Topic: Staff insight
I recently chatted to Sue Fairhurst prior to her retirement from the University, where she has enjoyed a successful career providing an in-house graphic design service for "anything and everything that needs to be designed or printed". I asked Sue seven questions relating (mostly) to her experience of working here at the University.
1. How did you choose your career?
"I feel blessed because I didn’t chose my career; my career chose me! Art was something that was innate within me; something that I didn’t just want to do – I had to do it. As a child I drew all the time and my favourite subjects were horses and Botticelli maidens. I wasn’t interested in going to University, but my school strongly encouraged me to follow a higher education pathway. As a concession I agreed to apply for a teacher training post. However, on a visit to Bristol I discovered Bristol Art College at Bower Ashton, which is now the University of the West of England. I applied and never looked back."
2. What is the best thing about your job?
"The best thing about my job is the variety of challenges that tend to occur every day. I really enjoy thinking of different ways of tackling new challenges."
3. What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a new member of staff?
"I think good communication is key. Find out how the University works and get involved. Be confident and stay true to yourself."
4. What has been your greatest success/achievement at work?
"While I’ve enjoyed many projects here, I think being involved with the implementation of the new University branding in 2010 was a particular high point. The entire marketing process was an exciting journey, and seeing the results of our work made us all feel proud. Open days in particular suddenly became really exciting events."
5. What is your favourite book/album?
"I love reading, and although I’ve read a lot of books, I think I would choose Dickens’ ‘Our mutual friend’ as a particular favourite. The album is a bit more difficult because I listen to so much music. My first album was ‘Sweet Baby James’ by James Taylor, so that’s a special one for me. However, I also love Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ and I’ll listen to anything and everything by Ry Cooder."
6. Who or what inspires you and why?
"I love trees! Nature is inspiring because it never lets you down. I’ve always enjoyed my drive to work, taking what I think of as the back way from Bristol to Bath through Bitton and Kelston where the views are so beautiful. I’m also aware of how much the University grounds have developed since I’ve worked here, and I’m really grateful to have worked in such lovely surroundings. My dad was also an inspiration. He valued happiness and encouraged me to do exactly what I wanted to do - as long as I was happy."
7. If you could choose one luxury item on a desert island what would it be?
"Communication is so important to me. I love listening to music and I also like listening to serious documentaries and chat shows, so I think I would have to choose a radio as my luxury item."
There's a new online prospectus (named course search) on its way and we've been picking what to feature in the student testimonial sections. The bad news is that we don't have enough content, but the good news is that we do have more platforms to tell student stories and we've been approaching these stories in different ways.
Web case studies
In the past, getting student testimonials was prompted by the need to update a brochure. We then added this collection of soundbites to the web as an afterthought, usually in a thumbnail list.
If a student story came up in the meantime, we had to publish a news article that usually consisted of:
- student quote
- academic quote
- definition of a term from the intro
- and then an unsubstantiated "that's why we are the best" sentence
We've found these news articles quickly go out of date and are mainly read internally rather than by prospective students. This situation was partly due to OpenCMS's hierarchical structure and outdated templates. But now we have a brand new CMS and a host of new content types to use. We are big fans of the case study content type; it focuses content through its structure, and optimises it with a feature image and quote (all mobile responsive of course).
Partly, though, we were also approaching content wrongly. There was something about relying on news articles or asking the same old "why Bath?" questions that didn't feel massively satisfying. I couldn’t articulate why this wasn't working until I read this blog post by Hanna in the digital team about their approach to writing research stories. Becky began using this approach and the new case study content type when profiling PhD researchers Bruno and Olivia as part of the worldwide collection. Once our Faculty pages shipped to the new CMS in January, we could roll this out to profiling our taught students as well.
So, we have been moving towards more specific case studies centred on a student's experiences of a project or a placement, where we actually profile what the student is working on. This approach produces content with longevity, it creates a more coherent story and it's more interesting. For example, by reading about the experiences of Hemant from Team Bath Drones or Stefano from Team Bath Racing Electric you get a real sense of the skills students develop through project work.
