#Take5 #35: The Best Way to differentiate?

Happy new academic year!

#Take5 is back and ready to go. This year our hope is to bring you at least one post a month – and to kick us off we have a great post from Jennie Dettmer, one of the organisers of an inspirational event that took place between ALDinHE and SIGMA – the maths people! 

ALDinHE and SIGMA in An Event of Four Firsts

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Jennie Dettmer, one of the organisers of the joint ALDinHE and sigma Network regional event on ‘Current Issues in Differentiating Learning Development’ at the University of Bedfordshire on Monday 22nd July 2019.

Jennie Dettmer

First Joint Event

This was the first joint event between ALDinHE and sigma Network. sigma Network supports maths professionals across the country, similar to how ALDinHE supports Learning Developers nationally.

The presentations outlined differentiation issues across the different subjects and highlighted the good practice that can be shared between all Learning Developers.

Topics covered included:
Student-centered workbooks covering Maths and IT skills for science
Differentiation in stats workshops for international students
Implementing an open science policy for stats support
An integrated approach to differentiation of academic skills
Meeting increased expectations…
Differentiation for diverse groups…
Supporting students in Foundation Year writing modules.


Questions for the presenters naturally led to a group discussion after the morning and afternoon presentations with the event facilitating networking between members of the two organisations.

Delegates in room

Shared tips: Accessible Presentations & Google Slides

Accessibility checklists for PowerPoint were sent out prior to the event, which ensured that all the presentations delivered at the event were accessible.

Powerpoint checklist

On the day, one of our presenters, Theresa Elise Wege, piloted the use of Google slides which creates automatic closed captions during a presentation.

Theresa presenting

Reaching Out Online: watch the session videos

This is the first time that a free regional event has recorded the presentations and made them accessible to ALDinHE and sigma Network members. This enables those who were unable to attend to access the presentations and we hope that this will encourage other organisers to do the same.

By enabling access to recordings, we hope to broaden the reach of good practice from the regional event. The recordings are available at http://bit.ly/symposiumrecordings and are hosted on YouTube so that the accessibility functions of close captions and scripts are available to viewers where needed.


For the first time, a regional event had twitter hashtag. This provided another marketing avenue and delegates were able to interact with the event online.

Twitter interactions


Jennie works at the University of Bedfordshire as a Learning Developer Tutor, with an interest in TEL and accessibility. Within ALDinHE, she is a member of the LearnHigher working group and the Conference Working Group. She is also the joint Secretary and Vice Chair of the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) East England group. Follow her on Twitter: @JennieDettmer

Jennie is happy to talk to anyone who wants to include any of the practices outlined above in future regional events.

#Take5 #34 The best way to write? The Hero’s Journey

This #Take5 post is a follow up to all the fruitful discussions recently held on the LDHEN list about the 12-steps of the narrative – and the different ways that they can help us to conceptualise writing – and how we might use that in our work with students.

This very practical and instantly useful blog has been written by Heather Dyer a consultant with the Royal Literary Fund who uses The Hero’s Journey in her writing workshops with dissertation students.

You’re a Hero on a Journey

We’re hardwired to see stories in everything: a relationship, a thesis, a life. Even a recipe has a narrative arc that shows how one thing leads to another. The desired outcome of a story is always discovery and growth – if we understand how and why things happen, we can shape outcomes in the future.

In academic writing workshops, I use the archetypal story structure ‘The Hero’s Journey’ to help participants reflect on – and reshape – their dissertations, research projects, academic career paths and personal challenges.

Hero's Journey

The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a universal story model outlined by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell collected myths from all over the world, identified common elements or stages, and then put them together in a ‘monomyth’. Typically, the hero receives a call to adventure, ventures forth to face challenges and temptations, and ultimately sacrifices something in order to receive the gift of insight, which they bring home to benefit the world.

The hero can of-course be male or female, and the model is flexible rather than prescriptive – but the beauty of the monomyth is that it provides a pattern for the process of growth in any area.

Consider a few of these stages in relation to whatever you’re currently wrestling with:

The Hero’s Journey Your Journey Try This
The call to adventure. Can you remember what motivated you to begin? Why does this quest matter?


