#Take5 #63 Design Sprints for Developmental Learning

On your marks, get set, sprint

This Blog post for Take5, (edited by Sandra Sinfield) is on Nottingham Trent University’s (NTU) design sprints – in particular on how educational developers support the disciplines’ design teams in working on emergent course (programme) design. It has been kindly written by Ellie Kennedy, NTU.

NTU design sprints: making course design more developmental

Design sprints at NTU take a supportive, developmental approach to course (programme) design. Whereas course design was often previously “hidden” work done by the course team outside core hours, the sprint model – developed and organised by the Centre for Academic Development and Quality – foregrounds and protects time for the team to develop core aspects of learning, assessment and student experience.

Following a facilitated four-part structure, the sprint supports the course team to collaborate with selected peers and specialists to embed key strategic priorities into the course from the outset. Decisions are recorded and key documentation is completed as the sprint progresses, obviating the need for a separate approval process. This approach shifts the focus away from documentation and approval gateways, and offers the course team opportunities to consider innovation, develop their USP, embed inclusive strategies rather than “bolt-on” support, and deliver the strategic initiatives that support student success and make NTU courses great. This year, NTU is running over 50 Design Sprints: as a Senior Educational Developer, I will take on the role of facilitator and/or educational developer in a number of these.


Drawing on intensive design models at other institutions (such as Carpe Diem, CAIeRO, and Curriculum Design Studio), colleagues at NTU originally envisaged these sprints as a 2-day intensive process. However, a sprint I recently facilitated took place during the pandemic, when the model shifted to a 4 x half-day online workshop structure (see diagram).

The half-day sessions offer plenty of time for collaborative activities and discussion, and the 4-part structure allows the team time to progress their design activities in between sessions, and to incorporate input from the workshops. The pacing of the overall process is agreed in a preliminary meeting to take account of the team’s availability and the time-frame in which the course needs to become operational. The four-part structure is flexible enough to accommodate a sprint or a marathon as relevant.

The image shows a flow chart delineating: portfolio planning, preliminary meeting, getting ready activities, sprint part A, design work, sprint part B, design work and viability check, Sprint part C, design work, Sprint part D and final approval.

The team

Key to successful course design is the strategic selection of the wider design team. The course leader and selected module leads form the core of the design team, and do the bulk of the design work. They are supported in this by a number of individuals, as agreed with the relevant course team before the sprint. These usually include an academic peer from a different School (faculty), with expertise in course design or key aspects of learning, teaching and assessment, as well as a student and/or alumni representative. The choice of further team members is dependent on the course needs, and may include colleagues from Professional Services such as Flex NTU (online learning team); Employability; Apprenticeships; academic colleagues such as a Learning and Teaching Manager; and external colleagues representing, for example, relevant employers or a professional body. In a recent sprint I facilitated, a student representative provided some very useful insights into her academic and placement experiences, which helped shape the design of the top-up degree under consideration.

Vital to the process are also a Facilitator, an Educational Developer, and a member of the NTU’s Quality Management (QM) team: together they form an organising team to run workshop activities, contribute expertise to discussions, and work together behind the scenes to ensure the design process runs smoothly. The Educational Developer and QM colleague are provided by the Centre for Academic Development and Quality, while trained Facilitators come from across the institution. In my experience as a sprint Facilitator, I have found it useful to catch up with the QM professional and the Educational Developer in between sessions in order to recap, reflect, and jointly plan the facilitation of the next part.

Workshops and activities

Sprint activities are highly flexible and will follow a pattern bespoke to the relevant course and the needs of the team. The outline here gives a general overview, but no two sprints are the same due to the diversity of subjects and the breadth of award types.

Prior to the first workshop session, the course team is supported to carry out preparatory tasks which include creating a set of personas. These involve both graduate personas (how students might “look” on completion of the course) and student personas, i.e. what students might bring with them to the course. Each student persona includes distinct background qualifications and experience as well as demographic factors such as age and ethnicity. The graduate personas help shape the course Learning Outcomes, while the student personas can be used throughout the workshop activities in a “storyboarding” approach to simulate student experience of different elements of the course.

Workshop activities are designed to create a course which incorporates NTU’s strategic approaches to closing disparities and supporting success for all students. The Educational Developer provides online interactive tools (see example below) which help the course team to: embed NTU priorities such as Active Collaborative Learning and assessed Work-Based Learning; create Learning Outcomes and discuss relevant assessment types; consider other useful practices such as mentoring; and build all of these into a timeline of the course. In this collaborative and supportive process, members of the wider design team make suggestions and offer examples from their own practice. The Educational Developer also brings expertise in inclusive learning, teaching and assessment, and promotes the embedding of NTU’s priority approaches.

Image description: The image shows a Design Sprint online whiteboard. Team members can select key learning experiences, assessment types and course features, and arrange them according to priority and preference.

This image shows colleagues engaged in a design activity using post-its to represent and arrange key course features.

Between workshops the course team progress their design further, incorporating key points from the workshop activities and discussions. An MS-Teams is provided, where the design team can access resources and outputs from discussions and activities. As relevant, the Educational Developer can also work with the course team between sessions to support contextualisation of the less familiar concepts and approaches. For example, in a recent sprint, the course team expressed interest in inclusive and anti-racist curriculum, so I organised a separate workshop to create space for bespoke reflection on this topic.

The penultimate stage of the sprint involves a stakeholder meeting, in which the whole design team are joined by selected stakeholders from elsewhere. These may include local employers/placement partners, representatives of professional bodies, a subject expert from a different institution, additional student/alumni representatives, and others. The course team talk through their design plans so far, and the Educational Developer provides online tools to elicit questions and feedback from all stakeholders present. A shorter final meeting provides an opportunity for the course team to demonstrate how they have incorporated stakeholder feedback into the design. For example, in the Sports Science design sprint, a colleague from a different academic School shared an example of an assessment from a research module: the course team thought this would be a great fit for their students, so they went away and adapted their assessment plans for that module.

Course approval

The business case for a new course is approved prior to a sprint: this helps ensure that the resource-intensive sprint process is used only for courses that will be able to proceed. Academic approval, meanwhile, is built into the sprint itself. The Quality professional on the organising team ensures that the course aligns with NTU academic policy. Throughout the sprint workshops, they enter decisions and information into a spreadsheet (a more sophisticated database is currently in development), which generates information for Timetabling, Marketing, Student Services and other relevant services to enable the course to be realised in a practical sense. Central to the approval element, the Quality professional also writes a report, which is peer-reviewed by a colleague, to record key outcomes from the sprint process and ways in which the course team have addressed any issues. Rather than involving a separate approval phase, what used to be “scrutiny” is now embedded during the developmental workshops, so that by the end of the 4-step process, the design work is complete and thorough.


Design sprints were piloted in Summer 2020: and in 2020/21, half the new courses at NTU were designed using the sprint model. The majority of new courses designed in 2021/22 will go through a sprint or will involve some of the participatory, collaborative elements of sprint design. Feedback from participants has been encouraging:

The design sprint was a very positive experience. The course team gained a lot from the discussions and were able to incorporate some valuable contributions from colleagues across NTU. The course design is definitely enhanced as a result of the process (Sport Science course leader).


Ellie is a Senior Educational Developer at NTU. She is committed to inclusive education and proud to contribute to NTU’s strategic initiatives to close disparities for disadvantaged groups. She has been instrumental in Design Sprints initially through research into developmental course design models in the sector, and now as a facilitator and an educational developer on various sprint teams. She is also currently leading on learning, teaching and assessment support for course teams at NTU’s Mansfield hub – an initiative to promote social and economic regeneration in a deprived area of Nottinghamshire.

#Take5 #62 Reflecting back and moving forward – 8 lessons from ants

Make like an ant?

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Dr Katharine Jewitt from The Open University who shares what we can learn for our teaching and learning online from ants. Katharine is looking back at what we have adapted to this year – highlighting the lessons learned that we can take forward in our practice – especially for those of us who will continue with some (or all) online delivery next year. 

For those of you who already feel a bit too ant like in the version of Technology Enhanced Learning that is emerging post-pivot – please try to think of these ants as self-determined – acting with power and agency in their ant lives – for that is the spirit of the post.

(Katharine did write this much earlier than today – but we saved it up as a coda to the year – any ‘wobble’ with tenses are down to us!)

Key words: responsive blended learning, student learning online, digital wellbeing, digital socialisation, learning environment, student support, blended learning, teaching online, student engagement, inspiring learning

Teguh Mujiono/Shutterstock.com: An image showing four cartoon ants in a row with their hands on each other’s shoulders.

Ant Music

I remember when I was young, my cousin’s family and I stayed in a holiday home in Mallorca. Every day, on our way out to the beach, we saw a long path of ants making their way through the garden of the holiday home, where we were staying. My cousin and I became fascinated by the ants and every day would set obstacles in their way, such as placing twigs or stones, and then return at the end of the day to find how the ants had overcome our ploys to stop them in their path. I recently saw a photograph from that holiday, which caused me to reflect back on those daily encounters with the ants and how they can teach us some useful lessons for learning development and overcoming some of the many challenges that Covid-19 has had on our teaching this year.

Lesson 1: Make the most of what you have

Even though my cousin and I put obstacles in place, which stopped the ants’ smooth and direct path, they made the most of their surroundings and worked around things. If an obstacle was placed in their way, they instantly worked around it and adapted quickly. They didn’t wait around for something to feel right, they just kept going.

The pandemic has created significant challenges, but we have to make the most of what we have. Focus on the quality of your work, rather than the number of hours. Support your students in focusing on output and knowing what are the most important things to focus on. We all need to empathise with each other’s circumstances and recognise that we are all dealing with different pressures and issues.

Lesson 2: Be disciplined … in the practice of self care

Ants remain disciplined. They avoid temptations and demonstrate self-control. They manage their time and are organised to achieve their goals.

Ant tips: Try and stick to a consistent workload each week and make time to do other things. Even though we might still be unable to do some of the normal things we enjoy, due to various Covid-19 concerns and remaining constrictions, we can still carve time out for things we enjoy and share hobbies with friends and family. Making time to rest and relax is even more important in these times. Encourage your students to do the same.