Getting an insight on our student blog
Our student blog provides more of a behind-the-scenes view than the more formal web case studies. It's a snapshot of student life as it's happening, while our case studies are more about giving the completed story: beginning, middle and end. I love that we have this platform to hand over to the student voice. It's less polished, but there can be a real power in its authenticity. You can get updates from our students as they go out on placement, travel abroad on the ERASMUS scheme or develop their projects.
The website and the blog really came together for a profile on this year's Basil Spence winning project. The web case study gives an overview of the group project and then links through to a blog post from each team member for a more extensive personal insight into the students' experiences.
We've also begun using video more this year (we are still quite limited on this due to resource) to give prospective students a taste of studying in the Faculty. These range from short project videos to the My Day in 60 Seconds collection.
Keep the content coming
It's tough producing this content with such limited resources; the one university photographer or the one AV specialist are usually booked up well in advance. It leaves little time for idea generation, concept development or retakes. We also rely on collaboration from staff who work directly with students, even if it's just a suggestion or passing on a piece of student-generated content, we can usually tailor it to one of our platforms.
What is usually pretty easy though is getting great content from our student volunteers. They know how to present themselves, they know how to communicate their work and they know why they should communicate it. It's so reassuring reading our students' experiences on the web, on our blog or social media. The Faculty of Engineering & Design is producing not only technically astute but articulate architects and engineers who will make a positive impact on the world...and best of all, they'll share with you how they are doing it and why.
Last month I chatted to Andy Matthews who is a Senior Technician in the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering. Andy is responsible for the Undergraduate teaching labs, managing the risk assessment and practical needs of students undertaking project work. He’s also responsible for access and security in 2 East. I asked Andy seven questions relating (mostly) to his work here at Bath. Here they are, together with his response:
1. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?
"I really enjoy working with young people who are at such an optimistic stage of their lives and who don’t see any limits to their horizons. It’s great being in that environment every day".
2. How do you prepare for a typical working week?
"I make a list and try to prioritise the items. I can’t plan too far in advance because issues can arise at the last minute, and I may need to adapt my list according to demand.
I always have a big breakfast!"
3. What are your tips for effective leadership?
"I try to understand the different strengths of each team member. I work with this and organise tasks in accordance with their strengths and comfort zones."
4. How do you resolve difficult moments at work?
"I’m always mindful of University policies, but flexibility is also important. If a student makes a non-standard request relating to project work I always try to adapt our services to meet their requirements - unless there is a health and safety issue. We can never compromise on health and safety."
5. What is the most useful piece of advice you have ever been given?
"Two pieces of advice spring to mind:
- To value your friendships – which I try to do!
- To always have some sort of plan and never simply hope for the best."
6. Who or what inspires you and why?
"Students inspire me. The enthusiasm they have for their project work motivates me to try my best for them, and I never feel I don’t want to come to work. I usually finish each week with a real sense of achievement."
7. If you didn’t do this job, what would prefer to be doing?
"I’ve always been interested in aviation, and a job flying light aircraft for an aid agency or something similar would be a great alternative."
Jane L Phippen, Taught Programmes Manager at the Faculty of Engineering & Design, reflects on her involvement in forming a cross university networking group and hosting the University’s first Taught Programmes Administration Networking Event.
February 28 may have been the last day of the month, but it saw the first Taught Programmes Administration Networking Event hosted by the University of Bath.
During the summer of 2016 the Undergraduate Managers visited the Universities of Birmingham, Exeter and Oxford-Brookes to ascertain if there was any interest in forming a networking group with the aim to share best practices and experiences, create a forum for discussions, understanding different processes and organisational structures. We were enthusiastically welcomed and it did not take long to realise that there was indeed huge interest in this initiative.
Over the next few months we established the common areas for discussion and the event was planned.
On the 28 February we welcomed support staff from the three Universities to a networking event in The Edge. During the course of the day 38 people participated, including our own colleagues from Bath. The day consisted of group discussions and demonstrations of processes around the Curriculum Management Information System (CMIS), BSS Boards, Student notes on SAMIS, exam preparation on Moodle and we saw the iPhone Student Apps that Exeter have developed. The conversations were lively and enjoyed by all and my highlight was to witness the open, animated discussions taking place.
So what is the next step? There is certainly an appetite to continue with this type of engagement, whether it takes place here again at Bath is uncertain; we would like to encourage one of the other Universities to host the event – watch this space!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.