#Take5 #30 The best way to get the message across?

Using Cartoons to Support Learning Development

Happy New Year All! And a belated thank you to JACQUI BARTRAM from the University of Hull and the Association of Learning Development in HE (ALDinHE), who has prepared this beautiful blogpost for us – and which for many reasons (let’s blame #Brexit) has taken us way too long to publish.

Cartoons are us

Who doesn’t love a cartoon? Anything that looks like it will add a bit of light relief to a subject will usually draw the attention of even the most diligent reader. Cartoons don’t just have to be a bit of fun though. Research has recently suggested that cartoons can enhance learning by creating a more relaxed learning atmosphere that can make new or difficult topics seem less daunting (Rodriguez & Lin, 2016). This is consistent with my own experiences, especially with new students who are intimidated by complex topics such as referencing, criticality or reflection.

Reviewing the literature for my own doctoral research (which focuses on visual literacy and the increased need to develop it within HE now that we live in such a visually dominated society) has not only highlighted the need for students to develop visual communication skills but also for staff to champion images as a valid means of academic communication. The dominance of the written word in HE needs to be challenged if graduates are to thrive in an increasingly visual landscape. Cartoons may be at the lighter end of the visual communication spectrum but they are easy to create, powerful in their accessibility and can be tailored specifically to the audience or point in question.

I draw and use cartoons regularly as part of my work as a learning developer and use them for a variety of tasks which range from the fairly mundane to more challenging projects. For example, I use them to enhance basic communication tasks like the promotion of workshop or webinars:

image 1 - presenter

…or to explain how to make use of our services:

image 2 - skillsappointments

But more importantly, I use cartoons to help explain learning points—mostly via our #TipTuesday strand on our library website but also via simple animated videos that can be used as part of workshops, webinars, online courses etc.

Here are examples of some from my #TipTuesday tweets:

image 3 - tiptuesday1

image 4 - tiptuesday2

image 5 - tiptuesday3

image 6 - tiptuesday4

These are often retweeted by academics and other university departments who follow either the library or my personal accounts (I tweet them from both).

You don’t need to be able to draw well

There is a misconception that you need to have artistic ability to be able to cartoon effectively. Yes, your cartoons could be more sophisticated if you are a confident drawer, but that does not mean they will be more effective. Think of the ubiquitous stick figure cartoons of Annie Lawson back in the 1980s (Lawson, n.d.) or Tim Urban’s ‘fantastic Wait but Why’ blog (Urban, 2018). They show that it is more about the idea than the execution.

This point was confirmed when I attended an excellent one day workshop called ‘Cartooning for Communicators’ (which I can thoroughly recommend—you can find out about the next one here http://www.creativityworks.net/training/cartooning-for-trainers/). Although I am a reasonable drawer, the workshop emphasised that non-drawers can produce engaging and eye-catching cartoons that can capture the essence of the subject and message without any artistic skill whatsoever. Most of the attendees did not consider themselves remotely talented artists but soon learned that this was not an excuse to avoid putting charcoal (or later marker pens) to paper. For example, one of the exercises looked at capturing the essence of an animal in order to make it something that is instantly recognisable. Whilst many people initially drew serviceable realistic representations of some basic animals, with the instructor’s help we were gradually able to distil this down to the true essence:

image 7 - giraffe image 8 - dog image 9 - pig
Giraffe – no need to draw the whole animal but the markings and ossicone (the horn-like bit) make it obvious what it is. Dog – two rectangles with strategically placed triangles and a couple of spots. Truly anyone can draw this! Pig – even pared back to just the snout with a couple of eyes, most people would recognise this as a pig.


The point here is that the human brain is hard-wired to recognise patterns and shapes and identify them as known objects so the cartoonist doesn’t actually need to strive for realism for their drawings to be recognisable—hurray! (This phenomenon is called pareidolia­­—see Cuánta Razón (2017) for some excellent examples of turning this into an art form.)