Without emotion, we lose our motivation and our ability to make decisions.

To rediscover what drives us, freewrite for five minutes (quickly, in full sentences, without pausing or editing) on what you really love about this subject.
The hero meets helpers and tricksters on the path. How did you get here? What has helped or hindered you? Draw a timeline going as far back as you like, and mark moments that were turning points in your journey (people you met, books, experiences, etc.) You may find events branching off as vertical mind-maps. Looking back, what sort of things worked best for you? What would you like to do more of, in future?
The hero faces the monster in the cave.  

Your biggest obstacle or challenge.


Write down your problem, or question. Now rephrase it in ten different ways. Reframing it can reveal nuances you may not have considered. Are you even asking the right question?


Interrogate a problem by asking, Why? repeatedly, to try and get to the bottom of it. In business, this is known as root cause analysis and is used to identify underlying issues. Five ‘why’s’ are usually required.

Death and rebirth. What’s holding you back? Do you have a mistaken belief or are you clinging onto something you need to let go of in order to proceed down a new route? Freewrite for 5 minutes on what the solution is not.

Freewrite for 5 minutes on what you would like the solution to be.

Does this reveal any biases? Any blocks? Might there be another way?

Return; the hero brings new knowledge back to the world.



What’s the impact of your discovery? How will it change things?




How will you really know when you have achieved your goal or resolved a situation? Sit quietly for a few minutes, and visualize how things will be.

Reflect on the contribution your research is making and ask yourself, Why now? Who is it for? How will it help? What next?

The Story of Your Research

Sketching a rough narrative around your research project can help you get perspective. On the Hero’s Journey story wheel below, complete as many of the sentences as you can. This can be helpful in crafting an abstract – or even provide a structure for an entire thesis. Sentences like, ‘Until now…’ might describe your literature review in a nutshell. ‘So, what I did …’ sums up your methodology. ‘What I realize now…’ would be your contribution, your point of growth.

The Story of Your Research

The Story of Your Research


Heather Dyer is a consultant with the Royal Literary Fund. Her doctorate explores the psychology of creativity, and she facilitates workshops in creative thinking and academic writing. She is also a writing tutor with the University of the Creative Arts and a former RLF writing fellow of Cardiff Metropolitan University, Worcester University and Aberystwyth University.

#Take5 #33 The best way to write an ALDinHE recognition scheme application?

Recognition scheme Writing Retreat

 This #Take5 post is brought to you from Steve Briggs and Katherine Koulle who co-manage the administration and development of the ALDinHE recognition scheme – and who ran the Writing Retreat on 8th May 2019.

A need for recognition

Recently, Steve Briggs, ALDinHE and Professional Development working Group co-chair,  explained the background to the ALDinHE recognition scheme in a previous #Take5 blog – https://lmutake5.wordpress.com/2019/03/20/take-5-31-the-best-way-of-getting-recognised/

Making time to get recognised

The response to the ALDinHE recognition scheme has been overwhelmingly positive: in the first two years over 50 recognitons were awarded. Nonetheless, a common reason that Learning Developers cited for not completing an application was difficulty in setting aside dedicated time to ‘get the application done’. Moore, Murphy and Murray (2010) indicated how structured writing retreats can provide a dedicated environment for participants to fully engage in a writing task, with support from peers:

“The facility that the retreat provides is to create a non-distracted environment in which participants can ‘stay with’ their writing project for uninterrupted periods of time” (p.23)

“Writers’ retreats focus on encouraging participants to engage actively in the target activity, not just to talk about it, to think about it or to plan to do it (though these processes may be important too)” (p.24).

It was decided that piloting a one-day recognition scheme writing retreat would provide a great way of supporting those Learning Developers who were finding it hard to make the time to apply.

The retreat

The retreat was held at the UCL Institute of Education on the 8th May 2019. Delegates were able to attend either in person or remotely via Blackboard Collaborate. Eight Learning Developers attended in person and eight attended remotely.

