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School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment

Board games, flexible hours and a new approach to dissertations: your voice has improved learning in Architecture, Design and the Built Environment

Richard Bull
Richard Bull, Deputy Dean

Deputy Dean Richard Bull is on a mission to create a flexible, responsive learning environment that students can call home at the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment (ADBE).

“Student feedback comes from lots of different places. At the coalface – in lecture theatres, labs and studios – there’s a dialogue between our students, academics and technicians. Then there’s the conversations that come through course committees, course reps, and even our ‘Audience With’ events, which the Dean hosts. We always encourage our students to be honest – and brutally so! We want a conversation that not only identifies issues, but also celebrates all the great things that are happening across ADBE.

“There’s lots of different cultures in this School, because we’ve got five departments. There’s a spectrum that runs from traditional pedagogy to hands-on engagement. That means we work across different spaces – Maudslay, Arkwright, Newton, Chaucer. It’s a challenge for us, and something our students have flagged up is the need for a place to call ‘home’. So based on that feedback, we’ve recently launched activities to help bed in that sense of community. We’re keen on gaming, and old-fashioned board gaming in particular. It gets people together nicely, and we’ve held events for a number of different year groups. The academics get involved too, and inevitably there’s pizza. We’re encouraging interaction across the whole School, so it’s more unified, and not just department-based. And they’ve been really well received – we had over 80 students at the last event in October. As much as anything, these community events are a health and wellbeing initiative. They’re practical, fun and interactive, and give our students a sense of belonging.

“Another feedback-led scheme is the Getting Going programme in our Civil Engineering department, focused on dissertations. We wanted to take the fear out of them, because the size of the project can be intimidating. It’s this big thing, looming on the horizon. So we trialled an initiative last year to get dissertations on the table earlier, and break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks –to help people get started by looking at their options, and developing a focus. It’s less threatening to look at dissertations as a series of small steps, rather than one big mountain: it alleviates the stress and tension.

“By student request, we’ve also extended the opening hours of Maudslay, and provided more resource in terms of teaching and technicians – just so everything’s more visible and accessible. In subjects like product design, everything rides on that final year assessment – so historically, there’s always been a challenge accessing lab spaces and the high-performing computers. We’re hoping this new arrangement improves that, without compromising NTU’s commitments to sustainability and energy usage.

“We’ll always encourage students to speak up – either in person, through their reps, at course committees, or even directly to the Dean and I. We want people to know there’s no wrong answers, and no silly questions. Our students’ voices can make a difference, and the evidence shows we’re very responsive to change here. I’m relatively new to the University, but there seems to be a really good level of engagement between the students and the academic teams – it’s healthily managed, very encouraging, and that’s really nice to see.”

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