#Take5 #52: The best way to … generate ideas?

Using superheroes for structured problem solving and ideas generation

The week’s #Take5 blog is brought to you from Dr Katharine Jewitt, a Learning Designer at Heriot-Watt University. The Superheroes ideas generation techniques were designed by Grossman and Catlin to provide a playful group atmosphere during idea generation. Students work in groups and assume the identity of different Superhero characters and then use the characters as stimuli for sparking ideas and problem solving. ‘Superheroes’ produces unique ideas because of its use of unrelated stimuli. This activity also works well in a diverse classroom because students can adopt a superhero of their choice and discuss the qualities of superheroes. This offers opportunities for students to share among themselves about culture, origins, backgrounds, values and unique differences. It’s an effective way to demonstrate respect for cultural diversity and makes for rich discussion. (Hopefully the superhero pictures below will appear in the blog – and be reassured – the author has a license to use them.)

Picture: The Black Panther

Using Superheroes for Ideas Generation Techniques

If students possess a playful attitude, the Superheroes problem solving and ideas generation techniques can work well. It has a built-in mechanism for generating ideas and helps ensure all atmospheres conducive to creative thinking. Discussing the various characters often is sufficient for loosening up the group. As a result, the ideas may flow easily. Superheroes also is likely to produce unique ideas because of its use of unrelated stimuli. In addition to the usual weaknesses of any brainstorming approach, Superheroes has one major disadvantage. The playful attitude required may not exist in all groups and some members may be reluctant to participate. On the other hand, requiring students to assume different roles may be just the thing needed to liven up some groups.

Five Steps to running the activity

The steps are as follows:

1. Descriptions of various Superhero characters are distributed to group members.

2. Group members select one of the characters and assume its identity. If desired, costumes can be used to elaborate upon the characterisation. As a minimum, ask students to wear a sign (a sticky label or post-it note stuck on their forehead is an easy way for students to state the name of the hero they selected. Students can be more creative and create a paper mask or a crown / party hat with their superhero name on.

3. Each group member, in turn, describes his or her character in as much detail as possible. This description should include such things as special powers, strengths, weaknesses, and habits.

4. After each hero is described, group members use the information as stimuli for ideas generation techniques and problem solving.

For example, Spiderman’s web might suggest a network concept for solving some problem.

5. Group members ask the Superhero concerned how they might use their super powers and abilities to help the problem/opportunity owner address their situation. The problem owner needs to record, verbatim, what the superhero might say so that the suggestions can be interpreted later in the session. The point being that the initial response may be intuitive and, initially, have no direct obvious meaning/application if the person playing the superhero has really got into role. It is only after a second analysis of the response in the form “how can this suggestion help me” that a more orthodox interpretation can be extracted.

Any number and type of Superheroes can be used for this technique. If possible, there should be more characters than group members to select from.

Some common heroes and their major characteristics.


Picture: Superman

Superman has X-ray vision, super hearing, can fly, and is the strongest man on earth. When not on duty, he is disguised as mild-mannered newspaper reporter, Clark Kent. He can be weakened only by Kryptonite, a leftover rock from his birth planet, Krypton. Superman is faster than a speeding bullet and is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He can fly, he has heat vision, super breath that can be used to freeze things as well as blow them! He can’t see through lead with his X-ray vision though.

Batman and Robin

Batman and Robin
Picture: Batman and Robin

Batman and his sidekick Robin, The Boy Wonder, are first-rate detectives who always manage to outwit the most sinister criminals. They have at their disposal an assortment of “Bat” paraphernalia, such as a Batmobile, Batplane, Batcycle, Batrollerskates, and Batrope. Barman’s alter ego is millionaire Bruce Wayne. He and Robin live in the Wayne Mansion that is built over the Bat Cave.

Wonder Woman

Picture: Wonderwoman

Wonder Woman is a truly liberated woman. With extraordinary strength, agility, and all-around athletic ability, she easily can overpower the most powerful person. With her magic bracelets, she even can deflect bullets shot at her. And, with her magic lasso, she can rope almost anything. When wrapped around someone, her lasso always causes that person to tell the truth. On occasion, she flies her own airplane, which is invisible.

Captain America

Captain America
Picture: Captain America

Captain America represents the ultimate in All-American ideals (truth, justice, apple pie, and mom). With his winning personality he usually has no trouble persuading others to see his viewpoint. The captain also is known for his positive outlook on life and his great strength and athletic skills. If all of these attributes are not enough protection, he also has a Captain America shield that can protect him from any harm.

Dr Strange

Dr Strange
Picture: Dr Strange

Dr. Strange tries to live up to his name. As a skilled magician and sorcerer, he can create numerous illusions. He also is able to cure sicknesses, control people and situations, and change one thing into something else. Another strange thing about Dr. Strange is that he is afflicted with temporary lapses of concentration.


