BU’s Centre for Excellence in Learning
Meet the expert..
Professor B. Gail Thomas
It is well-documented that different people learn best in different ways. Traditional methods of learning in universities revolve around lectures, seminars and individual study which don’t work for everyone, so new ideas and approaches are always welcome.
BU’s Centre for Excellence in Learning (CEL) aims to improve the learning experience for every student. By researching and sharing best practice in innovative learning approaches and teaching techniques, the CEL team hope to improve student experience and develop graduates who are fully equipped with the skills they need to achieve in work and in life generally.
The idea behind CEL developed out of the Education Excellence programme which was a staff development opportunity to take forward innovation in education. The underpinning aim of CEL is to support students on a journey, to help them develop and grow as learners, as individuals and as citizens.
There are currently six themes of activity each with a seconded academic leading; Student Engagement & Co-creation; Employability, Work-based Learning & Professional Practice; Globalisation, Internationalisation & Sustainability; Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Creativity; Research-informed Education; Technology Enhanced Learning. Each of the themes aims to bring together interested colleagues, to capture and share ideas and develop communities of practice in that area.
Working closely with the long-established Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP) in the Media School, CEL is starting to prepare for an education submission to the next Research Excellence Framework exercise in 2020. An enthusiastic group from across BU is scoping current research into learning and planning on how best to develop critical mass of expertise in particular areas such as widening participation and student engagement.
The Student Research Teams (SeRTS) are extracurricular vehicles for student-staff research co-creation and are just one example of an active CEL project. The student-managed teams provide research support to external organisations, with mentoring assistance from BU and collaborating organisations. SeRTS give participants a hands-on opportunity to strengthen their skills and create tangible research outputs, while also building links between the university and the wider community.
CEL is starting to make a difference at BU by raising the importance of creative ways to support learning and its physical presence in the heart of the campus on the ground floor of Poole House gives a message about its significance, and that of learning, at the university.
We want students who are fully engaged in their learning, who use every opportunity the university offers them to develop themselves. Although I’ve only taken on leadership of CEL fairly recently, learning has always been my key purpose, especially education that prepares people for professional practice. I do think education helps people get where they want to go; it’s a very levelling platform that allows people from all sorts of places in society to come together as equals.
It’s that kind of empowering ethos that we are trying to build into our learning approaches, as our aim is to enable people to develop skills for employment as well as skills as a citizen, as an individual and as a person. We want to allow them to grow while they’re at university and set them on a trajectory that’s really positive for the rest of their lives. CEL pulls together the research base, innovation and drive for an education strategy that will hopefully achieve that.
Professor B. Gail Thomas, Dean of Health and Social Care & Head of the Centre for Excellence in Learning Bournemouth University
Student Research Teams (SeRTS) are extracurricular fusion vehicles for student-staff research co-creation. The teams are student-managed with mentoring from academic staff and collaborating external practitioners. The goal is for new knowledge to be created through our shared learning and gaining of skills, strengths and understanding.
SeRT projects can be in any subject area and are ideal for research that benefits from having a team of people working together to swiftly produce tangible outputs. They are important because they offer mutual benefits to students, staff and practitioners.
Students have enjoyable opportunities to develop skills, strengths and a sense of self authorship. SeRTs build links between the university and its wider community. Finally, as an academic what can beat co-creating eureka moments and sharing new insights with those who are the world's future?
Dr Anita Diaz, Senior Lecturer in Ecology, Faculty of Science & Technology Centre for Excellence in Learning Theme Leader: Student Engagement & Co-creation Bournemouth University.
During my time at Bournemouth University I have been able to participate in a number of Student Environment research Team (SeRT) projects covering a variety of subjects including research projects based in Picos, Northern Spain and Madre de Dios, Peru. I am currently due to join a SeRT project supporting the National Trust Cyril Diver Project based closer to home at Studland Bay and the local nature reserve at Arne.
What each of these unique research projects have enabled me and other students to do is develop key practical skills, given me a chance to apply theoretical knowledge gained in lectures in the field, provided an opportunity for myself and other students to substantially contribute to relevant/ current conservation work and essentially enabled us to produce real research that is often shared with connected conservation groups both local and in some cases international.
Being involved in SeRT projects has had a substantial positive impact on my studies. It has provided invaluable experiences and has provided me with transferable skills such as research project development, team work and a plethora of field work techniques. I will undoubtedly be able to utilise these skills in a future career within the Ecology/ Wildlife conservation sector.
Above all the SeRT projects that I have contributed to have been a significant part of my university experience. I have enjoyed every second of each one and am very proud of my participation. I would highly recommend other students to get involved in any SeRT project!
Lucy Allen, SeRT Student, BSc (Hons) Ecology and Wildlife Conservation
Across the world, expectations are being heaped upon universities, not least in the ways in which they are enabling students to be effective in a demanding world. And in these growing expectations, universities are being asked to think in many directions. The world of work, the value of research, student engagement, entrepreneurship, the digital age, and sustainability: all these domains are enjoined upon universities as possible orientations for student development.
Through its newly founded Centre for Excellence in Learning, and adroitly led by Professor Gail Thomas, Bournemouth University undauntedly is addressing itself not to any one of these options but to all of them. For each theme, there is a leader injecting vision and energy, working across the whole university.
A single centre by itself cannot be expected to galvanize a whole university but the indications are that this centre is already acting as a catalyst for educational change and development; and it may be offering a model from which other comparable centres across the sector will be able to gain. It has got off to a tremendous start and I shall certainly be watching its future with much interest.
Professor Ronald Barnett, Emeritus Professor at Institute of Education
The SERT teams from Bournemouth have made an invaluable contribution to the National Trust's 3-year project to survey Studland Heath NNR. We have had teams studying flora, dragonflies, aquatic invertebrates and grasshoppers. As well as gaining experience managing projects in the field, the students have all been enthusiastic and helpful, and have provided the National Trust with a considerable amount of valuable field data.
David Brown, Cyril Diver Project Officer, National Trust