TeaLab report

James Genn and George Roberts

TeaLab Aims

TeaLab has two main aims: To bring people together to discuss the future of teaching and learning in higher education organisations, and to unite staff from across faculties and directorates through the power of cake.

Promotional tools and methods

Google Group

One of the first things that we did when creating TeaLab was to set up a Google Group intended to act as a mailing list for the movement. It was good in theory, and a nice way to keep TeaLab organised and send out information to the appropriate people, but it was difficult to tell how much it was actually working and whether the people in the email list were actually reading the emails that were being sent out.

Other tools used

Apart from the Google Group, there was a public calendar listing all of the TeaLab events that any member of staff at OBU could access. Blog posts were posted on the OCSLD blog space beforehand, and a TeaLab twitter account was set up to be able to tweet about upcoming events.

Email

t-lab@brookes.ac.uk created and redirects to James Genn and George Roberts

Twitter

@TeaLabBrookes created by the user: “Tea Lab Brookes” with the email t-lab@brookes.ac.uk

Web

For now, http://ocsld.brookesblogs.net/tag/tealab/ pulls blogs from the OCSLD blog tagged with “tealab”. The short URL bit.ly/TeaLabBrookes points at it

TeaLab Pros

The sessions themselves seem to have been well received amongst those in attendance, with a friendly atmosphere and engaged discussion, which is facilitated, but not dictated, by one person. It also creates good networking opportunities as it brings staff from across all of the faculties and directorates together in one room. This is another advantage as it allows for various points of view to be shared and explored. There have been a range of subject areas that are covered, allowing for differing interests across general educational and pedagogical practice and theory enthusiasts, and sessions are run informally and flexibly.

TeaLab Cons

There has been some feedback that some staff members were unaware about the events until it was too short notice to attend. Detailed information is usually sent out at least a week before. Perhaps this is still too short notice, and more should be given in the future, but a calendar is also visible at the beginning of each semester. The real issue here may be a communication issue between TeaLab and those interested in attending.

Another issue with the way that TeaLab has been set up is that there is no idea of how many people will be attending apart from guesswork. This isn’t too much of a problem, but it does cause some catering issues, with us either overbooking or underbooking in the past.

A further issue with TeaLab currently is the scheduling. Destroy All Exams was scheduled during half-term week meaning that a lot of people were on annual leave. Similarly, Neil’s BMI session took place the week after dissertation submissions so academics were very busy and didn’t have the time to take out to attend TeaLab. The intent of the schedule was to have it at different times on different days of the week so that people should be able to attend at least once, but this may have confused people and should probably be more consistent, or at least predictable, in the future.

Room and catering issues

One TeaLab session that didn’t work out as we had hoped was Neil Currant’s session on his research of BMI students. James booked rooms in Gibbs at the beginning of January for Neil and Simon’s sessions. He received an email about Simon’s being changed to JHBB, but nothing about Neil’s. Neil arrived at the room and finds it out of commission. He puts up a sign saying that we have moved to BG10. The problem was that even those who would have shown up may have been frustrated at going to the wrong room that they gave up and went back to their normal work duties. In the end, including Neil, and one person attending via Skype, there were 5 people taking part in the discussion. Thankfully, one of the advantages of TeaLab is flexibility and Neil changed his session to a more feedback/advice style for his research than a discussion. This session should probably be rearranged for next year when TeaLab continues after the summer.

The final session of the academic year was a session to discuss the development of the Moodle and online courses, and to help Simon Llewellyn with ways to improve the system.

The room was in JHBB which was a nice touch, and very central for all those who wished to attend. James sent out the email, and tweeted with a decent amount of notice, as well as emailing to other lists, such as Minerva, and SESE-hub. He also spoke to Simon about people that he thought should really be there that may not be on the list, and so sent them personalised invites as well.

The session went quite well with a good atmosphere and lots of ideas. The thing that let us down was that even though a catering order was placed well in advance, the catering never showed up due to an issue with their system, meaning that we had no cake!! Admittedly, we placed an order for 15 and there were 20 people in attendance, so there may not have been enough anyway, but it was frustrating that this issue was out of our hands when James wanted everything to go right.

Going forward

TeaLab will go forward in academic year 2014-15 as an element of the community-based educational development support offered to the University by OCSLD.

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About the author

George Roberts

George has been at Oxford Brookes since 2000 and joined OCSLD in June 2006 as an Educational Developer (e-Learning). In his previous role he advised the Head of e-Learning and the Senior Management Team of the University on policy for off-campus e-learning and e-learning partnerships.

He leads the MA Education (Higher Education) and teaches on the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) as well as conducting Course Design Intensives (CDIs) and other educational development activities: workshops and consultancies.

He leads the Learning domain in the development of the University’s Technology Enhanced Learning framework.

He wrote his doctorate (July 2011) at the University of Southampton on biographical narratives of adult users of a community IT centre on a large social housing estate.

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