Some of my learning development blog posts take this simple drawing style to heart. Here’s an example:

image 10 - blog post

Simplifying concepts

Sometimes students find it hard to understand concepts that we naturally understand and it is difficult to explain that concept in simple enough terms for a student to grasp. Forcing yourself to explain this in cartoon form can be a fantastic way of getting to the essence of what you need to communicate. For example, I have created two videos covering the concepts of Reflective Writing and Critical Writing. These are, I concede, somewhat simplistic—but I make no excuse for this, we use them as introductions to the concepts and the accessibility of the cartoon format has proved extremely successful. You can see these here:

Reflective writing:

Critical writing:

I originally designed the reflective writing sequence to be live-drawn on a whiteboard as part of a workshop. I did this a few times with great response but created the video for when I could not personally attend similar sessions. Since putting it on YouTube, its popularity has snowballed. When I started writing this ‘Simplifying concepts’ section it showed 208,532 views—I came back to it the following day and it was up to 209,213. In fact, if you search for “reflective writing” on YouTube, or “reflective writing video” on Google it is the top result, showing the cartoon format attracts viewers if nothing else.

Cartooning is a wonderful way to make learning development both fun and accessible whilst getting across important concepts—so why not give it a try. Even the simplest stick figures can be effective:

image 13 - stick figures


For those who are interested, I create most of my drawings on my iPad using a free app called Adobe Illustrator Draw. This works well for me as I also have the Adobe Creative Suite on my PC and can easily integrate them—but you don’t need to use it with the Creative Suite, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone app. I use a Jot-Pro stylus rather than my finger to draw (I would love an Apple Pencil but I need to update my iPad first). The videos were created using a programme called Videoscribe (available at https://www.videoscribe.co/en/) which costs about £100 per year which I get reimbursed by my library.


Cuánta Razón (2017) Pareidolia. Available online: https://www.cuantarazon.com/busqueda/0/pareidolia [Accessed 11/5/2018].

Lawson, A. (n.d.) Annie Lawson and Rug Vision. Available online: http://www.annielawson.com/cartoons.html [Accessed 11/5/2018].

Rodriguez, L. & Lin, X. (2016) The impact of comics on knowledge, attitude and behavioural intentions related to wind energy. Journal of Visual Literacy, 35(4), 237-252.

Urban, T. (2018) Wait but why. Available online: https://waitbutwhy.com/ [Accessed 11/5/2018].


Jacqui is a Library Skills Adviser at the University of Hull where she has the lead marketing role within her team. She specialises in academic communication and supporting students with ICT-based academic study skills. As an EdD candidate, she is researching the development of visual literacy in UK higher education and trying to identify barriers or bridges to its inclusion in curricula. She is co-chair of the Communications and Membership Working Group of ALDinHE (The Association of Learning Developers in Higher Education) and tweets from both @HullUni_Library (with others) and @jaxbartram.



#Take5 #29 The best way of easing the transition from L4 to L5?

A case study from the adult nursing course at the University of Bedfordshire.

 Happy new academic year! Yes – it’s a bit late – but #Take5 seems to have caught as many colds and been caught up in as many institutional shake ups as everybody else! So – belated – but welcome – this blog post is brought to us by Anna Judd-Yelland, University of Bedfordshire

 The problem

In our role, working with the nursing lecturers, we noticed many students struggled with the jump from level 4 to level 5 and did not feel equipped to deal with the demands of level 5 study. Following focus groups with students, we found that critical thinking was the issue top of the list for each of the groups we spoke to.

The solution

Two academic skills workshops were developed; the first teaching synthesis and the second, critical analysis. Both workshops were embedded into a second year core unit on Leadership and delivered within six weeks of students starting Level 5 study. These workshops were complemented by the creation of a series of critical thinking study guides made available to all students through the VLE.

Jigsaw reading – a group reading approach to teaching synthesis

In the synthesis workshop students addressed the following issues:

  • What does synthesis look like?
  • How can I use synthesis in my assignments?
  • How can I build synthesis into my reflective writing?
  • How can I develop my ‘writer’s voice’?
  • How can I use a step-by-step approach to creating themed notes?
  • What are the common problems to avoid when synthesising my literature?

Through discussion, students identified what synthesis looked like and considered how they could use it in their own assignments. They learnt about the pitfalls to avoid when developing synthesis. Students worked in groups of four to jigsaw read some extracts from the unit literature and created their own set of themed notes (a similar exercise can be seen here:

https://aso-resources.une.edu.au/academic-writing-course/information-basics/synthesising-evidence/ .

Real writing makes a difference

Small groups picked one theme from their notes and did a piece of group writing where they brought together their sources to make a robust claim and start to develop their argument.