Pic 1: Remote attendance

Attendees represented multiple universities including: UCL Institute of Education, Birkbeck University of London, University of Bedfordshire, St Mary’s University, London Met University, University of East London, King’s College London, Queen Margaret University Edinburgh, and Glasgow Caledonian University.

Structure of the day

We started the retreat by listing our writing goals. Most attendees hoped to get their application completed on the day. While a couple planned to use the day to provide a starting point to scope their application and identify any evidence gaps.

Pic 2: The whiteboard of dreams

This was followed by two 90-minute writing blocks, with a break in between.

Pic 3: Space to write: the dispersed room

After a break for lunch we revisited our writing goals and reviewed progress.

Pic 4: The friendly critical gaze: reflecting on our writing

We then completed two more writing blocks and closed the day with a feedback and evaluation discussion.

Feedback from attendees – in person:

 “Great to have time to get the application started”

 “It was such a great resource for completing the application, I really don’t think I would have otherwise! Brilliant to get immediate feedback too”

 “Today’s writing retreat not only helped clarify the process of applying for CeP but was also extremly useful in terms of thinking about my own continuous professional development for the next year or so”

 “It’s been very useful to have the time and support given for the application. The conditions were very good and conducive for writing”

“Thanks so much for the opportunity to write in a nice, different setting than my office at work or home where other tasks are always screaming to me”

A great day to get things done and be productive”.

 Remote – but not distant:

Feedback from those attending at a distance was equally positive:

“Thanks for a great day – very reflective”

 “I have really enjoyed making this time and space to write with you all – and it has worked.”

 And the Facilitators enjoyed their day as well:

“I have not run a writing retreat before but found it to be a really great experience. Everyone who attended was really engaged and it was fantastic to see so much progress made in recognition scheme applications. My take away insight was having space away from the office really works when it comes to getting writing done”.  

“It was wonderful to have such a great group of both face-to-face and remote participants join us for the very first ALDinHE Recognition Scheme Writing Retreat. We structured the day so that there was dedicated time to spend on writing the applications, but also for reflection and discussion, which was really insightful.”

Looking ahead

It is planned that an application writing retreat will become an annual event held during the three month recognition scheme application window. Future dates will be advertised via the Learning Development in Higher Education Network (LDHEN) Jiscmail list: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=LDHEN

Want to apply?

For more information about the Recognition Scheme please check out our website: http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/development

You can apply if you:

1) Are based at an institution that is an ALDinHE member; or

2) Have an individual ALDinHE membership. ALDinHE membership information is available via: http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/join

DEADLINE: In response to popular demand the deadline for applications this year is 3rd June 2019


Moore, S., Murphy, M. and Murray, R. (2010) Increasing Academic Output and Supporting Equality Of Career Opportunity in Universities: Can Writers’ Retreats Play a Role?, The Journal of Faculty Development, 24(3), pp. 21-30


Dr Steve Briggs is Head of Professional and Academic Development at the University of Bedfordshire. He has been Co-Chair of ALDinHE for almost three years and also Co-Chairs the ALDinHE Professional Development Working Group. Steve is a Chartered Psychologist and a PFHEA.

 Katherine Koulle is a Senior Teaching Fellow at the UCL Institute of Education Academic Writing Centre. She co-manages the ALDinHE recognition scheme and is a member of the ALDinHE Steering and Professional Development Working Groups.


#Take5 #32 The Best way to have a conference?

ALDinHE Conference 2019: Critical perspectives of learning development practice – and hills

This #Take5 blogpost is brought to you from Lee Fallin – the phantom tweeter of #aldcon 2019 – you know, the one who produced all those beautiful, illustrated visual notes…

The 2019 Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE) Annual Conference was hosted by the University of Exeter. This was my sixth ALDinHE conference, and my first time in the lovely city of Exeter. This blog post will provide my reflections on the conference and a summary of the keynotes by Dr Liz Morrish (Tuesday) and Professor Shân Wareing (Wednesday).