E.Man, whose most distinctive feature is his unlimited supply of energy, can take on any form he wishes. However, once he assumes a form, he is affected by its weaknesses. His favourite sleeping place is a toaster.

Nova Kane

Nova Kane is the female counterpart to E-Man. She previously worked as an exotic dancer.


Picture: Spiderman

Spiderman, or “Spidey” as he is affectionately known by his fans, can walk on ceilings and walls. With his ever-present web, he can swing through the air as well as capture bad guys. Spiderman also has a unique ability to detect any dangerous situation before it affects him.

Mr Fantastic

Mr. Fantastic is the smartest man in the world and, although no logical correlation is involved, he can stretch his body to any length. He is a very flexible person.

Invisible Girl

Invisible Girl, as her name implies, can make herself and other people and things invisible. She also can make people and things reappear. When in danger, she creates an invisible shield which protects her from all harm.

The Human Torch

Picture: The Human Torch

The Human Torch is said to be a short-tempered hothead. He has the power to emit and control fire. Heat never bothers him. He also can fly whenever the mood strikes.

(The problem solving and ideas generation techniques have been adapted and expanded upon from the book Techniques of structured problem solving by Arthur B. VanGundy ISBN-13 : 978-0442288471)

Picture: Avengers Assemble

Six Lessons to learn from superheroes

There are many lessons we can learn from superheroes and they can be used as discussion prompts when supporting students in their learning and skills development.

Lesson 1. Embrace who you are

We are all different. Be a superhero and embrace who you are and be proud of it. If you’ve made mistakes, forgive yourself. Treat yourself kindly. Acknowledge your successes and how far you’ve come. Be grateful for what is happening in your own world. Don’t criticise yourself and practice self-compassion. Research shows people who associate themselves with positive traits, have a healthier outlook and are more successful.

Lesson 2. Be different, Be powerful

Just like a superhero, being different is powerful. Encourage students to think about what makes them stand out from the crowd and what they excel at. Ask them to consider their key strengths and celebrate their talents from specific technical and personal skills to knowledge about their subject field. Ask them to think about what they have achieved and their behaviours to handle problems and manage stressful situations. We all have something we are good at.

Lesson 3. Overcome adversity

It may not seem it at the time, when experiencing adverse events, but there is purpose behind each one. Adversity can be overcome. Superheroes surround themselves with positive people who will be supportive and encouraging. Encourage students to practice a daily journal and write down their thoughts. It’s important to invest time, just for themselves, doing something they enjoy.

Lesson 4. Help others to be their best

We become stronger by helping others to be strong and find their strengths. Students might want to consider mentoring someone who could benefit from their skills and knowledge or offering peer-to-peer support.

Lesson 5. Superheroes’ superpowers are not required

Students can be a hero without any superpowers. Everyone has something to offer.

Lesson 6. Change starts with you

Superheroes make the change. Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” If you want change, start with yourself.

Photo: Dr Katharine Jewitt, Learning Designer at Heriot-Watt University

About Katharine:

Dr Katharine Jewitt (@KatharineJewitt) is a Learning Designer at Heriot-Watt University, where she works in partnership with academics and colleagues from across the University to facilitate the design and subsequent evaluation of Heriot-Watt Online qualifications and modules. She has worked in HE since 2003 and is a Lecturer and Research Fellow at The Open University. Katharine’s research interests are in the fields of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), technology enhanced learning (TEL) and learning in three-dimensional and mobile environments. Her PhD research was in the use of virtual reality for work-based learning.


#Take5 #51 The best way to develop a compassionate pedagogy?

“I was asked to deliver a ‘skills’ session to a group of second years. I went into the room – the students were dotted about in ones, occasionally twos. They all had their coats on. They did not know each other’s names. These students had not arrived in that classroom. Arguably, they had not arrived on the course.” (Member of staff)

Why is this an important area to cover?

Not only is it important ethically to develop humane and compassionate teaching spaces, it is vital to the notion of facilitating the dialogic co-construction of knowledge; for active, deep and meaningful learning; and to create communities of practice where the students are engaged as actors and agents in their own learning.

Our institution is perhaps a better fit for a more caring sort of teaching and learning – the diverse working class students that we tend to attract typically come from more collectivist or communitarian spaces. At the same time, given the rhetoric about ‘standards’ and individual effort that permeates HE narratives, we have to work to continually prove the worth of a more humane and dialogic academy. At our university, we are committed to the theory and practice of an education for social justice; making our classrooms engaging and our practice holistic. We seek to celebrate our students for who they are as we facilitate a process where they can become academic more on their own terms – and without losing themselves in the process.

