Friday, 12 October 2012

Learn Something New in 20 Minutes...or Your Money Back

Claire Beecroft

Time is a valuable resource, whether it be in work or personal life, and we are all very busy people. So, finding a new resource, a new way to work or just a new idea can often sit on the back burner whilst the daily workload is dealt with. This is very odd considering we work in an innovative, creative and fast-paced environment. Our remit is to research, educate, help shape minds and ideas and help drive the whole system forward in a way that fits with modern times. Yet we all have our day-to-day jobs to deal with and while we do that we rarely get the chance to find a new way to work, or discover a new resource as time is a valuable resource.

At the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) we had been very aware of this problem and wanted to do something about. We were aware of the growing problem of staff not having the time to learn about existing and new services, technologies and ways of working. They were also aware that some of the established methods of staff development were not working, as people could either not spare half a day for training, or that when they did they got very little from it. So in 2010 Andy began developing 20-minute sessions introducing new technologies to support and enhance teaching and research. He saw a need for professional development, delivered in a format compatible with heavy workloads and busy schedules. After consulting Claire Beecroft, a ScHARR-based university teacher, the first two sessions were run. Simultaneously, Dr. Jenny Freeman was developing sessions on learning technologies for teaching. After running the first successful session on the social reference management tool Mendeley, Jenny contacted Andy about fusing together these two and Bite Size was born. 

The original inspiration for Bite Size came from Andy’s passion for cricket and the development of Twenty20. This new format of the game came as a reaction to falling numbers attending games as people struggled to commit a full day to following the game and getting new devotees had become increasingly hard. This was a common problem when trying to get staff to attend development sessions- they just did not have the time. Also, how could they be guaranteed they would get something from a session?

Twenty20 Cricket
Image used under a Creative Commons By Attribution Licence ©  by vijay_chennupati

This is where ScHARR Bite size stepped in and represents the very best in collaborative effort designed to benefit all, with clear, demonstrable improvements in learning and knowledge of both staff and students. To achieve this whilst taking into consideration the aforementioned problems it became apparent that Bite Size would focus on planting seeds and making connections. After running a few sessions it soon became apparent that are no shortage of new ideas, technologies and resources across the campus that can be turned into a lively 20 minute session.  
Bite Size are short development sessions where staff and students (and indeed anyone in the University) bring a hot drink and we supply cake! They include a 20-minute presentation using technologies such as Prezi, videos and interactive demonstrations, with time for discussion. Sessions so far have covered topics on teaching and research practice, emphasising emerging technologies, resources and innovations in teaching and learning pedagogy and practice. They directly link the technologies and innovations to learning and teaching activities: according to Graham McElearney, since his Bite Size session ScHARR has become the biggest departmental user of MyEcho in the University.

The  team use their expertise in marketing, promoting BiteSize within ScHARR and the wider university, using blogging, Google Sites ( and uSpace. They developed screencasts and podcasts of sessions enabling staff to watch/listen later:

Attendance is regularly over 20. Of 54 people who participated in a recent evaluation: 87% felt Bite Size helped them work better; 100% felt Bite Size was an effective way of learning new ways of working:

“I always learn something gives me an insight into lots of aspects of work that people are doing”

“Quick, informative, straight to the point. You learn about things you weren't aware of”

Most importantly, staff on the new distance-learning MSc International Health Technology Assessment found BiteSize vital in enabling them to choose which technologies to use and gained inspiration in how to use them.

The team have spread the word about Bite Size via conference presentations (2), posters (3), a workshop and journal article and have even had enquiries from Australia about copying the idea!

The Bite Size team is a unique combination of experience, talent and enthusiasm enabling Bite Size to be what it is: Andy’s technology focus, Claire’s enthusiasm for new ways of teaching, Jenny’s wealth of teaching experience and links to pedagogical experts and specialists in the wider learning community. Jenny also secured financial support at Faculty level and sourced excellent administrative support from Uzzie Laubscher, without whom Bite Size would be poster-less, room-less, computer-less, and cake-less! We have learned the value of collaborative working: by leveraging diverse skill sets, a great idea has become a successful reality. This collaboration has created something greater than the sum of its parts: Bite Size shows what happens when staff whose paths would not normally cross are brought together by a shared passion for learning.

More recently Bite Size has expanded into the Medical Faculty and launched a separate series of sessions that re-runs some of the best ScHARR sessions such as Voiceworks, Google Apps and How NOT to Display Data. There are also plans afoot to start up other Bite Size sessions across the campus, whilst other institutions including the University of Leeds are looking to start their own 20 minute sessions.

When Bite Size started in 2010 there was one simple problem- how to create a programme that that stays fresh and relevant. It soon became apparent that this was irrelevant as the 50+ sessions have proved there is no limit to what you can cover in 20 minutes. Think about any time you have attended a lecture, workshop or seminar and thought: “ Did this really need to be an hour long?” With Bite Size,  at best you have been introduced to a new resource or a smarter way of working, at worst you have lost a mere 20 to 30 minutes of your working day. Also you had a cake, saw colleagues you rarely cross paths with and at least tried something new by attending. What’s not to like?

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