Lesson 3: Avoid Distractions

No matter how many obstacles my cousin and I tried to distract the ants with, they soldiered on regardless. They did not get distracted and stayed focused on their end goal. They didn’t allow a couple of young, mischievous cousins to get in the way of their objectives and worked around our roadblocks.

It reminds me of how important it has been to support our students in keeping focused when working online. When running online sessions, discuss with students how you will work. I try to keep online chat to a minimum when anyone is talking, so that there aren’t two conversations taking place in the online room at the same time (it’s difficult for dyslexic students otherwise).

I let my students know that I’ll stop regularly to take questions. Students can still use the chat, if they want to pose a question or make a comment, but I stop regularly to read them out, rather than trying to manage both in parallel. Making use of the emoji icons built into the video conferencing tool, also allows you to check everyone is ok at regular points during the online session and take time to pause and reflect.

Being in front of a screen can be very taxing for both you and your students. Build in mini breaks. Ask students to join you in some arm raises or neck stretches. I often display on the screen, one of the NHS desk exercises: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/gym-free-workouts/

An image of exercises for wheelchair users. 3 sets of exercises with a 2-minute rest between sets. 20 chest expansions, 20 side arm raises, 10 dives, 10 raised arm circles, 20 overhead punches, 20 punches.
Image: Chair exercises published on the NHS website https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/gym-free-workouts/

Video-conferencing takes more strain on us than working face-to-face because we are concentrating so hard on the screen for intense periods. Being permanently focused and attentive is draining. Have time at the end of a session for students to reflect and relax. Build in opportunities to have short chats during the session, for example, asking students how they are taking a break. Use images to spark conversation, such as this graphic created by Karen Horneffer-Ginter:

The image shows 50 ways to take a break from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/gps-guides_b_1632700 which includes listening to music, exercising, calling a friend, dancing and watching the clouds.

Lesson 4: Be brave and take risks

Even though the ants on my childhood holiday were faced with risks and issues they had never encountered before, in the form of my cousin and I and our terrible plot to redirect them away from their goal, they faced our challenges head on. Even obstacles that were far bigger than themselves, they were brave and looked ahead and did not falter.

Reflecting back over the past year has shown me how vital it is for us to work even more collaboratively than we did before and to support our students by designing collaborative learning activities with the diversity of our students and their personal situations during the pandemic in mind.

We need to share our experiences of working online, be brave in trying new things in our teaching and know that it is okay to make mistakes. If you are experimenting with a new technological tool to support pedagogy, you’ll be surprised at how accommodating students are and willing to experiment and try things out with you.

Lesson 5: Work as a team

Ants have learned that working individually and out of self-interest is futile. Ants work as a team for greater benefits. Everything they do is to benefit their colony as a whole. They know that they are stronger and better working together.

The pandemic has lengthened our working days to accommodate interruptions. As a result of working from home, we are juggling and sharing the use of rooms, combining a kitchen as an office. Our days are fluid to support homeschooling, child care and looking after family members. The lines between work and non-work life have become blurred.

Ant tip: Building socialisation into our courses is vital, so that students can build their peer-to-peer network and support each other. In my view, we can’t have enough opportunities for students to collaborate and socialise online.

Lesson 6: Work hard and train hard

Ants are noted for carrying a hundred times their own body weight. They work hard and train hard. They are persistent.

This year we have definitely been working hard! Likewise, we as academics, need to find ways to work as a team whilst working remotely. It’s vital we keep in touch, share the workload and share resources. It’s so important that we pool our skills and resources, so that we have a valuable resource bank to dip in and out of. If we all shared one socialisation activity to use in an online session, we’d have several hundred to use throughout the academic year, rather than just one.

Lesson 7: Eat regularly and healthily

Ants eat regularly and they never eat anything alone. Ants keep fit and active on a daily basis.

Image shows a weekly wellbeing check-up chart published by MHFA England focusing on four areas: mental health, wellbeing, thoughts and stress.

When homeworking, it’s sometimes hard to make the effort to get out and get moving or to take time to talk to colleagues, but it’s critical we build time into our days to do this. We don’t have the talks in the corridor anymore, which happened naturally within our working day on campus. We must make time for exercise when we are working so intensively and make time to eat properly. Getting out for a run, a walk or a bike ride in daylight hours can make the world of difference to our health and wellbeing.

Ant tip: Build conversations into your online sessions with students, to discuss mental health and digital wellbeing. There are excellent resources available on Mental Health England’s website: https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/resources/

Lesson 8: Building for the future

My metaphorical ants are always preparing for the future ahead. They are focused and driven on what is urgent and important to secure the future of their colony.

Studying online is not what our students signed up for and it is important to recognise this and support them by regular signposting to help them keep on track. Using a traffic light system on a weekly basis can be a good way to help students know what is important (red traffic light), what to do if they have time after the critical tasks (amber traffic light) and what is optional (green traffic light). Ensure students know what they are expected to do each week and incorporate time for building their digital skills, for example, collaborating online, planning and organising.

Finally, no matter what is now thrown at us, we must remain determined to share good practice to improve student experiences. Avoid re-inventing the wheel. Keep talking, socialising, sharing, experimenting and collaborating!

Photo: Dr Katharine Jewitt

About Katharine:

Dr Katharine Jewitt (@KatharineJewitt) has worked in HE since 2003 and prior to that worked as a Director managing global operations and supply chains. Katharine’s research interests are in the fields of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), online learning, technology enhanced learning (TEL), digital strategy and learning in three-dimensional and mobile environments. Her PhD research was in the use of virtual reality for work-based learning. Outside of work, Katharine enjoys sailing, coastal walks and living a self-sufficient life on her smallholding in Scotland.

#Take5 #61 Breaking the Zoom gloom for students: hi-tech to lo-tech solutions

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Debbie Holley and Heidi Singleton, Bournemouth University, UK – who also delivered this as an engaging LD@3.

Challenge that ‘Zoom Gloom!’ (Wiederhold 2020)

Learners describe their ‘best learning moment’ as a ‘flow’ – a point of psychological deep involvement of immersion in an activity or a task, which results in deep learning and high levels of satisfaction (OU Innovating Pedagogy Report 2021). The Learning Development community are experts at creating these types of activities (see the amazing LearnHigher site); this post explores how we can further enhance our student offering through considering extending learning opportunities through simulations. Students report enjoying the added dimensions of more immersive learning experiences, yet only 20%, mainly in health care and engineering gain any ‘real life’ simulation experiences as part of their curricula (Jisc 2020 ‘Student digital experience insights survey’ summarising the experiences of over 20,000 HE students and a range of 28 HE institutions). We ran an LD@3 session ‘Using Google cardboard to engage learners’ to demonstrate how, with with very basic equipment (a SMART phone with internet access able to run 360 video clips from YouTube and Google cardboard – available from Amazon for around £5.00) we can all offer students those ‘tasters’ of a more immersive experience.

This blog outlines the technologies which can be used to create different kinds of learning experiences, all of which we tried out with our Nursing Students, and there is a resource list at the foot of the document.

Image credit: Google cardboard

So, starting off, what is this tech all about? VR and AR

Virtual Reality (VR) utilises a computer to generate a simulated environment, and these technologies can be defined by the following features: users interact through the agency of avatars; they have multiple users; they deliver the illusion of movement in 3D space; and they have interactive chat functions. Users are inside that replicated world, rather than experiencing an overlay of virtual space onto the physical world as in Augmented Reality (AR).

With AR you need to be in the setting, for example using AR on an iPad™ to bring a mannikin to life. AR can be accessed via a phone, or laptop or something more sophisticated e.g., Google glasses etc.

Diagram Credit; catchoom.com

With VR you can be anywhere on the planet and bring the content to you. Hence it is perfect for a lecture theatre setting or for use at home e.g., during a pandemic.

Within VR there are varying degrees of immersion available, starting with non-immersive e.g., accessed via a laptop, to more immersive e.g., low-cost headset for example Google Cardboard™ to fully immersive e.g., Oculus Rift™ and Magic Leap™.

Diagram Credit: Holley and Hobbs 2020

Using Google Cardboard to experience a 360 immersive effect

This is Debbie modelling her mobile phone in a Google cardboard!

We use different free 360 videos on YouTube to help our student nurses visualise different aspects of their learning. We use the free app “A Walk-through Dementia” for students to experience what it is like for people with dementia, through their eyes. Students view the video using their own mobile phone and Google Cardboard™ headsets. The headsets cost around £5 and can be used multiple times. You can download the app following this link: https://www.awalkthroughdementia.org/.

We also use 360 videos and low-cost cardboard headsets for students to consider how they can be used with patients to distract them from unpleasant symptoms including pain, stress, and anxiety. For this we have used 360 Waterslide (𝗕𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗩𝗥 𝟯𝟲𝟬 𝗩𝗜𝗗𝗘𝗢 (Virtual Reality) and Nature meditation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AkbUfZjS5k&t=10s).

Journey to the edge of space (Journey To The Edge Of Space (360 Video)

Sometimes finding the exact video from Youtube can be confusing, especially as these videos are in a particular 360 format. To make it easier for your audience or class, you can use QR codes as a trigger link to a 360 video on YouTube app. This is a helpful timesaver when you are teaching or presenting to a very large group. The instructions are below.

We prepare QR codes (and share how to do this a bit later!) for the students – when we were teaching F-2-F we had paper ones printed, but now we are online we just add them to our PowerPoints, and it is far easier for students to access. For example:

Creating your own QR codes for sharing with students

  • Select any website URL (copyright free and legal etc.!)
  • Our example is the fabulous https://www.learnhigher.ac.uk
  • Copy the code, and then google ‘QR code generator’.
  • It generates a QR code (an iPhone camera will trigger, or need a QR reader App on android)

High Tech Examples

Our students have enjoyed the fully immersive experience of using Oculus Quest™ headsets during seminars, again to explore how VR can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and to aid wellbeing. These headsets are good value for money, at £299, because they do not need to be linked up to an expensive gaming computer they are stand alone.

Student using Oculus Quest™

We do also use our Oculus Rift™ for our best immersive experience though students do have to queue up to experience this due to it being connected to one of our expensive gaming computers.