Picture: Image from Education for Social Justice Framework – colourful hands raised.

Building a compassionate pedagogy

One overarching approach is to share with students that we are operating a compassionate pedagogy (https://compassioninhe.wordpress.com/) as a conscious strategy in the classroom. A compassionate pedagogy is designed to create that humane space that welcomes and sustains students and their whole identities; it is committed to valuing the individual and building personal relationships. When we share that this is our approach with students, we draw them into a conversation about how the classroom can be developed in the interest of all the students. Whereas the typical HE classroom might be driven by competitive individualism, which ignites fear and increases threat, the compassionate classroom is one that fosters altruism and cooperative growth. The ideal is to work together with the students to develop the whole class as a developmental and sustaining space. Thus together, tutor and students, agree to use language and tone that reach the most people – they agree to be interested in each other – that no one will dominate the dialogue – that everybody will work to draw-in the quieter person – that they will address each other compassionately and by name – and work together to achieve common goals.

james hunting disrupt.jpg

Picture: Disrupt – work from James Hunting

What does this mean in practice?

Celebrating the diverse classroom. There is always some common ground around student values – they are all on the same course for a reason – they have something in common! (Member of staff)

At its most basic, it begins with welcoming every student into the classroom and valuing them for exactly who they are right then – at the very start of the course. Not greeting them with a raft of study and digital skills checklists which implicitly and often explicitly further reinforces their own internalised notions that they are not good enough. If these things are important – our teaching and assessment practices should develop them. It then means embracing a teaching and learning strategy that builds on the initial welcome by foregrounding student bonding, belonging and communication – and the development of a cohort identity through active and interactive teaching, learning and assessment strategies. Not only does this better ‘hold’ students when times get tough, it starts to develop self-efficacy and well being so that challenges are embraced and transcended.

Valuing identity involves creating a secure space in the class for students to express their thoughts and ideas and to develop new skills without changing the personality.

Creating a comfortable environment for students not only to be who they are but also being valued and appreciated, feeling safe to discuss and argue the viewpoints without any restrictions; but with consideration of ethics and respecting the diversity of opinions, backgrounds, experiences…

Exploring the variety of thoughts in the room and all students being empowered to speak and to develop courage to try new things – for example, never did a presentation or podcast, being camera shy, nervous of debating in the class… this is the safe space to take that risk

Giving students the chance and opportunity to follow their passion; e,g, having a week when students can “govern” and bring their own examples, cases, experiences to discuss and lead a seminar.

It’s also to recognise who they are outside the student identity – we have multiple identities that need to be acknowledged – and also to value the ‘student’ identity within them all. To ensure that the cohort can find, and sustain, ways of acknowledging the group cohesion and peer support where appropriate.

“Today was such an amazing day as we all worked together to produce a poster exhibition based on our DigitalMe projects. My poster was created as a collage; I cut out pieces from magazines and newspapers. The words and phrases meant a lot to me and took me a few days to put together. While I was putting my poster together I couldn’t help but reflect on how it made me feel as an individual, a student, a parent and a person in society. I had doubts in preparing the DigitalMe project but now I had the ability to prepare a poster about it, it was a great feeling. This was the first time any person or institution cared about who I was and how I felt before starting university” (Student on Becoming An Educationist module – week 12 – the Digital Showcase)

How we build relationships between our students

“From my time working with students in a support role, I often discuss what their values are for undertaking their degree rather than goals. Goals are often very finite e.g. I want a good job, I want to earn more money whereas values allow the student to share what is important to them e.g. I want a job where I can give back to the community because they supported me to get here; I want to earn more money so I can travel and learn more about other cultures. Being values driven helps to create a more personal connection. This could be adapted so the students discuss this with each other, understand what drives each other and what they have and do not have in common.” (Member of staff)

This needs to be addressed not just in induction or the first week of a course, but throughout the whole teaching and learning process. Active and interactive learning promotes bonding and belonging between students – especially in fun, low stakes group work. See our #Take5: https://lmutake5.wordpress.com/2020/10/14/take5-50-the-best-way-to-bring-the-human-into-virtual-space/.

Use lots of ‘getting to know you’ activities – especially in the first few weeks of a course – sharing pictures on a padlet with a few words about oneself.

Now teaching is online – ask students to make something before the class. This year we set the making of a study apron: https://youtu.be/ty_ztNPoEp4 . Pictures of the aprons were shared on the class padlet – then discussed in our Breakout rooms.

F2F: Students to make collage of self to facilitate introductions in the first weeks.