Roses or Quality Street? Using chocolates to teach critical analysis

In the critical analysis workshop students addressed the following issues:

  • What are the seven steps to achieving critical thinking?
  • What questions can I use to evaluate the literature I want to read?
  • Which chocolates were more popular, Roses or Quality Street?
  • How will critical thinking models help me to read and write more analytically?
  • What is good about these extracts of student writing and how could they be improved?

Students worked in groups to identify seven essential steps to critical thinking (Harrison, 2018) and scrutinized two critical analysis models (Plymouth University, 2010 pages 2 and 4: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/1/1710/Critical_Thinking.pdf).

They discussed how these models could support their ability to question what they read and explore alternative viewpoints when they write.

The students then designed a set of critical questions they wanted to use when exploring literature and worked in small groups to read and critique a journal article on chocolate consumption amongst nurses (Gajendragadkar et al. 2013). The chosen article was manageable within a workshop setting and a fun read. Selecting the right text was key to student engagement.

In the second half of the workshop, students took the role of lecturer and used L5 marking criteria to analyse some extracts of writing from former student assignments and identified where critical thinking steps had been included/could have been developed to meet the criteria.

Although these two transition sessions did not ‘fix’ the way that students were feeling about the huge step up to Level 5, they went a long way to supporting students demystify what critical thinking actually was. The seven steps to achieving critical thinking allowed students to see where they needed to be working for level 5 assignments and introducing practical tools gave them the means of reaching this destination.

Some of my favourite comments from the students showed they valued the use of course specific materials:

“I most enjoyed having examples relevant to nursing”

… and the importance of introducing practical tools:

“I think using the grid system would help me focus on my sources”.



Although I have spent the last twenty years in education, I did not start life as a teacher. Many moons ago I trained as a nurse in the days before nursing required a degree. These days most of my students are on healthcare related courses and come from widening participation backgrounds. Although passionate about their professional roles, they find the academic side can be challenging.

I would say my combination of professional and academic expertise has enabled me to develop successful transitional support for Adult Nursing students moving from level 4 to level 5 and from level 5 to level 6.



Gajendragadkar, P. R. et al., (2013) ‘The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards: covert observational study’ British Medical Journal 347:f7198 pp. 1 – 7 doi:10.1136/bmj.f7198

Harrison, I. (2018) ‘Critical Thinking Stairway’ The Open University 25 July 2016 Availanle at: https://learn1.open.ac.uk/mod/oublog/viewpost.php?post=178090# (Accessed: 17 April 2018)

Plymouth University (2010) Critical Thinking Available at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/1/1710/Critical_Thinking.pdf (Accessed: 17 April 2018)

#Take5 #28 The best way of tackling employability?

Image3_Workshop Regular practice 3 copyMaking A Living Week, November 2018: Industry, Diversity And A New Topic of Conversation

This blog post brought to us by Angharad Lewis, Lecturer in Visual Communication at The Cass: The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design. All photographs taken by Steve Blunt.

The programming of events designed to connect our art and design students with practitioners and industry are thought to be a great way to support work-related-learning; but are they always effective, relevant and a turn-on for students?

To address this, we responded to student feedback and tweaked our format and made interaction between students and guests really dynamic, whilst also tackling issues of diversity and inclusivity.

Making A Living Week

I have had the pleasure of curating a day of activity for students as part of The Cass’s ‘Making A Living Week’ (MALW) for the last two academic years. The idea of this week of activities, across all Schools in the Cass, is to aid students’ transition from studenthood to employment and to introduce and develop skills and processes that kick-start their journey into industry.

Changing up the format

Based on student feedback from last year, and after discussion with colleagues, I made some changes to the format this year. In 2016/17 the Visual Communications (Vis Comm) day for MALW comprised three talks from industry experts*. Informal feedback from students following the event was that the talks were useful and engaging but that it was tiring to ‘be talked at’ for the whole day.

Less Pale and Male?

I was also conscious that the line-up of the 2017 event gave a platform to industry figures who all happened to be male and white. The speakers were inspiring, but I wanted to take positive steps to present industry figures who better reflect the students themselves – so that students see people on a stage (being held up as ‘expert’ or ‘successful’) to whom they can relate on a personal, cultural and social level. As a department, we want to offer credible role models that reflect the diversity of our student cohort. This means more women, more people of colour, more people from a working class background.

The Girlhood

The format of our 2018 event also included interactive elements. The students all began the day together with a talk by Kati Russell, founder of The Girlhood, an initiative whose goal is to “encourage a richer mix of women in the creative industries”.