Our Physiotherapy students using Oculus Rift™

Our VR Diabetes Case study

In addition to using the Oculus devices mentioned above, we also enable our students to experience VR simulations via their own laptops. VR Simulations are increasingly being offered as part of the educational experience and valued for their more authentic approaches in preparing for live clinical experience. VR has been proven to be engaging and it is something different to break up those long days of online learning, and death by PowerPoint. We conducted a study to evaluate student, academic and learning technologist (LT) experiences of a VR simulation.

What we did

Our aim was to find out if a VR-based simulation can improve learning about diabetic concepts. Data was gathered via pre and post testing and through focus groups with students, learning technologists and an academic. Our participants were Second Year Nursing students, across two campuses. Students were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Both groups completed an exercise, either via VR or a paper-based version, which was developed with the aim of improving student nurses’ short-term knowledge of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar in diabetic patients).

The VR simulation was commissioned with Daden Ltd, who programmed the VR application based on the deteriorating patient script. After piloting, communication with Daden Ltd and reiteration, the low-cost proof of concept simulation was completed and was ready for use on students’ laptops.

Students played the part of the nurse avatar who stayed within the ward side room. A handover gave the nursing student knowledge about the patient’s condition, current medication and observations which had been recorded the night before. The handover also detailed the patient’s history. When the student approached the patient, they were irritable and very sleepy. The student had to make a safe clinical decision about how to react and communicate with the patient. If the student made unsafe decisions, they were given instant feedback and that they needed to think again quickly because the patient was deteriorating. The patient began to look unwell if the student did not correct the patient’s blood glucose quickly. They were then presented with clinical decisions in multiple-choice questions via pop-up text boxes. Each clinical decision was followed up with instant feedback so that the student could learn and improve. The student could complete the simulation multiple times and the lecturer was sent data analytics about each student’s performance.

VR Diabetes simulation created by Daden Ltd.

What we found

In total 171 students completed both the pre and post-test surveys. The experimental group answered the post-test questions more efficiently, which is suggestive of short-term learning gain superiority in the desktop VR group. Statistical tests indicated that the VR simulation is an inclusive learning tool, regardless of students’ age, computing experience or diabetic nursing experience.

Overall, the VR simulation was perceived as being an enjoyable and effective way of learning, though software instability and some initial difficulties in moving the avatar around were cited by students and LTs. These negative findings are the clues to any potential barriers to the scalability and sustainability of VR technology use in HE. In addition to being an engaging and effective way for students to learn, VR may deliver greater access to practice opportunities in HE, spanning the gap between the formal and practical learning– a vital step in developing students’ proficiency.

The student perspective

Most comments and qualitative data were positive, of which the main findings were that participants found the VR simulation to be: “quick and intuitive to figure out”, even if they had not played computer games in the past. This is significant because in the future, it is anticipated that online and distance learning modes will dominate; indeed, during the covid pandemic much of undergraduate nurse education was moved to online learning.

Many of the comments were about “making it real” and a typical opinion was captured in this comment: “It combines the advantages of a simulated ward with those of a drama role play, in that you can have the sense of urgency as well as deteriorating vital signs in the patient. If the patient is getting anxious and you need to take their blood pressure you could make your … (avatar) talk to the patient to calm them down. It really does make you really focused on the situation, and it makes it feel a lot more real.”

Students discussed how they felt that using the VR simulation aided personalised learning, in which they could make mistakes and not be swayed by a group decision. They felt that they were often asked to respond to questions and activities as part of a group which meant that sometimes some learners switched off and some just gave the same answers as their friend. Our study found that students valued the rarer opportunities to work individually in HE learning sessions.

Previous research tends to highlight the collaborative affordances of VR technology. However, in our study the chance to learn at the student’s own pace, repeating the exercise as necessary, and without the group pressures to select a response that they did not necessarily agree with, was valued. Students reported that the instant feedback and reinforcement of learning would improve confidence.

The staff perspective

The academic discussed a barrier to implementing VR: “I think it is about investment, so if you are going to do this work in an HE setting you have got to have investment, not just in terms of money but also in time and appreciating the work people do.”

The software tested in this study was deemed to be of low fidelity due to its low-cost nature; despite this, students found themselves immersed in the virtual ward. This indicates that future iterations of such VR simulations do not necessarily need to be of high cost and high fidelity to be successful in improving student enjoyment and learning outcomes. We will finish with a quote from one of the LTs: “Using this technology, is a really empowering way for students to be able to learn off campus… There are lots of positives around student engagement.”

You can view a walkthrough of the VR simulator here: Fieldscapes Diabetes Walkthrough

Getting started!

Nursing students using low-cost headsets and their own phones in a seminar.

A good starting point is to explore the youtube 360 clips we have shared with you, and then to see which other ones may be appropriate to your area (search youtube 360), students enjoy accessing small ‘ready made’ ones. Try using as an ice breaker activity with students, or with staff in a staff meeting to build your confidence. You may then get some ideas for resources you want to develop, and can reach out to your Learning Technologist team, or to apply for a small grant to try an idea out (ALDinHE have an annual call; Jisc have showcases for work with students).

To connect up with others:

  • Jisc have an interesting set of ‘future visions’ where they set out what future scenarios for 2030:

The hyflex plus university

  • ALDinHE have a whole list of events with resources, where the community talk about how they started to engage students using a range of technologies, we loved the one on MEMEs; everyone who presented is happy to be contacted about getting started.

Concluding thoughts:

Evaluating some of your ideas formally, running student focus groups, exploring some research, or even developing and sharing some resources as open education resources all help to capture the student voice and build innovations that can be shared with our community.

Link to LD@3 slides and video here:

Technology Enhanced Learning Resources

Selected references:

Holley D., Hobbs M. (2020) Augmented Reality for Education. In: Peters M., Heraud R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Educational Innovation. Springer, Singapore https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-981-13-2262-4_120-1 (You need to pay for the article or access through your library, BUT a very up-to date reading list on the link)

JISC Student digital experience insights survey (2020) https://www.jisc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/student-dei-he-report-2020.pdf

Wiederhold, B.K., 2020. Connecting through technology during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic: Avoiding “Zoom Fatigue”. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/cyber.2020.29188.bkw


Debbie Holley is Professor of Learning Innovation at Bournemouth University. Her expertise lies with blending learning to motivate and engage students with their learning inside /outside the formal classroom, at a time and place of their own choosing. This encompasses the blend between learning inside the classroom and within professional practice placements, scaffolding informal learning in the workplace. She writes extensively about the affordances of technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual/ Immersive Realities and Mobile Learning. https://staffprofiles.bournemouth.ac.uk/display/dholley

Heidi Singleton is a lecturer for the Children’s and Young People’s Nursing programme at Bournemouth University. Her expertise lies with designing learning to enthuse students and help close the theory practice gap. Heidi has recently completed her PhD thesis which was related to the use of virtual reality for undergraduate nurse education. Heidi’s research interests include how technology can be used in healthcare. She is currently leading a project where virtual reality will be used to distract children from their intense eczema itch, to improve their quality of life. https://staffprofiles.bournemouth.ac.uk/display/hsingleton

#Take5 #60 How learning developers can support teaching about climate change

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Dr Iain Cross and Dr Alina Congreve, who look at the increasing importance for learning developers of the climate emergency and the practical implications it has for their work. In an exciting development, this blogpost has been paired with ALDinHE’s LD@3 programme – and there will be an LD@3 on the 8th June to continue the conversations started here (joining details coming soon to ALDinHE events!).

School Strike 4 Climate, Demonstrations, Zagreb
Young people are not content to imaging a greener future, they want to create it

Students and sustainability: a symbiosis that benefits their education and society

In this blog, we want to share our ideas and thoughts about teaching climate change with the learning development community, and to stimulate debate around the implications of new guidance from the QAA for learning developers. The blog explores some of the ways in which learning developers contribute to education for sustainable development and how it relates to their wider work. We hope it stimulates discussion, and we are keen to hear your thoughts and ideas ahead of our workshop at the SEDA Conference in December. We have posed a number of questions that we are looking forward to discussing with you at our LD@3 event on 8th June (please check ALDinHE Events soon for joining information and further details).

We have been working together on research projects that explore how to embed climate change into the higher education curriculum. We have recently published a paper on how geography degrees integrate climate change, and alongside that project we have been looking at climate change teaching in a broad range of subjects where it is not usually taught (such as fashion, law, chemistry and literature).

Our research has explored the importance of authentic learning and teaching practices, as the skills and abilities that students need to address the climate challenge are best developed through authentic learning experiences. By ‘authentic’, we mean that they reflect ‘real-world’ tasks and activities that students would be undertaking in a graduate role.

Education for Sustainable Development

There is currently significant national and international interest in climate action. Later this year the UK will host the Glasgow Climate Conference, an international meeting of leaders to take forward co-ordinated action. Delegates from around the world will discuss progress towards preventing severe ecological and humanitarian catastrophes caused by rising global temperatures and extreme weather events. Young people are very concerned about the slow progress towards averting the climate crisis, and the school strikes show that future university students will be expecting their institutions to provide them with the skills and knowledge to address the challenges of climate change, regardless of their chosen discipline

School Strike 4 Climate, Demonstrations, Zagreb
Young people are campaigning for their education to teach them about the solutions

An overwhelming majority of current university students are concerned or very concerned about climate change. A number of UK universities have also declared ‘climate emergencies’ in recognition of the need for substantial action to avoid catastrophic environmental change. With its high priority for university senior managers and for students and prospective students, climate change has significant implications for the work of learning developers.

This renewed and widespread interest in sustainability provided the ideal context for the QAA and Advance HE launch their revised guidance on education for sustainable development (ESD) in late March 2021. The guidance calls for whole-institution approaches to developing the skills, knowledge and competencies in students and staff to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). These address the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability, and are so wide ranging that many programmes would be addressing them in some way, often without even realising it.

The SGDs can be a useful starting point for discussions with course teams about enhancing learning, teaching and assessment practices. Learning developers can play an important role supporting course teams in embedding ESD, enhancing students’ skills so they can meaningfully contribute to the scientific and societal challenges of climate change.

Sustainable Development Goals to kick in with start of new year | | UN News
The UN Sustainable Development Goals: see https://sdgs.un.org/goals

Authentic learning and assessment

The new QAA ESD guidance highlights the value of authentic learning and assessment to engage students. It includes a set of key competencies that can be mapped into programmes through learning outcomes at programme and module level. They are structured around ways of thinking, ways of practicing and ways of being. Our research has shown that higher-level skills and competencies in geography, for example, can be best developed through authentic climate change teaching, using approaches such as big data analysis, data visualisation, rapid sharing of information, and professional self-reflection.

