

If you haven’t already, now is the time to engage with Wiki, especially since the Faculty’s internal staff webpages have now moved to the Staff Wiki space. For Wiki guidance, have a look at the Faculty’s help with Wikis page. If you want a few tips on using macros, watch out for Tracey’s macro of the month blog posts.

Staff Wiki space

The Faculty’s staff Wiki space

 

New woodworking and timber engineering workshop in 4ES

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📥  Celebrating success, Staff insight

Julian Sulley, Director of Technical Services, updates us on 4 East South developments:


After months of planning, the ACE woodwork and timber engineering workshop moved into its new facility back in June. We now have a much larger workshop capacity than the old 6 East workshop and an adjoining dedicated laser cutting / rapid prototyping laboratory. The project has been an unmitigated success and is a reflection of the close co-operation and teamwork between the 4ES project management team, the contractors and our technicians throughout the planning process and move itself. We can be rightly proud of a spacious, light, energy efficient, state-of-the-art facility, ready to welcome its first students in the coming academic year.

Improved use of floor space and a radical rethink of dust extraction and energy conservation

As the project developed we implemented a number of new initiatives to better use floor space and rethink dust extraction and energy conservation. We originally intended to have a central dust extraction unit to service the four heavy application machines and this was to be housed in an internal bunker adjoining the workshop. However, following further evaluation, we decided to install individual extraction units to each machine, replicating the dust extraction provision to the other smaller demand units throughout the rest of the workshop. Not only did this represent a significant saving in capital outlay, it allowed dust extraction units to be controlled as needed (as opposed to a common system running irrespective whether the machines were being used or not).

A further benefit was that the surplus room previously designated to locate the cyclone could now be used for much needed material storage. The workshop incorporates a new technician’s office affording unrestricted viewing of the entire workshop, a key safety factor given the nature of the activity. A roller shutter door allows for material deliveries to be offloaded directly into the workshops material storage racks.

4 East South woodwork and timber engineering workshop

4 East South woodwork and timber engineering workshop

Cost saving and additional space

The move of all our tools, equipment and machinery was undertaken by our departmental technicians in May. Once again, this represented a significant cost saving to the project. Technicians relocated the machines to a signed off layout leaving connection of electrical supplies to the contractor. The additional space has also allowed us to purchase a vertical sheet panel saw, a valuable addition to our existing comprehensive range of machinery. Three new laser cutting machines have been ordered to supplement our existing three, giving a substantial increase in capacity of these heavily used machines.

A team effort

Members of the ACE technician team have been heavily involved in planning the new workshop layout, primarily fronted by the woodworking and timber engineering senior technician, Walter Guy. Thank you for all your hard work.

 

Handing over admissions

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📥  Staff experiences, Staff insight

During his time as Admissions Tutor, Dr John Chew has seen applications for Chemical Engineering increase by 50%. As he hands over the role, John shares his experiences with us:

I was the undergraduate Admissions Tutor (AT) for the Department of Chemical Engineering for three years from August 2013 to July 2016. When I applied to the position back in 2013, I knew the significance of this role to the Department and had some ideas of the implications and major challenges ahead. The level of excitement certainly outweighed my nervousness.

Sharing my subject

During my role as AT, I organised and ran Departmental Open Days and Headstart Courses. I always found running the Open Days a very interesting part of the job. I have a real passion for chemical engineering and get to share the subject and my personal experience with lots of bright, interested and engaged young people, helping them to make well-informed career decisions. In my subject talks, I discussed the range of courses we offer in the Department, how we run them differently compared to other Universities, and the excellent student support that the University has in place for undergraduates. It is not difficult to sell our courses, as Bath is consistently ranked one of the top universities in the UK.

Sorting through applications

Fortunately, I do not see every UCAS application. We receive more than a thousand applications and it would be impossible to deal with every one personally, especially as the 2015/16 recruitment cycle saw applications to Chemical Engineering at Bath increase by 50%. Applications are initially dealt with centrally by the Undergraduate Admissions Office. However, I sometimes see applications that are unusual, where non-standard qualifications have been taken or where special circumstances have affected an individual’s education. Not all undergraduate applicants are 18 year olds with A-levels and so I needed to be aware of the range of qualifications people take and how this affects their performance and standards.

Best bit:

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time as AT and I have learnt a tremendous amount. It was also great to feel so involved in the life of the Department.

The best (and most nerve-wracking) bit is speaking to hundreds of enthusiastic and intelligent young people and managing to convince them to come to Bath to study Chemical Engineering.

Worst bit:

I am not sure there is a worst bit, but certainly the most difficult situation is when I need to make final decisions about offers. There are always more excellent candidates than we have spaces for.

Advice for future Admissions Tutors:

Learn about the range of qualifications young people are taking and how this affects their performance and standards.

Enjoy and have fun!