Day 1
The first day of the conference offers the opportunity to attend workshops led by the ALDinHE Steering Group. The workshops usually include sessions that support:
• Writing for the associations journal,
• Research and development grants
• Using/writing for Learn Higher
• Professional recognition

These are all core services and/or membership benefits offered by ALDinHE as part of individual or institutional membership, and it is always nice to see these given valuable space in the conference programme.

I attended the session on research funding and the scholarship of learning development. It was absolutely fascinating with Dr Maria Kukhareva & Dr Carina Buckley leading a discussion on the nature of learning development scholarship. I reflected on this further in a separate blog post, from which I came to the conclusion that there is something different and unique about learning development scholarship in relation to broader higher education research, I just can’t define it.

This narrative was continued in Dr Helen Webster’s session on facilitating learning development group sessions, asking what the distinctive element of learning development group teaching.


Day 2
The second day of the conference was the most substantial, being a full-day programme followed by the conference dinner (and quiz) in the evening. The day started off with the regular welcome, but also the awarding of the professional recognition (CeP/CeLP) certificates. I am proud to say I was able to collect my CeLP award after engaging with the professional recognition scheme following last year’s conference. If you’ve not applied yourself, I recommend you check out Steve Brigg’s previous Take5 post. I found CeLP a highly rewarding process – and very distinct from the HEA Fellowship. I highly recommend it.

The keynote (Pressure vessels: the epidemic of poor mental health among academics) was delivered by Dr Liz Morrish. Given the profile of student mental health, it was so interesting to hear from someone championing staff wellbeing. Liz’s journey was absolutely inspiring, especially given her determination to keep voicing issues around the intensification of teaching and research under the pressure of metrics like the TEF and REF, even when she got blow back from her previous institution for doing so. I’d think the issues Liz discusses are essential reading for anyone working in higher education. You can see my notes from this (in mindmap form) below:


Following the keynote, 21 different papers and workshops were held across three timeslots. This was an almost overwhelming choice, but I was very happy with the three I chose to attend. For fear of this post going on forever, I will avoid a more detailed account.

Day 3
The final day of the conference brought another fascinating keynote from Professor Shân Wareing. Shân spoke on Learning development and student narratives, perfectly tailoring her work to the learning development context. Language is so incredibly powerful, and Shân wove a fascinating keynote around the different narratives about students. This led to an interesting discussion on the nature of student partnership, which you can see reflected in my notes below. Given the technical difficulties from the previous day, I also had the privilege of live steaming this particular session, which you can catch via Twitter.



Similarly to day two, the keynote was followed by an overwhelming range of sessions which to attend. Once again, I won’t elaborate further for fear of post length. I will however reiterate that I found all interesting and very informative for my practice. I also had the pleasure to present my own work on #DigiResHull – the support of academic and PGR digital literacy via an online SPOC (Small Private Online Course).

The closing plenary of the ALDinHE conference is always an enjoyable opportunity to say goodbye and wish friends old and new safe onward travels. The close is accompanied by a glass of bubbly which is always a lovely way to wrap up the conference. I am absolutely devastated that I missed this because I had to leave early to get the train.

The conference closing plenary is also used to announce the winner of the poster competition. This year, Gemma Stansfield from LSE won with here striking poster on walk and talk one-to-one study support.

In short, ALDinHE Conference 2019 was another inspiring three days of everything learning development. Even if there were a lot of hills to climb…



Lee Fallin works for the University of Hull as a Library Skills Adviser. He is an ALDinHE Certified Learning Practitioner (CeLP), Microsoft Certified Education (MCE) and Educational Doctorate (EdD) candidate. Lee’s research and scholarly interests include learning spaces, digital learning, accessibility, inclusion and research methodologies. You can find Lee on Twitter as@LeeFallin or on his personal blog.

#Take 5 #31 The best way of getting recognised?

The ALDinHE Recognition scheme

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Dr Steve Briggs a Co-Chair of ALDinHE  and a driving force behind the design and development of this key Learning Development recognition scheme. 


The need for recognition

The Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE) represents individuals working as Learning Development Practitioners in the UK. ALDinHE offers opportunities to share best practices and ideas, and to provide CPD and professional development opportunities for members.