For learning developers, supporting students as they develop these skills and competencies requires what for many are new approaches. Those working in learning development might not find them all so new – sustainability and climate change are drivers to push curriculum design to catch-up with long-standing learning development values. Traditional essays, which remain common in many degree assessment strategies, are likely to be replaced with more creative and innovative assessments to develop these skills. Academic conventions (e.g. referencing) will be less important than data acquisition, repurposing and innovation. There will be increased emphasis on critical thinking about data sources – the traditional module syllabus of knowledge will emphasise applied skills and outcomes, rather than academic theory and practice.

  • Are you seeing this transition in academic programmes in your institution?
  • What types of professional development would be helpful for you to be an effective academic developer supporting ESD?
People Discussion, Meeting, Discussion, Team, People
Students are enthusiastic to work on climate and sustainability related projects

Scaffolding authentic learning

We interviewed colleagues from diverse disciplines including business, humanities and sciences, who all spoke of how a focus on sustainability gradually increased the authenticity of learning activities during undergraduate degrees. This meant that students could practice in first and second year modules the skills they required to succeed in final year ‘live’ projects with external organisations or in workplace settings. The benefits of this are clear: students deploy their knowledge of sustainability in a cause that benefits both their own education and society – a form of service learning – and help universities build positive relationships with their local community.

However, equipping students to do this effectively requires careful scaffolding of the curriculum, so that students are able to acquire the high-level skills and attitudes (e.g. negotiation, resilience, professionalism, adaptability etc.) required for live projects. Our research suggests this is often not done effectively.

Sometimes these skills are technical, for example, poor programme design meant students could not effectively participate in a community GIS module in their third year because they could not undertake a relevant second year module on their pathway.

More often the challenges were around assessment types, with students concerned to produce novel and authentic outputs such as a policy-focused report or a business plan for the first time in their final year. Interviewees spoke of many examples where the curriculum structure did not allow scaffolding to occur, and students struggled to complete these sorts of assessment effectively through lack of ‘skills’. Lack of thought in curriculum design may mean some students are blocked from taking a second year module that would provide them with the opportunities to develop key skills needed in a third year module.

Whilst the problem is often framed in terms of the student, who lacks key skills; from a learning developer perspective, is there a role in working with the academics involved to look at what adjustments they need to make? A key issue was that modules were often designed in isolation, so that programme assessment and teaching strategies were poorly-developed or incoherent.

Scaffolding, Ladder, Building, Shadow
Scaffolding student’s learning needs more attention in programme design

We advocate for the importance of effective learning development to address and develop more effective scaffolding on degree programmes. Some of these programme shortcomings could be addressed through centrally-run or programme-level study skills sessions for students.

A more effective approach is for learning developers to use their skills and experiences from working with students to identify where scaffolding is lacking in programme design, and feed into ongoing programme review processes to support enhancements. Ideally, learning developers should be embedded in programme and module design processes to design-in scaffolded approaches to benefit all students.

  • What can learning developers do to enhance programme level design approaches?
  • What tools and approaches have you used to engage programme design teams with scaffolding?

Academic and professional services collaboration

The QAA guidance emphasises that ESD is ‘not only an academic activity’. Our research, and discussions at conferences, have pointed to the importance of partnership and collaborative working for effective climate change teaching.

Some of the best examples of climate change teaching were developed between professional services and academics – for example, developing an energy-saving campaign with the estates team and analysing the data to develop numeracy and reporting skills. The ‘real world’ aspect of authentic learning can be found in the various supporting services found in universities, that are typical of many large organisations (e.g. finance, IT, marketing, human resources and careers, estates). Learning developers can bring together academics and services colleagues to develop these learning experiences.

Earth, Planet, Continents, Light, Pear, Light Bulb
Students can bring new insights into what will approaches connect best with their peers

We think that this opportunity is clearly aligned with ALDinHE’s own manifesto which says learning development ‘infiltrates throughout the university…connecting and collaborating with the wider community’. The academic literature also highlights learning developers are increasingly ‘bridge-builders’ between academics and central policy and strategy. They are therefore in a strategic position to support ESD by creating connections among academics and professional services.

We suggest the key role for learning developers here is to ask the right questions of academics during curriculum development, assessment design and programme review. Are there on-campus sustainability projects that students can engage with, or that can be co-developed between students and professional services? What opportunities are there to develop employability or professional skills in a sustainable development context?

  • Do you have any examples or experience of supporting effective collaboration to embed sustainability or climate change into HE teaching?

Final thoughts

We hope that we have provided some interesting points for the learning developer community and academic course teams to reflect on. There is a clear move in UK higher education towards ESD, and the renewed guidance from the QAA and the Glasgow Climate Conference will be focusing attention on what is happening in universities.

In the past learning developers may have been discouraged from discussing climate change with programme teams, feeling they lack technical climate expertise. As this blog shows, it is learning developers deploying their existing skills working with students and course teams that is needed.

We are keen that learning developers are supported to contribute to the discussion and bring their expertise to enhance student learning. We very much welcome your comments and feedback on our thinking so far.


Dr Iain Cross is currently Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and a Senior Fellow of the HEA. He has previously been a lecturer in geography. In his current role, he oversees academic professional development and cross-institutional initiatives to enhance the student experience and curriculum development, and teaches on the PgCert in Academic Practice. He has undertaken research into teaching climate change in higher education with Dr Congreve, and recently published articles on BAME student employability and authentic learning. He has a BSc in Environmental Geography from University College London and a PhD in lake ecology from the University of Nottingham. https://www.linkedin.com/in/iaincross/

Dr Alina Congreve: has worked as a lecturer and principal lecturer at several universities including LSE, Reading and Hertfordshire. At Hertfordshire she established and led the MSc in Sustainable Planning. In 2018-19 she worked as a programme manager at Climate KIC, running postgraduate and professional courses developing solutions to climate change challenges. She currently works freelance designing and delivering professional development and short courses for a number of organisations including universities and professional bodies. She holds an MSc in Conservation from UCL and PhD in housing and sustainability from King’s College London.


#Take5 #59 Building a Study Community through Podcasts at the University of Glasgow

This month’s #Take5 post is brought to you by Dr Micky Ross and Dr Julia Bohlmann at the University of Glasgow. We asked them to contribute because we were blown away by their ScotHELD session on the way they had used podcasting as part of their repertoire of responses to Covid-19 and the rapid change that we all went through adjusting to online delivery of our provision.

Who we are and why we embraced the pod

We are Dr Micky Ross and Dr Julia Bohlmann – the International Team at the University of Glasgow’s Learning Enhancement and Academic Development Service (LEADS). We work with international students from all subject areas, so there is always a lot to do. Until last year we never quite got around to expanding our online provision. But the enforced transition to remote learning, while initially a challenge, gave us an opportunity to try out new ways of teaching. We decided to embrace the challenge and created podcasts that ran alongside our academic writing classes.

First: Find your microphone

Why podcasts?

Maintaining a learning community

There are so many reasons to introduce podcasting to your teaching and learning practice. For us, the first reason was to maintain the learning community that we had established in the months before remote learning started due to lockdown in Scotland. A big concern for us was how we were going to keep our students engaged (Kahn et. al., 2017; Nordman et.al., 2020). We knew that the casual conversations that we had with students after lectures and workshops were important:

  • to get to know and keeping in touch with our students, and
  • informally provide solutions for students’ learning problems.

When we started podcasting, we did so with little idea about how it would go or what success we would have. It turned out to be a big success for us. And now that we have had a chance to reflect on the experience, we can see why. Podcasting as part of teaching and learning engages students because it brings a typically formal discourse into an informal setting. By doing this it brings a sense of authenticity to the content and this in turn works really well to reinforce key learning points after a week of provision.

Engaging with relevant pedagogy

We recorded our podcasts with a live and participating student audience. This meant that learners could bring questions and respond directly to the content. This participation allowed learners to direct the flow of the podcast, which, for us, spoke to so much of the fundamentals of what we are trying to achieve in terms of pedagogy. For example, our sessions are active and democratic (Dewey, 1916. 1939) and dialogic and problem-posing (Freire, 1993). Letting students take part in the podcasts was key as it underlined those principles.

To encourage students to take part, we created options to:

  • simply listen,
  • contribute by unmuting,
  • contribute by posting a question publicly in the chat, or
  • by contributing with a high level of anonymity by messaging us directly, during the live podcast.

Creating synchronous and asynchronous content

After the live podcast, we posted the recording of the session, with an audio-transcript, to our virtual learning environment, creating provision with synchronous and asynchronous content.

Enjoying our teaching practice

Another reason to start podcasting was that we really enjoyed it. In our experience, it was fun, informal, and collaborative. There were no slides dictating the direction of travel. The dialogue mirrored an academic debate and had the added benefit of decreasing the power distance between the students and us as teachers, something that is crucial in familiarising international students with the active and participatory academic culture in the UK.

The podcasts were not standalone events, but closely embedded into our provision in that they rounded up a week’s classes. As our provision typically lasts for 5 consecutive weeks at a time, we created a series of five podcasts. They aired on Zoom once a week on Thursdays and were 50-60 minutes long. We then posted the recording as audio or video file onto the relevant Moodle course. The podcast format itself combined scripted with unscripted conversation. Aiming for a good flow was important to us because we wanted the podcast to be relatively informal. The podcasts worked best when we had a guest speaker as it added variety and brought the debate to life.

While we aimed for flow, we created a rough plan for each episode. For instance, we decided who would chair the episode. That person would keep an eye on time and decide what questions to ask and when. We would start each episode with a brief reminder of the themes we had covered during the week and planned to discuss in the podcast. We then introduced our guest speaker and invited students to post questions in the chat. As we moved through the themes, we would pick up on related student questions and integrate them into the debate. Towards the end the main speakers would be asked to provide take home messages, summing up what has been said and the chair would announce the classes for the upcoming week.