Kati’s talk included practical exercises with pen and paper for the students to take part in. Her theme was empowering the students to make confident choices about their career path into professional working life, whatever their gender. Although Kati’s projects via The Girlhood are aimed at young women, it is important that students of all genders hear positive messages about diversity in the creative professions. As a School, we are increasingly conscious of the disparity between our richly diverse students, and the comparative paucity of diversity presented by the professional design industry.

Image1_Katie Russell talk[image Katie Russell talk 2.png]

Hands-On Workshops

After Kati’s talk, we introduced four more guests from industry. Students broke into groups, and spent the rest of the morning participating in practical design workshops, run by our guests, in Vis Comm studio spaces. Workshops covered four hands-on areas: using paper creatively on a budget (led by Justin Hobson from Fenner Paper); typographic poster compositions (led by design studio Regular Practice); putting together a winning portfolio (led by creative portfolio consultant Fig Taylor); and mastering digital workflow (by creative director Nik Hill).

Image2_Workshop Nik Hill copy[images: Workshop Regular Practice (top).png / Workshop Nik Hill (above).png]

The Keynote

In the afternoon, everyone reassembled for our keynote speaker, Kate Moross, a designer, illustrator and art director who spoke very engagingly, without notes, and with great honesty about her experience in the industry. I had invited Kate to speak because she is something of a maverick – she began doing commercial work for clients while she was a student and set up her own company soon after graduation. She has a clear ethos about the way she practices design and doesn’t follow the rules as defined by the dominant forces of the industry.

Preferred Pronoun?

In the week leading up to the event I had noticed an interesting thread on Kate’s Twitter feed, the subject was tips for people organising design panels, and not making assumptions about speakers’ gender identities:

“1. Don’t assume, it’s that simple.

  1. Ask people what pronoun they prefer.
  2. A pronoun is a pronoun not a gender identity, so you can ask that too….”.

The Tweets had kicked up quite a storm of debate. I knew that Kate was gay and I had recently read an article where she referred to herself as gender non-binary. I thought I had better ring Kate up and ask about her preferred pronoun. We had a good chat (I found out that ‘she/they’ pronouns are cool with Kate) and I realised that this is a new topic of conversation that is now relevant to my work as a teacher. Kate asked whether we have any queer or gender non-binary students and I was happy that I could say we do.

Sincere Stories

For her talk, Kate was enthused by our ‘Making A Living Week’ theme. She felt it was important to talk honestly to students to prepare them for the realities of work, in a way that is sometimes lacking in teaching on creative courses. Interestingly, Kate did not present any slides of her own work (other than as backdrop for her Q&A), eschewing the standard format of design talks. Instead, the visuals in her presentation were entirely typographic – prompts for stories about her experience or practical advice and facts. For the first half of her session, Kate talked in a refreshingly honest way about topics like how much to charge clients, the no-holds-barred do’s and don’ts of CV-writing, and how traits that got her dubbed ‘a swot’ at school came in handy when running her own business.

Image4_Kate Morross QandA[image Kate Moross keynote1.png]

Kate then spent almost an hour taking questions. I can honestly say that this was one of the most successful questions-and-answer sessions I have ever attended. Kate had asked us to provide question cards in advance to generate uninhibited debate. She took the time to answer every single question, never disparaging the topic (even “can I have an internship at your studio”) and giving each a thoughtful, honest answer.

The positive energy in the room was palpable and the students were buzzing at the end of a very busy day. As staff, we felt that Kate Moross in particular had struck a chord with students as a speaker: finding things out from people who you can relate to culturally – who feel on your level in some way, however successful they are – can be powerful. Like hearing something from a sibling, rather than a parent. The format of the day also felt productive, with students given several points in the day to be active, get involved in discussion and explore their own ideas and generate practical work.

A comment on a student’s blog felt like a positive endorsement.

“I found Kate Moross’s talk really inspiring, the way she spoke about industry and getting yourself out there made me feel less scared and more excited!”

Angharad Lewis bio

Angharad is a lecturer, writer and editor specialising in design and publishing. She is co-editor of Grafik.net, former editor of Grafik Magazine and has contributed to various magazines and books on the subject of graphic design, illustration, publishing and photography. She is author of several books, most recently So You Want to Publish A Magazine? (Laurence King 2016). Angharad is Lecturer in Visual Communication and Course Leader of BA Design for Publishing at The Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design.



