Getting to grips with teaching excellence

From robots to animation, haptic technology to virtual reality, fashion design to curriculum design, our group of universities are transforming how students learn – and equally importantly, acquire the skills they need to thrive after graduation.

Our Teaching Excellence Showcase at the British Academy last week illustrated Alliance universities’ distinctive model of professional and technical education, including creative and innovative approaches where students learn by doing, coinciding with the publication of a collection of essays on aspects of professional and technical teaching excellence.

Trying out the haptic technology from Portsmouth’s Dental Academy and Generic Robotics

The haptic technology set up on the University of Portsmouth’s display shows how this approach can have huge benefits – not just for trainee dentists at its Dental Academy but also for their future patients. Portsmouth’s Dental Academy collaborated with Generic Robotics to develop a training experience for the company’s SimuTouch platform, which allows students to practice administering local anaesthetic in complete safety, building the essential skills and confidence before performing the task for real. Guests at the showcase were able to try their hand at carrying out this highly-realistic clinical experience.

But for those who still felt a little queasy at administering an (virtual) injection, there was the chance to get hands-on elsewhere. Waiting at a neighbouring table was a little monster, part of UWE Bristol’s mobile teaching resource ‘box’, which allows any space to become a small, fit-for-purpose animation studio.  This takes animation teaching out of the specialist studios, to allow a broad range of learners to engage with animation narratives, and harness the creative potential in smartphone and tablet technologies.

Coventry University’s Sparrowhawk sports car

Coventry University’s showcase included a quarter-scale model (specially built for the night) of their Sparrowhawk sports car. While the car was stunning to look at, what was equally impressive was to discover how the project crosses both art and design and manufacturing. Students across Coventry’s arts and engineering faculties are designing and building a full-scale version as part of their courses. While their goal is for the car to go into low volume production when complete, it’s also providing them with the opportunity to have first-hand input into a genuine commercial enterprise while they study and learn.

No UA showcase would be complete without robots: Oxford Brookes University brought along the latest additions to their ‘AI family’ including a humanoid robot developed and designed by Alex Austin, the university’s new technician in robotics. Third year robotic students assemble and programme the robot as part of their degree, while new 3D printers at the university are used to produce different components such as its arms and legs.

Our three students speakers Scott Smallman, Jamie Rawsthorne and Elizabeth Ajayi with UA chief executive Maddalaine Ansell

These and other interactive displays – from Liverpool John Moores University, Nottingham Trent University, Kingston University and Teesside University – demonstrate how excellent learning and teaching is at the heart of what Alliance universities do.

That was the experience of three of our recent graduates who spoke on the night, discussing how their courses and campus experience prepared them for life after university. Elizabeth Ajayi started work for Accenture as a Technology Analyst in 2015 just after completing her MSc at the University of Hertfordshire. She has been able to build on the skills and abilities she developed during her course to rapidly become a highly recognised Artificial Intelligence Subject Matter expert.

Scott Smallman graduated from Teesside University and was the recipient of two awards at the University’s ExpoTees event. He is now a senior user experience designer and user researcher at Valtech UK and has continued to support the university and its end of year celebration of graduands work. Our third speaker, Jamie Rawsthorne, now runs his own software company, Unique Insights which develops technical solutions for the HE sector after graduating from UWE Bristol’s Team Entrepreneurship course. He was awarded the Institute of Directors Student Director of the Year in 2016.

As Elizabeth, Scott and Jamie’s speeches emphasised, their courses and university experiences provided them with many opportunities to develop the skills they needed to thrive in their careers. Innovative approaches to learning and teaching in professional and technical contexts in our universities help our students get to grips with their future, whatever it holds for them.

Below are more of the photos from the night.

Oxford Brookes University’s robots

Jamie Rawsthorne, UWE Bristol graduate, speaking at the Showcase

Guests hear how art and design and manufacturing students are working together at Coventry University on Sparrowhawk

UWE Bristol Vice-Chancellor Steve West tests out the animation box from his university

Scott Smallman, Teesside University Graduate

Hertfordshire University Elizabeth Ajayi

At Liverpool John Moores University, 150 students of fashion, history, fashion communications, film studies, drama and media shared the opportunity to create a celebration of The Crabbie’s Grand National Festival at both the Museum of Liverpool and Aintree Racecourse in 2016.

Further reading