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Dr James Norman

James, an award-winning engineer and teacher, has designed landmark buildings and developed innovative teaching that combines practice with learning. He’s written several books for engineers and students making sustainable building a reality. The combination of his teaching, research and practice is changing approaches to sustainable building design across industry.
University of Bristol
Job Title
School Education Director (School of Civil, Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering)

James is a dynamic engineer and teacher who has designed landmark buildings and transformed the civil engineering curriculum, revolutionising how engineers think about design by putting environmental sustainability at the heart of the civil engineering degree.

Following a highly successful career as a building designer James became a full-time teacher five years ago. Over this time, he has written several new units, led the department and school on all matters relating to education, been selected to deliver a ‘Best of Bristol’ lecture on creative sustainability, and been awarded a University of Bristol Student Teaching Award.

James has combined the pedagogy of ‘communities of practice’ and ‘authentic learning’ with his own flattening of hierarchies to create units which are grounded in engineering practice and which challenge students to think about creative solutions to the climate emergency, while remaining friendly and accessible to a diverse range of students.

For the last 18 months James has been a Fellow of the University of Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching where he has explored the interface of pedagogy and physical learning space. Combining his experience of designing university buildings with a variety of pedagogical approaches, James has developed and blogged innovative ideas around teaching space.

His pedagogical research, visits to other universities and design experience have culminated in the creation of ‘The Office’, where students come to work for a hypothetical Timber Engineering Practice. The Office combines communities of practice, authentic learning, problem based learning and flipped teaching to create a rich learning environment. The project was presented through weekly blog posts, at several curriculum festivals and at an employability event. James has also written two books on Timber Engineering (has sold 2000 copies) and one on Conceptual Building Design (released March 2020 and has sold 500 copies). These books are designed to enable students and engineers to construct sustainable building solutions, an essential element in addressing the climate emergency. He has also spoken at several Timber Engineering events and is on the British Standards institute committee for Timber.

Advance HE recognises there are different views and approaches to teaching and learning, as such we encourage sharing of practice, without advocating or prescribing specific approaches. NTF and CATE awards recognise teaching excellence in a particular context. The profiles featured are self-submitted by award winners.