#Take5 #27 The Best Way of Blending Learning?

LESSONS FROM A TEACHER DEVELOPMENT PROJECT: One positive instance of using technology for student learning, rather than its own sake.

This guest blog explores the authentic embedding of digital practices within our pedagogic toolbox and has been prepared for #Take5 by Dr Paul Breen (@CharltonMen) who also shares, below, a link to his free book: Developing Educators for the Digital Age.


Image: Teachers in Paul Breen’s PhD Study using iPads in the classroom

The tools for the job

“SHOULD teaching take place within an academic bubble detached from the outside world, or should it make use of all that is new, authentic, engaging and multi-dimensional?”

This was a question raised by one of the participants in my recent study of teacher development within the context of an English Language Centre in a UK Higher Educational environment. In this case, the teacher argued that for teaching to be effective for today’s students we need to make maximum use of the digital age. In his own work, he drew on Guardian Podcasts as a means of inspiring Academic English students to go out and make their own recordings of real life events related to their specific subjects.

By getting his class to do this, he was actively engaging the students in demonstrating knowledge through content creation. Furthermore, students were now active rather than passive recipients of information and their knowledge was being tested in a way that was innovative rather than in a traditional one dimensional exam format.

Assess that – differently

Not everybody expresses their learning or knowledge in the same way, and this teacher’s work with podcasts was offering new outlets of expression for particular types of students. In this case, the greatest beneficiaries were perhaps those who learn by seeing and then doing, but arguably the challenge of this task would engage the majority of his students. New technologies had given these students the chance to be creative and expressive in a way that historically they might not have been able to realise quite so easily. They were putting into action skills that are vital in the higher educational environment – creativity, organisation, multi-tasking, plus elements of finding a balance between independence and interdependence.

TPACK: It’s Digital Literacy Jim…

Using technology in this way is also a good example of not simply using technology for technology’s sake, which is still a major problem on many courses and in many classrooms. If a particular tool just doesn’t add anything, then don’t integrate – just the same as if your daughter doesn’t like playing with dolls, don’t force her to just because that’s what little girls are expected to do.

This idea of not using technology just for technology’s sake lies at the heart of Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler’s (2006) TPACK framework – Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. This is a contemporary framework designed to ease the process for teachers who are integrating technology into their lessons. The goal is to achieve a synergy of technology, pedagogy and content during instances of teaching where such an integration is appropriate.

What this means in basic, practical terms is that there is an intersection of all three core components to produce what the authors’ term as ‘expert teaching.’ Though I don’t like that precise term, the example of creating podcasts is one where the teacher has met some of the fundamental requirements of TPACK. He has not pre-determined which technologies should be used. Rather, their usage evolved gradually.

In this case, he started out using podcasts as a means of helping students practice listening and research skills… and it became much more than that. Going back to the daughter and the dolls analogy, he didn’t set out with a prescriptive idea of particular tools that would be used and insist that certain toys had to be chosen because that was the norm.

Instead he let usage flow naturally, and then let subsequent usage flow naturally again from that. Having seen the enthusiasm that students showed for Guardian Podcasts he sent them off to make their own. In doing so, he found a way to motivate them further and build a deeper set of academic skills.


Experimenting and allowing the value of the practice to emerge, allowed the students to discover their own learning identities, again like the child who starts playing with bridges in farm sets and then decides she wants to progress to Meccano next time around. By letting a child find their own learning style, in that case, you might well have planted the seeds of a future engineer, or even scientist.

In this case of learners making their own Podcasts, you have certainly created a student who is more capable of finding the balance between independence and interdependence that is essential to undertaking higher educational studies in the UK.


Mishra, P. and Koehler, M.J., 2006. Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers college record, 108(6), p.1017.

Bio: PAUL BREEN is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Westminster’s Professional Language Centre, and author of a recent publication on teacher development entitled ‘Developing Educators for the Digital Age.’ The book is available here in print form or as a free open-access download through the University of Westminster Press.  