F2F or online: Students to make representation of what ‘university’ is – this can be a group activity – though online – probably not! Representations shared. Discussion of implications for approachability and inclusiveness of the different HE models. Discussion of how those different ‘selves’ can make the models fit them. (Member of staff)

We build our relationships with students – and work to help them build their relationships with each other – through communication and discussion – and by peer exchange: ‘Has anybody else had the same issues? Would they be able to suggest …’:

Giving students an opportunity to discuss their differences and what is unique about them and their experiences in life.

Sharing something about their background, culture and interests.

Debating topics and giving their views whilst being encouraged to consider others’ views.

Students create agreements early on in class as to how they want to conduct the classes, their input and what they expect from each other.

Discussing examples of how classes or other groups in any environment may sometimes divide (e.g. staying safely with people they know or feel they have something in common with).

Considering why differences in people can enrich their experiences. Link to the inclusive teamwork/leadership or the university (linking to the strategic plan) and their current jobs or future careers.

Address the issues of fear and comfort zones. Get them to think of times when they have built a relationship with people who they didn’t think they initially had anything in common with, but the relationship evolved into a learning experience and/or a positive friendship. This can be related to age, background, authority, class etc.

Make the classes about communicating with others as a collective to learn together and from each other – whatever the subject. Move the focus away from the tutor. (Member of staff)

Tips and Tricks

First: Listen.


Picture: Disruptive embroidery

Lots and lots of active and interactive teaching with ‘by stealth’ group work – so that people have to get to work together and know each other – and learn that by doing so, they are each other’s best assets.

F2F: Arranging the room so that people sit with each other – horseshoe if class small enough, tables grouped into ‘islands’ if a large class – so people work with others on their table – to make this fun – cover table with sugar paper – and put chalk or felt tips down so that they can scribble and draw ideas – add a handful of sweets – so that the session feel special.

Use discursive role plays where students have to work together to solve problems. We did build those sugar paper covered islands. When the student groups had to report back, they could all use their drawings to facilitate their arguments. They had all successfully completed a group presentation, year one, week one. The feeling of collective achievement was enormous. (We are experimenting with conducting role plays in an online space…)

Tackle assignments from a place of where the student is – who the student is and how the student is – so that assessments come from the student perspective.

Where students are typically engaged in more creative making tasks as part of their learning, set short writing tasks or some other unfamiliar activity – to challenge, differently.

Virtual alternatives:

Student led breakout rooms, small groups and get a volunteer to lead each and come back to the main room.

Encourage students to use the Chat function – copy and use to help them reflect on the class. (NB: Can need to team teach here – so that one person keeps an eye on the Chat.)

Give students a task which helps build relationships – why not try collaborative writing in a shared google doc.

Get students to find a food item that represents an idea or concept you are discussing and hold it up in front of the camera.

Ask students to hold up before the camera something they have created, such as a spider diagram.

Instead of a collage made in class – find an object in their homes that represents who they are – show and tell objects.

Object Based Learning: Find an object – write what they know – write what they don’t know. Research – then change the object in the light of new knowledge – and present.

Slow learning: To student: Find a piece of art that represents the course that you are studying – or an assignment that you are working on. Sit with the artwork for one whole hour. You can make notes and sketch pictures – but not talk with anyone or go online. After one hour write exactly 300-words on how that picture represents your subject – or helps you to answer your assignment.


#Take5: https://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/take5/index.html

Especially: https://lmutake5.wordpress.com/2020/10/14/take5-50-the-best-way-to-bring-the-human-into-virtual-space/

Oliver Herring’s TASK: https://oliverherringtask.wordpress.com/

Leeds: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRYvJfYIkG8kFTKBhOFR3Xw

Scavenger hunts built into online teaching can replicate some of what we might do F2F: http://www.spencerauthor.com/scavenger-hunts/


This has been written by Vanessa Airth, Tom Burns, Jonathan Dempsey, Ruzanna Gevorgyan, James Hunting and Sandra Sinfield. Together we wanted to explore through collaborative writing our approaches to developing an Education for Social Justice.

#Take5 #50 The best way to bring the human into virtual space?

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Sandra Abegglen (University of Calgary), Emma Gillaspy (University of Central Lancashire), and Tom Burns and Sandra Sinfield (London Metropolitan University) – all are members of ALDinHE and are involved in the #creativeHE community.

There will be a follow up to this blog in November, where we will run the first #creativeHE event of this academic year: Game on: playful practice for online environments – 18th November 14.00-16.00 – and where we will also call for the community to say what sort of creative activities they want support with across this challenging year. Information and Registration: https://creativehecommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/13/join-us-for-the-first-online-meetup-of-2020-21/

Photo: Making a fortune teller with Emma Gillaspy at last year’s #creativeHE Jam: https://twitter.com/HannahSeat5/status/1271416548687822850

Virtually Impossible: Embodiment and ‘Being There’ in online space

For most of us the majority of our teaching, if not all, has shifted online for the foreseeable future. Whilst at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic the ‘pivot’ was a temporary emergency measure, this academic year the move to remote education is all too real – the expectations are higher – and the pressure to get this ‘right’ more intense.