We would definitely recommend that you book a guest speaker early on, ideally before the semester starts. We all know how quickly our diaries fill up. Make sure to plan out the session, but not too much. Write a short intro script if you need it. Identify the key themes that should be talked about. Add some visuals to your plan such as screenshots of slides. Think about how you might transition from one theme to the next.

Could there be a natural way to connect two themes, for example, when discussing literature reviews? It’s quite common to look for literature first before moving on to think about how you might structure the review. Or when discussing methods there is probably some overlap between gathering and analysing data which can provide a bridge into the conversation.

Note down some questions that you might want to ask, just in case the conversation isn’t flowing as well as you had hoped. Share your plan with the podcast contributors so they know what to expect. They might want to add some questions or points they definitely want to address. See below for an example plan:

An extract from our podcast plan

The feedback we received from students was really encouraging and heart-warming:

  • ‘I wanted to personally say I value your hard work and personal effort to keep the academic community together while delivering the sessions.’
  • ‘Thank you so much for guiding and accompanying my journey.’
  • ‘I just wanted to drop a line to say hello and thank you and Micky for the workshops. I find them not only helpful but caring and providing good company in the way you address them.’
  • ‘Very enlightening stuff.’
  • ‘It [the podcast] is the best part of my day.’

What the comments express is what we aimed to achieve with the podcast: to give students the feeling that they still belonged to our learning community at the University of Glasgow and for us all to come out of our prescribed roles as teachers and students, instead coming together simply as people having an informal conversation about learning.

The feedback that we received from guest speakers was very positive and underscored how enjoyable the teaching experience had been.

  • “Doing the podcast with Micky and Julia was a really positive way of connecting with colleagues and sharing knowledge about a specific area we were interested in whilst, at the same time, passing on our shared knowledge to students. I didn’t know most of the participants before I started but, by the end, I felt like I had met new people in my field, learned from them and established connections which I feel I could maintain and develop.  I’d never done podcasting before, but I would really recommend it. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.”
  • “The Podcasts are such a great way to revisit topics in an informal way.  The conversation-style lends itself to sharing organic stories about experiences with the topic instead of a prepared slide.  The students enjoy the banter and benefit from multiple perspectives about each topic and question.”

The comments may also give an indication of how important coming together was during the lockdowns and teaching completely online.

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Screenshot from one of our first podcasts

The podcasts were a great way to build and maintain a learning and teaching community online and as the student feedback suggests, it had its desired effect. It was also great for us as teachers as they brought something fresh to our teaching practice. They also helped us to engage with the relevant pedagogy in a new way and in doing so, bringing a fresh perspective to ‘old’ ideas.

Going forward we are going to reflect on how to hone their delivery. We also want to ensure the podcasts continuity beyond lockdown. So, we need to think about now, how we blend this new (for us) online format with face-to-face classes, so we are prepared to bring the podcasts into a future on and not just off campus.


Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.

Dewey, J. (1939). Freedom and culture. New York: Kappa Delta Pi.

Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed (revised). New York: Continuum.

Kahn, P., Everington, L., Kelm, K., Reid, I. & Watkins, F. (2017). ‘Understanding student engagement in online learning environments: the role of reflexivity’, Educational technology research and development, vol. 65, no. 1, pp. 203-218.

Nordmann, E., Horlin, C., Hutchison, J., Murray, J., Robson, L., Seery, M.K. & MacKay, J.R.D. (2020). ‘Ten simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education’, PLoS Computational Biology, vol. 16, no. 10, pp. e1008242-e1008242.


Micky Ross is a Learning Developer at the University of Glasgow where he teaches critical thinking, student academic citizenship, effective essay writing, effective reading and intercultural communication. He has a PhD in Education and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is committed to holistic approaches to learning and teaching, education for empowerment and social change, and innovative practice.

Julia Bohlmann is a Learning Developer at the University of Glasgow where she teaches effective reading and writing practices, exam techniques, plagiarism prevention, group work and intercultural communication. She has a PhD in Film Studies and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Julia has presented her work at conferences and written about international student development in the Journal of Academic Writing: https://publications.coventry.ac.uk/index.php/joaw/article/view/618.

#Take5 #58 From ‘Text’ to ‘Teapot’ to ‘Tinkerbell’ – Supporting Students in their Subjects

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Kendall Richards and NIck Pilcher of Edinburgh Napier University – who presented on this topic at the fabulous ScotHELD Winter 2021 Conference.

Who we are – and why we wrote this blog

We are Kendall Richards and Nick Pilcher. We are lecturers at Edinburgh Napier University. Kendall is in the School of Computing and Nick is in the Business School. Kendall has worked in Australia and the UK in Academic Advice roles, Nick has worked in Scotland in EAP and support roles. We have a recent paper entitled ‘Study Skills: neoliberalism’s perfect Tinkerbell’ which we spoke about at a recent Scottish Higher Education Learning Developers event, and wanted to write a bit more about it here.

In this blog we critique ‘one size fits all’ models of ‘study skills’ support which are ‘embedded’ into the curriculum – you know the sort of thing: “Can you come and run a session on the essay?”. We argue that not only is this a reductive and overly ‘universaling’ approach, it serves to reinforce unhelpful neoliberal models of HE, of widening participation and of widening participation students.

As we wrestled with this model of ‘skills’ work in our own practice, we decided to work with discipline staff to uncover what ‘language work’ they felt was necessary in their subjects – and with their students. The answers that we got were surprising – and served to transform our approach to supporting students in the subject – and to the type of curriculum-based support that we offered. Below we describe how we got to where we are now in our approach to Learning Development – and suggest ways that others can do the same. But first – why ‘Tinkerbell’?


Study Skills as neoliberalism’s Tinkerbell

For us, ‘Study Skills’ is a Tinkerbell, a nostrum that people believe in as providing a magic cure for all ‘student ills’ (sic) but which only exists if people believe in it. Why do we argue this?

Firstly, we find a range of definitions of what this nebulous field of ‘study skills’ or Learning Development is: Academic Skills, Academic Advice, Study Support etc. The very range and subliminal quality making it universal: fit for everyone but specific to no one.

Secondly, we posit that each subject requires unique skills – they don’t transfer (see the excellent Hyland and Johnson noted below). In other words, the skills you need as a Nurse might not save you if you have to choose which wire to cut on a fuse box. What do you really need? You need subject knowledge.

Thirdly, ‘Study Skills’ can’t be embedded, whether it’s ‘generic’ or ‘specific’ it is still a magical Tinkerbell we argue. Why? Because where we read papers that say ‘embedded’ skills support works, it only does so with subject lecturers on hand to help – and the students say what they find the least helpful aspects of such support are the ‘Study Skills’ aspects. What they find the most helpful is – you can guess what we’ll write by now we think – subject content.

Fourthly, it’s not ‘Study Skills’ that enables you to present or write well – it’s subject knowledge. Essays are different for different subjects and lecturers – and so are reports (of which there are a vast range of types). If Nick talks about the Battle of Smolensk in the Second World War you may think to yourself – ‘Wow, he has great presentation skills!’, but if Nick talks about Game Theory’s application to HE decision-making you may think, ‘Oh my, he needs work on his presentation skills!’ And yet, the key factor in both cases is subject knowledge, not any ‘Study Skills’.

How on earth did we get here?

So who, or what, do we argue, does Study Skills serve? We argue it serves perfectly the goals of neoliberal ideology and political economy – it is universal, can be delivered by anyone, can be virtualised, represents a light touch ‘state’ delivered from a central source, and students are ‘responsibilised’ to go and find it for themselves.

It supports reductive arguments for massification: the help is there – so if you (lecturers and students) don’t go for it – then it is only your own fault – it’s not a problem of massification or large numbers you have to deal with – the help is there.

How did this system come about? We argue through a combination of what Giddens calls structuration (whereby structures exist already and are then reinforced by people following them) and what Lukes calls the third dimension of power: the power to get people to act (or to remain passive and not rebel) against their own best interests.

So that’s us describing our current thinking – we now want to describe how we arrived here, and suggest how others can adapt our strategies to their own contexts.

Text and Textual Analysis

As noted above – our backgrounds are from EAP and Academic Support. We’ve both taught English and then moved into Academic Advice and support. We were thus schooled in, and for many years operated in, a world of pure ‘Text’: Textual analytical techniques (genre analysis; corpus linguistics) will tell us what we need to know to help students.

And yet … on the back of seeing that different subjects seemed to focus on different criteria when they used the term ‘discuss’, Kendall had an idea for a project: of asking lecturers and students what they understood key assessment words to mean. This led us to question the solidity of any dictionary definitions.

We next went further to ask lecturers in a range of subjects the very base question of: ‘What ‘English’ do students need to succeed?’

They said some don’t need English; they said some needed Visual abilities; some needed Emotional abilities; some could express themselves using Mathematics.

We were confused – how do we help these students with ‘Text’ and with ‘Text-based’ techniques? The answer arrived at was simple: ‘we don’t’ and ‘we can’t’.

The frozen rock after the language had erupted

What we had found at the time, although we didn’t realise it, was what Wittgenstein notes as being ‘the language itself as the thought’ and ‘the language itself as the activity’ – and we had found it because we had seen it and asked about it in the context of the subject.

And yet – we hadn’t found actual examples of it – we’d only found statements of what Valentin Voloshinov describes as the key underpinning ‘psychological and ideological elements’ of the language beneath the ‘hard crust’ of frozen rock after the language had erupted.

We know we hadn’t realised ‘perfectly’, because we still felt we could ask about the language students needed using spoken ‘Text’ techniques – focus groups in our case.

We ran five very lengthy, very logistically challenging, and very demanding-to-transcribe focus groups with lecturers from different subjects. We had about five to six members in each, biscuits, coffee, tea, we asked them all about:

‘Did they agree there were these underlying elements in their subjects?’

‘Yes’ they all said.

And then we asked them:

‘Could they give us some examples of language students would use?’

‘No’, they said.

Well, we lie slightly, as out of a total of over seven hours of painstakingly transcribed focus group data, we gathered a total of ‘four words’. However, what we did gather was their confusion (‘I don’t know what the question is Nick?’) and the knowledge that if we wanted to access the language students needed in the subject, then this wasn’t the way.

From ‘Text’ to ‘Teapot’

We had reached an impasse. Then, it dawned on Kendall that when he had taken in a brightly coloured teapot to Design students they had very animatedly discussed it, passed it to one another and spoken of it in Design terms, critiquing its Design and describing its Design.