The field of Learning Development has grown significantly in the last fifteen years and most universities in the UK now have a Learning Development provision. How Learning Development is institutionally operationalised varies quite a bit in terms of structure (for instance, could be based in the library, student support, teaching and learning directorate) and team size/remit. Nonetheless, Learning Development Practitioners share a commitment to working directly with students to help them make sense of university and develop the academic skills (such as writing, study skills and maths) required to be successful. This is commonly through extracurricular activities (such as drop-in or appointments) and/or working with course teams to build academic skills development opportunities into students’ programmes of study.

Given the growing number of HE professionals who identify with working in a Learning Development capacity it is unsurprising that there has been a growing community call for more recognition of the professional expertise and skills required to effectively work as a Learning Development Practitioner.

Getting Professional – Getting Recognised

At the 2018 Learning Development Conference in Leicester, ALDinHE launched a new recognition scheme for Learning Development practitioners. This is designed to promote ‘Learning Development’ as a profession in its own right and protect the Learning Development practitioner title per se. Successful applicants receive formal recognition of their specialist knowledge and practice. This demonstrates expertise to both current and prospective employers. This might also be useful when applying for a HEA fellowship.

An ALDinHE Learning Development Practitioner recognition scheme was first proposed at the 2017 Learning Development conference during a ‘Community Keynote’ delivered by the association Co-Chairs (Carina Buckley and me). During this session, delegates worked in groups to define characteristics associated with a practitioner becoming a certified Learning Developer. This session revealed a strong community consensus that although practitioners can have quite diverse roles, they will share Learning Development values.

Community keynote feedback led to ALDinHE (2018)[1] defining five values that should guide the work of Learning Development practitioners:

  1. Working alongside students to make sense of and get the most out of HE learning
  2. Making HE inclusive through emancipatory practice, partnership working and collaboration
  3. Adopting and sharing effective Learning Development practice with (and external to) our own institutions
  4. Critical self-reflection, on-going learning and a commitment to professional development
  5. Commitment to a scholarly approach and research related to Learning Development.

The recognition scheme requires practitioners to demonstrate commitment to these values and is graduated across two levels:

  • Certified Practitioner (CeP) aimed at individuals demonstrating LD excellence within their institution
  • Certified Leading Practitioner (CeLP) aimed at individuals demonstrating LD excellence beyond their institution    

And it’s working

During the 2018 application window (March – June) we received applications from practitioners based at thirty-one universities in England, Scotland and Ireland. To date, 35 CeP and 17 CeLP have been awarded. 

Successful applicants are:

  • Given a certificate in recognition of their LD expertise.
  • Listed on the ALDinHE website – publically recognising their expertise.
  • Encouraged to add their ALDinHE status in their email signature.

Feedback from applicants

 “ As Learning Developers we all understand the need for reflection and, no doubt, do execute it in some way on a regular basis. However, reflecting for the purpose of achieving a level of certification that makes a statement to others in and outside of the profession is, I find, a far more rigorous and revelatory process. It has been both encouraging, illuminating and inspiring to undertake and I trust that it serves to help establish Learning Development as an integral part of the education system”.

 “Completing CeP allowed time to critically reflect on my learning journey as a learning developer and demonstrating my commitment to the ALDinHE professional values”.

 “The CeP application process afforded an extremely useful framework within which to critically reflect on my professional experience as a basis for further developing and extending the range of my teaching, educational support and professional experience. It was an enriching experience for me and I feel privileged to have been awarded the CeP status”.

How to apply

You apply if you: 1) Are based at an institution that is an ALDinHE member; or 2) Have an individual ALDinHE membership. ALDinHE membership information is available via: http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/join

The recognition scheme is open for applications between the 1st March and 30th June 2019. For more information contact please check out our website: http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/development


Dr Steve Briggs is Head of Professional and Academic Development at the University of Bedfordshire. He has been Co-Chair of ALDinHE for almost three years and also Co-Chairs the ALDinHE Professional Development Working Group. Steve is a Chartered Psychologist and a PFHEA.

[1] ALDinHE (2018) About. Available at: http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/about (Accessed: 4th February 2019).

#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