A key concern of ours is the facilitation of connection with students new to university – and perhaps even newer to online teaching and learning. How can we connect at a distance and virtually with students from day one? How can we enable them to connect meaningfully with us, as instructors, and with each other to develop bonding, belonging and cohort identity? How do we bring the human into the digital?

Such connection is challenging enough, but studying and learning are also embodied. How can we get students ‘ready’ to bring their whole embodied selves into their learning experience when they are working from home and online? We have developed a few ideas of how to connect with students and foster an embodied, active student self at a distance, but we hope blog readers will contribute their own ideas and experiences.

To Share Your Ideas Contact: Sandra Sinfield (s.sinfield@londonmet.ac.uk) and Tom Burns (t.burns@londonmet.ac.uk) or TALON https://taloncloud.ca Facilitator Sandra Abegglen (sandra.abegglen@ucalgary.ca) #creativeHE https://creativehecommunity.wordpress.com/ (egillaspy@uclan.ac.uk)

Photo: Lego people demonstrating academics at work: https://twitter.com/5fingerTyler/status/1272814003274813445

Bonding and Belonging: Engaging Students Actively and Creatively

The activities listed below are not exhaustive but give a flavour of the sort of activities that would be of use to students, helping them to connect meaningfully and creatively with you, as their instructor, and other students as they engage with their learning. Well planned authentic activities foster belonging and bonding. They also de facto develop complementary practices – like digital literacies and active, critical thinking for example – but without engaging in reductive ‘checklists’ that can position students as ‘deficit’ before they even start.

The activities below invite students to start thinking about who they are – and what they want to say about themselves to you, their tutor, and to their new friends and colleagues; and they position the students to engage actively with university study. They help them transition playfully but powerfully into academia and their epistemic communities – to get to know others and their university.

It is important that these activities are framed positively. They are not just the ‘fun’ bit to get out of the way before the teaching starts. So, tell your students why you are doing what you are doing. Explain that creative, playful social practice is part of active and meaningful learning that will improve and deepen their understanding of content. Have a de-brief discussion after a playful activity to make the learning conscious.

Introductory Activities for Students to do at a Distance

Make a Top Trumps card of yourself and post it to the class social media space – LIKE and say ‘Hello’ to other students in the class.

Create a study space in your home – take a picture and post it to the class social media space – with a brief commentary. Get inspired – and respond to posts from classmates (and adapt and extend your own study space).

Make a study apron – see video: https://youtu.be/ty_ztNPoEp4 – find a large old pair of jeans – transform the pair of jeans or similar into a study apron – share the process in the social media space. NB: #DS106 set our task as a challenge recently – and this is what they got: https://daily.ds106.us/tdc3184/

If asking students to make the apron – extend and set an additional reflective task: Think about the process of making the apron: 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 similar/differently? Having made this, do I feel differently about entering uni? Do you feel like a ‘proper’ student yet?

Make a representation of yourself – out of clean recyclables, plasticine, wood/fabric. Give this some time and thought. Try to lose yourself in the making. Take a picture and post. What’s an interesting fact you could add to introduce your creation/yourself

If you are making a creative self representation – make a study partner/buddy for it – out of materials you have at home. Take that partner/buddy out for a trip/exploration: show what study space they have; where and what they ‘learn’; read them something that you have been using to help you succeed as a student; tell them something that you have enjoyed or found surprising about being a student; introduce them to useful books and resources. Take pictures or short video clips of all these activities as they happen. Share visuals on the social media space. Start a study blog for your study partner/buddy – put pictures up and write about their experiences of studying, week by week.

Make a university – out of buttons, wool, sticks, Lego… Take a picture and post. (Tips: Use this to start a discussion about the nature of teaching and learning at University – of how you value what the students bring… and how they may find their feet in academia. Set up a discussion where the students change the universities to better fit who they are).

Introduce yourself via a meme, gif or emoji – (Tip: Images often enable non-verbal ways of knowing to emerge, leading to increased human connection. Encourage learners to share in an online space a meme, gif or emoji that says something about them, then in a live session they can share more about their choices, deepening the connection further.

Photo: Cartooning an academic life during Lockdown https://twitter.com/researchercoach/status/1273680266163294208

Active Learning Strategies to be Built Into any Class, Any Time

Virtual escape room or quest: Where students are put into social groups to solve a series of questions, the solving of which will help them discover more about the course you are teaching or the assignment that you have set (see https://blogs.city.ac.uk/learningatcity/2018/12/12/educational-escape-rooms/#.X39DEOhKg2w).  