 

Effective staff induction

  

📥  New initiative, Staff insight, Top tips

We are working on a new Faculty staff induction to complement the activities that happen at a departmental and University level. As part of this project we interviewed new staff about their experiences joining the University. We also asked some teams what they did to prepare for new arrivals. We discovered a lot of good practice happening within our Faculty. From our findings here are some staff induction best practice tips:

Put in preliminary work before new members start

Nearly all our new members of staff expressed frustration at not being able to access University systems immediately. Although there are many processes that can only be started once a new member of staff is on campus, there are still some aspects that can be prepared in advance such as folder access, informing and setting up meetings with relevant people (including those who can provide card access).

Develop your own materials

We discovered some teams have developed their own induction materials specific to their job function. These even included tasks and treasure hunts so that new members of staff could get to know folder structures and try out the University's systems.

Get the whole team involved

Creating a schedule of training where each team member takes on responsibility for a certain aspect helps share the workload and means each member gets to know the new recruit.

Start small

Some of the staff we interviewed talked about being overwhelmed by "meeting too many people in a short amount of time". One team within the Faculty draws up a plan where the inductee is introduced to their immediate surroundings and then shown other areas as the weeks progress, ensuring their network increases at a manageable rate.

Put the role into context

Understanding where your role fits within the wider university is an important part of working effectively. One of our job families produced a special induction document introducing the University's strategy and how their job function fits into this.

Get them connected

Our interviewees mentioned how useful it was to meet others outside their immediate surroundings who performed a similar job function. Many people aren't aware of the mentoring or buddy opportunities available at the University, so this might be a good thing to highlight to inductees early on and at the mid-probation point.

The little things

In our interviews small gestures like buying an inductee a coffee on their first day really made a difference.

Our staff induction module will be available on the Faculty of Engineering & Design's staff wiki space's New Staff page in the Autumn.

 

Top 5 worries for new MSc students

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📥  Staff insight, Top tips

I surveyed our current and recently graduated MSc students to find out what their worries were about starting an MSc.

1.    Getting back into the momentum of studying as quickly as others on your course

You may have had an absence from academic studies for a number of years or simply be worrying about missing your working life and becoming bored as a student.

Advice:

Set a timetable and stick to it. Beat the nasty habit of procrastination. Enjoying student life is possible but you have to have good time management skills to make the difference between a good grade and an excellent one.

2.    Flying to a foreign country and not knowing anyone

This is a big fear for most people and totally normal! It’s a big thing arriving in a country where you don’t know anyone. There’s also the fear of not knowing if you will meet anyone on your course that you will work well together with.

Advice:

You won’t be the only foreign student who is struggling to re-adjust or to grasp the language. Be wise and get to know as many people as possible in your first few weeks. If you are lucky, you will meet great study partners who you will stick with until the end.

Another tip is to get used to studying alone. Learning to rely on yourself for assignments and revision can be beneficial as you may not work at the same pace as others. It’s about finding balance and being wise about who you choose to work with. Working alone can give you time to reflect on your achievements and help you to realise you have done so much and come so far on your own.

If you’re worried about the language barrier, students should get prepared before arriving at the University. The University provides many sessions to help international students to improve their English. We advise you to take part in these learning sessions.

3.    Anxiety about finding the right accommodation

Advice:

Overseas students

Please visit our student accommodation web pages for advice on how to find the right accommodation for you. The accommodation office are happy to help you with any questions you have.

Home students

It's a good idea to sort out your accommodation early on. If you can, we advise travelling to Bath during the summer months to arrange your living plans. This way, you only have to return to Bath again in September when it's time to move in! Two weeks is not enough time to sort out everything before your course starts! Start looking for accommodation early and you'll avoid last-minute panic. And don't forget about bank accounts, phone numbers, transportation, and academic applications and registration.

4.    The social side of studying as a Postgraduate student

Advice:

Be confident. It’s easier said than done but people pick up on confidence. If you are an international student, use these social events as a way to practice your English skills. The more you practice, the more confidence you will gain!

Take up the opportunities offered by the SU through a variety of societies and clubs. Join a club or two and meet more people this way.

5.    Delays in procuring a Student Visa

Advice:

Don’t leave this until the last minute! Find out about what Visa you need as early as possible. Speak with the staff in the International Student Advice Team (ISAT) to find out more information about Visas. They are there to help!

 

Don't forget to complete our Faculty Learning Technologies survey

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📥  New initiative, Staff insight, Technology Enhanced Learning

Hi there,

You may have already heard about our Faculty Learning Technologies survey – many thanks to staff who have already completed it!

In our new roles (Learning Technologists) we’re keen to get a clear picture of how academic staff (or those in teaching-related roles) make use of learning technologies in the Faculty.

We would like to hear from as many staff as possible, no matter what your current level of experience with Learning Technologies.

This will help us to understand your priorities as we plan new development projects and provide support.

Please take 10-15 minutes to complete our survey by 30 September. https://bathreg.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/fed_tel_survey

The responses will inform our planning going forward and we will share the outcomes and plans via this blog (don’t forget you can subscribe to receive email updates).

And don’t forget we have a Flip video camera to give away to a randomly chosen respondent!

Image showing computer interface

Future Interfaces 2014, NYC Media Lab, CC BY-SA 2.0