#Take5 #26 ‘Do you write as well as you speak?’ A dialogic pedagogy to enhance student arguments in academic writing

This #Take5 blogpost has been produced by Dr. Tiffany Chiu and Dr. Olga Rodríguez Falcón

This project was conducted at UEL 2017, where we intended to address a growing concern over student transferable academic skills for employability in higher education. It aimed to implement and evaluate a dialogic approach to embedding academic literacy skills into the subject curriculum. As researchers and practitioners in higher education, we have observed that, very often, students have found it challenging to generate ideas/strong arguments for their assignments and present them logically in writing. We devised a range of writing exercises which are informed by a dialogic pedagogy and the connections between speaking and writing to foster the development of student academic voice and authorial identity.

Specifically, we engage students in actively discussing their academic ideas around assessments both in and out of class, audio-record these discussions and play them back for selective transcription, which can be used as a base for further development of their written coursework. The uses of dialogic approaches and speaking-writing relationships are derived from our experiences as well as informed by the existing literature where we believe dialogic interaction within a collaborative environment provides an excellent platform for students to construct meaning and generate strong arguments which hence improves their writing ability.

One of the examples of our exercises is as follows:

Image 1 Argument exercise

Diagram 1 Exercise – Strengthen your arguments

The exercise, as shown in diagram 1 above, was designed to support student essay writing. In many cases, students are either given an essay question or offered a limited choice from a list supplied by the tutor. To help them create and strengthen their arguments, we have found it extremely useful for students to get their ideas challenged by others and be able to articulate them clearly through interaction. In this exercise, we form students into groups of two or three with roles of defenders (those who put forward their argument(s) towards their given/chosen essay question) and challengers (those who try to provide counter-arguments towards their peers’ arguments).

The exercise sheet given to students is as follows:

Image 2 Argument worksheet

Diagram 2: Exercise sheet: Strengthen your arguments

As can be seen from the exercise sheet above, there are three stages. First, we advise students as challengers to ask questions of the defenders about their essay question and arguments/evidence towards it. During the questioning, challengers need to record defenders’ responses as detailed as possible in writing. We also encourage students to make good use of their digital devices such as smartphones or tablets to record the discussion. After this, challengers are given time to come up with counter-arguments to challenge defenders’ ideas. Again, the discussion will be recorded both in writing and audio. Finally, defenders will revise their arguments based on the recording and discussion notes taken by their challengers. This revised version will serve as the first step for drafting their essay.

Even though debates are already a much-used teaching strategy in the higher education sector, these spoken-to-written activities have helped students to make more direct connections between their own speech and writing. During the exercises, students soon realise that they have come to university with a wealth of prior linguistic resources they can tap into to develop their academic voice when writing.

These are some of our students’ comments during focus group discussions:

I just felt like after doing the activity, I was able to put my ideas down in writing much easier than I did the first time. I had a better understanding of what I wanted to say in writing after it.

When you discuss it, it’s a bit like rewriting it. Saying it out and listening to yourself and getting an opinion … give you more ideas or things you skipped that you wouldn’t necessarily remember. But it’s when it’s being discussed, then you have more ideas…

With the first stage when you’re writing it yourself, you kind of just do basic bits, but when you’re doing the interview, it helps you expand it more. And you also think of more things to add as well, because you’re sort of just rolling off the tongue.

These exercises can be easily adapted to use during seminars to support student writing – for learning and for assessments. We have many other examples of spoken-to-written activities tailored to different types of assessments, such as research reports or visual analysis. Other exercise sheets we have created can be accessed here: <https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1AF9cAecMbcfl_npSKtTs9iLwwrcxv18a>  and include:

  • Critical reading and writing
  • Research proposal writing
  • Research project writing
  • Paraphrasing
  • Visual analysis.

If you would like to know more about how we do these exercises in class, please feel free to contact us. We are happy to share more!


Dr. Tiffany Chiu is a Teaching Fellow in Educational Development at Imperial College London. She supports students and staff across disciplines to enhance learning, teaching and assessment practices. She has a PhD in Academic Language and Literacy. Tiffany’s teaching and research interests include learning and teaching in higher education, assessment and feedback practice, and academic literacy development.

Email: t.chiu@imperial.ac.uk

 Dr. Olga Rodríguez Falcón is an Academic Writing Tutor at the University of East London. In her role, she teaches academic literacies to support students’ transition to university study and their later writing skills development. She is also an active researcher on the student experience in the tertiary education sector, with a focus on academic literacies.

Email: o.rodriguez-falcon@uel.ac.uk

#Take5 #25 The best way to support writing?