Ideas from ImaginED (http://www.educationthatinspires.ca/): To seed engagement with a topic being studied: Twenty pictures: Go out, take 20 pictures – reduce to three – write anything from a caption to a poem – share the pictures and the writing. Acrostics – produce a short poem using a keyword from your subject – illustrate – share acrostic and illustration; Be like Andy Goldsworthy: Go out and build an installation that comments on the subject you are studying – take a picture of the installation – perhaps take pictures of people engaging with your installation – and share. Ideas from: In Praise of Idle Time: Taking LiD Outdoors

Scavenger Hunts: Using Scavenger Hunts to Get Students Moving in Virtual Learning – scavenger hunts can be built into any theoretical session – to seed student thinking or reflection on a topic. A scavenger hunt is pretty much what it sounds like. Staff give students specific clues or items that they have to find from their homes or around the larger community – to create an artefact or build a ‘picture’ of something that is being studied. This works well as a video-conference activity, but it can also work as a series of photos that students take and upload to a shared file. Students can work in teams using the breakout room function, or they can work independently. Useful apps to explore: https://www.goosechase.com/ and https://en.actionbound.com/.

Think of a song: When starting a new topic of study – ask students to think of a song or poem that represents that topic and post it to the class social media space – giving a reason for their choice. Read and respond to posts from classmates.

Class curators: Each week ask a different group of students to ‘curate’ the session. Expect them to creatively capture the key ideas in any lecture or discussion. They can draw, knit, dance… Alternatively they can make animations or a video diary of the session. Share with the whole group.

Motivation board: There will be moments during a course when motivation dips so why not invite your learners to create a collective board (Miro, Padlet, Jamboard and Lino are useful tools for this) to get them through these difficult moments. Ask them to share motivational quotes, images, music.

Thinking about Studying

We cannot assume that students will know how to best organise themselves for study online – but the activities that we have suggested will help them to become more active in their virtual classrooms – and will help them learn how to appreciate each other and work together – and if well discussed and ‘de-briefed’ will foreground the active learning that is taking place.

Similarly, many of our students have entered university from very transactional and disempowering pre-tertiary education spaces – hence they may not know just how active and engaged they will have to be to make their studies come alive for them. They may not know how to ‘study’ and actually learn that which they want and need to learn. You might want to share the tips below with your students to encourage them.


Before you start: take a deep breath, go for a walk, meditate:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hL-FiMYY_34

Work in short bursts: Try the Pomodoro technique: The Pomodoro Technique® – proudly developed by Francesco Cirillo | Cirillo Consulting GmbH and Time Management Tips for Troubled Times: Working in short bursts | Academic Skills and Writing Development

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

Work Slow: And in Partnership: https://theslowacademic.com/2017/02/16/writing-differently/ 

Draw your learning: To help understand and remember what is being studied, use some form of visual thinking to organise thoughts and develop ideas: https://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/studyhub/drawing.html

Make active notes: https://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/studyhub/note.html

Reward your progress: Decide how you are going to reward yourself when you achieve each mini-goal (you may have identified during your pomodoro-ing) and make sure you do it! Rewarding yourself will improve your intrinsic motivation and lead to more progress https://debut.careers/insight/12-ways-reward-your-studying/ 

Further help: Study Hub – LondonMet’s study tips website: https://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/studyhub/index.html

Share: However, your students may have experience with particular online tools and approaches. Ask them to share with you – and their peers. Utilise the opportunity for discussion, exchange – and shared learning.

And finally, be kind. A reminder that staff and students will need to be even kinder to each other in online space. Any one of us may lose connectivity or suffer a technical hitch or breakdown at just that very moment when we need that camera or mic to work. Neither staff nor students suffering technical hitches are incompetent or unskilled – but oh boy – it can certainly feel that way… Support each other on the way!


Sandra Sinfield, Sandra Abegglen and Tom Burns have worked and taught together at LondonMet for many years. Sandra A left LondonMet in 2018 and is now based at the University of Calgary (Canada) where she works on a research project that looks at design studio practice. Emma Gillaspy is the Northern interloper of the group, being a born and bred Mancunian now working at the University of Central Lancashire. Their connection is through creative education via communities such as #creativeHE. They all research emancipatory practice in HE and/or teach on PGcert, MALTHE and other academic development courses, with a special focus on praxes that ignite curiosity, harness creativity, and develop power and voice. Tom and Sandra S have co-authored Teaching, Learning and Study Skills: a guide for tutors and Essential Study Skills: the complete guide to success at university (4th Edition, 2016), two books that support academic learning and teaching across disciplines. Sandra A has recently co-edited a book on education and economics: Understanding Education and Economics: key debates and critical perspectives (2020) whilst Emma is currently editing a journal special issue exploring the creative self of educators.