Our teapot

What would happen, Kendall wondered, if we took this teapot and gave it to lecturers and asked them to describe it and critique it from their own subject perspectives?

What happened was that in very short interviews we gained immediate access to the subject world and learned more about what students needed in those brief moments than we had in countless hours spent trying to see through the use of ‘Text’.

For Nurses the teapot was unhygienic, dangerous. For Designers it was Memphis school. For Engineers it was a porous non-mass producible item.

What we came to realise we had done was – we’d provided a context, we’d given lecturers a direct opportunity to provide what Wittgenstein describes as seeing ‘the language itself’ ‘as the thought’.

So what do we do now? In support classes where we have mixed subject groups we take in a physical object to describe the importance of writing in the subject context and talk about how different subjects would critique the object in their own ways – and in their own words. Nick uses a water bottle or a pen, anything can be used. What we don’t use though, is ‘Study Skills’.

What we suggest

It won’t surprise you to know that what we suggest is that students are supported in the subject. And yet we realise this isn’t easy. The systems as they are today are built to promote generic centralized support – collaboration in the disciplines is hard to do.

What we ultimately suggest is that we/you promote more the value of what Academic Advisors and those working in Study Skills units do. Big it up. Tell people through formal and informal channels what it is that we/you do – and what you can accomplish together. Where possible work with individual lecturers on particular small projects and interventions. If you can and are allowed to. (A big tip would then be to write up with that discipline academic a case study of what you achieved together and get it published.)

Draw on the arguments above (and below) to make the case for support in the subject. Ask the National Students Association (NSA) to make the case that it is this sort of help in the subject that students need. Make arguments with department heads that they need school based Academic Advice for their students, get the NSA to make these arguments.

We know this is easier said than done, and we fear that unless systemic change happens at a governmental level, that our situations and the systems that perpetuate them are unlikely to greatly change. However, we hope that the above and the below can be used to underline the value of what Academic Advisors and those working in Study Skills units do, so it is recognised and valued and accorded academic roles, and fundamentally, that student support is better delivered to, for and with students to give them what they need.

Papers referred or alluded to:

Richards, K., & Pilcher, N. (2020). Study Skills: neoliberalism’s perfect Tinkerbell. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-17.

Hyland, T., & Johnson, S. (1998). Of cabbages and key skills: Exploding the mythology of core transferable skills in post‐school education. Journal of Further and Higher Education22(2), 163-172.

Richards, K., & Pilcher, N. (2014). Contextualising higher education assessment task words with an ‘anti-glossary’approach. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education27(5), 604-625.

Pilcher, N., & Richards, K. (2016). The paradigmatic hearts of subjects which their ‘English’ flows through. Higher Education Research & Development35(5), 997-1010.

Richards, K., & Pilcher, N. (2020). Using physical objects as a portal to reveal academic subject identity and thought. The Qualitative Report25(1), 127-144.

Bios and Blurbs

Kendall Richards is a lecturer with the role of academic support adviser in the school of Computing supporting the schools of Engineering and the Built Environment and Creative Industries at Edinburgh Napier University (UK). His research interests include pedagogy, academic support, education as social justice and Neoliberalism’s impact on Higher Education. He has contributed to a number of journals including the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Higher Education Research and Development, Teaching in Higher Education, Maritime Business Review and Power and Education.

Nick Pilcher is a lecturer in The Business School at Edinburgh Napier University. He teaches a range of areas including supporting students with their academic work. His research interests centre around education, language and qualitative research methods. He has published and contributed to work published in journals such as Qualitative Research, Psychology of Music, the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education and the International Journal of Shipping and Transport Logistics.

Twitter: We don’t have twitter ourselves but the journal has a twitter feed – it is @TeachinginHE

#Take5 #57 Using the jigsaw technique for collaborative online learning

Puzzling the pieces

This #Take5 is brought to you from Katharine Stapleford who has solved this year’s Covid-19 problem – how to get students working (and reading) collaboratively when studying online and at a distance. Here’s Katharine:


I teach on the MA Digital Education programme at Leeds University. The programme is 100% online distance learning and recruits students from all over the world. The programme adopts a flipped learning* design, whereby each weekly unit centres around an interactive student-led synchronous seminar with some asynchronous pre- and post-seminar tasks.

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Why the jigsaw technique?

The underlying principle of the jigsaw technique, is that it’s an ‘information gap’ activity; in other words whilst each student becomes an ‘expert’ in their field, each only has a piece of information – they don’t see the whole picture until they work together to combine their individual pieces. So it’s very much based on an active and dialogic theory of learning. For this reason, it’s used a lot in language teaching, and that’s the context I first encountered it.

Active learning

I used it in week 7 of a 12-week module, by which point, the students were familiar with the format and the environment. The topic was conversational and dialogic learning with reference to social media. I felt that this topic lent itself to a more active learning strategy and I wanted the students to learn about this theory by experiencing it, rather than by passively reading or viewing a recorded lecture (Figure 1).

A screenshot of a social media post

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Figure 1: Introducing the task in week 7

Time for a change

I wanted to shake things up a bit, the flipped learning model works well, but I felt it was becoming a bit samey and formulaic and I wanted to liven it up.


Students on the programme have varying levels of prior knowledge; some are trained and experienced teachers while others and have no pedagogic training at all. I felt that this task would allow students to work at their own pace and from their own starting point.

A reason to contribute

The students are split between those who are used to taking an active role in their learning and embrace the social and dialogic learning model, while others are less confident with this approach and take more passive role. I wanted to address this by ensuring that all students had something meaningful to contribute.

Flipping the jigsaw

Normally, a jigsaw activity would happen within the course of one teaching session, whereas I adapted it for the distance context so, it spanned the ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ elements of the flipped model (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The flipped jigsaw procedure

The procedure


The students are in small groups of 8 – 9 students for asynchronous interactive tasks, and have been since the start of the module. I wanted students to become familiar with 4 theories, so within each group, I allocated 2 – 3 students to each theory (Figure 3). The students then researched their allocated theory, either individually or working collaboratively with their partners, and then contributed their findings to a group Wiki that I had set up in advance (Figure 4). At this point, each student is an ‘expert’ on at least one theory.

A screenshot of a social media post

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Figure 3: The wiki with instructions

A screenshot of a social media post

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Figure 4: An example completed wiki page


During the seminar, students are divided into breakout groups so that each group had at least one ‘expert’ on each theory. They share their expertise. Students then discuss the relevance of the theories to their own practice.


The follow-up entails some tutor feedback on the wikis, some tutor-produced content to fill in any gaps and an asynchronous interactive task (e.g. using Tricider, students select their preferred theory and justify their choice).

Some academic underpinning

Clearly, the jigsaw technique aligns to a social constructivist pedagogy and as such complements the flipped model, which has at its core, the principles of active and social learning (Brewer & Movahedazarhouligh, 2016; Flipped Learning Network, 2014). The technique also aligns to the four elements of the ARCS model of instructional design: attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction (Keller, 1984).

A few caveats

Firstly, these students are enrolled on a digital education masters, so I could assume a level of interest and competence in using the technology. 

Secondly, the grouping can be a challenge. For example, we offer the seminar at two different times to cater for different time zones and professional commitments so I’m never quite sure who is going to turn up at which seminar. It was a case of waiting and hoping that there’d be enough ‘experts’ for each theory. 

Finally, the quality of contributions varied quite a bit so there is some need for tutor produced content as a follow-up generally to fill in any gaps and also to cater for students who do feel they need that tutor input.

Find out more

Brewer, R. and Movahedazarhouligh, S. (2018). Successful stories and conflicts: A literature review on the effectiveness of flipped learning in higher education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 34(4), pp.409-416.

British Council. (n.d.). Jigsaw. [Online article]. Available from https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/jigsaw

Cult of Pedagogy. (2015). The Jigsaw Method. [Online video]. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euhtXUgBEts

Keller, J. M. (1983). Use of the ARCS Model of Motivation in Teacher Training. IDD&E Working Paper No. 10. Available from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED288520

Pozzi, F. (2010). Using Jigsaw and Case Study for supporting online collaborative learning. Computers & Education, 55(1), 67–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2009.12.003


I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the University of Leeds, where I lead the MA Digital Education. My background is in English language teaching and teacher education. I am currently a PhD student at Lancaster University where I have recently submitted my thesis on the lived experiences of online distance learners.  

#Take5 #56 Delivering Social Justice; a collaborative strategic approach

 This #Take5 post is brought to you from Neelam Thapar, Head of Careers and Employability at London Metropolitan University and Vanessa Airth who is Head of Work Based Learning, Policy and Practice at London Metropolitan University. Both are interested in Education for Social Justice… and this is a re-blog from: https://careerguidancesocialjustice.wordpress.com/

Employability and Education for Social Justice

Neelam Thapar is Head of Careers and Employability at London Metropolitan University. Vanessa Airth is Head of Work Based Learning, Policy and Practice at London Metropolitan University.

In this blog post, we will be sharing the journey we have taken in Careers and Work based learning at London Metropolitan University over the last ten months (during the pandemic). This has led to new collaborative models of strategic working across the university in the delivery of social justice.

London Metropolitan University is in the top eight socially inclusive universities (Times 2020) and   committed to fostering an equitable and inclusive community. It is central to the ethos of the University that every person deserves a chance to transform his or her life and the lives of others through higher education.  Our demographics include 80% of students who are mature, 63% from Black and minority ethnic communities and 17% with a known disability. Our students have hugely complex lives and  London Metropolitan University  has built itself on working with communities, closing opportunity gaps,   raising aspirations and transforming lives.  It is this ethos that is embedded in our new strategy, which was launched in November 2019

Just before the pandemic, a cross-institutional group of 30 staff, students and Students’ Union representatives came together to develop our Education for Social Justice Framework which had been inspired by the success of HEFCE funded-research which  demonstrated the impact of an inclusive curriculum in narrowing the awarding gaps for Black, Asian and ethnic minority students.   The work for our Education for Social Justice Framework was in its infancy as the first Lockdown happened and grew momentum. It now forms part of the learning and teaching strategy developing a values-led framework, which combines principles of inclusive pedagogy to embed strategies that enable the university to be a bigger agent of social change reflecting the mission of London Metropolitan University. 

