Category / BU Challenges

Learning and Public Engagement (Jon Wardle and Richard Berger)

Authors: Jonathan Wardle and Richard Berger (Media School)

Alternative name suggestion: Learning (as Public Engagement might be better suited to being a cross-cutting theme)

Brief theme summary: Learning is undergoing a revolution globally as a world full of the unexpected realises a need for ingenious, indefatigable lifelong-learners. At the heart of these new directions lie exciting new media, new design, new teaching approaches, new business models and new ideas.

Understanding how to educate people for today’s politically, technologically and socially changing world is of critical importance as the ways in which people learn throughout life within educational institutions, the workplace and informal settings is of major significance for the future development of the UK and countries around the world.

Similarly, academics are increasingly being asked to show how their work has a societal benefit, and to explain their research to those outside Higher Education. Public Engagement is not a by-product of research, it should be at its core. As Kingsley Amis wrote:

“[I]t cannot be said too often that education is one thing and instruction, however worthy, necessary and incidentally or momentarily educative, another” (1998: 236).

As Bournemouth University moves forward, it must continue to provide an education not just for its students, but for other constituencies. BU is s justifiably proud of the learning, and public-engagement, which happens on and off campus, and we work hard with other stakeholders around the world to make learning seductive, engaging and effective. This effective learning is not just the result of an accidental whim; it takes research and reflection, practice and people, across all our schools and within inter-disciplinary research teams.

Allied to these agendas, we want people to consider, question and debate the key issues which impact society, and so we are constantly looking for new ways to encourage people of all ages and from all walks of life to be informed, inspired and involved in learning and research.

Scope of theme: what is included? – creativity; curriculum development; democracy; e-learning; engagement; life-long learning; literacies; politics and power; production and practice; public sphere.

Scope of theme: what is excluded? – careers guidance; e-commerce; intellectual property.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? – how can learning be improved in schools, colleges and universities?
– can new media technologies facilitate new forms of learning and engagement informally and formally?
– how can those in work gain formal qualifications?
– are there emerging new literacies that need researching?
– What role can learning play in addressing issues of poverty, social mobility and civic engagement?
– What is a University in the 21st Century?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? The major research councils (RCUK) now have a commitment to public engagement and impact. For example, members of the AHRC peer-review college are required to assess bids on the grounds of public engagement and impact. Submissions to RCUK are increasingly planning for more public events and exhibitions to disseminate their work.

Similarly, large charities such as The Wellcome Trust, have a wide public-engagement mission, regarding the communication of science and health issues.

Learning is also a key priority for policy makers, particularly at the axis where education and new media meet. In recent years there have been a number of government reports commissioned into young peoples’ use of new media (see Byron 2008).

A number of organisations are now focusing on new media and learning. The Higher Education Academy’s subject centre, Art, Design and Media (ADM – HEA) funds research in both public engagement and learning, as does the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), here with a more direct focus on technology. Other bodies are also active such as The Sector Skills Council for the Creative and Media industries (Skillset) who fund research which brings together education and industry and the Leverhulme Trust who are interested in social mobility and improving attainment in Schools.

BU has had some success with these organisations, but a defined research theme could mean our activity in this area could potentially be far more strategic, ambitious and wide-ranging. It is clear then that our own students’ work should have impact too. It is hoped that such a research theme would draw in and facilitate all of those in the BU community.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? This research theme would cut across all schools, and should engage staff who have a particular interest in public engagement and learning.

This theme’s focus on new media and new technology could have alliances with other themes such as Culture and Society or Society & Social Change, Creative & Digital Economies and Technology & Design.

Environmental Change and Biodiversity (Adrian Newton)

Authors: Adrian Newton (Applied Sciences)

Alternative name suggestion: None

Brief theme summary: We are currently experiencing a global biodiversity crisis, with high rates of species extinction and widespread habitat loss resulting from human activities. Other forms of environmental change include degradation of ecosystems, pollution, overharvesting of natural resources, spread of invasive species and anthropogenic climate change. Together, these pressures are having a significant impact on the ecological processes on which human life depends.  

Scope of theme: what is included? Biodiversity loss, extinction of species, environmental degradation, loss of ecosystem condition, habitat loss, environmental pollution, climate change, depletion of natural resources. Human responses to the biodiversity crisis, including sustainable use of natural resources, protected areas, ecological restoration. Effectiveness of management and policy responses. Impacts on ecosystem services and human wellbeing.

Scope of theme: what is excluded? Any element that does not have a significant environmental component.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme?

  • How may extinction risk be assessed?
  • What is the current rate of biodiversity loss?
  • What are the likely effects of climate change on the world’s ecosystems and associated biodiversity?
  • How vulnerable is the earth system to biodiversity loss?
  • What are the likely effects of environmental change on provision of ecosystem services, and human wellbeing?
  • Are there tipping points in ecological processes?
  • Are there thresholds of environmental impact beyond which recovery is impossible?
  • How resilient are ecological systems to environmental change?
  • Will the earth system be able to support human society in future, if the biodiversity crisis is not addressed?
  • How can the biodiversity crisis be addressed?
  • What are the risks of ecosystem collapse?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? Many of these issues are now featuring in calls from NERC (eg through the LWEC programme and the BESS programme), and from the EC.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? There is a strong potential link with the Green Economy and Sustainability, but also potential to develop links (particularly on ecosystem services) with Health and wellbeing, Recreation and leisure, Culture and society or Society & Social Change, Entrepreneurship and economic growth.

Health and Wellbeing (Carol Bond)

Authors: Carol Bond (Health and Social Care)

Alternative name suggestion: None

Brief theme summary: Personal health and wellbeing. Understanding personal concepts of health and wellbeing, especially for people who face additional health challenges. How healthcare systems and healthcare professionals can develop to support health and wellbeing.

Scope of theme: what is included? Concepts of health

Concepts of health in people who have additional health needs

Health care professionals (education, development, ethics, attitudes, culture, power)

Experience of people with additional health needs (i.e. living with long term conditions and disability)

People’s experiences of healthcare (systems, providers, treatments, care) – and using this to improve systems and care

‘New’ technologies  in health, such as use of the internet, web 2.0 etc by people to support their own health needs and self management

Scope of theme: what is excluded? Medicine / Development of clinical procedures (focus should be on better understanding the ‘patient’ experience and using this to improve care)

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? How can publicly funded heathcare systems (the NHS) cope with the increase in people living with long term conditions

How can people be supported / encouraged to take more responsibility for managing their own health

How can the NHS achieve its aims of creating a ‘revolution for patients – “putting patients first” – giving people more information and control and greater choice about their care’  

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? Not stated.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? If the theme is Society & Social Change rather than culture and society I can see a link with this theme in the area of changing public expectations of health services and societies attitudes towards health (e.g. disability,  body image, mental health) and the way that society impacts on personal health and wellbeing. There are also links with Aging, as a lot of people experience new health challenges along with the aging process.

Champions Answer the Call!

Several champions have stepped forward to help define the BU Research Themes.  You may recall I asked for people to help frame these themes and encouraged as many people as possible to step forward with their thoughts.  In fact the more views we have for each theme the more debate we can generate. 

To help this debate we are posting the detail from the templates on a special part of blog – the Themes page.  I encourage everybody to engage and to comment on the text as it is posted.  If you feel inspired then fill in a template as well!  The more people that get involved with this debate the stronger the definition of each research theme will be.  So please have your say!

For the template, please see my previous Research Themes post.

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise and Internationalisation)