Sandra Abegglen (@sandra_abegglen);  Tom Burns (@LevellerB); Emma Gillaspy (@egillaspy); Sandra Sinfield (@Danceswithcloud)

#Take 5 #49: The best way to … engage online?

The week’s #Take5 blog is brought to you from Dr Carina Buckley Instructional Design Manager at Solent University and ALDinHE Co-chair. Recently Carina spoke in a webinar about how her institution, Solent, has approached online delivery whilst keeping students at the heart of their learning. It went very well – but for those who couldn’t make it, a written case study and the recording of the whole webinar is available here:


Photo: Dr Carina Buckley Instructional Design Manager at Solent University and ALDinHE Co-chair

Students these days… don’t turn their cameras on

Where once a common question from lecturers was ‘How do I get my students to read?’, these days we are more likely to hear ‘How do I get my students to turn their cameras on?’ For all the progress and innovations we have made in the switch to online learning and a summer of intense preparation, there is still plenty to learn and discover, both about students and their learning, and ourselves and our expectations.

One of those things, inevitably at the moment, is how do we get our students to turn their cameras on?

Learning Development is a values-driven profession, and one of ALDinHE’s values is to make HE inclusive through emancipatory practice, partnership working and collaboration. In practice, this means that we actively work to break down power relationships in the classroom and adopt a more democratic approach to teaching and learning. And in turn, that means creating inclusive learning environments built on community, belonging and mutual respect.

Those are some ambitious words and loaded phrases. And who wouldn’t want those things? Students learn better when they feel part of a community; retention is higher when they feel a sense of belonging. We know this. But still, our colleagues ask: how do I get my students to turn their cameras on?

Let’s flip that: why should they?

We’re all doing our best right now in putting our learning opportunities online as effectively and engagingly as possible, and surely that means there are other ways students are able to participate? Depending on the video conferencing platform you’re using they can add a photograph, put their virtual hand or thumb up, or they might even be able to wave. They can post a message in a chat window, either alongside a video call or through your VLE. They can answer a question through a polling platform or message each other in WhatsApp while you’re talking or after the class. They can submit questions and answers to a forum, and they can even ask them live.

None of these things need video. So why do we want to get them to turn their cameras on?

There are plenty of good reasons. Seeing someone’s face and reading their body language is vital for relationship-building, especially important for our new starters. It shows respect and attention, supports the development of interpersonal relationships, and it’s easier for us to talk to faces rather than a screen of profile pictures. And therein lies the issue. It’s not about us, or shouldn’t be.

Some students will feel anxious about being the object of a gaze. Some will feel stressed or embarrassed about other people – strangers, at this time of year – seeing their living space. Others will have children, pets, parents, noisy housemates around. Bandwidth and devices are not equal, and not everyone will have the choice. And these issues increase exponentially the longer the session. What’s possible for a 15-minute chat may not be for an hour-long class.

But we are more amazing

Asking how we get our students to turn their cameras on is the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking, how can our students participate? How can we make connections and engage with our students, and help them do the same with each other? How do we continue to promote emancipatory practice as part of a community?

Technology is an amazing enabler. But we are more amazing. And we are more than our webcams. So the next time you’re asked, ‘How do I get my students to turn on their cameras?’, the answer has to be, give the students a reason, and respect their choice.

Photos: A range of images taken from Zoom meetings


Dr Carina Buckley is the Instructional Design Manager at Solent University, where she is responsible for ensuring the VLE functions as an immersive and interactive learning space, and where she is therefore always occupied. She has worked in Learning Development since 2006 and been Co-Chair of ALDinHE since 2015, thanks to which she gained Principal Fellowship of the HEA earlier this year. She is also an ALDinHE-Certified Leading Practitioner, and keen to see more Learning Developers recognised with these two qualifications.

#Take5 #48 The best way to deliver Learning Development in a time of COVID?

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Kate Coulson who is Head of Learning Development at the University of Northampton and the Secretary of the Association of Learning Developers in Higher Education (ALDinHE). Here she tries to summarise the current face-to-face  and hybrid teaching situation for Learning Developers from September 2020.

Photo: Kate Coulson face in full visor/mask mode!

Does anyone care how Learning Developers are engaging with their students?

I do! I absolutely care about what my peers are doing within UK HEIs and beyond. Maybe I am just nosey but gaining an understanding around what others are embarking upon is crucial to inform my own thinking and understanding of the current conundrums as a fall-out from COVID-19. We are all feeling our way and working out what is possible, what might work and what cannot be contemplated.