The what, why and how of the RLF Consultant Fellowship Scheme

By Cath Senker, RLF Consultant Fellow

Place ‘professional writers in higher education institutions to offer writing support to all students.’[1] This is the inspired idea behind the Royal Literary Fund Fellowship scheme, which has been sending authors into universities since 1999 to offer one-to-one tutorials to students. And it’s proved extraordinarily successful. Why? Writers face several of the same challenges as students: how to develop an idea into a piece of writing; how to plan and structure it; and how to edit a rough draft, smoothing out the bumps in the flow and improving the expression of ideas to create a polished piece. With an in-depth knowledge and understanding of different writing genres, the RLF Fellows can apply their knowledge to academic writing.

Enter the Consultant Fellows

The Fellowship scheme has now been extended from individual tutorials to workshops. Since 2013, the Consultant Fellows’ (CF) programme has trained experienced RLF Fellows to facilitate writing-development sessions with groups of undergraduates, postgraduates and staff in universities. As CFs, we tailor our provision to fit with the university and liaise closely and cooperatively with in-house learning developers, writing developers and academic staff. Thirty-two CFs currently work with about forty universities, extending provision in a cost-effective way. We can provide anything from a one-off workshop to a series of essay-writing sessions for students. Some of us run one- or two-day workshops for postgraduates and staff aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of publications. A few facilitate on-campus immersives or off-campus retreats extending over two days or more and providing a blend of in-depth group work and one-to-one guidance. Coming from outside the university, we hope to bring a fresh perspective ­– we appreciate the challenges of writing but exude a love of the craft.

Writing Workshops at Sussex

I’ve been running workshops at the University of Sussex since 2013, when I started running workshops for First Generation Scholars. Now, my CF colleague Jen Green and I lead sessions on all aspects of the writing process for undergraduates and postgraduates. I have recently begun to co-facilitate workshops with course convenors to deliver subject-specific sessions and help to embed writing development in the curriculum.

Cath Senker Uni of Sussex workshop_small

CF, blogs and Learning Developers

Another of my roles is to commission and edit the weekly RLF CF blogs (https://rlfconsultants.com/). Top Tips delivers handy advice for students and other writers, gathered from the experiences of Consultant Fellows working as authors and facilitators. In CFs Share Insights, Fellows reveal how their work as writers energises and informs their writing workshops and other training activities with university staff and students.

We hope that learning developers will share our Top Tips and comment on our CFs Share Insights posts – we would love to hear what you think and have a conversation about developments in teaching and learning.


Cath Senker is a freelance author who has written around 160 children’s non-fiction books and two titles for adults. A former RLF Writing Fellow at the universities of Sussex, Chichester and Southampton, she currently runs writing-development workshops at the University of Sussex.

[1] https://www.rlf.org.uk/education/rlf-fellowshipscheme/

#Take5 #24: The Best Way to Commute?

The birth of our online resource: Studying on your commute

This #Take5 blogpost comes from Janette Myers, a learning developer at St George’s, University of London 

Sometimes it can feel that the concept of higher education is based on students who live on Campus or who live in or near their place of study. This vision excludes many students and their experiences. Many of our students travel long distances to our Campus, and many more have long journeys to clinical placements in hospitals and community settings all over the South of England.

The students I see often talk about how commuting limits the time available for study. So I thought, why not change this perception and highlight the positives of commuting for the busy student? So I set out to normalise the process of being a commuting student by including a section on studying on the commute in Study+, our online learning development resource.

I wanted to make it simple and short, and keep visual distractions to a minimum. The resource itself is divided up into Planning, Reviewing, Thinking, Reading and Listening on your commute.

Each section consists of a transport themed picture and a short piece of text based on the themes we use across all learning development activity: active and engaged learning based on the mantra, link it, use it, transform it.


Studying on Your Commute was reviewed by our Learning Advocates, student volunteers who work with me to make, review and publicise learning resources. There was particularly positive feedback on developing flash cards as revision aids, and a group of students are organising to explore the potential of flash cards as you are reading this. A section for the sharing of peer advice has also been suggested.

Bio: I’m Janette Myers, a learning developer at St George’s, University of London and I commute 1 hour and 10 mins each way on the London Underground. We are a small, specialist healthcare university based in Tooting at St George’s Hospital – yes that’s the one in 24 Hours in A&E.


The St George’s learning development team, Rosie MacLachlan and Janette Myers, starting its commute home.