London Metropolitan University Education for Social Justice Framework

The Framework is ensuring our curricula and practice (including preparing students for employment and life), align with the principles of equity, and that students can see themselves reflected in what they learn, and we are responsive to the challenges facing London and its communities.  Integral to careers and employability has been the Inclusive Leadership part of the framework, which seeks to mobilise students to become ambassadors of inclusion so that in their future careers, they have a deeper understanding of progressing equality within their industries and are critically aware where the invisible barriers are.  Both of us have been involved in the roll out of training our  teams on pilot courses and creating resources to help embed into their courses.

Careers Education Framework

In March 2020, nobody could have predicted the impact of a pandemic  and the changes that were going to be needed ranging from staff not used to delivering on line, students experiencing digital poverty and changes in the labour market that affected our student demographics disproportionately such as working part time in the very industries that were experiencing such turbulence. When the first lockdown happened, we had to revamp our careers and work based learning provision totally and we were commissioned by the deputy vice chancellor to create a new working model for Careers Education that had accountability.

This led to our new Careers Education Framework based on good practice in the University and  the sector that would provide a holistic approach to embedding employability. This is delivered by a collaboration between, Careers and Employability and Work Based Learning Teams, Schools, employers and students. The emphasis has been  to  provide inclusive opportunities to  develop knowledge, skills, experiences that enable our students to move on to successful transitions and graduate outcomes.  It can be complicated to build careers education into each course proposition from the start of the student lifecycle and the Framework gave us the opportunity to work with courses in an incremental sign-posted journey, at each level, using careers and employability support to scaffold work based learning.

Crucially, academics, students and employers informed the framework and this was coupled with resources to help course teams to embed it according to their discipline.  Already in the first term, through the Careers Education Framework, this has seen a 23% increase in the amount of careers education curriculum talks that careers consultants have delivered in the curriculum. The usage of employability online resources has changed dramatically in the six months compared to the same timeframe  with a 357% increase which has been a sign of the impact of collaboration across the university.

Work Based Learning

The new Strategic plan and the inclusion of Work Bearning Learning (WBL) within the Careers Education Framework, provided an opportunity to refresh the WBL offering. A key consideration was how WBL can incorporate social justice in relation to both students and employers. The scaffolding the Framework provides, leads students to consider their career aspirations and values and to practise recruitment skills early in their course to apply for work placements. It aims to help those who may be inclined to leave their career planning until much later and for students to participate in real-world activities that seek to address injustice and disadvantage.

WBL (accredited work experience) modules were initially introduced as a compulsory element within the undergraduate curriculum in 2016. The purpose was to provide time-poor students, who have many life demands and/or are without access to professional networks, to gain exposure to a relevant workplace environment. The assessment process encourages them to build self-efficacy via self-reflection, to recognise their personal development and employability gains and articulate these to progress towards their career goals. Evidence shows students from lower socio-economic and other marginalised cultural, social or political groups often have barriers to engaging with beneficial work experience (Moores et al 2013, NCUB 2016). Furthermore, work placement experience has been shown to positively improve degree outcomes for BAME students (Moores et al 2013). 

The explicit introduction of social justice into the WBL agenda has a twofold nature. One, through consideration of our students’ diverse lifestyles. Examples include nine different categories of work based learning (all adhering to the national HE classification of WBL), including ‘traditional’ work placements, student advisory clinics, and live, client briefs. In relation to social justice focused placements, in the last year, we have cemented a partnership with a fledgling social enterprise who are proactive in our local London boroughs to improve the lives of residents. This year, they have provided over 90 remote working placements focussing on fostering a fair society.

Secondly, students are encouraged to undertake work experience which has social benefit. A new WBL module was launched as part of the new London Met Lab: Empowering London strategy. The Lab aims to tackle inequalities facing London, improve people’s lives and deliver social justice by using the expertise of staff and students working in partnership with the local community. The initiative has identified Six ‘Challenges’: Social Wealth, Poverty and Deprivation, Discrimination, Health Improvement, The Environment and Crime. The module, Empowering London: Working within the Community, provides students with an initial grounding in these Six Challenges, an understanding of what it means to be a values driven individual and leader and to consider inclusivity in all their employment (and wider) relationships. For the second part of the academic year, students undertake up to 70 hours with a not-for-profit organisation which positively impacts one or more of the Challenges.

When reflecting back over the last 12 months, we are struck by how quickly we have been able to move so many strategic and operational initiatives forward in the midst of a pandemic. Through collaboration and collective action across the University and externally, we have been able to implement an approach that encourages students through careers education to consider how their lived experiences, knowledge and transferable skills can have a positive impact on society.

Neelam Thapar is Head of Careers and Employability at London Metropolitan University. She has 28 years’ experience in HE in placements, careers guidance, embedding employability and employer engagement. She has an MSc in Education and Training, and Diplomas in CEIAG, Coaching and NLP.  She has been a trustee of the health charity; UK Thalassaemia Society and is now an Ambassador for the charity.

Vanessa Airth is Head of Work Based Learning, Policy and Practice at London Metropolitan University. She has worked in Higher Education since 2001 and has 16 years’ experience of developing and delivering work based learning/employability programmes. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and holds a Master’s Degree in Learning and Teaching in HE.

You can connect with us on Twitter @LondonMetCareer, @vanessalouisea, @Neelamthapar

Career guidance for social justice

In this post, Neelam Thapar and Vanessa Airth reflect upon social justice as a strategic imperative at their university. I found out about their work at the AGCAS Heads of Service Conference (UK) and was really struck with what they are doing. It is a rare example of a UK university explicitly addressing social justice in their strategy and this directly impacting Careers and Work-based Learning.

Neelam Thapar is Head of Careers and Employability at London Metropolitan University. Vanessa Airth is Head of Work Based Learning, Policy and Practice at London Metropolitan University.

In this blog post, we will be sharing the journey we have taken in Careers and Work based learning at London Metropolitan University over the last ten months (during the pandemic). This has led to new collaborative models of strategic working across the university in the delivery of social justice.

London Metropolitan University is in the top…

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#Take5 #55 Beyond Our Ken: A Farewell to Ken Robinson

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Tim Hinchcliffe. Previously of Keele and the ALDinHE Steering and Comms Groups, Tim now works with AdvanceHE.

The consequence is that many brilliant people think that they are not: An obituary to Sir Ken Robinson

“His work was my call to arms, his work still is my call to arms. Ken’s focus may have been compulsory education but his intent was universal.”

Education does not have many popular culture icons but Sir Ken Robinson, the educator who was passionate about the creativity of children, was one of them. Learning Developers help students decode the system as is, to make sense of it, and to unleash their potential. I believe that this professional philosophy is attuned to Robinson’s core beliefs about education.

12 minutes of your time

Perhaps Robinson’s most well-known piece of work is the TEDx talk “Do schools kill creativity?”. It has been viewed more than 69 million times; that’s enough for every single one of the 66 million people in the UK to have seen it once, and I wish that they had. But if I really could get everyone to watch just one video about education it would be another of Ken’s talks, an RSA animate “Changing Educational Paradigms”. In just shy of 12 minutes Robinson charismatically slaloms through a whole host of issues with our education system. Working alongside students, Learning Developers – and all lecturers – tackle the consequences of these issues every day.

Our education system makes massive assumptions about social capacity, and this includes higher education. Your capacity for deductive reasoning or ability to retain and recall a catalogue of facts or ‘knowledge’ have traditionally been seen as indicators of intelligence, or at least academic intelligence. This division between academic and non-academic (now where have we heard that before?!) means that “many brilliant people think that they are not”. Learning Developers know that it is not what you know but what you can do with what you know that matters, and we work alongside students to help them understand this.

The Conformity Conundrum OR The Robinson Orthodoxy

As Robinson points out, our children are bombarded with a whole range of stimuli and then penalised for being distracted. We numb them to their environment in order to get them through education, as though it were something to be endured, rather than encouraging learners to embrace this stimuli-laden world as their classroom.

When I first watched the RSA animate as a new educator this point gave me pause for thought. Do Learning Developers reinforce this numbness, for example by painstakingly helping students navigate disjointed and uninspiring assignment briefs? How might we act as emancipatory agents from the very system in which we are sited? This tension between facilitating short term ‘success’ – i.e. attainment and conformity – vs instilling a love for leaning and of love of thy self is a key tension between successive waves of learning development.

In my consciousness I’m stuck in the immediacy of today; dealing with the issues as they manifest before me, each screaming for attention. But in my subconscious I am off with Ken and the students redrawing education as it should be. That is the power of Ken Robinson, he connects with the principled educator deep within us all.

Every time I hear one of his talks my mind gurgles before settling into a slow rumination, whilst my heart thuds with excitement about all the positive change that I might make happen. Yes, the day-to-day grind pulls you back in eventually but once your conscience catches onto this state-of-mind then that is the time for another shot of Robinson; only this shot is not to dull your senses, it is to awaken them! The Robinson Orthodoxy is what education desperately needed, but despite a 243 page government commission the lack of political will from successive government education ministers meant that it never stood a chance.

This way Eden?

I suspect like many working in learning development, I had rejected the notion of belonging to a single academic discipline – regardless of the harm it might cause to my career – and so it was only natural that when I did step into the disciplinary fray I was drawn to teaching sustainability. A nomadic or transdisciplinary endeavour (depending on my mood) that allowed me to occupy some of the traditional space of an academic without having to strictly conform to tribal mentalities. So imagine my delight when it was Sir Ken who fronted and wrote the “world’s largest lesson”, a way to teach children (and frankly everybody) about the UN Sustainability Goals. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise; Ken was an ambassador for the Eden Project “an educational charity [that] connects us with each other and the living world, exploring how we can work towards a better future”. I was fortunate enough to visit the Eden Project in August of last year, less than a week before his passing.

Eden Project

You see, connections to Sir Ken Robinson have a habit of popping up in my life and I am a better person for it. His work was my call to arms, his work still is my call to arms. Ken’s focus may have been compulsory education but his intent was universal.

Kenneth Robinson, born 4 March 1950, died 21 August 2020.