So, to find out what’s going on, I emailed the LDHEN email list and asked everyone:

What did I find out?

I had many responses from the community and some peers asked to remain anonymous which is a first-time experience for me in terms of gaining feedback from LDHEN. I think this might be because we are in unprecedented times and we don’t know how the current situation will play out. That said, the responses I received were very rich in their detail about how they would be teaching their students and also in terms of the reflection they have done to get to those conclusions.

Overall, peers are working on the COVID-19 teaching continuum, with online being the main focus and face-to-face teaching happening in some but not all HEIs. The following themes/trends were very clear:

  1. Most HEIs are ensuring that students have some time on campus each week
  2. The timings range from two to four hours per student and may be taught sessions, personal tutor sessions, LD workshops and lab/studio sessions
  3. Teams based within Library departments seem less likely to have to teach on campus
  4. Colleagues in other configurations are more likely to be expected to teach on campus where needed
  5. Some colleagues are offering online tutorials, drop-ins and workshops only
  6. Some colleagues will be offering online tutorials, drop-ins and workshops plus on campus tutorials and drop-ins
  7. And others will be offering online tutorials, drop-ins and workshops and on campus versions of all three too.

Photo of the Learning Development Drop-In Area at the University of Northampton.

How does the Learning Development community feel about these changes?

On the whole colleagues seem comfortable with their local arrangements. Although some have expressed their concerns around particular measures in place for things such as tutorials – ventilation, appropriate spaces etc. – it is also clear that some colleagues have made the decision to be 100% online or hybrid within their individual teams and have told their HEIs what they are doing, others have had these decisions made for them. That said, the general mood is positive but cautious.

Photo: Student ambassadors at the University of Northampton greeting new students with hand sanitizer!

And what is the plan at the University of Northampton?

We are a COVID secure campus; our Estates team have worked relentlessly to ensure we are safe. All staff have attended meetings led by the Director of Estates to ensure we all know what has been put in place and what is expected of us:

  • All staff have been issued with a visor to be used when teaching face-to-face. Face masks are to be used at all other times. In offices, at your desk, you can remove your mask. We have snazzy ventilation because it is a new campus, and this has been meticulously adjusted to allow the appropriate air flow
  • The LD Tutors will spend one day a week on campus undertaking face-to-face tutorials and drop-in. They are paired up and are happy with this arrangement
  • All students are to be given two hours contact time per week on campus. Our default position is to teach all embedded workshops online via Collaborate and face-to-face workshops are an exception in unusual circumstances
  • I am expected to be “seen” on campus as are other leadership staff so this will equate to two days on campus to start with and I will review it after a few weeks
  • Northampton is embracing the “hyflex” model – which is seen as controversial by some and the guidance to all staff is being created to ensure a smooth transition as possible. I feel that on campus time should be utilised to generate a sense of belonging and collegiality, to formatively check understanding and learning and to do what I would call the “soft, fuzzy stuff” – being human!

Photo: Kate Coulson next to F2F tutorial survival kit: cleaning materials, signage and a place to pop our visors.

And how has week one worked out? And what’s next?

The new approach to working kicked off on 21 September 2020, at the time of writing (25 September 2020) we have been on-campus for five days. Most colleagues have enjoyed being back, seeing other colleagues and students. There have been some challenges around using visors – there is a loss of sound and understanding, they make some people feel dizzy. Another surprise has been the acclimatising to having to “go to work”! The physicality of going to a place of work is tiring and some have commented on cognitive overload from the noise of a different physical space. We have had some interesting conversations in our morning team catch-up! That said, it is great to see students again and those who have chosen a face-to-face tutorial or drop-in have been very happy to have this option.

I sent a summary of the themes to the LDHEN list and suggested that I follow it up and check-in again at the end of October to see how things have worked out. We are all very aware that changes happen on a national level most days so by the time we get to October 2020 the landscape could be very different.

Watch this space and I will report back!

Kate’s Blurb:

Kate is the Head of Learning Development at the University of Northampton and is also the Secretary of ALDinHE. She has worked in HE for over 10 years in a variety of roles as a librarian and learning developer and has led teams in both areas. In her previous life she worked in the City of London with lawyers, bankers and management consultants but realised she needed to be somewhere where she could use her creativity every day.

Kate is a Senior Fellow of the HEA, a professionally qualified librarian, a Certified Leading Practitioner in Learning Development and a passionate advocate for allowing colleagues to show vulnerability in their teaching (and sharing it!). She feels that her greatest professional achievement thus far is getting her team through the first six months of the COVID-19 lockdown without too many catastrophes. She talks a lot.