Bio/Blurb: Tim Hinchcliffe is a Senior Adviser in Learning and Teaching at Advance HE, where he specialises in curriculum design, high impact pedagogies and inclusive practice. Prior to this he was Head of Curriculum Development and Head of Student Learning (LD in other words), and a Fellow in Sustainability at Keele University.

#Take5 #54 Digital learning: pivoting to creativity

This #Take5 is brought to you from Debbie Holley – with guest bloggers Tom Burns and Sandra Sinfield from LondonMet’s Centre for Professional and Educational Development (CPED) (see also their student studyhub).

Debbie is reflecting on her move to Bournemouth’s Department of Nursing where she is Professor of Digital Innovation. Whilst Debbie has always researched digitally enhanced teaching and learning – the challenge of the last year was adapting that to a Nursing focus – and in a time of pandemic. Don’t panic!

‘Mere jelly’ – Student image reproduced with permission from ‘Facilitating Student Learning’ Unit, London Metropolitan University

In my year with the Department of Nursing, I have been privileged to observe the embodiment of the humanising curriculum (Todres et al 2009), and seen the ways in which the nursing team, in a wide range of contexts, support students to bond with each other, build cohort identity and help student nurses develop that sense of belonging to the academic discipline of Nursing. This is challenging enough, but studying and learning are also embodied activities. How can we get our students ready to bring their whole embodied selves into their learning experience when they are working from home and online?

Sian Bayne, Professor of Digital Education, Edinburgh University, talks about embodiment in her paper ‘Mere Jelly’ in which she outlines the proposition that cyberstudents can create and colonise spaces in their own choosing (Moravec 1988: 117):

[my] essence [is defined by] the pattern and the process going on in my head and body, not the machinery supporting that process. If the process is preserved, I am preserved. The rest is mere jelly.

For staff, she draws upon Dreyfus, and for online learning suggests that thinking beyond the cognitive, considering the duality of the mind/body split. In health, this is clear in terms of the physicality of the disciplines (Dreyfus 2001: 48):

Only emotional, involved, embodied human beings can become proficient and expert and only they can become masters. So, while they are teaching specific skills, teachers must also be incarnating and encouraging involvement.

The pressure of delivery of content is pressing. In a face-to-face classroom we can struggle to weave in those student spaces to talk and learn from each other – creating what Bakhtin would call dialogic learning spaces – those where students engage with content by engaging with each other; and with ideas in both embodied and intellectual ways of working.

Clarifying the expectations of the digital is a clear requirement in our new learning spaces, as our students (and indeed we ourselves) become less able to pick up on visual and body language cues. Nordman et al (2020) suggest 10 ways of facilitating this in their recent paper, highlighting the importance of signposting and building online communities.

Creativity is an evidence based method for supporting our students with dialogic and collaborative learning. The ‘Visual Learning’ CETL, based at the University of Brighton, have an extensive range of resources, and the ‘Draw to learn’ booklets include Sciences, Health, Humanities and Business.

Dreyfus (2001 p 173) went on to pose the question:

“we finally run up against the most important question a philosopher can ask those who believe in the educational promise of the World Wide Web: can the bodily presence required for acquiring skills in various domains and for acquiring mastery of one’s culture be delivered by means of the Internet?”

We have been exploring visual practices as ways of enhancing and reinforcing learning for many years now – and enjoyed the challenge of wrestling these into our new online and at a distance spaces. We share three of them below and invite you to select an activity from the three options below to use with your own students.

Tip: Creative activities can prove a challenge for time poor students – who wonder why we are wasting their time in these frivolous ways. Hence, always conclude a creative activity with some form of dialogic ‘de-brief’ so that the students can come to realise and appreciate the power of the activity for themselves.

And as what works for student learning works for us as well – you might like to de-brief yourself at the end of a session – perhaps asking yourself:

  • What has surprised the students in their own/ others creations?
  • Has the activity challenged my own ideas of study in the discipline?
  • What can students take from the activity to enrich their own learning going forward?
  • Do the activities we have offered our students start to offer insights and links between theory and practice? We would welcome thought pieces, feedback and ideas as a response to create a further Londonmet/AldinHE #Take 5 national blogpost.

Embodiment and ‘Being there’: three different ways of engaging students with study: for reuse, repurpose or adaptation across the disciplines

The study ready apron: an example of ‘reuse’

Create a ‘study apron’, perhaps referencing ‘study skills’. This activity is suitable for students of any discipline, but works really well for health professionals as it promotes fine motor skills and physical dexterity.

Ask the students to design their apron ready for their discipline modules to come – so a good tip would be to scout module handbooks:

  • Is there a specific requirement in a module for such a journal to be kept? Do we need a pocket for this?
  • Do we need a pocket to keep a small notebook in for real time and creative notes?
  • Do you need a pocket or not (for an Iphone)?


Start by watching Simones’ video – Simone is a lecturer in an Arts Department, and prepared this stopframe video for her own students in the first instance: https://youtu.be/ty_ztNPoEp4


They will need a large old pair of jeans/ shirt/item – and transform the pair of jeans or similar into a study apron. To capture digitally, you could set up a twitter hashtag, ask the students to send you a photo, which you can then incorporate into a powerpoint display and upload onto the VLE, or organise them into breakout rooms to debrief.

The reflection on the process of making is the key learning… some questions you can use as a debrief in a generic study context:

  • Did I find it fruitful to make and think?
  • What is the best part of my apron?
  • If I made a second apron, what would I do differently?
  • Having made this, do I feel differently about entering uni?
  • Do I feel like a ‘proper’ student yet?

The drawing journal: an example of repurposing

Ask students to keep a visual learning journal or sketchbook.

Why Journal? Why notes? What are creative notes?

Keeping a journal encourages active reflection on learning – and without reflection there is no learning! Asking for visual reflections encourages the growth of understanding – for it is difficult to represent what you do not yet understand. The drawings themselves also act as powerful mnemonics or memory aids.

Moreover, keeping a reflective journal encourages research, forward thinking and promotes engagement.

Suggest your students draw an image a day that represents either their study journey, or an image that represents one aspect of learning about their discipline. This is the process of repurposing one medium for another, and helps promote idea generation, reflection and creativity.


how to make a sketchbook and why you should do this’.

Brighton’s Site about the evidence base re drawing.

Paper by Paul McIntosh, introducing drawing to a cohort of nurses and health professionals.

Debrief in a health context:

  • What did I select as my study for make/think?
  • What is the best part of my sketchbook ?
  • If I choose a second set of images, what would I choose and why?
  • Having made this, do I feel differently about Nursing/ my discipline?
  • Do I feel like a ‘proper’ student now?

Collage: an example of adaptation

The Aim is for the students to source clean recyclables, items in cupboard, fruit bowl, buttonbox, lego if available, plasticine if available, and to make a representation of learning, of University experience thus far, what they think their course is like.

Staff self portrait from Abegglen, Burns and Sinfield (2020)

Students share via social media as above, send images to tutor to be collated, post onto class padlet (a padlet is an interactive board for sharing information in a visually appealing format – you can set up 3 for free)

Debrief in a reflective practice/ interdisciplinary context

  • What did I make/think?
  • What is the best part of my creation?
  • If I was to recreate my representation, would it be the same/ different and why?
  • Having made this, do I feel differently about Nursing/ my discipline?
  • Do I feel like a ‘proper’ student now?

Evidence base:

English, F., 2011. Student writing and genre: Reconfiguring academic knowledge. A&C Black.

James, A. and Nerantzi, C. eds., 2019. The power of play in higher education: Creativity in tertiary learning. Springer.

Abegglen, S. Burns, T. and Sinfield, S. (forthcoming 2020) ‘Dada, Montage and the Dalek: The Game of Meaning in Higher Education’ in International Journal of Management and Applied Research

Further reading:

Abegglen, S. Burns, T. and Sinfield, S. (2020) ‘Dada, Montage and the Dalek: The Game of Meaning in Higher Education’ in International Journal of Management and Applied Research [online]: http://www.ijmar.org/v7n3/20-016.html

Bayne, S., 2004, April. ‘Mere jelly’: the bodies of networked learners. In Networked Learning 2004: proceedings of the fourth International Conference on Networked Learning (pp. 372-379).

Dreyfus, H., 2001. How far is distance learning from education?. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 21(3), pp.165-174.

McIntosh, P., Webb, C. and Walk, R., 2006, July. Creativity and reflection: An approach to reflexivity in practice. In Fifth International Conference on Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices Leeds, UK. Retrieved October (Vol. 26, p. 2005).

Moravec, H., 1988. Mind children: The future of robot and human intelligence. Harvard University Press.

Nordmann E, Horlin C, Hutchison J, Murray J-A, Robson L, Seery MK, and MacKay JRD. 2020. 10 simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education. PsyArXiv Preprints.https://psyarxiv.com/qdh25

Todres, L., Galvin, K.T. and Holloway, I., 2009. The humanization of healthcare: A value framework for qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 4(2), pp.68-77.

Waight, S. and Holley, D. (2020) ‘Digital Competence Frameworks: their role in enhancing digital wellbeing in Nursing Curricula’ in Humanising Higher Education: A positive approach to enhancing wellbeing (Clarke, S and Devis-Rozental, C eds) Palgrave 2020

Additional resources for creative working:

The Pomodoro Technique® – proudly developed by Francesco Cirillo | Cirillo Consulting GmbH

Time Management Tips for Troubled Times: Working in short bursts | Academic Skills and Writing Development

How to write an assignment fast (6-min video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZlGmOazg_k&t=1s


Debbie Holley is Professor of Learning Innovation in the Department of Nursing Sciences at Bournemouth University. A passionate educator, she is a National Teaching Fellow; a Principal Fellow of AdvanceHE and served for six years on the Association of Learning Developers in Higher Education (ALDinHE) national Steering Group. She is a long standing member of the JISC Student Experience Experts panel; and has recently worked with as part of an international consortium to identify the next Augmented/Virtual/Mixed Reality trends in education. Follow Debbie on twitter @debbieholley1

Tom Burns and Sandra Sinfield are Teaching Fellows and Seniors Lecturers in LondonMet’s Centre for Professional and Educational Development. Together they have produced the 4th edition of Essential Study Skills,  the Study Hub for students and the #Take5 for staff. They are both interested in harnessing creative and emancipatory practice in student learning and staff development.